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Importance of On-Time Deliveries

posted 2013 Nov by natalie sampila

Importance of On-Time Deliveries

Yvetta Fedorova

Jane Brody on health and aging.

Anyone who has roasted a turkey knows that if you take it from the oven too soon, it will not have cooked through, and if you leave it in too long, it will be dry and tough.

For a baby in the womb the same principle applies: timing is key. A gestation that is shorter or longer than full term can sometimes be less than ideal for the infant, and occasionally for the mother. A pregnancy a week short or a week longer than full term can notably affect a child’s health, studies have shown.

The traditionally used phrase “term pregnancy” refers to one that lasts from 37 to 42 weeks. But the words have proved confusing and, to some extent, subject to individual interpretation. That anywhere in a five-week period can be deemed “term” has brought widespread misunderstanding among pregnant women and their doctors as to the best time for babies to be born, when there is no compelling reason to deliver the baby sooner or keep it in the womb longer.

Alarmed by recent trends to induce labor or schedule cesarean deliveries earlier than 39 weeks gestation for a single fetus, the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists and the Society for Maternal-Fetal Medicine last month issued four new definitions of “term” deliveries to clarify matters for women and doctors.

“Language and labels are important,” said Dr. Jeffrey L. Ecker, a maternal-fetal medicine specialist in Boston and chairman of the college’s committee on obstetric practice. “Outcomes do vary, and we want to be sure all involved — doctors, midwives and patients — are speaking about the same thing.”

The new definitions are based on the duration of pregnancy calculated from the first day of a woman’s last menstrual period, a known date of conception, or an ultrasound measurement of the fetus during the first 13 weeks of pregnancy:

■ Early term: Between 37 weeks, 0 days and 38 weeks, 6 days.

■ Full term: Between 39 weeks, 0 days and 40 weeks, 6 days.

■ Late term: Between 41 weeks, 0 days and 41 weeks, 6 days.

■ Postterm: Forty-two weeks, 0 days and beyond.

“This terminology change makes it clear to both patients and doctors that newborn outcomes are not uniform even after 37 weeks,” said Dr. Ecker. “Each week of gestation up to 39 weeks is important for a fetus to fully develop before delivery and have a healthy start.”During the last weeks of pregnancy, from week 37 to 40, a baby’s lungs and brain fully mature, and babies born full-term by the new definition have, on average, the best health outcomes.

Dr. Ecker, among other experts, advocates patience: observing mother and fetus weekly, and allowing nature to take its course when there is no reason to intervene. If it is important to schedule a C-section or to induce labor in an otherwise healthy pregnancy, “after 39 weeks is appropriate,” he said.

Of course, there are many situations in which a planned delivery of a baby before 39 weeks gestation is medically desirable and possibly even lifesaving. One common circumstance is a twin pregnancy, which is now often delivered at 38 weeks. Studies have suggested that, on average, twins fair less well when the pregnancy is allowed to continue to full term.

Other conditions that can warrant delivery earlier than full term include placental abnormalities, a prior C-section that cut through the muscular wall of the uterus, an inadequate amount of amniotic fluid, fetal growth restriction, premature rupture of the membranes enclosing the fetus and, in the mother, pre-eclampsia and poorly controlled hypertension or diabetes.

In the case of fetal growth restriction, among others, a decision to deliver a baby early should be made on a “case-by-case” basis, after thoroughly weighing the risks and benefits, Dr. Ecker said.

“If everything is going well with mom and baby, a delivery before 39 weeks is not justified,” said Dr. Catherine Y. Spong, a maternal-fetal specialist at the National Institutes of Health whose studies have largely informed the new definitions of term pregnancy.

In a study of 28,867 women who had a scheduled repeat C-section, Dr. Spong and her colleagues assessed the chances of an adverse outcome for the baby as related to the length of gestation. The earlier the delivery occurred, they found, the greater the baby’s risk of developing respiratory problems, being admitted to the neonatal intensive care unit, needing cardiopulmonary resuscitation or mechanical ventilation, developing a body-wide infection, experiencing low blood sugar or requiring prolonged hospitalization.

Relative to delivery at 39 weeks, various risks of harm to the baby increased by as much as fourfold for delivery at 37 weeks and doubled for delivery at 38 weeks. Delivery after 40 weeks also was linked to an increased risk of infant harm. “Our results indicate that a high proportion of elective cesarean deliveries in the United States are performed before 39 weeks,” they wrote. “These early deliveries are associated with a preventable increase in neonatal morbidity and admissions to the neonatal intensive care unit, which carry a high economic cost. These findings support recommendations to delay elective delivery until 39 weeks of gestation.”

