New Weight Loss Drug Saxenda: FAQ

A drug that treats type 2 diabetes has gotten FDA approval for another use: weight loss.

Saxenda is the fourth drug for weight loss OK’d by the agency since 2012. It’s already available in a lower dose as Victoza for type 2 diabetes.

Researchers began to study it as an obesity treatment after people on Victoza reported weight loss.

Saxenda, like Victoza, is injected daily. It’s approved for people with a body mass index (BMI) of 30, considered obese, or a BMI of 27 with weight-related conditions such as high blood pressure.

It’s meant to be used with exercise and a reduced-calorie diet.

WebMD asked two experts to address commonly asked questions about Saxenda.

How does the drug work to achieve weight loss?

It mimics a hormone made in the intestines called GLP-1 (glucagon-like peptide), says William Troy Donahoo, MD. He’s a staff physician in the Metabolic-Surgical Weight Management Department, Kaiser Permanente, Denver.

One role of GLP-1 is to tell your brain you’re full, he says.

The medicine works in many ways to help beta cells normalize blood sugars. Beta cells make and release insulin when blood sugar is high. They help those with type 2 diabetes keep their blood sugar normal.

How well does Saxenda work?

Donahoo says he expects a range of weight loss responses to Saxenda, just as he has seen various responses from people on Victoza for their diabetes.

Clinical trials of Saxenda continued for about a year and included about 4,800 patients, with some getting the drug and some a placebo.

“Clinical trials show that [more than] 60% of patients getting a daily 3-milligram injection lost at least 5% of their weight and 31% lost more than 10%,” says Osama Hamdy, MD, PhD. He’s the medical director of the Obesity Program at Joslin Diabetes Center.

In comparison, 34% of those on placebo lost at least 5% of their body weight, according to the FDA.

“It is not an impressive weight loss for an injectable and expensive medication with a lot of potential side events,” Hamdy says. He also says people generally lose less weight outside of clinical trials.

It hasn’t been compared directly with other recently approved weight loss drugs, including Belviq, Contrave, and Qsymia. Based on the clinical trial information, Donahoo predicts Saxenda will be ”not quite as good as Qsymia but probably better than Belviq.”

For some who prefer to take medications by mouth, the injection may be a barrier, Donahoo says.

Hamdy agrees. “I wonder who will take an injection for weight loss if you have another three effective oral alternatives,” he says. “This medication [Saxenda] came too late and in the wrong time and patients may not have enthusiasm for it.”

What are the major side effects or downsides?

In clinical trials, some people said they had nausea. “For some, it’s intolerable,” Donahoo says.

Besides nausea, others have reported vomiting, diarrhea, constipation, low blood sugar, and increased appetite, according to the FDA.

Serious side effects can include pancreatitis, gallbladder disease, kidney problems, and suicidal thoughts. It can also raise heart rate.

The drug will include a boxed warning about thyroid tumors. People with a family history of a specific type of thyroid cancer should not take the drug.

The FDA will continue to look at the risk of thyroid cancer, along with breast cancer, in the drug’s post-marketing studies. It will also judge Saxenda’s safety for children, its effect on sexual function and central nervous system development, and for heart risks.

How long will Saxenda need to be taken for weight loss and control?

Experts say they’re not sure how long would be best, since the clinical trials lasted about a year.

The FDA says people should be checked after using it for 16 weeks to see if it’s working. If a patient hasn’t lost at least 4% body weight, they should stop the drug.

“I think we need to think about weight loss medications like other drugs, such as cholesterol and high blood pressure medicines,” Donahoo says. “They may be considered for long-term use, perhaps forever.”

What about its effect on blood sugar?

“It only has an effect on blood sugar if it’s high,” Donahoo says, or if you’re taking other diabetes medicines.

When will Saxenda become available? What will it cost? And will insurance cover it?

Novo Nordisk, which distributes the drug in the U.S., expects Saxenda to be in pharmacies by early 2015, says spokesman Ken Inchausti.

The price is not yet set, he says. Novo Nordisk is talking with several insurance companies about coverage, he says.

Smartphones ‘changing our brains’


Our brains are adapting to touchscreen smartphone technology say researchers who have carried out a study on human volunteers.

The scientists used something called electroencephalography (EEG) to measure brain activity.

They found distinct differences between smartphone users and people who used ‘conventional’ cellphones.

Smartphone users had more attuned fingers and thumbs, based on their EEG readings.

