New Evidence Unearthed for the Origins of the Maya.


The Maya culture began differently than previously thought, study says.

Civilizations rise and fall, often in dramatic fashion. Their origins, though, are subtler and tend to be overlooked or poorly understood.

In the case of the Maya, a new paper in Science magazine sheds surprising light on that murky early period.

The classic period of the lowland Maya in Mesoamerica (A.D. 300 to 950) is a popular topic in archaeology, but little is known about the early preclassic era (before 1000 B.C.). Scientists are typically split between two theories on the subject: Either the Maya developed directly from an older “mother culture” known as the Olmec, or they sprang into existence independently.

Takeshi Inomata, professor of anthropology at the University of Arizona and aNational Geographic research grantee, disagrees with both theories. In his work at the archaeological site of Ceibal in Guatemala, he has unearthed evidence for a more complex origin story.

Early Ritual Spaces

The Maya are usually associated with monumental architecture. Massive pyramids and immense plazas testify to a complex and fascinating culture. One can hardly hear the word “Maya” without imagining elaborately decorated kings and priests climbing the long, steep stairs of pyramids like those at Tikal.

But pyramids don’t just spring out of the jungle overnight, nor does a complex culture merely appear. Inomata and his team dug below the monumental architecture at Ceibal to see how such structures began.

Inomata assumed that the now iconic classic architecture probably stood on earlier sites used for similar purposes. His assumption turned out to be correct. He found smaller platforms built of earth beneath the pyramids of stone, signaling a formal ritual complex at Ceibal dating to around 1000 B.C.

The presence of ritual architecture early in the development of the Maya is an indication of a settled lifestyle with complex agriculture, religion, and a stratified society—all of which add up to a unified culture and the beginnings of a larger civilization.

Redefining the Olmec Connection

Experts have traditionally believed that when the Olmec were busy building their civilization at large sites such as La Venta, near the Gulf coast in modern Mexico, the people who would become the Maya were living in loosely associated nomadic groups in the jungles to the east and southeast. This theory holds that the Maya derived their entire society—including their architecture and social structure—directly from the Olmec.

But Inomata’s work has revealed that the Olmec is not an older civilization. In fact, Ceibal pre-dates La Venta by as long as two centuries. And although some Olmec cities are indeed older than both La Venta and Ceibal, they likely did not interact with the Maya.

“This does not mean that the Maya developed independently,” Inomata says. Instead, he believes, the influence flowed both ways. La Venta and Ceibal appear to have developed in tandem in a great cultural shift throughout the region. “It seems more likely that there was a broad history of interactions across these regions, and through these interactions, a new form of society developed.”

More Flexible Definitions

To further complicate matters, Inomata stresses that the evidence doesn’t show clear distinctions between the Olmec and Maya at the preclassic stage.

The two civilizations are easy to differentiate during the classic period, since the Maya had by then developed a distinct language and culture. But the period between 1000 and 700 B.C. is more transitional. With La Venta and Ceibal freely trading ideas, technologies, cultural elements, and perhaps even population, it’s difficult to call one Olmec and the other Maya.

“Determining labels for these early people is quite a tricky question—we’re not sure if residents of early Ceibal were wholly Mayan,” says Inomata. “We have decided to take a much more flexible approach, avoiding fixed labels in favor of looking at patterns of interaction and how more stable identities developed.”

An Agricultural Revolution

Inomata and his team will spend the next three years analyzing the findings from Ceibal. They will then begin to excavate outside the site’s center, hoping to gain an understanding of what day-to-day life was like in the preclassic period.

The peripheral areas, separated from the ritual plazas and temples, could hold more keys to the origins of the Maya. Inomata believes that the residential and agricultural areas are particularly important.

Around 1000 B.C. the previously nomadic groups that became the Maya began to build urban ritual areas. “Instead of starting with villages,” Inomata says, “they made a ceremonial center.” The idea for that may have come from the people who later created La Venta.

A radical shift in agriculture at that time may also have played an important role in the move to a more settled lifestyle. Corn, the principal crop of the Maya, “became much more productive,” says Inomata. “And then it made sense to cut down forests and increase agriculture.”

Inomata believes this agricultural revolution may have been rooted in genetic changes in the corn plant itself. But this, like so many other ideas about the rise and fall of the Maya civilization, still requires much more evidence to prove.

