Understanding Dupuytren’s Contracture.

We often take for granted how much our hands can accomplish, from opening pickle jars to reaching into a pocket to grab some change. For people with the hand deformity Dupuytren’s contracture (pronounced du-pwe-TRANZ), these seemingly simple tasks pose much bigger challenges.

What Is Dupuytren’s Contracture?

Dupuytren’s contracture is a condition that causes thick, scar-like tissue to form under the skin of the palm. The thickened, shortened tissue eventually forces some of the fingers to curl inward toward the palm, creating a hand deformity.

Legend has it that the Vikings originally spread Dupuytren’s through parts of Europe and Scandinavia hundreds of years ago. This is why Dupuytren’s contracture is often referred to as “Viking’s disease.” The incidence of Dupuytren’s contracture is still highest in countries like Norway, Scotland, Iceland, and Australia, where there are large numbers of people of northern European descent.

Swiss doctor Felix Platter was the first to describe Dupuytren’s contracture in the 1600s. Many years later, the condition was named for French surgeon Baron Guillaume Dupuytren, who gave a now-famous lecture on retracted fingers in 1831.

What Causes Dupuytren’s Contracture?

More than three centuries have passed since Dupuytren’s was first discovered, yet doctors still don’t know exactly what causes the condition. They believe that at least some cases are related to genes and inherited through families.

Dupuytren’s Contracture Symptoms

The first sign of Dupuytren’s contracture is a hard knot or lumps of connective tissue that form under the skin of the palm. These lumps might feel tender to the touch, but they usually aren’t painful. Over a period of many years, the knots become bands of thick tissues. The bands extend up the fingers — usually the ring and pinky fingers, although other fingers can be affected.

As the bands tighten, they pull the involved fingers in toward the palm. Eventually it becomes impossible to fully straighten the fingers. The shortening of the fingers caused by the thick tissue is called contracture.

Both hands can be affected by Dupuytren’s contracture, but one hand is usually more severe than the other.

The hand deformity makes it harder to grasp large objects. You may have more trouble doing things like opening jars or doors or combing your hair. You should still be able to pick up small objects, because the thumb and index finger usually aren’t involved.

The palm is the most common site of Dupuytren’s contracture. However, Dupuytren’s can be associated with conditions that cause contractures in other areas of the body, including the:

  • Knuckle pads (Garrod knuckle pads)
  • Soles of the feet (Ledderhose disease)
  • Penis (Peyronie’s disease)

Tests for Dupuytren’s Contracture

Your doctor should be able to tell that you have Dupuytren’s contracture just by looking at your bent fingers and feeling the tissue on your palm. The doctor might also check the strength and range of motion in your affected hand.

One test that can help diagnose the condition and determine whether you need surgery is the “table top” test. During this test, place your hand, palm side down, on a table. If the hand does not lie flat, the symptoms of Dupuytren’s contracture are probably significant enough that you need to have surgery.

Dupuytren’s Contracture Treatment

If Dupuytren’s contracture isn’t bothering you much, you shouldn’t need treatment. However, if Dupuytren’s is interfering with your daily activities, your doctor may recommend one of these treatments:

  1. Stretching exercises for very mild cases
  2. Steroid injections to help bring down inflammation and possibly slow the course of the disease, but they don’t actually straighten your finger

Enzyme Injections

If your fingers are already bent, Xiaflex, a mixture of enzymes that help dissolve the scar tissue may be injected into the affected area by your doctor. This weakens the tight bands and may allow your doctor to then mechanically stretch the tightened area. The most common side effects seen with Xiaflex are swelling, bleeding, bruising, or pain at the injection site. Rarely, tendon or ligament damage may occur, which could require surgery to fix. Your doctor can help you determine if enzyme injections or surgery is right for you.


When surgery is called for, the surgeon makes an incision in the palm and removes the tissue that is causing the contracture. Then the open wound is allowed to heal on its own, or it is covered with a skin graft taken from another part of your body. The hand is often splinted after surgery to help with healing.

Surgery for Dupuytren’s can have risks, including:

  • Damage to nerves and blood vessels in the affected fingers
  • Infection
  • Permanent stiffness in the fingers

It can take two months or more to fully return to your normal activities after surgery. Try to keep moving your fingers to relieve pain and stiffness. Massaging your fingers or applying heat can also help with movement and discomfort. A physical therapist can teach you exercises to help you regain the motion in your hand.

Dupuytren’s contracture eventually comes back in up to half of people who have surgery. If the thickened tissue develops again, you might need another procedure.

A less invasive Dupuytren’s contracture treatment that some surgeons are now using is called needle aponeurotomy. This procedure is done in the doctor’s office using local anesthesia. The surgeon uses a needle to split the bands of tissue.