Of the 37 volunteers, 26 were touchscreen smartphone users while 11 used ‘old-fashioned’ mobile phones.


EEG measures and records the electrical activity of the brain

The EEG readings looked at the electrical messages sent back and forth between the brain and the hands via nerves.

Multiple electrodes placed on the volunteer’s scalp recorded these exchanges about sensation.

From this, the researchers were able to build up a picture or map of how much brain tissue is devoted to a given body region.

The results revealed discernable differences between touchscreen smartphone users and people with conventional cellphones.

Smartphone users had bigger EEG brain activity measurements in response to mechanical touch on the thumb, index and middle fingers.

And this appeared to be linked to how often they used their touchscreens – the more frequent, the greater the EEG response.

The researchers say their findings, published in the journal Current Biology, make sense given that the brain is malleable and can be moulded by experience.

For example, in violinists, the brain area representing the fingers that play the instrument is larger than in non-musicians.

The researchers suspect the same is true with smartphones – repeated use sculpts the brain.

Study author Arko Ghosh, from the Institute of Neuroinformatics of the University of Zurich, said: “I was really surprised by the scale of the changes introduced by the use of smartphones.”

He said the discovery underlines how commonplace smartphones have become in our daily lives.

Life choices ‘behind many cancers’

unhealthy habits

More than four in 10 cancers – 600,000 in the UK alone – could be prevented if people led healthier lives, say experts.

Latest figures from Cancer Research UK show smoking is the biggest avoidable risk factor, followed by unhealthy diets.

The charity is urging people to consider their health when making New Year resolutions.

Limiting alcohol intake and doing regular exercise is also good advice.

According to the figures spanning five years from 2007 to 2011, more than 300,000 cases of cancer recorded were linked to smoking.

Key risk factors

A further 145,000 were linked to unhealthy diets containing too much processed food.

Obesity contributed to 88,000 cases and alcohol to 62,200.

Sun damage to the skin and physical inactivity were also contributing factors.

Man using weighing scales

Prof Max Parkin, a Cancer Research UK statistician based at Queen Mary University of London, said: “There’s now little doubt that certain lifestyle choices can have a big impact on cancer risk, with research around the world all pointing to the same key risk factors.

“Of course everyone enjoys some extra treats during the Christmas holidays so we don’t want to ban mince pies and wine but it’s a good time to think about taking up some healthy habits for 2015.

“Leading a healthy lifestyle can’t guarantee someone won’t get cancer but we can stack the odds in our favour by taking positive steps now that will help decrease our cancer risk in future.”

Public Health England says a healthy lifestyle can play a vital role in reducing cancer risk. It says campaigns such as Smokefree, Dry January and Change4Life Sugar Swaps all aim to raise public awareness.

Sun’s sizzling X-rays photographed


An “X-ray eye” designed to study distant galaxies and black holes has turned its attention to our own star and snapped a remarkable portrait.

Nasa’s Nuclear Spectroscopic Telescope Array (Nustar), launched into orbit in 2012, views the universe in very high-energy X-rays.

Now on an extension to its original two-year mission, Nustar has already measured how fast black holes spin.

This image proves that it can gather data about the Sun.

Unique viewBecause of its very high sensitivity, Nustar could solve some long-standing puzzles, such as whether “nanoflares” exist.

These proposed smaller versions of the Sun’s giant flares could help explain why its outer atmosphere is many times hotter than its surface – a decades-old question.

Physicists first thought of using Nustar to study the Sun when it was already under construction.

“At first I thought the whole idea was crazy,” said the mission’s principal investigator Prof Fiona Harrison, from the California Institute of Technology.

“Why would we have the most sensitive high energy X-ray telescope ever built, designed to peer deep into the universe, look at something in our own back yard?”

But she was eventually convinced by Prof David Smith, a solar physicist at the University of California, Santa Cruz.

“Nustar will give us a unique look at the Sun, from the deepest to the highest parts of its atmosphere,” said Prof Smith, a solar physicist at University of California, Santa Cruz.

This is only possible because in the very high-energy X-rays that Nustar “sees”, our sun does not shine as brightly as it does in other wavelengths. That brightness would probably damage the detectors of other telescopes like Nasa’s Chandra X-ray Observatory.

As well as probing the Sun, the Nustar team will also use the mission extension, which runs to 2016, to continue studying more far-flung objects including black holes and supernova remnants.

