1. Study links flower pesticides to neurobehavioral effects in children

    May 21, 2017 by Ashley

    From the University of California – San Diego press release:

    Ecuador is the third largest producer of cut flowers in the world, primarily roses, many of which are destined to be sold for Mother’s Day. The industry employs more than 103,000 people, and relies heavily on agricultural pesticides.

    In a paper published in the May 2017 issue of the journal NeuroToxicology, researchers at the University of California San Diego School of Medicine, with colleagues in Ecuador and Minnesota, have found altered short-term neurological behaviors in children associated with a peak pesticide spraying season linked to the Mother’s Day flower harvest. This study examined children who did not work in agriculture but who lived in agricultural communities in Ecuador.

    “Our findings are among the first in non-worker children to suggest that a peak pesticide use period (the Mother’s Day flower production) may transiently affect neurobehavioral performance,” said first author Jose R. Suarez-Lopez, MD, PhD, assistant professor in the Department of Family Medicine and Public Health at UC San Diego School of Medicine.

    “Children examined sooner after the flower harvest displayed lower performance on most measures, such as attention, self-control, visuospatial processing (the ability to perceive and interact with our visual world) and sensorimotor (eye-hand coordination) compared to children examined later in a time of lower flower production and pesticide use.”

    “This discovery is novel because it shows that pesticide spray seasons can produce short-term alterations in neurobehavioral performance in addition to the long-term alterations that have been previously described. This is troublesome because the altered mental functions observed are essential for children’s learning, and in May-July, students typically take their end-of-year exams. If their learning and performance abilities are affected in this period, they may graduate from high school with lower scores which may hinder their ability to access higher education or obtain a job.”

    Early exposure to commonly applied agricultural pesticides is associated with neurobehavioral delays in children, such as attention deficit hyperactivity disorder. Pesticide exposure has been linked to altered development of reflexes and psychomotor and mental function in newborns. Boys appear more susceptible than girls.

    Suarez-Lopez, who is principal investigator of the ESPINA study, an on-going, long-term study of environmental pollutants and child development in Ecuador, said past animal research had suggested that fluctuating levels of pesticide exposure might also produce corresponding, short-term neurobehavioral effects.

    He and colleagues tested 308 children, ages four to nine, living in floricultural communities in Ecuador (but who did not actually work in agriculture themselves) prior to peak Mother’s Day flower production and within 100 days after harvest. Behavior and blood tests were conducted.

    Organophosphate-based insecticides, commonly used to treat flowers for pests before export, inhibit an enzyme called acetylcholinesterase (AChE) that regulates acetylcholine, a neurotransmitter vital to promoting communications between nerve cells in the brain and body. The insecticides are also directly toxic to neurons and supporting cells called glia. In previous research, Suarez-Lopez and colleagues had shown that lower AChE activity is associated with lower attention, inhibitory control and memory scores, again affecting boys more than girls.

    The authors note that the study was cross-sectional, collecting and analyzing observational data on a representative population for a specific point in time. “Our findings need to be replicated in studies of children with assessments conducted before, during and after peak exposure periods,” said Suarez-Lopez. “But given the evidence thus far, and the potential for pesticide exposure to alter both short- and long-term learning abilities, cognition, social interactions and overall well-being, taking additional precautions to shield children from exposure is certainly advised.”

    Co-authors include: Harvey Checkoway, Wael K. Al-Delaimy, Sheila Gahagan, UC San Diego; and David R. Jacobs, Jr., University of Minnesota.


  2. Social challenges amplify negative effects of childhood lead exposure

    May 10, 2017 by Ashley

    From the American Academy of Pediatrics press release:

    Scientists already know early lead exposure can slow a child’s cognitive and language development. Findings of an abstract being presented at the 2017 Pediatric Academic Societies Meeting show lead’s impact is especially strong for children in families also facing socioeconomic challenges.

    Researchers will present the abstract, “Interrelationships Between Social Determinants of Health and Early Lead Exposure: A Longitudinal Analysis of Impacts on Child Development,” on Monday, May 8, beginning at 10:30 a.m. in the Moscone West Convention Center.

    Abstract author Bridget Wieczkowski, MD, said the goal of the study was to determine whether the impact of lead, a biotoxin, was greater for children who also faced the “toxic stress” of poverty such as exposure to violence, homelessness, food insecurity and low parent literacy.

