Category Archives: Uncategorized

Do You Have PPSD*?

(*Post-Pandemic Survival Dysfunction)

Even as daily life seems headed towards recovery, it’s hard to relax. This insightful analysis explains why “burnout” only begins to describe what so many of us have been feeling.

[by Soo Youn, The Washington Post]

Why burnout won’t go away, even as life returns to ‘normal’

For Marcia Howard, the Cheez-Its were a breaking point.

At her son’s first in-person school event this year, she realized she forgot to bring the class snack.

“I just broke down in the car and I started crying,” she said. As a class parent, she was torn up about forgetting the crackers. “It turns out everything has been overwhelming. And there’s no shaking it.”

Howard started a new job at the beginning of the coronavirus pandemic working as a creative operations director at a Fortune 500 company.

“I’m a Black woman. Between the pandemic and everything that happened to George Floyd and the summer of protests. . . . I had that first wave of, ‘Oh, gosh, I’m tired. I don’t feel like I can do anything. I stay up all night, looking at my phone and just really can’t focus,’ ” she said.

Then the fall came around, and it became clear many schools wouldn’t fully reopen for in-person learning.

“I’ve never thought about quitting more,” said Howard, who lives in New York City.

She’s been told by her company that she can take time off as she needs, but it’s just not that simple for her, she said. “It is all really wonderful to hear. But trying to prove myself in a corporate environment as the only Black leader, can I?” Howard said.

In February, she says she was told by her therapist that she was on the verge of depression.

“I feel like everyone is starting to think the world is getting back to normal, and I just can’t even bring myself to be hopeful about it,” Howard said.

With vaccinations initiated for half of Americans over 12, and guidance on masking and social distancing easing, the triage stage of the pandemic is lessening for some in the United States. Yet external progress markers can disguise – or even induce – a flurry of conflicting emotional, physical or cognitive states. Like getting sick right after turning in your last final, for some women who bore the brunt of domestic burdens while juggling work pressures for over a year, the breaking point may come with the breathing room.

As the country races toward a “normal” summer, for women like Howard, the picture doesn’t match up with her reality. She’s still struggling through a burnout unlike any other.

“Traditionally, we think of burnout being a state where someone is increasingly overwhelmed with the tasks in their lives, feeling a markedly decreased sense of accomplishment and effectiveness in what they are doing, and feeling like the things they loved to do now feel like just additional tasks. After a time, there can be mental health consequences,” said Maureen Sayres Van Niel, a Boston-based psychiatrist.

The pandemic magnified that condition exponentially.

“We had women with and without children managing situations that had life and death consequences in their daily lives: how to provide food for their families when the deadly virus was omnipresent or they were suddenly without an income, how to care for an elderly mother without physical contact,” she said. “Burnout in the traditional sense doesn’t capture the sense of the past year’s events.”

By March 2021, 1 in 4 Americans adults suffered the loss of a close friend or relative to the coronavirus, according to the KFF coronavirus vaccine Monitor; about 1 in 3 knew someone who died. And for those with family and friends in countries where death tolls are mounting daily, there is little relief.

“By mid-summer many will likely be feeling conflicting emotions such as relief that they are protected against the virus and happiness to see friends and family again. But having these new freedoms allows us to reflect on what we just lived through, what we endured, and what we lost. We will then be able to really feel our burnout, to let it surface,” said Stanford University sociologist Marianne Cooper. “People will need time to process what they have lived through.”

People are also mourning the loss of jobs – as well as routines, health, opportunities and time.

Baltimore-based psychiatrist Kimberly Gordon says burnout isn’t an adequate term. She treats patients from underserved communities and has lived and worked through traumatic events like Hurricane Katrina. She frames the current conversation as one of moral injury, a term referring to “the strong cognitive and emotional response that can occur following events that violate a person’s moral or ethical code.”

“Burnout suggests that the problem resides within the individual, who is in some way deficient. It implies that the individual lacks the resources or resilience to withstand the work environment,” according to a 2019 study published in the journal Federal Practitioner.

That’s impossible, the authors say: “While there is nothing inherently wrong with any of those practices, it is absurd to believe that yoga will solve the problems.”

The problem with using the term burnout, Gordon said, is that people equate it with a failure of their own, compounding the issue.

“You take these people who are really passionate and energetic, who want to do a good job, and they lose their motivation,” Gordon said. “Moral injury addresses the systems issues that lead to burnout, and calls for systems to address those issues.”

For some, the moral injury felt like betrayal by employers, the government and neighbors.

Jennifer Casaletto, an emergency physician in North Carolina, remembers one of the lowest points in the middle of the pandemic, a period she refers to as “backstabbing.”

