Cooking meat ‘may be dementia risk’


Burger

Browning meat in the oven, grill or frying pan produces chemicals which may increase the risk of developing dementia, US researchers suggest.

Advanced glycation end (AGE) products have been linked to diseases such as type-2 diabetes.

Mice fed a high-AGEs diet had a build-up of dangerous proteins in the brain and impaired cognitive function.

Experts said the results were “compelling” but did not provide “definitive answers”.

AGEs are formed when proteins or fats react with sugar. This can happen naturally and during the cooking process.

Researchers at the Icahn school of medicine at Mount Sinai, in New York, tested the effect of AGEs on mice and people.

The animal experiments, published in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, showed that a diet rich in AGEs affects the chemistry of the brain.

It leads to a build-up of defective beta amyloid protein – a hallmark of Alzheimer’s disease. The mice eating a low-AGEs diet were able to prevent the production of damaged amyloid.

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This subject has so far not been well studied in people, and we don’t yet know whether the amount of AGEs in our diet might affect our risk of dementia”

Dr Simon Ridley Alzheimer’s Research UK

The mice performed less well in physical and thinking tasks after their AGEs-rich diet.

A short-term analysis of people over 60 suggested a link between high levels of AGEs in the blood and cognitive decline.

‘Effective treatment’

The study concluded: “We report that age-related dementia may be causally linked to high levels of food advanced glycation end products.

“Importantly, reduction of food-derived AGEs is feasible and may provide an effective treatment strategy.”

Derek Hill, a professor of medical imaging sciences at University College London, commented: “The results are compelling.

“Because cures for Alzheimer’s disease remain a distant hope, efforts to prevent it are extremely important, but this study should be seen as encouraging further work, rather than as providing definitive answers.

“But it is grounds for optimism – this paper adds to the body of evidence suggesting that using preventative strategies might reduce the prevalence of Alzheimer’s disease and other dementias in society and that could have very positive impact on us all.”

Dr Simon Ridley, from the charity Alzheimer’s Research UK, said: “Diabetes has previously been linked to an increased risk of dementia, and this small study provides some new insight into some of the possible molecular processes that may link the two conditions.

“It’s important to note that the people in this study did not have dementia. This subject has so far not been well studied in people, and we don’t yet know whether the amount of AGEs in our diet might affect our risk of dementia.”

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NHS death rates ‘should be ignored’


Doctor

A key measure of hospital death rates should be ignored, according to the expert leading the review into them.

Academic Prof Nick Black has been asked by the NHS to see whether they are an accurate indicator of poor care.

His review is not due to be published until December, but he told the BBC the most established method of measuring mortality appeared to have no value.

But Dr Foster – the research group which has pioneered their use – rejected the criticism.

Prof Black’s team are looking at two measures of mortality – the hospital standardised mortality ratio (HSMR), which compares the expected rate of death in a hospital with the actual rate of death, and the summary hospital-level mortality index (SHMI), which covers deaths after hospital treatment and up to 30 days after discharge.

Prof Black has already looked into HSMRs, but is now doing this in more detail as well as looking at SHMIs.

‘Misleading idea’

He told BBC Radio 4’s File on 4 programme that based on what he already knew, HSMRs should be ignored.

He said they could not entirely take into account factors such as burden of illness and were skewed by other factors such as the availability of hospice care in the area – where there is less hospice care patients are more likely to be in hospital when they die.

“I don’t think there’s any value in the publication of HSMR and I’d go further, I think it’s actually a distraction because it gives… a misleading idea of the quality of care of a hospital.”

When asked what the public should make of media coverage of death rates, he added: “Personally, I would suggest that the public ignore them.”

Prof Black was asked to look into mortality rates after a review by Prof Sir Bruce Keogh, published in July, found failings in care at the 14 hospitals with the highest death rates.

Despite the findings, Sir Bruce said he was not sure how accurate an indicator death rates were.

This comes amid a growing desire to use them to identify hospitals at risk of providing poor care.

The Care Quality Commission is now using them alongside other factors to decide which hospitals to visit first under its new inspection regime.

Supporters of mortality data maintain they are not a confirmation of poor care, but rather should be seen as a “smoke alarm” in that they highlight a problem that needs investigating.

Roger Taylor, of Dr Foster, said there were countless examples where death rates had identified problems, including in the Stafford Hospital scandal.

“What they do is they identify those areas where there’s a greater risk of poor quality care,” he added.