Spiral galaxy IC 342In 2012 Nustar recorded the high-energy X-rays (shown in magenta) emitted by two black holes near the distant spiral galaxy IC 342


Gentian is a medicinal herb that has long been used for its digestive and healing properties. Gentian has the ability to help stimulate gastric juices and ignite the metabolism which has made it a common natural treatment for anorexia, sluggish digestion, dyspepsia, flatulence, toxic bowels, weak appetite, gastritis, acidosis, bloating, and constipation.

It is also a powerful immune booster and has been shown to support the growth of leukocytes and red blood cells within the body which makes it a great herb for those experiencing colds, flu, sinus infections, or respiratory ailments. Gentian is also an excellent tonic for the liver, pancreas, and gallbladder and is known to be particularly beneficial for hepatitis, jaundice, pancreatitis, and gallstones. It is often recommended to help increase energy and vitality for those who are experiencing mental and physical exhaustion. Gentian is also known to invigorate the circulatory system and help to build the blood after a chronic or long standing illness. Gentian is also a highly beneficial for sore throats, fevers, thrush, cardiovascular problems, arthritis, and chronic swelling and inflammation. Gentian is an anti-addiction herb and is often found in natural anti-smoking products.Topically, gentian can be applied to wounds, ulcers, and abrasions for a faster healing response and to help clean and disinfect the wound. Gentian can be taken as a medicinal tea by simmering 2 tsp of dried root in 2 cups of water for twenty minutes. Allow to cool, strain, and sweeten with honey if desired. Sip 30 min-1hr before a meal for best results. Gentian can be found in tincture, extract, capsule, tea, and cream form online or at your local health food store.

This is how blue eyes get their colour

Blue eyes don’t get their colour from pigment – it’s actually way more fascinating than that.

Your eyes aren’t blue (or green) because they contain pigmented cells. As Paul Van Slembrouck writes for Medium, their colour is actually structural, and it involves some pretty interesting physics.

As he explains, the coloured part of your eye is called the iris, and it’s made up of two layers – the epithelium at the back and the stroma at the front.

The epithelium is only two cells thick and contains black-brown pigments – the dark specks that some people have in their eye is, in fact, the epithelium peaking through.

The stroma, in contrast, is made up of colourless collagen fibres. Sometimes the stroma contains a dark pigment called melanin, and sometimes it contains excess collagen deposits. And, fascinatingly, it’s these two factors that control your eye colour.

Brown eyes, for example, contain a high concentration of melanin in their stroma, which absorbs most of the light entering the eye regardless of collagen deposits, giving them their dark colour.

Green eyes don’t have much melanin in them, but they also have no collagen deposits. This means that while some of the light entering them is absorbed by the pigment, the particles in the stroma also scatter light as a result of something called the Tyndall effect, which creates a blue hue (it’s similar to Rayleigh scattering which makes the sky look blue). Combined with the brown melanin, this results in the eyes appearing green.

Blue eyes are potentially the most fascinating, as their colour is entirely structural. People with blue eyes have a completely colourless stroma with no pigment at all, and it also contains no excess collagen deposits. This means that all the light that enters it is scattered back into the atmosphere and as a result of the Tyndall effect, creates a blue hue.

Interestingly, this means that blue eyes don’t actually have a set colour – it all depends on the amount of light available when you look at them.

Structural colouration also gives colour to butterfliesbeef and berriesas Van Slembrouck points out.

It’s pretty mind-blowing stuff. Van Slembrouck writes for Medium:

“Imagine that you could shrink yourself to a microscopic size and then climb through the mesh of fibres in the stroma. That’s where structural colouration is coming from…

… and in the mesh are also strands of smooth muscle tissue that contract to dilate (expand) the pupil, pulling the inner edge of the iris toward the outer edge. When this happens, the stroma fibres slacken and may become wiggly as tension is released. This makes me wonder, does that slightly alter the colour of your eye as well?”

25 Lessons From Khalil Gibran That Can Transform Your Life

Today I would like to share with you 25 beautiful life changing lessons to learn from Khalil Gibran.

Author of one of my favorite books of all time, The Prophet. Enjoy.

