Monthly Archives: February 2011

Study: Cellphones may increase brain activity

The electromagnetic radiation emitted by a cellular phone’s antenna appears to activate nearby regions of the brain to unusually high levels, according to a study published Tuesday in the Journal of the American Medical Association that is likely to spark new concerns about the health effects of wireless devices.

The preliminary study, led by a respected neuroscientist at the National Institutes of Health, raises many more questions than it answers. But by providing solid evidence that cellphone use has measurable effects on brain activity, it suggests that the nation’s passionate attachment to its 300 million cellphones may be altering the way we think and behave in subtle ways.

Researchers peered inside the brains of 47 healthy subjects using positron emission tomography, also known as PET scanning, to measure the location and timing of brain activity by detecting signs that cells were consuming energy. They found that despite official skepticism that cellphones’ electromagnetic energy exerts any influence on nearby cells — including statements issued by the Food and Drug Administration — it clearly does.

“Because there’s been such a massive expansion in cellphone use these past 15 to 20 years, it behooves us to try to understand whether, if we use these devices repeatedly and intensively for years, do they have lasting effects?” said study leader Dr. Nora Volkow, director of the National Institute on Drug Abuse, who researches how addiction affects the brain.

Those effects could vary widely depending upon the location of a cellphone’s antenna, the frequency on which it operates, and how long one uses the device, Volkow said.

What the study does not suggest is that cellphone use contributes to the development of brain cancers. Although that concern is pressed adamantly by activists, a growing body of research has failed to find evidence to support it.

The study found that two areas of the brain close to the phone’s antenna, which was embedded in the mouthpiece of the phone used, showed unusual increases in activity throughout a 50-minute period of live transmission. The researchers speculated that a cellphone with its antenna placed elsewhere — near the phone’s earpiece, for instance — might activate different regions in the brain.

That the heightened activity occurred closest to the antenna, and not near the place where the phone was in direct contact with the head, signaled to the study’s authors that the changes were a response to electromagnetic signals and not a reaction to the heat generated by the device. The FDA has taken the position that any harmful effects of cellphones are the result of tissue becoming overheated by direct exposure to the device as it warms with prolonged use.

Researchers also were careful to rule out that the increased brain activity was a response to language or other sounds heard over the phone. In their “live” phase, the phones in the experiment were connected to a recorded message, but the audio signal was muted, so subjects heard nothing.


After heart attack, some don’t change eating habits

 Heart attacks might not be such a big wake-up call for some. Sure, many people turn their lives around, but consider this study that tracked fast-food habits among patients who had been hospitalized with heart attacks. Six months after having an attack, researchers say some cut back on their frequent fast-food habit — but more than half didn’t, according to a story in the Chicago Tribune.

The study published this month in the American Journal of Cardiology identified 884 heart attack patients who said they frequently — every week or more — ate fast food. That number dropped to 503 patients six months after they were released from the hospital.

“Male gender, white race, lack of college education, current employment, and dyslipidemia were independently associated with frequent fast food intake six months after AMI [acute myocardial infarction]. In contrast, older patients and those who underwent coronary bypass surgery were less likely to eat fast food frequently,” the study’s abstract said.

Researchers also suggested that “novel interventions that go beyond traditional dietary counseling may be needed” for some.

Lifestyle changes may help in fight against pancreatic cancer

Cancer of the pancreas is relatively uncommon, according to Dr. Harvey B. Simon, an associate professor of medicine at Harvard Medical School and a member of the Health Sciences Technology Faculty at Massachusetts Institute of Technology.

“Only” about 43,000 cases are diagnosed in the United States each year, putting it far behind prostate cancer (218,000 a year), breast cancer (209,000 a year), and colorectal cancer (143,000 a year).

Early on, cancer of the pancreas is clinically silent. Later, patients may develop back pain, abdominal pain, weakness, weight loss, depression, or jaundice.

Imaging studies such as ultrasounds, CT scans, and magnetic resonance imaging scans may detect abnormal tissue in the pancreas, but a definite diagnosis depends on a biopsy. Unfortunately, imaging studies are not sensitive enough or specific enough to be useful for screening; and the CA19-9 blood test that’s sometimes used to check for the disease is even less reliable.

If early detection is still in the future, how about prevention?

Conventional wisdom holds that cancer of the pancreas is not preventable, but a 2009 study may change that view. In 1995 and 1996, 450,416 individuals between the ages of 50 and 71 volunteered for the National Institutes of Health (NIH)-AARP Diet and Health Study.

At the start of the study, each participant submitted detailed diet and lifestyle information. Researchers tracked the volunteers through 2003 to see if lifestyle factors influenced the risk of pancreatic cancer.

A total of 1,057 patients were newly diagnosed with the disease during the study. Scientists compared these patients with their healthier peers with regard to five factors: not smoking, limited alcohol use, regular exercise, normal body mass index, and adherence to a Mediterranean-style dietary pattern.

People who scored well in all five areas were 58 percent less likely to develop pancreatic cancer than people who scored poorly in all categories. It’s only one study, but it reinforces earlier research that identified smoking and obesity as pancreatic cancer risk factors.

More research is needed, but don’t wait for results to adopt a healthy lifestyle. Preventing pancreatic cancer is still only a hope, but it’s a well-established fact that wise lifestyle choices can dramatically reduce the risk of heart attack, stroke, diabetes, hypertension, and even malignancies ranging from lung cancer to colon cancer.

Puppy finds new home after being mailed

The puppy who “tugged at everyone’s heartstrings” has a new home, according to USA Today.

Terri Ford won the 5-month-old schnauzer-poodle mix in a drawing after postal workers in Minneapolis saved the puppy from a likely deadly trip through the mail.

“I never win anything,” said Terri Ford, who threw her arms in the air in excitement after learning she had won the drawing for Guess.