Source: Discovery channel




‘White graphene’ soaks up pollutants and can be re-used.



A next-generation material first earmarked for use in electronics has proven itself a capable clean-up agent for polluted waters.

Boron nitride, or “white graphene”, is similar to its namesake: sheets of atoms laid out like a chain-link fence.

report in Nature Communications shows the material can preferentially soak up organic pollutants such as industrial chemicals or engine oil.

However, it is easier to clean and re-use than other such “nanomaterials”.

The family of these materials includes much-touted, carbon-based members such as graphene and nanotubes, and are notable in part for their surface area-to-weight ratio.

That allows them to take up an incredible amount for their size, making them attractive for the clean-up of pollutants.

The new work suggests that a preparation of boron nitride could outperform many nanomaterials and more traditional approaches.

A team from the Institute for Frontier Materials at Deakin University in Australia and the Pierre and Marie Curie University in France started by making porous boron nitride “nanosheets” – wavy, single-atom layers of the material with holes in them.

These porous sheets, which together form a coarse white powder, vastly outperformed sheets that did not have the pores, and commercially available chunks of boron nitride that is not made up of the tiny sheets.

The porous version exhibited high “selective absorption and adsorption” – preferentially picking up organic pollutants and dyes out of water.

The powder soaked up as much as 33 times its own weight in the chemical ethylene glycol and 29 times its own weight of engine oil. Even still, the saturated powder floats on water.

The pollutants could then be driven out of the nooks and crannies of the material by heating it in a commercial furnace, or by simply igniting it – a trick that other, more established materials could only survive a few times before becoming completely clogged up.

“All these features make these porous nanosheets suitable for a wide range of applications in water purification and treatment,” the authors wrote.

Francesco Stellacci of EPFL in Switzerland called the work “an excellent paper in a booming field”.

“The data reported are indeed excellent and impressive,” he told BBC News. “The key question is if this is the material that at the end will be used for remediation.”

Prof Stellacci said that a market for such materials does not yet exist, and boron nitride’s striking clean-up powers may or may not be enough to establish it as a leading contender, even among nanomaterials.

“I think that at the end it will not be performance that will determine the final material used, but more costs and scalability. I really hope that one of these materials, and maybe this one, will make it,” he said.

Source: BBC

Microparticles Deliver Oxygen.

Researchers have developed fast-dissolving particles that may one day prevent organ damage or death by instantly infusing oxygen into the blood.

Scientists have crafted an injectable foam containing oxygen-carrying microparticles that could potentially be used to resuscitate patients undergoing severe oxygen deprivation. The team of researchers, most of whom work at Children’s Hospital Boston, demonstrated that the microparticle solution could rapidly oxygenate the blood of rabbits struggling to breath in low oxygen conditions. They report their findings in the latest issue of Science Translational Medicine.

“This is a potential breakthrough,” Peter Laussen, cardiac intensive care doctor at Children’s Hospital Boston who was not involved in the work, told ScienceNOW. “You can apply this across healthcare, from the battlefield to the emergency room, intensive care unit, or operating room.”

A body deprived of oxygen is a body in trouble. When major organs like the brain and heart don’t receive an adequate supply of oxygen they falter and fail, sometimes in minutes. Traditionally, physicians used therapies such as CPR and tracheal intubation, where a breathing tube ventilates the lungs after being inserted into a patient’s windpipe, to deliver fresh oxygen to the bloodstream of a person in the midst of a medical emergency.

The microparticles, which consist of spherical shells of lipids surrounding a small bubble of oxygen gas, deliver oxygen almost immediately to red blood cells in a way that is safer and more rapid than currently used methods. The research team, led by Children’s Hospital Boston cardiologist John Kheir, found that the solution could completely saturate red blood cells in oxygen-deprived rabbits within seconds of injection, and they kept rabbits with totally blocked airways alive for 15 minutes using the oxygen-infused microparticles. “Essentially as soon as we started injecting it, clinically we started to see an effect,” Kheir told ScienceNOW.

Researchers are now testing the microparticle solution on large animals, and if those and later human clinical trials are successful, the therapy could make its way into the clinic or other emergency situations. “This is still in its infancy,” Laussen added, “but this idea of a new and novel way to effectively deliver oxygen is, I think, very exciting.”



