Friday, October 31, 2014

Scatching Makes It Itch More

It's probably happened to you.  A mosquito bite starts itching, and the minute you scratch, it itches more.  It may sound like an oxymoron but scratching actually does make it itch more.

According to a new study by scientists at Washington University School of Medicine in St. Louis found that scratching causes the brain to release serotonin, which intensifies the itch sensation, reports.

 Scientists have known for decades that scratching creates a mild amount of pain in the skin, the Web site quotes senior investigator Zhou-Feng Chen, PhD, director of Washington University’s Center for the Study of Itch. That pain can interfere with itching — at least temporarily — by getting nerve cells in the spinal cord to carry pain signals to the brain instead of itch signals.

“The problem is that when the brain gets those pain signals, it responds by producing the neurotransmitter serotonin to help control that pain,” Chen explained. “But as serotonin spreads from the brain into the spinal cord, we found the chemical can ‘jump the tracks,’ moving from pain-sensing neurons to nerve cells that influence itch intensity.”


Scientists uncovered serotonin’s role in controlling pain decades ago, but this is the first time the release of the chemical messenger from the brain has been linked to itch, Chen said.

The study showed that scratching can relieve itch by creating minor pain. But when the body responds to pain signals, that response actually can make itching worse.

So the next time you get that urge to scratch, go eat a cookie -- or do something pleasurable -- instead.

Thursday, October 30, 2014

Maggots Gross You Out? You Could Be a Conservative

Would you believe that our brain's response to disgusting images can tell whether we're a Republican or Democrat?

I didn't say disgusting images of Republicans (sorry, all you conservatives out there!), but apparently, a new study has found, how much your brain responds to pictures of maggot infestations, rotting carcasses, unidentifiable gunk in the kitchen sink, could predict whether you are liberal or conservative.

 Say what? 

An international team of scientists led by Virginia Tech reports that the strength of a person’s reaction to repulsive images can forecast their political ideology, according to

“Disgusting images generate neural responses that are highly predictive of political orientation even when those neural responses don’t correspond with an individual’s conscious reaction to the images,” the Web site quotes Read Montague, a Virginia Tech Carilion Research Institute professor who led the study. “Remarkably, we found that the brain’s response to a single disgusting image was enough to predict an individual’s political ideology.”

In a brain scanner, participants were shown disgusting images, such as dirty toilets or mutilated carcasses, mixed with neutral and pleasant images, such as landscapes and babies.
Afterward, the subjects took a standard political ideology inventory, answering questions about how often they discuss politics and whether they agreed or disagreed with hot-button topics such as school prayer and gay marriage.

Using functional magnetic resonance imaging, scientists recorded the brain activity of the subjects responding to the images.

Responses to disgusting images could predict, with 95 percent to 98 percent accuracy, how a person would answer questions on the political survey.

The results suggest political ideologies are mapped onto established neural responses that may have served to protect our ancestors against environmental threats, Montague said. Those neural responses could be passed down family lines — it’s likely that disgust reactions are inherited.

Conservatives tend to have more magnified responses to disgusting images, but scientists don’t know exactly why, Montague said.

The responses could be a callback to the deep, adverse reactions primitive ancestors needed to avoid contamination and disease. To prevent unsavory consequences, they had to learn to separate the canteen from the latrine.

But some of these impulses may just be inherited, scientists say, like height or eye color.

So, vote on Election Day.  And let those ugly images just fade away . . .

Wednesday, October 29, 2014

New Link Between Diet and Cancer

 Diet.  Inflammation.  Cancer.

There's a link. 

A connection between inflammation and cancer has been found, and diet and nutrition contribute to not only colitis but colitis-associated colon cancer. Chronic inflammation appears to play a key role in the development of cancer, along with heart disease and diabetes. Now a new study presented today suggests that eating a diet high in sugar, saturated fats and others foods that promote inflammation increases the risk of premature death from any cause, including cancers of the gastrointestinal tract.

