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.”
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!
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.
NEW YORK — Will a bad choice at the bar sink your budding romance? Three in ten Americans say they’ve ended a date early because of what their date ordered to drink, a new study reveals.
The survey of 2,000 Americans over 21 who consume alcohol finds the first drink on a date makes a lasting first impression. Sixty percent of men in the poll agree a bad drink order would be a “deal-breaker” for them. Just 32 percent of women, however, said the same.
Top shelf dating advice
Want to win someone over right away? Take a page out of James Bond’s playbook. Three in five said a martini will make the ultimate good impression. The other drinks that leave potential partners impressed include gin and tonics (46%) and Manhattans (45%). Forty-two percent would look favorably on a date who orders a Cosmopolitan or a Whiskey Sour.
On the other hand, the drink most likely to make a bad first impression is a Long Island Iced Tea, with 22 percent saying that’s a dating deal-breaker. With so much pressure on that initial drink order, it’s no wonder over a third (37%) order a “fancy” drink while on a date.
The survey, conducted by OnePoll on behalf of Jack Daniel’s, also reveals 62 percent think a person’s drink of choice says “a lot” about their personality. It’s for that reason two in three respondents (65%) think people should order their drink of choice on a first date to showcase who they “really are.”
The results also find four in five (79%) have a “go-to” drink that took them three years of experimenting on average to finally find.
With age comes (drinking) wisdom?
It’s not just about what goes in the drink, though, as 71 percent claim to be experts who know how to prepare their drink “the right way.”
Over half the poll actually consider themselves a “connoisseur” in their spirit of choice, but that wasn’t always the case. The average person “graduated” from low to top-shelf taste at 27 years-old and needed three years to become truly knowledgeable about their favorite spirit.
“Your drink of choice says a lot about your personality and it’s no surprise to us that classic whiskey cocktails have never gone out of style. However our friends choose to enjoy our Tennessee Whiskey, we want them to do so responsibly,” a spokesperson for Jack Daniel’s says in a statement.
The company commissioned this survey in honor of International Whiskey Day and wanted to find out just what Americans love about the spirit. Three in ten named whiskey as their favorite type of alcohol.
When it comes to whiskey-centric cocktails, drinkers say simple is better. Whiskey-colas come in as the top choice for a third of respondents. Whiskey Sours (31%), Irish Coffees (23%), and an Old Fashioned (23%) followed closely behind on the menu.
“Whiskey has always been a staple in any home bar. All of the classic whiskey cocktails that were identified by the respondents can easily be perfected at home and with the seasons changing it’s the ideal time to experiment with new recipes,” the spokesperson for Jack Daniel’s ads.
Going to ‘Dr. Google’ to look up your symptoms actually leads to accurate diagnoses!
BOSTON, Mass. —The moment something doesn’t look or feel right, many people won’t run to their doctor, they’ll turn to Google. Although an internet search may not sound like good medical advice, a new study finds it can actually help. Researchers say patients who use “Dr. Google” to find out what’s wrong with them will likely get the right diagnosis.
According to the report, googling symptoms improves peoples’ ability to diagnose their illness without adding additional stress. Researchers from Brigham and Women’s Hospital and Harvard Medical School admit that “cyberchondria” has made the value of internet medical searches controversial.
This increased anxiety brought on by continuously looking up every ailment online has even pushed some medical professionals to urge patients not to look their symptoms up online before seeing them. Researchers add anxiety can lead people to think they’re on death’s door when in fact they are perfectly healthy.
Despite Dr. Google’s poor reputation, study authors conclude using the internet to check your symptoms may not be such a bad idea after all.
“I have patients all the time, where the only reason they come into my office is because they Googled something and the Internet said they have cancer,” study author Dr. David Levine says in a media release. “I wondered, ‘Is this all patients? How much cyberchondria is the Internet creating?”
Can everyday people give out sound medical advice?
Researchers asked 5,000 participants to read a short “case vignette,” describing a number of symptoms and imagine someone close to them was experiencing them. The participants then had to make two diagnoses, before and after looking up the symptoms online.
Cases ranged from mild to severe, but described common illnesses, such as viruses, heart attacks, and strokes. Study authors also asked the group to choose between letting the health condition get better on its own or calling 911. After making their choice, participants reported how anxious they felt.
Results reveal participants were “slightly better” at correctly diagnosing their cases after carrying out an internet search. The process also did not add to their levels of anxiety.
“Our work suggests that it is likely OK to tell our patients to ‘Google it,’” Dr. Levine says. “This starts to form the evidence base that there’s not a lot of harm in that, and, in fact, there may be some good.”
Are robot doctors next?
The team admits it’s not clear whether people would behave the same way if one of their loved ones was truly ill. Moreover, the results won’t represent the reactions of all people who use the internet for health-related searches. Next, study authors are planning on testing whether artificial intelligence could use the Internet to correctly diagnose patients.
“This next study takes a generalized AI algorithm, trained on all of the open-source text of the Internet such as Reddit and Twitter, and then uses that to respond when prompted,” Dr. Levine concludes. “Can AI supplement how people use the Internet? Can it supplement how doctors use the Internet? That’s what we’re interested in investigating.”