Atomic bond types discernible in single-molecule images.

A pioneering team from IBM in Zurich has published single-molecule images so detailed that the type of atomic bonds between their atoms can be discerned.

The same team took the first-ever single-molecule image in 2009 and more recently published images of a molecule shaped like the Olympic rings.

The new work opens up the prospect of studying imperfections in the “wonder material” graphene or plotting where electrons go during chemical reactions.

The images are published in Science.

The team, which included French and Spanish collaborators, used a variant of a technique called atomic force microscopy, or AFM.

AFM uses a tiny metal tip passed over a surface, whose even tinier deflections are measured as the tip is scanned to and fro over a sample.

The IBM team’s innovation to create the first single molecule picture, of a molecule called pentacene, was to use the tip to pick up a single, small molecule made up of a carbon and an oxygen atom.

This carbon monoxide molecule effectively acts as a record needle, probing with unprecedented accuracy the very surfaces of atoms.

It is difficult to overstate what precision measurements these are.

The experiments must be isolated from any kind of vibration coming from within the laboratory or even its surroundings.

They are carried out at a scale so small that room temperature induces wigglings of the AFM’s constituent molecules that would blur the images, so the apparatus is kept at a cool -268C.

While some improvements have been made since that first image of pentacene, lead author of the Science study, Leo Gross, told BBC News that the new work was mostly down to a choice of subject.

The new study examined fullerenes – such as the famous football-shaped “buckyball” – and polyaromatic hydrocarbons, which have linked rings of carbon atoms at their cores.

The images show just how long the atomic bonds are, and the bright and dark spots correspond to higher and lower densities of electrons.

Together, this information reveals just what kind of bonds they are – how many electrons pairs of atoms share – and what is going on chemically within the molecules.

“In the case of pentacene, we saw the bonds but we couldn’t really differentiate them or see different properties of different bonds,” Dr Gross said.

“Now we can really prove that… we can see different physical properties of different bonds, and that’s really exciting.”

The team will use the method to examine graphene, one-atom-thick sheets of pure carbon that hold much promise in electronics.

But defects in graphene – where the perfect sheets of carbon are buckled or include other atoms – are currently poorly understood.

The team will also explore the use of different molecules for their “record needle”, with the hope of yielding even more insight into the molecular world.

Source: BBC


‘Olympic rings’ molecule olympicene in striking image.

_60484183_60484182Researchers have succeeded in taking a stunning image of a newly synthesised molecule called olympicene.

The molecule – just over a billionth of a metre across – gets its name because its five linked rings resemble the Olympic symbol.

It was first made by collaborators at the University of Warwick in the UK.

They teamed up with IBM researchers, who in 2009 pioneered the technique of single-molecule imaging with its non-contact atomic force microscopy.

The team, based at IBM Research Zurich, announced its first success with a molecule called pentacene, five linked hexagonal rings of carbon all in a line.

But it was Professor Graham Richards CBE, former head of Oxford University’s chemistry department and member of the Royal Society of Chemistry (RSC) council, who first conceived of the idea to create a more Olympic-themed molecule along the same lines.

“I was in a committee meeting of the Royal Society of Chemistry where we were trying to think of what we could do to mark the Olympics,” Prof Richards told BBC News.

“It occurred to me that the molecule that I had drawn looked very much like the Olympic rings, and it had never been made.”

University of Warwick researchers Anish Mistry and David Fox undertook the task of developing a chemical recipe for the molecule, and took preliminary images of it using a technique called scanning tunnelling microscopy.

But no approach gives such detailed images of single molecules as non-contact atomic force microscopy, in which a single, even tinier molecule of carbon monoxide is used as a kind of record needle to probe the grooves of molecules with unprecedented resolution.

The images show linked ring structures that are reminiscent both of the Olympic rings and a great many compounds made from rings of carbon atoms, including the “miracle material” graphene.

However, Prof Richards hopes that olympicene’s greatest contribution to chemistry is to bring more students into it.

“Molecules of this nature could conceivably have commercial use, but my own feeling is that above all we want to excite an interest in chemistry provoked by the link with the Olympics,” he said.

Source: BBC

VLA Gives Deep, Detailed Image Of Distant Universe.


