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Gene Which Decreases Risk Of Social Network-related Stress, Increases Finance-related Stress Risk

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Researchers have discovered that the same gene which increases your risk of depression following financial stress as you grow older also reduces your chance of depression associated with friendship and relationships stresses when young- your social network.

This may have implications for treatment, but also offers a possible answer to a question which has puzzled scientists: why has depression survived through evolution? This work is presented at the ECNP Congress in Barcelona.

5-HTTLPR, which is found on chromosome 17, is a form (a variant) of the gene which carries the instructions for producing the serotonin transporter protein, which is central to the pharmacology of depression: antidepressants such as Selective Serotonin Reuptake Inhibitors (SSRIs, e.g. Prozac, Paxil, Zoloft, and others) are the mainstay of drug treatment for depression. One of the two variants of 5-HTTLPR, the short (s) variant is generally thought to promote a tendency to depression, although as depression is associated with many genes, there is no single genetic cause of depression.

For an inherited trait to survive over time, there normally needs to be some advantage to it being passed on, but with depression there is no obvious reason why evolution should allow a tendency to depression to survive.

Now scientists have found that the s variant (5-HTTLPRs) of this gene may help protect against the depression associated with stressors and life events deriving from the social network in younger people. In previous work, the same scientists had found that the 5-HTTLPRs variant does not increase the depression risk following exposure to most types of stressors as had been believed, but in fact may actually only increases the risk of depression following financial stress in older males.

Researcher Dr Xenia Gonda said:

“What we see is the same gene having opposite effects following different types of environmental events and even at different points throughout one’s life. For people under around the age of 30, their social network of friends and acquaintances is vitally important. This is the period when they are looking to form attachments. In this younger age, we found that the 5-HTTLPR s variant protects people against depression when exposed to social network stress. However, our previous work showed us that the same gene variant tends to make people more susceptible to depression if they experience financial stress when they get older.

With the older group, we found that if we looked at the two genders separately, this effect was observable only in men, whose traditional gender role is that of the provider for the family so that’s perhaps why financial problems may be more stressful for them.”

For the latest work, the team had enrolled a sample of 1081 volunteers from Budapest and Manchester, all under the age of 30, and questioned them about 4 different types of stress experience including relationship problems, illness or injury, financial difficulties, and stresses related to the social network such as friends and acquaintances. They found that the short variant of 5-HTTLPR, which is present in around 37-40% of the Caucasian population, conferred a statistically significant protection against depression risk following social network problems, but not against the other stressors in the study.

Dr Gonda continued,

“Depression is not a single disease, and depression related to different types of genes and different stresses may respond to different types of pharmacological and psychotherapeutic treatment. What our study shows that genes involved in depression may actually have positive effects which can also be exploited for therapy. For example those with higher social sensitivity conferred by the s allele may respond better to psychotherapy than those who do not carry this variant, however, further studies would be needed to confirm this.

It’s a subtle distinction, but we believe depending on the environmental context, 5-HTTLPR may have both negative and positive effects; so sometimes it may promote depression, but in certain circumstances, like when exposed to life events and stressors affecting the social network, it protects. We should always consider the possible ancestral context when looking at the adaptive or risk side of genes, and it appears that the adaptive role of 5-HTTLPR was to increase sensitivity to social influences and events with positive outcomes, and its negative effect like increasing depression risk appear only in case of a few types of stress. And this is probably why these genes have been preserved in evolution. But we need to remember that there are multiple genes involved in depression which interact with one another and with the environment, so it’s not as simple as saying ‘this gene causes depression’.

The take-home message from this work is that “depressogenic” genes (genes which are associated with more depression) are not always depressogenic, it depends on their environmental context, your gender, your age, and what type of stress you are under.”

She added:

“We have surveyed more than 1000 people in this research, but this is a fairly modest sample in terms of population genetics, so we are continuing the research to allow us to confirm the findings.”

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Children Carry Evidence Of Toxins From Home Flooring And Furniture

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Children living in homes with all vinyl flooring or flame-retardant chemicals in the sofa have significantly higher concentrations of potentially harmful semi-volatile organic compounds (SVOCs) in their blood or urine than children from homes where these materials are not present, according to a new Duke University-led study.

The researchers presented their findings Sunday, Feb. 17 at the annual meeting of the American Association for the Advancement of Science in Washington, D.C.

