More Effective Than Anxiety Meds: How Mindfulness Changes Your Brain

Mindfulness-based teachings have shown benefits in everything from inflammatory disorders to central nervous system dysfunction and even cancer. Now, researchers are studying how cognitive therapy utilizing mindfulness techniques can serve as a natural alternative to pharmaceuticals for people with anxiety disorders.

More Effective Than Anxiety Meds - How Mindfulness Changes Your Brain 2

Mindfulness is “the intentional, accepting and non-judgemental focus of one’s attention on the emotions, thoughts and sensations occurring in the present moment”, which can be trained by a large extent in meditational practices.

Anxiety disorders are among the most common psychiatric conditions affecting children and adolescents. While antidepressants are frequently used to treat youth with anxiety disorders, they may be poorly tolerated in children who are at high risk of developing bipolar disorder. Moreover, many antidepressants cannot be metabolized by segments of the population due to deficiencies in metabolic pathways such as Cytochrome 450. Historically, non-metabolizers are given more and more psych drugs as they become more and more psychotic until finally they hang themselves, kill someone else or become disabled in a mental institution.

So what’s better than medication? Mindfulness.

Dr. Madhav Goyal of the John Hopkins School of Medicine, who led research published in JAMA, singled out mindfulness meditation as of of the most effective forms of introspection.

“It doesn’t surprise me at all that mindfulness performs as well as or better than medication,” says Adrian Wells, a professor of psychopathology at Manchester University and a clinical advisor to the charity Anxiety UK.

A study published in the Journal of Child and Adolescent Psychopharmacology, sought to evaluate the neurophysiology of mindfulness-based cognitive therapy for children in youth with generalized, social, and/or separation anxiety disorder who were at risk for developing bipolar disorder. They looked at brain imaging in youth before and after mindfulness based therapy and saw changes in brain regions that control emotional processing. It is part of a larger study by co-principal investigators Melissa DelBello, MD, Dr. Stanley and Mickey Kaplan Professor and Chair of the UC Department of Psychiatry and Behavioral Neuroscience, and Sian Cotton, PhD, associate professor of family and community medicine, director of the UC’s Center for Integrative Health and Wellness, looking at the effectiveness of mindfulness-based therapy.

In a small group of youth identified with anxiety disorders (generalized, social and/or separation anxiety) and who have a parent with bipolar disorder, researchers evaluated the neurophysiology of mindfulness-based cognitive therapy in children who are considered at-risk for developing bipolar disorder.

“Our preliminary observation that the mindfulness therapy increases activity in the part of the brain known as the cingulate, which processes cognitive and emotional information, is noteworthy,” says Jeffrey Strawn, MD, associate professor in the Department of Psychiatry and Behavioral Neuroscience, director of the Anxiety Disorders Research Program and co-principal investigator on the study. “This study, taken together with previous research, raises the possibility that treatment-related increases in brain activity [of the anterior cingulate cortex] during emotional processing may improve emotional processing in anxious youth who are at risk for developing bipolar disorder.”

The study’s findings in regard to increases in activity in the part of the brain known as the insula, the part of the brain responsible for monitoring and responding to the physiological condition of the body, are of high interest, Strawn adds.

In this pilot trial, nine participants ages 9 to 16 years, underwent functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) while performing continuous performance tasks with emotional and neutral distractors prior to and following 12 weeks of mindful-based cognitive therapy.

“Mindfulness-based therapeutic interventions promote the use of meditative practices to increase present-moment awareness of conscious thoughts, feelings and body sensations in an effort to manage negative experiences more effectively,” says Sian Cotton, PhD, an associate professor of family and community medicine at UC, director of the UC’s Center for Integrative Health and Wellness and a co-author on the study. “These integrative approaches expand traditional treatments and offer new strategies for coping with psychological distress.”

The intention of Mindfulness Meditation is secular; namely, to train the mind, in the same way that we would lift weights to strengthen a muscle, to be able to concentrate — and avoid weakly wandering around on autopilot — for longer and longer periods of time.

“Clinician-rated anxiety and youth-rated trait anxiety were significantly reduced following treatment; the increases in mindfulness were associated with decreases in anxiety. Increasingly, patients and families are asking for additional therapeutic options, in addition to traditional medication-based treatments, that have proven effectiveness for improved symptom reduction. Mindfulness-based therapies for mood disorders is one such example with promising evidence being studied and implemented at UC.

“The path from an initial understanding of the effects of psychotherapy on brain activity to the identification of markers of treatment response is a challenging one, and will require additional studies of specific aspects of emotional processing circuits,” says Strawn.