Staring at a small patch of sky for more than 50 hours with the ultra-sensitive Karl G. Jansky Very Large Array (VLA), astronomers have for the first time identified discrete sources that account for nearly all the radio waves coming from distant galaxies. They found that about 63 percent of the background radio emission comes from galaxies with gorging black holes at their cores, and the remaining 37 percent comes from galaxies that are rapidly forming stars. 

In this VLA image of the distant universe, about 2,000 discrete objects are identified. This entire image constitutes only about one-millionth of the entire sky


Use of serum C reactive protein and procalcitonin concentrations in addition to symptoms and signs to predict pneumonia in patients presenting to primary care with acute cough: diagnostic study.


Objectives To quantify the diagnostic accuracy of selected inflammatory markers in addition to symptoms and signs for predicting pneumonia and to derive a diagnostic tool.

Design Diagnostic study performed between 2007 and 2010. Participants had their history taken, underwent physical examination and measurement of C reactive protein (CRP) and procalcitonin in venous blood on the day they first consulted, and underwent chest radiography within seven days.

Setting Primary care centres in 12 European countries.

Participants Adults presenting with acute cough.

Main outcome measures Pneumonia as determined by radiologists, who were blind to all other information when they judged chest radiographs.

Results Of 3106 eligible patients, 286 were excluded because of missing or inadequate chest radiographs, leaving 2820 patients (mean age 50, 40% men) of whom 140 (5%) had pneumonia. Re-assessment of a subset of 1675 chest radiographs showed agreement in 94% (κ 0.45, 95% confidence interval 0.36 to 0.54). Six published “symptoms and signs models” varied in their discrimination (area under receiver operating characteristics curve (ROC) ranged from 0.55 (95% confidence interval 0.50 to 0.61) to 0.71 (0.66 to 0.76)). The optimal combination of clinical prediction items derived from our patients included absence of runny nose and presence of breathlessness, crackles and diminished breath sounds on auscultation, tachycardia, and fever, with an ROC area of 0.70 (0.65 to 0.75). Addition of CRP at the optimal cut off of >30 mg/L increased the ROC area to 0.77 (0.73 to 0.81) and improved the diagnostic classification (net reclassification improvement 28%). In the 1556 patients classified according to symptoms, signs, and CRP >30 mg/L as “low risk” (<2.5%) for pneumonia, the prevalence of pneumonia was 2%. In the 132 patients classified as “high risk” (>20%), the prevalence of pneumonia was 31%. The positive likelihood ratio of low, intermediate, and high risk for pneumonia was 0.4, 1.2, and 8.6 respectively. Measurement of procalcitonin added no relevant additional diagnostic information. A simplified diagnostic score based on symptoms, signs, and CRP >30 mg/L resulted in proportions of pneumonia of 0.7%, 3.8%, and 18.2% in the low, intermediate, and high risk group respectively.

Conclusions A clinical rule based on symptoms and signs to predict pneumonia in patients presenting to primary care with acute cough performed best in patients with mild or severe clinical presentation. Addition of CRP concentration at the optimal cut off of >30 mg/L improved diagnostic information, but measurement of procalcitonin concentration did not add clinically relevant information in this group.


Main findings

Pneumonia was diagnosed by chest x radiography in 140 (5%) of the 2820 patients presenting to primary care with acute cough. The optimal combination of symptoms and signs for predicting pneumonia was absence of runny nose and presence of breathlessness, crackles and diminished breath sounds on auscultation, tachycardia, and fever. Signs and symptoms were useful in correctly identifying patients with a “low” (<2.5%) or “high” (>20%) diagnostic risk in 26% of patients. In the 74% of patients in whom diagnostic doubt remained (estimated risk 2.5%-20%), measurement of C reactive protein (CRP) concentration helped to correctly exclude pneumonia. A simplified diagnostic score based on symptoms, signs, and CRP concentration resulted in proportions of pneumonia of 0.7%, 4%, and 18% in the low, intermediate, and high risk group, respectively. Measurement of procalcitonin concentration had no clinically relevant added value in this setting.

