Light drinkers, and non-alcohol drinkers, should watch for fatty liver disease

May 24, 2016 – 8:02pm

People who have reduced enzyme activity to breakdown active aldehyde, i.e., those who become easily inebriated, are more likely to develop fatty liver disease even if they do not drink alcohol. This discovery was made by a clinical research team from Kumamoto University in Japan.

It is generally understood that fatty liver is triggered by alcoholism or heavy drinking. Recently, however, the number of patients with non-alcoholic fatty liver disease (NAFLD), a type of liver function disorder caused by increasing neutral fat in the liver that is caused by overeating and lack of exercise, has increased.

NAFLD is easily overlooked because of the lack of associated symptoms, and it is often only found when it has progressed to an advanced stage, such as cirrhosis., It is therefore important to detect it early so that preventative measure may be implemented.

The risk of NAFLD was significantly higher in the ALDH2*2 allele carriers than in the non-carriers. Credit: Dr. Kentaro Oniki

When a person drinks, alcohol is changed to acetaldehyde in the liver. Acetaldehyde is toxic and contributes to sickness and hangovers in those who drink alcohol. Aldehyde dehydrogenase 2 (ALDH2) is a type of enzyme in stem cells that breaks down acetaldehyde and transforms it into other harmless substances. The action of the enzyme is determined genetically and affects the amount of alcohol that a person is able to consume without feeling sick.

Eastern Asia has an especially high population with low ALDH2 activity, in other words, light drinkers. Particularly in Japan where 40% of the people have low ALDH2 activity and 10% have no activity. People with low or no activity have a low risk of alcohol-related diseases, such as alcoholic fatty liver, because they drink little to no alcohol at all.

However, recent studies have reported that East Asian people with a genotype supporting low ALDH2 activity are at risk for cardiovascular disease. Further studies with mice found that ALDH2 activity reduced the accumulation of neutral fat in the liver and improved arteriosclerosis regardless of alcohol intake. Nevertheless, the association between the low activity ALDH2 genotype and NAFLD had not been made.

To determine that relationship, researchers of Kumamoto University began investigating the effects of various ALDH2 genotypes on NAFLD. A retrospective follow-up study of 341 Japanese health screening participants with no drinking habits was performed in the Japanese Red Cross Kumamoto Health Care Center. The researchers found that patients with a low activity ALDH2 genotype had a prevalence of NAFLD that was about twice as high as patients with a high activity genotype.

The patients’ gamma(γ)GTP, which is used in daily medical practice as an indicator of liver damage, was also assessed. A value of 25.5 IU/L is usually associated with the onset of NAFLD so the researchers focused on cases which had a combination of a low activity ALDH2 genotype and a γGTP level that was greater than 25.5 IU/L.

The results clearly showed that people with a low activity ALDH2 genotype who also had γGTP levels over 25.5 IU/L have a quadrupled risk of developing NAFLD compared to those with a high activity ALDH2 genotype and γGTP levels less than 25.5 IU/L. People who have a low activity ALDH2 genotype should be wary of developing NAFLD even if their γGTP levels are not very high.

“It is necessary for light or non-drinkers to pay attention to the possibility of NAFLD development,” said Assistant Professor Kentaro Oniki from Kumamoto University. “Even if you don’t drink much, it is recommended that you check your γGTP levels frequently to prevent NAFLD.”

Future research based on this study is expected to include treatment and early prediction of the disease.

source: Kumamoto University

Source: Even light drinkers should watch for fatty liver disease | Science Codex

Online therapy effective at treating depression and anxiety

HOLLYWOOD, Fla., May 12, 2016 – Doctors from the University of Pittsburgh showed that providing an online computerized cognitive behavioral therapy (CCBT) program both alone and in combination with Internet Support Groups (ISG) is a more effective treatment for anxiety and depression than doctors’ usual primary care. The preliminary findings were highlighted today at the annual meeting of the Society of General Internal Medicine (SGIM) in Hollywood, Florida.

The National Institutes of Mental Health-funded randomized trial, led by Bruce L. Rollman, M.D., M.P.H., professor of medicine and director of the Center for Behavioral Health and Smart Technology at the University of Pittsburgh, enrolled 704 depressed and anxious patients from 26 UPMC-affiliated primary care offices across western Pennsylvania.

