Saturday, August 31, 2013

CDC's report on sleeping pills

This article discusses the recent report by the CDC on sleep pill usage that showed 4% of adults have used sleep aids in the past month, that more older people use sleeping aids, and that more women than men use sleep aids.

A new study shows that many Americans continually look to sleep aids in order to get a good night's rest. In fact, around 4 percent of Americans use prescription sleep aids, according to the Centers for Disease Prevention and Control (CDC). Yet many still question the drug's side effects and effectiveness.
A national survey between 2005 and 2010 showed that about 4 percent of adults ages 20 and over reported taking prescription sleep aids in the past 30 days. Approximately 2 percent of the younger age group, 20 to 39, reported using sleeping pills, while 6 percent ranging in age from 50 to 59 reported using them. Ages 80 and up reported a 7 percent use.
The study showed that the rate of use also depended on gender, race and ethnicity. For instance, about 5 percent of women used prescription sleep aids compared to about 3 percent of men. While adults were also more likely to use sleep aids than black or Mexican-American men.
"More authorities think that use of sleeping pills should be minimized," said Dr. Daniel Kripke, professor emeritus of psychiatry at the University of California, San Diego, via Live Science.
Prescription sleep aids can be used as a treatment for those who have trouble falling asleep as many of the medications can work by suppressing activities in the nervous system. In fact, some estimates show that 50 to 70 million Americans suffer from sleep disorders or deprivation. This problem can greatly harm their daily function and may also adversely affect their health, according to CDC researchers.
Researchers looked at 33,000 people to find that the use of common sleep medications caused a greater risk of dying prematurely and even some type of cancer.
The CDC survey showed that when people slept for durations of greater or less than 7 hours, sleep aids use often increased. As for people who slept less than five hours a day, they were more likely to sleep nine hours a day and had the highest use of prescription sleep aid compared to those who reported getting seven hours a day.
Findings also showed that one in six people were diagnosed with a sleep disorder and up to one in eight reported problems with sleep. However, it's not clear whether the medications are effective at helping patients get a good night's rest or helping them feel refreshed in the morning.
Read more here

Childhood sleep issues could signal eating disorders

A study that looked at what may signal a child may eventually develop an eating disorder found that sleep problems during early childhood was the only signal found.
Researchers, clinicians, and sufferers are often interested in finding out what leads to eating disorders, what causes them, and how we can predict them (if at all). A recent research study done in Norway and published by the Journal of Eating Disorders sought to do just that.
Researchers used results from a 15-year-long longitudinal community study to investigate risk factors from early childhood (before age 5) for adolescent eating problems. The study began with 921 mothers completing questionnaires regarding their 1 ½ year old child. 784 mothers completed questionnaires at age 2 ½ and 737 at age 4 ½. When the children were 16 years old, 373 mothers also completed a questionnaire about eating problems called the Eating Attitudes Test.
The study looked at several possible risk factors from early childhood including picky eating in early childhood, sleep problems, internalizing problems, shyness, and emotionality. Interestingly, the only risk factor that was associated with the development of eating problems in adolescent was early childhood sleep problems.
Although this does not mean that sleep problems cause eating disorders, it may mean that there is some type of psychological or biological problem that results in both sleep problems in early childhood and eating problems in adolescence. However, given that this is the only study to show a such a correlation, the results must be duplicated before anyone begins to worry about a sleepless two-year-old developing an eating disorder at age 16.
Interestingly, picky eating in early childhood was not correlated with the development of eating disorders late in life (much to the relief of toddler parents everywhere).
Read more here

Friday, August 30, 2013

Drug uses sensors in eye to stop migraines

A new drug uses light sensors in the eye to stop from triggers for migraines.

