Volkswagen’s emissions cheat to cause 60 premature deaths in US, study says

Volkswagen's emissions cheat to cause 60 premature deaths in US, study says
Workers inspect a car on the production line in a Volkswagen factory in Poznan, Poland.

Volkswagen’s use of software to evade emissions standards in more than 482,000 diesel vehicles sold in the U.S. will directly contribute to 60 premature deaths across the country, a new MIT-led study finds.

In September, the Environmental Protection Agency discovered that the German automaker had developed and installed “defeat devices” (actually software) in light-duty sold between 2008 and 2015. This software was designed to sense when a car was undergoing an emissions test, and only then engage the vehicle’s full emissions-control system, which would otherwise be disabled under normal driving conditions—a cheat that allows the vehicles to emit 40 times more emissions than permitted by the Clean Air Act.

That amount of excess pollution, multiplied by the number of affected vehicles sold in the U.S. and extrapolated over population distributions and health risk factors across the country, will have significant effects on public health, the study finds.

Assessing health outcomes

According to the study, conducted by researchers at MIT and Harvard University and published in the journal Environmental Research Letters, excess emissions from Volkswagen’s defeat devices will cause around 60 people in the U.S. to die 10 to 20 years prematurely. If the automaker recalls every affected vehicle by the end of 2016, more than 130 additional early deaths may be avoided. If, however, Volkswagen does not order a recall in the U.S., the excess emissions, compounding in the future, will cause 140 people to die early.

In addition to the increase in , the researchers estimate that Volkswagen’s excess emissions will contribute directly to 31 cases of chronic bronchitis and 34 hospital admissions involving respiratory and cardiac conditions. They calculate that individuals will experience about 120,000 minor restricted activity days, including work absences, and about 210,000 lower-respiratory symptom days.

In total, Volkswagen’s excess emissions will generate $450 million in health expenses and other social costs, the study projects. But a total vehicle recall by the end of 2016 may save up to $840 million in further health and social costs.

Steven Barrett, the lead author of the paper and an associate professor of aeronautics and astronautics at MIT, says the new data may help regulatory officials better estimate the effects of Volkswagen’s actions.

“It seemed to be an important issue in which we could bring to bear impartial information to help quantify the human implications of the Volkswagen emissions issue,” Barrett says. “The main motivation is to inform the public and inform the developing regulatory situation.”

Cheating (and) death

To estimate the health effects of Volkswagen’s excess emissions, Barrett and his colleagues at MIT and Harvard based their calculations on measurements by researchers at West Virginia University, who found that the vehicles produced up to 40 times the emissions allowed by law. They then calculated the average amount that each vehicle would be driven over its lifetime, and combined these results with sales data between 2008 and 2015 to estimate of the total excess emissions during this period.

The group then calculated the resulting emissions under three scenarios: the current scenario, in which 482,000 vehicles have already emitted excess emissions into the atmosphere; a scenario in which Volkswagen recalls every affected vehicle by the end of 2016; and a future in which there is no recall, and every affected vehicle remains on the road, continuing to emit excess pollution over the course of its lifetime.

The group then estimated the health effects under each emissions scenario, using a method they developed to map emissions estimates to public exposure to fine particulate matter and ozone. Diesel vehicles emit nitrogen oxides, which react in the atmosphere to form and ozone. Barrett’s approach essentially maps emissions estimates to population health risk, accounting for atmospheric transport and chemistry of the pollutants.

“We all have risk factors in our lives, and [excess emissions] is another small risk factor,” Barrett explains. “If you take into account the additional risk due to the excess Volkswagen emissions, then roughly 60 people have died or will die early, and on average, a decade or more early.”

Barrett says that, per kilometer driven, this number is about 20 percent of the number of deaths caused by road transport accidents.

“So it’s about the same order of magnitude, just from these excess emissions,” Barrett says. “If nothing’s done, these excess emissions will cause around another 140 deaths. However, two-thirds of the total deaths could be avoided if the recalls could be done quickly, in the course of the next year.”

Chicken study reveals evolution can happen much faster than thought: New study of chickens overturns popular assumption that evolution is only visible over long time scales — ScienceDaily

Scientists found two mutations that had occurred in the mitochondrial genomes of the birds in only 50 years, showing a rate of evolution much higher than the widely accepted rate of change in the mitochondrial genome of about 2 percent per million years.

A selective mating approach within the population that started in 1957 has resulted in an over tenfold difference in the size of the chickens.

A new study of chickens overturns the popular assumption that evolution is only visible over long time scales. By studying individual chickens that were part of a long-term pedigree, the scientists led by Professor Greger Larson at Oxford University’s Research Laboratory for Archaeology, found two mutations that had occurred in the mitochondrial genomes of the birds in only 50 years. For a long time scientists have believed that the rate of change in the mitochondrial genome was never faster than about 2% per million years. The identification of these mutations shows that the rate of evolution in this pedigree is in fact 15 times faster. In addition, by determining the genetic sequences along the pedigree, the team also discovered a single instance of mitochondrial DNA being passed down from a father.