Strengths and limitations

This is the first study to quantify the independent diagnostic value of symptoms, signs, and additional diagnostic value of inflammatory markers for pneumonia in patients presenting with acute cough in primary care that included an adequate number of cases of pneumonia. All blood samples were analysed in the same laboratory with standardised procedures. Serum CRP and procalcitonin concentrations were measured by conventional venous blood tests in a diagnostic laboratory and not with a point of care test. The added value of CRP might be different and could be lower when measured with a point of care test in general practice. Nonetheless, agreement between point of care test results and a conventional reference test has been shown to be good.44

Given how common lower respiratory tract infections are, many more eligible patients presented during the recruitment period than were approached about participation in this study, and therefore we probably did not achieve the goals of recruiting all consecutive, eligible patients. Nevertheless, we do not believe that there was important clinical selection bias because feedback from recruiting clinicians during and after the study was that the time required to recruit and assess each patient made sequential recruitment of every eligible patient impossible.

Chest radiographs were examined by local radiologists. We attempted to increase uniformity in assessment by implementing a protocol for reporting. While there was some variability between observers, the moderate unweighted κ of 0.45 was similar to that reported in other studies.18 20

We did not attempt to distinguish between bacterial and viral pneumonia as this is not feasible in routine primary care.14 45 All available relevant guidelines advocate identification of patients with pneumonia and treatment with antibiotics without further aetiological testing.14

Comparison with other studies

Absence of a runny nose and presence of dry cough, breathlessness, chest pain, diarrhoea, fever, and crackles have previously been found to have diagnostic value for pneumonia in primary care populations.7 9 “Tachycardia” and “diminished vesicular breathing” have diagnostic value in secondary care populations.3 6 8 11 We were able to confirm the predictive value of most of these items, apart from chest pain and diarrhoea. Differences between our findings and those from previous studies could relate to the difference in prevalence of pneumonia, inclusion criteria, and outcome definition.

Our finding that CRP concentration can be low in people with pneumonia is not new. Flanders and colleagues reported on a small subgroup of patients with pneumonia who had a CRP of less than 11 mg/L.3 In the 54 patients with pneumonia with low CRP in our study, the estimated diagnostic risk of pneumonia was high (n=3) or intermediate (n=51) based on history and physical examination results as defined in our model. These findings emphasise that CRP test results should be interpreted together with clinical findings.

Of the factors known to lower CRP—such as steroid use46 and duration of disease47—only steroid use (including both oral and inhaled steroids) was significantly more prevalent in the group of patients with pneumonia with low CRP concentration. Exclusion of all steroid users from our analyses resulted in a similar association between CRP concentration and pneumonia.

Procalcitonin concentrations in our study were higher in patients with pneumonia and comparable with previous findings in patients with lower respiratory tract infection in primary care.17 48 They did not, however, add meaningful diagnostic information. Holm and colleagues showed a clear association between procalcitonin concentration and radiographic pneumonia as well as bacterial infection,17 but the positive predictive value was too low to be useful in clinical practice. Our findings support this conclusion. Moreover, Holm and colleagues studied a population with a higher prevalence of pneumonia (13%) and did not combine history and physical examination with procalcitonin test results.17

Implications for practice and conclusions

Although the diagnostic “symptoms and signs” model presented in this study assigned an intermediate diagnostic risk of pneumonia to most patients, history taking and physical examination alone enabled general practitioners to correctly identify a small group of patients at high risk. Chest radiography and/or (empirical) antibiotic treatment should therefore be considered in these patients. In these more severely ill patients, point of care tests, including CRP, do not seem to be useful. In patients with a low risk of pneumonia based on symptoms and signs, it seems justified to withhold further diagnostic investigation and not to treat with antibiotics.

CRP has additional diagnostic value in patients with an intermediate diagnostic risk of pneumonia as determined by symptoms and signs alone, especially in appropriately excluding pneumonia. Procalcitonin has no additional diagnostic value in primary care.

The simplified score derived from the regression models is more suitable for uptake in daily care than the regression models. The downside of the simplified score is that it is less precise and contains less diagnostic information. To determine whether our diagnostic model improves clinical outcomes in everyday practice would require an implementation study in which general practitioners use point of care CRP testing with outcomes such as patient recovery and the unnecessary prescription of antibiotics. Further research should also determine the performance of CRP in other settings where pneumonia is more prevalent or where patients are more severely ill.