For many migraine sufferers, bright lights are a surefire way to exacerbate their headaches. And for some night-shift workers, just a stroll through a brightly lit parking lot during the morning commute home can be enough to throw off their body's daily rhythms and make daytime sleep nearly impossible. But a new molecule that selectively blocks specialized light-sensitive receptors in the eyes could help both these groups of people, without affecting normal vision.
"It took almost ten years to find and test a molecule that fit all the properties and acted in vivo as we wanted," says senior study author Satchidananda Panda , an associate professor in Salk's Regulatory Biology Laboratory.
Scientists have known for nearly a century that humans and animals can sense light even when they can't see. Before they've opened their eyes, and even before cells that allow vision have matured, newborn mice still scurry away from bright lights, and set their sleep-wake cycles based on the patterns of light and dark throughout the day. The same is true of many blind people-though they can't see what's in front of them, their bodies still follow daily circadian rhythms, and the pupils of their eyes constrict in response to light.
More than ten years ago, Panda's lab group discovered that melanopsin, a receptor found in neurons connecting the eyes and brain, is responsible for sensing light independently of normal vision. Since then, researchers have determined that the receptor is vital for maintaining sleep cycles and other circadian rhythms in those with healthy vision, constricting the pupil of the eye in bright light, and potentially exacerbating the light-sensitivity associated with migraine headaches. While melanopsin senses light for these non-vision purposes in the body, closely related receptors-rhodopsin and cone opsins-provide vision-forming information to the brain.
Panda figured that if he could find a compound that blocked melanopsin, but not rhodopsin or cone opsins, it could pave the way toward treating migraines or circadian rhythm imbalances. Scientists already know of one class of compounds, retinoids, which interact with opsins, but they're non-specific and so bind to melanopsin, rhodopsin, cone opsins, and a whole handful of other receptors in the body, causing widespread side effects. Panda wanted something more specific. So for ten years, his lab group, in collaboration with scientists at the pharmaceutical company Lundbeck, has attempted to find chemical compounds that specifically shut off melanopsin in animals.
In their latest search, Panda and his collaborators turned to the Lundbeck library of diverse compounds. In hundreds of 384-well plates, a team led by Ken Jones at Lundbeck tested whether each chemical from the library turned off melanopsin by measuring the calcium levels after the plate was exposed to light. When melanopsin is functioning, calcium levels increase after light exposure indicating that light has been sensed and a signal is being generated. Several compounds from the chemical library stopped this calcium increase from happening, suggesting that they were blocking the function of melanopsin.
None of these compounds looked like retinoids, so it was an exciting breakthrough, Panda says. The chemicals, dubbed opsinamides, also showed no interaction with rhodopsin or other opsins. "We wanted to make sure they were specific to melanopsin," says Panda. To find out whether the opsinamides would have a physiological response in addition to binding to melanopsin in bench experiments, Megumi Hatori and Ludovic Mure from Panda's Salk lab group next looked at whether the drug affected the pupillary constriction in mice. Normally, in extremely bright light, the pupil of the eye shrinks to its smallest size. But when the mice were treated with one of the opsinamides, their pupils didn't shrink as usual. Most importantly, the drug had no detectable effect in mice lacking melanopsin, further showing its specificity for melanopsin. Finally, newborn mice treated with the compound no longer avoided bright lights. The results, Panda says, show that the drug is stopping melanopsin from signaling the brain when the eyes are exposed to bright light.
"So far, everything known about melanopsin has been discovered using knock-out mice that completely lack the receptor," says Panda. "So this offers a new way to study the protein." Kenneth Jones, the former project head at Lundbeck, notes that "the two compounds require further optimization in anticipation of clinical testing but are extraordinarily useful for research purposes and as leads in the discovery process." Co-author Jeffrey Sprouse has co-founded a start-up company, Cyanaptic, to do just that.
Once more effective compounds are developed, Panda expects that they could eventually have utility in a variety of clinical settings. "There are many people who would like to work when they have migraine pain exacerbated by light," he says. "If these drugs could stop the light-sensitivity associated with the headaches, it would enable them to be much more productive."
Moreover, Panda says, the drugs could help shift-workers set their sleep schedules without exposure to sunlight interfering with their circadian rhythms. His lab group doesn't yet have results on how the drugs affect circadian rhythms, but based on the known mechanisms of melanopsin, Panda says that it is likely the new opsinamides alter sleep.
Read more here

Can people "catch up" on lost sleep?

This article claims that the idea of "catch up" on lost sleep is a myth.

Has "catching up" on sleep as a means to get your body and mind back to normal after going for days without been scientifically proven ineffective?
TRUE: You may feel better, but your body and mind won’t be as sharp as if you regularly got enough
Many people try to "catch up" on an extra couple hours of rest following a busy, sleepless week. But a sleep specialist told MSN News that those extra hours of slumber aren't as effective as you think.
Kevin Taylor, director of the Sleep Disorder Center at Cullman Regional Medical Center in Alabama, said the physical and mental toll of missing out on sustained lack of sleep won't just go away after getting one full night's worth.
"You can smoke for 30 years and quit today. Will you prolong your life? Yes. Has the damage already been done? Yes. Same thing with sleep," he said. "You miss a night's sleep, the damage to your body is still done."
The Huffington Post reported on a recent study, published in the American Journal of Physiology — Endocrinology and Metabolism, that found sleeping in for three nights after six nights of deprivation won’t improve the sharpness of brain performance, which can affect reaction time during activities like driving or playing sports.
The study is one of several that have explored "sleep debt" — the mental and physical toll that occurs when you don’t get enough rest. Scientific American wrote: "A 2005 survey by the National Sleep Foundation reports that, on average, Americans sleep 6.9 hours per night — 6.8 hours during the week and 7.4 hours on the weekends. Generally, experts recommend eight hours of sleep per night … that means on average, we're losing one hour of sleep each night — more than two full weeks of slumber every year."
Taylor said that getting proper sleep means eliminating certain practices, including keeping the television on during bedtime and consuming caffeine late.
"You don't just want the hours, you want quality of sleep," he said. "You need to train your body that when you get in the bedroom, it's time to sleep."
Read more here