Patients 18 to 75 years old were referred into the trial by their UPMC primary care physician between August 2012 and September 2014. Eligible and consenting patients were then randomized to one of three groups: care manager-guided access to the eight-session Beating the Blues CCBT program; care manager-guided access to both the CCBT program and a password-protected ISG patients could access 24/7 via smartphone or desktop computer; or usual behavioral health care from their primary care physician.

Over the six-month intervention, 83 percent of patients randomized to CCBT started the program, and they completed an average of 5.3 sessions. Seventy-seven percent of patients assigned to the ISG logged into the site at least once, and 46 percent provided one or more posts or comments.

Six months later, those patients randomized to CCBT reported significant improvements in their mood and anxiety symptoms and the more CCBT sessions patients completed, the greater the improvement in mood and anxiety symptoms.

Although patients randomized to both CCBT and ISG had similar overall improvements in mood and anxiety symptoms compared to patients randomized to only CCBT, secondary analysis revealed those who engaged more with the ISG tended to experience greater improvements in symptoms.

Several CCBT programs have proven as effective as face-to-face cognitive behavioral therapy at treating mood and anxiety disorders and are used by many patients outside the U.S., but CCBT remains largely unknown and underutilized within the U.S., Dr. Rollman said. ISG that enable individuals with similar conditions to access and exchange self-help information and emotional support have proliferated in recent years, but benefits have yet to be established in randomized trials.

“Our study findings have important implications for transforming the way mental health care is delivered,” Dr. Rollman said. “Providing depressed and anxious patients with access to these emerging technologies may be an ideal method to deliver effective mental health treatment, especially to those who live in areas with limited access to care resources or who have transportation difficulties or work/home obligations that make in-person counseling difficult to obtain. We hope that these findings will focus further attention on the emerging field of e-mental health by other U.S. investigators.”

Source: University of Pittsburgh Schools of the Health Sciences

Source: Online therapy effective at treating depression and anxiety | Science Codex

Obesity less dangerous than 40 years ago

May 11, 2016

New research from Denmark involving more than 100,000 individuals suggests that the excess risk of premature death associated with obesity has decreased over the past 40 years. All-cause mortality was higher in obese individuals than in normal weight individuals in 1976-78, but not in 2003-13.

Many try to lose weight to avoid diabetes and cardiovascular disease and hopefully live longer. This is often driven by recommendations from health care authorities and is further supported by the media and not least, by commercials often presenting normal weight or even thin people as ideal humans.

“The increased risk of all-cause mortality associated with obesity compared to normal weight decreased from 30% 1976-78 to 0% in 2003-13,” says principal investigator Dr. Shoaib Afzal, Herlev Hospital, Copenhagen University Hospital, Denmark.

This research has just been published in the Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA).

What is the optimal BMI for lowest mortality?

The study also revealed changes in the BMI associated with the lowest all-cause mortality in three cohorts from Copenhagen, examined respectively in 1976-78, 1991-1994, and in 2003-2013 (all individuals were followed until 2014).

“The optimal BMI for the lowest mortality increased from 23.7 in 1976-78, through 24.6 in 1991-94, to 27 in 2003-13, while individuals with a BMI below or above the optimal value had higher mortality,” adds Shoaib Afzal.

“Compared to the 1970’s, today’s overweight individuals have lower mortality than so-called normal weight individuals. The reason for this change is unknown. However, these results would indicate a need to revise the categories presently used to define overweight, which are based on data from before the 1990’s” says senior author Clinical Professor Borge G. Nordestgaard, University of Copenhagen and Copenhagen University Hospital.

“Importantly, our results should not be interpreted as suggesting that now people can eat as much as they like, or that so-called normal weight individuals should eat more to become overweight. That said, maybe overweight people need not be quite as worried about their weight as before”, adds Nordestgaard.

Obesity and overweight are classified using Body Mass Index (BMI), calculated as weight in kilograms divided by height in meters squared. A BMI of 25-29.9 represents overweight, a BMI of 30 or greater represents obesity, while a BMI of 18.5-24.9 is considered normal weight. These categories are often used for recommendations on optimum weight.