They found that children living in homes where the sofa in the main living area contained flame-retardant polybrominated diphenyl ethers (PBDEs) in its foam had a six-fold higher concentration of PBDEs in their blood serum.

Exposure to PBDEs has been linked in laboratory tests to neurodevelopmental delays, obesity, endocrine and thyroid disruption, cancer and other diseases.

Children from homes that had vinyl flooring in all areas were found to have concentrations of benzyl butyl phthalate metabolite in their urine that were 15 times higher than those in children living with no vinyl flooring.

Benzyl butyl phthalate has been linked to respiratory disorders, skin irritations, multiple myeolma and reproductive disorders.

“SVOCs are widely used in electronics, furniture and building materials and can be detected in nearly all indoor environments,” said Heather Stapleton, an environmental chemist at Duke’s Nicholas School of the Environment, who led the research.

“Human exposure to them is widespread, particularly for young children who spend most of their time indoors and have greater exposure to chemicals found in household dust.”

“Nonetheless, there has been little research on the relative contribution of specific products and materials to children’s overall exposure to SVOCs,” she noted.

To address that gap, in 2014 Stapleton and colleagues from Duke, the Centers for Disease Control & Prevention, and Boston University began a three-year study of in-home exposures to SVOCs among 203 children from 190 families.

“Our primary goal was to investigate links between specific products and children’s exposures, and to determine how the exposure happened — was it through breathing, skin contact or inadvertent dust inhalation,” Stapleton said.

To that end, the team analyzed samples of indoor air, indoor dust and foam collected from furniture in each of the children’s homes, along with a handwipe sample, urine and blood from each child.

“We quantified 44 biomarkers of exposure to phthalates, organophosphate esters, brominated flame retardants, parabens, phenols, antibacterial agents and perfluoroalkyl and polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS),” Stapleton said.

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Your Home Is A Hidden Source Of Air Pollution

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Cooking, cleaning and other routine household activities generate significant levels of volatile and particulate chemicals inside the average home, leading to indoor air quality levels on par with a polluted major city, University of Colorado Boulder researchers have found.

What’s more, airborne chemicals that originate inside a house don’t stay there: Volatile organic compounds (VOCs) from products such as shampoo, perfume and cleaning solutions eventually escape outside and contribute to ozone and fine particle formation, making up an even greater source of global atmospheric air pollution than cars and trucks do.

The previously underexplored relationship between households and air quality drew focus today at the 2019 AAAS Annual Meeting in Washington, D.C., where researchers from CU Boulder’s Cooperative Institute for Research in Environmental Sciences (CIRES) and the university’s Department of Mechanical Engineering presented their recent findings during a panel discussion.

“Homes have never been considered an important source of outdoor air pollution and the moment is right to start exploring that,” said Marina Vance, an assistant professor of mechanical engineering at CU Boulder.

“We wanted to know: How do basic activities like cooking and cleaning change the chemistry of a house?”

In 2018, Vance co-led the collaborative HOMEChem field campaign, which used advanced sensors and cameras to monitor the indoor air quality of a 1,200-square-foot manufactured home on the University of Texas Austin campus. Over the course of a month, Vance and her colleagues conducted a variety of daily household activities, including cooking a full Thanksgiving dinner in the middle of the Texas summer.

While the HOMEChem experiment’s results are still pending, Vance said that it’s apparent that homes need to be well ventilated while cooking and cleaning, because even basic tasks like boiling water over a stovetop flame can contribute to high levels of gaseous air pollutants and suspended particulates, with negative health impacts.

To her team’s surprise, the measured indoor concentrations were high enough that that their sensitive instruments needed to be recalibrated almost immediately.

“Even the simple act of making toast raised particle levels far higher than expected,” Vance said.

“We had to go adjust many of the instruments.”

Indoor and outdoor experts are collaborating to paint a more complete picture of air quality, said Joost de Gouw, a CIRES Visiting Professor. Last year, de Gouw and his colleagues published results in the journal Science showing that regulations on automobiles had pushed transportation-derived emissions down in recent decades while the relative importance of household chemical pollutants had only gone up.

“Many traditional sources like fossil fuel-burning vehicles have become much cleaner than they used to be,” said de Gouw.

“Ozone and fine particulates are monitored by the EPA, but data for airborne toxins like formaldehyde and benzene and compounds like alcohols and ketones that originate from the home are very sparse.”