Mindfulness is gaining a growing popularity as a practice in daily life, apart from Buddhist insight meditation and its application in clinical psychology. In this context mindfulness is defined as moment-by-moment awareness of thoughts, feelings, bodily sensations, and surrounding environment, characterized mainly by “acceptance” — attention to thoughts and feelings without judging whether they are right or wrong. Mindfulness focuses the human brain on what is being sensed at each moment, instead of on its normal rumination on the past or on the future.

HOPE-3: Statins with or without BP-lowering drugs reduce CV events in intermediate-risk patients

Data from the HOPE-3 trial support the expanded use of statins in intermediate-risk individuals who do not have CVD, and indicate that statin therapy in combination with antihypertensive medications offers a 30% reduction in CV events, but only in participants with high BP.

The findings could eventually lead to development and use of a polypill for primary prevention, researchers reported.

“The implications for practice are huge — I think we certainly should consider using statins much more widely than we have used them thus far,” Salim Yusuf, MBBS, DPhil, professor of medicine at McMaster University and executive director of the Population Health Research Institute of McMaster University and Hamilton Health Sciences, said in a press release. “In particular for patients with hypertension, our study suggests you can essentially double the benefit of lowering [BP] in hypertensives if you also lower cholesterol simultaneously.”

Salim Yusuf, MBBS, DPhil

Salim Yusuf

Yusuf said during a press conference at the American College of Cardiology Scientific Session that “this was the first formal testing of the polypill concept on clinical events.

“The trial demonstrated that the concept is valid in people with elevated BP. In others, there is no benefit,” he said. The findings were also published in three articles in the New England Journal of Medicine.

The 2-by-2 factorial trial included 12,705 people in 21 countries. Eligibility for enrollment was based on age and presence of at least one CV risk factor, but not on baseline lipid level. The researchers investigated the effectiveness of rosuvastatin (Crestor, AstraZeneca) 10 mg/day and candesartan 16 mg/day plus hydrochlorothiazide 12.5 mg/day as well as the combination of the two therapies in reducing CV events in patients at intermediate risk for CVD. The first co-primary outcome was the composite of death from CV causes, nonfatal MI or nonfatal stroke and the second co-primary outcome was resuscitated cardiac arrest, HF and revascularization. Median follow-up was 5.6 years.

CV benefit of BP-lowering medications

In the primary analysis of the trial, the effectiveness of candesartan (16 mg/day) plus hydrochloride (12.5 mg/day) was compared against a placebo.

“One of the unique features of the main study results was that it allowed a relatively wide range of BP entry levels,”Eva Lonn, MD, FACC, a cardiologist and professor of cardiology at McMaster University and senior scientist at the Population Health Research Institute, said at the press conference. “This is why we were successful in conducting some subgroups in the trial.”

Eva Lonn

According to the results, there was a 6 mm Hg systolic/3 mm Hg diastolic greater decrease in BP in the treatment group than in placebo, and 260 participants (4.1%) in the treatment group experienced the first coprimary endpoint compared with 279 (4.4%) in the placebo group (HR = 0.93; 95% CI, 0.79 -1.1; P = .4).

Three hundred and twelve participants (4.9%) in the treatment group met the secondary primary endpoint versus 328 (5.2%) of those assigned placebo (HR = .95; 95% CI, 0.81 to 1.11; P = .51) in the placebo group. However, in a subgroup analysis of patients with systolic BP >143.5 mm Hg, significant reductions were observed in both primary endpoints.

“Overall in this population, the [BP]-lowering drugs had no clear benefit, but in those with higher [BP] before therapy — over 143.5 mm Hg — the treatment was effective. However, there was no benefit in those with lower [BP] and even a tendency towards harm in those in the lowest third of the [BP] distribution,” Lonn said.

Targeting both cholesterol and BP

In a secondary analysis, participants were randomized to either rosuvastatin 10 mg/day and candesartan 16 mg/day plus hydrochlorothiazide 12.5 mg/day (n = 3,180) or to dual placebo (n = 3,168). The researchers observed that participants assigned the combined treatment experienced a reduction in CV events.

“Most of the hypertension guidelines right now focus on what agents to use and what [BP] to aim for, and there has been very little emphasis on the importance of statins in treating patients with hypertension,” Yusuf said in a press release.

“Our approach, which used a combination of moderate doses of two [BP]-lowering-drugs plus a statin, appears to produce the biggest ‘bang,’ in terms of reducing events, with few side effects,” he said.

One hundred thirteen (3.6%) participants in the combined treatment group experienced the first coprimary endpoint compared with 157 (5%) from the dual placebo group (HR = 0.71; 95% CI, 0.56 to .90; P = .005). A reduction in the second coprimary endpoint was seen as well, 4.3% in combined therapy group vs. 5.9% in the dual placebo group (HR = 0.72; 95% CI, 0.57 to 0.89; P = .003).