    Many studies have documented impacts of low level lead exposure on child development, she said. However, there has been limited research examining these impacts in the context of Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) guidelines updated in 2012 that recognize blood lead levels of less than half the amount previously considered safe are linked with delayed cognitive skills, inattention, impulsivity, aggression and hyperactivity.

    Dr. Wieczkowski worked with a team of researchers to analyze data that had been collected as part of the Bellevue Early Language and Education (BELLE) Project, a large, National Institutes of Childhood Health and Human Development-funded study that followed 450 newborns and their families from birth.

    They found that levels above 5 micrograms per deciliter of lead in a child’s blood, which is the current threshold set by the CDC as cause for concern, was associated with reduced cognition and vocabulary at age 3 that continued when tested again a year and a half later. Further analysis showed larger impacts on development at age 54 months for families with psychosocial risks and low literacy.

    “These findings underscore the importance of monitoring children during infancy and the toddler years, which are critical periods for both brain development and lead exposure,” Dr. Wieczkowski said. Young children, with their rapidly developing brains, also are more likely to ingest lead in their environment because they put more objects in their mouths and spend more time on the floor.

    “This is true for all children, but especially for those most vulnerable to lead’s harmful effects because of poverty,” she said.

    “Our health care system needs to be funded so that it can help all children reach their potential as adults,” she said, noting that programs like Medicaid are critically important to achieve this goal.


  3. Flame retardant chemicals may affect social behavior in young children

    March 12, 2017 by Ashley

    From the Oregon State University press release:

    Some chemicals added to furniture, electronics and numerous other goods to prevent fires may have unintended developmental consequences for young children, according to a pilot study released today.

    Researchers from Oregon State University found a significant relationship between social behaviors among children and their exposure to widely used flame retardants, said Molly Kile, an environmental epidemiologist and associate professor in the College of Public Health and Human Sciences at OSU.

    “When we analyzed behavior assessments and exposure levels, we observed that the children who had more exposure to certain types of the flame retardant were more likely to exhibit externalizing behaviors such as aggression, defiance, hyperactivity, inattention and bullying,” said Kile, the corresponding author of the study, which was published today in the journal Environmental Health.

    “This is an intriguing finding because no one had previously studied the behavioral effects of organophosphate classes of flame retardants, which have been added to consumer products more recently.”

    Flame retardants are found throughout the built environment in furniture, mattresses, carpeting, electronics, vehicles and more. The chemicals are added to the products and are not bound in the material, which causes them to be released into indoor environments.

    Manufacturers began adding flame retardants in 1975, in response to new legislation in California designed to reduce flammability in common household items. The state updated its flammability standards in 2014, and now allows furniture manufacturers to meet the standards without adding flame retardant chemicals to their products, but the chemicals are still widely used and they linger in the indoor environment.

    There are growing concerns that some flame retardants may have unintended impacts on health and development in children, and this study contributes to that body of research.

    The most common types of flame retardants found in the built environment are brominated diphenyl ethers (BDEs) and organophosphate-based flame retardants (OPFRs). OPFRs emerged as an alternative to BDEs in an effort to address some of the environmental health concerns posed by BDEs, which tend to remain in the environment for long periods.

    Past research has shown that both BDEs and OPFRs are linked to poorer cognitive function in children. But less is known about the relationship between the flame retardants and children’s social and emotional health, particularly during early childhood, a key developmental period for learning.

    “The social skills children learn during preschool set the foundation for their success in school, and also for their social and emotional health and well-being later in life,” said Shannon Lipscomb, an associate professor and lead of the human development and family sciences program at OSU-Cascades and a co-author of the study.

    For this study, the OSU research team recruited 92 Oregon children between ages 3-5 to wear a silicone wristband for seven days to measure exposure to flame retardants.

    The team included Kile, Lipscomb; Megan McClelland and Megan MacDonald of the OSU College of Public Health and Human Sciences; Kim Anderson of the OSU College of Agricultural Sciences; and Andres Cardenas of the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health and an OSU doctoral graduate. The research was supported by OSU’s Hallie E. Ford Center for Healthy Children and Families and the Environmental Health Science Center at OSU.

    The wristbands, developed by Anderson at OSU, have a porous surface that mimics a cell, absorbing chemicals that people are exposed to through their environment. When the wristbands are returned, Anderson can screen for up to 1,200 chemicals that may accumulate. The wristband is an easy and non-invasive way to sample children’s chemical exposure.