Tylenol Tied to ADHD: Exposure In Utero Can Raise Risk of Hyperactivity.


Pregnancy is already a fraught time for expectant moms, as more research shows how quickly the foods that women eat, the air they breathe and the compounds to which they are exposed can traverse the placenta and affect their growing child. Now there’s another thing to add to the growing list of agents — including tobacco from cigarettes, mercury from fish, and alcohol — that may affect their babies’ development.

In a study published in JAMA Pediatrics, an international group of researchers led by Dr. Jorn Olsen, at the University of Aarhus, in Denmark, found a strong correlation between acetaminophen (found in common painkillers like Tylenol) use among pregnant women and the rate of attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) diagnoses and prescriptions for ADHD medications in their children. Overall, moms who used the pain reliever to treat things like headaches or to reduce fevers saw a 37% increased risk in their kids receiving an ADHD diagnosis and a 29% increased risk in the chances that their kids needed ADHD medications compared with moms who didn’t use the over-the-counter medication at all.

Even after the team accounted for factors that could explain the connection, like why the mom needed to take the drug in the first place, the link remained strong, suggesting that there is something specific about the drug, and how it affects fetal development, that might explain the higher risk of behavioral issues.

The findings are especially troubling since more than half of the 64,322 women in the study reported using acetaminophen in the three months prior to the survey. The participants included mothers and singleton children born in Denmark between 1996 and 2002 and registered in the Danish National Birth Cohort, so it included a diverse group of mothers from different social and environmental backgrounds. The study also evaluated hyperactivity on three different levels — from symptom reports by mothers or caregivers, hospital diagnoses and prescriptions to treat ADHD. Higher acetaminophen use among mothers was linked to higher rates of all three outcomes in their children.

“[The results] are worrisome because more than 50% of the women took acetaminophen; it’s an over-the-counter drug and they can freely buy, and use it at their discretion,” says Dr. Beate Ritz, one of the co-authors and chair of the Department of Epidemiology at the UCLA Fielding School of Public Health. “It’s considered relatively safe, and maybe it’s not.”

Previous studies have raised concerns about acetaminophen; both animal and human works have shown that the drug can interfere with hormone systems, so prenatal exposure may adversely affect development of the brain. Some studies showed the drug hampers the ability of the testes to descend during development as well. “Pregnancy is a very special period,” says Ritz. “Acetaminophen may not harm adults in any other way, but fetal development is special.”

The latest investigations from the neuroscientists studying developmental and behavioral disorders like autism and ADHD suggest that problems in the connection between different brain regions may contribute to the symptoms of these conditions, and hormone disruptions in utero, triggered by acetaminophen, may unbalance the brain enough to make certain children more vulnerable to autism or hyperactivity later in life.

The results are likely to launch waves of questions about how safe the drug is for pregnant women to take. Kate Langley, a lecturer in the School of Psychology at Cardiff University, in Wales, who wrote an accompanying editorial for the study, cautions that the findings only suggest an association, and do not establish that acetaminophen causes ADHD. “This is an interesting research paper, but it is way too early for it to inform our clinical practice at the moment,” she says.

Some women have a medical need to take acetaminophen, and they should continue to talk to their doctors about this latest risk. But for those who turn to the over-the-counter remedy for less medically urgent needs, such as relieving a headache or the pain of sore muscles, they should have a different kind of discussion with their doctors about the possible risks that the drug poses for their unborn child.

Ritz says more studies are needed using different sets of data to confirm and replicate what she and her colleagues found. But she appreciates how difficult it might be for expectant moms, or women who plan on having children soon, to wait for those studies to be completed. “As a scientist, I never want to be alarmist and use one study [to make clinical decisions],” she says. “But as a woman, when I see something like that, I would be worried, and wouldn’t take Tylenol during pregnancy any more.”

She says that women who need to take a pain reliever or need to control their fever should consider other alternatives, such as getting more rest or even gritting through the episode if they are especially worried about what their developing child might be exposed to. If more studies verify the potential harms on developing brains, it might also fall to regulatory agencies like the Food and Drug Administration to rethink the label of acetaminophen and warn users to avoid the medication during pregnancy.

How do we really make decisions?


Winning and losing money

With every decision you take, every judgement you make, there is a battle in your mind – a battle between intuition and logic.

And the intuitive part of your mind is a lot more powerful than you may think.