1. Be thankful for the difficult times. They have showed you how strong you can be. “Out of suffering have emerged the strongest souls; the most massive characters are seared with scars.” 2. Kindness is a quality of the strong. “Tenderness and kindness are not signs of weakness and despair, but manifestations of strength and resolution.” 3. There’s no such thing as absolute truth. “Say not, ‘I have found the truth,’ but rather, ‘I have found a truth.’ “I AM IGNORANT of absolute truth. But I am humble before my ignorance and therein lies my honor and my reward.” 4. It’s the small people who try to belittle and humiliate others. “To belittle, you have to be little.” 5. The harm others do to you is easier to forget than the harm you do to others. “If the other person injures you, you may forget the injury; but if you injure him you will always remember.” 6. You might forget those who made you laugh, but you will never forget those who were by your side in your darkest hours. “You may forget with whom you laughed, but you will never forget with whom you wept.” “Hearts united in pain and sorrow will not be separated by joy and happiness. Bonds that are woven in sadness are stronger than the ties of joy and pleasure. Love that is washed by tears will remain eternally pure and faithful.” 7. It’s the simple things in life that are the most extraordinary. “In the sweetness of friendship; let there be laughter and the sharing of pleasures. For in the dew of little things the heart finds its morning and is refreshed.” 8. Love is life. And life is love. “When you love you should not say, “God is in my heart,” but rather, “I am in the heart of God.” “Life without love is like a tree without blossoms or fruit.” 9. Put love into your work. “Work is love made visible. And if you cannot work with love but only with distaste, it is better that you should leave your work and sit at the gate of the temple and take alms of those who work with joy. For if you bake bread with indifference, you bake a bitter bread that feeds but half man’s hunger. And if you grudge the crushing of the grapes, your grudge distills a poison in the wine. And if you sing though as angels, and love not the singing, you muffle man’s ears to the voices of the day and the voices of the night.” “They deem me mad because I will not sell my days for gold; and I deem them mad because they think my days have a price.” 10. To understand the heart and mind of a person, look at what he aspires to be. “To understand the heart and mind of a person, look not at what he has already achieved, but at what he aspires to.” “Trust in dreams, for in them is the hidden gate to eternity.” 11. True love can’t be possessed. “Love possesses not nor would it be possessed; For love is sufficient unto love. And think not you can direct the course of love, if it finds you worthy, directs your course. Love has no other desire but to fulfill itself.” 12. Seek to put up with bad manners pleasantly. “The real test of good manners is to be able to put up with bad manners pleasantly.” 13. Love binds everything together in perfect harmony. “They say: ‘If a man knew himself, he would know all mankind.’ I say: ‘If a man loved mankind, he would know something of himself.” 14. Always look on the bright side of life. “The optimist sees the rose and not its thorns; the pessimist stares at the thorns, oblivious to the rose.” 15. We don’t see things as they are. We see things as we are. “The appearance of things changes according to the emotions; and thus we see magic and beauty in them, while the magic and beauty are really in ourselves.” 16. True love is the offspring of spiritual affinity. “It is wrong to think that love comes from long companionship and persevering courtship. Love is the offspring of spiritual affinity and unless that affinity is created in a moment, it will not be created for years or even generations.” 17. Let there be space in your relationship. “Let there be spaces in your togetherness, And let the winds of the heavens dance between you. Love one another but make not a bond of love: Let it rather be a moving sea between the shores of your souls. Fill each other’s cup but drink not from one cup. Give one another of your bread but eat not from the same loaf. Sing and dance together and be joyous, but let each one of you be alone, Even as the strings of a lute are alone though they quiver with the same music. Give your hearts, but not into each other’s keeping. For only the hand of Life can contain your hearts. And stand together, yet not too near together: For the pillars of the temple stand apart, And the oak tree and the cypress grow not in each other’s shadow.” 18. If you pray when it rains, make sure you also pray when the sun shines. “You pray in your distress and in your need; would that you might pray also in the fullness of your joy and in your days of abundance.” 19. When you give of yourself, that’s when you truly give. “You give but little when you give of your possessions. It is when you give of yourself that you truly give.” 20. Real beauty comes from within. “Beauty is not in the face; beauty is a light in the heart.” 21. Your children are not your children. They are sons and daughters of Life’s longing for itself. “Your children are not your children. They are sons and daughters of Life’s longing for itself. They come through you but not from you. And though they are with you yet they belong not to you. You may give them your love but not your thoughts, for they have their own thoughts. You may house their bodies but not their souls, for their souls dwell in the house of tomorrow, which you cannot visit, not even in your dreams. You may strive to be like them, but seek not to make them like you.” 22. Every relationship should be free from bondage. “No human relation gives one possession in another—every two souls are absolutely different. In friendship or in love, the two side by side raise hands together to find what one cannot reach alone.” “If you love somebody, let them go, for if they return, they were always yours. And if they don’t, they never were.” 23. Be thankful for both the good and the bad in your life. It’s all meant to teach you something. “I have learned silence from the talkative, toleration from the intolerant, and kindness from the unkind; yet, strange, I am ungrateful to those teachers.” “When you are joyous, look deep into your heart and you shall find it is only that which has given you sorrow that is giving you joy. When you are sorrowful look again in your heart, and you shall see that in truth you are weeping for that which has been your delight.” 24. Your attitude towards life will determine life’s attitude towards you. “Your living is determined not so much by what life brings to you as by the attitude you bring to life; not so much by what happens to you as by the way your mind looks at what happens.” 25. A friend who is far away is sometimes much nearer than one who is at hand. “A friend who is far away is sometimes much nearer than one who is at hand. Is not the mountain far more awe-inspiring and more clearly visible to one passing through the valley than to those who inhabit the mountain?”