“That was one of the hardest humps to get over, realizing we’re still going to work risking our lives and the lives of our family, and our friends telling us ‘This is completely overhyped.'” She recalled an incident during which a neighbor brought their child to Casaletto’s house to get stitches, then told her they were going on vacation to Mexico and were hoping to get around having to mask on the plane.

While the pandemic has been hard on everyone, women are bearing the physical and mental load of burnout unequally, emerging data shows.

In March, the Axios/Ipsos Coronavirus Index found 30% of women said they felt “overwhelmed or burned out” over the past year, compared with 21% of men.

“The pandemic has also laid bare the ways in which the society and its institutions were not created with the biology of women workers in mind,” Sayres Van Niel said.

Mental health professionals suggest telling employers about what you need to be more productive at work.

“We think of ourselves as passive participants in our workplace but we can actually have an active role in the culture,” Gordon said.

For example, say you can work until 7 p.m. but you need child care. One of Gordon’s patients recently told their manager they were manic depressive, and they were able to come up with a more flexible schedule.

“It’s really important to find workplaces or create workspaces, where people can have courageous conversations,” she said.

She also recommended making small changes in everyday life, like exercise or watching a comedy special. Little daily tweaks can be more effective than a week-long vacation over time, she said.

Howard, the Fortune 500 director, says she tries to work in a daily bath and is focusing on a renewed exercise routine. There’s still plenty for her to be stressed out about: an upcoming minor surgery for her son, family reunions with mixed vaccination statuses and a recent emergency room visit for the family cat.

It can feel like the rush to reopen is happening too fast, she said, putting her at odds with others who are thrilled to take off their masks and return to “normal.”

“I’ve just realized that I don’t have to be there. . . . I don’t emotionally have to get there. I can take my time recovering from the past year and a half. I’m sitting with my feelings and it’s still normal to be unable to focus.”

– – –

This story first appeared in The Washington Post’s The Lily publication.

Good News Monday: Something In Common

In recent years, our little community has sadly become increasingly polarized, what with strongly-held opinions on such crises as “LollipopGate” (did the former head of the vegetation committee instruct landscapers to trim certain trees in unnatural shapes?),”GateGate” (did the front gate close on a neighbor’s car through malfunction, or was this an error on the part of the driver?),”PoopGate” (did a neighbor deliberately not pick up after their pet, or did the outraged complainant mistake a clump of mud for dog poop?), and “SnoopGate” (did a neighbor repairing storm-related damage to his home knowingly violate The Rules? And could the “concerned party” have asked the owner directly about his repairs? Or — gasp — maybe offered to help rather than contacting the Powers-That-Be as a first resort?) Deep breath.

There seems to be no shortage of time for people to complain, yet little interest in listening to the other side. And it’s all gotten notably worse since the last US election, with the endless repetition of bs about “stolen” votes. I swear we have grooves in our roads from everyone digging in their heels!

So it was with great interest that I read the following piece on studyfinds.org. Perhaps there’s reason to be hopeful after all.

U.S. Politics - Democrats and Republicans, donkey and elephant on flag
(© Victor Moussa – stock.adobe.com)

(© Victor Moussa – stock.adobe.com)

Political polarization study finds liberal and conservative brains have one thing in common

PROVIDENCE, R.I. — There seems to be no end in sight to the political divide splitting America in two right now. While political polarization is not a new phenomenon, researchers say they still know very little about what causes people to see the world through an ideological bias. Now, a team from Brown University reveals liberals and conservatives actually do share some common ground — they all hate uncertainty.

Their study finds the brains of “political partisans” on both sides of the spectrum show an inability to tolerate uncertainty. These individuals also have a need to hold onto predictable beliefs about the world they live in.

Examining a group of liberals and conservatives, researchers discovered watching politically inflammatory debates or news coverage exacerbates each person’s intolerance of the unknown. Liberals began to display more liberal thinking and conservatives moved further to the conservative side. Despite their ideological differences, the team finds the same brain mechanics are driving this behavior.

“This is the first research we know of that has linked intolerance to uncertainty to political polarization on both sides of the aisle,” says study co-author Oriel FeldmanHall, an assistant professor of cognitive, linguistic and psychological sciences at Brown, in a university release. “So whether a person in 2016 was a strongly committed Trump supporter or a strongly committed Clinton supporter, it doesn’t matter. What matters is that an aversion to uncertainty only exacerbates how similarly two conservative brains or two liberal brains respond when consuming political content.”

Political views not to blame for polarized society?

Study authors used fMRI scans to measure brain activity while participants watched three different programs. The 22 conservatives and 22 liberals viewed a neutrally-worded news report on the very polarizing topic of abortion, a fiery political debate segment, and a completely non-political nature show.

