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Smoke Signals

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Facebook has many uses, but scientific research is not usually considered to be one of them. However, this social networking site, immensely popular among young people, helped Canadian researchers track children who were part of a study five years ago. The study was on nicotine dependence among school children. As they followed the habit once again among the teenagers, the scientists gained two valuable insights on smoking and adolescents — first, that smoking does not make girls thin and, second, that it makes boys shorter. Both findings contradicted common perceptions about smoking in North America, and probably in the rest of the world as well.

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Researchers have been looking at smoking in children and adolescents for some time now, because tobacco addiction generally starts somewhere in high school or early university life. By global standards, the problem is not very serious in North America, which has seen a decline in smoking over the years. In fact, the World Health Organization lists India as one of the nations with a high prevalence of smoking among the young, along with Central and Eastern Europe and some Pacific Islands. However, smoking does start early sometimes in North America, as in India and other parts of the world. And misconceptions about smoking are often a strong motivation to start tobacco use.

As a young girl, Jennifer ’ Loughlin had heard about smoking and weight control early in life. “Smoking will make you thin,” she was told by many while she was growing up. Now as an epidemiologist and biostatistician at the University of Montreal, she has been studying the natural history of nicotine dependence. A few years ago, she had found compelling evidence for a genetic role in the development of nicotine dependence among teenagers. Now her study, done with colleagues in other Canadian institutions, debunks a popular myth: that smoking is good for weight control among girls.

As she had known always, girls in North America often cite this as a reason to start smoking. This finding should thus be a strong deterrent, but what the scientists found among boys was even more interesting. Boys who smoked regularly grew up to be an inch shorter. Since growing tall is one of the ambitions of adolescent boys, this finding should be an even stronger deterrent to smoking among boys. Says ’ Loughlin: “Boys now may see smoking as a bad choice if they want to grow tall.”

Smoking among children and adolescents has received considerable attention among scientists of various disciplines. Most of these studies did not provide any conclusive evidence of why adolescents smoked or how smoking affects them. For example, a part of the Global Youth Tobacco Survey in Punjab in 2003 got conflicting results regarding motivations. The participants said that boys or girls who smoke have more friends. But they also said that those who smoke are less attractive.

Three years ago, scientists at the Yale University studied all the research literature on smoking and weight concerns among teenagers. They found that a significant number of teenage girls believed smoking was a way of weight control, but they did not find any relationship in practice. On the other hand, heavier boys reduced their body mass index when they smoked. Girls who smoked more cigarettes were more concerned about gaining weight after they quit, which provided a strong motivation to continue smoking.

’ Loughlin had started studying smoking in children in 1999. She had funding from the Canadian Cancer Society. She followed a cohort of students in high school for five years. “Children in North America generally start smoking at the age of 12,” she says. “Some start even at eight.” She had then found a possible genetic link, a predisposition that makes some pick up the habit when exposed to it.

A few years later, she wanted to follow these students again. There were 1,300 of them, and many of them had gone away from where they originally lived. But the scientists managed to trace every one of them. “We used Facebook heavily to trace the students,” says ’ Loughlin. She had a grant of $650 million, again from the Canadian Cancer Society. The results of the study provided compelling evidence of smoking and height and weight among children aged between 12 and 17. Girls do not shed weight when they smoked. Boys shed height when they did.

While common sense says that smoking should not cause any difference in weight, the decrease in height is more intriguing. The study found that boys who smoked 10 cigarettes a day from the age 12 to 17 would be an inch shorter than a boy who did not smoke. This was not true of girls, probably because boys attain full height a few years later than girls do. Why does this happen? There is no clear answer, but we can hazard a guess. Maybe nicotine deprives the body of oxygen. Maybe it somehow affects the growth hormones. Whatever the reason is, the message is loud and clear.

Sources: The Telegraph (Kolkata,India)

News on Health & Science Yoga

Let Yoga Relax You

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The review and synthesis of 12 published randomised trials also showed that yoga was the most effective among the three.

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A systematic review to assess the efficacy of mind-body therapies (MBT), such as meditation, yoga and guided imagery in the treatment of hypertension, has shown that such complementary and alternative medicine (CAM) approaches significantly reduce systolic and diastolic blood pressures.
The review and synthesis of 12 published randomised trials also showed that yoga was the most effective among the three therapies studied in reducing hypertension.

