Category Archives: good news

Good News Monday: A Little Goes a Long Way

Finally back home after three weeks of travels. Now that I’m not taking long walks through Paris, etc., and the weather’s turned rainy, I’m heartened by the following article.

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Just 5 minutes of movement every hour can undo harms from inactivity

OCTOBER 29, 2021 by Study Finds

LONDON — Has life indoors during the pandemic left you more inactive and fighting off the “COVID 15”? You’re not alone. COVID quarantines have dramatically lowered the amount of physical activity many people usually get through simply socializing outdoors or by going to work. Now, researchers from King’s College London say getting up and moving around for just five minutes every hour can help people shake off their pandemic inactivity.

The team compared the levels of physical activity in people suffering from genetic muscle disorders, such as muscular dystrophy, prior to and toward the end of quarantine. The participants consisted of adults with a variety of physical capacities, ranging from very mobile to needing assistance to move. The study also included 41 people in wheelchairs, who studies frequently overlook, according to the team. The results, according to the researchers, are applicable to people with a variety of capabilities since COVID isolation or switching to remote work disrupted many individuals’ normal schedules.

During the year-long assessment, accelerometers gauged the level of physical activity prior to quarantine in 2019 until the end of quarantine in 2020. These sensors recorded the duration, regularity, and degree of movement in four different categories: robust, mild, low, and sedentary.

Throughout the pandemic, results showed a considerable drop in the degree of physical activity participants got each day. Individuals, on average, were engaging in nearly an hour and a half of mild exercise each day prior to quarantine. As a result of the confinement, people spent an average of 25 minutes less each day on low activity tasks and moved less often (11% less per hour) during the day.

Being physically active is about more than just working out

Due to last year’s restrictions on traveling, outdoor recreational activities, and large gatherings, the study finds people spent less time doing light activities and moved less often in general. Since this daily light activity isn’t necessarily exercise, it’s hard for people to notice these minuscule changes in daily light activity. Despite one’s health status, moderate exercise and frequent activity during the day both play a role in better health outcomes.

“Even people who don’t do much exercise have been impacted by lockdown inactivity. During COVID-19 lockdown, our study detected an extra hour per day of inactivity in disabled and independent adults with neuromuscular diseases. Moving less is detrimental to health. Reduced activity can be especially harmful for those with neuromuscular conditions, disabilities or advanced age,” says lead author and neurological physiotherapist Sarah Roberts-Lewis in a university release.

“The reduction in light activity measured in this study is likely to be similar for anybody whose daily routine has been restricted by lockdown. Based on our findings, we suggest people move their bodies for 5 minutes each hour during the day. Additionally, spend 30 minutes each day doing some extra light activity, like yoga or chair exercises. The World Health Organization activity guidelines state ‘every move counts’; they provide suggestions about light activities suitable for all abilities. Simple changes can help with reconditioning during and after lockdown,” Roberts-Lewis concludes.

This study appears in the journal BMJ Neurology Open.

Good News (Wednesday) About a Killer

No, not the manhunt for suspected murderer Brian Laundrie; this is about a development that could save millions of lives.

The World Health Organization (W.H.O.) has just endorsed the first-ever vaccine for malaria, which is especially lethal in sub-Saharan Africa.

Malaria is one of the oldest and deadliest infectious diseases, killing about half a million people each year, including 260,000 children under age 5.

The new vaccine isn’t just a first for malaria; it’s the first one developed for any parasitic disease. Mosquitos, be warned!

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Good News Monday: Gettin’ The Boost

Another adventure in the ongoing saga,Tales of Covid. Despite all the perky reassurances that our initial Pfizer shots were still “highly” effective, whatever that means, Dear Husband and I were eager to get a third shot as soon as possible.

Breaking news Friday was that the Oregon Health Authority would follow the CDC’s Thursday booster recommendation for us 65+-ers as well as the immunocompromised and workers in potentially perilous industries.

Actually finding somewhere to do it was a bit more challenging. The first stop was a nearby RiteAid drugstore, where the apologetic youngster at the prescription drop-off told us they were waiting for the OR pharmacy board to also get on board so nothing was likely to happen any time soon.