An Israeli study underscored the importance of continuing pregnancy to term whenever possible. It found a threefold higher rate of infant death among those born between 34 and 37 weeks when compared with babies born full-term. The authors pointed out that the last six weeks of gestation “represent a critical period of growth and development of the fetal brain and lungs, and of other systems.”

Effects of a birth earlier than full term can be lifelong. A Finnish study published in the October issue of Pediatrics that followed nearly 9,000 men and women born between 1934 and 1944 found that, compared with those born at term, those born between 34 and 36 weeks of gestation were less well educated, had lower incomes and lower occupations than their fathers.

In an interview, Dr. Spong also outlined the mother’s risks in delivering a baby early. Induced labor may not work and can be very long; the mother’s risks of infection and postpartum hemorrhage are greater, and hospitalization can be prolonged.

Although a cesarean section is “very safe over all,” she said, it nonetheless poses a greater risk of excessive bleeding, infection, anesthetic complications and damage to internal organs.

To read more click here to go to New York Times

Flu in Pregnancy Is Linked to Bipolar Disorder

posted 2013 May by Martha New


Mind 36 Comments

Flu in Pregnancy Is Linked to Bipolar Disorder


Flu infection during pregnancy may increase the risk for bipolar disorder in the child, according to a new report.

Previous studies have found an association between flu infection and schizophrenia, but this one, published online in JAMA Psychiatry, is the first to find a connection with bipolar disorder.

From 1959 through 1966, researchers recruited more than 19,000 pregnant women enrolled in a large health insurance program in California, collecting data on influenza infection from just before conception until delivery. Using various techniques, they tracked down cases of bipolar disorder among the offspring from 1981 to 2010 and found 92 cases of documented illness and 722 matched controls, a sample size the authors acknowledge is not large.

After controlling for maternal age, race, educational level, gestational age at birth and maternal psychiatric disorders, they found that people whose mothers had the flu during pregnancy had quadruple the risk for bipolar disorder as adults.

“Pregnant women should not be alarmed,” said the senior author, Dr. Alan S. Brown, a professor of psychiatry and epidemiology at Columbia. “Bipolar disorder occurs in only 1 percent of the population. But this is another piece of knowledge indicating that pregnant mothers and women planning a pregnancy should consider getting a flu shot.”

A Forgotten Pioneer of Vaccines

posted 2013 May by Martha New

A Forgotten Pioneer of Vaccines - New York Times

Jeryl Lynn Hilleman with her sister, Kirsten, in 1966 as a doctor gave her the mumps vaccine developed by their father.

By RICHARD CONNIFF Published: May 6, 2013

We live in an epidemiological bubble and are for the most part blissfully unaware of it. Diseases that were routine hazards of childhood for many Americans living today now seem like ancient history. And while every mother could once identify measles in a heartbeat, now even the best hospitals have to call in their eldest staff members to ask: “Is this what we think it is?”

Jeryl Lynn Hilleman was 5 when she got mumps and her father, Maurice Hilleman, took swabs that yielded the strains used to develop a vaccine. Dr. Hilleman later combined it with measles and rubella vaccines to offer a single M.M.R. shot.

To a remarkable extent, we owe our well-being, and in many cases our lives, to the work of one man and to events that happened 50 years ago this spring.

At 1 a.m. on March 21, 1963, an intense, irascible but modest Merck scientist named Maurice R. Hilleman was asleep at his home in the Philadelphia suburb of Lafayette Hill when his 5-year-old daughter, Jeryl Lynn, woke him with a sore throat. Dr. Hilleman felt the side of her face and then the telltale swelling beneath the jaw indicating mumps. He tucked her back into bed, about the only treatment anyone could offer at the time.

For most children, mumps was a nuisance disease, nothing worse than a painful swelling of the salivary glands. But Dr. Hilleman knew that it could sometimes leave a child deaf or otherwise permanently impaired.

He quickly dressed and drove 20 minutes to pick up proper sampling equipment from his laboratory. Returning home, he woke Jeryl Lynn long enough to swab the back of her throat and immerse the specimen in a nutrient broth. Then he drove back to store it in the laboratory freezer.