Study: Children with ADHD more likely to have asthma or allergies

A study claims that children, specifically boys, with ADHD are more likely to have allergies or asthma.
Boys diagnosed with attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder are more likely also to have asthma, allergies and skin infections than youngsters without ADHD, a new study finds, suggesting a possible link between these conditions.
Of those in the study, boys newly diagnosed with ADHD were 40 percent more likely to have asthma, 50 percent more likely to have needed a prescription for allergy medicine and 50 percent more likely to have had a bacterial skin infection than other boys.
"Our study provides additional evidence to support the hypothesis that atopic disorders, such as asthma and food allergies increase the risk of developing ADHD," the authors wrote, adding that further research is necessary to determine just how these conditions might be connected.
Their results were published in the August issue of the Annals of Allergy, Asthma & Immunology.
ADHD, a chronic mental health condition involving difficulty paying attention, hyperactivity and impulsivity, affects as many as 9 percent of American children, according to background information in the study conducted by Eelko Hak, of the University of Groningen, and colleagues in the Netherlands and Boston.
The increase in the prevalence of ADHD has been paralleled by an increase in allergic (also called atopic) diseases, such as asthma and allergies, the researchers reported. They also noted that environmental risk factors, such as foods that cause an allergic reaction, may trigger symptoms of both ADHD and allergic asthma.
To get a better idea of whether or not there actually is an association between these conditions, the researchers used data from a large U.K. study. Within that database, the researchers found nearly 900 boys who were first diagnosed with ADHD and prescribed medication for the condition between 1996 and 2006. All of the boys were between 4 and 14 years old when first diagnosed.
The researchers compared the children with ADHD to about 3,500 children without the condition.
After adjusting the data to account for age, and for low birth weight or premature birth, they found significant relationships between the diagnosis of ADHD and a history of asthma, impetigo or a prescription for antihistamines (allergy medicines).
They also found weaker associations between ADHD and cow's milk intolerance, and prescriptions for oral or topical corticosteroids, antibacterial or antifungal drugs.
The authors theorize that the links they found may be food-allergy related. However, this study didn't attempt to prove cause and effect, so the exact reason behind the association remains unknown.
Dr. Andrew Adesman, chief of developmental and behavioral pediatrics at Steven and Alexandra Cohen Children's Medical Center of New York, said the connection between ADHD and allergic diseases has been seen in other studies.
"The association seems to be real. The chicken-and-the-egg question remains unanswered. The challenge is in teasing out why they're linked," he said.
For her part, Dr. Jennifer Appleyard, chief of allergy and immunology at St. John Hospital and Medical Center in Detroit, said, "This is an interesting, but very early study. They're definitely not showing cause and effect."
Appleyard pointed out that impetigo and milk intolerance aren't typically considered allergic diseases. Impetigo is a bacterial infection of the skin. And, a milk intolerance isn't the same as an allergy to milk.
"They looked at food allergies, too, and they didn't find an association. They also didn't find an association with atopic dermatitis [eczema], and impetigo is not necessarily correlated with an allergic reaction," she said.
The bottom line, she said, is that parents don't need to have any additional fears from this study. She added that parents of children with asthma or allergies shouldn't start worrying that their children will develop ADHD -- and parents definitely shouldn't make any changes to medications because of this study.
"All of these conditions seem to have increased. Let's pursue this link further, but there's no need for any changes right now," Appleyard said.
Read more here

Study: Latino children's autism is often overlooked

An interesting study shows that Latino children are diagnosed with autism an average of two years later than white children.

Latino children typically are diagnosed with autism more than two years later than white children, and new research suggests that language-appropriate screenings and access to autism specialists are two big factors in that delay.
"Parents need to know that early identification of autism is important," said study author Dr. Katharine Zuckerman, an assistant professor of pediatrics at Oregon Health and Science University in Portland. "It leads to better outcomes for the child and better family outcomes. It may even save money. All children should be screened."
Yet Zuckerman's study found that only one in 10 pediatricians administered the general developmental screenings and autism-specific screenings in Spanish for their Spanish-speaking patients.
Dr. Andrew Adesman, chief of developmental and behavioral pediatrics at the Steven & Alexandra Cohen Children's Medical Center in New Hyde Park, N.Y., said there's a screening tool with yes-or-no answers that a pediatrician can still score and assess the risk of autism even if they don't speak Spanish.
But, Adesman said, language barriers can definitely pose problems when trying to assess a child's risk for autism. "To the extent that a language delay is the core symptom, it becomes more difficult to assess the language if the clinician doesn't speak the language," he said. "If the child is living in a bilingual household, it can be difficult to assess differences in language development."
"The signs of language issues can be subtle, and they're hard to identify in the first place," Zuckerman said, which makes it even harder if the pediatrician and the child don't speak the same language.
Still, according to the more than 250 pediatricians surveyed for the study, the biggest barrier to getting a firm autism diagnosis is access to autism specialists.
Adesman agreed that this is a big problem, especially in certain parts of the United States. He recommended, however, that any parent with concerns about their child should request an evaluation through their state's early intervention service, which typically is offered through the department of health. He said these services are free and offered whether or not a child has health insurance. These screenings also are often available in a child's native language.
The pediatricians included in the survey were all from California, and 60 percent were female. Slightly more than half have been in practice for more than 20 years. About half said more than 25 percent of their patients are Latino.
Seventy percent of the doctors said they didn't speak Spanish, or spoke it poorly. Thirty percent said they spoke good or excellent Spanish.
Eighty-one percent offered some form of developmental screening, but just 29 percent offered autism screening in Spanish, according to the American Academy of Pediatrics guidelines. Only 10 percent offered general developmental and autism screenings in Spanish.
Communication and cultural barriers also were cited as reasons for the delay in diagnosis. The pediatricians said they felt that Latino parents don't have as much knowledge about autism as white parents do.
"Latino parents may know less about autism, so they bring up fewer concerns," Zuckerman said. She said autism awareness needs to be raised in Latino communities.
"We need to try to increase the information availability. Parents need to know the early signs of autism," she said, noting that a language delay, a lack of eye contact, not pointing to show interest, not wanting to play interactive games such as peekaboo, and playing with toys in an unusual way, such as only spinning the tires of a toy car instead of pretending to make the car drive, are some possible signs of autism.
Pediatricians need to be encouraged to conduct both developmental and autism screenings, and whenever possible these screenings should be done in the child's primary language. "Early identification of autism is super-important," Zuckerman said. "It's a condition that we know will get better with early therapy. We need to be assessing kids for this."
"Autism affects all genders and ethnicities," Adesman said. "Any family with a concern about their child should [have their child] screened by their pediatrician or through early-intervention services from their state."
Results of the study were released online Aug. 19 and in the September print issue of the journal Pediatrics.
Read more here

Concussion recovery requires the brain to compensate

A study claims that increased brain activity a few weeks after a concussion shows that the brain compensated to help recover.