In addition, those in the combined therapy group had a 33.7 mg/dL-greater decrease in LDL level and a 6.2 mm Hg-greater decrease in systolic BP than those in the dual placebo group.

Expanding statin use

In another analysis, the broad application of statins to an ethnically diverse population at intermediate risk was evaluated.

“Unique features of this arm of the trial included that there was no entry criteria based on lipid levels, no routine monitoring through the study, and no dose titration,” Jackie Bosch, PhD, associate professor of rehabilitation science at McMaster University and director of the prevention program at the Population Health Research Institute, said at the press conference.

Mean LDL cholesterol level was reduced 26.5% in the rosuvastatin group compared with the placebo group, according to the results. Two hundred and thirty-five participants (3.7%) in the rosuvastatin group vs. 304 participants (4.8%) in the placebo group (HR = 0.76; 95% CI, .64-.91; P = .002) met the first coprimary endpoint. Similar results were found with the second coprimary endpoint: 277 patients (4.4%) in the rosuvastatin group vs. 363 participants (5.7%) in the placebo group (HR = 0.75; 95% CI, 0.64 to 0.88; P < .001).

“There were consistent benefits regardless of baseline LDL cholesterol, systolic BP, CV risk and ethnicity,” Bosch said.

The researchers noted a longer follow-up might be needed to see the full effects of the therapies, and that they plan on continuing follow-up for another 3 to 5 years and to further analyze possible ethnic and geographic differences.

In an editorial published in NEJM, William C. Cushman, MD, of the Veterans Affairs Medical Center in Memphis, TN and David C. Goff, Jr., MD, PhD, of the Colorado School of Public Health at the University of Colorado, wrote that “these results support a risk-based approach to statin use, which has been recommended in recent guidelines, rather than an approach that is based primarily on LDL cholesterol levels, and the results add to the evidence supporting statin use for primary prevention.”

Cushman and Goff pointed out that while “neither of the drugs for BP lowering that were used in the trial have been shown to reduce the risk of CV events at such low doses … if higher doses had been used, the risk of CV events might have been significantly reduced, whether from greater BP lowering, additional effects of the antihypertensive drugs or both.”

 “These results may help to define the combined threshold of systolic [BP] (< 140 mm Hg) and [CV] risk (< 5%) below which the use of [BP]-lowering medications may not be useful in the short-term. However, these results do not rule out the possibility of a benefit with longer-term treatment in a portion of this relatively low-risk population,” Cushman and Goff wrote. – Tracey Romero

Statin therapy reduces MACE, mortality in asymptomatic PAD

Patients with a low ankle-brachial index, but without clinically recognized CVD, may experience lower major adverse CV events and mortality rates while on statin therapy, according to study findings published in the Journal of the American College of Cardiology.

Rafel Ramos, MD, PhD, of the Jordi Gol Institute for Primary Care Research in Girona, Spain, and researchers categorized 5,480 patients from the Catalan primary care system’s clinical database into two groups: statins nonusers or new users (first prescription or re-prescribed after at least 6 months). All of the patients had an ankle-brachial index of 0.95 or lower and no diagnosis of CVD. The patients’ mean age was 67 years and 44% were women. Diabetes and hypertension were prevalent diagnoses in this population. The median follow-up was 3.6 years.

The primary outcomes were all-cause mortality and MACE, which includedMI, cardiac revascularization and ischemic stroke. Angina and CHD were secondary outcomes.

The incidence of MACE was 19.7 events/1,000 person-years in new statin users and 24.7 events/1,000 person-years in nonusers. The rate of all-cause mortality was 24.8 in new users and 30.3 in nonusers. The HRs for MACE decreased by 20% and all-cause mortality by 19%.

According to the researchers, up to 85% of patients with asymptomatic peripheral artery disease could be identified with ankle-brachial screening. This suggests that an ankle-brachial index of 0.95 or lower may be useful in identifying good candidates for statin therapy, regardless of the lack of other risk factors, they wrote.

“Recent American College of Cardiology/American Heart Association guidelines on the treatment of blood cholesterol to reduce atherosclerotic [CV] risk in adults suggest that [ankle-brachial index] can be assessed as an additional factor to support statin therapy in patients at low 10-year [CHD] risk and with moderate LDL cholesterol blood level,” the researchers wrote.

Due to the observational design of the study, there may not be enough evidence to establish clinical recommendations, but the researchers called for randomized controlled trials to evaluate this further.

In a related editorial, Mary McGrae McDermott, MD, from Northwestern University Feinberg School of Medicine, andMichael H. Criqui, MD, MPH, from the University of California, San Diego School of Medicine, noted that “the AHA/ACC guidelines on cholesterol treatment already suggest that people with PAD should be treated with cholesterol-lowering therapy. This recommendation is not limited to people who have symptoms.”