After seeing the videos, participants answered questions gauging their understanding and opinions of the different segments. They also completed political and cognitive surveys measuring their intolerance of uncertainty. According to study co-author Jeroen van Baar, the results show political polarization is less about what people think and more about how their brains cope with the world around them.

“We found that polarized perception — ideologically warped perceptions of the same reality — was strongest in people with the lowest tolerance for uncertainty in general,” says van Baar, a former Brown researcher now at Trimbos, the Netherlands Institute of Mental Health and Addiction. “This shows that some of the animosity and misunderstanding we see in society is not due to irreconcilable differences in political beliefs, but instead depends on surprising — and potentially solvable — factors such as the uncertainty people experience in daily life.”

“We used relatively new methods to look at whether a trait like intolerance of uncertainty exacerbates polarization, and to examine if individual differences in patterns of brain activity synchronize to other individuals that hold like-minded beliefs,” FeldmanHall adds.

Birds of a (political) feather flock together

The study also reveals brain activity and neural responses in partisans diverge between liberals and conservatives. Researchers say these differences reflect each side’s subjective interpretation of the content they’re viewing. People who strongly identify as liberals processed political videos in a very similar way to other liberals in the study; a trait called neural synchrony. Study authors discovered the same thing when examining the brains of conservatives.

“If you are a politically polarized person, your brain syncs up with like-minded individuals in your party to perceive political information in the same way,” FeldmanHall explains.

The results also show people displaying a higher level of intolerance for uncertainty are more sensitive to politically polarizing content. Surprisingly, the news report on abortion with a completely neutral tone did not exacerbate the group’s polarized perceptions.

“This suggests that aversion to uncertainty governs how the brain processes political information to form black-and-white interpretations of inflammatory political content,” the researchers explain.

“This is key because it implies that ‘liberal and conservative brains’ are not just different in some stable way, like brain structure or basic functioning, as other researchers have claimed, but instead that ideological differences in brain processes arise from exposure to very particular polarizing material,” van Baar concludes. “This suggests that political partisans may be able to see eye to eye — provided we find the right way to communicate.”

The study appears in the journal PNAS

Good News Monday: Long-lasting Immunity

From The New York Times:

Immunity to the Coronavirus May Persist for Years, Scientists Find

Important immune cells survive in the bone marrow of people who were infected with the virus or were inoculated against it, new research suggests.

The studies may soothe fears that immunity to the virus is transient, as is the case with coronaviruses that cause common colds.
The studies may soothe fears that immunity to the virus is transient, as is the case with coronaviruses that cause common colds.Credit…Christopher Capozziello for The New York Times

By Apoorva Mandavilli May 26, 2021

Immunity to the coronavirus lasts at least a year, possibly a lifetime, improving over time especially after vaccination, according to two new studies. The findings may help put to rest lingering fears that protection against the virus will be short-lived.

Together, the studies suggest that most people who have recovered from Covid-19 and who were later immunized will not need boosters. Vaccinated people who were never infected most likely will need the shots, however, as will a minority who were infected but did not produce a robust immune response.

Both reports looked at people who had been exposed to the coronavirus about a year earlier. Cells that retain a memory of the virus persist in the bone marrow and may churn out antibodies whenever needed, according to one of the studies, published on Monday in the journal Nature.

The other study, posted online at BioRxiv, a site for biology research, found that these so-called memory B cells continue to mature and strengthen for at least 12 months after the initial infection.

“The papers are consistent with the growing body of literature that suggests that immunity elicited by infection and vaccination for SARS-CoV-2 appears to be long-lived,” said Scott Hensley, an immunologist at the University of Pennsylvania who was not involved in the research.

The studies may soothe fears that immunity to the virus is transient, as is the case with coronaviruses that cause common colds. But those viruses change significantly every few years, Dr. Hensley said. “The reason we get infected with common coronaviruses repetitively throughout life might have much more to do with variation of these viruses rather than immunity,” he said.

In fact, memory B cells produced in response to infection with SARS-CoV-2 and enhanced with vaccination are so potent that they thwart even variants of the virus, negating the need for boosters, according to Michel Nussenzweig, an immunologist at Rockefeller University in New York who led the study on memory maturation.

“People who were infected and get vaccinated really have a terrific response, a terrific set of antibodies, because they continue to evolve their antibodies,” Dr. Nussenzweig said. “I expect that they will last for a long time.”

The result may not apply to protection derived from vaccines alone, because immune memory is likely to be organized differently after immunization, compared with that following natural infection.

Upon first encountering a virus, B cells rapidly proliferate and produce antibodies in large amounts. Once the acute infection is resolved, a small number of the cells take up residence in the bone marrow, steadily pumping out modest levels of antibodies.