Most of us like to think that we are capable of making rational decisions. We may at times rely on our gut instinct, but if necessary we can call on our powers of reason to arrive at a logical decision.

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If we think that we have reasons for what we believe, that is often a mistake”

Prof Daniel Kahneman Princeton University

We like to think that our beliefs, judgements and opinions are based on solid reasoning. But we may have to think again.

Prof Daniel Kahneman, from Princeton University, started a revolution in our understanding of the human mind. It’s a revolution that led to him winning a Nobel Prize.

His insight into the way our minds work springs from the mistakes that we make. Not random mistakes, but systematic errors that we all make, all the time, without realising.

Prof Kahneman and his late colleague Amos Tversky, who worked at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem and Stanford University, realised that we actually have two systems of thinking. There’s the deliberate, logical part of your mind that is capable of analysing a problem and coming up with a rational answer.

This is the part of your mind that you are aware of. It’s expert at solving problems, but it is slow, requires a great deal of energy, and is extremely lazy. Even the act of walking is enough to occupy most of your attentive mind.

Prof Daniel Kahneman Daniel Kahneman’s insights into the mind spring from the systematic errors we make all the time

If you are asked to solve a tricky problem while walking, you will most likely stop because your attentive mind cannot attend to both tasks at the same time. If you want to test your own ability to pay attention, try the invisible gorilla test devised by Chris Chabris, from Union College, New York, and Daniel Simons from the University of Illinois.

But then there is another system in your mind that is intuitive, fast and automatic. This fast way of thinking is incredibly powerful, but totally hidden. It is so powerful, it is actually responsible for most of the things that you say, do, think and believe.

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We are limited, we are not perfect, we are irrational in all kinds of ways”

Dan Ariely Duke University

And yet you have no idea this is happening. This system is your hidden auto-pilot, and it has a mind of its own. It is sometimes known as the stranger within.

Most of the time, our fast, intuitive mind is in control, efficiently taking charge of all the thousands of decisions we make each day. The problem comes when we allow our fast, intuitive system to make decisions that we really should pass over to our slow, logical system. This is where the mistakes creep in.

Our thinking is riddled with systematic mistakes known to psychologists as cognitive biases. And they affect everything we do. They make us spend impulsively, be overly influenced by what other people think. They affect our beliefs, our opinions, and our decisions, and we have no idea it is happening.

It may seem hard to believe, but that’s because your logical, slow mind is a master at inventing a cover story. Most of the beliefs or opinions you have come from an automatic response. But then your logical mind invents a reason why you think or believe something.

Dr Laurie Santos and monkeynomics Dr Laurie Santos studies monkeys to learn how deep seated our biases really are

According to Daniel Kahneman, “if we think that we have reasons for what we believe, that is often a mistake. Our beliefs and our wishes and our hopes are not always anchored in reasons”.

Since Kahneman and Tversky first investigated this radical picture of the mind, the list of identified cognitive biases has mushroomed. The “present bias” causes us to pay attention to what is happening now, but not to worry about the future. If I offer you half a box of chocolates in a year’s time, or a whole box in a year and a day, you’ll probably choose to wait the extra day.

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If we really have had this strategy for the last 35 million years, simply deciding to overcome it is just not going to work”

Dr Laurie Santos Yale University

But if I offer you half a box of chocolates right now, or a whole box of chocolates tomorrow, you will most likely take half a box of chocolates now. It’s the same difference, but waiting an extra day in a year’s time seems insignificant. Waiting a day now seems impossible when faced with the immediate promise of chocolate.

According to Prof Dan Ariely, from Duke University in North Carolina, this is one of the most important biases: “That’s the bias that causes things like overeating and smoking and texting and driving and having unprotected sex,” he explains.

Confirmation bias is the tendency to look for information that confirms what we already know. It’s why we tend to buy a newspaper that agrees with our views. There’s the hindsight bias, the halo effect, the spotlight effect, loss aversion and the negativity bias.

This is the bias that means that negative events are far more easily remembered than positive ones. It means that for every argument you have in a relationship, you need to have five positive memories just to maintain an even keel.

Roulette wheel
We feel the pain of financial loss much more than the pleasure of a gain

The area of our lives where these cognitive biases cause most grief is anything to do with money. It was for his work in this area that Prof Kahneman was awarded the Nobel Prize – not for psychology (no such prize exists) but for economics. His insights led to a whole new branch of economics – behavioural economics.

