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Archive for August, 2009

Ubisoft is releasing a new fitness game for the Nintendo Wii, titled Your Shape.

From the press release:

“Partnering with Jenny McCarthy was a no-brainer for us,” said Tony Key, vice president of sales and marketing, North America. “Her commitment to fitness, and exceptionally wide fan-base, make her an ideal fit for the Your Shape brand. Best of all, she will make the workout fun for players, which is an element that has been missing in the fitness game market.”

It is understandable that a major company promoting a fitness game would turn to a recognizable figure to help garner sales. A cursory glance would indicate that Jenny McCarthy is a passionate advocate of health and fitness.

Louder Than Words: A Mother’s Journey in Healing Autism, was released in mid-September 2007 and her latest book, Healing and Preventing Autism: A Complete Guide, was released in March of 2009. McCarthy has recently become the spokesperson for Weight Watchers, encouraging healthy living and nutrition for new moms, and she currently has a development deal with Oprah Winfrey’s Harpo Productions. She will be seen next in the ABC Family original movie, “Santa Baby 2.”

However, a major corporation like Ubisoft should be held responsible for doing more than a cursory examination of their newest star. Had they bothered to look, it would be obvious that Jenny McCarthy is a wacko.

It sounds as though Ubisoft didn’t use any brains when it chose its new avatar. Here’s a hint, Ubisoft: If you want your Wii program to have any credibility as a “health” guide, partnering with an anti-vaccine wingnut whose knowledge of health science is so risibly inadequate as to be beyond contempt and who with her boyfriend Jim Carrey (who is also an anti-vaccine loon) has led anti-vaccine protests in Washington, is not a good idea.

The more insidious explanation is that Ubisoft is perfectly aware of Jenny McCarthy’s lunacy, but they don’t care because her status as a minor celebrity will increase sales amongst a demographic (young moms) who are ironically most affected by anti-vaccination stupidity.

Please take a moment to send a polite e-mail to Ubisoft explaining why lending corporate support to an individual like Jenny McCarthy, who peddles pseudoscience and causes a genuine public health risk, is a good way to lose your support.

Jocelyn Portacio
Senior Corporate Communications Specialist
Jocelyn.portacio@ubisoft.com

Lisa Revelli
Corporate Communication Manager
lisa.revelli@ubisoft.com

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Doctors, Not Magazines, Prevent SIDS

SIDS (Sudden Infant Death Syndrome) has been around for long enough so doctors have guidelines in place to prevent it. In fact, since guidelines were issued the number of infants who die from SIDS has continued to decline in the United States.

More than one third of photos in women’s magazines depicted babies in unsafe sleep positions, according to a new study in Pediatrics. Additionally, the study found that two-thirds of sleep environments depicted in these magazines were also unsafe.Led by SIDS researchers Rachel Moon, MD, a pediatrician, and Brandi Joyner at Children’s National Medical Center, the study analyzed pictures of sleeping infants in 24 magazines with wide circulation among 20- to 40-year-old women.

This is a serious issue. If you come across a magazine (ironically, they are often found in the pediatrician’s waiting room) which depicts unsafe conditions then get in contact with the magazine and have them issue a correction. Otherwise, publicize their names and call for a boycott – especially from the waiting room.

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Twitter Search Tag

We’ve implemented a unique tag to our Twitter updates, so you can easily find the latest on 3 Healthy Monkeys by typing #3HM in the Twitter search bar without even logging in.

It is also possible to get there directly through this link: http://twitter.com/#search?q=%233HM

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Use It Or Lose It

Putting your brain to use through years of formal education can serve as a protector against the effects of Alzheimer’s disease. The remarkable effect discovered was not that years of education lower the odds of getting the disease. Instead, researchers discovered that those individuals with more formal education were not showing clinical symptoms of brain deficits compared to other people with Alzheimer’s and without the educational background.

These phenomena are often ascribed to the theoretical concept of cognitive reserve. A high level of cognitive reserve results in a strong individual resilience against symptoms of brain damage; cognitive reserve can therefore be seen as protective against brain damage.

The amount of brain tissue lost was assessed through MRI (Magnetic Resonance Imaging) scans. Somehow, those with the benefit of a formal education showed an equal amount of brain volume lost, yet they were able to function normally.