“Widespread [ankle-brachial index] screening could be potentially useful if it identified a large number of individuals with a low [ankle-brachial index] who would otherwise not qualify for cholesterol-lowering therapy,” McDermott and Criqui wrote. “However, the results reported by Ramos et al suggest that most patients in their study qualified for statin therapy even before the [ankle-brachial index] measurement.”

Instead, McDermott and Criqui suggested the focus should be on patients with a low ankle-brachial index, but no other indications for statins. They wrote, however, that because this would be a small population, there was no justification for universal ankle-brachial index screening. – by Tracey Romero

No benefit to reducing LDL levels below 70 mg/dL with statin therapy

Recent findings published in JAMA Internal Medicine showed that reducing LDL cholesterol levels below 70 mg/dL did not result in any added benefit for patients undergoing statin therapy.

“Results from recent clinical trials of statins in combination with adjunctive medications for secondary prevention have led to renewed emphasis on the concept that ‘lower is better’ for target LDL [cholestrol] levels,” Morton Leibowitz, MD, at Clalit Research Institute in Israel, and colleagues wrote. “The present population-based observational study examines whether the principle of lower is better is applicable to long-term treatment of patients with [ischemic heart disease] in the community setting, by assessing the relationship between observed LDL [cholesterol] levels and cardiovascular outcomes in the largest health care organization in Israel.”

The American Heart Association’s guidelines do not establish target LDL levels, but the European Society of Cardiology recommends an LDL level below 70 mg/dL, the researchers wrote.

To assess whether this recommendation reduced the incidence of cardiac events, the researchers performed an observational study of patients on statin therapy for ischemic heart disease between 2009 and 2013 in Israel. Patients were aged between 30 and 84 years and were excluded if they had active cancer or any metabolic abnormalities, and were at least 80% adherent to treatment. Patients who were at least 50% adherent were also included in a sensitivity analysis. Adverse cardiac events included stroke, angioplasty, bypass surgery, unstable angina, all-cause mortality and myocardial infarction.

The cohort with at least 80% adherence included 31,619 patients, with a mean age of 67.3 years. In this group, the researchers found that the adjusted incidence for adverse outcomes was no different for patients with an LDL level lower than 70 mg/dL compared with those who had an LDL level between 70 and 100 mg/dL (HR = 1.02; 95% CI, 0.97-1.07). However, there was a lower incidence for patients with an LDL level between 70 and 100 mg/dL compared with those who had an LDL level between 100 and 130 mg/dL (HR = 0.89; 95% CI, 0.84-0.94; P < .001).

The sensitivity analysis included 54,884 patients. The adjusted HR was 1.06 in the low vs. moderate LDL level group (95% CI, 1.02-1.1). and 0.87 in the moderate vs. high LDL level group.

In a related commentary, Simon B. Ascher, MD, MPH, resident physician at the University of California, San Francisco School of Medicine, and colleagues wrote that this study helps clarify the goals of long-term statin therapy.

“The findings suggest that targeting and LDL [cholesterol] level of less than 100 mg/dL achieves the same cardiovascular risk reduction as more aggressive LDL [cholesterol] targets, which could help to minimize adverse effects that are more common with higher statin doses needed for lower LDL targets while maximizing benefits,” Ascher and colleagues wrote. “The finding of improved outcomes below a threshold LDL [cholesterol] level also supports consideration of absolute LDL [cholesterol] levels instead of relative LDL [cholesterol] percentage reductions for gauging and adequate response to statin therapy and raises questions about the practice of statin dosing by intensity.” – by Will Offit

Do Fasting Diets Work?

Some people fast as a way to lose weight. Others fast to try to detox their bodies, or for religious reasons.

If you’re fasting to lose weight, you may want to reconsider. The weight loss may not last after you finish fasting.

If your goal is to detox your body, you should know that your body naturally detoxes itself.

Fasting diets aren’t all the same. Some allow only liquids like water, juice, or tea. Others cut calories drastically, but don’t completely ban food. And on some plans, you fast every other day.

Why Fasting for Weight Loss Can Backfire

When you eat less than you need and you lose weight, your body goes into a starvation mode. To save energy, your metabolism slows down.

When you’re done fasting and you go back to your usual diet, you may regain the weight you lost, and then some.

On a fast, your body adjusts by curbing your appetite, so you will feel less hungry at first. But once you have stopped fasting, your appetite revs back up. You may feel hungrier and be more likely to overeat.

Fasting every other day has similar results. It helps people lose weight, but not for long.

In one study, people who fasted every other day shed weight, even when they ate all they wanted on days when they weren’t fasting. But the weight loss didn’t last over time.

