Mom’s the word


Different regions of children’s brains are activated when they hear their mothers’ voices.

The researchers analysed the brain scans of 24 children of age 7 to 12, as they listened to their mother's voices and the voices of two unfamiliar women saying three nonsense words.

The children identified their own mother with greater than 97 per cent accuracy, even though they heard the recordings for less than one second. And brain regions, outside auditory areas, involved in emotion, reward processing, processing information about the self, perceiving and processing the sight of faces were more engaged at the sound of their mother's voice than of the stranger.

Children with more brain connections when they heard their mother's voice also had better social communication skills.

"This is an important new template for investigating social communication deficits in children with disorders such as autism. Voice is one of the most important social communication cues. It's exciting to see that the echo of one's mother's voice lives on in so many brain systems," said senior author Vinod Menon of Stanford University School of Medicine.

The study was published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.


Silent warning

Nearly half of all heart attacks may be silent, or without symptoms such as chest pain, cold sweats, dizziness and shortness of breath. But they are still deadly and can triple the risk of dying from heart disease.

"Silent heart attacks are almost as common as heart attacks with symptoms and just as bad," said senior study author.

Because silent heart attacks do not have symptoms, they are often undiagnosed and people do not seek the necessary medical care to prevent another heart attack, or even death.

For the study in the journal Circulation, researchers looked at data on 9,498 middle-aged men and women. Over the course of nine years, 317 participants had silent heart attacks and 386 had heart attacks with symptoms. The participants were followed for more than 20 years to track deaths from heart attack and other causes. Silent heart attacks increased the chances of dying from all causes by 34 per cent.

Silent heart attacks were more common in men, but more likely to cause death in women. These are often detected later, during routine checkup. According to the study author, silent heart attacks should be treated as aggressively as heart attacks with symptoms.

Did You Know
Botox is a safe and effective treatment for chronic migraine, as well as spasticity in adults, cervical dystonia and blepharospasm.
American Academy of Neurology


Exercise the risk away

Regular exercise may significantly reduce the risk for 13 cancers, says a study published in JAMA Internal Medicine. The researchers pooled data from 12 US and European studies that included 1.4 million participants, aged 19 to 98, who self-reported their physical activity. Overall, a higher level of physical activity was associated with a 7 per cent lower risk.

Of the 26 cancers studied, higher levels of physical activity reduced the risk for 13 cancers: oesophageal adenocarcinoma (42 per cent), liver (27 per cent), lung (26 per cent), kidney (23 per cent), gastric cardia (22 per cent), endometrial (21 per cent), myeloid leukaemia (20 per cent), myeloma (17 per cent), colon (16 per cent), head and neck (15 per cent), rectal (13 per cent), bladder (13 per cent), and breast (10 per cent).

Exercise may cut cancer risk by lowering inflammation and levels of hormones such as oestrogen. It can also help the body better regulate insulin. Exercise is already known to reduce heart disease and all-cause mortality.

"These findings support promoting physical activity as a key component of population-wide cancer prevention and control efforts,” the authors concluded.

Did You Know
A quarter of all pregnancies worldwide ended in abortion in 2010–14. Globally, 56.3 million induced abortions take place each year. Abortion rates declined significantly in the developed world, but not in developing countries. About 73 per cent of all abortions (41 million) were opted for by married women. There was no significant difference in abortion rates between countries where abortion is legal and illegal.
The Lancet

On the up and up

A team of surgeons at Massachusetts General Hospital has performed the first penile transplant in the US.

The 15-hour surgery involved 12 surgeons and 30 other health care workers. The organ came from a deceased donor.

The recipient, Thomas Manning, 64, had his penis removed following a diagnosis of penile cancer. Manning continues to recover well. Blood flow has been established to the donor organ and there are no signs of bleeding, rejection or infection. The surgeons are cautiously optimistic that he will regain full function of his penis.

Two other penis transplants have been reported in the world—a failed attempt in China in 2006 and a successful one in South Africa in 2014 where the recipient fathered a child.

The hospital is planning to perform more such transplants, mostly on people with cancer or traumatic injuries and eventually veterans who have sustained injuries in combat. “We are hopeful that these reconstructive techniques will allow us to alleviate the suffering and despair of those who have experienced devastating genitourinary injuries and are often so despondent they consider taking their own lives,” said one of the leaders of the transplant team.


Busy brains

Does your packed schedule leave you overwhelmed? Don’t fret. All that “busyness” will help you stay sharp.

According to a study in Frontiers in Aging Neuroscience, adults with a busy lifestyle tend to have better cognitive function than their less busy counterparts.

For the study, 330 adults, aged 50 to 89 years, rated their "busyness" levels and underwent a battery of tests that measured memory, information processing speed, reasoning and crystallised knowledge.

Overall, busier people scored higher on all the tests, regardless of their age or education. "We show that people who report greater levels of daily busyness tend to have better cognition, especially with regard to memory for recently learned information," said the lead author of the study.