Concussion patients have irregular brain activity within the first 24 hours after their injury but increased levels of brain activity a few weeks later, which suggests that the brain may compensate for the injury during recovery, a new study reports.
Researchers used functional MRI to study the recovery of 12 high school football players with concussion and compared them to 12 uninjured teammates. The concussed players underwent brain scans at 13 hours and again seven weeks after their head injury, and the uninjured players had brain scans at the same time.
At 13 hours, the concussed athletes had typical symptoms such as decreased reaction time and reduced mental abilities. Their brain scans revealed decreased activity in certain areas of the right hemisphere of the brain. This suggests that their reduced mental abilities may be related to underactivation of attentional brain circuits, according to the researchers.
At seven weeks, the concussed players showed improvement in their mental abilities and normal reaction time. Brain scans at that time revealed that the concussed athletes had more activation in the brain's attentional circuits than the uninjured players.
"This hyperactivation may represent a compensatory brain response that mediates recovery," study lead author Thomas Hammeke, a professor of psychiatry and behavioral medicine at the Medical College of Wisconsin, said in a college news release. "This is the first study to demonstrate that reversal in activation patterns, and that reversal matches the progression of symptoms from the time of the injury through clinical recovery."
The study appears in the September issue of the Journal of the International Neuropsychological Society.
"Deciding when a concussed player should return to the playing field is currently an inexact science," study senior author Dr. Stephen Rao, director of the Schey Center for Cognitive Neuroimaging at the Cleveland Clinic, said in the news release. "Measuring changes in brain activity during the acute recovery period can provide a scientific basis for making this critical decision."
Read more here

Students going back to school need 9 hours of sleep

This article discusses how children going back to school need nine hours of sleep, but generally get much less.

Adopting healthy sleep habits before school is essential for students to get the rest they need to learn and to keep from gaining weight, a U.S. expert says.

Dr. Suresh Kotagal, a pediatric sleep expert at Mayo Clinic Children's Center in Rochester, Minn., suggests establishing a bedtime routine to help children fall asleep and get a good night's rest.

He says children rest better if they skip caffeine after dinner, get regular exercise, turn off electronic devices an hour before bedtime and silence phones so text messages or alerts don't disrupt sleep.

Imposing an early bedtime on weekends will make Monday mornings easier to deal with, he says.

Kids and adolescents ages 6-18 should get 9 hours of sleep nightly, but typically they average little more than 7 hours.

Sleep experts recommend maintaining strict bedtime rules because a lack of sleep increases the risk of being overweight.

Read more here

Risks of sleep texting

This article discusses the new phenomenon of sleep texting and how it could be harmful for your health.

While smartphone owners use their devices to text and email throughout the day, some people are taking their addictions to new heights and texting while sleeping, reports say.

A phenomenon called "sleep-texting" is on the rise, with sleep disorder specialists reporting that more and more people are texting several times a night while they're asleep, according to CBS New York last week.

WebMD writes that teens are especially at risk of "sleep-texting," with more and more kids reaching for the phones during the night, sending texts, and waking up with no recollection of what took place.

"Four o'clock in the morning, 3 o'clock in the morning -- it would just be a sentence of jumbled-up stuff," sleep-texter Megan told CBS New York.

"I guess I got up and texted, and went back to bed, but I don't remember it."

Aside from the risk of sending bizarre texts to your contacts, sleep-texting isn't good for your health in that it interrupts deep, restful REM sleep, experts say.

"Sleep is a very important restorative process," Dr. Josh Werber, a sleep and snoring specialist, told US News. "And when we're not fully engaged in it, and not getting the amount we need, we're not having the same restorative effect on our brains -- and that affects our cognitive ability the next day."

Best way to resolve the problem? Experts recommend shutting off your smartphone before bed or even moving your devices out the bedroom entirely.

Also wean yourself off using gadgets in the evenings, in that research has shown that light-emitting screens from tablets and smartphone can suppress the release of the sleep-promoting hormone melatonin and enhance alertness, making it more difficult to sleep.

Read more here

Omega-3 makes ADHD symptoms less severe in rats

A study shows that rats when eating more omega-3 fatty acids reduce their ADHD symptoms.