Source: University of Copenhagen The Faculty of Health and Medical Sciences

Source: Obesity less dangerous than 40 years ago | Science Codex

Fairness at work can affect employees’ health

May 11, 2016

Employees’ experiences of fairness at work can impact on their health, according to a new study involving the University of East Anglia (UEA).

The researchers investigated whether perceptions of what they call ‘procedural justice’, such as the processes in place to decide on rewards, pay, promotion and assignments, are related to employees’ health.

They found that when perceptions of fairness changed, the self-rated health of employees also changed, for example those who experienced more fairness on average over the period studied reported better health.

The finding suggests that fairness at work is a crucial aspect of the psychosocial work environment and that changes towards greater fairness can improve employees’ health.

It was also found that changes in employees’ health are related to changes in fairness perceptions, indicating that the health status of employees may also affect how employees feel treated at work.

The study, which focused on more than 5800 people working in Sweden, was conducted by Dr Constanze Eib, a lecturer in organisational behaviour at UEA’s Norwich Business School, and researchers from Stockholm University. The results are published in the Scandinavian Journal of Work, Environment and Health.

Dr Eib said: “Our study provides a thorough examination of how fairness at the workplace and health of employees is related over time. The findings can help raise awareness among employers and authorities that fairness at work but also health is important to consider to increase satisfaction, well-being and productivity in the workplace and wider society.

“It is important to know about these issues as there may be things that can be done to improve perceptions of fairness at work. For example, making sure people feel their views are considered, they are consulted about changes and that decisions are made in an unbiased way.

“People who feel fairly treated are not only more likely to be motivated at work and go the extra mile for their organisation, but they are also more likely to be healthy, have an active lifestyle and feel positive.”

The study used data collected between 2008 and 2014 for the Swedish Longitudinal Occupational Survey of Health, which is conducted every two years and focuses on the associations between work organisation, work environment and health.

Participants were asked to rate their general state of health on a scale from one to five, one being ‘very good’ and five being ‘very poor’.

They were asked about their perception of fairness by saying to what extent they agreed or disagreed with seven statements relating to their organisation’s decision-making processes. These included ‘hear the concerns of all those affected by the decision’, ‘provide opportunities to appeal or challenge the decision’ and ‘all sides affected by the decision are represented’.

‘The influence of procedural justice and change in procedural justice on self-rated health trajectories: Results from the Swedish Longitudinal Occupational Survey of Health’, Constanze Leineweber, Constanze Eib, Paraskevi Peristera, and Claudia Bernhard-Oettel, is published in the Scandinavian Journal of Work, Environment and Health.

Source: University of East Anglia

Source: Fairness at work can affect employees’ health | Science Codex

Study: Smartphone alerts increase inattention — and hyperactivity

CHARLOTTESVILLE, Va., May 9, 2016 — Society’s increasingly pervasive use of digital technology may be causing ADHD-like symptoms even among the general population, according to a new study of college students presented this week in San Jose, California at the Human-Computer Interaction conference of the Association for Computing Machinery.

“Less than 10 years ago, Steve Jobs promised that smartphones ‘will change everything,'” said Kostadin Kushlev, a psychology research scientist at the University of Virginia, who led the study with colleagues at the University of British Columbia. “And with the Internet in their pockets, people today are bombarded with notifications – whether from email, text messaging, social media or news apps – anywhere they go. We are seeking to better understand how this constant inflow of notifications influences our minds.”

Kushlev said that recent polls have shown that as many as 95 percent of smartphone users have used their phones during social gatherings; that seven in 10 people used their phones while working; and one in 10 admitted to checking their phones during sex. Smartphone owners spend nearly two hours per day using their phones.

The researchers designed a two-week experimental study and showed that when students kept their phones on ring or vibrate, they reported more symptoms of inattention and hyperactivity than when they kept their phones on silent.

“We found the first experimental evidence that smartphone interruptions can cause greater inattention and hyperactivity – symptoms of attention deficit hyperactivity disorder – even in people drawn from a nonclinical population,” Kushlev said.

During Kushlev’s and his colleagues’ study, 221 students at the University of British Columbia drawn from the general student population were assigned for one week to maximize phone interruptions by keeping notification alerts on, and their phones within easy reach. During another week participants were assigned to minimize phone interruptions by keeping alerts off and their phones away. At the end of each week, participants completed questionnaires assessing inattention and hyperactivity. The results showed that the participants experienced significantly higher levels of inattention and hyperactivity when alerts were turned on.