The researchers involved in the study reviewed randomised, or quasi-randomised, controlled trials comparing mind-body techniques (meditation, yoga, and guided imagery) alone or in combination with conventional treatment to conventional treatment alone or no intervention/waiting list control.

Participants in these trials were adult men and non-pregnant women who were suffering from hypertension, defined as a systolic blood pressure of 140 mm Hg and/or diastolic blood pressure 90 mm Hg.

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Relevant trials were identified in the register of trials maintained by the Cochrane Complementary Medicine Field Registry, The Cochrane Central Register of Controlled Trials, Medline, EMBASE, PsycInfo, and CINAHL.

It was found that mind-body therapies significantly reduced systolic blood pressure (SBP) by a mean 11.52 mm Hg and diastolic blood pressure (DBP) by 6.83 mm Hg. The study also showed that yoga therapies demonstrated results of the greatest magnitude, with mean SBP reductions of 19.07 mm Hg and DBP by 13.13 mm Hg. Significant results were seen in SBP reductions by yoga and meditation therapy, while only yoga therapies demonstrated significant reductions in DBP.

The absolute reductions in blood pressure were comparable to pharmacologic monotherapy in both effect size and temporality. Additionally, reductions in systolic and diastolic blood pressure to the degree found in yoga interventions were associated with reductions in vascular death rates as well as decreased overall cardiac risk.

This review shows that there is some high quality scientific literature supporting the use of mind-body therapies as a treatment for hypertension, and the magnitude of effect is clinically significant,” says lead author of the study, Dr. Ather Ali of the Prevention Research Center, School of Medicine, Yale University. Despite the limitations of a review, he suggests mind-body interventions may be prudent choices for adjunctive treatment for motivated patients.

Source: The Times Of India

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Soaking in the sun

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Elena Conis gives an account of the rise and fall of sunlight therapy:

Sun-tanned skin may be in vogue now, but for thousands of years it was a thing to be avoided. The wealthy in many northern countries went to great lengths to keep their complexions fair, tanned skin being a sign of poverty.


In the late 1700s, a French doctor noticed that his patients’ leg sores healed faster when exposed to the sun. Not much came of this finding until a Danish doctor saw something similar a century later. Niels Finsen noted that his sluggishness was cured with a little dose of sunlight. Later, he showed that solar radiation could help treat smallpox, lupus and tuberculosis.

But heliotherapy (helios in Greek means sun) didn’t become popular until a Swiss doctor, Auguste Rollier, began championing it in the early 1900s. Rollier opened solaria — buildings designed to optimise solar exposure — throughout Switzerland. Soon the buildings were mimicked across Europe.

When patients, most of whom had tuberculosis, arrived at his solaria, they first had to adjust to the altitude (his clinics were in the mountains) and then to the cool air. Once acclimated, they were slowly exposed to the sun. Patients were rolled onto sun-drenched, open-air balconies, wearing loincloths and covered with white sheets from head to toe. Just their feet peeked out for five minutes on the first day. On day two, the sheets were pulled a little higher, and the patients were left in the sun a little more. By day five, only the patients’ heads were covered, their bodies left to soak up the sun for more than an hour. After a few weeks, the patients were very tan — and hopefully healthier.

Soon doctors across Europe were touting heliotherapy as a treatment for tuberculosis and lupus, cuts and scrapes, burns, arthritis, rheumatism and nerve damage. The German military even opened sun-hospitals for its soldiers during World War I.

Researchers showed that sunlight could kill many disease-causing bacteria and UV light could cure rickets, a bone disease caused by vitamin D deficiency.

But by World War II, the sun craze had gradually tempered. Newly discovered antibiotics proved to be more powerful against germs. And doctors also observed that too much sun did more harm than good.

That observation, however, wasn’t new. Sir Henry Gauvain of Britain seemed to foresee it way back in 1922. Sunlight, he wrote, is “like a good champagne. It invigorates and stimulates; indulged in to excess, it intoxicates and poisons.”

Source:The Telegraph (Kolkata,India)