Next stop: the Internet, to check availabilty through our local healthcare system. Although phone calls and attempting an online appointment proved futile, the walk-in urgent care clinic seemed poised to administer boosters, so off I went first thing Saturday morning while DH stayed behind to watch football and await my report. I expected long lines of eager seniors brandishing canes and face masks, but the clinic looked quite deserted.

I wasn’t optimistic, since the receptionist chirpily showed me a now-out-of-date notification that only mentioned the immunocomprised with an eight-month timeline for eligibility. But, to her credit, when I pointed out the smaller line reading “some people who received the Pfizer vaccine may get a booster six months after their second dose”, she allowed me to sign in. One of the few times that vagueness has been a benefit!

While waiting to be called back, I was happy to see two pairs of 20-somethings arriving for their second shots. The message is finally trickling down that the vaccine is a) effective and b) necessary if we’re ever going to beat this thing.

One quick jab, one sore arm, and several headaches later, I feel poised to rejoin the world with a bit less anxiety. DH, who received his booster Saturday afternoon, had more severe side effects — fatigue, soreness, headache, and feeling “flu-ish”– but is on the mend.

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Good News Monday: A Me-Too Solution in Nature

Female hummingbirds imitate males — to avoid harassment from doting mate-seekers

by John Anderer (studyfinds.org)

ITHACA, N.Y. — The “catcall” is as outdated as it is cringeworthy. Interestingly, however, a new study finds human females aren’t the only ones who have to deal with unwanted advances. Researchers report that many female hummingbirds display the same bright colors as males — all to help avoid unwanted behaviors from males looking for a mate.

This research focused on white-necked Jacobin hummingbirds living in Panama. Over a quarter of studied females had coloring usually associated with male hummingbirds. Researchers say these colors keep doting males from harassing females with common behavior such as pecking or body slamming.

“One of the ‘aha moments’ of this study was when I realized that all of the juvenile females had showy colors,” says first study author Jay Falk, currently a postdoc at the University of Washington, in a media release. Mr. Falk led this research when he was a part of the Cornell Lab of Ornithology and Smithsonian Tropical Research Institute. “For birds that’s really unusual because you usually find that when the males and females are different the juveniles usually look like the adult females, not the adult males, and that’s true almost across the board for birds. It was unusual to find one where the juveniles looked like the males. So it was clear something was at play.”

Male hummingbirds leave flashy-colored females alone

Male white-necked Jacobin hummingbirds are known for their bright, distinctly flashy color patterns, usually characterized by beautiful blue head markings, and a bright white tail and stomach. Adult females, meanwhile, aren’t as colorful, usually displaying more muted tones of gray, green, and black that work much more efficiently as camouflage.

As children, even females display vibrant colors before seeing their markings grow more muted with time. However, among the juvenile females studied by researchers, around 20 percent retained their bright colors well into adulthood. As of today, study authors can’t say exactly how or why this occurs in some female hummingbirds. It may be genetic, environmental, or entirely up to choice. That being said, researchers do conclude that whatever the mechanism, the purpose is to help avoid aggressive male behavior and harassment during feeding and mating.

“Hummingbirds are such beloved animals by many people, but there are still mysteries that we haven’t noticed or studied,” Falk explains. “It’s cool that you don’t have to go to an obscure unknown bird to find interesting and revealing results. You can just look at a bird that everyone loves to watch in the first place.”

In an experiment, the research team placed stuffed hummingbirds nearby and watched as real hummingbirds interacted with the fakes. Sure enough, males primarily harassed the fake birds with muted color patterns, and left the others alone. Additionally, most females only have bright colors as children, which is of course not a time when mating is even possible.

In the future, study authors would like to use this work to help research how differences between males and females develop across other species.

The study is published in Current Biology.

Jacobin hummingbird
This image shows a male-like female white-necked Jacobin hummingbird being released after capture and tagging. (Credit: Irene Mendez Cruz)

Good News Monday: Your Aging Brain is a Better Brain

Better brainpower with age: Some mental abilities actually improve after turning 50!

by Study Finds

WASHINGTON — Think it’s all downhill for your brain after you hit 50? Think again. Like a fine wine, some mental skills such as concentration and paying attention to detail, believe it or not, actually improve with age.