To look at memory B cells specific to the new coronavirus, researchers led by Ali Ellebedy of Washington University in St. Louis analyzed blood from 77 people at three-month intervals, starting about a month after their infection with the coronavirus. Only six of the 77 had been hospitalized for Covid-19; the rest had mild symptoms.

Antibody levels in these individuals dropped rapidly four months after infection and continued to decline slowly for months afterward — results that are in line with those from other studies.

Some scientists have interpreted this decrease as a sign of waning immunity, but it is exactly what’s expected, other experts said. If blood contained high quantities of antibodies to every pathogen the body had ever encountered, it would quickly transform into a thick sludge.

Good News Monday: Advocating for Avocados

They’re not just for guacamole anymore! A recent study suggests they may also fight cancer.

Photo by Daria Shevtsova on Pexels.com

Avocado discovery may lead to new leukemia treatment

by John Anderer on studyfinds.com

GUELPH, Ontario — Avocados are a dietary staple of millions, but a new study finds these delicious fruits may have some extra medicinal benefits to offer as well. Researchers from the University of Guelph have discovered a new avocado compound they say may open the door for better leukemia treatments.

More specifically, this compound appears to target and attack an enzyme that can be critical to cancer cell growth.

Researchers focused their attention on acute myeloid leukemia (AML), which doctors call the most dangerous variety of blood cancer. Most people diagnosed with AML are over 65 years-old and only about 10 percent survive for five years post-diagnosis.

Importantly, leukemia cells house large amounts of an enzyme called VLCAD that helps with metabolic processes.

“The cell relies on that pathway to survive,” says Dr. Paul Spagnuolo, Department of Food Science, in a university release. “This is the first time VLCAD has been identified as a target in any cancer.”

Is there a cancer treatment hiding in a superfood?

Spagnuolo and his team tested various nutraceutical compounds in an attempt to find any substance capable of fighting VLCAD.

“Lo and behold, the best one was derived from avocado,” Spagnuolo notes.

“VLCAD can be a good marker to identify patients suitable for this type of therapy. It can also be a marker to measure the activity of the drug,” he continues. “That sets the stage for eventual use of this molecule in human clinical trials. There’s been a drive to find less toxic drugs that can be used.”

Right now, about half of all older AML patients enter palliative care. Others opt for chemotherapy, but that often does more harm than good.

“We completed a human study with this as an oral supplement and have been able to show that appreciable amounts are fairly well tolerated,” Spagnuolo concludes.

The study appears in the journal Blood.

To P or not to P…

(That’s P as in “pantyhose”). Our daughter B posed this question recently and I had to resort to the Internet for advice.

My impression is that pantyhose in any way, shape, or form are considered frumpy and outdated. However, once one attains a certain age, splotchiness, or belly size, they can be more flattering than going au naturel. Also, consider the effect of goosebumps in cold weather.

No less an authority than Chanel is showing fishnet hose, a compromise I like. But first, here’s definitive advice from the NY Times fashion pages.

Does Anyone Wear Pantyhose Anymore?

Vanessa Friedman, fashion director of The New York Times, takes reader questions. This is from 2/26/2021.


Pantyhose — or stockings or nylons or tights, which are not exactly the same things but are often used interchangeably — are one of those items of dress that seems innocuous and unimportant, but is actually a giant generational, occupational and cultural lightning rod. For women of a certain age, they are simply a part of girding yourself for the world; for others, they are a symbol of old-fashioned female repression and outmoded gender rules.

They’re not exactly a girdle or a crinoline, but they are a descendant of that genetic line: undergarments foisted on women to cover their bodies and make them “acceptable” to outsiders. They also, of course, help keep your legs warm and maybe prevent skirts from clinging, but that’s the trade-off.

Indeed, if you ever want to start a lively discussion during a lull in a dinner party, bring up the question of pantyhose. Even when they are invisible or skin-tone, no one is neutral on the subject.

Simply consider, if you will, the case of Megan Markle. Just after her wedding, when she was still a sign of change within the royal family and hopes were high for modernization, she appeared with her new in-laws at Prince Charles’s 70th birthday party in an ivory dress, matching hat and pale hose! The internet freaked out, with numerous viewers seeing in the tights a sign that she was being stifled, just as her legs were stifled.

Indeed, there were lots of rumors that tights were royal protocol, in part because the Duchess of Cambridge, like her grandmother-in-law, always wears them. Yet a few months after the tights appearance, Ms. Markle put an end to the talk, attending a charity performance in a tuxedo minidress and … no hose! Revolution, cheered the watching hordes.