Kahneman realised that we respond very differently to losses than to gains. We feel the pain of a loss much more than we feel the pleasure of a gain. He even worked out by how much. If you lose £10 today, you will feel the pain of the loss. But if you find some money tomorrow, you will have to find more than £20 to make up for the loss of £10. This is loss aversion, and its cumulative effect can be catastrophic.

One difficulty with the traditional economic view is that it tends to assume that we all make rational decisions. The reality seems to be very different. Behavioural economists are trying to form an economic system based on the reality of how we actually make decisions.

Dan Ariely argues that the implications of ignoring this research are catastrophic: “I’m quite certain if the regulators listened to behavioural economists early on we would have designed a very different financial system, and we wouldn’t have had the incredible increase in the housing market and we wouldn’t have this financial catastrophe,” he says.

These biases affect us all, whether we are choosing a cup of coffee, buying a car, running an investment bank or gathering military intelligence.

Monkey Humans aren’t the only species that shows loss aversion

So what are we to do? Dr Laurie Santos, a psychologist at Yale University, has been investigating how deep seated these biases really are. Until we know the evolutionary origins of these two systems of thinking, we won’t know if we can change them.

Dr Santos taught a troop of monkeys to use money. It’s called monkeynomics, and she wanted to find out whether monkeys would make the same stupid mistakes as humans. She taught the monkeys to use tokens to buy treats, and found that monkeys also show loss aversion – making the same mistakes as humans.

Her conclusion is that these biases are so deep rooted in our evolutionary past, they may be impossible to change.

“What we learn from the monkeys is that if this bias is really that old, if we really have had this strategy for the last 35 million years, simply deciding to overcome it is just not going to work. We need other ways to make ourselves avoid some of these pitfalls,” she explained.

We may not be able to change ourselves, but by being aware of our cognitive limitations, we may be able to design the environment around us in a way that allows for our likely mistakes.

Dan Ariely sums it up: “We are limited, we are not perfect, we are irrational in all kinds of ways. But we can build a world that is compatible with this that gets us to make better decisions rather than worse decisions. That’s my hope.”

Michael Schumacher: Doctors abandon efforts to bring him out of artificial coma.


Doctors treating Formula One racing legend Michael Schumacher have abandoned their attempts to bring him out of his artificial coma following setbacks, reports said.

According to Germany’s Focus magazine, which enjoys a close relationship with the 45-year-old’s inner circle, the slow waking-up process for the seven-time world champion was put on hold last week.

Michael Schumacher

Schumacher has been in an artificially induced coma since December 29 in the University Hospital of Grenoble in France after he suffered a serious head injury during a ski accident the same day.

According to Daily Mail, the latest claim will only add to the concerns of fans worldwide that the severity of his brain trauma is causing experts concern every step of the way on his torturous road to recovery.

Doctors may have decided to break off his awakening for many reasons, including reduced blood flow, a new infection or signals that the drugs lying in the fatty tissue of his body were not shifting as fast as they would have hoped, the British tabloid said.

Just a fortnight ago he contracted, and fought off, a bout of mild pneumonia.

Now with the latest news, his hopes of making a complete recovery are dimmer than ever.

His wife Corinna, 44, and teenage children Gina-Marie and son Mick are constantly at his bedside.

Children being exposed to more brain-harming chemicals than ever.


Being a kid in the 21st century is in many ways no different than at any other time in our history, in that even today, with advanced technology, there is still no way to keep them 100 percent safe.

When you think about it, technology is directly responsible for many of the things that negatively affect our children. That is especially true of many of the chemicals they are exposed to these days — chemicals which can, in fact, harm their brain development.

chemicals

Along those lines, and as noted by author and writer for Time Alice Park:

In recent years, the prevalence of developmental disorders such as autism, attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) and dyslexia have soared. While greater awareness and more sophisticated diagnoses are partly responsible for the rise, researchers say the changing environment in which youngsters grow up may also be playing a role.

Researchers from the Harvard School of Public Health, as well as the Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai, identified five industrial chemicals in a 2006 study that they concluded were responsible for harming the brain. They included lead, methylmercury, polychlorinated biphenyls (which are found in electric transformers, capacitors and motors), arsenic (found in water, soil, pesticides and even wood preservatives) and toluene, which is used to process gasoline and is found in other petroleum-based products like paint thinner and fingernail polish. Park writes that the research team found that exposure to these chemicals, all of which are neurotoxins, was associated “with changes in neuron development in the fetus as well as among infants, and with lower school performance, delinquent behavior, neurological abnormalities and reduced IQ in school-age children.”

