Monthly Archives: August 2013

Eyes on the sun

Eyes on the sun

21 May 2013

At least 10 hours a week outdoors in the sunshine is beneficial for young children's vision, find the researchers.
At least 10 hours a week outdoors in the sunshine is beneficial for young children’s vision, find the researchers.

Exposure to sunshine as a small child is crucial to the development of a healthy eye according to results of long-term myopia study conducted by University of Sydney researchers.

Their findings published this week in the American Academy of Ophthalmology’s professional journal tables data showing children who spend more time outdoors were less likely to become short-sighted or myopic.

The researchers say that evidence suggests that small children under six years of age should spend at least 10 hours a week outdoors in the sunshine.

Orthoptist Associate Professor Kathryn Rose, from the University’s Faculty of Health Sciences says exposure to sunlight at a young age assists in the growth of a normal healthy eyeball preventing it from growing too fast or over – expanding and becoming oval or egg-shaped instead of round.

The Sydney Adolescent and Eye Study, a five-year longitudinal follow-up study from the Sydney Myopia study, examined more than 2000 children from 55 primary and secondary schools for a number of risk factors linked with myopia.

Professor Rose says all children had a comprehensive eye examination. Accurate measurement of refractive errors (myopia, hyperopia and astigmatism) was conducted using an international standard regime of eye drops, similar to that adopted in WHO studies.

A detailed questionnaire gathered information on the children’s ethnicity, general physical activities including hours spent in outdoor leisure such as cycling, outdoor sports, picnics or walking. Researchers also gathered data on near-sighted activities such as computer use and time taken watching television.

Amanda French, PhD candidate and lead author, says:

“The results show that the protective effect of time spent outdoors as a very small child persists even if a child is doing a lot of near work such as reading and studying.”

While the results of the study showed television watching and computer use appear to have little effect on the development of refractive errors in the eye, children with one or both parents myopic had a greater likelihood of developing the condition but even for those children, time spent outdoors had a mitigating effect. Time spent in outdoor light also reduced the likelihood of myopia developing in children of all ethnicities.

French says prevention of myopia is important for future eye health as even low levels of the condition place you at higher risk of cataracts and glaucoma in adulthood.

“Promoting outdoor activity to parents and families, and including more outdoor pursuits in school curricula could be an important public health measure to avoid the development of myopia,” says French.

Our Children, Our strangers

Our children, our strangers: A conversation with Andrew Solomon

Jeremy Adam Smith, Web Editor & Producer, Greater Good Science Center | 12/3/12 | One comment | Leave a comment
Jeremy Adam Smith

All parents love their children, or so we believe. Parents who reject their children seem unnatural, morally reprehensible.

Yet there is a gray area in between total parental rejection and the absolute, all-consuming love that we consider normal. In that gray area there are the children whom parents must struggle to love. They are children with disabilities so profound that the parents are denied any possibility of a normal life. They are the children of rape. They are children who grow up to commit heinous criminal acts. They are also children whose identities make them outcasts, such as boys who wish they had been born girls and girls who come to identify as male.

According to author and psychologist Andrew Solomon, these extreme cases reveal something fundamental about the parental condition. “Parenthood abruptly catapults us into a permanent relationship with a stranger, and the more alien the stranger, the stronger the whiff of negativity,” he writes in his new book, Far From the Tree: Parents, Children and the Search for Identity. How can parents see the world through the eyes of these strangers — and in doing so, love them for who they are, not who we wish them to be?

Solomon won the 2001 National Book Award for The Noonday Demon: An Atlas of Depression, and is a lecturer in psychiatry at Cornell University and Special Advisor on Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, and Transgendered affairs to the Yale School of Medicine. For Far From the Tree, Solomon interviewed 250 families facing issues that range from schizophrenia and deafness to rape and transgendered identity. The book is about how parents can bridge differences with their children — but it’s also about how groups of people who seem very different from each other can use their own experiences to develop empathic connection and find common ground.

