Nov 042010

Being surrounded by family and friends makes you live longer, scientists have said.

People who have no social life are fifty per cent more likely to die early than those who are well connected, a study has shown.

Those who socialise regularly with family and friends live an average of 3.7 yeas longer than those who lead lonely lives, according to a report published yesterday.

People with little social support have a mortality rate as high as alcoholics, while the impact of making friends is comparable to the effect of giving up smoking, the research showed.

Researchers analysed data from 148 studies over three decades and involving more than 300,000 people.

Burt Uchino, the professor who led the research at the Universities of Utah and North Carolina, said: “Friends and supportive people can make life easier on a basic, every day level. They can lend you money, offer lifts or provide baby sitting.

“They can also encourage you to have better health practices, see a doctor, exercise more. They may also help you indirectly by making you feel you have something to live for.”

Professor Uchino said that the emotional support people receive from those close to them can help put their problems into perspective.

“By having a secure relationship and feeling loved, people live much more secure, calm lives,” he said.

The research found that the link between death and loneliness applied to men and women of all ages, regardless of their health.

Nov 042010

The news story that is the subject of this blog entry found that if one person yawns other people in the university will then also yawn because they feel empathy with the original yawner. This story belongs in the Scientists R Stoopid section because it is a example of energy linkage between human beings, not empathy.

The story claims that the people who mimic the first person who yawns do so because of something called “empathy”, which is defined as “an intellectual identification with the thoughts, feelings, and attitudes of another”.

That is not what is happening.

Human beings have what is commonly referred to as “energy”. That energy is invisible, it can travel across a distance, and it can affect other living creatures. Human beings will commonly “link” or “connect” their energies when they are in close physical proximity with each other. 

That energy connection is why other people will yawn after someone else does. The people mimicking the yawn are doing so because the sensations of the yawn from the body of the original yawner are traveling along the energy connections that are present between them and the other people around them, and creating the urge to yawn in their bodies.

The original news story is reprinted below.


It is the plague of boardroom meetings, university lecture halls, and dentists’ waiting rooms everywhere – the contagious yawn.

Now scientists have discovered why the expression of tiredness spreads from person to person throughout a room and why young children are immune to it.

Workers who have the impulse to follow the yawns of their colleagues are simply trying to show empathy.

Rather than an embarrassment, the action should be seen as a sign that they more in touch with the feelings of others, the researchers said.

Contagious yawning among adults is epidemic, the report discovered, with more than fifty per cent regularly stretching their mouths at the sight of someone else doing the same.

Previous studies have suggested that yawning increases blood flow and oxygen levels in the brain, helping to maintain alertness and explaining why people often yawn when they are waiting for something stressful to happen, such as a visit to the dentist.

Evolutionary theorists have claimed that yawning is infectious because humans once lived together in groups and it was used either as a way to raise alertness levels in times of danger.

But scientists appeared to have confirmed the link between yawning and empathy by studying its prevalence amongst normally devloping children and children with autism spectrum disorder.

Children under the age of four and youngsters with autism do not suffer from infectious yawning because they do not experience the same levels of empathy, the report found.

Researchers from the University of Connecticut observed 120 well developing children between the ages of one and six.

The study showed that although babies yawn even before they leave the womb, the majority of children show no signs of succumbing to contagious yawning until they reach four years old.

In a second study they looked at 28 children between the ages of six and 15 with some form of autism.

Autism is a developmental disorder which affects children’s social interaction causing them to be unable to form normal emotional ties with people around them.

Scientists discovered that autistic children were less likely than typically developing children of the same age to yawn when someone else yawns.

The more severe a child’s autism the less likely he or she would yawn contagiously, the report published in the latest edition of the respected Child Development journal concluded.

The researchers said: “Given that contagious yawning may be a sign of empathy, this study suggests that empathy and the mimicry that may underlie it develop slowly over the first few years of life, and that children with autism spectrum disorders may miss subtle cues that tie them emotionally to others.”