    The researchers had parents or primary caregivers complete questionnaires about socio-demographics and the home environment, and preschool teachers completed behavior assessments for each participating child. In all, researchers had complete data and wristband results for 69 children.

    Their analysis showed that all of the children were exposed to some level of flame retardant. Children who had higher exposure rates of OFPRs showed less responsible behavior and more aggression, defiance, hyperactivity, inattention and bullying behaviors. Children with higher exposure to BDEs were seen as less assertive by their teachers. All of these social skills play an important role in a child’s ability to succeed academically and socially.

    “We detected these links between flame retardant and children’s social behaviors while controlling for differences in family demographics, home learning environments and adversity,” Lipscomb said. “This suggests that flame retardants may have a unique effect on development apart from the effects of children’s early social experiences.”

    Further study is needed to better understand the links between flame retardants and children’s social skill development, the researchers said. They plan to pursue funding for a new study that continues for a longer period of time and considers how other aspects of children’s lives might affect the impact of flame retardants on their development.

    “The results of this research to date have shown potential impacts for child health and warrant a more thorough investigation,” Kile said.”If scientists find strong evidence that exposure to flame retardants affects children’s behaviors, we can develop strategies that prevent these exposures and help improve children’s lives. This type of public health science is needed to figure out how to address the root causes of behavioral concerns that can affect children’s school readiness and overall well-being.”


  4. Rat study reveals long-term effects of adolescent amphetamine abuse on the brain

    April 5, 2016 by Ashley

    From the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign media release:

    addiction pillsA study of rats given regular, high doses of amphetamine finds that those exposed to the drug at an age corresponding to human adolescence experience long-term changes in brain function that persist into adulthood.

    The study, reported in the journal Neuroscience, found that amphetamine leads to changes in dopamine signaling. Dopamine is a neurotransmitter that plays a role in memory, attention, learning and feelings of pleasure.

    “The dopamine system, which continues to develop throughout adolescence and young adulthood, is a primary target of psychostimulant drugs like amphetamine,” said University of Illinois psychology professor Joshua Gulley, who led the new research. “Changes in dopamine function in response to repeated drug exposure are likely to contribute to the behavioral consequences — addiction and relapse, for example — that abusers experience.”

    Parallels between rat and human development make rats a worthy model for the study of human drug addiction, which often begins in adolescence, Gulley said.

    Rats exhibit many of the characteristics that human adolescents do. They tend to be more impulsive than adult rats; they tend to make more risky decisions,” he said. They also can engage in “addiction-like behaviors,” he said.

    They show increased drug use in response to stress,” Gulley said. “And, just as in humans, there is evidence that animals that start using drugs in adolescence are more likely to relapse than animals that start in adulthood.”

    A limitation of the new study was that, unlike humans, who generally choose whether or not to partake in drug use, “the rats had no say in whether they got amphetamine,” Gulley said.

    A previous study from Gulley and his colleagues looked at the effects of amphetamine abuse on working memory — the ability to retain information just long enough to use it — in young and adult rats.

    “In that study, we found that animals that were exposed to the drug during adolescence had much more significant deficits in working memory than those exposed during adulthood,” Gulley said.

    The researchers hypothesized that drug exposure during adolescence, a time of vast changes in the brain, “somehow influences the normal developmental trajectory,” Gulley said. “But how?”

    To get at this question, the team focused on the prefrontal cortex, a brain region behind the forehead that is among the last to fully develop during adolescence. The researchers found that repeated exposure to amphetamine — beginning in adulthood or in adolescence — reduced the ability of key cells in the rats’ prefrontal cortex to respond to dopamine. In this part of the brain, dopamine influences “inhibitory tone,” telling cells to stop responding to a stimulus, Gulley said.

    “Inhibition in the nervous system is just as important as activation,” he said. “You need cells that are firing and communicating with one another, but you also need cells to stop communicating with one another at certain times and become quiet.

    “Our research suggests that a subtype of dopamine receptor, the D1 receptor, is altered following amphetamine exposure,” Gulley said. “It’s either not responding to dopamine or there are not as many of these receptors after exposure as there used to be.”

    This change in dopamine signaling persisted for 14 weeks after exposure to amphetamine in the adolescent-exposed rats, he said.

    “That’s akin to a change in humans that persists from adolescence until sometime in their 30s, long after drug use stopped,” he said.