Some familiar culprits, at least to our readers

Now, the same researchers have reviewed available literature and have discovered six additional industrial chemicals that are detrimental to normal brain development: manganese, fluoride, chlorpyrifos, dichlorodiphenyltrichloroethane, tetrachloroethylene and polybrominated diphenyl ethers.

The team reports that manganese is found in drinking water, and it may be contributing to lower math scores and increased hyperactivity. Exposure to fluoride, meanwhile (which is also in most drinking water), can actually contribute to a seven-point drop in IQ. The rest of the chemicals, which are put in solvents and pesticides, “have been linked to deficits in social development and increased aggressive behaviors,” Park writes, adding:

The research team acknowledges that there isn’t a causal connection between exposure to any single chemical and behavioral or neurological problems — it’s too challenging to isolate the effects of each chemical to come to such conclusions. But they say the growing body of research that is finding links between higher levels of these chemicals in expectant mothers’ blood and urine and brain disorders in their children should raise alarms about how damaging these chemicals can be. The developing brain in particular, they say, is vulnerable to the effects of these chemicals, and in many cases, the changes they trigger are permanent.

And these are all links that we’ve reported on — extensively — here at Natural News. Some of the more common chemicals we’ve covered include:

— Fluoride: http://www.naturalnews.com.

— Manganese: (including some positive health benefits from this element) http://www.naturalnews.com.

— Mercury: (especially in vaccines) http://www.naturalnews.com.

“The consequence of such brain damage is impaired [central nervous system] function that lasts a lifetime and might result in reduced intelligence, as expressed in terms of lost IQ points, or disruption in behavior,” the Harvard and Mt. Sinai team wrote in their report, which was published in the journal Lancet Neurology.

‘We are concerned that kids all over the world are being exposed to these damaging chemicals’

A couple of barriers exist to protecting kids from exposure to these damaging chemicals. One is that there is not enough testing of industrial chemicals and their potential effects on brain development before they are widely used, and the second is that the vast amount of unquestionable proof that federal regulatory agencies require before they write regulations restricting or limiting said chemicals (blame the awesome power of lobbying).

The team noted that, most times, control of damaging substances and chemicals only comes after negative effects are found among adults; in kids, by comparison, damage is often more subtle, and it is not always considered pathological or dangerous, says Parks.

“Our very great concern is that children worldwide are being exposed to unrecognized toxic chemicals that are silently eroding intelligence, disrupting behaviors, truncating future achievements and damaging societies, perhaps most seriously in developing countries,” the researchers write. “A new framework of action is needed.”

Sources:

http://healthland.time.com

http://www.naturalnews.com

http://www.naturalnews.com

http://science.naturalnews.com

http://science.naturalnews.com

UK company Oxitec plans to release GM mosquitoes in Panama without required risk assessment.


A British vector-control firm is planning to release genetically modified mosquitoes in Panama before the company performs an adequate risk assessment, according to several reports.

The group GM Watch, an organization established to “counter the enormous corporate political power and propaganda of the biotech industry and its supporters,” according to its website, reported Feb. 12:

Oxitec’s notification for the export of GM mosquito eggs to Panama contains no risk assessment for its planned experiments[1], despite this being a requirement under EU law. GeneWatch UK warned that the Panamanian authorities or the Gorgas Institute could be liable if anything goes wrong with the experiments, as they have failed to require the company to assess the risks.

Oxitec

No risk assessment

For its part, Oxitec says it “is a pioneer in controlling insects that spread disease and damage crops. Through world class science we have developed an innovative new solution to controlling harmful insects pests.” But critics of the company say introducing untested GM mosquito eggs into ecosystems in Panama is a recipe for trouble — as well as a potential legal problem for the company.

“Oxitec’s risk assessment is an essential part of the decision because it gives the company’s view on everything that could go wrong with the experiments” said Dr. Helen Wallace, director of GeneWatch UK, another anti-GMO organization.

“It is negligent of Oxitec to fail to do this risk assessment, which should meet European standards. It may be impossible to hold Oxitec liable for anything that’s incorrect or missing if the experiments have been approved based on a different risk assessment that they claim they haven’t even seen,” she added.