Whatever the truth of the royal issue, the import was pretty clear: Stockings are not modern.

This fall into disrepute has probably been hastened by the pandemic, since pantyhose are not exactly a necessary part of one’s wardrobe when working from home. And indeed, even before remote work became a reality for many of us, most offices had abandoned the requirement (spoken or not) for pantyhose at work.

The exception being flight attendants. For many of them, pantyhose are still part of the uniform — see Kaley Cuoco in “The Flight Attendant” on HBO Max — in part because the compression in some pairs helps with circulation at altitude.

That said, designers love to reinvent and reassess previously rejected garments, so right on cue stockings have been on the rise in a variety of collections. Virginie Viard put sheer polka-dot versions on her runway for fall 2020; they were there at Saint Laurent in lace; and this week Kim Jones showed a sheer black pair at his Fendi show.

All of which means: It’s up to you. But understand what messages the outside world may read into your choice.

If you do choose to go with the hose, some brands to consider include Hipstick and Commando, both favorites of the Hollywood crowd. (Yes, there is a lot of hosiery on the red carpet.) Nubian Skin offers a variety of shades that actually work for the actual variety of skins. For a splurge, there’s Wolford, which is the Duchess of Cambridge’s go-to brand. Finally, on the more affordable end of the scale, there is Hanes, which is a top-seller on Amazon.

And know this: The sheer nylons and tights segment of the global hosiery market is predicted to grow by 2.1 percent over the next seven years. So whatever the politics, pantyhose are not going away.

Chanel-Cruise
Chanel Cruise 2022. Images from PurseBlog.com

Ms. Manners: Airplane Edition

Now that travel restrictions have eased a bit, and we’re all looking forward to a proper getaway, the following article from AllTimeLists is very timely.

To which I’ll add my own pet peeves:

  • Passengers who lean way back in their seats, oblivious to the discomfort of those behind them.
  • Bringing smelly food on board.
  • Loud conversations, especially with your companion three rows away.
  • Frequently blocking the aisle to get something out of the overhead. Just pack what you’ll need for the actual flight (book/meds/moisturizer/hand sanitizer/tablet), stick it under your seat and sit the f*** still.
  • Removing your mask whenever you think nobody’s looking.
  • Stowing your small carry-on in the overhead bin. How many times do they have to announce this??
  • Singing along to what’s on your headphones. Yes, we can hear you and it’s not pretty.

8 Things Flight Attendants Wish They Could Tell Passengers

Shirley|Jul 28, 2020|Alltimelists.com

flight attendent

Remember when air travel was fun and easy? Neither do we, but rumor has it; there was a time when flying was not the pressure cooker it is today.

The air traveling process can produce quite a bit of stress. Imagine it being your full-time job. Flight attendants have the tough task of tending to an entire plane full of people—each passenger with different complaints and needs.

Continue reading to find out what flight attendants wish they could tell their passengers.

8.”Not Taking off Hurts Us, Too”

Bangkok,thailand,,oct,15,,2018,,,airline,nokscoot,interior,of

Flight attendants want to take off on time too. I mean, you are all going to the same place after all. People tend to be overly rushed for no reason. Patience and kindness go a long way!

Also, flight attendants do not get paid while the plane is sitting at the gate. Flight attendants get paid for “flight hours only.” Meaning that the clock doesn’t start until the craft pushes away from the gate. Flight delays, cancellations, and layovers affect them just as much as they do passengers – maybe even more.

Airlines aren’t completely heartless, though. From the time they sign in at the airport until the plane slides back into the gate at their home base, they get an expense allowance of $1.50 an hour.

7.”Don’t Walk in the Aisle Without Shoes”

aisle, shoes, travel, airplane

Aside from the fact that doing this announces to the entire flight that you are the most arrogant, self-centered creature ever to set foot on an airplane, it’s also unsanitary.

“I think people don’t realize how dirty the planes are,” said a flight attendant for PSA Airlines, an American Airlines Group subsidiary. He said that while flight attendants pick up trash between flights, the planes receive a thorough cleaning once a day.

6.”Cut Us Some Slack”

compassion

It really makes no sense why some passengers can be so abusive to the flight crew. The flight attendants did not cause the rotten weather that delayed the flight, the unruly behavior of the person behind you, the congestion at the destination airport, or almost anything else you are screaming at the flight attendant about. Please show them some compassion!

5.”We are Not Mind-Readers”

baggage

You know the old proverb about what happens when you assume, right? So don’t fly off the handle because the crew didn’t fulfill an expectation of yours that you didn’t verbalize. Keep in mind that these are flight attendants, not your siblings or parents.

Flight attendants can not read your mind. Have some patience! They can’t tailor service to every person, and people sometimes people forget that.