    “Along with other studies, this shows pretty clear evidence that drug use during adolescence, a time when the brain is still developing, has extremely long-lasting consequences that go far beyond the last drug exposure,” Gulley said.


  5. Compound in magnolia may combat head and neck cancers

    August 17, 2015 by Ashley

    From the Veterans Affairs Research Communications media release:

    lab_testingMagnolias are prized for their large, colorful, fragrant flowers. Does the attractive, showy tree also harbor a potent cancer fighter?

    Yes, according to a growing number of studies, including one from VA and the University of Alabama at Birmingham that is now online in the journal Oncotarget.

    The study focused on squamous cell head and neck cancers, a scourge among those who use tobacco and alcohol. According to the National Cancer Institute, at least 3 in 4 head and neck cancers are caused by the use of tobacco and alcohol. The cancers have only a 50 percent survival rate, killing some 20,000 Americans each year.

    Enter honokiol — chemical formula C18H18O2. As one of the major active compounds in magnolia extract, the phytochemical has been used for centuries in traditional Chinese medicine and traditional Japanese medicine to treat anxiety and other conditions. More recently, scientists have been discovering that the compound, found in magnolia bark, is a wily and versatile adversary of cancer. It seems to exploit many biochemical pathways to shrink tumors of various types, or to keep them from growing in the first place.

    The Alabama scientists have now shown how it works against head and neck cancers: It blocks a protein called epidermal growth factor receptor, or EGFR. Prior research has found that almost all head and neck cancer cells display an over-abundance of the protein, and it had been suggested in the literature as a potential target.

    The VA-UAB team says, based on its lab studies, that honokiol binds more strongly with EGFR than does the drug gefitinib (sold as Iressa), which is commonly used to treat head and neck cancers.

    The researchers tested honokiol on cell lines derived from human cancers of the oral cavity, larynx, tongue, and pharynx. In all cases, the botanical shut down the aberrant cells. The team also tested it against tumors implanted into mice, with similar results.

    Senior author Dr. Santosh K. Katiyar and his colleagues wrote, “Conclusively, honokiol appears to be an attractive bioactive small molecule phytochemical for the management of head and neck cancer which can be used either alone or in combination with other available therapeutic drugs.”

    Katiyar has published extensively in the past on other natural substances that work against tumors, especially skin cancer. Some of his recent work has focused on compounds in green tea, for example, and grape seed proanthocyanidins.

     


  6. Disputed theory on Parkinson’s origin strengthened

    October 22, 2014 by Ashley

    From the Lund University media release:

    walker parkinsonsParkinson’s disease is strongly linked to the degeneration of the brain’s movement center.

    In the last decade, the question of where the disease begins has led researchers to a different part of the human anatomy. In 2003, the German neuropathologist Heiko Braak presented a theory suggesting that the disease begins in the gut and spreads to the brain. The idea has since, despite vocal critics, gained a lot of ground. Researchers at Lund University in Sweden now present the first direct evidence that the disease can actually migrate from the gut to the brain.

    The so-called Braak’s hypothesis proposes that the disease process begins in the digestive tract and in the brain’s center of smell. The theory is supported by the fact that symptoms associated with digestion and smell occur very early on in the disease.

    Researchers at Lund University have previously mapped the spread of Parkinson’s in the brain. The disease progression is believed to be driven by a misfolded protein that clumps together and “infects” neighboring cells. Professor Jia-Yi Li’s research team has now been able to track this process further, from the gut to the brain in rat models. The experiment shows how the toxic protein, alpha-synuclein, is transported from one cell to another before ultimately reaching the brain’s movement center, giving rise to the characteristic movement disorders in Parkinson’s disease.

    “We have now been able to prove that the disease process actually can travel from the peripheral nervous system to the central nervous system, in this case from the wall of the gut to the brain. In the longer term, this may give us new therapeutic targets to try to slow or stop the disease at an earlier stage”, says Professor Jia-Yi Li, research group leader for Neural Plasticity and Repair at Lund University.

    The research team will now carry out further studies in which the mechanisms behind the transport of the harmful protein will be examined in detail. The current study suggests that the protein is transferred during nerve cell communication. It is at this point of interaction that the researchers want to intervene in order to put a stop to the further spread of the disease.