Is Fasting Safe?

Fasting for a few days probably won’t hurt most people who are healthy, provided they don’t get dehydrated. But fasting for long periods of time is bad for you.

Your body needs vitamins, minerals, and other nutrients from food to stay healthy. If you don’t get enough, you can have symptoms such as fatigue, dizziness, constipation, dehydration, and not being able to tolerate cold temperatures. Fasting too long can be life threatening.

Don’t fast, even for a short time, if you have diabetes, because it can lead to dangerous dips and spikes in blood sugar.

Other people who should not fast include women who are pregnant or breastfeeding, anyone with a chronic disease, the elderly, and children.

Before you go on a new diet, particularly one that involves fasting, ask your doctor if it’s a good choice for you. You can also ask your doctor for a referral to a registered dietitian, who can show you how to design a healthy eating plan.

Reduced statin benefits observed as CKD worsens

In patients with advanced chronic kidney disease, the benefits of statin therapy on cardiovascular outcomes decreased with declining estimated glomerular filtration rate, according to a recent meta-analysis.

“Our results show that, even after allowing for somewhat smaller reductions in LDL cholesterol as GFR declines, there is a trend towards smaller relative risk reductions for major coronary events and strokes,” researchers from the Cholesterol Treatment Trialists’ (CTT) Collaboration wrote. “In particular, there was little evidence that statin-based therapy was effective in patients starting treatment after dialysis had been initiated.”

Researchers from the CTT analyzed patient data from 28 randomized controlled trials assessing the effects of statin therapy on LDL cholesterol reduction according to baseline renal function (n = 183,419; mean age, 62 years; 73% men; 58% with vascular disease; 20% with diabetes). In 23 trials, a statin-based regimen was compared with control (n = 143,807; mean baseline LDL cholesterol, 3.64 mmol/L; mean difference in LDL cholesterol at 1 year, –1.08 mmol/L; median follow-up, 4.8 years). In the remaining five trials, researchers assessed the effects of an intensive statin regimen vs. standard statin regimen (n = 39,612; mean baseline LDL cholesterol, 2.53 mmol/L; mean difference in LDL cholesterol at 1 year, –0.51 mmol/L; median follow-up, 5.1 years).

Baseline renal function data were available for 99% of patients; 68% had an eGFR of at least 60 mL/min/1.73 m²; 19% had an eGFR between 45 and 60 mL/min/1.73 m²; 6% had an eGFR between 30 to 45 mL/min/1.73 m²; 3% had an eGFR 30 mL/min/1.73 m² or less and were not on dialysis; 4% were on dialysis.

Statin therapy treatment effects were estimated with rate ratio (RR) per mmol/L reduction in LDL cholesterol.

Researchers found that statin-based treatment reduced the risk for a first major vascular event by 21% per mmol/L reduction in LDL cholesterol (RR = 0.79; 95% CI, 0.77-0.81), including reduced risks for major coronary events (RR = 0.76; 95% CI, 0.73-0.79) and stroke (RR = 0.84; 95% CI, 0.8-0.89).

“There was a significant trend towards smaller proportional effects on major vascular events with lower eGFR at randomization (P = .008 for trend),” the researchers wrote. “Within each baseline renal function category, the proportional reduction in major vascular events was similar, irrespective of estimated cardiovascular risk level.”

Researchers also found that, overall, statin therapy reduced the need for coronary revascularization procedures by 25% per mmol/L LDL cholesterol reduction (RR = 0.75; 95% CI, 0.73-0.78); however, there was no trend observed for this outcome by baseline renal function.

Statin therapy also reduced the risk for vascular death overall by 12% per mmol/L reduction in LDL cholesterol (RR = 0.88; 95% CI, 0.85-0.91), and researchers found a trend toward smaller proportional effects on vascular mortality with declining baseline renal function (P = .03 for trend).

“However, reducing LDL cholesterol with statin-based therapy had no significant effect on non-vascular mortality at any level of renal function,” the researchers wrote.

In sensitivity analyses excluding patients undergoing dialysis at randomization, researchers did not observe any trends for vascular outcomes or deaths across eGFR categories (P > .05 for all trend values).

In a commentary accompanying the study, Muh Geot Wong, MBBS, PhD, FRACP, and Vlado Perkovic, PhD, FASN, FRACP, both of The George Institute for Global Health, University of Sydney, Australia, noted the results raise further questions regarding the effects of lipid-lowering in advanced disease and highlight the importance of new trials with highly-effective agents.