4.”Take Responsibility for Your Actions”

Flight,attendant,offering,juice,to,businessman,on,airplane

“I just wish I could tell passengers, ‘Be more responsible for yourself,’” a flight attendant for American Airlines said. Next time you are on a flight and have issues you caused yourself, take accountability for your actions. Be more responsible! Also, to go along with the no-shoes item, responsible behavior means respecting everyone else on the flight.

Clipping your toenails, snoring so loud you can be heard on the ground 35,000 feet below, or doing personal business under a blanket, should never be done on a plane. Remember, this is an airplane, not your house. This is a public space, not a private one. Respect the existence and rights of others.

3.”Don’t Ask if a Delay Will Result in a Late Arrival”

delay

There is a difference between a pilot and a flight attendant. They have been trained to fulfill different roles, and one is not able to perform the duties of the other.

In the case of delayed flights, the flight attendant won’t know any more than you. They won’t know if the flight’s lost time can be made up during the flight or if it will result in a late arrival. So, don’t get annoyed when you ask them, and they don’t have an answer. In fact, don’t bother asking at all.

2.”You Have Never been in Extreme Turbulence”

turbulence

More than 2 million people fly in the United States each day, and yet since 1980, only three people have died as a direct result of turbulence. Of those fatalities, two passengers weren’t wearing their safety belts.

During that same time period, the Federal Aviation Administration recorded just over 300 serious injuries from turbulence, and more than two-thirds of the victims were flight attendants. What do these numbers mean? As long as your seat belt is on, you’re more likely to be injured by falling luggage than by choppy air.

1.”Pack Appropriately”

pack

Speaking of falling luggage, don’t try to game the system by wrapping twine around your refrigerator and calling it carry-on luggage and only get about half of it inside the overhead bin.

One of the easiest ways to earn the ire of a flight attendant is to put your carry-on in a full overhead bin, leave it sticking out six inches, then take your seat at the window and wait for someone else to come along and solve the physics problem you just created. Measure your bag at home before you pack it a carry-on.

A carry-on bag’s typical dimensions are 9 inches x 14 inches x 22 inches (22 cm x 35 cm x 56 cm), including handles and wheels. If yours is bigger, check it in. Yes, the checked bag fee is a pain, but your huge item is creating an injury risk for yourself and everyone around you.

Good News Monday: A New Way to Heal a Broken Heart

Another fascinating story from StudyFinds.com

broken heart woman
(Credit: RODNAE Productions from Pexels)

Researchers discover drug that can mend the physical damage of a broken heart

by Chris Melore

MELBOURNE, Australia — From someone experiencing chest pain after a breakup, to a married couple dying within minutes of each other, there are many real examples of what doctors call broken heart syndrome. While the emotional scars are a separate issue, there may finally be a way to prevent lasting physical injury. Researchers in Australia say, for the first time, scientists have uncovered a drug that can literally mend a broken heart.

A team from Monash University find Suberanilohydroxamic acid (SAHA) can significantly improve cardiac health due to this condition. In their study, researchers used SAHA to target genes affected by a “broken heart” — or Takotsubo cardiomyopathy.

Although many may think broken heart syndrome is just a saying, doctors know it to be a very real ailment. Patients suffer a weakening of the left ventricle, the heart’s main pumping chamber. Stressful emotional triggers, usually following a traumatic event like the death of a loved one, often cause this problem. Researchers add broken heart syndrome can mimic a heart attack, causing chest pain, shortness of breath, and an irregular heartbeat.

How does SAHA heal the heart?

Suberanilohydroxamic acid is currently serving as a cancer treatment, with the U.S. Food and Drug Administration approving its use. The drug works on the heart by protecting certain genes and the acetylation/deacetylation (Ac/Dc) index in particular. This is a vitally important process which regulates gene expression in humans.

“We show for the first time a drug that shows preventative and therapeutic benefit is important to a healthy heart. The drug not only slows cardiac injury, but also reverses, the damage caused to the stressed heart,” says study leader Professor Sam El-Osta from Monash Central Clinical School in a university release.

Mostly women suffer from this mysterious condition

The study finds, in western nations, broken heart syndrome almost exclusively affects women, especially after menopause. In fact, researchers say up to eight percent of women believed to be having a heart attack may actually be dealing with Takotsubo cardiomyopathy.

While the symptoms are similar, the exact cause of the physical pain of a broken heart is still a mystery. Doctors believe a surge of stress hormones flood the heart during a traumatic event. This may cause changes in the heart muscles and blood vessels which prevent the left ventricle from working properly. The result is the heavy, achy feeling people get in the chest that can be mistaken for a heart attack.