The exciting discovery could lead to better therapies for Alzheimer’s disease, say scientists.

“These results are amazing, and have important consequences for how we should view aging,” says senior investigator Michael Ullman, PhD, a professor in the Department of Neuroscience at Georgetown University and director of its Brain and Language Lab., in a statement.

The study of hundreds of older people found two key brain functions get better from our 50s onwards. They include attending to new information and focusing on what’s important in a given situation. They underlie memory, decision making and self control, and are even vital in navigation, maths, language and reading.

“People have widely assumed attention and executive functions decline with age, despite intriguing hints from some smaller-scale studies that raised questions about these assumptions, but the results from our large study indicate that critical elements of these abilities actually improve during aging, likely because we simply practice these skills throughout our life,” says Ullman. “This is all the more important because of the rapidly aging population, both in the U.S. and around the world.”

Ullman believes deliberately improving these abilities will help protect against brain decline.

Dementia cases worldwide are expected to triple to around 150 million by 2050. With no cure in sight, there is an increasing focus on lifestyle changes that reduce the risk.

For their study, the international team looked at three separate components of attention and executive function in 702 participants ages 58 to 98, when cognition often changes the most. The brain networks are involved in alerting, orienting and executive inhibition. Each has separate characteristics and relies on different regions, neurochemicals and genes, suggesting unique aging patterns. Alerting is characterized by a state of enhanced vigilance and preparedness in order to respond to incoming information. Orienting involves shifting brain resources to a particular location. The executive network shuts out distracting or conflicting information.

“We use all three processes constantly. For example, when you are driving a car, alerting is your increased preparedness when you approach an intersection. Orienting occurs when you shift your attention to an unexpected movement, such as a pedestrian,” explains first author Dr Joao Verissimo, of the University of Lisbon, “And executive function allows you to inhibit distractions such as birds or billboards so you can stay focused on driving.”

Remarkably, only alerting abilities were found to decline with age. In contrast, both orienting and executive inhibition actually got better. The latter two skills allow people to selectively attend to objects, and improve with lifelong practice, explain the researchers. The gains can be large enough to outweigh any underlying neural reductions.

In contrast, alerting may drop off because this basic state of vigilance and preparedness does not get better with implementation.

“Because of the relatively large number of participants, and because we ruled out numerous alternative explanations, the findings should be reliable and so may apply quite broadly,” says Dr Verissimo, “Moreover, because orienting and inhibitory skills underlie numerous behaviors, the results have wide ranging implications.”

“The findings not only change our view of how aging affects the mind, but may also lead to clinical improvements, including for patients with aging disorders such as Alzheimer’s disease.” adds Ullman.

The findings are published in the journal Nature Human Behavior.

South West News Service writer Mark Waghorn contributed to this report.

Good News Monday: Bonus Round

I don’t know about you, but I could use a little extra good news these days. This story comes from Georgia, so it may be a little biased. (Georgia produces one-third of the pecan harvest in the US: nearly 88 million pounds of pecans from over six thousand pecan trees.) Still food for thought.

Image by Lisa Redfern from Pixabay

Pecans can dramatically reduce bad cholesterol and fat levels

by Study Finds

ATHENS, Ga. — Adding more pecans to your diet can dramatically improve cholesterol and fat levels, leading to better heart health, a new study finds.

Researchers from the University of Georgia find people at risk for heart disease who ate pecans during an eight-week trial displayed “significant” improvements in total cholesterol, low-density lipoprotein (LDL) or “bad” cholesterol, and triglycerides — which are fats the body stores in cells.

The team saw an average drop of five percent in total cholesterol and between six and nine percent in LDL among participants who ate the nuts as part of their daily diet.

“This dietary intervention, when put in the context of different intervention studies, was extremely successful,” says study co-author Professor Jamie Cooper in a university release. “We had some people who actually went from having high cholesterol at the start of the study to no longer being in that category after the intervention.”

The research team finds these nuts beat out 51 exercise plans designed to lower cholesterol, which reported an average drop of one percent in total cholesterol and five percent in LDL cholesterol.

“The addition of pecans to the diet not only produced a greater and more consistent reduction in total cholesterol and LDL compared to many other lifestyle interventions, but may also be a more sustainable approach for long-term health,” Dr. Cooper adds. “Some research shows that even a 1% reduction in LDL is associated with a small reduction of coronary artery disease risk, so these reductions are definitely clinically meaningful.”