A connection between inflammation and cancer has been recognized for over a hundred years, according to  This connection is particularly evident in colon carcinogenesis, because patients with inflammatory bowel disease (IBD) have a higher incidence of colon cancer than the general population.

The Web site reports that a new study has found that there's increasing evidence that inflammation contributes to the earliest stages of carcinogenesis, namely in the process of cell transformation, where the cell acquires many aspects of cancer characteristics. The observation that IBD and colon cancer incidence rise as nations industrialize suggests that changes in diet and nutrition contribute to colitis and colitis-associated colon cancer, newswise states.

The study discovered that a category of lipids, the building blocks that make up the function and structure of living cells, play fundamental roles in carcinogenesis through their ability to regulate programmed cell death pathways, stress responses, immunity, and inflammation.

The final breakdown product of these lipids is a pro-inflammatory signaling lipid that promotes cell growth and carcinogenesis.

The research suggests that, while these special mammalian lipids may promote inflammation and carcinogenesis, plant/soy lipids (soybeans, for example) reduce the activity of several cancer signaling pathways, suggesting that dietary lipids may enhance or inhibit colon carcinogenesis, depending on their ability to be metabolized to an enzyme that protects against the formation of cancer cells.

All this to say that now, more than ever, diet matters, when it comes to cancer.

Missing the Boy as the Man Emerges

Missing The Boy as the Man Emerges
Here's what I miss about having a teenage boy.

Tuesday, October 28, 2014

More Women, More Sex, Less Prostate Cancer

Back in the 70s, when free love was everywhere, no one thought much about having multiple partners.  Then in the 80s, with the ugly appearance of AIDS, that pretty much went away.  In the years since, the 70s never really came back.  People were more responsible and chose partners appropriately.

But now a shocking new study has found that the more female sexual partners a man has had, the lower his risk of prostate cancer.

Unfortunately, the same does not hold true for men with many male sexual partners.  

According to, compared to men who have had only one partner during their lifetime, having sex with more than 20 women is associated with a 28% lower risk of one day being diagnosed with prostate cancer, according to researchers at the University of Montreal and INRS - Institut Armand-Frappier. However, having more than 20 male partners in one's lifetime is associated with a twofold higher risk of getting prostate cancer, compared to those who have never slept with a man.

The study covered 3,208 men who responded to a questionnaire on, among other things, their sex lives. Of these men, 1,590 were diagnosed with prostate cancer between September 2005 and August 2009, while 1,618 men were part of the control group.

Overall, men with prostate cancer were twice as likely as others to have a relative with cancer. However, evidence suggests that the number of sexual partners affects the development of the cancer.

Even more astounding, men who said they had never had sexual intercourse were almost twice as likely to be diagnosed with prostate cancer as those who said they had.

When a man has slept with more than 20 women during his lifetime, there is a 28% reduction in the risk of having prostate cancer (all types), and a 19% reduction for aggressive types of cancer. "It is possible that having many female sexual partners results in a higher frequency of ejaculations, whose protective effect against prostate cancer has been previously observed in cohort studies," study author Marie-Elise Parent, a professors at the university’s School of Public HealthParent explained.

And did it matter the age at which men first had sexual intercourse or the number of sexually transmitted infections they had contracted?  Nope.

The data indicate that having only one male partner does not affect the risk of prostate cancer compared to those who have never had sexual intercourse with a man.

On the other hand, those who have slept with more than 20 men are twice as likely to be diagnosed with prostate cancer of all types compared to those who have never slept with a man. And their risk of having a less aggressive prostate cancer increases by 500%, compared to those who have had only one male partner.

Is Positive Thinking a Negative?

Can positive thinking be bad for us?

A new study says it can.  

According to The New York Times, it in fact may have the opposite effect.  A survey it cited asked some women who wanted to lose weight to imagine themselves succeeding and looking good, while other women were asked to imagine cheating on the diet.  Guess which group succeeded?  The ones who imagined themselves cheating.