Because the technique doesn’t use open cuts, there is less risk of infection and injury, and recovery is usually quicker than with open surgery. However, the surgeon has to be very specialized to perform a needle aponeurotomy. And because this procedure is still relatively new, doctors still aren’t sure of the long-term outcome.


FDA: Stronger Labeling Needed for Newer Contraceptives.

Dangerous Blood-Clot Risks Need to Be More Prominent on Future Labels.


birth control pills

An FDA panel has voted 15-11 that the benefits of newer oral contraceptives outweigh their risks of dangerous blood clots.

But the panel voted 21-5 that the contraceptives’ labels don’t adequately reflect that risk/benefit profile.

The newer oral contraceptives, which contain the man-made hormone drospirenone, include Bayer Healthcare Pharmaceutical’s Beyaz, Safyral, Yasmin, and Yaz brands, as well as several other brands (Gianvi, Loryna, Ocella, Syeda, and Zarah).

They’ve been marketed as having extra benefits such as treating acne and severe premenstrual symptoms.

All oral contraceptives carry a potential risk of blood clots, but publicly funded studies, including one of 800,000 women by the FDA, have linked the drospirenone-containing oral contraceptives to a higher risk of clots compared to the older contraceptives, which contain the hormone levonorgestrel.

The research shows that about 10 in 10,000 women taking the newer pills would get a blood clot per year, compared to 6 in 10,000 women taking the older pills.

However, research funded by Bayer has not shown an increased risk of clots in women who took Yasmin, an earlier version of Yaz.

Almost all of the studies have focused on Yasmin, which in 2001 was the first pill containing drospirenone to earn FDA approval.

No More Effective

There is no research to suggest that pills containing drospirenone are more effective at preventing pregnancy than other birth control pills. And most of the older oral contraceptives treat acne just as well, Adriane Fugh-Berman, MD, an associate professor in family medicine at Georgetown University, told the advisory panel.

But, Fugh-Berman said, makers of the older pills, many of which are generic, haven’t thought it a worthwhile investment to seek FDA approval to market their drugs for that purpose.

Much of the discussion at the day-long advisory committee meeting focused on whether Yasmin might have a higher or lower risk of blood clots compared to the older birth control pills.

Drospirenone seems to block androgens, often called “male hormones,” although women have small amounts of them. Because of this, FDA scientist Rita Ouellet-Hellstrom, PhD, MPH, said doctors have tended to prescribe oral contraceptives containing drospirenone to women with polycystic ovary syndrome, or PCOS, a condition in which there is an imbalance of female sex hormones.

In the FDA study, women on Yasmin were twice as likely to have acne, which can be a characteristic of PCOS, than those on older birth control pills, Ouellett-Hellstrom said. PCOS alone puts women at a higher risk of blood clots.

Obesity can also raise women’s risk of blood clots. David Grimes, MD, said obese women are 60% to 80% more likely to be prescribed an oral contraceptive containing drospirenone than non-obese women. Grimes, a clinical professor of obstetrics and gynecology at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, was paid by Bayer to speak on behalf of its contraceptives at the advisory committee meeting.

Labeling Changes May Be Needed

Although the panel voted to keep the newer pills on the market, there was a strong divide among the experts.

Panelist Almut Winterstein, PhD, associate professor at the University of Florida College of Pharmacy, said the data also suggest Yasmin users are younger and healthier, so the increased risk of blood clots might actually be higher than the research has found. All birth control pills that contain estrogen and a progestin, including drospirenone, have a boxed warning on their labels about the risk of serious heart and blood-vessel problems such as blood clots in smokers over age 35.

The panel was nearly unanimous in saying the label on drospirenone contraceptives should explain even more clearly that some studies suggest they increase the risk of blood clots. But panelists questioned how to make that information comprehensible to doctors, let alone patients.

The FDA has not set a date to discuss the wording of the new labels.


Most Contact Lens Wearers Don’t Follow Safety Steps

Study: Less Than 1% Fully Compliant With Recommended Care
woman inserting contact lens

Most people who wear contact lenses say they know about the wear and care recommendations, but almost none actually comply with them, a new study shows.

More than 80% of contact lens wearers surveyed prior to an eye exam believed they followed good lens wear and care practices, but just 2% actually complied with most recommended lens hygiene steps.

And less than 1% were found to be fully compliant with recommendations such as washing their hands before handling lenses, using fresh lens solution every time instead of topping off old solution, and replacing lens cases frequently.

Contact Lens Awareness

The new survey included patients undergoing eye exams in private practice or university-affiliated optometry settings.

Overall, 85% of the patients perceived themselves as compliant with all lens-wearing practices, but only 0.4% was considered fully compliant.