A new multidisciplinary study shows a clear connection between the intake of omega-3 fatty acids and a decline in ADHD symptoms in rats.
Researchers at the University of Oslo have observed the behaviour of rats and have analyzed biochemical processes in their brains. The results show a clear improvement in ADHD-related behaviour from supplements of omega-3 fatty acids, as well as a faster turnover of the signal substances dopamine, serotonin and glutamate in the nervous system. There are, however, clear sex differences: a better effect from omega-3 fatty acids is achieved in male rats than in female.
Unknown biology behind ADHD
Currently the psychiatric diagnosis ADHD (Attention Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder) is purely based on behavioural criteria, while the molecular genetic background for the illness is largely unknown. The new findings indicate that ADHD has a biological component and that the intake of omega-3 may influence ADHD symptoms.
"In some research environments it is controversial to suggest that ADHD has something to do with biology. But we have without a doubt found molecular changes in the brain after rats with ADHD were given omega-3," says Ivar Walaas, Professor of Biochemistry.
The fact that omega-3 can reduce ADHD behaviour in rats has also been indicated in previous international studies. What is unique about the study in question is a multidisciplinarity that has not previously been seen, with contributions from behavioural science in medicine as well as from psychology, nutritional science and biochemistry.
Hyperactive rats
The rats used in the study are called SHR rats -- spontaneously hypertensive rats. Although this is primarily a common type of rat, random mutations in their genes have resulted in genetic damage that produces high blood pressure. It is therefore first and foremost blood-pressure researchers who have so far been interested in these rats.
However, the rats do not suffer from high blood pressure until they have reached puberty. Before that age they present totally different symptoms -- namely hyperactivity, poor ability to concentrate and impulsiveness. It is exactly these three criteria that form the basis for making the ADHD diagnosis in humans. The animals also react to Ritalin, the central nervous system stimulant, in the same way as humans with ADHD: the hyperactive responses are stabilized. SHR rats are therefore increasingly used in research as a model for ADHD.
Supplements as early as the fetal stage
Researchers believe that omega-3 can have an effect from the very beginning of life. Omega-3 was therefore added to the food given to mother rats before they were impregnated, and this continued throughout their entire pregnancy and while they fed their young. The baby rats were also given omega-3 in their own food after they were separated from their mother at the age of 20 days. Another group of mother rats were given food that did not have omega-3 added, thus creating a control group of SHR offspring that had not been given these fatty acids at the fetal stage or later.
The researchers started to analyze the behaviour of the offspring some days after they were separated from the mother. They studied behaviour driven by reward as well as spontaneous behaviour. Substantial differences were noted for both types of behaviour between the rats that had been given the omega-3 supplement as foetuses and as baby rats and those that had not.
Rewards made male rats more concentrated
The reward-driven behaviour was such that the rats were allowed access to a drop of water each time they pressed an illuminated button. The ADHD rats that had not been given omega-3 could not concentrate on pressing the button, whereas the rats that had been brought up on omega-3 easily managed to hold their concentration for the seconds this takes and were able to enjoy a delicious drop of water as a reward.
Surprisingly enough, it was only male rats that showed an improvement in reward-driven behaviour. However, with regard to the rats' spontaneous behavior, the same type of reduction in hyperactivity and attention difficulties was noted in both male and female rats that had been given the omega-3 supplement.
Changes in brain chemistry
Professor Walaas and his research group became involved in the study at this point in order to analyze the molecular processes in the rats' brains.
The group analyzed the level of the chemical connections in the brain, the so-called neurotransmitters that transfer nerve impulses from one nerve cell to another. The researchers measured how much of the neurotransmitters such as dopamine, serotonin and glutamate was released and broken down within the nerve fibres. A key player in this work was Kine S. Dervola, PhD candidate, who reports clear sex differences in the turnover of the neurotransmitters -- just as there had been in the reward-driven behaviour.
"We saw that the turnover of dopamine and serotonin took place much faster among the male rats that had been given omega-3 than among those that had not. For serotonin the turnover ratio was three times higher, and for dopamine it was just over two and a half times higher. These effects were not observed among the female rats. When we measured the turnover of glutamate, however, we saw that both sexes showed a small increase in turnover," Ms Dervola tells us.
Transferrable to humans?
The researchers are cautious about drawing conclusions as to whether the results can be transferred to humans.
"In the first place there is of course a difference between rats and humans, and secondly the rats are sick at the outset. Thirdly the causes of ADHD in humans are in no way mapped sufficiently well. But the end result of what takes place in the brains of both rats and humans with ADHD is hyperactivity, poor ability to concentrate and impulsiveness," says Professor Walaas, and concludes:
"Giving priority to basic research like this will greatly increase our detailed knowledge of ADHD."
Read more here

Study: Children with autism outscore other children on math tests

A study reports that autistic children outscore non-autistic children on math tests.

Children with autism and average IQs consistently did better on math tests than non-autistic children in the same IQ range, according to a small new study.
The superiority in math skills among children with autism was tied to patterns of activation in a particular area of the brain, an area normally associated with recognizing faces and visual objects.
"There appears to be a unique pattern of brain organization that underlies superior problem-solving abilities in children with autism," study senior author Vinod Menon, a professor of psychiatry and behavioral sciences at Stanford University, said in a university news release.
The study included 18 children with autism, aged 7 to 12, and a control group of 18 children without autism. All participants showed normal verbal and reading skills on standardized tests, but the children with autism outperformed their peers without autism on standardized math tests.
The researchers also had all of the children work on math problems while their brain activity was measured using MRI. The brain scans of the children with autism revealed an unusual pattern of activity in the ventral temporal occipital cortex, an area of the brain specialized for processing faces and other visual objects.
The study will be published online Aug. 17 in the journal Biological Psychiatry.
"[Previous research] has focused almost exclusively on weaknesses in children with autism," said Menon, a member of the Child Health Research Institute at Lucile Packard Children's Hospital. "Our study supports the idea that the atypical brain development in autism can lead not just to deficits, but also to some remarkable cognitive strengths. We think this can be reassuring to parents."
Menon said children with autism sometimes exhibit exceptional talents or skills. For example, some can instantly recall the day of the week of any calendar date within a particular range of years, and others have outstanding math skills.
"Remembering calendar dates is probably not going to help you with academic and professional success," Menon said. "But being able to solve numerical problems and developing good mathematical skills could make a big difference in the life of a child with autism."
About one in 88 children has some form of autism, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
Read more here

Wednesday, August 28, 2013

Jet lagged mice used to study sleep disorders

A study using jet lagged mice helped researchers study different sleep disorders.