Dr Catriona Morrison, a cognitive psychologist at the University of Leeds, said: “This kind of research highlights the fact that contagious yawning, which is a subconscious activity, is an indication of a high level of social evolution. It also fits in with the theory of mind that mental states develop as children get older.”

Nov 042010
If you suffer from migraine headaches, you suffer enough. These aren’t just headaches: They are life-disrupting events that can send you to bed for hours or days at a time, unable to tolerate light, sound, odors or human contact.

So the last thing you want to hear is that your headaches are linked with other health problems and may even raise your risk for strokes, heart attacks and other serious illnesses.

But researchers are finding increasing evidence for just such links. “Both doctors and patients need to know that migraine has a large number of fellow travelers,” says Richard Lipton, a neurologist at Albert Einstein College in New York and a spokesman for the American Academy of Neurology.

Migraine, once dismissed as “a disorder of neurotic women,” is a serious health problem, says Stephen Silberstein, a neurologist at Thomas Jefferson University in Philadelphia.

Recently, researchers have reported links with:

• Heart attack. They were twice as common (4% vs. 2%) in people with migraines in one large study co-written by Lipton. The risk was especially high in women who had migraines with aura — sensations that occur before the headache and can include seeing flashing or zigzagged lights.

• Brain damage. Brain lesions become more common with age. But women who’d had migraines with aura in middle age were more likely than other women to have the lesions on a part of the brain called the cerebellum when given a brain scan later in life. More study is needed to learn whether such lesions can be caused by migraine and whether they are linked with cognitive or functional impairment, says Lenore Launer, a researcher at the National Institute on Aging.

• Multiple sclerosis. Women with migraine were 47% more likely to develop MS than those without the headaches in one study.

Other research has linked migraine with stroke, depression and epilepsy.

When health problems are linked, it does not necessarily mean that one causes the other. Sometimes they share underlying causes. Sometimes the link is a statistical illusion.

In the case of migraine and depression, a cause-and-effect relationship seems likely and seems to go both ways. People with any chronic pain often endure “a cycle of disability, isolation and suffering” that can trigger depression, says Andrew Ahn, a neurologist at the University of Florida-Gainesville. And depressed people are more vulnerable to pain.

Also, some genes may raise risks of both migraine and depression. Underlying biological links also seem likely for migraines and epilepsy. That fits with a growing understanding that migraine is “fundamentally a disorder of hyper-excitability of the brain,” Silberstein says.

But the relationship between migraine and some other disorders is murkier. That’s certainly true for MS. Study on that link is just starting, says Ilya Kister, a researcher at New York University. In any case, he says, “99% of women with migraines will not develop MS.”

Research on migraine and cardiovascular conditions is more advanced but still incomplete. These health problems appear to share some underlying causes. But doctors also know that changes in brain blood flow during a migraine with aura can, in rare cases, lead directly to a stroke, Lipton says. That’s of particular concern, he says, for younger adults who otherwise are at very low stroke risk.

For now, there is no proof that treating migraines prevents heart attack, stroke or other conditions.

Still, migraine patients have ample reason to discuss other health concerns with their doctors and to exercise, eat well and control blood pressure, cholesterol and weight.

Lipton says: “Good health care requires recognizing not only the migraine but the whole party that may be traveling together.”

Nov 042010

European regulators ordered the diabetes drug Avandia off the market and the Food and Drug Administration placed stringent restrictions on its use in the United States, saying heart attack risks associated with the former blockbuster are too great a safety concern to continue its use for most people.

In simultaneous news briefings Thursday, the European Medicines Agency and the U.S. Food and Drug Administration announced their long-awaited decisions on the fate of GlaxoSmithKline’s controversial drug. The European regulator said it would stop authorizing marketing of Avandia, which will be banned from sales within the next few months.

The FDA said new patients will be able to get a prescription for Avandia, but only if they can’t control their blood sugar with other medications. Doctors will have to document that their patients are eligible to receive the drug and have been briefed on its risks. FDA expects the restricted plan “will limit use of Avandia significantly.”