“By defining what we still do not know, this analysis will hopefully encourage further studies that improve outcomes for this high-risk patient group,” they wrote. – by Regina Schaffer

The Physics Behind a Madman’s Parachute-Free Skydive Into a Giant Net

LUKE AIKINS WENT skydiving without a parachute. This is crazy—not because it’s impossible, but because really bad things happen if you make a mistake. If you haven’t seen the video, it shows Aikins stepping out of a plane at 25,000 feet and falling into a net—without using a parachute.

Clearly there are some physics questions here. Let’s get started.

Does it matter that he jumped from 25,000 feet?

The short answer? No. It doesn’t really matter if you jump from 25,000 feet or 15,000 feet. In both cases, you’d have a final speed of about 150 mph. Although it’s true that a ball dropped from 4 meters will hit the ground at twice the speed as a ball dropped from 1 meter, that only works if we can ignore the air resistance force.

What is the air resistance force? This is a force that an object feels as it moves through air. You can feel this yourself when you put your hand out the window of a moving car. This force depends on:

  • The speed of the object’s motion in the air.
  • The size of the object.
  • The shape of the object.
  • The density of the air.

Since the force depends on the speed, an object dropped from rest will initially have zero air resistance force. The gravitational force will pull the object down and it will accelerate as it falls. When the acceleration is in the same direction as the velocity, this means that the object speeds up.  Now that the object is moving downward, there is an air resistance force. This force increases with speed. Eventually, the air resistance force will be equal in magnitude to the gravitational force and the object will fall at a constant velocity. This is called terminal velocity.

Terminal velocity depends on the shape and size of the object as well as its mass. For a human skydiver, terminal velocity usually is between 120 and 150 mph. Here’s a simple experiment: Take one coffee filter and a stack of two coffee filters. Drop them.


Since the coffee filters have the same shape and size, the only significant difference is the mass. The double stack will have twice the gravitational force as it falls so it will achieve higher terminal velocity.

OK, so a skydiver jumping from 25,000 feet should get to the ground with the same speed as a skydiver jumping from 15,000 feet. But are there any other differences? My guess is that it would be better to jump from a higher starting point to allow more time for making corrections to land in the net. Also, if you are gonna go out, go out with style.

There is one other big difference between 25,000 and 15,000 feet—the air density. At 25,000 feet the partial pressure of oxygen is so low that your brain won’t function correctly. Skydivers and mountaineers address this with oxygen masks. I won’t say anything more beyond suggesting you check out this awesome video by Destin (Smarter Every Day) on the effects of high altitude on the body.

How does the net stop a jumper?

Stopping a human is all about acceleration. The acceleration depends on the change in velocity and the time it takes to make this change. No matter what, this skydiver will slow from 150 mph to 0 mph—the question is how long it will take. If the acceleration of a human is too high, bad things can happen, including injury and even death. NASA has a nice chart on the human tolerance to acceleration. From this you can see that humans can survive up to 30 G’s for very short periods.

A traditional skydiver will have an acceleration when the parachute is opened. This can take a few seconds to slow the jumper and give an acceleration of acceptable levels. If you want to stop in a net instead of a parachute, you need to think about time. How do you stop in a long enough time interval? The only answer is to make a net that stretches a large distance. This will give the skydiver a longer stopping time with a reasonable acceleration. If you want to stop with an acceleration of 10 G’s, you would need a stretch distance of at least 2.3 meters (7.5 feet). Looking at the video, it appears that Luke stretched the net quite a bit more than 7 feet.

Why does he flip on his back?

At the end of Luke’s fall, he rolls over from facing down to facing up. I’m not a professional net jumper, so I am going to speculate on his reasons. First, humans have a higher tolerance to accelerations that are “eyeballs in”—that’s actually what they call it. This is the acceleration that would be in the direction that your nose points if you are flat on your back. So, by flipping over he is “eyeballs in.” Second, being on your back is better for your arms and legs. The net will bend body parts in toward your torso as the net stretches. If you are facing down, this could push your arms and legs in a way they weren’t designed to bend. It could hurt.

Of course there is a downside to flipping onto your back—you can’t see where you are going. But maybe it’s best to not know exactly what’s going to happen at the very end.

An Electrical Fire May Have Sparked a Mini-Volcano in Iraq

EVERY ONCE IN a while, we get some truly strange “volcano” news. This would count as strange: In Kirkuk, Iraq, video was captured of a “mini-volcano” appearing underneath a house (see below). The “eruption” was small, maybe a foot or two across with spattering lava and fumes. Al Arabiya reported that this pit of molten rock may have been created by an electrical fire underneath the building. The video shows that the ground isn’t merely hot but actually molten.

View image on Twitter

If you’re thinking “that’s impossible”, consider this: Electrical fires and arcing can reach temperatures of over 3000ºC. If you even had a sustained electrical fire under the building that reached 1000-2000ºC, the quartz-rich, sandy material (especially if calcite is mixed with it, which is common in this area) under and next to the house could melt—you only need to get the material to maybe 1000-1500ºC (and keep it there for awhile) to melt sand, as they do to make glass.