Adding pecans (any way you can) improves health

For the study, researchers assigned 52 adults between the ages of 30 and 75 who were at higher risk for cardiovascular disease to one of three groups. One group consumed 68 grams (about 470 calories) of pecans a day as part of their regular diet. The second group did not add the nuts on top of their normal diet, but replaced other things they ate with the same number of calories in pecans. The third control group did not eat any pecans at all.

At the eight-week mark, participants ate a high-fat meal which allowed researchers to detect changes in the fats and sugars in their blood. Results revealed improvements in the levels of fat in blood among the two pecan groups, while post-meal triglycerides dropped in the group that added pecans. Blood sugar levels were also lower in the group that replaced parts of their usual diet with pecans.

“Whether people added them or substituted other foods in the diet for them, we still saw improvements and pretty similar responses in total cholesterol and LDL cholesterol in particular,” Dr. Cooper explains.

The team says their findings back up previous research which revealed bioactive properties of pecans for possible mechanisms driving the improvements. They added that pecans are high in healthy fatty acids and fiber, both of which contribute to lower cholesterol.

The findings appear in The Journal of Nutrition.

South West News Service writer William Janes contributed to this report.

Good News Monday: Kick the “Can”

Encouraging news from the frontiers of cancer research.

Cancer’s ‘Achilles’ heel’ discovered by scientists

by Study Finds

VANCOUVER, British Columbia — Scientists may be one step closer to defeating cancer after finding what researchers at the University of British Columbia call the disease’s “Achilles’ heel.”

Their study has uncovered a protein that fuels tumors when oxygen levels are low. It enables the cancerous growths to adapt and survive and become more aggressive.

The enzyme, called CAIX (Carbonic Anhydrase IX), helps diseased cells spread to other organs. It could hold the key to new treatments for the deadliest forms of the disease, including breast, pancreatic, lungs, bowel, and prostate cancers.

Cancer cells depend on the CAIX enzyme to survive, which ultimately makes it their ‘Achilles heel.’ By inhibiting its activity, we can effectively stop the cells from growing,” says study senior author Professor Shoukat Dedhar in a university release.

The findings, published in the journal Science Advances, will help researchers develop drugs that destroy solid tumors. These are the most common types that arise in the body. They rely on blood supply to deliver oxygen and nutrients which help tumors grow.

As the tumors advance, the blood vessels are unable to provide enough oxygen to every part. Over time, the low-oxygen environment leads to a buildup of acid inside the cells. They overcome the stress by unleashing proteins, or enzymes, that neutralize the acidic conditions.

Stopping cancer before it spreads

This process is behind the spread, or metastasis, of cancer cells to other organs — which is what can kill patients. Finding a way to prevent cancer from metastasizing is the “Holy Grail” of cancer research. One of the enzymes which appears to do this is CAIX.

The Canadian team previously identified a unique compound known as SLC-0111 as a powerful inhibitor. It is currently being tested in clinical trials. Experiments in mice with breast, pancreatic, and brain cancers revealed its effectiveness.

The compound suppressed tumor growth and spread, although there were side-effects, with other cellular properties diminished. Now, the researchers have demonstrated other weaknesses in CAIX using a technique called genome-wide synthetic lethal screening. The powerful tool systematically deletes one gene at a time to determine if a cancer cell can be killed by eliminating the enzyme.

Surprisingly, results pointed to an unexpected role of proteins and processes that control a form of cell death called ferroptosis. This process happens when iron builds up and weakens a tumor’s metabolism and cell membranes.

“We now know that the CAIX enzyme blocks cancer cells from dying as a result of ferroptosis,” Dr. Dedhar adds. “Combining inhibitors of CAIX, including SLC-0111, with compounds known to bring about ferroptosis results in catastrophic cell death and debilitates tumor growth.”

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A large international effort is currently underway to identify drugs that induce ferroptosis. The study is a major step forward in this quest.