I sat down to interview Solomon at Berkeley’s Hillside Club, shortly before he gave a talk co-sponsored by UC Berkeley’s Greater Good Science Center. Here I present an excerpt; you can read the whole interview at Greater Good’s website.

Jeremy Adam Smith: Why did you write this book?

Andrew Solomon: Twenty years ago my editors at the New York Times asked me to write about the deaf on the grounds that I had done a lot of reporting about foreign cultures and this was a foreign culture in our midst.

I immediately saw parallels between the experiences of deaf people, with their claim on culture that was questioned by the outside world, and gay people, who had made a similar claim. And I found that most deaf children are born to hearing parents, and that most gay children are of course born to straight parents. I wrote a lot about the ways in which in exploring the deaf experience I found this resonance with my own experience as a gay man.

Then a few years later a friend of a friend of mine had a daughter who was a dwarf, and I heard her asking all the same kinds of questions that hearing parents of deaf children asked themselves: “Do I bring her up to be friends with other dwarfs? Do I tell her she just like everyone else, only she’s shorter? What is the approach supposed to be here?”

As I listened to that experience, I suddenly saw this recurring theme: this idea of parents who perceive themselves to be normal and children who perceive themselves to be different — and parents who don’t know how to deal with these children who are different. If it’s true in these categories, I thought, then it must be true in a lot of others, too. That’s the state of being I explore in Far from the Tree.

JAS: The research is staggering. You ultimately had 40,000 pages of interview transcripts, and you did background research into each of the issues the families faced, including autism, dwarfism, prodigial intelligence, and criminality. Why was it necessary to cast such a wide net? What were you trying to accomplish?

AS: I really felt like I had insights into each of the individual syndromes I wrote about, but my primary insight was the way they’re all the same.

But you can’t argue that difference is the one thing that unites us — that people dealing with schizophrenia, criminality, and genius are all going through similar experiences — unless you really establish yourself as an authority in each of those areas. You can’t just skate over the surface and say, “I met one family that had a child with schizophrenia and one family who had a transgendered child—and I decided their experiences were the same.” You have to be able to say, “I’ve really looked at these communities.” I needed all that research in order to make the argument that I wanted to make.

And in some measure, I needed all that research in order to discover the arguments I ultimately made. It seemed to me at the start that there were some similarities, but I didn’t know right away what the similarities were. I had to discover them through the research.

JAS: Even the unlucky reader will be affected by at most one of the issues you touch upon. What do they stand to gain from reading about all these other issues?

AS: Dealing with any one of these situations can be a lonely experience. There aren’t all that many families dealing with schizophrenia, there are not that many families dealing with autism, or criminality, or Downs Syndrome.

But if you look at the experiences that are common to families dealing with all of these kinds of difference — if you search for what all these experiences have in common—then you find yourself not in a weird, marginalized, lonely little group, but part of something that constitutes perhaps the majority of humanity: families that have a child who is strikingly different from the parents in some way.

But I have yet to meet anyone who hasn’t at some point looked at their child and said, “Where did you come from?” Parenthood can be very lonely. I’d like to think that if you find common cause with these people, you’d feel less alone. I would sometimes ask the people I interviewed: “Why did you agree to sit down and talk to me?” And they would answer: “I really felt like I had been so alone, and I thought that if I could tell my story, I would help people not feel as lonely as I did.”

JAS: What did you find were the qualities of parents who were able to survive and thrive in the face of their children’s difference?

AS: The most resilient people sought meaning in these experiences. They made a deliberate decision to construct meaning. At the beginning, people would say to me: “I found it so meaningful having a child with severe disabilities, I’m so glad I had this experience.” And I thought that it sounded artificial and foolish to me.

But as time went on and I spent more time with these families, I changed my mind. All of us have children who are in some measure flawed, and we love with our flawed children with their flaws. We might want to help them to be less flawed, but we certainly don’t want to exchange them for other children.