Nearly 50 people went to a Minneapolis animal shelter Friday in hopes of adopting Guess. Ford’s name was drawn first, and she passed the application process.

The puppy became a celebrity three weeks ago after postal workers heard noise coming from a box addressed to Georgia and saw the package move. They opened it to find the dog inside with no food or water.

His former owner, 29-year-old Stacey Champion, has been charged with animal cruelty. She was attempting to mail Guess to her son as a birthday present.

“He tugs at everyone’s heartstrings,” Ford said. “He’s not only adorable, but he’s gone through some trauma.”

Anti-laser may be useful in radiology

When the first laser was built in 1960, everyone agreed that it was pretty impressive, but no one quite knew what to do with it. It was famously called a “solution in search of a problem.”

Today, lasers are used for eye surgery, CD players, checkout scanners and Pink Floyd stage shows. Farmers even use them to level fields.

Now, 51 years later, Yale University researchers have built the world’s first anti-laser. Exactly what you can do with it remains to be seen, although radiology and computers are among the possibilities.

A. Douglas Stone, a physicist, and his team described the anti-laser in Friday’s issue of Science.

As its rather sci-fi nickname suggests, the anti-laser does the exact opposite of a laser. Instead of emitting a beam, it absorbs the light with the same precision. The device’s technical name is “coherent perfect absorber.”

The possibility of an anti-laser had been suggested by other scientists, but only in passing, Stone said. And other physicists have stumbled upon the basic premise while working on other projects, he said, but they did not follow through.

“Nobody took it serious, until us,” Stone said. “It was literally a footnote.”

The anti-laser is set up to split a single laser beam into two and direct the two beams to head toward each other, meeting at the paper-thin silicon wafer. The light’s waves are precisely tuned to interlock with each other and become trapped. They then dissipate into heat.

Now that the anti-laser has been built, what exactly do you do with it? Cao also has suggested that it could be useful in radiology, capturing images of human tissue normally too deep to see.

ESPN makes a dizzy choice for UK game

I felt nauseous watching the Kentucky-Mississippi State basketball game last night on TV. Not because of the Wildcats’ sluggish play that allowed the Bulldogs to dictate the game for the first half, until MSU coach Rick Stansbury went nuts and helped the Cats cut into the Dogs’ five-point lead.

No, I got sick to my stomach trying to figure out what I was seeing on my TV. It seems ESPN, in all its wisdom, fastened a camera to the ceiling, apparently because the sports broadcasting giant thought viewing the game like a pigeon on a rafter is a breakthrough.

As a former M-I sportswriter for 30-plus years, I’ve seen over a couple thousand games at all levels and never once thought – or had someone tell me – that the game would be better viewed from a blimp.

ESPN’s overhead shot was intended, I guess, to allow the home viewer to see how plays developed. Hmm, I thought that’s what instant replay and slo-mo was for. Watching a game looking down on players’ heads is just plain stupid.

And these ESPN folks are the best and brightest in their field? Did they not give Vertigo Cam a look-see ahead of time? If they did, did they not realize that humans weren’t meant to watch ballgames that way?

There was absolutely no perspective. I couldn’t tell what was going on, and trust me, I’ve seen sports on TV before. Maybe there’s a reason why putting a camera about 15 rows up and viewing the game like a fan in a seat, not on a cloud, has been used all these years. Because IT WORKS. It’s just that simple.

But ESPN didn’t just show us long stretches of the game from directly above, they compounded the problem when they switched off of that camera to what I assume was a floor camera. OK, now I was really getting dizzy and vomity.

The problem with floor-level cameras is that they like to follow close-up movement, including the flight of the ball. The camera is always jerking one way or the other in split seconds. I don’t watch ballgames on TV to see simulated thrill rides.

You might say, well, when you’re at a game, your eyes move rapidly and take in a lot of stuff in split seconds. True, but I’m controlling what I look at and I do it at my own speed, not like some camera goof trying to make watching a game at ground level look like a ramped-up chase scene.

Finally, in the game’s last few minutes, we saw more of the traditional view of the game. Thank you, ESPN, for regaining your senses.

I’m not against change. But being different doesn’t mean being smart. Last night in Rupp Arena, ESPN tried something different, and it was way wrong. At that, they succeeded.

Oh, and one more thing, ESPN. We don’t need games in 3-D.

Eating more dietary fiber could lead to longer life

We all know we should eat more fiber. Here’s some incentive: Eating more of it could help you live longer, but the kind of fiber you eat may be key, according to a story in the Chicago Tribune.

The findings came from a study released online Monday in the Archives of Internal Medicine. Researchers used data from the National Institutes of Health-AARP Diet and Health study that asked people age 50 to 71 what they ate for the last year and how often they ate it. Researchers followed the participants for an average nine years, in which time 20,126 men died and 11,330 women died.

Those who consumed diets higher in fiber had a lower risk of death. The 20 percent of men and women who ate the most fiber (29.4 grams per day for men and 25.8 grams for women) had a 22 percent lower risk of dying compared with those who ate the least amount (12.6 grams per day for men and 10.8 for women).

Diets high in fiber were linked with a lower risk of death from all causes, as well as death from cardiovascular disease, infectious diseases and respiratory diseases in men and women. Eating fiber was associated with a lower death risk from cancer for men, but the same was not seen in women.
When researchers looked at the effects of the various types of fiber they were eating, they found that consuming grains was most associated with lower risk of all types of death, plus death from cardiovascular disease, cancer and respiratory disease for men and women.

One theory for the link may be that dietary fiber may have anti-inflammatory properties, and inflammation is often associated with infectious and respiratory diseases.

“A diet rich in dietary fiber from whole plant foods may provide significant health benefits,” the authors wrote.