Religious people much happier and have more ‘life satisfaction’ than others, according to a new study .

  • A recent study by the Austin Institute for the Study of Family and Culture found that a strong correlation exists between religious affiliation and personal happiness
  •  45 percent of people who attend a religious service weekly say they are ‘very happy,’ while only 28 percent of those who ‘never’ attend said the same
  • Similar studies have found that people with faith have higher levels of ‘life satisfaction’ and are better able to cope with difficult situations 

Does religious affiliation contribute to happiness?

A recent study by the Austin Institute for the Study of Family and Culture found that a strong correlation exists between religious affiliation and personal happiness.

The institute surveyed a sample of 15,738 Americans between the ages of 18 and 60, according to the Breitbart News Network.

Of the more than 15,000 sampled, 45 percent of those who attend a religious service on a weekly basis described themselves as ‘very happy,’ while only 28 percent of those who said they ‘never’ attend said the same.

Study: A recent study by the Austin Institute for the Study of Family and Culture found that a strong correlation exists between religious affiliation and personal happiness (stock image)

Study: A recent study by the Austin Institute for the Study of Family and Culture found that a strong correlation exists between religious affiliation and personal happiness (stock image)

Data: Photographed is data obtained by the Institute detailing its findings which illustrate that those who attend a weekly religious service are happier than those who ‘never’ attend

Those who said they never attend religious services are twice as likely to say they are ‘very unhappy’ as those who attend services weekly.

According to the study, this connection between religion and happiness stems from social support within the religious communities.

Unhappy: Those who said they never attend religious services are twice as likely to say they are 'very unhappy' as those who attend services weekly (stock image)

Unhappy: Those who said they never attend religious services are twice as likely to say they are ‘very unhappy’ as those who attend services weekly (stock image)

Being surrounded by friends and a congregation who share common beliefs and motivations is reportedly a key way in which faith and happiness connect.

Though many other factors play a role, the study found that the sense of community among those who attend and engage in religious services is the most plausible theory to explain the connection.

The link between faith and happiness is nothing new.

Past studies — both in America and overseas– have found that, generally, those with a faith have higher levels of ‘life satisfaction’ than those without, BBC News reports.

Key: Being surrounded by friends and a congregation who share common beliefs and motivations is reportedly a key way in which faith and happiness connect

Key: Being surrounded by friends and a congregation who share common beliefs and motivations is reportedly a key way in which faith and happiness connect

Along with generally higher levels of happiness, BBC reports that studies find that religious people are better able to cope with difficult situations, such as losing a job or a divorce.

The Austin Institute study included controlled variables such as self-reported physical health, marital status, age, educational attainment, race/ethnicity, gender, and marital happiness.

But the end results proved that the statistics tying religious affiliation to happiness have held and are continuing to hold true.


‘Noah’s Ark’: Russia to build world first DNA databank of all living things

Reuters / Ints Kalnins

Not quite the Biblical Noah’s Ark, but possibly the next best thing. Moscow State University has secured Russia’s largest-ever scientific grant to collect the DNA of every living and extinct creature for the world’s first database of its kind.

“I call the project ‘Noah’s Ark.’ It will involve the creation of a depository – a databank for the storing of every living thing on Earth, including not only living, but disappearing and extinct organisms. This is the challenge we have set for ourselves,” MSU rector Viktor Sadivnichy told journalists.