The results suggest that even people who have not been diagnosed with ADHD may experience some of the disorder’s symptoms, including distraction, difficulty focusing and getting bored easily when trying to focus, fidgeting, having trouble sitting still, difficulty doing quiet tasks and activities, and restlessness.

“Smartphones may contribute to these symptoms by serving as a quick and easy source of distraction,” Kushlev said.

Kushlev emphasized, however, that ADHD is a neurodevelopmental disorder with a complex biological and environmental etiology.

“Our findings suggest neither that smartphones can cause ADHD nor that reducing smartphone notifications can treat ADHD,” he said. “The findings simply suggest that our constant digital stimulation may be contributing to an increasingly problematic deficit of attention in modern society.”

The silver lining is that the problem can be turned off.

“Importantly, we found that people can reduce the harmful effects of overstimulation by smartphones simply by keeping their phones on silent and out of easy reach whenever possible, thus keeping notifications at bay,” Kushlev said.

His research colleagues at the University of British Columbia are Jason Proulx, a senior research assistant, and Elizabeth W. Dunn, an associate professor of psychology.

Source: University of Virginia

Source: Study: Smartphone alerts increase inattention — and hyperactivity | Science Codex

Floods and coastal erosion may expose contents of UK landfills, study finds

The contents of historic coastal landfill sites could pose a significant environmental threat if they erode, according to a new study from Queen Mary University of London (QMUL).

There are 1264 historic coastal landfill sites in England and Wales, all of which are sealed and no longer receive waste, but fall wholly or partially within the Environment Agency’s Tidal Flood Zone 3.

In the first academic study of its kind, researchers from QMUL investigated the contents of two sites in Essex: Leigh Marshes Landfill, used from 1955 to 1967; and Hadleigh Marsh Landfill, used from 1980 to 1987, to determine the potential consequences should the sites be tidally flooded or erode.

The analysis found that 100 per cent of the Leigh Marsh waste samples and 63 per cent of the Hadleigh Marsh samples contained contaminants at concentrations that exceed marine sediment quality guidelines ‘probable effects levels’, indicating that adverse effects to flora and fauna could be expected if the waste was to erode into surrounding coastal wetlands.

The findings are from a forthcoming report for the Environment Agency, authored by Dr Kate Spencer, Reader in Environmental Geochemistry at QMUL, and James Brand, PhD student at QMUL’s School of Geography.

“It’s important to state clearly that we’re not saying these sites are currently eroding. What our findings show is that in the event of erosion, there would be serious environmental consequences due to the level of contaminants that would pollute the surrounding protected ecological sites.”

The main risks to these landfills come from the effects of climate change, including erosion and flooding with salt water from storm surges and higher water levels.

According to Dr Spencer, many of these sites may be vulnerable to erosion and coastal flooding in the future.

“If you take a look inside these sites, they reflect consumption and waste patterns of the time. So one historic landfill site might contain a huge amount of plastics, and another might be full of coal ash. Many of them were in use when there were no rules about what went in. This is important because it means that we can’t draw national conclusions from individual sites — every landfill is essentially unique and some will prove more risky than others.”

Mr Brand said that it was “important to understand the sheer scale of some of these sites”. The Hadleigh Marsh site contains 500,000m3 of waste — if this waste were to erode and be released to the adjacent marsh, there is sufficient material to cover 138 Wembley size football pitches to a depth of half a metre.

The study says that while a policy of relocating the waste away from vulnerable sites would be preferable, it is likely that the waste will continue to be protected in situ due to the enormous costs and risks associated with relocating the waste.

The next stage of the research will create a vulnerability index for historic coastal landfill sites, to determine where resources and attention might best be focused.

source: Queen Mary University of London

Source: Floods and coastal erosion may expose contents of UK landfills, study finds | Science Codex

One in six children hospitalized for lung inflammation positive for marijuana exposure 

BALTIMORE, MD – A new study to be presented at the Pediatric Academic Societies 2016 Meeting found that one in six infants and toddlers admitted to a Colorado hospital with coughing, wheezing and other symptoms of bronchiolitis tested positive for marijuana exposure.