This is a surprising discovery, showing that so-called ‘paternal leakage’ is not as rare as previously believed. The study is published in the online early version of the journal, Biology Letters.

Using a well-documented 50-year pedigree of a population of White Plymouth Rock chickens developed at Virginia Tech by Professor Paul Siegel, the researchers reconstructed how the mitochondrial DNA passed from mothers to daughters within the population. They did this by analysing DNA from the blood samples of 12 chickens of the same generation using the most distantly related maternal lines, knowing that the base population had started from seven partially inbred lines. A selective mating approach within the population started in 1957, resulting in what is now an over tenfold difference in the size of the chickens in the two groups when weighed at 56 days old.

Senior author Professor Larson said: ‘Our observations reveal that evolution is always moving quickly but we tend not to see it because we typically measure it over longer time periods. Our study shows that evolution can move much faster in the short term than we had believed from fossil-based estimates. Previously, estimates put the rate of change in a mitochondrial genome at about 2% per million years. At this pace, we should not have been able to spot a single mutation in just 50 years, but in fact we spotted two.’

The paper says there is now considerable evidence of a disparity between long-term and short-term estimates of mitochondrial changes. One theory put forward in recent studies is that mitochondrial DNA evolves ‘non-neutrally’, that there is a purifying selection process and negative mutations are removed more quickly, resulting in the impression of a short-term elevation in rates. There have been few studies of short-term mitochondrial evolution, including both mutation rates and paternal leakage. There is now direct evidence that it is not always inherited from the mother.

Study lead author Dr Michelle Alexander, from the University of York, said: ‘The one thing everyone knew about mitochondria is that it is almost exclusively passed down the maternal line, but we identified chicks who inherited their mitochondria from their father, meaning so-called ‘paternal leakage’ can happen in avian populations. Both of these findings demonstrate the speed and dynamism of evolution when observed over short time periods.’

‘X-Ray Vision’ Device Uses Wi-Fi Reflections To See Through Walls.

How the device “sees” through walls

Researchers at MIT’s Computer Science and Artificial Intelligence Lab (CSAIL) are presenting a new method for seeing through walls. They call it RF-Capture, and it builds on research CSAIL has been working on since 2013. The paper was accepted to the SIGGRAPH Asia conference, which will take place in November.

RF-Capture works like this: The device contains a wireless transmitter that relays a radio signal. Then, the device’s receivers pick up the signal reflected back by the hidden body. With the data, an algorithm can then determine the silhouette of the body on the other side. And the device is also able to distinguish between different people (up to 15 different people, with 90 percent accuracy), and track motion and posture.

There are a couple of methods already for sussing out what our eyes can’t naturally see. Researchers at the University of Washington have partnered with Microsoft to develop HyperCam, which uses hyperspectral imaging. So, instead of sending radio waves, HyperCam uses visible light and near-infrared light to see beneath surfaces. It’s a technology that’s already used in industries like food safety, to determine whether something is contaminated.

And in 2014, scientists at the University of California, Santa Barbara built rescue robots, which, when working in pairs could send and receive wireless signals to determine whether anyone was inside a building.

In a press release, the lead author of the paper, Fadel Adib, calls the possibilities for applications “vast.” Indeed, they’ve already started integrating the technology into a commercial project called Emerald, which could be used to detect and prevent falls for the elderly. And it could be useful to integrate into smart homes and even gaming.

Watch the video. URL:

Can Chocolate Really Benefit Your Heart?

Chocolate is good for your heart — sort of, maybe.

Eating up to 3.5 ounces (100 grams) of chocolate daily is linked with lowered risks of heart disease and stroke, scientists reported today (June 15) in the journal Heart. That amount of chocolate is equal to about 22 Hershey’s Kisses, two Hershey bars or two bags of M&M’s, depending on how you want to divvy up this good news.

“There does not appear to be any evidence to say that chocolate should be avoided in those who are concerned about cardiovascular risk,” the researchers concluded in their paper. Their new study is based on a meta-analysis of eight previously published studies involving a total of nearly 158,000 people.

However, the analysis comes with more caveats than Almond Joy has nuts. For example, exactly what it is about chocolate that might impart health benefits is not clear.  The scientists could not determine a cause-and-effect relationship between the two, and the observed benefits might be nothing more than a mirage, a limitation of the study design. [5 Wacky Things That Are Good for Your Health]

“There is, of course, a theoretical plausible explanation of why eating chocolate in moderation may expose some [people] to compounds — for example, flavonols — which are potentially good for risk reduction through cholesterol- and blood-pressure-lowering effects,” said Dr. Phyo Myint, a senior author of the study and a professor at the University of Aberdeen School of Medicine and Dentistry in Scotland.

Myint cited numerous studies demonstrating that flavonols —  which are found in many plant-based foods, including cocoa — can lower blood pressure, improve blood flow to the brain, and make blood platelets less sticky and less likely to clot and cause a stroke.

