Health

Study shows how air pollution fosters heart disease
May 24, 2016 07:12 PM - Elizabeth Sharpe, University of Washington Health Sciences

Long-term exposure to air pollution has been linked to an increased risk of heart disease, but the biological process has not been understood. A major, decade-long study of thousands of Americans  found that people living in areas with more outdoor pollution —even at lower levels common in the United States — accumulate deposits in the arteries that supply the heart faster than do people living in less polluted areas.  The study was published May 24 online in The Lancet.

Bristol University study shows how immune cells become activated
May 22, 2016 09:47 AM - Bristol University

Immune cells play essential roles in the maintenance and repair of our bodies.  When we injure ourselves, immune cells mount a rapid inflammatory response to protect us against infection and help heal the damaged tissue. 

Lead researcher Dr Helen Weavers, from the Faculty of Biomedical Sciences said: “While this immune response is beneficial for human health, many human diseases (including atheroscelerosis, cancer and arthritis) are caused or aggravated by an overzealous immune response. A greater understanding of what activates the immune response is therefore crucial for the design of novel therapies to treat these inflammatory disorders.

“Our study found that immune cells must first become ‘activated’ by eating a dying neighbouring cell before they are able to respond to wounds or infection. In this way, immune cells build a molecular memory of this meal, which shapes their inflammatory behaviour.”

GMOs May Be Safe to Eat, But Some Are Still Bad for the Planet
May 20, 2016 06:12 AM - Julie Rodriguez, Care2

For years, one of the major arguments that has been made against genetically engineered crops is the fear that, by tampering with a plant’s DNA, it could potentially cause health issues for consumers. It’s an understandable worry, however, the scientific consensus now seems to be undeniable: Whatever faults GMO crops may have, they are safe for human consumption.

A Major Source of Air Pollution: Farms
May 16, 2016 07:05 PM - Earth Institute, Columbia University

A new study says that emissions from farms outweigh all other human sources of fine-particulate air pollution in much of the United States, Europe, Russia and China. The culprit: fumes from nitrogen-rich fertilizers and animal waste that combine in the air with industrial emissions to form solid particles—a huge source of disease and death. The good news: if industrial emissions decline in coming decades, as most projections say, fine-particle pollution will go down even if fertilizer use doubles as expected. The study appears this week in the journal Geophysical Research Letters.

Agricultural air pollution comes mainly in the form of ammonia, which enters the air as a gas from heavily fertilized fields and livestock waste. It then combines with pollutants from combustion—mainly nitrogen oxides and sulfates from vehicles, power plants and industrial processes—to create tiny solid particles, or aerosols, no more than 2.5 micrometers across, about 1/30 the width of a human hair. The particles can penetrate deep into lungs, causing heart or pulmonary disease; a 2015 study in the journal Nature estimates they cause at least 3.3 million deaths each year globally.

You are what you eat
May 12, 2016 07:31 AM - Indiana University Bloomington

Biologists at Indiana University have significantly advanced understanding of the genetic pathways that control the appearance of different physical traits in the same species depending on nutritional conditions experienced during development.

In many animals, nutrition -- not genetic differences -- controls the appearance of certain physical traits. Ants and bees, for example, grow into workers or queens based upon the food eaten as larvae.

Middle East drought in historical perspective
May 9, 2016 07:20 AM - Laurie Balbo, Green Prophet

A recent study released by the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) concludes that the current drought that began in 1998 in the eastern Mediterranean Levant  – which includes Cyprus, Israel, Jordan, Lebanon, Palestine, Syria, and Turkey – is the region’s worst dry spell since 1100 C.E.

NASA scientists reconstructed our regional drought history by studying records of tree rings, from dead and live specimens, across several Mediterranean countries to determine patterns of dry and wet years over a 900-year time span. Tree rings are good indicators of precipitation since dry years cause thin rings while thick rings show when water was plentiful. They concluded that the years between 1998 and 2012 were drier than any other period, and that the drought was likely caused by humans.

Ben Cook, lead author and climate scientist at NASA’s Goddard Institute for Space Studies and the Lamont Doherty Earth Observatory at Columbia University in New York City, said the range of regional weather events has varied widely over the last millennium, but the past twenty years stand out as extreme, falling outside the range of natural variability.

Long-term exposure to particulate air pollutants associated with numerous cancers
April 29, 2016 06:52 AM - University of Birmingham

The study between the University of Birmingham and University of Hong Kong, published in Cancer Epidemiology, Biomarkers & Prevention, a journal of the American Association for Cancer Research, adds to growing concern around the health risks of prolonged exposure to ambient fine particulate matter.

Get moving for heart health
April 28, 2016 07:51 AM - UT Southwestern Medical Center

Cardiologists at UT Southwestern Medical Center have found that sedentary behavior is associated with increased amounts of calcium deposits in heart arteries, which in turn is associated with a higher risk of heart attack.

Researchers at UT Southwestern have previously shown that excessive sitting is associated with reduced cardiorespiratory fitness and a higher risk of heart disease. The latest research – part of UT Southwestern’s Dallas Heart Study – points to a likely mechanism by which sitting leads to heart disease.

“This is one of the first studies to show that sitting time is associated with early markers of atherosclerosis buildup in the heart,” said senior author Dr. Amit Khera, Associate Professor of Internal Medicine and Director of the Preventive Cardiology Program. “Each additional hour of daily sedentary time is associated with a 12 percent higher likelihood of coronary artery calcification.”

 

The impacts of air pollution on the developing fetus
April 27, 2016 11:31 AM - JOHNS HOPKINS UNIVERSITY BLOOMBERG SCHOOL OF PUBLIC HEALTH, via EurekAlert.

Even small amounts of air pollution appear to raise the risk of a condition in pregnant women linked to premature births and lifelong neurological and respiratory disorders in their children, new Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health research suggests.

Fine particles from car exhaust, power plants and other industrial sources are breathed into the lungs, but the scientists have now found evidence of the effects of that pollution in the pregnant women's placentas, the organ that connects her to her fetus and provides blood, oxygen and nutrition. They found that the greater the maternal exposure to air pollution, the more likely the pregnant women suffered from a condition called intrauterine inflammation, which can increase the risk of a number of health problems for her child from the fetal stage well into childhood.

 

Chernobyl, three decades on
April 26, 2016 06:45 AM - Steven Powell, University of South Carolina

It was 30 years ago that a meltdown at the V. I. Lenin Nuclear Power Station in the former Soviet Union released radioactive contaminants into the surroundings in northern Ukraine. Airborne contamination from what is now generally termed the Chernobyl disaster spread well beyond the immediate environs of the power plant, and a roughly 1000-square-mile region in Ukraine, Belarus and Russia remains cordoned off, an exclusion zone where human habitation is forbidden.

The radiation spill was a disaster for the environment and its biological inhabitants, but it also created a unique radio-ecological laboratory.

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