The name Maurice Hilleman may not ring a bell. But today 95 percent of American children receive the M.M.R. — the vaccine for measles, mumps and rubella that Dr. Hilleman invented, starting with the mumps strain he collected that night from his daughter.

It was by no means his only contribution. At Dr. Hilleman’s death in 2005, other researchers credited him with having saved more lives than any other scientist in the 20th century. Over his career, he devised or substantially improved more than 25 vaccines, including 9 of the 14 now routinely recommended for children.

“One person did that!” said Dr. Anthony S. Fauci, a longtime friend of Dr. Hilleman’s and now director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases. “Truly amazing.”

As a young man in Montana, Maurice Hilleman had intended only to become a manager at the J. C. Penney store. He turned out not to have the perfect retail personality. (Asked later in life what he was proudest of in his career, he replied, “Being able to survive while being a bastard.”)

After getting a Ph.D. in microbiology at the University of Chicago, he went on to spend most of his career at Merck, but the corporate personality also eluded him. He had a sailor’s vocabulary, and his brand of peer review often included shipboard expletives (though he used them “in a constructive way,” Dr. Fauci said with a smile).

But everyone recognized Dr. Hilleman’s genius at discovering and perfecting vaccines, which he pursued, Dr. Fauci said, with a rare combination of “exquisite scientific knowledge” and an “amazingly practical get-it-done personality.”

Vaccines are tools for coaxing the immune system to resist a disease without producing the actual symptoms, and making them was as much an art as a science. “It’s not like there was a formula for this,” said Dr. Paul A. Offit, a Philadelphia pediatrician, vaccine developer and the author of “Vaccinated,” a 2007 biography of Dr. Hilleman.

The general practice was to isolate a disease organism, figure out how to keep it alive in the laboratory, then weaken or “attenuate” it by passing it over and over through a series of cells, typically from chicken embryos, until it could no longer reproduce in humans but could still elicit an immune response. Other steps followed, particularly for Dr. Hilleman, who was obsessed with safety and with stripping away unwanted side effects.

That spring of 1963, the Food and Drug Administration also granted the first license for a vaccine against measles. Much of the early work on the virus had been done in the laboratory of John F. Enders at Boston Children’s Hospital, but the vaccine still commonly produced rashes and fevers when Dr. Hilleman began to work on it.

Under pressure from public health officials to stop a disease then killing more than 500 American children every year, Dr. Hilleman and Dr. Joseph Stokes, a pediatrician, devised a way to minimize the side effects by giving a gamma globulin shot in one arm and the measles vaccine in the other. It was the beginning of the end of the disease in this country.

Dr. Hilleman then went on to refine the vaccine over the next four years, eventually producing the much safer Moraten strain that is still in use today. As always, he kept himself in the background: The name stands for “more attenuated enders.”

One other crucial event in the development of M.M.R. happened that spring of 1963: An epidemic of rubella began in Europe and quickly swept around the globe. In this country, the virus’s devastating effect on first-trimester pregnancies caused about 11,000 newborns to die, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. An additional 20,000 suffered birth defects, including deafness, heart disease and cataracts.

Dr. Hilleman was already testing his own vaccine as the epidemic ended in 1965. But he agreed to work instead with a vaccine being developed by federal regulators. It was, he later recalled, “toxic, toxic, toxic.” By 1969, he had cleaned it up enough to obtain F.D.A. approval and prevent another rubella epidemic. Finally, in 1971, he put his vaccines for measles, mumps and rubella together to make M.M.R., replacing a series of six shots with just two.

Or rather not finally. In 1978, having found a better rubella vaccine than his own, Dr. Hilleman asked its developer if he could use it in the M.M.R. The developer, Dr. Stanley Plotkin, then of the Wistar Institute in Philadelphia, was momentarily speechless. It was an expensive choice for Merck, and might have been a painful one for anyone other than Dr. Hilleman.

“It’s not that he didn’t have an ego. He certainly did,” Dr. Plotkin recalled in a recent interview. “But he valued excellence above that. Once he decided that this strain was better, he did what he had to do,” even if it meant sacrificing his own work.

Given Dr. Hilleman’s obsession with safety and effectiveness, it came as a bitter surprise toward the end of his life when his vaccine was at the center of what Dr. Offit called “a perfect storm of fear.” In 1998, The Lancet, a respected British medical journal, published an article alleging that M.M.R. had caused an epidemic of autism.