But the majority of the participants in the eight studies in the new analysis got their chocolate by eating milk chocolate, which has considerably lower levels of flavonols than dark chocolate. This left the researchers to speculate that milk components in the chocolate — namely, calcium and fatty acids — may explain the observed effect.

There are, however, several other plausible explanations for the results that would suggest that eating a lot of chocolate isn’t necessarily healthy, the researchers admitted. For example, the people in the study who ate the most chocolate — more than 100 grams daily — were younger adults, who tend not to have heart problems.

Similarly, the researchers said the finding might be due to “reverse causation,” meaning that the people with a higher risk of cardiovascular disease avoid eating chocolate, while those who are healthier eat more. The researchers also noted that consuming too much candy and other high-calorie, sugary foods could lead to dental cavities, obesity and diabetes.

Although the risk reduction linked with chocolate consumption was statistically significant, the benefits are not particularly striking compared with those of other dietary practices associated with heart health. For example, outside the context of chocolate, the risk of developing heart disease for these participants given their age was 14.4 percent, on average, Myint said. Therefore, reducing this risk by 11 percent would lower the heart disease risk to 12.8 percent.

The study could not differentiate between the types of milk chocolate consumed, and this could have health implications as well. Myint’s hometown of Aberdeen is where people devised the now infamous deep-fried Mars bar, he said.

“The key is only to have moderate consumption [of chocolate] and ensure one does not exceed the calorie intake recommended for their height or weight,” Myint told Live Science.

Change the shape, change the sound: Researchers develop algorithm to 3-D print vibrational sounds

Change the shape, change the sound
A playful zoolophone, a metallophone with a variety of animal shapes that were automatically created using a computer algorithm developed by a team of researchers led by Changxi Zheng, assistant professor of computer science at Columbia Engineering. The tone of each key is comparable to those of professionally made metallophones — a demonstration of Zheng’s algorithm for computationally designing an object’s vibrational properties and sounds. 

In creating what looks to be a simple children’s musical instrument—a xylophone with keys in the shape of zoo animals—computer scientists at Columbia Engineering, Harvard, and MIT have demonstrated that sound can be controlled by 3D-printing shapes. They designed an optimization algorithm and used computational methods and digital fabrication to control acoustic properties—both sound and vibration—by altering the shape of 2D and 3D objects. Their work—”Computational Design of Metallophone Contact Sounds”—will be presented at SIGGRAPH Asia on November 4 in Kobe, Japan.

“Our discovery could lead to a wealth of possibilities that go well beyond ,” says Changxi Zheng, assistant professor of computer science at Columbia Engineering, who led the research team. “Our algorithm could lead to ways to build less noisy computer fans, bridges that don’t amplify vibrations under stress, and advance the construction of micro-electro-mechanical resonators whose vibration modes are of great importance.”

Zheng, who works in the area of dynamic, physics-based computational sound for immersive environments, wanted to see if he could use computation and digital fabrication to actively control the acoustical property, or vibration, of an object. Simulation of contact sounds has long interested the computer graphics community, as has computational fabrication, and, he explains, “We hoped to bridge these two disciplines and explore how much control one can garner over the vibrational frequency spectra of complex geometrics.”

Zheng’s team decided to focus on simplifying the slow, complicated, manual process of designing idiophones, musical instruments that produce sounds through vibrations in the instrument itself, not through strings or reeds. Because the surface vibration and resulting sounds depend on the idiophone’s shape in a complex way, designing the shapes to obtain desired sound characteristics is not straightforward, and their forms have been limited to well-understood designs such as bars that are tuned by careful drilling of dimples on the underside of the instrument.

Change the shape, change the sound
These 3-D metallophone cups were automatically created by computers for a “zoolophone,” a metallophone with a variety of animal shapes that were automatically created using a computer algorithm developed by a team of researchers led by Changxi Zheng, assistant professor of computer science at Columbia Engineering. The tone of each key is comparable to those of professionally made metallophones — a demonstration of Zheng’s algorithm for computationally designing an object’s vibrational properties and sounds. 

To demonstrate their new technique, the team settled on building a “zoolophone,” a metallophone with playful animal shapes (a metallophone is an idiophone made of tuned metal bars that can be struck to make sound, such as a glockenspiel). Their algorithm optimized and 3D-printed the instrument’s keys in the shape of colorful lions, turtles, elephants, giraffes, and more, modelling the geometry to achieve the desired pitch and amplitude of each part.

“Our zoolophone’s keys are automatically tuned to play notes on a scale with overtones and frequency of a professionally produced xylophone,” says Zheng, whose team spent nearly two years on developing new while borrowing concepts from computer graphics, acoustic modeling, mechanical engineering, and 3D printing. “By automatically optimizing the shape of 2D and 3D objects through deformation and perforation, we were able to produce such professional sounds that our technique will enable even novices to design metallophones with unique sound and appearance.”

Though a fun toy, the zoolophone represents fundamental research into understanding the complex relationships between an object’s geometry and its material properties, and the vibrations and sounds it produces when struck. While previous algorithms attempted to optimize either amplitude (loudness) or frequency, the zoolophone required optimizing both simultaneously to fully control its acoustic properties. Creating realistic musical sounds required more work to add in overtones, secondary frequencies higher than the main one that contribute to the timbre associated with notes played on a professionally produced instrument.

