New Under the Sun:
Volume 3, Issue 5
May is a month of transition and celebration for many individuals who are moving from one stage of life to the next. Flexibility and adaptability are keys to successful change. Good health in body and mind provide the basis for flexibility and adaptability. Here’s to your good health and to your successful transitions.
Mother Love: A group of researchers believe that they’ve found the location of a mother’s love. It is not in the heart, but the brain. Of course, this is a logical conclusion. Despite our focus on the heart as the seat of emotions, it is in our brains that we register and process emotional content. This particular study involved six first time mothers who did not suffer from postpartum depression.
Six weeks after the mothers and their infants attended a photo session, the mothers were asked to view photos of their infants, unknown infants, and unknown adults while functional magnetic resonance images were being taken of their brains. The mothers were also asked how they felt while viewing the photos. Not too surprisingly, the mothers were happiest when viewing photos of their own infants. This difference was obvious in the brain scans which showed that both sides of the orbitofrontal cortex (the part of the brain that sits above the eyes) were active while viewing one’s own infant, but not when viewing other photos.
The researchers concluded that their study provides further evidence that the orbitofrontal cortex is the portion of the brain that processes emotions. The results may also indicate that women who suffer from postpartum depression may have neurological problems in that portion of the brain. This will be studied in future research. Nitschke JB, Nelson EE, Rusch BD, Fox AS, Oakes TR, Davidson RJ. Orbitofrontal cortex tracks positive mood in mothers viewing pictures of their newborn infants. Neuroimage. 2004 Feb;21(2):583-92.
Smoking Ban and Heart Attacks: Many communities are instituting smoking bans in all indoor public and workplace environments. This has been done in large part to prevent the health risks associated with secondhand smoke. One of these risks is an increased incidence of heart attack after exposure to smoking. After two hours of exposure to cigarette smoke, the risk of heart attack increases about 10% due to the negative impact of the smoke on blood flow and heart function.
Researchers decided to determine if a smoking ban resulted in fewer hospital admissions for heart attacks. From June 5, 2002 to December 3, 2002, Helena, Montana had a ban on smoking in public and workplace environments. The ban was overturned by court order in December. This provided a discrete test case of whether a smoking ban does aid public health. The researchers checked hospital admission records for heart attacks for the period of June through November for all years from 1998 through 2003. There is only one hospital serving adults in Helena. The researchers found that admissions for heart attack were significantly lower during the period of the smoking ban than in the same months in the years prior to the ban, and that admissions for heart attack significantly jumped in those months in the year after the ban was repealed.
While this is a small study, it is also a “clean” study in that the community is relatively small and isolated and is served by only one hospital, thus limiting confounding variables. Obviously, more research needs to be done, but this study does indicate that smoking bans can have an almost immediate positive impact on the health of the citizens living in those communities. Sargent RP, Shepard RM, Glantz SA. Reduced incidence of admissions for myocardial infarction associated with public smoking ban: before and after study. BMJ. 2004 Apr 24;328(7446):977-80.
Walnuts and Heart Health: If your community doesn’t have a smoking ban and you are concerned about heart health, then you need to make sure that you optimize your health behaviors before venturing out into the smoke-filled realms. And, yes, we come back to diet. As is true of fatty fish, walnuts are loaded with omega 3 fatty acids which have been shown to benefit heart health. Walnuts, and other tree nuts, have also been shown to lower cholesterol.
A research group decided to see what would happen if they substituted walnuts, with their polyunsaturated oils, for about one-third of the olive oil, which is monounsaturated, in a Mediterranean style diet. Twenty-one men and women with untreated high cholesterol spent four weeks on each diet. Several tests of heart health were done upon completion of each four-week diet. Results showed that the diet which included walnuts was more effective in promoting heart health than was the traditional Mediterranean style diet which was low-fat, but also limited in healthy polyunsaturated, omega 3-rich oils. Cholesterol levels were significantly lower on the walnut diet compared to the Mediterranean style diet. The conclusion is that simply eating a low-fat diet does not necessarily lead to optimal heart health. The composition of the fats in the diet is more important. Ros E, Nunez I, Perez-Heras A, Serra M, Gilabert R, Casals E, Deulofeu R. A walnut diet improves endothelial function in hypercholesterolemic subjects: a randomized crossover trial. Circulation. 2004 Apr 6;109(13):1609-14.
Measles: Those readers who are 45 or older probably have some memory of, or even personal experience with, measles. But those who are younger most probably received the MMR immunization and so have little understanding of this disease that can be quite debilitating and even deadly. Thanks to immunizations, measles outbreaks are now rare occurrences in the United States. Unfortunately, this is not the case in other parts of the world. In 2000, the most recent year for which we have data, 777,000 individuals died from the measles; 452,000 of these were on the African continent. But no country or continent is truly immune to this disease due to ease with which individuals can travel. Of particular concern are infants too young to be immunized who, nevertheless, are exposed to the virus, who then travel from a region where measles is epidemic to one where it is not, carrying the virus with them.
The seeming eradication in the United States of a disease such as measles can actually become a public health concern for two reasons. The first is that parents become complacent and do not get their children properly immunized at the appropriate intervals, thus leaving their children vulnerable if the virus is brought into the community from overseas. The second is that physicians, particularly those younger than 45, may have never seen a case of measles. Therefore, it is not one of the possible diagnoses that would occur to them when they examine a feverish infant or child, thus delaying appropriate treatment and allowing the virus to spread.
Until a disease is eradicated worldwide, no one can really afford to be complacent. The isolationist mindset of many Americans is ultimately harmful to the health and well being of all Americans. What happens in Africa, Asia, and the other regions of the world matters to all of us. If we want to optimize our health and well being, we need to make sure that funding, research, medical supplies, and medical personnel are available to the regions of the world where diseases remain epidemic. Estrada, B. Measles: The Fight is Not Over Yet. Infect Med 21(3):100, 2004.
AnthroHealth Tip of the Month: When you have a snack attack, reach for the tree nuts, particularly walnuts and almonds. As described above, the oils in walnuts are terrific for improving heart function. Almonds are a great source of calcium. Both walnuts and almonds are good sources of protein and aid in reduction of cholesterol levels. Create your own trail mix by mixing whole, raw almonds with pieces of walnut, raisins, and other dried fruits: tasty, nutritious, and heart healthy. Enjoy while taking your daily walk or hike.
© 2001-2009 Kathleen E. Fuller, PhD. All rights reserved.