The study also showed that while most of the contact wearers knew what they needed to do to avoid complications, few actually followed all the recommendations. The researchers concluded that patient awareness was not the problem.

The most frequent complications reported by the surveyed contact lens wearers were discomfort (72%) and infection (47%).

In their analysis published in the December issue of the journal Optometry and Vision Science, researchers Danielle M. Robertson, OD, PhD, and H. Dwight Cavanagh, MD, PhD, of the University of Texas Southwestern Medical Center called for new strategies to improve compliance with safe contact lens use.

Dos and Don’ts of Contact Lens Wear

American Optometric Association (AOA) spokesman Randall Fuerst, OD, says one of the most common causes of contact lens-related complications is failure to replace contacts as recommended.

“This is particularly common with lenses approved for two-week use,” he tells WebMD. “People often use them for three weeks or even a month, which can cause problems.”

When wearers use lenses longer than recommended or don’t follow proper handling and storage practices, there is a greater likelihood of deposit buildup that can lead to chronic eye redness or infection.

Wash Hands, Replace Case, Don’t Top Off

Among the other AOA recommendations:

  • Always wash and dry your hands before handling contact lenses.
  • Clean lenses often, as recommended by your eye doctor. Rub the lenses with your fingers and rinse thoroughly before soaking lenses overnight in sufficient multi-purpose solution to completely cover the lenses.
  • Use only fresh solution every time to clean and store contacts. Never top off old solution with new because the active ingredient in some solutions can break down over time. This is also why contact lens solutions should never be used after the discard date on the bottle has passed.
  • Never use tap water in any area of lens care, including rinsing the lens and lens case. Tap water may contain microorganisms that can cause eye infection.
  • Store lenses in the proper lens storage case and replace your case at least every three months. Clean the case after each use and keep it open and dry between cleaning.
  • Never swim in lenses or wear them in a hot tub.

Fuerst also recommends that people who choose to sleep in their contact lenses use a wetting drop made for contact wearers before going to bed at night and upon waking in the morning.

Most lenses sold today are approved for a seven-day continuous use, but some newer lenses have been approved for 30-day use.

Fuerst says people who do not take their contacts out for extended periods need to be especially vigilant about “listening to their eyes.”

“If your eyes are feeling gritty, sandy, or irritated, or if they are more red than normal, take your contacts out and don’t wear them when you sleep for a while,” he says.



Bone Drug May Extend Lives of Young Women With Breast Cancer.

Study: Premenopausal Women Given Zometa 37% Less Likely to Die.
woman wearing pink ribbon

A drug given to protect bones during breast cancer treatment extended the lives of young women with the disease, researchers report.

In a study of more than 1,800 premenopausal women, those given the bone-strengthening drug Zometa along with their cancer drugs were 37% less likely to die over a seven-year period than those who received standard therapy alone.

In 2008, the same researchers reported that women who got Zometa were less likely to have their cancer come back. At that point, the women had been followed for four years since starting treatment.

“Now, with seven years of follow-up, we see there is long-lasting benefit in term of both recurrences and survival,” says researcher Michael Gnant, MD, of the Medical University of Vienna in Austria.

A total of 33 of 900 women given Zometa died vs. 49 of 903 women not given the drug.

Although some doctors say the research is too inconsistent at this point to declare Zometa an anti-cancer drug, Gnant tells WebMD the degree of benefit seen with Zometa is comparable to that of many chemotherapy drugs.

He presented the findings here at the San Antonio Breast Cancer Symposium. Gnant consults for Novartis, which makes Zometa and helped fund the study.

 ‘A New Standard of Care’

The premenopausal women in the study had early-stage breast cancer that was fueled by hormones, which promote the growth of about 66% of breast cancers.

All had surgery to remove their tumors and were taking hormone-blocking drug treatments that made them menopausal. Half also were given infusions of Zometa once every six months for three years.

The most common side effects were bone and joint pain and fever. There were no cases of kidney failure or jawbone death, the major problems that have been linked to Zometa and other drugs in its class, called bisphosphonates.

Gnant says he will be offering Zometa to all of his premenopausal patients on hormone-blocking drugs.

“It’s a new standard of care [for such patients],” says James Ingle, MD, a breast cancer specialist at the Mayo Clinic in Rochester, Minn. Ingle was charged with putting the study’s findings into perspective for doctors at the meeting.

A Mixed Bag

Animal and lab research suggests that bisphosphonates may fight breast cancer in a number of ways — by directly killing tumor cells, by cutting off their blood supply, or by stimulating the immune system to mount an attack against the tumor.