The lead author, Dr. Andrew Wakefield, became a media celebrity, and some parents began to balk at having their children immunized; the vaccine’s very success had made them forget just how devastating measles, mumps and rubella could be. Dr. Hilleman, who might reasonably have been expected to win a Nobel Prize, got hate mail and death threats instead.

Multiple independent studies would eventually demonstrate that there is no link between M.M.R. and autism, and Dr. Wakefield’s work has been widely discredited. In 2010, the British medical authorities stripped him of the right to practice medicine, and The Lancet retracted the 1998 article.

It came too late, not just for Dr. Hilleman, who by then had died of cancer, but also for many parents who mistakenly believed that avoiding the vaccine was the right way to protect their children. In 2011 alone, a measles outbreak in Europe sickened 26,000 people and killed 9. Because the disease is contagious enough to pick up from a traveler walking by in the airport, cases still also occur in this country among the unvaccinated.

But Dr. Hilleman would probably still find reason to be encouraged. The Measles and Rubella Initiative, a global campaign organized in 2001, has given the M.M.R. vaccine to a billion children in this century, preventing 9.6 million deaths from measles alone, for less than $2 a dose. According to Dr. Stephen L. Cochi, a global immunization adviser at the C.D.C., the initiative is “on the verge of setting a target date” to eradicate the disease.

In this country, the strain that Dr. Hilleman collected from his daughter that night in 1963 has reduced the incidence of mumps to fewer than 1,000 cases a year, from 186,000. Characteristically, he named it not for himself but for his daughter. Jeryl Lynn Hilleman, now a financial consultant to biotech start-ups in Silicon Valley, turns the credit back on her father.

He was driven, she said in an interview, “by a need to be of use — of use to people, of use to humanity.”

“All I did,” she added, “was get sick at the right time, with the right virus, with the right father.”

This article has been revised to reflect the following correction:

Correction: May 6, 2013

An earlier photo caption with this article misspelled the given name of one of Dr. Hilleman’s daughters. She is Jeryl Lynn, not Jeri Lynn.

This article has been revised to reflect the following correction:

Correction: May 6, 2013

An earlier version of a home page summary on this article misspelled the surname of the girls pictured. It is Hilleman, not Hillemann.

Exercise May Help Protect Children From Stress

posted 2013 Mar by Martha New


Exercise 23 Comments

Exercise May Help Protect Children From Stress


Physically active children generally report happier moods and fewer symptoms of depression than children who are less active. Now researchers may have found a reason: by one measure, exercise seems to help children cope with stress.

Finnish researchers had 258 8-year-old boys and girls wear accelerometers on their wrists for at least four days that registered the quality and quantity of their physical activity. Their parents used cotton swabs to take saliva samples at various times throughout a single day, which the researchers used to assess levels of cortisol, a hormone typically induced by physical or mental stress.

There was no difference in the cortisol levels at home between children who were active and those who were less active. But when the researchers gave the children a standard psychosocial stress test at a clinic involving arithmetic and storytelling challenges, they found that those who had not engaged in physical activity had raised cortisol levels. The children who had moderate or vigorous physical activity showed relatively no rise in cortisol levels.

Those results indicate a more positive physiological response to stress by children who were more active, the researchers said in a study that was published this week in The Journal of Clinical Endocrinology and Metabolism. The children who were least active had the highest levels.

“This study shows that children who are more active throughout their day have a better hormonal response to an acute stressful situation,” said Disa Hatfield, an assistant professor of kinesiology at the University of Rhode Island, who was not involved in the study.

 To read more click HERE to go to the New York Times

Flu Shot Tied to Healthy Pregnancy

posted 2013 Feb by Martha New


Family 6 Comments

Flu Shot Tied to Healthy Pregnancy


Pregnant women who received the flu vaccine during the 2009 flu pandemic lowered their risk of delivering premature babies, a new study found.

Typically flu vaccination rates among pregnant women have hovered between 13 to 18 percent nationally. But a push by health officials during the 2009 season drove vaccination rates for the H1N1 vaccine up to about 45 percent in the United States, where they have remained since.

Some expectant mothers have been reluctant to get a flu shot over concern about the health of the fetus, but the study showed that flu vaccination was not only safe but protective, said Dr. Saad Omer of the Rollins School of Public Health at Emory University, the senior author of the study.