Looking for the most optimal shape that produces the desired sound when struck proved to be the core computational difficulty: the search space for optimizing both amplitude and frequency is immense. To increase the chances of finding the most optimal shape, Zheng and his colleagues developed a new, fast stochastic optimization method, which they called Latin Complement Sampling (LCS). They input shape and user-specified frequency and amplitude spectra (for instance, users can specify which shapes produce which note) and, from that information, optimized the of the objects through deformation and perforation to produce the wanted sounds. LCS outperformed all other alternative optimizations and can be used in a variety of other problems.

“Acoustic design of objects today remains slow and expensive,” Zheng notes. “We would like to explore computational design algorithms to improve the process for better controlling an object’s acoustic properties, whether to achieve desired sound spectra or to reduce undesired noise. This project underscores our first step toward this exciting direction in helping us design objects in a new way.”

Zheng, whose previous work in computer graphics includes synthesizing realistic sounds that are automatically synchronized to simulated motions, has already been contacted by researchers interested in applying his approach to micro-electro-mechanical systems (MEMS), in which vibrations filter RF signals.

Scientists Theorize Inflammation May Trigger Some Mental Illnesses

Katherine Streeter for NPR

Katherine Streeter for NPR

Sometime around 1907, well before the modern randomized clinical trial was routine, American psychiatrist Henry Cotton began removing decaying teeth from his patients in hopes of curing their mental disorders. If that didn’t work, he moved on to more invasive excisions: tonsils, testicles, ovaries and, in some cases, colons.

Cotton was the newly appointed director of the New Jersey State Hospital for the Insane and was acting on a theory proposed by influential Johns Hopkins psychiatrist Adolf Meyer, under whom Cotton had studied, that psychiatric illness is the result of chronic infection. Meyer’s idea was based on observations that patients with high fevers sometimes experience delusions and hallucinations.

Cotton ran with the idea, scalpel in hand.

Pulled Teeth Eliminate Hallucinations

This 1920 newspaper clipping from The Washington Herald highlights Dr. Henry Cotton’s practice of removing infected teeth to treat mental health problems.

A 1920 newspaper clipping from The Washington Herald.

Library of Congress

In 1921 he published a well-received book on the theory called The Defective Delinquent and Insane: the Relation of Focal Infections to Their Causation, Treatment and Prevention. A few years later The New York Times wrote, “eminent physicians and surgeons testified that the New Jersey State Hospital for the Insane was the most progressive institution in the world for the care of the insane, and that the newer method of treating the insane by the removal of focal infection placed the institution in a unique position with respect to hospitals for the mentally ill.” Eventually Cotton opened a hugely successful private practice, catering to the infected molars of Trenton, N.J., high society.

Following his death in 1933, interest in Cotton’s cures waned. His mortality rates hovered at a troubling 45 percent, and in all likelihood his treatments didn’t work. But though his rogue surgeries were dreadfully misguided and disfiguring, a growing body of research suggests that there might be something to his belief that infection — and with it inflammation — is involved in some forms of mental illness.

Symptoms Of Mental And Physical Illness Can Overlap

Late last year, Turhan Canli, an associate professor of psychology and radiology at Stony Brook University, published a paper in the journal Biology of Mood and Anxiety Disorders asserting that depression should be thought of as an infectious disease. “Depressed patients act physically sick,” says Canli. “They’re tired, they lose their appetite, they don’t want to get out of bed.” He notes that while Western medicine practitioners tend to focus on the psychological symptoms of depression, in many non-Western cultures, patients who would qualify for a depression diagnosis report primarily physical symptoms, in part because of the stigmatization of mental illness.

“The idea that depression is caused simply by changes in serotonin is not panning out. We need to think about other possible causes and treatments for psychiatric disorders,” says Canli.

His assertion that depression results from infection might seem far-fetched, or at least premature, but there are some data to bolster his claim.

Harkening back to Adolf Meyer’s early 20th century theory, Canli notes how certain infections of the brain — perhaps most notably Toxoplasma gondii — can result in emotional disturbances that mimic psychiatric conditions. He also notes that numerous pathogens have been associated with mental illnesses, including Borna disease virus, Epstein-Barr and certain strains of herpes, including varicella zoster, the virus that causes chickenpox and shingles.

Toxoplasma gondii, a parasitic protozoan, afflicts cats and other mammals. Acute toxoplasmosis produces flu-like symptoms and has been linked to behavioral changes in humans.

Toxoplasma gondii, a parasitic protozoan, afflicts cats and other mammals. Acute toxoplasmosis produces flu-like symptoms and has been linked to behavioral changes in humans.

Eye of Science/Science Source

A Danish study published in JAMA Psychiatry in 2013 looked at the medical records of over 3 million people and found that any history of hospitalization for infection was associated with a 62 percent increased risk of later developing a mood disorder, including depression and bipolar disorder.