  7. Flame retardant exposure linked to lower IQs — study

    June 5, 2014 by Ashley

    From the Simon Fraser University media release:

    pregnancy coupleA new study involving Simon Fraser University researchers has found that prenatal exposure to flame retardants can be significantly linked to lower IQs and greater hyperactivity in five-year old children. The findings are published online today in the journal Environmental Health Perspectives.

    The researchers found that a 10-fold increase in PBDE concentrations in early pregnancy, when the fetal brain is developing, was associated with a 4.5 IQ decrement, which is comparable with the impact of environmental lead exposure.

    SFU health sciences professor Bruce Lanphear is part of the research team that measured the levels of flame retardants, or polybrominated diphenyl ethers, (PBDEs) in 309 U.S. women at 16 weeks of pregnancy, and followed their children to the age of five.

    Researchers say their results confirm earlier studies that found PBDEs, which are routinely found in pregnant women and children, may be developmental neurotoxicants.

    PBDEs have been widely used as flame retardants in furniture, carpet padding, car seats and other consumer products over the past three decades. While most items containing PBDEs were removed voluntarily from the market a decade ago, some are still in commerce and others persist in the environment and human bodies. Nearly all homes and offices still contain some PBDEs.

    “The results from this and other observational human studies support efforts to reduce Penta-BDE exposures, especially for pregnant women and young children,” says Lanphear. “Unfortunately, brominated flame retardants are persistent and North Americans are likely exposed to higher PBDE levels than people from other parts of the world. Because of this it is likely to take decades for the PBDE levels in our population to be reduced to current European or Asian levels.”

    The United Nations Environment Program (UNEP) added two of three existing commercial PBDE formulas to the list of banned Persistent Organic Pollutants (PIPs) due to concerns over toxicity in wildlife and mammals in 2009. While PBDEs were voluntarily withdrawn from the U.S. market in 2004, products manufactured before then may still contain PBDEs, which can continue to be released into the environment and accumulate via indoor dust.

    The latest research highlights the need to reduce inadvertent exposure to PBDEs in the home and office environment (e.g., via dust), and in diet (e.g., via fish or meat products), to avert potential developmental neurotoxicity in pregnant women and young children.

    Lanphear says additional research is needed to highlight the impact of PBDE exposure on the developing brain. He also notes that it is important to investigate related chemicals and other flame retardants used to replace PBDEs.

    The study was carried out by researchers from SFU, the University of Cincinnati, the Cincinnati Children’s Hospital Medical Centre, the B.C. Children’s and Women’s Hospital, and the Centre for Disease Control and Prevention in Atlanta, Georgia. The National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences funded the research.


  8. Improving air quality in NYC would boost future earnings for children

    May 8, 2014 by Ashley

    From the Columbia University’s media release:

    city aerial viewReducing air pollution in New York City would result in substantial economic gains for children as a result of increasing their IQs.

    The study is the first to estimate the costs of IQ loss associated with exposure to air pollution, and is based on prior research on prenatal exposure to air pollutants among low-income children by Frederica Perera, PhD, lead author of the current study, and colleagues at the Columbia Center for Children’s Environmental Health at the Mailman School of Public Health.

    The researchers made their calculation using a hypothesized modest reduction of .25 nanograms per cubic meter air (ng/m3) of ambient concentrations of polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbon (PAH), a family of chemicals created by burning fossil fuels that is ubiquitous in urban air. By way of comparison, the current estimated annual mean PAH concentration is approximately 1 ng/ m3.

    The analysis focused on the 63,462 New York City children born in 2002 to women on Medicaid, a group sharing the same socio-demographic characteristics as the cohort studied by Dr. Perera and colleagues linking IQ and PAH, and used methods employed in published studies estimating earnings potential related to exposures to lead and mercury. Gains in IQ related to the hypothetical 25% reduction in PAH translated to increased lifetime earnings of $215 million.

    The researchers previously reported that children born to nonsmoking mothers exposed to higher levels of airborne PAH during pregnancy had IQs three points lower at age 5 than children whose mothers had lower PAH exposures. The IQ reduction was modest but in the range of that seen with low-level lead.

    The researchers say they have likely underestimated the total economic benefit associated with reduction in prenatal PAH exposure because it does not include estimates of economic gains due to broader neurotoxic, respiratory, and carcinogenic effects, all also linked with PAH. While based on children born to mothers on Medicaid in New York City, the authors say, the results likely apply to children more broadly. IQ affects academic performance and earnings.