While de Gouw says that it is too early on in the research to make recommendations on policy or consumer behavior, he said that it’s encouraging that the scientific community is now thinking about the “esosphere,” derived from the Greek word ‘eso,’ which translates to ‘inner.’

“There was originally skepticism about whether or not these products actually contributed to air pollution in a meaningful way, but no longer,” de Gouw said.

“Moving forward, we need to re-focus research efforts on these sources and give them the same attention we have given to fossil fuels. The picture that we have in our heads about the atmosphere should now include a house.”

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Diet Drinks May Be Associated With Strokes Among Post-Menopausal Women

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Among post-menopausal women, drinking multiple diet drinks daily was associated with an increase in the risk of having a stroke caused by a blocked artery, especially small arteries, according to research published in Stroke, a journal of the American Heart Association.

This is one of the first studies to look at the association between drinking artificially sweetened beverages and the risk of specific types of stroke in a large, racially diverse group of post-menopausal women. While this study identifies an association between diet drinks and stroke, it does not prove cause and effect because it was an observational study based on self-reported information about diet drink consumption.

Compared with women who consumed diet drinks less than once a week or not at all, women who consumed two or more artificially sweetened beverages per day were:

  • 23 percent more likely to have a stroke;
  • 31 percent more likely to have a clot-caused (ischemic) stroke;
  • 29 percent more likely to develop heart disease (fatal or non-fatal heart attack); and
  • 16 percent more likely to die from any cause.

Researchers found risks were higher for certain women. Heavy intake of diet drinks, defined as two or more times daily, more than doubled stroke risk in:

  • women without previous heart disease or diabetes, who were 2.44 times as likely to have a common type of stroke caused by blockage of one of the very small arteries within the brain;
  • obese women without previous heart disease or diabetes, who were 2.03 times as likely to have a clot-caused stroke; and
  • African-American women without previous heart disease or diabetes, who were 3.93 times as likely to have a clot-caused stroke.

“Many well-meaning people, especially those who are overweight or obese, drink low-calorie sweetened drinks to cut calories in their diet. Our research and other observational studies have shown that artificially sweetened beverages may not be harmless and high consumption is associated with a higher risk of stroke and heart disease,” said Yasmin Mossavar-Rahmani, Ph.D., lead author of the study and associate professor of clinical epidemiology and population health at the Albert Einstein College of Medicine in the Bronx, New York.

Researchers analyzed data on 81,714 postmenopausal women (age 50-79 years at the start) participating in the Women’s Health Initiative study that tracked health outcomes for an average of 11.9 years after they enrolled between 1993 and 1998. At their three-year evaluation, the women reported how often in the previous three months they had consumed diet drinks such as low calorie, artificially sweetened colas, sodas and fruit drinks. The data collected did not include information about the specific artificial sweetener the drinks contained.

The results were obtained after adjusting for various stroke risk factors such as age, high blood pressure, and smoking. These results in postmenopausal women may not be generalizable to men or younger women. The study is also limited by having only the women’s self-report of diet drink intake.

“We don’t know specifically what types of artificially sweetened beverages they were consuming, so we don’t know which artificial sweeteners may be harmful and which may be harmless,” Mossavar-Rahmani said.

The American Heart Association recently published a science advisory that found there was inadequate scientific research to conclude that low-calorie sweetened beverages do – or do not – alter risk factors for heart disease and stroke in young children, teens or adults. The Association recognizes diet drinks may help replace high calorie, sugary beverages, but recommends water (plain, carbonated and unsweetened flavored) as the best choice for a no calorie drink.

“Unfortunately, current research simply does not provide enough evidence to distinguish between the effects of different low-calorie sweeteners on heart and brain health. This study adds to the evidence that limiting use of diet beverages is the most prudent thing to do for your health,” said Rachel K. Johnson, Ph.D., R.D., professor of nutrition emeritus, University of Vermont and the chair of the writing group for the American Heart Association’s science advisory, Low-Calorie Sweetened Beverages and Cardiometabolic Health.

“The American Heart Association suggests water as the best choice for a no-calorie beverage. However, for some adults, diet drinks with low calorie sweeteners may be helpful as they transition to adopting water as their primary drink. Since long-term clinical trial data are not available on the effects of low-calorie sweetened drinks and cardiovascular health, given their lack of nutritional value, it may be prudent to limit their prolonged use” said Johnson.

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