The two decisions will virtually eliminate use of the drug around the world, said Dr. Steve Nissen of the Cleveland Clinic.

“To prescribe this drug in the U.S., you now have to certify that the patient has tried every other diabetes drug, and there are no patients who only respond to Avandia,” said Nissen, who published the first paper linking Avandia to heart risks.

While there are more than a dozen diabetes drugs on the market, only Actos from Japan-based Takeda Pharmaceuticals works the same way as Avandia. U.S sales of Actos have risen steadily — hitting $3.4 billion last year — as Avandia’s reputation has soured. Global sales of Avandia have fallen from a peak of $3.2 billion in 2006 to $1.2 billion last year.

In the U.S., more than 2.6 million patients filled prescriptions for Avandia last year, and some experts worry that those currently taking the drug may continue using it despite the risk of heart attack.

Anyone already taking Avandia will need to sign a waiver saying that they understand the drug’s risks. But Dr. Harlan Krumholz of Yale University says patients may not understand they are still at risk even if they feel good.

“Asking a patient, ‘Are you doing well on this medication?’ isn’t an adequate assessment of whether the drug is increasing their risk. It’s a silent risk. They don’t feel the risk,” Krumholz said.

The safety of Avandia, the brand name for rosiglitazone, has been the top drug safety controversy facing the FDA in recent years. FDA’s critics have framed the Avandia decision as a key test of the agency’s Obama-appointed leadership, who vowed to bolster the agency’s regulatory stance after a series of drug safety problems under the previous administration.

FDA Commissioner Margaret Hamburg said the decision reflects the agency’s unique powers to restrict access to medications.

“We are taking somewhat different strategies, but both strategies are designed to assure the goals of safety,” Hamburg said in a briefing with reporters.

But critics say the agency had a responsibility to act much sooner. Senate investigators concluded earlier this year that the FDA was informed in 2005 of Avandia’s heart risks — two years before it made those risks public. The same investigators concluded GlaxoSmithKline began hiding evidence about Avandia’s risks soon after it came on the market.

“This unfortunate decision sends a signal to industry that this Food and Drug Administration is incapable of removing a drug from the market,” said Paul Thacker, who led the Senate Finance Committee’s investigation into the handling of Avandia. “I have a hard time imagining another drug where more negative evidence has piled up.”

GlaxoSmithKline said in a statement Thursday it will voluntarily stop promoting Avandia in all countries where it operates.

The decision marks the second time in three years that the agency has decided to leave Avandia on the market, despite mounting pressure from outside medical experts, politicians and some of its own scientists.

The FDA first approved the drug in 1999 and it became the top-selling diabetes pill in the world by 2006. But use has plummeted since a 2007 analysis linked the drug to heart attack risks.

The European Commission still must approve the recommendations by the European Medicines Agency, a process that could take several weeks. Decisions by the health regulators usually are not challenged.

Dr. Hans-Georg Eichler, the agency’s senior medical officer, said the two groups of regulators shared data and other information in reviewing the drug’s safety.

“We’re operating in different health care environments, we have different legal frameworks and we had different starting points,” he said in explaining the contrast in action taken by the agencies. “In Europe, we already had a very restricted indication for this drug so we both concluded that in the context of our environments, these are the best ways forward.”

The FDA’s decision essentially concurs with the opinion outside experts reached earlier this year.

In July, a 33-member panel of medical experts voted 20-12 to keep Avandia available in the U.S. Of the 20 who voted to keep it on the market, 10 said it should only be available on a limited basis. The FDA is not required to follow the group’s advice, though it often does.

Nov 042010

The news story this blog entry is based on reports that a study has found hormone therapy can raise the risk of breast cancer.

This story belongs in the Scientists R Stoopid section because scientists recommended these pills to help women, but instead they gave the women breast cancer.

The original news story is reprinted below.


The first Canadian study of its kind is adding to a growing body of international evidence suggesting that the use of hormone replacement therapy may raise the risk of breast cancer.