Dr. Omer and his colleagues looked at the electronic medical records of 3,327 pregnant women between April 2009 and April 2010. The study, published in the journal Clinical Infectious Diseases, found that the infants born to vaccinated mothers had a 37 percent lower likelihood of being premature, and they also weighed more at birth than babies born to unvaccinated women.

“Our thinking is that by preventing flu infection, we are reducing the likelihood of inflammation in pregnant women and therefore having a protective effect against preterm birth,” Dr. Omer said.

To read more click here to go to the New York Times

Paid Parental Leave: U.S. vs. The World (INFOGRAPHIC)

posted 2013 Feb by Martha New


Paid Parental Leave: U.S. vs. The World (INFOGRAPHIC)

Posted:   |  Updated: 02/05/2013 10:02 am EST

When Australia passed a parental leave law in 2010, it left the U.S. as the only industrialized nation not to mandate paid leave for mothers of newborns. Most of the rest of the world has paid maternity leave policies, too; Lesotho, Swaziland and Papua New Guinea are the only other countries that do not. Many countries give new fathers paid time off as well or allow parents to share paid leave.

New parents in the U.S. are guaranteed their jobs for 12 weeks after the arrival of a new baby, thanks to the Family Medical Leave Act of 1993, but they do not have to be paid during that time and exemptions apply for small companies. Only about 16 percent of employers offer fully paid maternity leave and many families take on significant debt or turn to public assistance around the birth of a child. As America's falling fertility rate raises economic concerns, working families may long to procreate in Sweden, where parents are given 480 paid days per child, to be shared between them and used anytime before the kid turns eight.

Will the U.S. catch up with the rest of the world during President Obama's second term? Advocates are working to get a national law passed while some states are expanding family leave policies, the Atlantic reports. See a new White House petition here. In the meantime, certain companies understand that keeping new parents happy makes more sense than replacing them, which generally costs somewhere between 50 and 200 percent of a worker's salary. When Google lengthened its maternity leave from three months to five and made it fully paid, new-mom attrition fell by half. 



Really? Timing of Meals Affects Weight Loss

posted 2013 Feb by Martha New


Really? 17 Comments

Really? Timing of Meals Affects Weight Loss


Anahad O’Connor tackles health myths.


In The New England Journal of Medicine last week, a prominent researcher noted that much of the conventional wisdom about weight loss has little basis in science. But his article did not address one oft-asked question: Is your waistline affected by when you eat, or is a calorie always just a calorie whenever you eat it?

To seasoned dieters, the claim that eating late can spell trouble is nothing new. But the idea has lacked evidence from credible human studies. Most of the research to date has shown that eating late is linked to weight gain, but late eaters also tend to consume more calories over all.

In a new study, published in The International Journal of Obesity, researchers at Harvard and elsewhere followed 420 overweight men and women in Spain in a 20-week weight loss program.  Click here for the NYT.we

Warning Too Late for Some Babies

posted 2013 Feb by Martha New


Healthy Consumer 30 Comments

Warning Too Late for Some Babies

Addison Mueller, about a week old, with her siblings. She was fed milk with SimplyThick to prevent choking, and died soon after.

Six weeks after Jack Mahoney was born prematurely on Feb. 3, 2011, the neonatal staff at WakeMed Hospital in Raleigh, N.C., noticed that his heart rate slowed slightly when he ate. They figured he was having difficulty feeding, and they added a thickener to help.

When Jack was discharged, his parents were given the thickener, SimplyThick, to mix into his formula. Two weeks later, Jack was back in the hospital, with a swollen belly and in inconsolable pain. By then, most of his small intestine had stopped working. He died soon after, at 66 days old.

A month later, the Food and Drug Administration issued a caution that SimplyThick should not be fed to premature infants because it may cause necrotizing enterocolitis, or NEC, a life-threatening condition that damages intestinal tissue.

To read more please click here to go to the NYTimes

Dangerous Gun Myths

posted 2013 Feb by Martha New


Editorial | The Gun Challenge

Dangerous Gun Myths

Published: February 2, 2013 133 Comments

The debate over what to do to reduce gun violence in America hit an absurd low point on Wednesday when a Senate witness tried to portray a proposed new ban on assault rifles and high-capacity magazines as some sort of sexist plot that would disproportionately hurt vulnerable women and their children.