The study, “Marijuana Exposure in Children Hospitalized for Bronchiolitis,” recruited parents of previously healthy children between one month of age and two years old who were admitted to Children’s Hospital Colorado (CHC) between January 2013 and April 2014 with bronchiolitis, an inflammation of the smallest air passages in the lung. The parents completed a questionnaire about their child’s health, demographics, exposure to tobacco smoke, and as of October 2014, whether anyone in the home used marijuana. Marijuana became legal in Colorado on January 1, 2014.

Of the children who were identified as having been exposed to marijuana smokers, urine samples showed traces of a metabolite of tetrahydrocannabinol (THC), the psychoactive component of marijuana, in 16 percent of them. The results also showed that more of the children were THC positive after legalization (21 percent, compared with 10 percent before), and non-white children were more likely to be exposed than white children.

The findings suggest that secondhand marijuana smoke, which contains carcinogenic and psychoactive chemicals, may be a rising child health concern as marijuana increasingly becomes legal for medical and recreational use in the United States, said lead researcher Karen M. Wilson, MD, MPH, FAAP, an associate professor of pediatrics at the University of Colorado School of Medicine and section head at CHC. Most states with legal marijuana do not restrict its combustion around children, she said.

“Our study demonstrates that, as with secondhand tobacco smoke, children can be exposed to the chemicals in marijuana when it is smoked by someone nearby,” Dr. Wilson said. “Especially as marijuana becomes more available and acceptable, we need to learn more about how this may affect children’s health and development.” In the meantime, she said, “marijuana should never be smoked in the presence of children.”

Source: American Academy of Pediatrics

Source: One in six children hospitalized for lung inflammation positive for marijuana exposure | Science Codex

Scientists uncover history of ancient viruses as far back as 30 million years ago

Researchers from Boston College, US, have revealed the global spread of an ancient group of retroviruses that affected about 28 of 50 modern mammals’ ancestors some 15 to 30 million years ago.

Retroviruses are abundant in nature and include human immunodeficiency viruses (HIV-1 and -2) and human T-cell leukemia viruses. The scientists’ findings on a specific group of these viruses called ERV-Fc, to be published in the journal eLife, show that they affected a wide range of hosts, including species as diverse as carnivores, rodents, and primates.

The distribution of ERV-Fc among these ancient mammals suggests the viruses spread to every continent except Antarctica and Australia, and that they jumped from one species to another more than 20 times.

The study also places the origins of ERV-Fc at least as far back as the beginning of the Oligocene epoch, a period of dramatic global change marked partly by climatic cooling that led to the Ice Ages. Vast expanses of grasslands emerged around this time, along with large mammals as the world’s predominate fauna.

“Viruses have been with us for billions of years, and exist everywhere that life is found. They therefore have a significant impact on the ecology and evolution of all organisms, from bacteria to humans,” says co-author Welkin Johnson, Professor of Biology at Boston College where his team carried out the research.

“Unfortunately, viruses do not leave fossils behind, meaning we know very little about how they originate and evolve. Over the course of millions of years, however, viral genetic sequences accumulate in the DNA genomes of living organisms, including humans, and can serve as molecular ‘fossils’ for exploring the natural history of viruses and their hosts.”

Using such “fossil” remnants, the team sought to uncover the natural history of ERV-Fc. They were especially curious to know where and when these pathogens were found in the ancient world, which species they infected, and how they adapted to their mammalian hosts.

To do this, they first performed an exhaustive search of mammalian genome sequence databases for ERV-Fc loci and then compared the recovered sequences. For each genome with sufficient ERV-Fc sequence, they reconstructed the sequences of proteins representing the virus that colonized the ancestors of that particular species. These sequences were then used to infer the natural history and evolutionary relationships of ERV-Fc-related viruses.

The studies also allowed the team to pinpoint patterns of evolutionary change in the genes of these viruses, reflecting their adaptation to different kinds of mammalian hosts.

Perhaps most interestingly, the researchers found that these viruses often exchanged genes with each other and with other viruses, suggesting that genetic recombination played a significant role in their evolutionary success.

“Mammalian genomes contain hundreds of thousands of ancient viral fossils similar to ERV-Fc,” says lead author William E. Diehl from the University of Massachusetts, who conducted the study while a post-doctoral researcher at Boston College.