Studies in women, though, have had mixed results. At last year’s meeting, researchers reported that Zometa did not appear to prevent recurrences or cut deaths in most postmenopausal women, who account for three-fourths of all breast cancer cases.

Two other major studies also failed to show an overall benefit in terms of preventing cancer from coming back, says Harold Burstein, MD, PhD, of the Dana-Farber Cancer Institute in Boston.

And in another study presented at this year’s meeting, the bisphosphonate pill Boniva failed to lower the risk of recurrence.

On the plus side, another new study showed postmenopausal women who received Zometa right away were 34% less likely to have a recurrence compared to those who were started on the bone drug at a later time.

All that makes Burstein hesitant to use Zometa or other bisphosphonates as cancer-fighting drugs.

“There are mixed reports in different patient populations with inconsistent benefits. At this point, there are insufficient data to make a recommendation one way or the other regarding using these drugs to prevent breast cancer recurrence,” Burstein tells WebMD.


Reducing Wound Pain.

Wounds always hurt, but the degree of pain will vary according to the nature, location, and severity of the injury. Burns are particularly painful, as are many blisters, cuts, and scrapes. While a puncture wound may hurt less, it could potentially be more serious if left untreated.

For any wound, you should take the following steps:

  • Take care of the wound immediately, because even a minor wound can get infected if bacteria are allowed to build up in the wound site. If the wound is minor, you should give first aid at home.
  • If you get a puncture wound or step on a rusty nail, you should see your doctor immediately, because you may need a tetanus shot. If you don’t know whether you’re due for a tetanus shot, don’t take any chances. Call your doctor. If the puncture wound is from a human or animal bite, seek emergency medical attention. If your cut is deep or has jagged edges, you may need stitches to close the wound.
  • Clean the wound with water. Avoid using soap, hydrogen peroxide, or iodine, which can irritate the injury. Hold the wound under running water to remove dirt, and use sterile tweezers to remove remaining debris. If you can’t get the wound clean, see your doctor, because the dirt could trigger an infection. If there is a large object embedded in the wound, leave it alone and seek emergency help.
  • When the wound is clean, apply antibiotic ointment one to three times a day to prevent infection, and cover it in a sterile bandage. Before reapplying ointment, clean the wound. Stop using the ointment if you develop a rash or other reaction. Change the bandage daily, and use soap to clean the skin around the wound.
  • If the injury doesn’t stop bleeding on its own, use a clean cloth to apply pressure. Maintain the pressure for 20 to 30 minutes while elevating the wounded area, if possible. If bleeding continues after 30 minutes of pressure or spurts out of the wound, seek medical help.
  • Watch the wound to make sure it is healing. If the wound does not begin to heal or grows red, warm, and/or inflamed, or the skin around it shows red streaks, seek medical care immediately.

Reducing Wound Pain

If you have a postoperative wound, a serious injury or burn, or a chronic wound, your physician may recommend medication to relieve pain. Don’t suffer in silence. If your wound is painful, or if a wound that wasn’t painful now begins to bother you, call your doctor. This could be a sign of infection.

For minor wounds, these simple steps can reduce pain:

  • Cover the wound to protect it from further injury.
  • Change the bandage daily, and keep the wound clean to prevent infection.
  • Take ibuprofen or acetaminophen to ease initial wound pain. If pain lasts for more than a day or two, consult your doctor.
  • For a foot or ankle wound, stay off your feet as much as possible to ease pain and encourage healing.
  • Be sure to get plenty of sleep and follow a healthy diet to help your body heal.

For minor burns, these simple steps can reduce pain:

  • Hold the burn under cool running water, soak in a basin of cool water, or apply cool cloths to the burn.
  • If a blister develops, do not break the blister. That raises the risk of infection.
  • Cover the burn with antibiotic ointment and a sterile bandage. Change the bandage daily.
  • Take ibuprofen or acetaminophen.
  • Do not put butter, oil, ice, or ice water on a burn.


Carriers of Breast Cancer Gene at Risk of Second Cancer.

BRCA Carriers Treated for Cancer in One Breast at Higher Risk for Cancer in the Other.
woman's breast and pink ribbon

Women who have been successfully treated for cancer in one breast and who carry the BRCA1 or BRCA2 cancer gene are at increased risk for developing cancer in their other breast.

Women who received their first diagnosis when they were 40 or younger and women with so-called triple-negative breast tumors that are often difficult to treat are at particularly heightened risk, says Alexandra J. van den Broek, MSc, a doctoral candidate at the Netherlands Cancer Institute in Amsterdam.

The study involved more than 5,000 women diagnosed with breast cancer before they turned 50; 211 were carriers of the BRCA1 or BRCA2 mutations. Over a nine-year period, 9% developed cancer in their other breast.