According to one report in a local Panamanian newspaper, El Siglo, the company planned to bring the GM mosquito eggs to the Central American country by Feb. 15. The local paper said Oxitec was planning on releasing some 240,000 of the mosquitoes per week after they began hatching. The experiments were planned to begin in Nuevo Chorrillo, in the Arraijan district of Panama. The Panamanian Public Health Ministry approved the experiments.

GeneWatch said the group has previously drawn attention to “a number of issues” that Oxitec should be addressing in a risk assessment so that local populations can make informed decisions regarding the release.

IF all goes according to plan…
“Local people in Panama must be asked for their fully informed consent before these experiments begin,” Wallace said. “This means the risks must not be hidden by the company. People must be able to discuss the pros and cons of these experiments and have a right to have their say.”

Oxitec says its GM mosquitoes have been genetically programmed to die at the larvae stage, according to local reports:

They are bred in the lab in the presence of an antidote to the genetic killing mechanism (the common antibiotic tetracycline), then vast numbers of males (millions for an experimental release or billions for a commercial one) are released into the environment so they outnumber the wild males and mate with wild females. Because most of the offspring die before adulthood, this is intended to reduce the wild population of Aedes aegypti mosquitoes, which carry the tropical disease dengue fever.

What could go wrong?

“Aedes aegypti mosquitoes are part of a complex system which includes other mosquito species, the viruses they carry, and the humans that they bite,” Wallace said. “Local people should be aware that releasing large numbers of GM mosquitoes can pose risks to their health and the environment. They also need to know who will be liable if anything goes wrong – will Oxitec take responsibility for any problems, or just walk away?”

Sources:

http://www.gmwatch.org

http://www.newsroompanama.com

http://www.genewatch.org

http://www.oxitec.com

http://science.naturalnews.com

Mysterious polio-like illness affects kids in California.


A mysterious polio-like syndrome has affected as many as 25 California children, leaving them with paralyzed limbs and little hope of recovery.

“What’s we’re seeing now is bad. The best-case scenario is complete loss of one limb, the worst is all four limbs, with respiratory insufficiency, as well. It’s like the old polio,” said Keith Van Haren, a pediatric neurologist at Lucile Packard Children’s Hospital in Palo Alto, Calif.

The first known case appeared in 2012. Sofia Jarvis in Berkeley began to experience wheezing and difficulty breathing. The 2-year-old spent days in the intensive care unit at Children’s Hospital Oakland. Doctors thought she had asthma.

On a follow-up visit, her mother Jessica Tomei, 37, realized something else was wrong.

“As we were leaving the doctor’s office, I noticed that she went to grab something with her left arm and she stopped, midway,” Tomei said.

Eventually Sofia was brought to Van Haren’s clinic with “a unique set of symptoms.” She was treated with steroids and intravenous immunoglobulin therapy, used to reduce the severity of infections by giving the body antibodies to protect against bacteria and viruses. “None of it helped,” said Van Haren, a neurology professor at the Stanford University School of Medicine.

“He told us right away that the prognosis was really poor and that she’s not going to get better,” Tomei said.

The diagnosis proved correct. Today, at age 4, Sofia’s left arm is paralyzed and she has some weakness in her left leg as well as slight breathing issues.

Still, parents shouldn’t panic. “This is really very rare,” Van Haren said. “But we are asking any families who notice a sudden onset of weakness to see their doctors immediately. Their doctors should contact the California Department of Public Health.”

California is working with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in Atlanta to see if there are cases outside California. So far none have been reported.

Overall Sofia’s family is grateful. “She’s still with us, she’s still running around, she’s going to preschool,” her mother said.

The case galvanized Van Haren and other neurologists, who worried a new disease had appeared. When they began to go through recent medical files, they found two more cases, both in the San Francisco Bay area.

“We don’t have a final case count, but it’s probably in the neighborhood of 25 cases, all in California,” said Van Haren. The median age of those stricken is 12.

“The California Department of Public Health has asked health care providers to report any polio-like cases they might identify and send specimens so that we can better assess the situation,” said Carol Glaser, chief of the encephalitis and special investigation section of the California Department of Public Health in Sacramento.

The children don’t have polio, but their symptoms look much like the disease that terrified generations of parents beginning in the 1890s.

Patients lose the ability to move their arms or legs, which “just dangle, like empty balloons,” Van Haren said. Because the children can’t move their limbs, the muscles atrophy and the limb shrivels.