    According to Dr. Perera, “Our analysis suggests that a modest reduction in urban air pollution would provide substantial economic benefits and help children realize their full potential.”

    Support for the study was provided by the National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences grants (5P01ES09600, 5R01ES08977), US Environmental Protection Agency grants (R827027, RD832141, RD83450901), the John and Wendy Neu Family Foundation, the Blanchette Hooker Rockefeller Fund, and the New York Community Trust.

    Katherine Weiland, Matthew Neidell, and Shuang Wang are co-authors of the report. None of the authors have financial relationships with a commercial entity that has an interest in the subject of this manuscript.


  9. Rural microbes could boost city dwellers health

    April 25, 2014 by Ashley

    From the University of Colorado at Boulder media release:

    forest bathingThe greater prevalence of asthma, allergies and other chronic inflammatory disorders among people of lower socioeconomic status might be due in part to their reduced exposure to the microbes that thrive in rural environments, according to a new scientific paper.

    The article, published in the journal Clinical & Experimental Immunology, argues that people living in urban centers who have less access to green spaces may be more apt to have chronic inflammation, a condition caused by immune system dysfunction.

    When our immune systems are working properly, they trigger inflammation to fight off dangerous infections, but the inflammation disappears when the infection is gone. However, a breakdown in immune system function can cause a low level of inflammation to persist indefinitely. Such chronic inflammation can cause a host of health disorders.

    “Chronic inflammation can lead to all kinds of problems from irritable bowel syndrome to asthma to allergies and even depression,” said Christopher Lowry, an associate professor in the University of Colorado Boulder’s Department of Integrative Physiology and a co-author of the paper. “The rise of chronic inflammation and these associated disorders, especially among people living in the cities of developed countries, is troubling.”

    The two other article co-authors are Graham Rook of UCL (University College London) and Charles Raison of the University of Arizona.

    Some scientists have hypothesized that the increase of chronic inflammation in wealthier Western countries is connected to lifestyles that have essentially become too clean. The so-called “hygiene hypothesis” is based on the notion that some microbes and infections interact with the immune system to suppress inflammation and that eliminating exposure to those things could compromise your health.

    But the idea that picking up more germs could boost our immune system function does not at first seem to hold up when applied to low-income urbanites, who suffer disproportionately from both infections caused by germs and disorders linked to chronic inflammation. The authors of the new paper say this apparent disconnect is due to a misunderstanding of the hygiene hypothesis.

    The authors agree that microbes and some types of infections are important because they can keep the immune system from triggering inflammation when it’s not necessary, as happens with asthma attacks and allergic reactions.

    But they say the infections that were historically important to immune system development have largely been eliminated in developed countries. The modern diseases we pick up from school, work and other crowded areas today do not actually lead to lower instances of inflammatory disorders.

    The idea that we’re too clean — that gives the wrong impression,” said Lowry. “You want people to wash their hands because hygiene is important to avoid infections that are harmful.”

    During our evolutionary history, the human immune system was exposed to microbes and infections in three important ways: commensal microbes were passed to infants from their mothers and other family members; people came into contact with nonpathogenic microbes in the environment; and people lived with chronic infections, such as helminths, which are parasitic worms found in the gut and blood.

    In order for those “old infections” to be tolerated in the body for long periods of time, they evolved a mechanism to keep the human immune system from triggering inflammation. Similarly, environmental bacteria, which were abundant and harmless, were tolerated by the immune system.

    According to Rook, a professor at UCL, “Helminthic parasites need to be tolerated by the immune system because, although not always harmless, once they are established in the host efforts by the immune system to eliminate them are futile, and merely cause tissue damage.”

    In contrast, relatively modern “crowd infections,” such as measles or chicken pox, cause an inflammatory response. The result is that either the sick person dies or the infection is wiped out by the inflammation and the person becomes immune from having the same infection again in the future.

    Collectively, the authors refer to the microbes and old infections that had a beneficial impact on the function of our immune systems as “old friends.” Exposure to old friends plays an important role in guarding against inflammatory disorders, the authors said. Because the “old infections” are largely absent from the developed world, exposure to environmental microbes — such as those found in rural environments, like farms and green spaces — has likely become even more important.

    The authors say this would explain why low-income urban residents — who cannot easily afford to leave the city for rural vacations — are more likely to suffer from inflammatory disorders. The problem is made worse because people who live in densely populated areas also are more likely to contract crowd infections, which cause more inflammation.

