Health Updates 2 July 2012

  • Spanking kids leads to adult mental illness: “Childhood punishments such as spanking, slapping and hitting – even in the absence of full-scale maltreatment – are associated with an increased risk of mental disorders in adulthood, researchers reported.  Adults who reported such punishments in their childhood had a greater risk of mood disorders, anxiety disorders, alcohol and drug abuse dependence, and several personality disorders, according to Tracie Afifi, PhD, of the University of Manitoba in Winnipeg, and colleagues.  Up to 7% of some adult disorders can be attributed to ‘harsh physical punishment‘ in childhood, Afifi and colleagues reported online in Pediatrics.  The link between child abuse — both physical and sexual — and mental disorders in adulthood has long been established, the researchers noted.  But studies of the milder forms of punishment that had similar findings have been disputed as having ‘weaknesses in design, measurement, and analysis,’ they added, including the lack of adjustment for confounding factors such as full-scale abuse.”  This present study was organized to overcome these limitations.  The findings “‘provide evidence that harsh physical punishment independent of child maltreatment is related to mental disorders,’ Afifi and colleagues concluded.  They [also] cautioned that the study was cross-sectional, which precludes drawing any causal inferences.” (Michael Smith, MedPage Today)
  • Asthma rates higher near busy highway: “Residents of homes that are located near congested highways have higher rates of asthma, new research finds.  Living close to a busy highway was not linked to seasonal allergies, which suggests that emissions from cars could increase the risk for inflammatory lung disease, researchers from SUNY Downstate Medical Center and Lutheran Medical Center in New York said.  Researchers investigated the prevalence of asthma among 62 Brooklyn residents living close to Interstate 278, also known as Gowanus Expressway, and those living in the same area but farther from the highway.  The researchers found higher rates of asthma among the people living closer to the Interstate.  ‘Our participants were randomly recruited and we observed that the patients who reported asthma live significantly closer to the Gowanus Expressway, compared to the healthy controls who live in the same area, but at a longer distance from the Gowanus,’ Dr. Maria-Anna Vastardi…said in a university news release.  The study was to be presented at the American Academy of Allergy, Asthma and Immunology meeting in Orlando.  The research was also published in the Journal of Allergy and Clinical Immunology.” (
  • Study of retired NFL players finds evidence of brain damage: “Tests performed on a group of retired NFL players revealed that more than 40 percent suffered from problems such as depression and dementia, adding to a growing pile of evidence that repeated sports-related head traumas can lead to lasting neurological issues.  Analyzing 34 ex-professional football players (average age 62) on benchmarks such as memory, reasoning, problem-solving and behavior, researchers from the Center for Brain Health at the University of Texas at Dallas found that 20 tested normal while the rest suffered from depression, various deficits in memory/thinking or a combination of these issues.  Twenty-six of the players also underwent MRI scans.  ‘We picked up  that many guys were depressed but didn’t know it,’ added study author Dr. John Hart, medical science director at the center.  ‘The cognitive impairments…were more than what’s expected for their ages.  A lot had damage to their brain’s white matter, so for us it’s a real clue or marker to look for’….An estimated 300,000 sports-related concussions occur in the United States each year, and mounting attention is being paid to the neurological toll of those injuries on former professional athletes.  In June, a massive bundle of lawsuits representing more than 2,100 National Football League players was filed against the league, claiming that the NFL hid information linking football-related head injuries to permanent brain damage….Of the eight former players who were found to have depression — the finding that most surprised Hart — most didn’t exhibit the mood issues such as sadness that are typically associated with the condition, he said.  Instead, ‘there was a lack of energy, initiative or sex drive and disrupted sleep, with weight gain or loss,’ Hart said.  ‘They would ruminate or get anxious about stuff, but they weren’t crying.  They were shocked and surprised [at the finding], because they didn’t think they had symptoms at all’.  The results highlight the need to actively inquire about depressive symptoms among those who have suffered concussions instead of charging back onto the field — which opens players to a phenomenon known as “second-impact” syndrome.  The brain can swell catastrophically when a second concussion occurs before symptoms of the first have abated.” (HealthDay)
  • Gene boosts tomato’s color, but may make it less tasty: “The gene mutation that makes a tomato uniformly red is the same trait that reduces its sweetness, researchers have found.  A team from the Boyce Thompson Institute (BTI) for Plant Research at Cornell University, the US Department of Agriculture (USDA), and the University of  California, Davis discovered that the mutation, which is found in most supermarket tomatoes, reduces the amount of sugar, carbohydrates and carotenoids in the fruit….Naturally ripened tomatoes have uneven patches of darker green and different shades of red.  In the 1920s, however, commercial breeders found a natural mutation in tomatoes that causes them to ripen evenly from one shade of green to one shade of red.  This mutation, the researchers explained, is evident in most tomatoes sold in grocery stores.  In conducting the study, the scientists pinpointed the location of the “uniform-ripening” gene.  Using this location, the researchers uncovered the gene coding for the protein that controls photosynthesis levels in tomatoes.  Although leaves are the primary site of photosynthesis in plants, the study authors pointed out that developing tomato fruit can contribute up to 20 percent of their own photosynthesis, producing high sugar and nutrient levels when fully ripe.  The uniform-ripening mutation, however, removes this protein, which reduces the tomatoes’ sugar levels, they found.  ‘This is an unintended consequence….Producers currently don’t get a penny more for [flavor] quality’.  Producers who care more about taste than appearance should ensure their plants are mutation free, the researchers suggested in the report published in the June 29 issue of the journal Science.” (US Dept. of Health and Human Services)

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