Health, Science, & the Environment

Heart Risks Start Early in Young Adults

Signs of heart disease — generally thought to be a disease of middle age — can be seen even in children, cardiologists now know. But risk factors in children and young adults run the risk of being undetected and untreated, largely because of confusion as to who among the young should get screened, and when.

One of the most efficient ways to screen for heart-disease risk is via tests for levels of low-density lipoprotein (LDL, or “bad”) cholesterol. And yet often that screen doesn’t get done.

In a study published in the July-August issue of the Annals of Family Medicine, Dr. Elena Kuklina and colleagues from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention examined data from the 1999-2006 National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey, a national survey that includes interviews and physical examinations, to see how frequently young adults were getting screened for LDL cholesterol.

Of the 2,587 young adults in the study — men 20 to 35 years old and women 20 to 45 — fewer than 50% had been screened. Yet 59% of them had heart disease or related conditions such as diabetes or at least one risk factor for heart disease (such as obesity, high blood pressure, smoking or a family history of heart disease before age 50).

The study also reported that 65% of young adults with heart disease or related conditions had unhealthily high LDL cholesterol levels, as did 26% of those with two or more risk factors, 12% with one risk factor and 7% with no risk factors.

“This is a big problem,” said Kuklina, a fellow at the CDC’s division of heart disease and stroke prevention. “Heart disease and risk factors are common in young adults, and yet screening rates are low.”

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Young and Healthy? Watch the Cholesterol

Young adults out there, take note: The occasional Big Mac, slice of pizza or ice cream cookie binge may be fine — but you’d be wise not to make a habit out of it.

Consistently high levels of low-density lipoprotein (LDL or “bad”) cholesterol throughout early adulthood (which is what you’ll get if you keep eating junk food every day) can do more harm to your future health than to your current figure, according to a new study. They’re a leading risk factor for coronary heart disease, diabetes and stroke.

Researchers from the University of California San Francisco examined the extent to which bad cholesterol profiles in early adulthood are linked to later development of heart disease. They analyzed data from 3,258 men and women who have been tracked by the CARDIA, or Coronary Artery Risk Development in Young Adults, study for the last 20 years and were ages 18 to 30 at the start of the study.

The researchers found that participants with histories of high levels of the “bad” LDL cholesterol were 5 1/2 times as likely to have a buildup of calcium in their coronary arteries (an early indicator of heart disease) than those who had optimal LDL cholesterol levels, defined as less than 1.81 millimoles per liter.

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Australia’s marsupials originated in what is now South America, study says

The kangaroo, a beloved national symbol of Australia, may in fact be an ancient interloper.

A study published Tuesday in the online journal PLoS Biology suggests that Australian marsupials — kangaroos, wallabies, Tasmanian devils and more — evolved from a common South American marsupial ancestor millions of years ago. The finding, by researchers at the University of Munster in Germany, indicates that the theory that marsupials originated in Australia is incorrect.

Marsupials are characterized by distinctive frontal pouches in which they carry their young. There are seven existing orders, three from the Americas and four from Australia.

One prominent theory, now validated by the new study, suggested that ancient South American marsupials migrated across Antarctica to Australia more than 80 million years ago when the continents were connected in a supercontinent known as Gondwana. But scientists had also theorized that the first marsupials migrated from South America to Australia and then back again.

A third theory was that marsupials originated in Australia and then traveled to South America.

Up till now, it had been hard to verify any of the theories, said Matt Phillips, a biologist at the Australian National University in Canberra, who was not involved in the study.

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If Whales Could Shout, They Would

–Published on the front page of The Los Angeles Times on July 11, 2010–

 

In a noisy room, humans will yell to be heard, eventually giving up when communication becomes impossible. Now researchers have found that North Atlantric right whales, too, get louder in response to the noise level of their environment.

Left unanswered is what might happen when an increasingly noisy ocean becomes too loud for easy communication.

Monitoring 14 right whales — seven males and seven females — in the Bay of Fundy, Canada, researchers from Pennsylvania State University, Woods Hole Oceanographic Institute and Duke University found that the animals’ call amplitude rose proportionately as background noise increased. Their study was published in the July issue of Biology Letters.

“Whales are compensating for increased ocean noise by going up in volume when they call to one another, which is basically the same thing that humans do when they’re trying to talk in really noisy bars,” said Joseph Gaydos, chief scientist for the SeaDoc Society at UC Davis, who was not involved in the study.

Previous studies had shown that numerous species of animals, including some whales, alter their call amplitudes in response to rising noise levels. This is the first study to show that right whales do this as well, expanding the number of species potentially affected by man-made changes in their auditory environment.

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Community Acupuncture a New Trend in Oakland

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The process is simple: a whispered check-in with the patient—How are you feeling? What’s bothering you? Then the needles go in, quick and meticulously positioned, usually for no longer than 10 minutes.

Once the practitioner’s role is done—the needles are placed and the Meridian points connecting various organs of the body have been pricked— it’s the patient’s turn to take over. Lean back and relax, they are often instructed. Close your eyes and try to feel the sensations.

And so they do. In a dimly lit room on the ground floor of an office building in North Oakland, the patients lean back in their zero gravity chairs, their bodies cocooned in blue and green pillows and blankets. An I-Pod docking station plays songs from the album Realms of Grace: An Angelic Experience, which is basically Enya, minus the vocals. Nobody talks. Some read, many sleep, all wait. This is its second day since opening, but already the Oakland Acupuncture Project clinic is packed. In less than 48 hours, it has already treated 22 patients.

Last Monday, the Oakland Acupuncture Project opened up its second clinic across the street from Safeway on Grand Avenue. The original clinic, which opened in 2008 at its current location on Laurel Avenue, was started by two graduates of the Acupuncture and Integrative Medicine College of Berkeley, Roselle McNeilly and Whitney Thorniley.

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Knowledge Thirsty

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As if rampant oil consumption and global warming aren’t enough to give you anxiety, Irena Salina’s impassioned documentary, FLOW, serves as a wakeup call for viewers to check the box next to global water crisis. Through a series of interviews with scientists and activists, the film touches upon two of the biggest water-related problems: privatization of the world’s dwindling water supply and the unsettling truth about the quality of bottled water, which remains largely unregulated by the government.

FLOW takes viewers on a tour of some of the world’s most bitter water battles, showing the ill effect that water privatization has on communities in impoverished, rural areas in countries such as Bolivia and South Africa. The second half of the film brings the problem closer to home, exposing the dangerous pathogens and bacteria that are often found in bottled water. While the film itself may be a bit daunting with its pre-apocalyptic tone, the message is clear: cherish and conserve your water supply because it is vanishing at an alarming rate.

–Published in Green Magazine, Winter 2009–

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