Polio is a highly infectious disease caused by the polio virus. It invades the nervous system and in one in 200 cases causes irreversible paralysis, according to the World Health Organization. It was not until the introduction of the Salk vaccine in 1954 that any protection against it was available.

Testing confirmed that the children in California “definitely do not have polio,” Van Haren said.

The cause of most of these cases is not known. Some clinical and laboratory features, such as the pattern of inflammation seen in the spinal cord on MRI, are consistent with a viral process,” said Glaser.

Van Haren suspects the culprit is an enterovirus. That is a family of viruses that includes polio but also the milder hand, foot and mouth disease, common in infants and children.

Unfortunately while there’s a vaccine for the polio virus, “we don’t have vaccines for the other enteroviruses,” Van Haren said.

“In the past decade, newly identified strains of enterovirus have been linked to polio-like outbreaks among children in Asia and Australia,” he said. The California cases highlight the possibility of an emerging infectious polio-like syndrome in California.

Sofia Jarvis

While there haven’t been reports of the illness outside California, Van Haren thinks that’s only because no one is looking for it. He believes once doctors nationwide begin to, they’ll find other cases.

“My goal is to get the word out to other neurologists, to make them aware of this,” he said.

The Stanford group will be presenting a case report at the American Academy of Neurology meeting in Philadelphia in April.

Tomei wants parents to be aware of this new outbreak because it took so long for doctors to think of polio or polio-like diseases in Sofia’s case

“The younger doctors have just never seen polio,” she said. “Maybe collaborating between the younger generation and the older generation who actually went through polio will help us catch more cases.”

Earth’s oldest rock in Australia.


Ancient zircon crystals discovered in Western Australia have been positively dated to 4.374 billion years, confirming their place as the oldest piece of Earth ever found, according to a new study.

The research reported in the journal Nature Geoscience, means Earth began forming a crust far sooner than previously thought, following the giant impact event which created the Earth-Moon system 4.5 billion years ago.

“That age is 300 million years older than the oldest previously dated age [of other crystals], and only 100 million years after the magma ocean,” says the study’s lead author Professor John Valley of the University of Wisconsin.

Zircon crystal Jack Hills Western Australia

“This is when Earth started making protocontinental crust, which is chemically differentiated from the mantle. The chemical evidence from the zircons is a good fit for what we call intermediate composition … halfway between granite and basalt.”

Valley and colleagues have previously used uranium-lead radioactive dating to determine the age of a zircon crystal sample (named 01JH36-69), which was found 15 years ago in metamorphosed sandstone at Jack Hills, 800 kilometres north of Perth.

Uranium radioactively decays into lead at a known rate, allowing age to be determined based on the ratio of uranium to lead in the sample.

However, there have been concerns over the accuracy of using this method to date zircon crystals, which means there has been uncertainty about the exact age of the Jack Hills sample.

Now, Valley and colleagues have used a new technique to confirm the validity of their original findings.

Second dating

Zircon’s crystal structure has specific sites where only atoms of a given size and charge will fit.

These locations concentrate uranium atoms and exclude lead, so the only lead found at these sites is generated by the radioactive decay of uranium.

As uranium transforms into lead, it emits alpha particles which cause the lead atoms generated from the uranium to recoil and move into other parts of the crystal, where they accumulate.

“If that happens, the places where the lead has been removed, will appear to be younger than they are, while places where the lead has migrated appear older,” says Valley.

This problem of lead mobility has led some to question the reliabilty of the method for dating zircons, however Valley and colleagues have found it does not affect the isotopic ratios.

Using atom-probe tomography the authors identified the distances that lead atoms move are so small so as not to affect the analysis.

“We capture both the lead-depleted and lead-enriched domains, so the ratio we measure is averaged out,” says Valley.

“We’re getting the true ratio of the parent uranium to daughter lead, and therefore we’re getting the true age.”

Complete picture

The age confirmation closes the gap between the Moon-generating impact, and the formation of Earth’s crust, according to Professor Samuel Bowring of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology.

Bowring, who wrote an accompanying opinion piece on the research, believes the findings indicate Earth’s water didn’t need to come from asteroids, during a period known as the late heavy bombardment 3.9 billion years ago.

Instead, it suggests water was present in the liquid magma ocean that formed the zircon crystals.

“We’ll never know how much water there really was, but the simplest interpretation of those zircons coming from granitic rocks, is that we had a hydrous planet right from the very beginning,” says Bowring.

“The water was probably accreted with the rest of the parts of the Earth as the planet formed.”