Canli believes that pathogens acting directly on the brain may result in psychiatric symptoms, but also that autoimmune activity — or the body’s immune system attacking itself — triggered by infection may also contribute. The Danish study also reported that a past history of an autoimmune disorder increases the risk of a future mood disorder by 45 percent.

Antibodies Provide A Clue

The idea that there could be a relationship between the immune system and brain disease isn’t new. Autoantibodies were reported in schizophrenia patients in the 1930s. Subsequent work has detected antibodies to various neurotransmitter receptors in the brains of psychiatric patients, while a number of brain disorders, including multiple sclerosis, are known to involve abnormal immune system activity. Researchers at the University of Virginia recently identified a previously undiscovered network of vessels directly connecting the brain with the immune system; the authors concluded that an interplay between the two could significantly contribute to certain neurological and psychiatric conditions.

Both infection and autoimmune activity result in inflammation, our body’s response to harmful stimuli, which in part involves a surge in immune system activity. And it’sthought by many in the psychiatric research community that inflammation is somehow involved in depression and perhaps other mental illnesses.

Multiple studies have linked depression with elevated markers of inflammation, including two analyses from 2010 and 2012 that collectively reviewed data from 53 studies, as well as several postmortem studies. A large body of related research confirms that autoimmune and inflammatory activity in the brain is linked with psychiatric symptoms.

Still, for the most part the research so far finds associations but doesn’t prove cause and effect between inflammation and mental health issues. The apparent links could be a matter of chance, or there might be some other factor that hasn’t been identified.

Dr. Roger McIntyre, a professor of psychiatry and pharmacology at the University of Toronto, tells Shots that he believes an upset in the “immune-inflammatory system” is at the core of mental illness and that psychiatric disorders might be an unfortunate cost of our powerful immune defenses. “Throughout evolution our enemy up until vaccines and antibiotics were developed was infection,” he says. “Our immune system evolved to fight infections so we could survive and pass our genes to the next generation. However, our immune-inflammatory system doesn’t distinguish between what’s provoking it.” McIntyre explains how stressors of any kind — physical or sexual abuse, sleep deprivation, grief — can activate our immune alarms. “For reasons other than fighting infection, our immune-inflammatory response can stay activated for weeks, months or years and result in collateral damage,” he says.

Unlike Canli, McIntyre implicates inflammation in general, not exclusively inflammation caused by infection or direct effects of infection itself, as a major contributor to mental maladies. “It’s unlikely that most people with a mental illness have it as a result of infection,” he says, “but it would be reasonable to hypothesize that a subpopulation of people with depression or bipolar disorder or schizophrenia ended up that way because an infection activated their immune-inflammatory system.” McIntyre says that infection, particularly in the womb, could work in concert with genetics, psychosocial factors and our diet and microbiome to influence immune and inflammatory activity and, in turn, our risk of psychiatric disease.

Trying Drugs Against Inflammation For Mental Illness

The idea that inflammation — whether stirred up by infection or by other factors — contributes to or causes mental illness comes with caveats, at least in terms of potential treatments. Trials testing anti-inflammatory drugs have been overall mixed or underwhelming.

A recent meta-analysis reported that supplementing SSRIs like Prozac with regular low-dose aspirin use is associated with a reduced risk of depression, and ibuprofen supplementation is linked with lower chances of obtaining psychiatric care. However, concomitant treatment with SSRIs and diclofenac or celecoxib — two other anti-inflammatories often used to treat arthritis — was associated with increased risk of needing hospital care due to psychiatric symptoms.

A 2013 study explored the antidepressant potential of Remicade, a drug used in rheumatoid arthritis. Overall, three infusions of the medication were found to be no more effective than a placebo, but patients whose blood had higher levels of an inflammatory marker called C-reactive protein did experience modest benefit.

“The truth of the matter is that there is probably a subset of people who get depressed in response to inflammation,” says lead author Dr. Charles Raison, a psychiatry professor at the University of Arizona. “Maybe their bodies generate more inflammation, or maybe they’re more sensitive to it.”

How infection and other causes of inflammation and overly aggressive immune activity may contribute to depression and other mental illnesses — and whether or not it’s actually depression driving the inflammation — is still being investigated, and likely will be for some time. But plenty of leading psychiatrists agree that the search for alternative pathologic explanations and treatments for psychiatric disorders could help jump-start the field.

“I’m not convinced that anti-inflammatory strategies are going to turn out to be the most powerful treatments around,” cautions Raison. “But I think if we really want to understand depression, we definitely have to understand how the immune system talks to the brain. I just don’t think we’ve identified immune-based or anti-inflammatory treatments yet that are going to have big effects in depression.”

But the University of Toronto’s McIntyre has a slightly brighter outlook. “Is depression due to infection, or is it due to something else?” he asks. “The answer is yes and yes. The bottom line is inflammation appears to contribute to depression, and we have interventions to address this.”

McIntyre notes that while the science of psychiatry has a long way to go, and that these interventions haven’t been proved effective, numerous approaches with minimal side effects exist that appear to be generally anti-inflammatory, including exercise, meditation and healthy sleep habits.