The gigantic ‘ark’, set to be completed by 2018, will be 430 sq km in size, built at one of the university’s central campuses.

“It will enable us to cryogenically freeze and store various cellular materials, which can then reproduce. It will also contain information systems. Not everything needs to be kept in a petri dish,” Sadivnichy added.

The university’s press office has confirmed that the resulting database will contain collected biomaterials from all of MSU’s branches, including the Botanical Garden, the Anthropological Museum, the Zoological Museum and others. All of the university’s departments will be involved in research and collation of materials. The program, which has received a record injection of 1 billion rubles (US$194 million), will promote participation by the university’s younger generation of scientists.

Moscow State University (RIA Novosti / Evgeny Biyatov)

Moscow State University (RIA Novosti / Evgeny Biyatov)

Sadovnichy also said that the bank will have a link-up to other such facilities at home, perhaps even abroad.

“If it’s realized, this will be a leap in Russian history as the first nation to create an actual Noah’s Ark of sorts,” the rector said.

Russia is of course not the first to attempt something of this general scale – the quest to preserve biological life forms is one everyone should be engaged in. Britain has done just that with its Frozen Ark project, its venture into preserving all endangered life forms, also the first of its kind. They say it’s“the animal equivalent of the ‘Millennium Seed Bank’,” a project that encompasses all of the world’s seeds.

Criminal Minds Are Different From Yours, Brain Scans Reveal

The latest neuroscience research is presenting intriguing evidence that the brains of certain kinds of criminals are different from those of the rest of the population.

While these findings could improve our understanding of criminal behavior, they also raise moral quandaries about whether and how society should use this knowledge to combat crime.

Brain scans

The criminal mind
In one recent study, scientists examined 21 people with antisocial personality disorder – a condition that characterizes many convicted criminals. Those with the disorder “typically have no regard for right and wrong. They may often violate the law and the rights of others,” according to the Mayo Clinic.

Brain scans of the antisocial people, compared with a control group of individuals without any mental disorders, showed on average an 18-percent reduction in the volume of the brain’s middle frontal gyrus, and a 9 percent reduction in the volume of the orbital frontal gyrus – two sections in the brain’s frontal lobe.

Another brain study, published in the September 2009 Archives of General Psychiatry, compared 27 psychopaths — people with severe antisocial personality disorder — to 32 non-psychopaths. In the psychopaths, the researchers observed deformations in another part of the brain called the amygdala, with the psychopaths showing a thinning of the outer layer of that region called the cortex and, on average, an 18-percent volume reduction in this part of brain.

“The amygdala is the seat of emotion. Psychopaths lack emotion. They lack empathy, remorse, guilt,” said research team member Adrian Raine, chair of the Department of Criminology at the University of Pennsylvania, at the annual meeting of the American Association for the Advancement of Science in Washington, D.C., last month.

University of Pennsylvania criminologist Adrian RainePin It University of Pennsylvania criminologist Adrian Raine
Credit: U PennView full size image
In addition to brain differences, people who end up being convicted for crimes often show behavioral differences compared with the rest of the population. One long-term study that Raine participated in followed 1,795 children born in two towns from ages 3 to 23. The study measured many aspects of these individuals’ growth and development, and found that 137 became criminal offenders.

One test on the participants at age 3 measured their response to fear – called fear conditioning – by associating a stimulus, such as a tone, with a punishment like an electric shock, and then measuring people’s involuntary physical responses through the skin upon hearing the tone.

In this case, the researchers found a distinct lack of fear conditioning in the 3-year-olds who would later become criminals. These findings were published in the January 2010 issue of the American Journal of Psychiatry.

Neurological base of crime

Overall, these studies and many more like them paint a picture of significant biological differences between people who commit serious crimes and people who do not. While not all people with antisocial personality disorder — or even all psychopaths — end up breaking the law, and not all criminals meet the criteria for these disorders, there is a marked correlation.

“There is a neuroscience basis in part to the cause of crime,” Raine said.

What’s more, as the study of 3-year-olds and other research have shown, many of these brain differences can be measured early on in life, long before a person might develop into actual psychopathic tendencies or commit a crime.

Criminologist Nathalie Fontaine of Indiana University studies the tendency toward being callous and unemotional (CU) in children between 7 and 12 years old. Children with these traits have been shown to have a higher risk of becoming psychopaths as adults.