Human brains are flexible organs, and it’s never too late to give them a workout. Although this study, published in the current issue of the Journal of Alzheimer’s Disease (“Education attenuates the effect of medial temporal lobe atrophy on cognitive function in Alzheimer’s disease: The MIRAGE Study,” Journal of Alzheimer’s Disease, August 2009), used formal education as a convenient guideline, you can get similar benefits by exercising your brain regularly with mentally challenging activities.

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Writing in The American, industrial farmer Blake Hurst says:

I’m so tired of people who wouldn’t visit a doctor who used a stethoscope instead of an MRI demanding that farmers like me use 1930s technology to raise food. Farming has always been messy and painful, and bloody and dirty. It still is.

There are several points he delves into in detail.

  • Organic produce is usually grown in a way that is worse for the environment than genetically modified crops.
  • Many books critical of industrial farming don’t bother speaking to farmers to understand their perspective, and it is insulting.
  • Even when it comes to treatment of animals, critics get things wrong. Hog crates are necessary because sows actually do crush piglets. Free range turkeys are stupid enough to turn their heads up towards the sky during a thunderstorm, and die from drowning.
  • Some critics, referred to as “agri-intellectuals” compare current methods to perfectly ideal situations and feign shock when real life turns out messier and more difficult.

Here’s a bit about the problem with turkeys:

Lynn Niemann was a neighbor of my family’s, a farmer with a vision. He began raising turkeys on a field near his house around 1956. They were, I suppose, what we would now call “free range” turkeys. Turkeys raised in a natural manner, with no roof over their heads, just gamboling around in the pasture, as God surely intended. Free to eat grasshoppers, and grass, and scratch for grubs and worms. And also free to serve as prey for weasels, who kill turkeys by slitting their necks and practicing exsanguination. Weasels were a problem, but not as much a threat as one of our typically violent early summer thunderstorms. It seems that turkeys, at least young ones, are not smart enough to come in out of the rain, and will stand outside in a downpour, with beaks open and eyes skyward, until they drown. One night Niemann lost 4,000 turkeys to drowning, along with his dream, and his farm.

Here’s a bit about sows and piglets:

Like most young people in my part of the world, I was a 4-H member. Raising cattle and hogs, showing them at the county fair, and then sending to slaughter those animals that we had spent the summer feeding, washing, and training. We would then tour the packing house, where our friend was hung on a rail, with his loin eye measured and his carcass evaluated. We farm kids got an early start on dulling our moral sensibilities. I’m still proud of my win in the Atchison County Carcass competition of 1969, as it is the only trophy I have ever received. We raised the hogs in a shed, or farrowing (birthing) house. On one side were eight crates of the kind that the good citizens of California have outlawed. On the other were the kind of wooden pens that our critics would have us use, where the sow could turn around, lie down, and presumably act in a natural way. Which included lying down on my 4-H project, killing several piglets, and forcing me to clean up the mess when I did my chores before school. The crates protect the piglets from their mothers. Farmers do not cage their hogs because of sadism, but because dead pigs are a drag on the profit margin, and because being crushed by your mother really is an awful way to go. As is being eaten by your mother, which I’ve seen sows do to newborn pigs as well.

This is a situation in which one side of the story barely gets to see the light of day against its detractors. We recommend reading the whole thing to become better informed about this controversial topic.

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Do Single Women Seek Attached Men?

It is an age old question: which gender is most likely to steal a mate from an existing relationship, and are they themselves likely to be in a relationship at the time? Typically men have been blamed, but recent research shows that assumption to be false.

Single women are the most likely to poach a mate according to the report published in Journal of Experimental Social Psychology [PDF].

Noting that single women often complain that “all the good men are taken,” the psychologists wondered if “this perception is really based on the fact that taken men are perceived as good.” To investigate, the researchers quizzed male and female undergraduates — some involved in romantic relationships, some unattached — about their ideal romantic partner.

Although the women in the study denied that the status (attached or single) of the men they were looking at played any part in their decisions, the data showed otherwise. The researchers have decided to look into the data more carefully to make sure they are properly understanding the motivation of the women.

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MS is an autoimmune disease in which the body’s own immune response attacks the central nervous system, almost as if the body had become allergic to itself, leading to progressive physical and cognitive disability.

The new treatment, appropriately named GIFT15, puts MS into remission by suppressing the immune response. This means it might also be effective against other autoimmune disorders like Crohn’s disease, lupus and arthritis, the researchers said, and could theoretically also control immune responses in organ transplant patients. Moreover, unlike earlier immune-supppressing therapies which rely on chemical pharamaceuticals, this approach is a personalized form of cellular therapy which utilizes the body’s own cells to suppress immunity in a much more targeted way.