I also realized that one has to make a choice. You can look at an experience like this and say, “I wish I had had a different life” — and spend the rest of your existence regretting the life that you had. Or you can decide that you’re going to find what is meaningful in your life. I think the construction of meaning takes a while. Parents have to have both love and acceptance — two things that don’t always go hand in hand. The construction of meaning is something that can be undertaken quite consciously and quite deliberately. Some people say that God had a greater purpose for them. Some people say it has nothing to do with God, but I’m going to find a greater purpose.

And there’s no question that while this may not be the way in which you would have chosen to grow, that these experiences cause people to grow. Many people said, “I now feel much more deeply about life, about love, about myself, about others — than I ever would have if I didn’t face these challenges.” If they didn’t do that, it made it much harder for them to parent their children. Having an embittered relationship to your own life — even if it’s fully justified, and the completely reasonable, rational response—is toxic. It makes it hard to live your own life and it makes it hard to take care of your child, which you need to do.

So, in the end, I thought: Even if you don’t see much meaning in it, if you dig up just a little bit of meaning, then it will soften your experience. I’m not saying that everyone should turn their lemons into lemonade, or try to cast a rosy glow over painful and difficult experiences. I don’t think you should say, “Oh, it’s not so painful and difficult, it’s all wonderful.” Instead, you need to be able to say, “It’s extremely painful and difficult, and yet there are some notes of meaning to found in it.”

Read the rest of the Q&A on Greater Good’s website

Breeding the Nutrition Out of Our Food

Breeding the Nutrition Out of Our Food

By JO ROBINSON

WE like the idea that food can be the answer to our ills, that if we eat nutritious foods we won’t need medicine or supplements. We have valued this notion for a long, long time. The Greek physician Hippocrates proclaimed nearly 2,500 years ago: “Let food be thy medicine and medicine be thy food.” Today, medical experts concur. If we heap our plates with fresh fruits and vegetables, they tell us, we will come closer to optimum health.

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This health directive needs to be revised. If we want to get maximum health benefits from fruits and vegetables, we must choose the right varieties. Studies published within the past 15 years show that much of our produce is relatively low in phytonutrients, which are the compounds with the potential to reduce the risk of four of our modern scourges: cancer, cardiovascular disease, diabetes and dementia. The loss of these beneficial nutrients did not begin 50 or 100 years ago, as many assume. Unwittingly, we have been stripping phytonutrients from our diet since we stopped foraging for wild plants some 10,000 years ago and became farmers.

These insights have been made possible by new technology that has allowed researchers to compare the phytonutrient content of wild plants with the produce in our supermarkets. The results are startling.

Wild dandelions, once a springtime treat for Native Americans, have seven times more phytonutrients than spinach, which we consider a “superfood.” A purple potato native to Peru has 28 times more cancer-fighting anthocyanins than common russet potatoes. One species of apple has a staggering 100 times more phytonutrients than the Golden Delicious displayed in our supermarkets.

Were the people who foraged for these wild foods healthier than we are today? They did not live nearly as long as we do, but growing evidence suggests that they were much less likely to die from degenerative diseases, even the minority who lived 70 years and more. The primary cause of death for most adults, according to anthropologists, was injury and infections.

Each fruit and vegetable in our stores has a unique history of nutrient loss, I’ve discovered, but there are two common themes. Throughout the ages, our farming ancestors have chosen the least bitter plants to grow in their gardens. It is now known that many of the most beneficial phytonutrients have a bitter, sour or astringent taste. Second, early farmers favored plants that were relatively low in fiber and high in sugar, starch and oil. These energy-dense plants were pleasurable to eat and provided the calories needed to fuel a strenuous lifestyle. The more palatable our fruits and vegetables became, however, the less advantageous they were for our health.