However, some doctors counter that such studies do not prove a cause-and-effect association between taking hormones and the onset of breast cancer, and stress there could be many other factors playing a role in the development of the disease.

The study by the Canadian Cancer Society found there was a significant decrease in the rate of new breast cancers among post-menopausal women between 2002 and 2004 — coinciding with a huge drop in the use of hormone replacement therapy, or HRT.

Many Canadian women stopped taking hormones in 2002 after a massive U.S. clinical trial — the Women’s Health Initiative — suggested the risks of taking HRT outweighed the benefits. That study suggested taking hormones appeared to increase the risk of breast cancer, heart attack, stroke and blood clots in the lungs.

Following release of that data, the proportion of Canadian women taking HRT began falling dramatically. In 2004, just five per cent of women aged 50 to 69 were on the drugs, compared to 13 per cent in 2002.

“The drop in breast cancer incidence was fairly significant,” said lead author Prithwish De, an epidemiologist with the Canadian Cancer Society. “We saw a 10 per cent drop in the incidence rate of breast cancer from 296 per 100,000 women to about 278 per 100,000.”

At the same time, the rate of mammography did not change and so was not a factor, say the authors, whose report was published online Thursday in the Journal of the National Cancer Institute.

De said the study is the first national analysis of HRT use and breast cancer incidence rates in Canada. It follows a similar U.S. study published in 2007, which found disease rates plunged in 2003, the year after millions of American women stopped taking hormone pills.

“It certainly gives a Canadian perspective to the growing international evidence around the association between breast cancer incidence and HRT,” he said. “It also supports the Canadian Cancer Society position (that) women should avoid using HRT for any reason other than managing severe menopausal symptoms.”

Yet, the study also turned up an interesting finding that has led some to question the validity of the HRT-breast cancer link.

The decline in breast cancer incidence continued until 2005, dropping to 266 per 100,000 women, after which the annual rate began to rebound — rising to about 279 per 100,000 in 2006 — even though hormone therapy use was virtually unchanged from 2002.

Dr. Jennifer Blake, chief of obstetrics and gynecology at Sunnybrook Health Sciences Centre in Toronto, said after examining the study data that “it’s very hard for me to be convinced.”

“There’s just so many unknowns,” said Blake, who was not involved in the study. “I think we have to be very clear when we look at these studies that we’re not able to make any kind of a causative relationship. All you’re saying is that there’s an observation of an association and you don’t have any way of knowing whether they’re related.”

She said there are many risk factors for breast cancer — including obesity and the age at which a woman has her first period, first child and goes into menopause. As well, the risk of developing the disease increases with age.

The short window between the drops in hormone use and breast cancer incidence also raises a red flag, said Blake, since many studies have shown that it takes about five years from discontinuing hormone therapy for breast cancer risk to return to “baseline.”

Dr. Christine Derzko, an obstetrician and gynecologist at St. Michael’s Hospital in Toronto, said the rebound in incidence in 2006 cannot be ignored.

“We have to ask the question why was that. We have to ask was the drop before that real,” said Derzko, pointing out that it takes about seven to 10 years for a breast tumour to develop to detectable levels from the rise of the first cancerous cell.

“If you stop a hormone, why should all this disappear?”

The theory is that taking hormones can make small but undetectable breast cancers grow, and when hormone therapy is stopped, then growth stops, she said. “It’s less obvious, so the pickup rate (by mammogram or physical examination) may be less.”

“Subsequently … a few years later, eventually just on their own steam, they have grown to the point where they are seen,” she said.

While hormone is not the only answer to dealing with menopause, Derzko said menopausal women should discuss with their physicians what is appropriate for treating hot flashes and other unpleasant and disruptive symptoms.

“We are not uncomfortable with providing hormones to women who are between 50 and 60 … immediately in the post-menopausal period,” she said. “Their consideration of hormone therapy should remain on the list.”

“But it’s incumbent on them and us as physicians to make sure we are watching them, that we’re making sure their mammograms are done.”