There really isn’t a geologic way to make a mini-volcano like this; to sustain molten rock (magma) underground, you need a lot of it. This bucket full of lava is likely to solidify very quickly once the source of the heat (the electrical fire) is removed. Tectonically, Kirkuk is nowhere near any known volcanic provinces. You’d like need to travel into northern Iran before you reach any potentially active volcanoes.

The area around Kirkuk is known for its oil fields, but to have subterranean fires related to hydrocarbons, you really need coal, not oil. Underground coal fires can burn for decades, but they burn at 150-250ºC range, much too low to melt sand or rock.

This isn’t the first time humans have made their own lava. Sometimes it can be by accident, like the “corium” flow that formed during the meltdown at Chernobyl in 1986. That was caused by the heat from the radioactive elements in the reactor melting the casing around the containment unit.

In a little safer endeavor, artists and geologists at Syracuse University have been making their own lava flows for years now by melting chips of volcanic rock in a cauldron typically used to melt metal. They have been able to mimic a wide variety of lava flows and test how lava flow behaves as it moves over all kinds of lava surface like snow, ice, or wet sand. Not as strange as an accidental mini-volcano, but still pretty cool.

New Navy Tech Makes It Easy to Land on a Carrier. Yes, Easy

FOR NAVY PILOTS who land jets on aircraft carriers, life is tough. First, there’s the bit about touching down at precisely the right time and position to have the tailhook catch the arresting wire and bring you to a stop before the runway—all 300 feet of it— runs out. And then there’s the fact flight decks don’t stay still. They heave and sway with the sea. In the seconds before touchdown, a pilot typically makes hundreds of small changes to his trajectory.

The US Navy says new tech could make white-knuckle carrier traps a thing of the past. It recently completed testing the Maritime Augmented Guidance with Integrated Controls for Carrier Approach and Recovery Precision Enabling Technologies, a software mod that makes a carrier approach nearly as routine as a runway landing. In the Pentagon’s honored tradition of strained acronyms, the Navy calls it Magic Carpet.

According to the Naval Air Warfare Center Aircraft Division in Patuxent River, Maryland, which led the development of Magic Carpet, the system works with the plane’s autopilot to maintain the approach using what’s called direct lift control. In short, once the pilot sets the glide angle of the approach, it becomes the “neutral” setting for the controls.


The autopilot tracks the position of the deck, adjusting the throttle, flaps, ailerons, and stabilizers to keep the flight path and angle of attack on point. Instead of maintaining continuous pressure on the stick and making myriad inputs before landing, the pilot can relax. Any adjustments he does make are incorporated into the autopilot settings.

During a week of trials last month, test pilots flying F/A-18 Super Hornets conducted nearly 600 touch-and-go landings and many tailhook-arrested landings on the Nimitz-class USS George Washington. They made both highly accurate approaches and deliberately inaccurate approaches, with varying wind speeds and directions. According to engineers with the Navy and Boeing, the system increased the accuracy and consistency of landings under all conditions. Those landings were less stressful, too: Pilots typically perform 300 corrections to their flight path in the final 18 seconds of an approach. Magic Carpet drops that between 10 and 20.

The Navy is quick to stress that the system is not fully automated, and pilots remain in control. Magic Carpet just simplifies the descent. And because it augments existing flight control systems, it doesn’t require hardware mods. It will take flight on the F/A-18 Super Hornet, the EA-18G Growler, and F-35 Lightning II Joint Strike Fighter, all of which have the digital flight controls needed to work with the system.

The Navy expects to start integrating the system in 2019. Beyond reducing stress, Magic Carpet could minimize the time and effort needed to train pilots for carrier landings, allowing more time for tactical training. It also could reduce the time and money spent maneuvering carriers into ideal landing positions. Fewer aborted landings saves fuel, and fewer hard landings saves wear and tear on aircraft. And you thought Aladdin’s flying carpet was cool.

Can a “Triple Package” of Personality Traits Explain Success?

The “tiger mother” thesis is refuted by science.

If the presence of these three traits predict success, regardless of one’s ethnic or cultural group, then one might more confidently conclude that it is the combination of traits – rather than some other reason – that leads to greater success.  

In 2011, Yale law professor Amy Chua became a household name after publishing her book Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother, a memoir documenting her draconian parenting style. Chua generated lots of publicity for her shock value anecdotes, like the time she threatened to burn all her daughter’s stuffed animals as consequence for playing poorly on the piano. Chua claims that her parenting techniques were not only typical of Chinese immigrants, but explained why Chinese Americans, on average, have educationally outperformed other ethnic groups.