Experts say this happens because once we imagine something positive, we think the work is done.  I, for one, can dispute that.  I've imagined myself in a bikini for years and I've succeeded at losing 20 pounds.  However, that bikini?  Maybe too much positive thinking.

Anyway, while experts acknowledges that dreaming about the future does calm us down, and measurably reduces our blood pressure, it can also "drain you of the energy you need to take action in pursuit of your goals."

I'd have to say I'm somewhere in between optimist and pessimist.  Overall, I have a pretty good outlook on life.  I try to take it one day at a time and not look too far into the future.  But it only takes one setback to push me off course. Then I have to struggle to get over it, and usually, I do, until the next one.

Now, my husband, on the other hand, is a complete pessimist.  He doesn't buy stocks because he knows they're going to drop (although, after the last couple of weeks, maybe he's onto something), or want to get married because he was sure we'd get divorced (and look how that turned out!), or have a child.  And then we had Phillip.  His outlook on life is pretty much, things are going okay now?  Just wait.  It's coming.

And yet, when I was recently lamenting (and worrying over) the lack of feedback from an assignment, he said, "You wouldn't still have it if they didn't like what you did."  Hardly a rousing recommendation.  But still.

Positive thinking fools our minds into perceiving that we've already accomplished our goal, say experts.  It reduces our efforts to pursue it, they add.

But I'm not so sure about that.

Let's face it.  This kind of thinking feels good.  But that doesn't mean it's good for us, according to researchers.  You know what?  I think they should just start doing a little more of it.

Saturday, October 25, 2014

Guess Who's Most Civil? Millennials!

We're used to thinking of them as selfish, and coming back home to roost.

But Millennials are more hopeful than we are about civility in society.

According to, "Although Americans are unanimous about the bleak state of civility, the Millennial generation seems less convinced of a more uncivil future. Nearly one in four Millennials (23 percent) – two to four times the percentage of other generations – believe civility will improve in the next few years. In their relatively short lifetimes, Millennials have experienced more uncivil behavior than any other generation, yet they are America’s most hopeful adults when it comes to tomorrow’s civility"

Who knew?

“The Millennial generation – 83 million people strong – is an economic and game-changing powerhouse that outnumbers the generations that came before it,” the Web site quotes Jack Leslie, chairman of Weber Shandwick. “The only adult generation to have grown up with cyber-bullying is also the only generation to have a native understanding of the power of a digitally connected world to change things for the better. Observing how Millennials overcome the challenges of eroding civility may suggest how our society can lay the groundwork for a more civil future.”

 More than half of Millennials (56 percent) and Gen Xers (55 percent) say the Internet and social media are making civility worse, ranking them as the top sources of blame. Politicians, in contrast, top the list of incivility drivers for Boomers and the Silent Generation. Millennials and Gen Xers likely point fingers at the Internet because these are the cohorts that came of age during the formative years of the Internet and social media and by default, have been more exposed to both.

Seven in 10 Americans agree that the Internet encourages uncivil behavior. This view is held by all generations though Millennials are somewhat more likely to agree (74 percent). Millennials, the heaviest users of social media, are also significantly more likely than other generations to consider the medium uncivil. This is likely because they encounter more online incivility in an average week than Americans overall (5.1 times per week vs. 3.5) and are the biggest victims of cyber-bullying (43% vs. 24%).

Believe it or not, one-third of Millennials (33 percent) report taking a proactive measure the last time they experienced incivility, a rate significantly higher than those of Gen Xers (22 percent), Boomers (18 percent) and the Silent Generation (7 percent). Millennials were most likely to have defended the victim of incivility (16 percent), a possible trend that could grow in time.

 Millennials also deal with incivility online. Approximately half have flagged or reported a comment or post as inappropriate (53 percent) and defriended, blocked or hidden someone because of uncivil behavior or comments (52 percent). Says Carolyn Lukensmeyer, Executive Director of the National Institute for Civil Discourse. “If all Americans were to behave as proactively, we would be one step towards turning our nation back to a more civil environment.”