What is already known on this topic

  • Studies have evaluated the diagnostic accuracy of signs and symptoms for pneumonia, but there is limited evidence applicable to primary care
  • The added diagnostic value of C reactive protein (CRP) and procalcitonin concentrations to clinical signs and symptoms is unknown
  • Symptoms and signs (absence of runny nose and presence of breathlessness, crackles and diminished breath sounds on auscultation, tachycardia, and fever) have moderate diagnostic accuracy for pneumonia in patients who present in primary care with acute cough
  • CRP concentration at the optimal threshold of >30 mg/L adds some diagnostic information by increasing diagnostic certainty in the patients when doubt remains after history and physical examination
  • Procalcitonin concentration adds no clinically relevant information in primary care

What this study adds

Source: BMj

Delivering a digital death

Cross reports on the development of a new project in London in which patients with life limiting illnesses can record their end of life preferences in a single electronic record. This method presents both a danger of reducing palliative care to its medical dimension as well as an opportunity to inform and educate healthcare staff, if appropriately adapted. We would like to share our concerns about this ‘digital death’ from the viewpoint of spiritual care, the fourth dimension of palliative care.

Many healthcare professionals do not feel confident or competent in the assessment of spiritual needs and the provision of spiritual care(1-4). Spiritual assessment may be more challenging in out-of-hours or emergency consultations, where patients and their families are often in panic, fear, and distress. Since a patient’s spirituality influences medical-decision making and medical care received near death (5), it is essential to consider spiritual needs and resources when interpreting the mobile app information regarding the do not resuscitate order.

The Coordinate My Care mobile app provides a number of opportunities to inform and educate healthcare staff as well as integrate the assessment of spiritual well-being in routine clinical practice. For example, the documentation of spiritual needs and resources in this mobile app could facilitate spiritual care in emergency situations by immediately providing relevant information about a patient’s spirituality, e.g. religious, cultural and community affiliation, sources of connection, meaningful rituals, fears of dying and/or funeral wishes. However, healthcare providers must realize that spirituality is a dynamic dimension, and that end of life preferences can change during the palliative process.

The Coordinate My Care app could be an efficient tool to improve communication at the end of life, provided that out-of-hours healthcare providers use it as a communication aide to facilitate knowledge of patients’ preferences among healthcare staff, rather than a drop down menu for ‘digital dying’. As well as a communication tool to inform medical decision-making in emergency situations, this kind of app could potentially be used to assess and monitor spiritual well-being in clinical practice, and therefore may be of great benefit to holistic palliative care in future.

Source: BMJ

3-D Printer Makes A Bionic Ear.

dnews-files-2013-05-printed-ear-jpgThree-dimensional printing has been used to make a jawbone, a functioning bladder, as well as amodel kidney, and there have been successful experiments in printing tissue such as skin cells for burn treatments and even the external part of an ear. Now scientists at Princeton University have, for the first time, printed not only the tissue for an ear but also the electronic components that would make an artificial sensory organ work. It’s the first step toward printing organs that behave like the real thing.Heart Cells Beat in a Lab DishMichael McAlpine, an assistant professor of mechanical and aerospace engineering, and his colleagues used a commercially available 3-D printer to do the work. The “inks” consisted of hydrogels mixed with calf cells and silver nanoparticles. Layer-by-layer, the ink was laid down onto a surface, building up the three-dimensional structure of the ear and embedded electronics. Because it’s the first attempt, the electronics are just a simple antenna. But if it were connected to a receiver that in turn could be connected to a person’s auditory nerve with electrodes, it would allow a deaf person to hear.McAlpine has experimented with tissue-compatible electronics before: last year, he and his team created “tattoos” for teeth that were sophisticated electronic sensors.

Glass, Plastic Mix Mends Bones

There’s also the tantalizing possibility that such printed organs could enhance human capabilities — granting humans super-powers a la the Six Million Dollar Man and Bionic Woman television series. An electronic ear, for instance, needn’t be limited to the frequencies and volumes humans can usually hear.

Source: Discovery



Suicide Rates Rise Sharply in U.S.

Suicide rates among middle-aged Americans have risen sharply in the past decade, prompting concern that a generation of baby boomers who have faced years of economic worry and easy access to prescription painkillers may be particularly vulnerable to self-inflicted harm.