GIFT15 is a chimera, meaning it consists of two proteins fused together which as a single unit suppress the immune response. According to the scientists, this may work the same way in humans as in mice. If so, this is a tremendous breakthrough and very exciting news.

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Giant Carnivorous Plant Found

You have nothing to fear, this is not Little Shop of Horrors brought to life. Relative to other carnivorous plants the newly discovered Nepenthes attenboroughii is substantial. Most other plants like this are happy to feast on insects, but this one can gorge on small mammals the size of rats.

Yes, the plant is named after the famed David Attenborough.

The giant pitcher plant can be found high up on Mount Victoria in the Philippines, so fluffy is safe for now.

Accompanied by three guides, the team hiked through lowland forest, finding large stands of a pitcher plant known to science called Nepenthes philippinensis, as well as strange pink ferns and blue mushrooms which they could not identify.

Far away from the prying eyes of humanity, some strange things make their presence known.

On the way down the mountain, the team also came across a striking new species of sundew, a type of sticky trap plant, which they are in the process of formally describing.

It is fascinating that in 2009 we are still discovering all sorts of wonderful things in nature which have never been seen before.

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Heliobacter Pylori is a bacteria which has figured out a way to overcome the stomach’s inhospitable environment. When the body tries to eliminate the invaders from the stomach by triggering the inflammation response, painful ulcers result. Chronic inflammation has also been linked to stomach cancer.

There appeared to be a dilemma for scientists investigating the methodology employed by H. pylori in overcoming the hostility of its environment.

The overwhelming acidity of the stomach forces the bacteria to produce ammonia, which basic and can neutralize the hydrochloric acid. However, the stomach protects itself against destruction from corrosive acid through a protein called mucin. When it detects acid, mucin creates a protective gel, which also acts as a physical barrier against H. pylori. How can H. pylori make it to the stomach wall past an impenetrable barrier?

Mucin’s fatal flaw is its sensitivity to pH. When pH gets raised, the protective layer changes from a gel state to liquid state. Since the bacteria surround themselves with ammonia, which has a high pH, they can easily move through the gel which is liquefying around them. Previously, it was thought that H. pylori was using its tail and screw shape to physically burrow through the gel.

Images and videos at the source.

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You can’t be a runner past the age of 40, as I am, without hearing that running will ruin your knees, by which doomsayers usually mean that we’ll develop “degeneration of the cartilage in the kneecap, which ­reduces its shock-absorbing capacity,” says Ross Tucker, a physiologist in South Africa and co-author of the new book “The Runner’s Body: How the Latest Exercise Science Can Help You Run Stronger, Longer and Faster.” In other words, we’ll be afflicted with arthritis.

It seems to be common knowledge that certain sports and exercises such as distance running are bad because of the eventual suffering in the knees by participants. A long term study of runners has found that there is no particular reason for that to be the case simply because the knees are being used more often and in a tougher fashion than walking or other milder exercises.

In fact the opposite is true:

Instead, recent evidence suggests that running may actually shield somewhat against arthritis, in part because the knee develops a kind of motion groove. A group of engineers and doctors at Stanford published a study in the February issue of The Journal of Bone and Joint Surgery that showed that by moving and loading your knee joint, as you do when walking or running, you “condition” your cartilage to the load. It grows accustomed to those particular movements. You can run for miles, decades, a lifetime, without harming it. But if this exquisite balance is disturbed, usually by an injury, the loading mechanisms shift, the moving parts of the knee are no longer in their accustomed alignment and a “degenerative pathway” seems to open. The cartilage, like an unbalanced tire, wears away. Pain, tissue disintegration and, eventually, arthritis can follow.

The key factor is injury. Preventing an injury by strengthening the muscles involved in running is a good start. Once an injury has been sustained, it is likely to lead to another and possibly cause even more damage, so always consult with a doctor before resuming a normal running regimen.

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Trust Us, We’re Professionals

Ron Hart, writing for the News Herald, tells it like it is:

If Obama has his way, his health care plan will be funded by his Treasury chief who did not pay his taxes, overseen by his Surgeon General who is obese, signed by a president who smokes and financed by a country that is just about broke. What possibly could go wrong?