Many factors keep us from getting a good night’s sleep. Prime culprits include overnight flights across the ocean, graveyard shifts, and stress-induced insomnia. A new study from McGill and Concordia Universities gives hope, however, that these common sleep disturbances may one day be put to bed.
The Earth’s rotation is responsible for creating day and night, and the daily rhythms of all living beings. Mammals have a “circadian clock” in their brains that drive the daily rhythms in sleep and wakefulness, feeding and metabolism, and many other essential processes. Until now, however, the inner workings and molecular processes of this complex brain clock have eluded scientists.
The findings, published in Neuron, identify how a fundamental biological process called protein synthesis is controlled within the body’s circadian clock. The researchers hope their work will help shed light on future treatments for disorders triggered by circadian clock dysfunction, including jet lag, shift work disorders, and chronic conditions like depression and Parkinson’s disease.
“To understand and treat the causes and symptoms of circadian abnormalities, we have to take a closer look at the fundamental biological mechanisms that control our internal clocks,” says Dr. Shimon Amir, professor in Concordia University’s Department of Psychology.
Amir worked with Dr. Nahum Sonenberg, a James McGill professor in the Dept. of Biochemistry, Faculty of Medicine, at the Goodman Cancer Research Centre at McGill University, to study how protein synthesis is controlled in the brain clock. “We identified a repressor protein in the clock and found that by removing this protein, the brain clock function was surprisingly improved,” explains Dr. Sonenberg.
The circadian clocks of all mammals are similar, so the team was able to use mice to conduct their experiments. The mouse model used lacked this specific protein, known as 4E-BP1. The protein blocks the important function of protein synthesis. The mice that lacked this protein were able to overcome disruptions to their circadian clocks more quickly, the team found.
“In modern society, with the frequency of trans-time zone travel, we often deal with annoying jet lag problems, which usually require a couple of weeks of transition,” says Dr.Ruifeng Cao, a postdoctoral fellow who works with Drs. Sonenberg and Amir, “However, by inducing a state like jet lag in the mice lacking that protein, we found they were able to adapt to time zones changes in about half of the time required by regular mice.”
The research team also found, in mice lacking the protein 4E-BP1,there was a small increase in another small protein necessary for brain clock function, vasoactive intestinal peptide or VIP. This indicates to the researchers the functioning of the circadian clock could be improved by genetic manipulations, opening doors on new ways to treat circadian clock-related disorders.
“A stronger clock function may help improve many physiological processes, such as aging,” says Cao. “In addition, understanding the molecular mechanisms of biological clocks may contribute to the development of time-managing drugs,” Amir concurs, noting that “the more we know about these mechanisms, the better able we will be to solve problems associated with disruptions to our bodies’ internal clocks”.
Read more here

Risk of autism for full and half siblings

This study looks at how much of a higher risk fill and half siblings of children with autism have for developing the disease themselves.

A Danish study of siblings suggests the recurrence risks for autism spectrum disorders (ASDs) varied from 4.5 percent to 10.5 percent depending on the birth years, which is higher than the ASD risk of 1.18 percent in the overall Danish population, according to a study published by JAMA Pediatrics, a JAMA Network publication.
ASDs are neurodevelopmental disorders that are characterized by difficulties in social interaction and communication and also include repetitive behavior and narrow interests. Childhood autism (CA) accounts for about 30 percent of all ASD cases and the prevalence of ASDs has increased during the last two decades, according to the study background.
Therese K. Grønborg, M.Sc., of Aarhus University, Denmark, and colleagues conducted a population-based study in Denmark of all children (about 1.5 million) born between 1980 and 2004. They identified a maternal sibling group derived from mothers with at least two children and a paternal sibling group derived from fathers with at least two children.
"To date, this is the first population-based study to examine the recurrence risk for autism spectrum disorders (ASDs), including time trends, and the first study to consider the ASDs recurrence risk for full- and half-siblings," the authors note in the study.
The study results suggest an almost seven-fold increase in ASDs risk if an older sibling had an ASD diagnosis compared with no ASD diagnoses in older siblings. In children with the same mother, the adjusted relative recurrence risk of 7.5 in full siblings was significantly higher than the risk of 2.4 in half siblings. In children with the same father, the adjusted relative recurrence risk was 7.4 in full siblings and significant, but no statistically significant increased risk was observed among paternal half siblings, the results also indicate.
"The difference in the recurrence risk between full and half siblings supports the role of genetics in ASDs, while the significant recurrence risk in maternal half-siblings may support the role of factors associated with pregnancy and the maternal intrauterine environment in ASDs," the study concludes.
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Genetics may be to blame for exercise intolerance

This article explains how exercise intolerance may have a genetic component, although does not seem to be a hereditary condition.