He also finds promise in the work of his colleague: “Like most cases in medicine, Charles Raison showed that anti-inflammatory approaches may benefit some people with depression, but not everybody. If you try on your friend’s eyeglasses, chances are they won’t help your vision very much.”

How Diabetes Impacts Your Mental Health

When I tell people – especially people who don’t know much about diabetes – about my work, they usually look confused. Most people think of diabetes as a physical condition and have never really thought about the mental aspects with living with the condition. Even some people with diabetes are surprised that there are organizations like CDMH that focus on diabetes and mental health. They know that living with diabetes is hard for them, but often they are surprised to hear that their concerns are actually (and unfortunately) quite common. What is it about diabetes that is so hard?

I tend to think about diabetes and mental health issues very broadly. While some people with diabetes have a mental health condition (that may or may not be related to having diabetes), there are many others who struggle with issues that are very real, but which may not meet the (sometimes arbitrary) criteria for a mental health diagnosis.

Psychology is the study of how situationsemotions and relationships in our lives interact and impact our behavior. I think that this definition provides us with a framework we can use to talk about how diabetes impacts mental health.

Situation: Diabetes is a self-managed condition. This means that it is the person with diabetes, not their doctor, who is responsible for taking care of him or herself on a daily basis. Diabetes involves making frequent, sometimes life or death decisions under sometimes stressful and physically uncomfortable circumstances. In addition, diabetes management is constant and can feel overwhelming. If you or someone close to you has diabetes, take a minute and think about all of the steps you take in your diabetes management everyday. What to eat, how much insulin to take, when (or whether) to exercise, how to interpret a glucose reading, how many carbs to take to treat a low, the list goes on. Decisions, and resulting behaviors (and their consequences) are critical aspects of diabetes management. However doing everything necessary to manage diabetes can become overwhelming – and feeling overwhelmed is usually no fun.

Emotions: Many people with diabetes know that that having diabetes can result in some unpleasant and uncomfortable emotions. One question that I get asked a lot why living with diabetes is so tough and what causes these negative emotions. Unfortunately, this is not an easy question to answer. Being diagnosed and living with a chronic condition like diabetes can be really hard, and as we talked about before, managing balancing everything that’s necessary to live well with diabetes can be overwhelming. Even if you do everything that you are ‘supposed’ to do, diabetes can be unpredictable and frustrating. And if you aren’t able to do everything you are ‘supposed’ to do, it can cause feelings of anxiety, guilt and even hopelessness. And we haven’t even talked about the emotional impact of not feeling well. As you can see, there is no easy answer to this question because well, diabetes is complicated.

Relationships: Diabetes can have a big impact the way that people with diabetes live their daily lives and interact with the world, and this can be especially challenging when it comes to relationships with family and friends. Stress and other negative emotions can affect the ability to be present in relationships, and sometimes the ability to have relationships at all. And that is without even throwing diabetes in the mix. Relationships are an important part of the human condition and in many people’s emotional well-being, and when diabetes affects relationships – and it does – this can cause a significant level of distress.

Behavior: I am a big believer that everything we have talked about up to this point leads back to behavior. People often seek mental health treatment because of how their situation, emotion or relationship is causing them to behave. Having diabetes and the stress it involves (the situation), the way it makes you feel (the emotions), and the impact it has on your relationship with others intersect, and can sometimes make it difficult to behave in the way that you want to. For some people, this means adhering to their diabetes treatment plan and taking care of themselves. For others this means feeling so depressed, anxious or helpless that they have trouble going to work or school, or doing things they enjoy. Still for others diabetes causes strain or conflict in a relationship, making it hard to be a loving supportive friend. And for others, it is a combination of all of these issues and others we haven’t talked about here.

Even though the intersection of diabetes and mental health is complex, I want to re-assure that there’s hope. There are many people living with diabetes who live fulfilling lives and who have fulfilling relationships. If you are struggling with diabetes-related stress issues, know that it can get better. I will use future posts to talk about some things you can do to take care of yourself. But before we can solve a problem, it’s important to think critically and define it. I hope that this gives you a good place to start.

HPV-Related Cancers Increasing in Men

More men are being diagnosed with head and neck cancers. Could the HPV vaccine help?

When the vaccine for human papillomavirus (HPV) arrived in 2006, public health officials targeted the shot at teenage girls and billed it as a powerful tool for preventing cervical cancer. Today, many doctors and parents still view the sexually transmitted virus primarily as a threat to women. But as cases of HPV-fueled head and neck cancers soar among men, researchers now warn that men need to be thinking about HPV, too.

“By 2020, there will be more HPV-caused cancers among men in the United States than among women,” says Maura Gillison, MD, PhD, a cancer researcher with Ohio State University who was the first to recognize the link between HPV and oral cancer.

Doctors have long considered head and neck cancer diseases of older smokers. But in recent years, they have noticed an alarming surge of these cancers in nonsmoking men under 50.