The good news is most people recover from broken heart syndrome within two months. The bad news, unfortunately, is that some patients may suffer from heart failure due to their extreme trauma. Although death from a broken heart is rare, researchers say 20 percent of patients experience some degree of heart failure. Until now, there has been no standard treatment to alleviate this condition.

“This pre-clinical study describes a new standard in preventative and therapeutic potential using a cardioprotective drug that targets genes in the heart,” Professor El-Osta concludes.

“The team is committed to the research of women’s health recognizing the uneven sex prevalence of almost 9:1 (female to male). Based on these promising results we are focused on the continued development of compounds like SAHA to improve cardiac benefit and healthier life.”

The study appears in the journal Signal Transduction and Targeted Therapy.

The Road Trip That Wasn’t

For weeks, I’d been dreading this: several days in Austin to clear out our remaining belongings — we’d sold the house in late March –, sell two cars, close our safe deposit box, and then drive 3-4 days back to Oregon.

Luckily, we were able to accomplish said tasks quickly, ship the boxes instead of loading them into our Titanic-sized, impossible-to-park rental car, and fly back instead. As I’ve often remarked, there is almost no problem that can’t be solved by throwing money at it. (Though, to digress, this apparently hasn’t worked for Bill and Melinda Gates.)

This allowed us time to visit with family and friends and reflect on some of the unexpected pleasures of dining out during a pandemic.

Pandemic Travel 2.0

  • Waitstaff no longer hover over your table, telling you their life story (“Hi, I’m Bruce and I’ll be your server tonight, although I’m really an actor and I’ve written this cool sci-fi script…”).
  • Table spacing makes for a much quieter experience. You might even be able to hear your own conversation.
  • Maybe it’s an illusion, but everything just seems cleaner.
  • Silverware arrives wrapped in a napkin, rather than having been sitting out on the table.
  • Many restaurants have streamlined their menus, so the choices are better thought-out and fresher.
  • People are too far away to eavesdrop.

As for air travel,

  • Fewer travelers = speedier security. They sure want you to keep moving.
  • Nobody seems to worry about liquids anymore.
  • Better filtration = less chance of catching a cold or flu, never mind COVID.
  • Even anti-maskers have to wear one.
  • A discreet cough or two (into your mask of course) and no one will attempt to ask what you’re reading or whether you live at your destination.
  • Fewer travelers = less luggage. For the first time in recent memory, our checked bags were already at the carousel by the time we arrived at baggage claim.

Woo hoo — home sweet (temporary) home in one day, not four. So what if we’ll have to load 17 boxes into our car and lug them to a new (also temporary) storage unit; the kids can sort out our crap when we cross the rainbow bridge!

Photo by Benjamin Suter on Pexels.com

Good News Monday: Your Brain on Caffeine

Woman smiling as she drinks a cup of coffee or tea
(© Antonioguillem – stock.adobe.com)

It’s all in your mind… in a good way, according to this Portuguese study.

People who drink 3-5 cups of coffee a day are more alert, have better memory

by Study FindsShareTweet

BRAGA, Portugal — It’s no secret that shot of caffeine from a morning coffee can give many people a quick boost. Now, a new study finds going for that second and third cup may be good for your brain. Researchers in Portugal say people who regularly drink coffee are not only more alert, but see more activity in their brains as well.

According to the European Food Safety Authority, moderate coffee consumption is typically three to five cups per day. In the new study, researchers from the University of Minho reveal consuming this much caffeine each day can make coffee drinkers more focused while also displaying greater memory and learning abilities.

Scientists examining MRI scans discovered differences in the makeup of the brains between regular coffee drinkers and those who don’t consume the beverage at all. Coffee drinkers had a more “efficient” brain, with quicker connectivity in the cerebellum, the right precuneus, and the right insular.

Even one cup of coffee can keep you sharp

These patterns show regularly drinking coffee may give people better motor control. Participants consuming caffeine were also less likely to let their minds wander. Study authors add the effects of this brain boost can be immediate. Results show non-coffee drinkers could start seeing benefits for a short time after a single cup of java.

Researchers studied the connectivity and structure of the brain in 31 regular coffee drinkers and 24 non-coffee drinkers while at rest. The team also examined these individuals while they performed a mental task soon after consuming a cup.

“This is the first time that the effect that drinking coffee regularly has on our brain network is studied with this level of detail,” says Professor Nuno Sousa in a university release. “We were able to observe the effect of coffee on the structure and functional connectivity of our brain, as well as the differences between those who drink coffee regularly and those who do not drink coffee in real time.”

“The findings help to understand improving the effects of caffeine, highlighting improved motor control, increased levels of attention and alertness, and benefits in learning and memory,” Prof. Sousa’s team concludes.