The sweet corn that we serve at summer dinners illustrates both of these trends. The wild ancestor of our present-day corn is a grassy plant called teosinte. It is hard to see the family resemblance. Teosinte is a bushy plant with short spikes of grain instead of ears, and each spike has only 5 to 12 kernels. The kernels are encased in shells so dense you’d need a hammer to crack them open. Once you extract the kernels, you wonder why you bothered. The dry tidbit of food is a lot of starch and little sugar. Teosinte has 10 times more protein than the corn we eat today, but it was not soft or sweet enough to tempt our ancestors.

Over several thousand years, teosinte underwent several spontaneous mutations. Nature’s rewriting of the genome freed the kernels of their cases and turned a spike of grain into a cob with kernels of many colors. Our ancestors decided that this transformed corn was tasty enough to plant in their gardens. By the 1400s, corn was central to the diet of people living throughout Mexico and the Americas.

When European colonists first arrived in North America, they came upon what they called “Indian corn.” John Winthrop Jr., governor of the colony of Connecticut in the mid-1600s, observed that American Indians grew “corne with great variety of colours,” citing “red, yellow, blew, olive colour, and greenish, and some very black and some of intermediate degrees.” A few centuries later, we would learn that black, red and blue corn is rich in anthocyanins. Anthocyanins have the potential to fight cancer, calm inflammation, lower cholesterol and blood pressure, protect the aging brain, and reduce the risk of obesity, diabetes and cardiovascular disease.

EUROPEAN settlers were content with this colorful corn until the summer of 1779 when they found something more delectable — a yellow variety with sweeter and more tender kernels. This unusual variety came to light that year after George Washington ordered a scorched-earth campaign against Iroquois tribes. While the militia was destroying the food caches of the Iroquois and burning their crops, soldiers came across a field of extra-sweet yellow corn. According to one account, a lieutenant named Richard Bagnal took home some seeds to share with others. Our old-fashioned sweet corn is a direct descendant of these spoils of war.

Up until this time, nature had been the primary change agent in remaking corn. Farmers began to play a more active role in the 19th century. In 1836, Noyes Darling, a onetime mayor of New Haven, and a gentleman farmer, was the first to use scientific methods to breed a new variety of corn. His goal was to create a sweet, all-white variety that was “fit for boiling” by mid-July.

He succeeded, noting with pride that he had rid sweet corn of “the disadvantage of being yellow.”

The disadvantage of being yellow, we now know, had been an advantage to human health. Corn with deep yellow kernels, including the yellow corn available in our grocery stores, has nearly 60 times more beta-carotene than white corn, valuable because it turns to Vitamin A in the body, which helps vision and the immune system.

SUPERSWEET corn, which now outsells all other kinds of corn, was born in a cloud of radiation. Beginning in the 1920s, geneticists exposed corn seeds to radiation to learn more about the normal arrangement of plant genes. They mutated the seeds by exposing them to X-rays, toxic compounds, cobalt radiation and then, in the 1940s, to blasts of atomic radiation. All the kernels were stored in a seed bank and made available for research.

In 1959, a geneticist named John Laughnan was studying a handful of mutant kernels and popped a few into his mouth. (The corn was no longer radioactive.) He was startled by their intense sweetness. Lab tests showed that they were up to 10 times sweeter than ordinary sweet corn. A blast of radiation had turned the corn into a sugar factory!

Mr. Laughnan was not a plant breeder, but he realized at once that this mutant corn would revolutionize the sweet corn industry. He became an entrepreneur overnight and spent years developing commercial varieties of supersweet corn. His first hybrids began to be sold in 1961. This appears to be the first genetically modified food to enter the United States food supply, an event that has received scant attention.

Within one generation, the new extra sugary varieties eclipsed old-fashioned sweet corn in the marketplace. Build a sweeter fruit or vegetable — by any means — and we will come. Today, most of the fresh corn in our supermarkets is extra-sweet, and all of it can be traced back to the radiation experiments. The kernels are either white, pale yellow, or a combination of the two. The sweetest varieties approach 40 percent sugar, bringing new meaning to the words “candy corn.” Only a handful of farmers in the United States specialize in multicolored Indian corn, and it is generally sold for seasonal decorations, not food.