More people now die of suicide than in car accidents, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, which published the findings in Friday’s issue of its Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report. In 2010 there were 33,687 deaths from motor vehicle crashes and 38,364 suicides.

Suicide has typically been viewed as a problem of teenagers and the elderly, and the surge in suicide rates among middle-aged Americans is surprising.

From 1999 to 2010, the suicide rate among Americans ages 35 to 64 rose by nearly 30 percent, to 17.6 deaths per 100,000 people, up from 13.7. Although suicide rates are growing among both middle-aged men and women, far more men take their own lives. The suicide rate for middle-aged men was 27.3 deaths per 100,000, while for women it was 8.1 deaths per 100,000.

The most pronounced increases were seen among men in their 50s, a group in which suicide rates jumped by nearly 50 percent, to about 30 per 100,000. For women, the largest increase was seen in those ages 60 to 64, among whom rates increased by nearly 60 percent, to 7.0 per 100,000.

Suicide rates can be difficult to interpret because of variations in the way local officials report causes of death. But C.D.C. and academic researchers said they were confident that the data documented an actual increase in deaths by suicide and not a statistical anomaly. While reporting of suicides is not always consistent around the country, the current numbers are, if anything, too low.

“It’s vastly underreported,” said Julie Phillips, an associate professor of sociology at Rutgers University who has published research on rising suicide rates. “We know we’re not counting all suicides.”

The reasons for suicide are often complex, and officials and researchers acknowledge that no one can explain with certainty what is behind the rise. But C.D.C. officials cited a number of possible explanations, including that as adolescents people in this generation also posted higher rates of suicide compared with other cohorts.

“It is the baby boomer group where we see the highest rates of suicide,” said the C.D.C.’s deputy director, Ileana Arias. “There may be something about that group, and how they think about life issues and their life choices that may make a difference.”

The rise in suicides may also stem from the economic downturn over the past decade. Historically, suicide rates rise during times of financial stress and economic setbacks. “The increase does coincide with a decrease in financial standing for a lot of families over the same time period,” Dr. Arias said.

Another factor may be the widespread availability of opioid drugs like OxyContin and oxycodone, which can be particularly deadly in large doses.

Although most suicides are still committed using firearms, officials said there was a marked increase in poisoning deaths, which include intentional overdoses of prescription drugs, and hangings. Poisoning deaths were up 24 percent over all during the 10-year period and hangings were up 81 percent.

Dr. Arias noted that the higher suicide rates might be due to a series of life and financial circumstances that are unique to the baby boomer generation. Men and women in that age group are often coping with the stress of caring for aging parents while still providing financial and emotional support to adult children.

“Their lives are configured a little differently than it has been in the past for that age group,” Dr. Arias said. “It may not be that they are more sensitive or that they have a predisposition to suicide, but that they may be dealing with more.”

Preliminary research at Rutgers suggests that the risk for suicide is unlikely to abate for future generations. Changes in marriage, social isolation and family roles mean many of the pressures faced by baby boomers will continue in the next generation, Dr. Phillips said.

“The boomers had great expectations for what their life might look like, but I think perhaps it hasn’t panned out that way,” she said. “All these conditions the boomers are facing, future cohorts are going to be facing many of these conditions as well.”

Nancy Berliner, a Boston historian, lost her 58-year-old husband to suicide nearly two years ago. She said that while the reasons for his suicide were complex, she would like to see more attention paid to prevention and support for family members who lose someone to suicide.

“One suicide can inspire other people, unfortunately, to view suicide as an option,” Ms. Berliner said. “It’s important that society becomes more comfortable with discussing it. Then the people left behind will not have this stigma.”

Source: NY times

Artificial Sweeteners to Blame for Belly Fat?

Sweetener_iStock_000014274527Medium (1)Artificial Sweeteners Won’t Help You Lose Weight

Do you have “belly fat” that no diet or exercise seems to be able to eliminate? Artificial sweeteners, like the ones in diet soda, may be to blame. The problem: our bodies process artificial sugar like the real thing. This means that real or artificial, sugar makes us release insulin, which signals our bodies to store glucose as fat. Research shows that daily diet soda drinkers who suddenly stop drinking the stuff will lose 5 pounds in 6 weeks without making any other changes. Beware of diet foods that are calorie-free and loaded with artificial sweeteners, because they are not actually helping you with your weight loss plan.