An interesting parenting column in today’s New York Times has me thinking about whether boredom is just another name for stress dressed in sweatpants. Although not a parent of small children anymore, I can certainly relate to the excruciating sameness we are all experiencing. It’s also combined with the inability to meet some of our basic human needs such as anticipation, order and control, and touch.
Wherever possible, it’s helpful to search out little ways to feel happier. Could be planning a trip, varying your routine even if only to get takeout from somewhere new, moving some furniture around, calling a friend rather than emailing, etc. But let’s not get all Pollyanna about this — the seemingly-endless pandemic sucks. Read on!
Before the pandemic, I found comfort in the routine of my life and the rhythms of my family — what Nora Ephron once called the “peanut-butter-and-jellyness” of days with children. I liked the morning thunderdome of getting the children dressed and fed and breaking up some fights along the way, dropping them at school and taking the 20-minute walk to the subway. When I got off the subway, I had an array of coffee shops to choose from, which at the time did not seem exciting, but after a year of pandemic isolation would probably feel like bungee jumping.
At this point my commute is the five feet from my bed to my desk, and I am somehow both tired and agitated when I start work each day. My kids never leave the house, except when we go to the same three parks in our neighborhood. Sometimes when I go running outside, I fantasize about just … not stopping, my eyes thirsty for some new horizon.
In other words, I’m so freaking bored.
I’m not the only parent — or nonparent, to be sure — having trouble with the monotony of this moment. A study conducted early in the pandemic of more than 4,000 French people found that though respondents felt an increase of stress and fear, they mostly experienced a “slowing down of time” that was attributed to boredom and sadness.
“I’ve particularly struggled with boredom this year, in fact it resurfaced so many of the mixed emotions of maternity leave for me, feeling lonely and bored but simultaneously guilty for not treasuring every moment with my daughter,” said Jenny Brewer, the mom of a toddler in London. She said she feels her brain cells “ebbing away,” and like she’s not achieving anything at work. “I am so used to organizing days out and time with friends and family, that when it was taken away I was at an utter loss for how to kill the hours,” she said.
The way Ms. Brewer describes boredom is actually very close to the way boredom researchers — yes, there are boredom researchers — have defined the emotion. “‘Feeling unchallenged’ and perceiving one’s ‘activities as meaningless’ is central to boredom,” according to a study by Wijnand Van Tilburg, an experimental social psychologist at the University of Essex in England.
“The bored person does want to do something quite desperately, but does not want to do anything in particular,” said John D. Eastwood, an associate professor of clinical psychology at York University in Toronto, and co-author of “Out of My Skull: The Psychology of Boredom.” Boredom is distinct from apathy, because if you’re apathetic, you don’t want to do anything at all — but if you’re bored, you’re both restless and lethargic, Dr. Eastwood said.
Even in normal times, boredom is a very common emotion — a study of almost 4,000 American adults found that 63 percent felt bored at least once in a 10-day sampling period. While most cases of boredom are mild, chronic boredom can metastasize into depression, poor health behavior like drug use, or risk-taking behavior, said Dr. Van Tilburg. The causes of boredom are multifaceted, but a lack of control over your situation is a common one. He added, “There’s research that shows when you’re limited in your control over the situation — that intensifies boredom.”
Parents of very small kids may find our pandemic lot particularly stifling because it’s both repetitive and involuntary — we have no choice about keeping up the routines for our little ones, who cannot do things for themselves. Emily Lyn-Sue, a stay-at-home mom of two in Miami, said that while her husband and older son have outlets outside the home with work and school, she feels isolated and bored at home with her 3-year-old. “We speak an entirely different language that no one else understands. We are literally on an island alone, together — he is my Wilson and I am his Tom Hanks,” she said, referring to the relationship Hanks’ character develops with a volleyball while shipwrecked in the movie “Cast Away.”
Knowing that many of us may not be able to have much control over our movements for at least the next few months, how do we try to alleviate our boredom? First, the researchers I spoke to said it’s important to acknowledge there’s no easy fix for our doldrums — so much of what is happening right now is beyond our control, and the vaccines are just beginning to be tested in children under 12, so we may not be able to make big moves just yet.
That said, there are small changes you can make to break the monotony. James Danckert, a professor of psychology at the University of Waterloo in Ontario and the co-author with Dr. Eastwood of “Out of My Skull,” said that because boredom can result from a lack of control over your life, finding even small ways to assert your agency can make you feel more engaged. For me, that means sometimes walking to a restaurant in the neighborhood to pick up lunch rather than making myself the same sad desk salad every workday.
Dr. Danckert also suggested finding some joy in the minutiae of a regular activity; he quoted Andy Warhol, who said, “You need to let the little things that would ordinarily bore you suddenly thrill you.” To be honest, I have struggled with this approach. When I took my younger daughter to a place we call “toy park” — a park filled with discarded and half-broken toys, which she loves — I tried paying close attention to the interactions of the children and the interplay of light from the spring sun breaking through the trees. But boredom won out, and I ended up looking at Twitter.