We’ve reduced the nutrients and increased the sugar and starch content of hundreds of other fruits and vegetables. How can we begin to recoup the losses?

Here are some suggestions to get you started. Select corn with deep yellow kernels. To recapture the lost anthocyanins and beta-carotene, cook with blue, red or purple cornmeal, which is available in some supermarkets and on the Internet. Make a stack of blue cornmeal pancakes for Sunday breakfast and top with maple syrup.

In the lettuce section, look for arugula. Arugula, also called salad rocket, is very similar to its wild ancestor. Some varieties were domesticated as recently as the 1970s, thousands of years after most fruits and vegetables had come under our sway. The greens are rich in cancer-fighting compounds called glucosinolates and higher in antioxidant activity than many green lettuces.

Scallions, or green onions, are jewels of nutrition hiding in plain sight. They resemble wild onions and are just as good for you. Remarkably, they have more than five times more phytonutrients than many common onions do. The green portions of scallions are more nutritious than the white bulbs, so use the entire plant. Herbs are wild plants incognito. We’ve long valued them for their intense flavors and aroma, which is why they’ve not been given a flavor makeover. Because we’ve left them well enough alone, their phytonutrient content has remained intact.

Experiment with using large quantities of mild-tasting fresh herbs. Add one cup of mixed chopped Italian parsley and basil to a pound of ground grass-fed beef or poultry to make “herb-burgers.” Herbs bring back missing phytonutrients and a touch of wild flavor as well.

The United States Department of Agriculture exerts far more effort developing disease-resistant fruits and vegetables than creating new varieties to enhance the disease resistance of consumers. In fact, I’ve interviewed U.S.D.A. plant breeders who have spent a decade or more developing a new variety of pear or carrot without once measuring its nutritional content.

We can’t increase the health benefits of our produce if we don’t know which nutrients it contains. Ultimately, we need more than an admonition to eat a greater quantity of fruits and vegetables: we need more fruits and vegetables that have the nutrients we require for optimum health.

What will happen when antibiotics don’t work anymore?

6 December 2012, 6.40am AEST

A peek at a world with useless antibiotics and superbugs

History not only shows us our errors but also predicts our future. So, we don’t need to speculate about what a world full of superbugs and useless antibiotics would look like, we just need to recall the pre-antibiotic era (before the 1930s). Our trajectory into the past is compounded by an ageing population…

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We already know what a world without effective antibiotics would look like – just recall the pre-antibiotic era. Lynae Zebest

History not only shows us our errors but also predicts our future. So, we don’t need to speculate about what a world full of superbugs and useless antibiotics would look like, we just need to recall the pre-antibiotic era (before the 1930s).

Our trajectory into the past is compounded by an ageing population that’s more susceptible to infections, overcrowded hospitals where infected and uninfected patients share facilities, a complacency toward basic hygiene principles and globalisation and its attendant increase in medical tourism that provides a free flight for any superbug seeking a new home.

In the absence of effective antibiotics, management of infected patients will be reduced to cleaning wounds and applying topical antiseptics. And removing the focus of infection, which could be a whole limb. The problem is that many of the infections we see in hospitals are actually acquired in the hospital itself and affect patients who are at their most vulnerable, having had heart surgery or other urgent procedures.

Exacerbating this is our reliance on intravenous tubes and catheters that measure blood pressure or deliver drugs to patients, particularly in intensive care units. These provide a veritable freeway, allowing superbugs to gain direct entry into our bodies.

The rise of superbugs could herald an era of deferring all non-essential surgery and caring for the sick outside of hospitals or with minimal intervention wherever possible. Perhaps quarantine hospitals and sanatoriums will be needed to separately house infected patients in the hope that good nutrition and rest will enable their immune systems to tackle the infection.