Some cases of exercise intolerance have been linked to mutations in a gene found in the mitochondria, the “powerhouses” of the cell, according to a study.
Exercise intolerance is a condition in which a person experiences extreme fatigue, muscle pain or cramps after minimal exercise. Mitochondria provide energy that muscles require to function, so a defect in these could severely limit the ability to exercise.
Mitochondrial DNA — which is separate from DNA found in the nucleus, or control center of the cell — is inherited directly from the mother, so if a child has a disorder linked to the mitochondria, the mother usually also has it.
However, the research team from the Columbia College of Physicians and Surgeons in New York, found that in the patients studied, there was no maternal link to the mutation, and no evidence of the mutation in tissues other than muscles. This suggests that mutation is not inherited but occurs in the embryo, the team suggests. Five patients with exercise intolerance and no family history of the disease enrolled in the study.
Analyses of the patients’ cells revealed that all had defects in respiratory chain enzymes, which are used by mitochondria to make substances that store energy for muscles. Sophisticated techniques narrowed the deficiencies down to mutations in the mitochondrial cytochrome b gene.
The investigators conclude that such mitochondrial gene mutations may be common, and recommend that physicians consider this as a possible diagnosis in patients with “the often elusive symptoms of aches, pain, and cramps.”
No treatments have been developed for this condition, but as a therapeutic course for the patients, researchers suggest “genetic counseling” to explain to the patients that they will not pass their disease onto their children. Also, patients can engage in “appropriate exercise programs,” which might have some benefit, they add.
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Sunday, August 25, 2013

Link between sleep apnea and mental illness

This article discusses the interesting link that exists between sleep apnea and mental illnesses such as depression and bipolar disorder.

With bipolar disorder cropping up from celebrities to politicians, you may be wondering what truly affects these individuals. Yes, a mental illness is typically a misfire of chemical and electrical  waves within the brain. Nevertheless, is there another, underlying cause? One cause can point to a varying disorder called sleep anpea, a condition that can create a mental abnormality. Does the lack of oxygen to the brain due to lack of sleep cause a mental illness?
If you snore, the two greater factors of blame are pointed to either, obstructive sleep apnea or obesity. The lack of oxygen to the brain can cause one to be tired during the day, inciting drastic mood swings. In most cases, individuals suffer from depression and inconsistent sleep schedules, resulting in lying awake at night. Sleep is imperative to the overall general health of an individual. Finding the serenity of slumber should be natural, without one becoming dependent on sleep aids.
If you are prescribed a muscle relaxant, your lack of sleep can actually become worse; especially, sufferers of obstructive sleep apnea. It’s not advised to have certain muscle relaxants including medications, such as: Valium, Ativan and Klonopin. These prescriptions can cause the surrounding airway muscles to collapse- causing sleep depravity, resulting in mood changes and chemical imbalances.
Medication for many, is imperative to live a functionally, normal life, but many contemplate what can be done to lesson the side-effects they feel? The first suggestion is moderate exercise and changing your diet. For some, it is not that simple and many should look into acquiring a prescribed CPAP. This machine produces the air that individuals need when the body is having complications during sleeping. This machine has been used on individuals who have undergone a sleep study and suffer from conditions that require its use. Speak to your doctor who will determine the machine type, they will also determine the air pressure that you need to stay consistently asleep. Once sleep is obtained normally, the mental balance can once again become stabilized.
Sleep deprivation is a condition millions of Americans suffer from. Psych Central advises individuals can suffer from memory loss, a disorientation of rationalization, resulting in severe mood swings. When your body is tired, it becomes dehydrated and this combination can be a deadly mix to your mental stability. Some individuals with a deeper severity of sleep loss had reported hallucinations and slurred speech. Dr. Yasinski of Yasinski Psychiatry states,
“Without adequate oxygen to your brain, the ability of psychiatric medications, exercise and healthy living to improve depression or bipolar disorder is decreased and thus many patients present as ‘treatment resistant’ when in reality they are resistant only due to a co-morbid sleep apnea disorder that has gone unrecognized.”
A sleep study is highly recommended for individuals who suffer from sleep disruption and mental disorders like bipolar. This painless test can gauge the level of severity from children to adults. If sleep apnea is the cause of the mental illness, treatment can be recommended and prescribed by a doctor, leading to stability of sleep, mind and life.
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Sleep and academic success in children

This article discusses how important sleep is to academic success for young children.