We get the sense that some of the people in charge have no idea what they are doing, and Congress is no exception.

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Kiss My APA!

Barbara Oakley has an article at Psychology Today about smart people who are so smart they are incapable of realizing when they are being stupid. As loyal readers, you may have detected a slight hint of snark about APA lecturer Steven Blair’s statements which surfaced in an earlier post.

The rot at the American Psychological Association runs deeper than we thought. Professor Drew Westen, from Emory University, spoke at the same APA conference in Toronto as Steven Blair.

The introduction to Westen’s session was a real eye-opener.  The moderator was so confident everyone in the room was a staunch Democrat that he jokingly interrupted his disclaimer that the APA couldn’t be seen as endorsing any particular political party with repeated exhortations of “Barack!”  (You might think I’m kidding, but I’m not.)  Party unity thus assured, the session began.

Alright, the moderator may have been acting out of line and should have been corrected. However, it should not reflect poorly on Professor Westin… right?

The heart of Westen’s presentation consisted of an uncritical compendium of Democratic talking points—he might as well have been speaking at party headquarters.

Smart people can be easily blinded because of an inability to accept criticism (which we will now refer to as the “Oakley effect”). It is especially problematic when trying to find solutions for large scale, complex societal issues.

In fact, natural smarties—the intellectual elite—often don’t seem to learn the art of soliciting the criticism necessary to grasp the core issues of a complex problem, and then making vital adaptations as a result.  Instead, they fall in naturally with people who admire, rather than are critical, of their thinking.  This further strengthens their conviction they are right even as it distances them from people of very different backgrounds who grasp very different, but no less crucial aspects of complex problems. That’s why the intellectual elite is often branded by those from other groups as out of touch.

The real crime in this particular case is the fact that the APA is supposed to be a non-profit organization, and blatant politicking at a conference makes a mockery of its status. Why should any clear thinking psychologist or mental health facility associate with an organization so ethically challenged?

…it’s a sad commentary on the lack of critical skills, blind inability to apply their own theories, and utter uniformity of thinking among today’s psychologists that not a single person in that room took issue with the extraordinary bias in Westen’s presentation, which literally made a joke out of profound violation of the APA’s not-for-profit status.

Barbara Oakley, Ph.D., P.E., is a Fellow of the American Institute of Medical and Biological Engineers and an engineering professor at Oakland University. She is also the author of Evil Genes: Why Rome Fell, Hitler Rose, Enron Failed, and My Sister Stole My Mother’s Boyfriend.

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Carl Zimmer has published an excellent, must read essay for anyone the least bit curious about biology and the origins of life. It covers the ongoing questions about the origin of eukaryotes in terms of their relationship to prokaryotes and archaea, and how different components critical to success, such as the membrane enclosed nucleus and mitochondria, came to be.

Prokaryotes can generate energy only by pumping charged atoms across their membranes. That constraint helps limit their size. As prokaryotes grow in size, their volume increases much faster than their surface area. They end up with too little energy to power their cells. Eukaryotes, on the other hand, can pack hundreds of energy-generating mitochondria into a single cell. And so they could get big, evolving into an entirely new ecological niche. “You don’t have to compete for the same nutrients,” says Nick Lane of University College London, author of Life Ascending: The Ten Great Inventions of Evolution. “You simply eat the opposition.”

The entire essay is written in a straightforward, simple style so that someone without a science background can understand it without struggling.

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Beta cells are in a part of the pancreas called the islets of Langerhans. They are responsible for producing insulin, without which the body cannot metabolize sugar. Currently, diabetics must inject insulin to enable proper digestion.

On Thursday, a team of European and American researchers showed that pancreatic cells in diabetic mice could be reprogrammed into beta cells by turning on just one gene, called Pax4.

The latest scientific research involves finding which gene(s) are responsible for instructing a cell in the pancreas to become a beta cell. If the beta cells which die out in diabetics could be replaced by using the body’s own mechanisms, then insulin injections may become a thing of the past.

They found that the gene converted so-called alpha cells — which normally made a hormone called glucagon — into beta cells that made insulin. Beta cell levels were eight times higher in treated mice than in untreated control subjects, according to the study published in Friday’s edition of the journal Cell.

There are still issues to be worked out, such as why it works a little too well in very young mice and not older ones. This is an important milestone, and the next part of this research should be to determine the on/off switch so the gene is only active for exactly the right amount of time.

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