Technical and medical advances may provide new hope but let’s not forget the lessons of the past, which clearly demonstrated that simple hygiene has a huge impact on controlling infections. All hospitals should be able to provide patients with individual bathrooms and place a greater emphasis on physically separating patients who have resistant infections from people who are uninfected but highly susceptible.

We will need to prioritise cleaning of hospital areas to ensure that superbugs don’t persist in the environment. And novel immune therapies may hold some promise for the infected patient in the era of failing antibiotics.

Immune therapies try to boost the body’s natural defences against microbes because our immune system has evolved to eradicate infecting microorganisms. Some immune cells are dedicated to engulfing and killing invading microbes while others find and kill any resident cells that are infected with microbes.

Each cell in our body is equipped with a suicide program that’s activated if the cell senses that it’s infected. Some microorganisms have developed mechanisms to counter immunological onslaughts, either by switching off the suicide program or by exhausting or paralysing immune cells. Research into the immune system has provided insights into how we can enhance immunity to eradicate infections, regardless of whether the infecting organism is resistant to antibiotics.

The advantage of boosting immunity is, of course, that it offers a common platform to tackle many bugs. Traditionally, antibiotics only kill one type of microorganism or group of microorganisms. The advantage of immune therapies is that they can be used against many – maybe all – infections. This would also make it very difficult for microorganisms to become resistant because that would take many years of evolution.

Immune therapies can take the form of administering additional immune “hormones”, which are natural proteins in our bodies that facilitate immunity. By giving additional quantities of these “hormones”, we can promote the function of immune cells. Animal studies have indicated that these types of therapies hold much promise and human studies are underway. Another type of immune therapy is administering drugs that switch on the suicide program in infected cells where the program has been disabled by the infecting microbe.

Most importantly, we mustn’t forget the great success of vaccines, which promote immunity to prevent infection. Basically, they arm the immune system by providing it with a clear picture of the enemy, so that immune cells are at the ready. Indeed, vaccination is the most successful medical intervention of all time because it has facilitated the eradication of several viruses. We must now try to apply this success to bacteria.

At the height of the antibiotic era, we felt secure that the microbe was conquered. Our lack of insight and complacency has made us look foolish and arrogant as microbes are retaking their position as the major cause of human suffering and death.

The lessons we’ve already learnt, along with pioneering research, will hopefully provide us with an advantage in combating infections so that, in the future (tempered by greater wisdom), we can feel more secure that microbes and the diseases they cause can be conquered with novel therapies and good management.

Why we plateau when dieting.

The brain circuit that makes it hard for obese people to lose weight

MEDIA RELEASE: 06 Feb 2013

The brain circuit that makes it hard for obese people to lose weight

Professor Herbert Herzog

6 February 2013, embargoed until 4:00 am Australian Eastern Standard Time

Imagine you are driving a car, and the harder you press on the accelerator, the harder an invisible foot presses on the brake. That’s what happens when obese people diet – the less food they eat, the less energy they burn, and the less weight they lose.

While this phenomenon is known, scientists at Sydney’s Garvan Institute of Medical Research and the University of NSW have pinpointed the exact brain circuitry behind it and have published their findings in the prestigious international journal Cell Metabolism, now online.

Dr Shu Lin, Dr Yanchuan Shi and Professor Herbert Herzog and his team have been studying the complex processes behind energy balance using various mouse models. They have shown that the neurotransmitter Neuropeptide Y (NPY), known for stimulating appetite, also plays a major role in controlling whether the body burns or conserves energy.

The researchers found that NPY produced in a particular region of the brain – the arcuate nucleus (Arc) of the hypothalamus – inhibits the activation of ‘brown fat’1, one of the primary tissues where the body generates heat.

“This study is the first to identify the neurotransmitters and neural pathways2 that carry signals generated by NPY in the brain to brown fat cells in the body. It is also the first to show a direct connection between Arc NPY, the sympathetic nervous system and the control of energy expenditure.” said Professor Herzog.