“The challenge will now be to use ancient viral sequences for looking back in time, which may prove insightful for predicting the long-term consequences of newly emerging viral infections. For example, we could potentially assess the impact of HIV on human health 30 million years from now. The method will allow us to better understand when and why new viruses emerge and how long-term contact with them impacts the evolution of host organisms.”

Source: eLife

Source: Scientists uncover history of ancient viruses as far back as 30 million years ago | Science Codex

Sea level rise threatens larger number of people than earlier estimated

Rising sea level threatens larger number of people that earlier estimated. Shanghai with over 24 million inhabitants is one of the megacities that will suffer from the projected sea level rise and intensified storms. Credit: Olli Varis / Aalto University

More people live close to sea coast than earlier estimated, assess researchers in a new study. These people are the most vulnerable to the rise of the sea level as well as to the increased number of floods and intensified storms. By using recent increased resolution datasets, Aalto University researchers estimate that 1.9 billion inhabitants, or 28% of the world’s total population, live closer than 100 km from the coast in areas less than 100 meters above the present sea level.

By 2050 the amount of people in that zone is predicted to increase to 2.4 billion, while population living lower than 5 meters will reach 500 million people. Many of these people need to adapt their livelihoods to changing climate, say Assistant Professor Matti Kummu from Aalto University.

The study found that while population and wealth concentrate by the sea, food must be grown further and further away from where people live. Highlands and mountain areas are increasingly important from food production point of view, but also very vulnerable to changes in climate.


  • Over the past century there has been a clear tendency that cropland and pasture areas have grown most in areas outside the population hotspots, and decreased in coastal areas. This will most probably only continue in the future, summarises Professor Olli Varis from Aalto University.


Even though people and wealth continue to accumulate in coastal proximity, their growth is even faster in inland and mountainous areas, the study reveals. This contradicts the existing studies. In the future, the world will be less diverse in terms of urbanisation and economic output, when assessing it from geospatial point of view.

For the analysis, researchers used several global gridded datasets. They first created a geographic zoning in relation to the elevation and proximity to coast. This was then used to study the factors included in the study, which were grouped into five clusters: climate, population, agriculture, economy, and impact on environment. For the factors with temporal extent, the researchers also assessed their development over time period of 1900-2050.

source: Aalto University

Source: Sea level rise threatens larger number of people than earlier estimated | Science Codex

New discoveries on the connection between nicotine and type 2 diabetes

Researchers at Lund University in Sweden have made two new discoveries with regard to the beta cells’ ability to release insulin. The findings can also provide a possible explanation as to why smokers have an increased risk of type 2 diabetes.

The study was conducted on mice and donated beta cells from humans, and is now published in the scientific journal Cell Reports.

The researchers have discovered that so-called nicotinic acetylcholine (nicotine-sensitive) receptors influence the normal release of insulin. They also show that a specific genetic alteration renders dysfunctional nicotine-receptors affecting the number of functional nicotine-sensitive receptors found in beta cells. A reduced number of functional receptors leads to a decrease in insulin secretion, thereby increasing the risk of developing type 2 diabetes.

“The receptors in the beta cells that stimulate the release of insulin are normally activated by the signal substance acetylcholine, but they can also be activated by nicotine. Never before has the importance of nicotine-sensitive receptors been shown in terms of the function of beta cells. Our research indicates that people who lack these receptors are at higher risk of developing type 2 diabetes”, says Isabella Artner, researcher at Lund University responsible for the study.

Isabella Artner and her colleagues have also discovered that the gene MafA (muscoloaponeurotic fibrosacoma oncogene family A) found in insulin-producing beta cells control the number of nicotine-sensitive receptors and thereby their ability to receive signals from the central nervous system.

“The effect that this single gene, MafA, alone has on insulin secretion was previously unknown, and nicotine receptors have never before been connected to type 2 diabetes”, says Isabella Artner, and continues:

“We know that smokers have an increased risk of developing type 2 diabetes, but the reason why has not been firmly established. Perhaps it has to do with the nicotine-sensitive receptors we describe. Our findings increase knowledge about the connection between smoking and type 2 diabetes.

Source: Lund University

Source: New discoveries on the connection between nicotine and type 2 diabetes | Science Codex