Tests reveal a distinct cancer that — like cervical cancer — is kick-started by a certain form of HPV. Between 1984 and 2004, HPV-fueled throat, tonsil, and tongue cancers spiked 225%, with 80% of the cases in men. By 2020, each year 8,700 people will be diagnosed with the disease.

For most of those infected (84% of sexually active women and 91% of sexually active men will be infected at some point), HPV clears within a year with no symptoms. But guys appear to be uniquely vulnerable.
Men are three times more likely than women to have an oral HPV infection and five times more likely to carry the cancer-causing HPV. That’s partly because they tend to have more sex partners than women, and oral sex spreads oral HPV. But men also appear to be less adept at developing immunity to the virus, Gillison says.

So what’s a guy to do? First, he should vaccinate his son. “This is an anti-cancer vaccine, and we are not using it nearly enough,” says William Schaffner, MD, professor of preventive medicine at Vanderbilt University School of Medicine. In 2011, a federal committee recommended all boys get vaccinated by age 12, and as late as 26. Only 34.6% do so.

Should men older than 26 get vaccinated? “That is the big question now,” Gillison says. “People are starting to wonder whether the benefits of HPV vaccination could extend to men outside the recommended age range.”

No public health agency recommends it, insurance won’t cover it, and it’s expensive ($300-plus for a three-shot series). Nothing has shown for sure that it protects against head and neck cancer, Gillison says.

That said, it might make sense for some men to ask their doctor for the vaccine and pay out of pocket, Schaffner says. For a longtime monogamist newly entering the dating world, or a sexually active man eager to cover all his bases: “I see no harm in it.”

Wind energy is now as cheap as natural gas, and solar is getting close

Wind power is now comparable in price to fossil fuels, and solar is well on its way, according to a new report that confirms earlier predictions that renewables aren’t just the best option for the environment – they’re unequivocally the smartest long-term investment you can make on energy.

The report, by Bloomberg New Energy Finance, found that in the second half of 2015, the global average cost of onshore wind energy will be $83 per megawatt-hour of electricity (which is down $2 from the first half of the year), and for thin film solar photovoltaics, the cost is $122 per megawatt-hour (down $7 in the past six months).

The costs as they are now, and the steady drops we’ve seen in price over the past six months alone, suggest that as the technology to eke out more and more electricity from solar and wind energy gets ever-more sophisticated, those prices can only continue to fall.

“You start to go from a world where renewables are expensive, to a world where renewables are actually cheap. And that’s very meaningful,” said Seb Henbest, head of the Europe, Middle East, and Africa analysis for Bloomberg New Energy Finance. “Onshore wind is today competitive in many places in the US and around the world with coal and gas fired generation technology.”

The report based its analysis on what’s known as the ‘levelised cost of electricity’, which takes into account several factors such as interest rates, capital expenditures, and the operating costs of facilities, and uses these to compare different energy sources on a dollar value. The team analysed over 55,000 projects around the world to come up with their global average figures.

In terms of breaking it down more specifically into locations, the report found that while coal-fired electricity costs $75 per megawatt-hour in North and South America (up from $66 per megawatt hour), in Europe, you’ll have to fork out $105 for the same amount. And gas-fired electricity costs $82 in the Americas, on average (up from $76 per megawatt hour), and $118 in Europe.

Those higher costs for fossil fuels in Europe – due in large part to government-regulated carbon policies – make it even more of a no-brainer for them to be getting into renewables, with the report finding that the average cost of wind is $85 per megawatt-hour in the UK and $80 in Germany, while the combined average for coal and natural gas was more than $100 per megawatt hour in both countries.

“In China, by contrast, coal-fired electricity generation remained extremely cheap – just $44 per megawatt hour,” Chris Mooney reports for The Washington Post. “Wind, in contrast, cost $77 and solar photovoltaics, $109.”

Mooney adds that the US is also not quite there yet, with the incredibly cheap average price of coal- and gas-fired electricity sitting at $65, while wind sit at $80 per megawatt-hour and solar at $107. The good news is that a lot of the cost of renewables is up-front – installation, construction, and the initial period of energy harvesting.

Unlike the process used to convert fossil fuels to electricity, converting renewable energy to electricity doesn’t require fuel, which means solar, wind, and even the currently expensive wave power sources will continue to get cheaper.

“Clean energy solutions like wind and solar are getting more affordable and more accessible by the day, meaning they are increasingly the smartest long-term financial investments for utilities and other electricity producers across America,” Michael Brune, the executive director of US-based environmental organisation, the Sierra Club, said in a statement. “The transition to a clean energy economy is going full speed ahead and pushing dangerous, dirty fossil fuels to the back of the line.”

5 Ways Meditation Can Help You Have Mind-Blowing Sex

Amazing sex may seem like an unlikely benefit of meditation, but let’s just say that mindfulness may do much more for you than Viagra in the bedroom.

For too long, meditation has been associated with asceticism and monks, which is why it has taken us this long to get around to exploring its effects on sex.

It was a student at Ziva Meditation who inspired this article. He came to me after a full year of twice-a-day meditation and said, “You joked once before about meditation making my sex better, but what’s happening for me is crazy. I need answers.”