“We know that NPY also influences other aspects of the sympathetic nervous system – such as heart rate and gut function – but its control of heat generation through brown fat seems to be the most critical factor in the control of energy expenditure.”

“When you don’t eat, or dramatically curtail your calorie intake, levels of NPY rise sharply. High levels of NPY signal to the body that it is in ‘starvation mode’ and should try to replenish and conserve as much energy as possible. As a result, the body reduces processes that are not absolutely necessary for survival.”

“Evolution has provided us with these mechanisms to help us survive famine, and they are strictly controlled. When people had to survive by finding food or hunting game, they could not afford to run out of energy and die of exhaustion, so their bodies evolved to cope.”

“Until the twentieth century, there were no fast food chains and people did not have ready access to high fat, high sugar, foods. So in evolutionary terms, it was unlikely that people were going to get very fat and mechanisms were only put in place to prevent you losing weight.”

“Obesity is a modern epidemic, and the challenge will be to find ways of tricking the body into losing weight – and that will mean somehow circumventing or manipulating this NPY circuit, probably with drugs.”

NOTES TO EDITORS
1. Brown fat, or brown adipose tissue, is one of two types of fat, the other being white fat. We are obese when we have too much white fat, which is basically an organ of energy storage. In contrast, brown fat is like a heat generator. Around 50 g of white fat stores 300 kilocalories of energy. The same amount of brown fat burns 300 kilocalories a day.

We are all born with supplies of brown fat around our necks, nature’s way of helping to keep us warm as infants.

Until recently, it was thought that brown fat vanishes in early childhood, but we now know that brown fat is present in all adults.

2. Arcuate NPY communicates directly with tyrosine hydroxylase (TH) neurons in another part of the hypothalamus known as the paraventricular nucleus (PVN). The TH neurons form a kind of relay point, and in turn signal to brown fat cells by activating other neurons in the brain stem.

ABOUT GARVAN
The Garvan Institute of Medical Research was founded in 1963. Initially a research department of St Vincent’s Hospital in Sydney, it is now one of Australia’s largest medical research institutions with over 600 scientists, students and support staff. Garvan’s main research areas are: Cancer, Diabetes & Obesity, Immunology and Inflammation, Osteoporosis and Bone Biology and Neuroscience. Garvan’s mission is to make significant contributions to medical science that will change the directions of science and medicine and have major impacts on human health. The outcome of Garvan’s discoveries is the development of better methods of diagnosis, treatment, and ultimately, prevention of disease.

Media enquiries should be directed to:
Alison Heather
Science Communications Manager
M: + 61 434 071 326
P: +61 2 9295 8128
E: a.heather “a” garvan.org.au

It’s Not Your Imagination: Memory Gets Muddled at Menopause

It’s Not Your Imagination: Memory Gets Muddled at Menopause

May 23, 2013 — Don’t doubt it when a woman harried by hot flashes says she’s having a hard time remembering things. A new study published online in Menopause, the journal of The North American Menopause Society (NAMS), helps confirm with objective tests that what these women say about their memory is true.

In the past, some studies showed that hot flashes were related to memory problems, and some didn’t. Other studies showed that, even though there was a relationship between hot flashes and what women said about memory problems, objective tests didn’t confirm it.

That’s why researchers from the University of Illinois and Northwestern University in Chicago gave a battery of eight tests of attention and recall to 68 women age 44 to 62 who had at least 35 hot flashes a week. The women also completed questionnaires about their menopause symptoms, mood, and memory. Women who said they had trouble with memory really did. Also, those who had more trouble with hot flashes did worse on the tests, and women with more hot flashes struggled longer with memory problems than women who had fewer hot flashes. In addition, women who reported more negative emotions did worse on the tests than women who had fewer.

Supported by grants from the National Institute of Health (NIH)/Center for Complementary and Alternative Medicine, the study will be published in the December 2013 print edition of Menopause.