Three years later, Chua collaborated with her husband and fellow Yale law professor, Jed Rubenfeld, to write a book that makes even bolder claims about how cultural differences explain group disparities in success. In The Triple Package: How Three Unlikely Traits Explain the Rise and Fall of Cultural Groups in America, Chua and Rubenfeld argue that a unique combination of three personality traits are the magic formula behind achievement. The three traits are: a belief in the superiority of one’s own group, a tendency towards feelings of insecurity, and the ability to control one’s impulses. According to the book, individuals who belong to cultures that emphasize these three traits tend to do better. As examples of their theory at work, Chua and Rubenfeld point out the greater success of Mormons, Nigerians, Persians, Cubans, Indians, East Asians, Lebanese, and Jews.

Chua and Rubenfeld’s book was met with harsh opposition, particularly from Asian Americans who objected to what they saw as the perpetuation of the “model minority” stereotype — the idea that Asian Americans tend to do well because of a cultural emphasis on work ethic, family values, and conformity. (Chua is Chinese.) Like all stereotypes, the model minority stereotype ignores the vast diversity within the Asian American population as well as the challenges faced by many people within that group.

The book also received praise from critics who lauded its frank discussion of an important question: why do some groups in America, on average, tend to do better than others? If one examines Chua and Rubenfeld’s theory closely, it becomes apparent that it is ultimately psychological rather than cultural: they propose that a specific combination of psychological traits can explain success, and they believe that people from certain groups are more likely to possess them. Joshua Hart and Christopher Chabris, both psychology professors at Union College, decided to empirically test the “triple package” hypothesis, using twostudies with a combined online sample of over 1200 adults of various ethnic backgrounds.

The researchers deliberately chose to study a sample of representative Americans, rather than members of the successful groups mentioned by Chua and Rubenfeld, since this would offer a stronger test of the theory. If the presence of these three traits predict success, regardless of one’s ethnic or cultural group, then one might more confidently conclude that it is the combination of traits – rather than some other reason – that leads to greater success.

The triple package’s first trait, a belief in the superiority of one’s own group, was measured with a scale that asked respondents how much they agree with statements such as, “Most other cultures are backward compared to my culture.” Measuring insecurity, the second trait, proved a bit more complex because Chua and Rubenfeld argue in their book that insecurity can take many forms including low self-esteem, feelings of danger, or fear of losing what one already has. Therefore, the researchers measured insecurity using multiple scales. They combined their participants’ scores on these scales and identified the following three factors of insecurity: personal insecurity, contingent self-worth, and family insecurity. For “control,” the third trait, they used scales of impulsiveness, conscientiousness, and grit.

The researchers also measured their participants’ cognitive abilities through vocabulary and mathematical reasoning tests. Although Chua and Rubenfeld’s theory does not emphasize intelligence, past research has shown that general cognitive abilities are one of the strongest predictors of achievement and success. Finally, to measure life success, Hart and Chabris had their participants report on their annual income, level of education, and honors and awards they have received. All of these measures of success were combined to create a single, combined “success” variable.

The researchers used regression analysis to determine the strength of the relationship between the personality traits and self-reported success. The findings did not support Chua and Rubenfeld’s triple package theory of traits. The participants reporting the most success were not the ones who scored highly on all three traits. Instead, the biggest predictors of success were cognitive ability and parental education. Also, in direct contradiction to Chua and Rubenfeld’s theory, greater personal insecurity was related toless success in life.

There were, however, a couple of isolated findings that did support elements of the triple package hypothesis. Participants who scored higher on contingent self-worth reported greater success. People with high contingent self-worth tend to rely more on outer circumstances, such as the praise of other people, in order to feel good about themselves. It makes sense that people who have a high need for external approval would work harder to achieve outward success. In addition, there was a small but significant correlation between feelings of group superiority and attaining a higher income. In other words, the more hubris that participants expressed about their own ethnic group, the more money they reported making. Despite these individual findings in support of the theory, Hart and Chabris found no consistent evidence that it is the unique combination of the three traits – group superiority, personal insecurity, and impulse control – that leads to greater success.

If Chua and Rubenfeld’s theory can’t explain the success of certain groups, then what might? Hart and Chabris point out that, although it seems appealing to think that we can identify a group of learnable traits that determine success, there is scant evidence for such a formula. The idea of a “triple package” may seem compelling because it seems to fit with our own personal observations and common stereotypes about immigrants. In addition, the theory meshes well with the belief that success depends on one’s hard work and personal qualities, rather than one’s circumstances. But, as best we know, success is best explained by such unsurprising factors as being smart, being conscientious, and having the good fortune of growing up in a financially stable environment.

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