Women who were not carriers faced a 6% risk of developing cancer in their other breast over 10 years, compared with 11% for BRCA2 carriers and 20% for BRCA1 carriers.

The 10-year risk shot up to 26% for carriers diagnosed with their first breast cancer when they were 40 or younger.

Those with the BRCA1 or BRCA2 gene with a triple-negative first tumor had a 10-year risk of 19%.

Discussing the Options

Five to 10% of breast cancers occur in women with a genetic predisposition for the disease, usually due to mutations in either the BRCA1 or BRCA2 genes. The lifetime risk of breast cancer increases from 13% to 81% for BRCA1 carriers and 85% for BRCA2 carriers.

Beverly Moy, MD, MPH, a breast cancer specialist at Massachusetts General Hospital in Boston, says women who are BRCA carriers have two basic options. They can get a double mastectomy to substantially lower their risk, but this surgery doesn’t completely eliminate the risk. Or a woman may choose more intense screening with breast MRI in addition to mammography; if cancer does develop, it is typically picked up at an earlier stage, she says.

“Going forward if you are a carrier [of the BRCA1 or BRCA2 gene] and have cancer in one breast, it makes sense to address the risk of cancer in the second breast posed by the study,” Moy tells WebMD.

She says she wouldn’t change practice on the basis of one study.

“But this is a conversation we are already having with our patients. So if a carrier is young or has triple-negative disease, it makes sense to discuss the potential advantage of a [double] mastectomy approach rather than screening,” Moy says.


Raw Cookie Dough Ready to Bake, Not Ready to Eat.

2009 E. Coli Outbreak Serves as a Reminder of Risks of Eating Raw Cookie Dough.


break and bake cookies

Raw cookie dough, whether it’s homemade or store-bought, should be destined for your oven, not your mouth.

That’s one of the CDC’s top lessons from the 2009 E. coli  O157:H7 outbreak in refrigerated Nestle Toll House cookie dough products.

During the outbreak, 77 people in 30 states became ill after eating the dough before baking it. Of these, 35 people were hospitalized. The outbreak prompted a recall of 3.6 million packages of cookie dough and some changes in the way that Nestle and other companies manufacture their cookie dough.

That was the first time an E. coli outbreak was traced to ready-to-bake commercial prepackaged cookie dough. The details of the outbreak and the steps taken to control it appear in the journal Clinical Infectious Diseases.

How the Cookie Crumbles

The issue is much larger than one brand, says the CDC’s Karen Neil, MD, MSPH. “You shouldn’t eat raw cookie dough, regardless of who makes it,” she says.

The same goes for any product that is supposed to be cooked or baked, including cake and biscuit batter. “Raw cookie dough is not ready to eat, it is ready to bake,” Neil says.

Other cookie dough products, such as cookie dough-flavored ice cream and cookie dough bites, are likely treated in a way that makes them safe to eat, Neil says.

As part of their investigation into the 2009 E. coli outbreak, researchers searched for the source of the contamination but were unable to pinpoint the culprit.

“We do think that one of the more likely ways is through a contaminated ingredient,” Neil says. “We suspect flour, because flour doesn’t go through specific processes to kill pathogens.”

That has changed at Nestle and some other companies.

The days, weeks, and months after the outbreak were “very intense,” says Nestle spokeswoman Roz O’Hearn. “We worked very closely with the CDC and FDA. We made a responsive decision to switch to heat-treated flour in January 2010, and continue it use it.” Several other cookie dough makers have told the FDA that they have also switched to heat-treated flour.

In the past, raw eggs have caused many salmonella outbreaks linked to cookie dough. But in the 2009 cookie outbreak, the culprit “wasn’t salmonella, it was E. coli,” Neil says. Previous E. coli-related food-borne illnesses have been linked to ground beef, leafy green vegetables, sprouts, melons, salami, and unpasteurized apple cider.

Symptoms of E.coli  O157:H7 infection include:

  • Bloody diarrhea
  • Stomach cramps
  • Nausea and vomiting

Most people recover within a week. Severe complications are more likely in young children and older adults.

“As tempting as it is to sample cookie dough, do not veer from the recommendations on the package,” says David Hirschwerk, MD, an infectious disease doctor at North Shore University Long Island Jewish Hospital in Manhasset, N.Y. “If the package says you should cook it, then you should cook it.”


Can a pill cure hangovers?

Blowfish tablets claim to cure hangover symptoms. But doctors say that masking the pain may make things worse.

For those who plan to celebrate the New Year with a few toasts but aren’t looking forward to the inevitable hangover, a new pill on the market may resolve the dread of the day after.