CHILDREN who have trouble sleeping tend to do worse in school than their peers who get a good night’s sleep, a new study suggests.
Researchers in Brazil looked at children aged seven to 10 who attended São Paulo public schools. They found children with symptoms of sleep disorders or sleep breathing disorders earned lower grades than those without problems sleeping, on average.
Thirteen percent of children with difficulty sleeping had failing grades in Portuguese, compared with 9% of those without sleep problems. Likewise, 25% of children with disrupted sleep had failing maths grades, versus 8% of children without trouble sleeping.
"Because (symptoms of sleep disorders) and particularly (sleep breathing disorders) are highly prevalent, we suggest that all health professionals and educators become aware of this striking effect and take appropriate actions to solve or mitigate what could very well constitute a public health issue," researchers led by Dr Luciane Bizari Coin de Carvalho from the Universidade Federal de São Paulo write.
In the US, experts estimate that roughly a quarter of children have disrupted sleep at some point during childhood. There are no definitive statistics on how many South African children have disrupted sleep patterns, but experts say rates are likely to be as high, if not slightly higher in this country, for a variety of socioeconomic reasons.
Erratic bedtime hours and anxiety, either at school or at home, may contribute.
Sleep disorders
Other children may have unrecognised sleep disorders, such as sleep walking, nightmares or insomnia, or sleep breathing disorders such as sleep apnea. Some medications, including those for asthma or attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder, can affect sleep. The underlying medical problems may also cause sleep disturbances.
Poor sleep among children has been tied to obesity, which over the long term increases the risk of heart disease and diabetes. And poor school performance has been linked to early dropout rates, so the new findings may have implications beyond getting a good night’s sleep, researchers say.
From 1999 to 2001, the researchers distributed 5,400 questionnaires asking about symptoms of sleep disorders and sleep breathing disorders to children in São Paulo public schools.
Then they looked at the Portuguese and maths grades of 2,384 children whose parents filled out and returned the questionnaire.
The study team found about 31% of the children had symptoms of sleep disorders — such as difficulty falling or staying asleep, or feeling sleepy all the time — and close to 27% had sleep breathing disorders. Those students’ grades were significantly lower than the grades of children without sleep disorder symptoms.
In Brazil, grades are based on a scale of 0 to 10, with 5 considered passing. Average Portuguese grades were 6.6 for children with sleep problems, compared with 7.1 among those with no sleeping trouble.
Likewise, children with symptoms of sleep disorders or sleep breathing disorders earned an average grade of 6.3 in maths, compared with 7.1 for other children, according to findings published in the journal Sleep Medicine.
Dr Carl Bazil, a neurologist and director of the division of epilepsy and sleep at New York-Presbyterian/Columbia University Medical Centre in New York City, notes that this study fills a research void.
Learning information
"There’s growing information, mainly in adults, that you need good quality sleep to process and learn new information," Dr Bazil says.
"It stands to reason that, if anything, sleep would be more important in children, but there’s very little information in children about sleep disturbance and learning."
Research has shown that sleep deprivation might affect certain parts of the brain, especially the frontal lobes. The frontal lobes control executive function, which is the ability to make decisions, form memories, plan for the future and inhibit socially undesirable behaviour, such as fighting with a classmate.
However, the new study cannot say definitively that sleep problems were to blame for poor grades, researchers say.
"This study doesn’t prove that a sleep disturbance causes decreased academic performance," Dr Bazil says, "but it shows an association. Basically every category of sleep disturbance the authors looked at correlated with decreased academic performance."
The researchers relied on parents’ reports of their children’s sleep, rather than bringing children into a sleep lab overnight, for example.
The study is "far from perfect", Dr Bazil says. But, "it’s a first step in emphasising that sleep in children is something that’s important, not only to prevent them from being sleepy but to make sure that they learn.
"I think this study will help raise awareness that sleep is particularly important in children."
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Children with autism prefer play with sensory aspects

A study shows that autistic children prefer sensory play, such as pushing a windmill and watching it spin, to other types of play.

Play is critical to children's development, including children with autism spectrum disorders (ASD). Kathy Ralabate Doody, assistant professor of exceptional education at SUNY Buffalo State, observed different play options to determine those most likely to appeal to children with ASD.The findings were published in the North American Journal of Medicine and Science.
"Children with ASD chose to engage in play that provided strong sensory feedback, cause-and-effect results, and repetitive motions," said Doody.
One novel aspect of the research, conducted by Doody with Jana Mertz, program coordinator at the Autism Spectrum Disorder Center at the Women & Children's Hospital of Buffalo, was that the children with ASD could freely select their preferred activities. The research was conducted at a monthly event, "Au-some Evening," at Explore & More, a children's museum with exhibits that are designed to engage children through play. The event is open to children with ASD, their families, and their guests.
The most popular activity among children with ASD was the exhibit "Climbing Stairs." Children who climbed a short staircase could then drop a ball and watch it descend. Another popular activity involved a windmill. Children can push its arms, causing it to spin. A table filled with rice completed the top three exhibits among children with ASD.
In addition to the well-known senses of sight, smell, touch, taste, and hearing, Doody described others, including the vestibular and proprioceptive senses. The vestibular sense helps us keep our balance and know where we are in space; proprioception has to do with the way our joints respond to movement and pressure. "It's the sense that makes deep-tissue massage pleasurable," she said. Children with ADS preferred activities that involved the vestibular and proprioceptive senses as well as other senses.
"Children with ADS sometimes tend to crave motion, and if they can't be moving, they like to look at moving objects," said Doody, noting that motion engages the vestibular, proprioceptive, and visual senses. "So just watching the windmill engaged them. When the windmill turned in response to their push, it also provided cause-and-effect play. And the repetition of the spinning movement provided a third level of satisfaction." Climbing the stairs also satisfied multiple senses. Playing with rice provided both tactile and visual stimulation as children felt and watched the rice pour through their fingers.
By knowing the kind of play that children with ASD prefer, educators and clinicians can use such play as positive reinforcement in educational and treatment settings. "This information is especially helpful for children with ASD who have difficulty communicating their preferences," said Doody.
Parents can also benefit from the information. "A child who is playing alone is developing a degree of independence," said Doody, "and that can enable the parent or caregiver to engage in other activities, like making dinner or attending to another child. Parents might use a snow globe so the child can observe movement. Aquariums or water sculptures provide movement, too."
Some of the behaviors exhibited by people with autism -- hand-flapping, for example -- may reflect a need for sensory stimulation. "Sometimes just giving a child a string of Mardi Gras beads to swing and watch will help the child sit still," said Doody. Toys that provide sensory stimulation -- sounds, movement, or lights -- in response to an act such as pushing a button also may be well-received. However, Doody noted, the need for, and tolerance of, sensory stimulation varies by individual.
At Explore & More, children with ADS tended to avoid the exhibits that required pretending, such as imagining oneself as a butterfly or as a cook in a play kitchen. Doody explained that pretending requires a phenomenon called Theory of Mind, which is the ability to imagine oneself in the place of another. "That develops much earlier in children with typical development than in children with autism, if they develop it at all," said Doody.
Doody hopes that options for children with ASD will be built into a variety of recreational facilities, after-school programs, and playgrounds. The benefit is not only inclusion. "It also encourages social interaction between children with ASD and their peers," said Doody. "Some children with ASD are academically successful, but they struggle in social situations. So opportunities to play with their peers are really valuable."
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