Original spider picture edited out after complaints.
The benefits of exposure to ultraviolet light may outweigh the risks, say scientists who apparently hate putting on sunscreen as much as I do. This reminds me of my father’s occasional complaints that every year he finds out that the health advice he was giving his patients last year was driving them to an early grave.
It’s been a good month for gut microbiota research. A team from UCLA finds that probiotics change activity in brain areas that affect emotional processing in humans as well as actual behavior on emotion-related tasks.
Mice raised without normal gut bacteria show autistic-like behavior, and giving them normal gut bacteria reverses many of the symptoms. Extremely interesting because prevalence of autism keeps increasing and no one knows why, and the amount of stress we put our gut flora under with weird diets and antibiotics also keeps increasing and would be really neat if we could use the one to help explain the other. Bonus: this study was conducted by one of my professors during medical school who was sort-of-very-briefly my research advisor.
Adjusting the level of the gut bacteria a. muciniphilia causes a bunch of downstream changes in the guts of mice which eventually affect their obesity levels. But please, tell us again how all obesity is 100% due to how much you eat minus how much you exercise.
Elsewhere in the gut, children born after their mothers have bariatric surgery are less likely to be obese and have different gene methylation patterns than children born just before their mothers have bariatric surgery – suggesting that fetuses may be “programmed” to metabolize fat differently based on their mother’s health. BUT IT’S STILL ALL JUST EATING AND EXERCISE LA LA LA I CAN’T HEAR YOU.
In my Biodeterminists’ Guide, I suggested the then unproven conjecture that First World iodine deficiency was probably having small but measurable effects on kids’ intelligence. Last month, research showed this was true in the UK.
Old study: Medicare costs vary wildly around the country because doctors are basing their treatment on local fads rather than sound practice. New study: Medicare costs vary wildly around the country because health varies wildly around the country. But be sure to read the responses and counter-responses.
Ketamine has long been able to treat depression instantaneously and miraculously. The only problem is that, well, it’s ketamine. Now scientists announce the discovery of a molecule that may be able to replicate ketamine’s antidepressant effects without its side effects.
I’d previously seen hypothermia caps used to fight insomnia, but apparently the real medical interest is in a different direction: hypothermia caps can allow chemotherapy patients to keep their hair. The mechanism is actually very clever: you wear the cap, the cold contracts the blood vessels in your scalp, and the chemotherapy drugs don’t reach the hair follicles.
A study finds that cruise ships cost about the same as assisted-living facilities for the elderly, provide about the same range of services, and are much more fun. It suggests that more seniors should go on permanent cruises instead of “off to a home”.
Meta-science strikes again: peer review is basically useless. Researchers find that peer reviewers will reject articles they previously accepted but forgot about at around the same rate they will reject articles in general – at least once the names of the prestigious scientists involved are stripped off.
Genetic risk for schizophrenia is associated with decreased IQ even in those who don’t develop the disease (I can’t find by how much). This is interesting for two reasons. First, the correlation was observed at age 70 but not at age 11, which is yet another reminder that a lot of these IQ studies just don’t work all that well on kids who are still growing and having their IQ fluctuate for other reasons. Second, in light of the recent total failure to figure out IQ genes, it’s nice to sort of have something to work with.
75% of lesbians are obese, which is much larger than comparable numbers for straight women or gay men. A new study is trying to find out why. It would be mildly interesting if social, super interesting if biological as it might give us more insight into what’s going on hormone-wise.
All research relating to oxytocin is existentially terrifying, and the Karolinksa Institute’s work on oxytocin and pair-bonding is no exception. The study finds that the 25% of people with a certain allele of an oxytocin receptor score significantly differently on measures of relationship status, a discovery the media has not entirely unfairly spun as a “divorce gene” that makes you 50% more likely to break up with your partner. This is the first time I’ve really on a gut-level appreciated how scary the age of univerally available genetic information is going to be. Do people have a right to ask their prospective partner what version of the oxytocin receptor they have? (also worth checking out: the other divorce studies mentioned in that second link)
Just as religious people are more likely to believe their religion in times of stress, so people are more likely to believe in the power of capital-s Science in stressful situations. This raises some interesting possibilities for increasing the likelihood that the public will take scientific advice seriously, like preceding announcements of important studies that people should take seriously with pictures of a giant spider climbing on a man’s back.