Previous studies find the world drinks about three billion cups of coffee each day. Along with brain health, the morning drink of choice for many also has links to increased fat-burning and better heart health.

The findings appear in the journal Molecular Psychiatry.

SWNS writer Joe Morgan contributed to this report.

Good News Monday: Bye-Bye Baldness

And did you know that shorter men are more likely to be prematurely bald? That seems very unfair.

Photo by Andrea Piacquadio on Pexels.com

Cure for baldness may be coming after discovery of a protein that fuels hair growth

by Study Finds

CAMBRIDGE, Mass. — A scientific discovery may make the “comb over” a thing of the past for people losing their hair. Harvard researchers say a cure for baldness is on the horizon after scientists uncovered a protein that fuels hair growth.

The breakthrough could lead to a cream that fuels an unlimited supply of locks for the follicly-challenged. In experiments, mice successfully sprouted three times as many hairs by surgically removing their adrenal glands. The small organs above each kidney release the stress hormone corticosterone, the rodent equivalent of cortisol. This stops the protein GAS6 in its tracks.

Stress reactions such as worry, anger, and anxiety have long been connected to male pattern baldness. Researchers even estimate about a quarter of COVID-19 survivors suffer hair loss due to the shock of infection.

“Stress hormones suppress growth in mice through the regulation of hair follicle stem cells,” says professor of stem cell and regenerative biology and study corresponding author Ya-Chieh Hsu in a statement to SWNS.

The study, appearing in the journal Nature, identifies the process that underpins hair loss for the first time and reveals how to reverse it.

“Chronic, sustained exposure to stressors can profoundly affect tissue homeostasis, although the mechanisms by which these changes occur are largely unknown,” researchers write in their report.

“The stress hormone corticosterone—which is derived from the adrenal gland and is the rodent equivalent of cortisol in humans—regulates hair follicle stem cell (HFSC) quiescence and hair growth in mice.”

Turning back the clock on hair’s lifespan

Study authors explain the hormone regulates dormancy and activity of hair follicle stem cells (HFSCs) in mice. In the absence of systemic corticosterone, the little cavities where each hair grows enter substantially more rounds of the regeneration cycle throughout life.

“When corticosterone levels are elevated, hair follicles stay in an extended rest phase and fail to regenerate,” Prof. Hsu tells SWNS. “Conversely, if corticosterone is depleted, hair follicle stem cells become activated and new hair growth occurs.”

An analysis discovered corticosterone suppresses production of GAS6. In the absence of the hormone, it boosts proliferation of hair follicles.

“Restoring the expression of GAS6 could overcome stress-induced inhibition of hair follicle stem cells – and might encourage regeneration of growth,” Prof Hsu notes. “It might therefore be possible to exploit the ability of HFSCs to promote hair-follicle regeneration by modulating the corticosterone–GAS6 axis.”

Throughout a person’s lifespan, hair cycles through three stages, growth (or “anagen”), degeneration (“catagen”), and rest (“telogen”). During anagen, a follicle continuously pushes out a hair shaft. In catagen, growth stops and the lower portion shrinks, but the hair remains in place. During telogen, it remains dormant.

Under severe stress, many hair follicles enter this phase prematurely and the hair quickly falls out. This lifespan is much shorter in the corticosterone-free mice than controls; less than 20 days compared with two to three months.

Curing hair loss due to stress

Their follicles also engaged in hair growth roughly three times as often. However, researchers restored their normal hair cycle by feeding the subjects corticosterone. Interestingly, when they applied various mild stressors to the controls for nine weeks, corticosterone rose and hair stopped growing. These stressors included tilting their cage, isolation, crowding, damp bedding, rapid lighting changes, and restraining. Injecting GAS6 into their skin reinitiated hair growth with no side-effects.

“These exciting findings establish a foundation for exploring treatments for hair loss caused by chronic stress,” adds Prof. Rui Yi, a dermatalogist at Northwestern University and not involved in the study.

The study also reveals GAS6 increases expression of genes involved in cell division in HFSCs.

“So, the authors might have uncovered a previously unknown mechanism that stimulates HFSC activation directly by promoting cell division,” Prof Yi continues. “In aging skin, most progenitor cells harbor DNA mutations – including harmful ones that are often found in skin cancers – without forming tumors.

“It will be crucial to see whether forced GAS6 expression could inadvertently unleash the growth potential of these quiescent but potentially mutation-containing HFSCs,” Yi concludes. “Modern life for humans is inevitably stressful. But perhaps, one day, it will prove possible to combat the negative impact of chronic stress on our hair, at least – by adding some GAS6.”