To read more click Here for the NY Times

The witness was Gayle Trotter, a fellow at the Independent Women’s Forum, a right-wing public policy group that provides pseudofeminist support for extreme positions that are in fact dangerous to women. She told the Senate Judiciary Committee that the limits on firepower proposed by Dianne Feinstein, a California Democrat, would harm women because an assault weapon “in the hands of a young woman defending her babies in her home becomes a defense weapon.” She spoke of the “peace of mind” and “courage” a woman derives from “knowing she has a scary-looking gun” when she’s fighting violent criminals.

It is not at all clear where Ms. Trotter gained her insight into confrontations between women and heavily armed intruders, since it is not at all clear that sort of thing happens often. It is tempting to dismiss her notion that an AR-15 is a woman’s best friend as the kooky reflex response of someone ideologically opposed to gun control laws and who, in her case, has also been a vociferous opponent of the Violence Against Women Act, the 1994 law that assists women facing domestic violence.

But it is important to note that Ms. Trotter was chosen to testify by the committee’s Republican members, who will have a big say on what, if anything, Congress does on guns; and that her appearance before the committee was to give voice to the premise, however insupportable and dangerous it may be, that guns make women and children safer — and the more powerful the guns the better.

Ms. Trotter related the story of Sarah McKinley, an 18-year-old Oklahoma woman who shot and killed an intruder on New Year’s Eve 2011, when she was home alone with her baby. The story was telling, but not in the way she intended, as Sheldon Whitehouse, a Rhode Island Democrat, pointed out. The woman was able to repel the intruder using an ordinary Remington 870 Express 12-gauge shotgun, which would not be banned under the proposed statute. She did not need a military-style weapon with a 30-round magazine.

But there is a more fundamental problem with the idea that guns actually protect the hearth and home. Guns rarely get used that way. In the 1990s, a team headed by Arthur Kellermann of Emory University looked at all injuries involving guns kept in the home in Memphis, Seattle and Galveston, Tex. They found that these weapons were fired far more often in accidents, criminal assaults, homicides or suicide attempts than in self-defense. For every instance in which a gun in the home was shot in self-defense, there were seven criminal assaults or homicides, four accidental shootings, and 11 attempted or successful suicides.

The cost-benefit balance of having a gun in the home is especially negative for women, according to a 2011 review by David Hemenway, director of the Harvard Injury Control Research Center. Far from making women safer, a gun in the home is “a particularly strong risk factor” for female homicides and the intimidation of women.

In domestic violence situations, the risk of homicide for women increased eightfold when the abuser had access to firearms, according to a study published in The American Journal of Public Health in 2003. Further, there was “no clear evidence” that victims’ access to a gun reduced their risk of being killed. Another 2003 study, by Douglas Wiebe of the University of Pennsylvania, found that females living with a gun in the home were 2.7 times more likely to be murdered than females with no gun at home.

Regulating guns, on the other hand, can reduce that risk. An analysis by Mayors Against Illegal Guns found that in states that required a background check for every handgun sale, women were killed by intimate partners at a much lower rate. Senator Patrick Leahy, the Judiciary Committee chairman, has used this fact to press the case for universal background checks, to make sure that domestic abusers legally prohibited from having guns cannot get them.

As for the children whose safety Ms. Trotter professes to be so concerned about, guns in the home greatly increase the risk of youth suicides. That is why the American Academy of Pediatrics has long urged parents to remove guns from their homes.

The idea that guns are essential to home defense and women’s safety is a myth. It should not be allowed to block the new gun controls that the country so obviously needs.

Exercise and the Ever-Smarter Human Brain

posted 2012 Dec by Martha New


By GRETCHEN REYNOLDS  Anyone whose resolve to exercise in 2013 is a bit shaky might want to consider an emerging scientific view of human evolution. It suggests that we are clever today in part because a million years ago, we could outrun and outwalk most other mammals over long distances. Our brains were shaped and sharpened by movement, the idea goes, and we continue to require regular physical activity in order for our brains to function optimally.

Gretchen Reynolds on the science of fitness.

The role of physical endurance in shaping humankind has intrigued anthropologists and gripped the popular imagination for some time. In 2004, the evolutionary biologists Daniel E. Lieberman of Harvard and Dennis M. Bramble of the University of Utah published a seminal article in the journal Nature titled “Endurance Running and the Evolution of Homo,” in which they posited that our bipedal ancestors survived by becoming endurance athletes, able to bring down swifter prey through sheer doggedness, jogging and plodding along behind them until the animals dropped. To read more Click Here to go to the NY Times.