“We’re not suggesting that some children are psychopaths, but CU traits can be used to identify a subgroup of children who are at risk,” Fontaine said.

Yet her research showed that these traits aren’t fixed, and can change in children as they grow. So if psychologists identify children with these risk factors early on, it may not be too late.

“We can still help them,” Fontaine said. “We can implement intervention to support and help children and their families, and we should.”

These brain scans of psychopaths show a deformation in the amygdala compared to non-psychopaths, from a study by Adrian Raine and colleagues.Pin It These brain scans of psychopaths show a deformation in the amygdala compared to non-psychopaths, from a study by Adrian Raine and colleagues.
Credit: Yang et al./Archives of General PsychiatryView full size image
Neuroscientists’ understanding of the plasticity, or flexibility, of the brain called neurogenesis supports the idea that many of these brain differences are not fixed. [10 Things You Didn’t Know About the Brain]

“Brain research is showing us that neurogenesis can occur even into adulthood,” said psychologist Patricia Brennan of Emory University in Atlanta. “Biology isn’t destiny. There are many, many places you can intervene along that developmental pathway to change what’s happening in these children.”

Furthermore, criminal behavior is certainly not a fixed behavior.

Psychologist Dustin Pardini of the University of Pittsburgh Medical Center found that about four out of five kids who are delinquents as children do not continue to offend in adulthood.

Pardini has been researching the potential brain differences between people with a past criminal record who have stopped committing crimes, and those who continue criminal behavior. While both groups showed brain differences compared with non-criminals in the study, Pardini and his colleagues uncovered few brain differences between chronic offenders and so-called remitting offenders.

“Both groups showed similar results,” Pardini said. “None of these brain regions distinguish chronic and remitting offenders.”

Ethical quandaries

Yet even the idea of intervening to help children at risk of becoming criminals is ethically fraught.

“Do we put children in compulsory treatment when we’ve uncovered the risk factors?” asked Raine. “Well, who decides that? Will the state mandate compulsory residential treatment?”

What if surgical treatment methods are advanced, and there is an option to operate on children or adults with these brain risk factors? Many experts are extremely hesitant to advocate such an invasive and risky brain intervention — especially in children and in individuals who have not yet committed any crime.

Yet psychologists say such solutions are not the only way to intervene.

“You don’t have to do direct brain surgery to change the way the brain functions,” Brennan said. “You can do social interventions to change that.”

Fontaine’s studies, for example, suggest that kids who display callous and unemotional traits don’t respond as well to traditional parenting and punishment methods such as time-outs. Instead of punishing bad behavior, programs that emphasize rewarding good behavior with positive reinforcement seem to work better.

Raine and his colleagues are also testing whether children who take supplemental pills of omega-3 fatty acids — also known as fish oil — can show improvement. Because this nutrient is thought to be used in cell growth, neuroscientists suspect it can help brain cells grow larger, increase the size of axons (the part of neurons that conducts electrical impulses), and regulate brain cell function.

“We are brain scanning children before and after treatment with omega-3,” Raine said. “We are studying kids to see if it can reduce aggressive behavior and improve impaired brain areas. It’s a biological treatment, but it’s a relatively benign treatment that most people would accept.”

‘Slippery slope to Armageddon’

The field of neurocriminology also raises other philosophical quandaries, such as the question of whether revealing the role of brain abnormalities in crime reduces a person’s responsibility for his or her own actions.

“Psychopaths know right and wrong cognitively, but don’t have a feeling for what’s right and wrong,” Raine said. “Did they ask to have an amygdala that wasn’t as well functioning as other individuals’? Should we be punishing psychopaths as harshly as we do?”

Because the brain of a psychopath is compromised, Raine said, one could argue that they don’t have full responsibility for their actions. That — in effect — it’s not their fault.

In fact, that reasoning has been argued in a court of law. Raine recounted a case he consulted on, of a man named Herbert Weinstein who had killed his wife. Brain scans subsequently revealed a large cyst in the frontal cortex of Weinstein’s brain, showing that his cognitive abilities were significantly compromised.

The scans were used to strike a plea bargain in which Weinstein’s sentence was reduced to only 11 years in prison.

“Imaging was used to reduce his culpability, to reduce his responsibility,” Raine said. “Yet is that not a slippery slope to Armageddon where there’s no responsibility in society?”