Tablets called Blowfish have recently been permitted by the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) to be sold as an over-the-counter drug. Their creator guarantees their effectiveness in chasing away the post-booze blues.

Nevertheless, some in the medical field remain sceptical, warning that such pills should not be seen as a licence to overdo the drinking.

Brenna Haysom, founder and president of Rally Labs, the company which creates Blowfish, told the BBC that the development of the remedy came out of her own experience.

“I was a hangover sufferer,” she says. “I worked hard in finance, many times into the weekend, and needed to function well the next day while still enjoying my free time.”

Ms Haysom says she tried different hangover remedies on the market to no effect.

She then decided to delve into the causes and effects of hangovers, experimenting with different combinations of ingredients, first on herself and then on her friends.

“After a lot of trial and error I realised that I was on to something: a reliable, effective hangover cure,” she says.

It’s easy to imagine that this “cure” would contain secret ingredients mixed in a complicated formula, but this entrepreneur admits that her anti-hangover pills are “nothing special”.

They are basically a blend of high doses of aspirin and caffeine packed in effervescent tablets that dissolve in water, to drink in the morning. The two ingredients work together to fight fatigue and pain, two main complaints of hangover sufferers.

It also contains a little something sweet to help the medicine go down.

“We spent a lot of time on flavouring to make it palatable,” she says.

Blowfish is not the first treatment aimed at hangover sufferers.

“Every year there is a new product out that claims to be the cure against hangovers,” says Richard Blondell, vice-chair for Addiction Medicine at the American Academy of Family Physicians.

Blowfish is simply this year’s thing,” he says.

Indeed, products like HangoverBuster, Alcohol-X and Chaser Plus have been on the market for years, all promising fantastic results.

Blowfish, however, is the only hangover medication to receive FDA acknowledgement, since it uses drugs approved by that agency.

Other hangover remedies use herbal supplements, which are unregulated by the FDA.

As none of the components of Blowfish are new, the FDA process was not as stringent as it would have been for an original drug.

What causes a hangover is still not fully understood, and can vary from person to person. Here are some medical explanations for what might make us feel so bad:

Chemical imbalance: Alcohol suppresses the release of an anti-diuretic hormone, which causes us to expel more fluid instead of conserving it. The result is dehydration which leads to fatigue, lethargy, dizziness and headache.

Hypoglycaemia: Alcohol may also result in a rise and drop in sugar levels, which can contribute to shakiness and fatigue.

Congeners: Scientists debate whether impurities in alcohol called congeners contribute to feeling ill. Darker alcohol has more congeners, and research has shown consumption of dark alcohol leads to a bigger hangover than lighter alcohol, though function is similarly impaired with both.

Acid secretion Alcohol relaxes the region of the stomach that controls acid reflux, which could lead to an irritated feeling in the gut.

Instead, the agency determined that the product was compliant with the FDA’s over-the-counter monograph process. That ensures that products are made of previously approved substances, include safe doses and are properly labelled.

The FDA concluded that Blowfish was not misleading consumers by promoting itself as a hangover aid.

Dr Blondell, who advises that not getting drunk is the best and only real cure for hangovers, doubts the effectiveness of most treatments.

More importantly, the tablets can’t undo the damage done by a hard night on the town, which can include strain on the liver, poor nutritional choices and embarrassing Facebook photographs.

It’s like saying to an obese person to eat all they want because there is a pill that will cure heartburn, but the calories are already inside.”

Despite of such scepticism, Ms Haysom says that her product has had a “great response”, with comments on the Blowfish Facebook page suggesting it has “saved Christmas.”

Is this treatment just a licence to drink in excess without having to pay the consequences later?

Hangovers function as a kind of punishment that keeps people from over-indulging too often, says Dr Aaron White, a neuro-scientist with the National Institute for Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism.

Hangovers are one of the most unpleasant side effects of drinking

Dr White says that teenage and young adult binge drinking is a serious problem in the US.

What prevents young people from bingeing even more is not wanting to feel so awful afterwards, he says, so a drug that could take care of that situation would be of concern.

“It may change their relationship with alcohol and have them drink more often,” he concluded, though notes that there is no evidence to suggest that hangover remedies increase drinking.

Ms Haysom rejects any suggestion that her product promotes heavy drinking.

“We are not saying ‘take our product and all will be fine’,” she says. “Alcohol is a poison and you will get a hangover as your body reacts to it. What our tablets do is treat the symptoms.”

How effectively it treats the symptoms is another matter. Part of the reason there’s been no effective hangover cure to this point is that scientists don’t fully understand what a hangover is.

“You’d think we know the answers,” says Dr White. “We’re still trying to figure that out.”

What they do know is that the complicated causes of hangovers affect individuals differently – so there may be no “one” cure that fits all sufferers.