Good News Monday: Hobbits Were Real

Well, sort of, according to this article on StudyFinds.com:


‘Hobbit’ creature discovered in North America, rewriting history of mammals after dinosaur era

by Chris Melore

BOULDER, Colo. — Fossils of a creature which researchers compare to the character Beorn from “The Hobbit” may change how scientists look at the evolution of mammals following the extinction of the dinosaurs. The prehistoric mammal is one of three new species a team from the University of Colorado-Boulder have discovered that they say roamed North America shortly after the age of dinosaurs.

Paleontologists generally accept that the end of the dinosaurs is also the dawn of modern mammals on Earth. However, scientists have assumed that there was very little diversity in mammal species during the earliest Paleocene Epoch — a geological period roughly 56 to 66 million years ago. This new discovery suggests that mammals actually diversified much quicker after dinosaurs left the planet.

The three new species — Miniconus jeanninaeConacodon hettingeri, and Beornus honeyi — range in size from rat-sized mammals to modern house cats. At the largest end of the spectrum, these creatures would be much larger than their fellow mammals living alongside the dinosaurs at the time.

A smile made for the movies

Researchers say each of these animals have unique dental features which reveal them to be separate species. In the case of Beornus honeyi, its inflated molars (or puffy cheek teeth) give it the appearance of being like Beorn from “The Hobbit” — hence its colorful name.

All three mammals belong to a group called archaic ungulates (or condylarths), which are the primitive ancestors to today’s hoofed mammals such as horses, elephants, cows, and hippos. The findings come from an analysis of unearthed lower jaw bones and teeth. These fossils provide insight into an animal’s lifestyle and body size.

The team’s examination points to the animals being omnivores who could grind up both plants and meat. Despite this, scientists can’t rule out that these early mammals only ate plants during this period. One thing is certain though, mammal life took off roughly 66 millions ago following the mass extinction event that wiped out the final era of their reptilian neighbors.

“When the dinosaurs went extinct, access to different foods and environments enabled mammals to flourish and diversify rapidly in their tooth anatomy and evolve larger body size. They clearly took advantage of this opportunity, as we can see from the radiation of new mammal species that took place in a relatively short amount of time following the mass extinction,” explains lead author Madelaine Atteberry from the University of Colorado Geological Sciences Department, in a media release.

North America had a diverse rodent population?

Atteberry and co-author Jaelyn Eberle analyzed the jaw bone fossils of 29 condylarth species to determine the anatomical differences between each animal. Using phylogenetic techniques, they assessed how each species compared to other early Paleocene condylarths living in the present day western United States.

From those studies, the team believes they have unearthed three completely new species from those first years following the demise of dinosaur life. Results also show that Beornus honeyi appears to be the largest of the three, measuring about the size of a modern feline.

While Conacodon hettingeri and Miniconus jeanninae are similar in size to other rodent-like early mammals, they differ in the shape and form of their last molars.

“Previous studies suggest that in the first few hundred thousand years after the dinosaur extinction (what is known in North America as the early Puercan) there was relatively low mammal species diversity across the Western Interior of North America, but the discovery of three new species in the Great Divide Basin suggests rapid diversification following the extinction,” says Atteberry. “These new periptychid ‘condylarths’ make up just a small percentage of the more than 420 mammalian fossils uncovered at this site. We haven’t yet fully captured the extent of mammalian diversity in the earliest Paleocene, and predict that several more new species will be described.”

The findings appear in the Journal of Systematic Palaeontology.

Good News Monday: The Upside of Bad Cholesterol

Not that this is license to eat vast quantities of Brie, but it’s reassuring to know that if you take medicine for cholesterol management one surprising benefit is that it also seems to reduce COVID severity.

In a new study, researchers found that patients taking statin medications had a 41% lower risk of in-hospital death from COVID-19. Confirming their earlier hypothesis, statins have anti-inflammatory effects and binding capabilities, which could explain how they stop progression of the virus.

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Good News Monday: A Wild Comeback

As reported by the World Wildlife Fund:

The greater one-horned rhinos in India’s Manas National Park — their population once completely decimated by poaching — are making a comeback thanks to joint conservation efforts under the Indian Rhino Vision 2020 initiative.

Today, there are 44 rhinos in Manas NP and a total of around 3,700 greater one-horned rhinos in Asia, up from only 200 at the beginning of the 20th century.

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