Simon Says Don’t Use Flashcards

posted 2012 Nov by Martha New


The Well Column August 23, 2012, 12:02 am By TARA PARKER-POPE
Ben Wiseman

Parents who want to stimulate their children’s brain development often focus on things like early reading, flashcards and language tapes. But a growing body of research suggests that playing certain kinds of childhood games may be the best way to increase a child’s ability to do well in school. Variations on games like Freeze Tag and Simon Says require relatively high levels of executive function, testing a child’s ability to pay attention, remember rules and exhibit self-control — qualities that also predict academic success. If you'd like to read more click HERE for the New York Times.

Cuddle Your Kid!

posted 2012 Oct by Martha New

By Published: October 20, 2012

AS the presidential candidates debate how to strengthen America, maybe they can learn from rats.

Nicholas D. Kristof

A McGill University neurologist, Michael Meaney, noticed that some of the mother rats he worked with spent a great deal of time licking and grooming their babies. Other rat moms were much less cuddly.

This natural variation had long-term consequences. Meaney’s team found that when the rats grew up, those that had been licked and groomed did better at finding their way through mazes.

They were more social and curious. They even lived longer.

Meaney’s team dissected adult rats and found that licking led to differences in brain anatomy, so that rats that had been licked more were better able to control stress responses. 

If you would like to read more click HERE to go to the NY Times

Boys Now Enter Puberty Younger, Study Suggests, but It’s Unclear Why

posted 2012 Oct by Martha New

By   Published: October 20, 2012 A large study released by the American Academy of Pediatrics suggests that boys are entering puberty earlier now than several decades ago — or at least earlier than the time frame doctors have historically used as a benchmark.

The study, widely considered the most reliable attempt to measure puberty in American boys, estimates that boys are showing signs of puberty six months to two years earlier than was reported in previous research, which historically taught that 11 ½ was the general age puberty began in boys. But experts cautioned that because previous studies were smaller or used different approaches, it is difficult to say how much earlier boys might be developing. 

If you would like to read more click HERE for the NY Times

How Exercise Can Help You Master New Skills

posted 2012 Sep by Martha New

 Can you improve your body’s ability to remember by making it move? That rather odd-seeming question stimulated researchers at the University of Copenhagen to undertake a reverberant new examination of just how the body creates specific muscle memories and what role, if any, exercise plays in the process.

To do so, they first asked a group of young, healthy right-handed men to master a complicated tracking skill on a computer. Sitting before the screen with their right arm on an armrest and a controller similar to a joystick in their right hand, the men watched a red line squiggle across the screen and had to use the controller to trace the same line with a white cursor. Their aim was to remain as close to the red squiggle as possible, a task that required input from both the muscles and the mind.

The men repeated the task multiple times, until the motion necessary to track the red line became ingrained, almost automatic. They were creating a short-term muscle memory. To read more click HERE to go to the New York Times.

From Parents, a Living Inheritance

posted 2012 Sep by Martha New

By Published: September 21, 2012

For all of the conversation this week about Mitt Romney’s views on federal income taxes and personal responsibility, his insistence that “I have inherited nothing” may be the most thought-provoking.  Ron Lieber writes the Your Money column, which appears in The Times on Saturdays.

His comment, which was among those he made in the video of a fund-raiser that Mother Jones magazine posted Monday, has inspired a few skeptical reactions, given his privileged background. But leaving the breadth of his advantages aside, the comment speaks to an often unspoken distinction among families that can determine who gets ahead, who gets along and who merely scrapes by.

Some parents help their adult children financially, while others cannot or do not. 


Click here to read more from the NY Times

Early Music Lessons Have Longtime Benefits

posted 2012 Sep by Martha New


When children learn to play a musical instrument, they strengthen a range of auditory skills. Recent studies suggest that these benefits extend all through life, at least for those who continue to be engaged with music.

But a study published last month is the first to show that music lessons in childhood may lead to changes in the brain that persist years after the lessons stop.