    In other words, city dwellers of low socioeconomic status might benefit both from being “cleaner” and “dirtier,” depending on the context. Like all people, better hygiene — like washing their hands more frequently, for example — could help them avoid crowd infections while more opportunities to “play in the dirt,” like visiting green spaces [see: forest bathing], could allow their immune systems to come into contact with more beneficial microbes.

    “You don’t want the crowd infections,” said Lowry. “But you do want to find ways to increase your exposure to ‘old friends.'”


  10. 9/11 linked to two heart disease culprits: Obstructive sleep apnea and PTSD

    April 14, 2014 by Ashley

    From the The Mount Sinai Hospital / Mount Sinai School of Medicine media release:

    Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai researchers have linked high levels of exposure to inhaled particulate matter by first responders at Ground Zero to the risk of obstructed sleep apnea and post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), both conditions that may impact cardiovascular health.

    The two separate studies were both presented on March 20 at the American Heart Association’s EPI/NPAM 2014 Scientific Sessions in San Francisco, California by cardiologist Mary Ann McLaughlin, MD, MPH, principal investigator for the WTC-CHEST Program at Mount Sinai, a subset of the World Trade Center Health Program Clinical Center for Excellence at Mount Sinai.

    “Our study shows high exposure to the massive dust cloud of air pollution at Ground Zero has increased the risk among first responders of both obstructive sleep apnea and PTSD,” says Dr. McLaughlin of the WTC-CHEST Program at Mount Sinai. “As a result, this puts our 9/11 first responders at higher risk of developing heart disease.”

    Due to 9/11 tragedy first responders at Ground Zero were exposed to varying levels of a dust cloud of air filled with cement dust, smoke, glass fibers, and heavy metals. The WTC-CHEST Program at Mount Sinai has previously linked this particulate matter exposure to lung, heart, and kidney disease abnormalities. Now the research team’s studies found further research evidence linking sleep apnea and PTSD to exposure of the 9/11 particulate matter.

    In each of the two analyses, researchers studied the same WTC-CHEST Program population of more than 800 participants between January 2011 to September 2013 with varying exposure to particulate matter ranging from very high, high, intermediate, and low, taking into account each first responder’s time of arrival, proximity, duration, and level of exposure at Ground Zero.

    “Elevated exposure to the particulate matter from 9/11 caused upper airway inflammation and is a significant contributing factor to the pathogenesis of obstructive sleep apnea,” says Dr. McLaughlin. “There is strong evidence in our study data showing a significant risk of inhaled particulate matter exposure and risk of obstructed sleep apnea in the studied group of WTC first responders.”

    In addition, researchers linked particulate matter inhalation to the high risk of PTSD. Study results show those with very high or high exposure were more likely to have PTSD. Also, they found that those responders with PTSD also had elevated biomarkers for increased cardiovascular disease risk including high sensitivity C-reactive protein (hsCRP), a key biomarker of inflammation indicative of increased cardiovascular risk. Those WTC responders with PTSD had significantly higher hsCRP levels.

    “High levels of exposure to particulate matter may lead to sleep apnea and PTSD, and as a result a high risk factor for cardiovascular disease,” says Dr. McLaughlin. “As a result of our new study findings, we plan to further closely monitor our WTC first responders for heart disease warning signs.”

    This research study was funded by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and the National Institute of Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH).

    Dr. McLaughlin is the principal investigator for the WTC-CHEST Program at Mount Sinai evaluating the effects of exposure in WTC responders 10-14 years following the events of 9/11. The research studies seek to further examine the relationship between pulmonary and cardiac function abnormalities, other markers of chronic cardiopulmonary disease, kidney dysfunction, and further elucidate the pathophysiologic effects of exposure to inhaled particulate matter on 9/11.

    The WTC Health Program, Clinical Center of Excellence at Mount Sinai is a treatment and monitoring program for emergency responders, recovery workers, residents, and area workers who were affected by the terrorist attacks in New York City on September 11, 2001. The program identifies mental and physical health problems needing timely treatment; evaluates the health of first responders; monitors the development of symptoms; and researches the effects of 9/11 through data collection and analysis.

    Located at Mount Sinai and several other clinics in the tri-state area, the Clinical Centers of Excellence and Data Centers are the result of the James Zadroga 9/11 Health and Compensation Act, which provides $4.3 billion in federal funding to serve the health needs of the brave men and women impacted by the WTC tragedy.