The researchers explain that it could be that people with better cognitive function seek out a busier lifestyle. People who keep themselves busy may encounter more diverse stimuli and may have more opportunities for learning new things which, in turn, is known to stimulate cognition.

"Living a busy lifestyle appears beneficial for mental function. Overall, our findings offer encouragement to maintain active, busy lifestyles throughout middle and late adulthood,” the study concluded.

Did You Know
Taking paracetamol not only reduces physical pain, but also our ability to empathise, or feel another person’s pain.
Social Cognitive and Affective Neuroscience


Blame it on dad

It is already known that a mother’s age and lifestyle can affect the health of her baby. New research published in the American Journal of Stem Cells suggests that a father’s age and lifestyle may be equally important.

“We know the nutritional, hormonal and psychological environment provided by the mother permanently alters organ structure, cellular response and gene expression in her offspring. But our study shows the same thing to be true with fathers—his lifestyle, and how old he is, can be reflected in molecules that control gene function. In this way, a father can affect not only his immediate offspring, but future generations as well,” the study author noted.

A father’s alcohol use can contribute to foetal alcohol spectrum disorder (FASD), even if the mother has never consumed alcohol. Nearly 75 per cent of children with FASD are fathered by men who are alcoholics. Paternal alcohol use is linked to decreased newborn birth weight, reduced brain size and impaired cognitive function.

Age of the dad matters, too. Schizophrenia, autism, and birth defects are more likely in children of older fathers.

Obesity in the father is linked to enlarged fat cells, changes in metabolic regulation, diabetes, obesity and brain cancer in his children.

Also, a father’s psychosocial stress can contribute to defective behavioural traits in his offspring.

Did You Know
Cancer patients with depression are less likely to recover well after treatment. A study involving 872 colorectal cancer patients found that those who were depressed were seven times more likely to be in poor health two years after treatment and 13 times more likely to have very poor quality of life.


Make up and earn

Wearing makeup and styling your hair may pay dividends at work—for women.

According to a study published in the journal Research in Social Stratification and Mobility, attractiveness and grooming may play a significant role in how well young professionals, between ages 24 and 32 years, do at work and how much they earn.

The researchers questioned 14,000 participants about their income, job, education, personality, social behaviours, and other aspects. Interviewers also rated each participant on how attractive and well-groomed they appeared.

Overall, attractive individuals earned about 20 per cent more than those who were considered average. But there was a gender difference. For women, most of the attractiveness advantage came from being well groomed, or the time she spent on her looks—putting on makeup, styling hair and wearing the latest fashion trend. The more well-groomed a woman was or the more attractive she was considered to be, the better she did at being hired, being promoted and earning more money.

But for men their natural good looks play a more important role.

Not a panacea

While long term use of cholesterol-lowering statins is known to reduce heart attacks and strokes, the benefits of taking statins before heart surgery to prevent common postoperative complications is questioned in a new study published in the New England Journal of Medicine.

Statins are often given before heart surgery to prevent abnormal heart rhythm known as atrial fibrillation or heart muscle damage. But an Oxford University study found that statins do not prevent atrial fibrillation or heart damage and even increased the risk of kidney injury. The researchers randomly assigned 1,922 patients to take rosuvastatin or a placebo before an elective heart surgery.

The number of patients who developed atrial fibrillation was almost the same whether they took the statin or placebo (21.1 per cent vs 20.5 per cent). On the other hand, statin use was associated with a 5.4 per cent greater risk of acute kidney injury compared to the placebo.

“Although guidelines currently recommend statins at the time of heart surgery to reduce complications, the evidence was not very strong. The results of our large randomised placebo-controlled trial conclusively prove that there are no benefits to taking statins shortly before and after heart surgery to reduce postoperative complications but there is an adverse effect on kidney function,” the study author noted.


Prayer therapy

Women who frequently attend religious services have a lower risk of death from all causes, including cardiovascular disease and cancer, according to a study published in JAMA Internal Medicine.

The researchers analysed data collected every four years for 16 years from 74,534 women.

During follow-up, 13,537 women died, including 2,721 from cardiovascular disease and 4,479 from cancer.

Women who frequently attended religious services had fewer depressive symptoms, were less likely to be smokers and more likely to be married.

Compared to women who never attended religious services, those who did more than once a week had a 33 per cent overall lower risk of death and a 27 per cent lower risk of death from cardiovascular disease and a 21 per cent lower risk of death from cancer. The risk of death was 26 per cent lower for women who attended services weekly and 13 per cent lower for those who attended services less than weekly.

Women who attend religious services develop a community, have more social support and are less likely to be depressed.

They also tend to be more optimistic and self-disciplined.

“Religion and spirituality may be an underappreciated resource that physicians could explore with their patients, as appropriate,” the authors conclude.


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