One bit of advice that resonated more with me came from Dr. Van Tilburg, who emphasized that boredom doesn’t just have to be a negative thing — it can also be a wake-up call encouraging you to find activities that are more meaningful.
I am by nature sort of a hermit, but pandemic isolation has stretched the limits of my introversion. This weekend, we saw relatives I adore for an outdoor Easter egg hunt. Just 90 minutes of warm interaction with these beloved adults made me feel so happy and alive that I was smiling for the rest of the day.
As the weather gets warmer here in the Northeast and more of my peers are inoculated, I am planning more get-togethers, with and without my kids. Whenever I drop back into the doldrums among those discarded toys, I will think about all the walks and dinners and hugs on the horizon.
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.”
This was a first: a Dear John letter from our landscaper, a vendor with whom we’d had a cordial, mutually respectful eight-year relationship.
To paraphrase: “Dear ___ (yes, a form letter), this has been a challenging year so we’ve decided to cut back on the number of clients we service. Unfortunately, you are among them.”
What he doesn’t bother to mention (because it’s a form letter) is that for the past 14 months we have been paying our monthly contractual fee EVEN THOUGH THEY HAVEN’T DONE ANY WORK. Sorry, am I shouting?? In what universe is it ok to accept over $1000 for services not rendered and then not even have the courtesy to acknowledge our loyalty or pick up the phone to work out a solution?
So much for trying to be supportive of a small business. You know that old adage, “No good deed ever goes unpunished”? ARRGGGHHHH.
TOKYO, Japan — As digital devices become an everyday part of society, many probably view a pen and paper as things of the past. Despite the ease of tapping information into a smartphone or tablet, a new study finds you may want to keep those paper notebooks after all. Researchers in Tokyo have discovered that people writing notes by hand display more brain activity than their peers entering data into an electronic device.
A team from the University of Tokyo adds the unique and tactile information that comes from writing things on paper may also help writers remember the information better.
“Actually, paper is more advanced and useful compared to electronic documents because paper contains more one-of-a-kind information for stronger memory recall,” says corresponding author and neuroscientist Professor Kuniyoshi L. Sakai in a university release.
“Our take-home message is to use paper notebooks for information we need to learn or memorize.”
The pen is mightier than the tablet?
It’s a common belief that digital devices help people complete tasks faster. Despite this, the study finds people writing notes by hand actually finished their task 25 percent quicker than tablet users.
Researchers add that paper notebooks also contain more complex spatial information than a digital screen. Physical paper allows the writer to add tangible permanence to their important information. Writers can also use irregular strokes to convey special meaning and uneven shapes — like a folded corner of a page. Study authors say “digital paper” is much more uniform. There is no fixed position when scrolling and the information disappears from view when users close the app.
What happens to the brain when you write on paper?
The study gathered 48 volunteers to read a fictional conversation between two people talking about their future plans. The discussion included 14 different class times, assignment due dates, and scheduled appointments. Researchers also sorted the participants — all between 18 and 29 years-old from university campuses or the NTT Data Institute of Management Consulting — into three groups, according to memory skills, personal preferences of digital or paper methods, gender, and age.
The groups then recorded the fictional schedules using a paper notebook and pen, a calendar app using a tablet and stylus, or an app on a smartphone using the touch-screen keyboard. The participants did not take extra time to memorize the information after completing the task.
After a one-hour break and an “interference task” to distract the volunteers from thinking about their notes, researchers gave participants a test on the conversation. The multiple choice questions also ranged in difficultly from simple to more complex. Simple questions asked “when is the assignment due?” while others included “which is the earlier due date for the assignments?”
During this test, study authors examined brain activity using functional MRI (fMRI) scans. During this procedure, scientists say increased blood flow in specific brain regions is a sign of higher neuronal activity.
The results reveal young adults using paper completed their note-taking in just 11 minutes. Tablet and smartphone users finished in 14 and 16 minutes, respectively. Volunteers using pen and paper also scored higher on the multiple choice test. However, researchers say the participants’ brain activity reveals even greater differences.
Volunteers using paper displayed more brain activity in areas with a connection to language and imaginary visualization. They also show more activity in the hippocampus, a brain region vital to memory and navigation.
Writing on paper may also be better for kids and creativity
Study authors say the fact that writing on paper triggers activity in the hippocampus shows analog methods contain richer spatial details which make hand-written notes easier to remember.
“Digital tools have uniform scrolling up and down and standardized arrangement of text and picture size, like on a webpage. But if you remember a physical textbook printed on paper, you can close your eyes and visualize the photo one-third of the way down on the left-side page, as well as the notes you added in the bottom margin,” Sakai explains.
The team notes that it is possible to personalize digital documents, using highlighting, underlining, circling, and drawing arrows. People who prefer a digital pad can even leave virtual sticky notes that mimic analog-style spatial enrichment.
Although the experiment only included young adults, researchers believe the link between paper writing and brain activity will be even stronger in children.
“High school students’ brains are still developing and are so much more sensitive than adult brains,” Sakai adds.
“It is reasonable that one’s creativity will likely become more fruitful if prior knowledge is stored with stronger learning and more precisely retrieved from memory. For art, composing music, or other creative works, I would emphasize the use of paper instead of digital methods.”