That, of course, won’t stop some New Year revellers for looking for a quick fix to start 2012 hangover-free.

Source:BBC health.







Alzheimer’s: Diet ‘can stop brain shrinking?

A diet rich in vitamins and fish may protect the brain from ageing while junk food has the opposite effect, research suggests.

Elderly people with high blood levels of vitamins and omega 3 fatty acids had less brain shrinkage and better mental performance, a Neurology study found.

Trans fats found in fast foods were linked to lower scores in tests and more shrinkage typical of Alzheimer’s.

A UK medical charity has called for more work into diet and dementia risk.

The best current advice is to eat a balanced diet with plenty of fruit and vegetables, not smoke, take regular exercise and keep blood pressure and cholesterol in check, said Alzheimer’s Research UK.

The research looked at nutrients in blood, rather than relying on questionnaires to assess a person’s diet.

US experts analysed blood samples from 104 healthy people with an average age of 87 who had few known risk factors for Alzheimer’s.

They found those who had more vitamin B, C, D and E in their blood performed better in tests of memory and thinking skills. People with high levels of omega 3 fatty acids – found mainly in fish – also had high scores. The poorest scores were found in people who had more trans fats in their blood.

Trans fats are common in processed foods, including cakes, biscuits and fried foods.

The researchers, from Oregon Health and Science University, Portland; Portland VA Medical Center; and Oregon State University, Corvallis, then carried out brain scans on 42 of the participants.

They found individuals with high levels of vitamins and omega 3 in their blood were more likely to have a large brain volume; while those with high levels of trans fat had a smaller total brain volume.

Study author Gene Bowman of Oregon Health and Science University said: “These results need to be confirmed, but obviously it is very exciting to think that people could potentially stop their brains from shrinking and keep them sharp by adjusting their diet.”

‘Strong potential’

Co-author Maret Traber of the Linus Pauling Institute at Oregon State University said: “The vitamins and nutrients you get from eating a wide range of fruits, vegetables and fish can be measured in blood biomarkers.

Alzheimer’s disease

  • Alzheimer’s disease is the most common cause of dementia
  • Symptoms include loss of memory, mood changes, and problems with communication and reasoning
  • No one single factor has been identified as a cause for Alzheimer’s disease – a combination of factors, including age, genes, environment, lifestyle and general health are implicated
  • Source: Alzheimer’s Society

“I’m a firm believer these nutrients have strong potential to protect your brain and make it work better.”

Commenting on the study, Dr Simon Ridley, head of research at Alzheimer’s Research UK, said:

“One strength of this research is that it looked at nutrients in people’s blood, rather than relying on answers to a questionnaire.

“It’s important to note that this study looked at a small group of people with few risk factors for Alzheimer’s disease, and did not investigate whether they went on to develop Alzheimer’s at a later stage.

“There is a clear need for conclusive evidence about the effect of diet on our risk of Alzheimer’s, which can only come from large-scale, long-term studies.”

Source:BBC health

Enter a dolphin’s fluid, hyper-social consciousness.

What if we merged brains with other species? Would we have very different psychology? Or wordlessly swap intimate feelings?

I’VE spent years thinking about consciousness and my current obsession is whether we can know anything about what it is like is to be a dog, a dolphin, or a bat. The most influential answer came from philosopher Thomas Nagel in his 1974 paper, “What is it like to be a bat?” Unlike some of the era’s behaviourists, who saw animals as little more than automatons that respond to stimulus, Nagel didn’t doubt bats had experience, that it was “like something” being a nimble, echo-locating mammal swooping through the night. But he doubted our ability to say anything true about it beyond projection or imagination.

Nagel may be right, but for me the human-to-animal mind question is simply an extreme form of the human-to-human mind question: we can’t know another’s experience, but there are deep points of overlap we can expand. What follows is from a conversation with two of the smartest people I know in the field: Lori Marino, a comparative neuroanatomist at Emory University in Atlanta, Georgia, and Ben Goertzel, a mathematician, and a former research director of the Singularity Institute for Artificial Intelligence in San Francisco.

JEFF: Imagine that in front of us are the disarticulated brains of a human, a dog and a dolphin. What might we learn by combining the pieces of the animals in unusual ways?

LORI: Something similar is going on in Leipzig. For example, researchers inserted a human gene into a mouse brain, causing it to grow human-like neurons in the language area: the mouse’s vocalisations were deeper.

JEFF: Moving to dogs, psychologist Alexandra Horowitz thinks being immersed in a world of layered smells might affect a dog’s sense of time because of the historical smell traces around them.