Researchers at Northwestern University recorded the auditory brainstem responses of college students — that is to say, their electrical brain waves — in response to complex sounds. The group of students who reported musical training in childhood had more robust responses — their brains were better able to pick out essential elements, like pitch, in the complex sounds when they were tested. And this was true even if the lessons had ended years ago. Cliick Here to read more from the New York Times

Why Fathers Really Matter

posted 2012 Sep by Martha New

By JUDITH SHULEVITZ Published: September 8, 2012 

MOTHERHOOD begins as a tempestuously physical experience but quickly becomes a political one. Once a woman’s pregnancy goes public, the storm moves outside. Don’t pile on the pounds! Your child will be obese. Don’t eat too little, or your baby will be born too small. For heaven’s sake, don’t drink alcohol. Oh, please: you can sip some wine now and again. And no matter how many contradictory things the experts say, don’t panic. Stress hormones wreak havoc on a baby’s budding nervous system.

All this advice rains down on expectant mothers for the obvious reason that mothers carry babies and create the environments in which they grow. What if it turned out, though, that expectant fathers molded babies, too, and not just by way of genes?

Biology is making it clearer by the day that a man’s health and well-being have a measurable impact on his future children’s health and happiness. This is not because a strong, resilient man has a greater likelihood of being a fabulous dad — or not only for that reason — or because he’s probably got good genes. Whether a man’s genes are good or bad (and whatever “good” and “bad” mean in this context), his children’s bodies and minds will reflect lifestyle choices he has made over the years, even if he made those choices long before he ever imagined himself strapping on a Baby Bjorn.

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Far From ‘Junk,’ DNA Dark Matter Plays Crucial Role

posted 2012 Sep by Martha New

By Published: September 5, 2012 12 Comments

Among the many mysteries of human biology is why complex diseases like diabetes, high blood pressure and psychiatric disorders are so difficult to predict and, often, to treat. An equally perplexing puzzle is why one individual gets a disease like cancer or depression, while an identical twin remains perfectly healthy.

Now scientists have discovered a vital clue to unraveling these riddles. The human genome is packed with at least four million gene switches that reside in bits of DNA that once were dismissed as “junk” but that turn out to play critical roles in controlling how cells, organs and other tissues behave. The discovery, considered a major medical and scientific breakthrough, has enormous implications for human health because many complex diseases appear to be caused by tiny changes in hundreds of gene switches.

The findings are the fruit of an immense federal project, involving 440 scientists from 32 labs around the world. As they delved into the “junk” — parts of the DNA that are not actual genes containing instructions for proteins — they discovered it is not junk at all. At least 80 percent of it is active and needed. CLICK HERE to read more from the New York Times

Father’s Age Is Linked to Risk of Autism and Schizophrenia

posted 2012 Aug by Martha New


Published: August 22, 2012 
Older men are more likely than young ones to father a child who develops autism or schizophrenia, because of random mutations that become more numerous with advancing paternal age, scientists reported on Wednesday, in the first study to quantify the effect as it builds each year. The age of mothers had no bearing on the risk for these disorders, the study found. Experts said that the finding was hardly reason to forgo fatherhood later in life, though it might have some influence on reproductive decisions. The overall risk to a man in his 40s or older is in the range of 2 percent, at most, and there are other contributing biological factors that are entirely unknown.

But the study, published online in the journal Nature, provides support for the argument that the surging rate of autism diagnoses over recent decades is attributable in part to the increasing average age of fathers, which could account for as many as 20 to 30 percent of cases.

The findings also counter the longstanding assumption that the age of the mother is the most important factor in determining the odds of a child having developmental problems. The risk of chromosomal abnormalities, like Down syndrome, increases for older mothers, but when it comes to some complex developmental and psychiatric problems, the lion’s share of the genetic risk originates in the sperm, not the egg, the study found.

Previous studies had strongly suggested as much, including an analysis published in April that found that this risk was higher at age 35 than 25 and crept up with age. The new report quantifies that risk for the first time, calculating how much it accumulates each year.

The research team found that the average child born to a 20-year-old father had 25 random mutations that could be traced to paternal genetic material. The number increased steadily by two mutations a year, reaching 65 mutations for offspring of 40-year-old men.

If you would like to read more click HERE to go to the New York Times

Training Feminism's Next Wave

posted 2012 Aug by Martha New

By AMELIA GENTLEMAN Published: August 28, 2012  LONDON — What is the best position to adopt if you are staging a sit-down protest outside Downing Street and do not want to be dragged away by the police? How can you make your body so cumbersome that security guards will find it hard to remove you? What are your legal rights if you form a human chain stopping the traffic?If you would like to read more click HERE to go to the New York Times