Animalistic, raw and mind-blowing were the most memorable adjectives he then used to describe his new found sexual prowess. He continued, “It feels crass to say, but my sex life has been stunning. ‘Meditation’ and ‘primal sex’ aren’t an expected fit, but now I’m a believer.”

He told me that since the first week of taking my course, he noticed not only that he was able to last much longer during intercourse, but also told me that he felt more control over his orgasms, had way more energy, and more of a sex drive as a result.

So why does meditation make you better in bed? Well, let’s consider context first. Many of us are stressed out, whether from work, our relationships, money, and a whole host of other reasons, circumstantial and otherwise. Stress increases cortisol and adrenaline levels, and these increased levels of cortisol and adrenaline decrease sexual desire and performance (among other negative effects).

Well, I am sure you’ve heard that meditation is an incredibly powerful stress-reducing tool. Therefore, it stands to reason that meditation can increase sexual desire and performance by reducing cortisol and adrenaline levels.

Now that that’s under our belt, let’s look at the top five ways meditation can improve your sex life:

1. Meditation gives you deep rest, which means more energy for sex.

“Not tonight honey, I’m tired!” How many times have you felt like fatigue been your excuse for not wanting to have sex? You’re not alone: exhaustion is one of the most common reasons couples don’t have as much sex as they would like. According to a recent study by the National Sleep Foundation, about one in every four married or cohabitating Americans claim they’re so sleep-deprived that they’re often too tired to have sex.

When you meditate you give your body rest that is deeper than sleep which helps you feel more awake afterward. This jolt of energy may be just what you need after work to energize you for adult playtime.

2. Meditation decreases stress, which means better orgasms.

Increased cortisol levels can prevent female orgasm and cause erectile dysfunction. According to a recent study, women whose cortisol levels exceed a certain amount can become physically incapable of orgasm. Think about it: do you feel aroused when you are stressed out? Probably not.

There is a reason why almost every civilization since the beginning of time has some sort of mating ritual before sex. Things like a nice dinner, champagne, oysters and music can help set the mood and relax you for sex. The more relaxed you are going into the act itself the more likely you are to enjoy it and therefore climax.

Oh, and men are not off the hook. According to Dr. Nelson E. Bennett, MD, an erectile dysfunction expert at the Lahey Clinic, “Stress, fear, anxiety, worry, and frustration cause your body to release adrenaline which constricts your blood vessels, and that is bad for getting a good erection.

Meditation moves you out of fight or flight and into stay and play. Within a few days of starting a meditation practice adrenaline and cortisol levels drop. Your brain will start producing more dopamine and serotonin which are bliss chemicals. This bliss chemistry in the brain helps to increase your sexual appetite and increase the intensity of orgasm.

3. Meditation makes you more present, and less distracted.

Most of us have an over developed left-brain. The left brain’s job is to review the past and rehearse the future. This can keep us trapped in a past/ future thought cycle and rob us of the ability to be fully present in the right now, which is the only time an orgasm can happen.

The right brain is in charge of present moment awareness and this is the part of the brain that meditation takes to the gym. The longer we meditate, the more brain cohesion and neuroplasticity we create which balances the right and left hemispheres of the brain.

So the result of this is more attention, awareness and computing power for the task at hand. And depending on what you and your partner(s) are into it may take quite a few hands. Nobody likes a distracted lover.

4. Meditation helps you stop looking to your partner to complete you.

“You complete me” are probably the most damaging words to come out of Hollywood. No one can complete you. No partner, job, degree or number of zeros in your bank account can complete you. Your happiness exists in one place and that is inside of you and it exists in one time and that is right now.

If you do not have a meditation practice or a means by which to access that happiness, then you tend to look externally for fulfillment. If you are looking to your partner to “fill you up” spiritually or physically then you will always be disappointed as nothing external has the capacity to give you access to your bliss. Happiness is an inside job. If you are 80% fulfilled then the relationship will be a place to deliver that fulfillment, not somewhere to get the missing 20%.

5. Meditation might make your partner think you are psychic.

If you haven’t heard about mirror neurons yet, get ready. Scientists say that mirror neurons are going to do for psychology what DNA did for biology. Think of mirror neurons like tiny boomerangs emitted from your brain that go and dance with your lover’s mirror neurons and then report back. Mirror neurons allow you to “intuit” what your partner is feeling. They are why you cringe if you watch someone getting hurt. Mirror neurons are one of the reasons porn is a billion dollar industry. Simply watching someone else being pleasured can create pleasure in your brain.

Well, get this: meditation increases mirror neuron functioning. This fact, coupled with the fact that you’ll be more relaxed and present, will probably mean you’ll be a far more intuitive and generous partner.

So before you reach for the little blue pill why not resolve to learn a meditation practice? I recommend finding a technique that was made for people with busy minds and lives instead of a style made for monks. (I also recommend getting real training from a teacher you respect before you decide if you like meditation or not). With the right technique (and the right teacher), it really can be easy — and oh so fun.