LORI: Dogs out walking can receive stimuli that are remnants of the past because smells hang around. I’ve heard audition is similar, that if we had a big enough amplifier we could pick up sounds of people who aren’t there now, events happening in the past – though no animal has that capacity as far as we can tell.

BEN: For a dog, smell and vision are very synergistic when they are trying to find stuff outside. For humans, hearing and vision tie together, and olfaction not so much. If you had a mind where all three senses worked closely together, that would be interesting. If we could paste brain lobes together, you’d probably get non-linear feedback between lobes that would settle into some unexpected configurations.

JEFF: Yet we also know basic brain structures repeat themselves. A dog’s amygdala, say, is a lot like ours, and there is good evidence it does much the same emotional regulation.

LORI: This is part of the complexity of our task. Ben is saying the brain is not just plug-and-play. If you stick a dog’s olfactory bulbs onto a human brain, say, there will be reverberations throughout the brain levels. At the same time, once you have a bilaterally symmetrical animal with a brain, that’s it, everything else is a variation on the theme. We only do nervous systems one way on Earth.

BEN: There’s another interesting point. Like the auditory system, the visual system is largely hierarchical, using linear feed-forward and feed-back connections. If you look at Berkeley neuroscientist Walter Freeman’s model of the olfactory bulb, it’s more heterarchical. Activity is more chaotic – we see transient structures responding to different recognisable smells. A cognitive system based on olfaction wouldn’t be based so much on breaking things down as on completion of patterns. There seems to be no system on Earth with a high level of general intelligence like that. The hierarchical structure may be a very useful heuristic for being intelligent; without it you don’t get that smart.

JEFF: The idea of a hierarchy-oriented brain is really important when we talk about higher-level animal consciousness. Take cetaceans. Their huge brains are 30 million years old, about 28 million years older than ours. But they evolved in a totally different medium.

BEN: I published a paper in The Journal of Cosmology on what a consciousness might be like if it evolved in a fluid environment. I was thinking about how human psychology is adapted to solid objects: stuff bouncing off other stuff, resulting in the psychology of causation. You also get the decomposition of wholes into parts. But if you grew up on Jupiter, where the environment consists of fluids of different viscosity and intersecting vortices and solitons, you might have a very different psychology. Our language is based on assembling units, but not all meaningful communication may be that way – that’s why cetacean communication is so important.

LORI: This has been discussed as explaining why we haven’t “cracked” communication in dolphins. We think in discrete terms because that’s the kind of animal we are, we research a whistle repertoire for dolphins and try to figure out what the whistles mean as discrete sounds. It hasn’t got us that far. It may be that we are going down the wrong path.

BEN: When we describe something we make it precise, divide it into parts, recombine it – that’s how we build words into sentences, and sentences into paragraphs. Dolphin language may harmonise with a quite different way of thinking about the world. Maybe the two ways are complementary, like waves and particles in quantum mechanics. Or maybe they are completely incommensurable perspectives.

LORI: Except there is still a huge overlap with humans to account for. Decades of work tells us dolphins recognise themselves in mirrors, can learn and understand a symbolically based syntactical language, and have very similar memory systems. I suspect we share basic emotions like love, and a sense of humour. As for the emotional brains, dolphins and whales are the only animals I know where the limbic system has dramatically expanded its connections into the cortex. They have an entire paralimbic lobe no other animals have.

JEFF: So cetaceans have these large, emotional brains – and heavily integrated auditory and visual cortexes that may underlie their echolocation. Some scientists argue dolphins and killer and sperm whales may be able to see inside each other’s bodies using echolocation – a bit like ultrasound. A dolphin may know if another dolphin is hungry, sick or pregnant.

BEN: Their “self-model” would be dramatically different. If you travel with the same posse, and could see if they were stressed, relaxed, or whatever, you would get a kind of “extended” self. There would still be an individual self because a dolphin has to protect and feed itself, but not the kind of individuated self we have. Presumably a large part of the dolphin cortex is doing this kind of refined spatial/social modelling humans are not good at. If we grafted that into us, we would detect very fine details of the physical movements of people around us. We would want to live in small, naked tribes, walking around looking at and sensing each other. Our inclination would be to have a group-embodied extended self.

LORI: There’s been a lot of talk about this extended self. Of course dolphins don’t build houses or make weapons – in a very real sense other beings are their substrate. It’s interesting to think they may be an example of a species which has taken the herd mentality mind and jacked it up to a whole new level of complexity.

JEFF: So: what is shared and what is distinct? For me, there is a pith of oneness between life forms, and also a multiplicity of difference. I look at a dolphin and know about the feeling of water, of having a body. It’s different, but there is an embodied overlap, a shared world.

LORI: In the end, it comes down to where you want to put the lens.

Source:New Scientist.