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Scoliosis Linked To Essential Mineral

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Nobody knows why some children’s backs start to curve to one side just as they hit puberty. Most children diagnosed with scoliosis, or curvature of the spine, have no known risk factors.

A new study suggests that the body’s inability to fully utilize the essential dietary mineral manganese might be to blame for some cases of severe scoliosis. Researchers at Washington University School of Medicine in St. Louis have found that children with severe scoliosis are twice as likely as children without the disease to carry a gene variant that makes it hard for their cells to take in and use manganese. Manganese is required for growing bones and cartilage.

“Our study links a common disease — scoliosis — to something that’s potentially modifiable in the diet,” said senior author Christina Gurnett, MD, PhD, a professor of neurology, of orthopedic surgery and of pediatrics.

“But we don’t want people to go out right now and start manganese supplements, because we already know that too much manganese can be harmful.”

The study is published Oct. 9 in Nature Communications.

About 3 million new cases of scoliosis are diagnosed every year. Most are mild and require only that doctors keep a watchful eye on the condition. Children who develop a moderate bend to their spine may need to wear a back brace until they finish growing. In rare cases, the curvature is so pronounced that it requires surgery to correct.

Cases of scoliosis tend to cluster in families, but not in a simple way, which suggests that many different genes each play a small role in increasing the risk of the disease. To identify such genes, Gurnett and a research team including Matthew Dobbs, MD, the Dr. Asa C and Mrs. Dorothy W. Jones Professor of Orthopaedic Surgery, and postdoctoral researcher and first author Gabriel Haller, PhD, scanned all the genes in 457 children with severe scoliosis and 987 children without scoliosis.

They found a variant in the gene SLC39A8 in only 6 percent of the healthy children but 12 percent of the children with severe scoliosis. A second analysis in a separate group of 1,095 healthy children and 841 children with moderate to severe scoliosis also found that children with scoliosis were about twice as likely to carry the variant.

When the researchers bred zebrafish with a disabled SLC39A8 gene, the fish developed movement and skeletal abnormalities, including curves in their spines.

This gene hasn’t been studied much, but there are some reports that it helps cells take in minerals such as zinc, iron and manganese. Haller and Gurnett found that human cells with the gene variant successfully took up zinc and iron but failed to take in manganese. They also discovered that children with the gene variant had significantly lower levels of manganese in their blood than those with the more common form — although both groups were still within the normal range.

“Our goal in studying the genetics of this disorder was to see if there was anything we could learn that might change how we treat patients,” said Gurnett, who is also director of the Division of Pediatric and Developmental Neurology and neurologist-in-chief at St. Louis Children’s Hospital.

“And we came across this gene variant that affects the level of manganese in the body. That tells me maybe we should start thinking about studying nutritional treatments for some children at risk.”

Manganese is both an essential mineral and a toxin. High doses can cause manganism, a permanent neurological condition characterized by tremors and difficulty walking, as well as psychiatric symptoms such as aggression and hallucinations. The mineral also has been linked to Parkinson’s disease, schizophrenia and high blood pressure. Too little manganese, on the other hand, can cause manganese deficiency — although this is rarely seen in people because the human body needs only trace amounts that are easily obtained from food. But animal studies show that lack of manganese can result in problems metabolizing fat and sugar, impaired growth, difficulty walking and curvature of the spine.

The children with the genetic variant did not have manganese deficiency, but they may be unable to use manganese as efficiently as others.

“The genetic variant does not stop the gene from working entirely, it’s just not working optimally,” Haller said.

“So maybe most people need a certain level of manganese in their blood, but if you have a bad gene variant like this one, you need more.”

Any manganese supplementation would have to be carefully measured to avoid raising the risk for other serious diseases, the researchers cautioned.

“We’ve started doing these studies in zebrafish by adding manganese to their water,” Gurnett said.

“But we still need to do human studies to figure out how much exactly is both safe and effective.”

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Parents, Kids Spend More Time Discussing How To Use Mobile Technology Than Talking About Content

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ANN ARBOR—Most parents would agree that one of the of the biggest modern parenting challenges is monitoring a child’s online activity.

A new study appearing in the Journal of Child and Family Studies found that parents spend more time talking with kids about the mechanics of using their mobile devices than they do about what their kids watch and download on those devices.

The findings came from a small, recent study of 75 children and their families, led by researcher Sarah Domoff, then a postdoctoral fellow at University of Michigan Center for Human Growth and Development. The children wore recording devices at home, which recorded talking, conversations or other sounds nearby, as well as audible screen media use.

Domoff, now an assistant professor at Central Michigan University, said the findings revealed some concerning trends in how families and children communicate about media today. Specifically, the researchers observed minimal conversation about the content of programming that children were watching.

Additionally, they learned that other family members appear to play an important role when content is discussed. Children––not parents––initiated most conversations about content, and older siblings played a much bigger role than parents in content mediation for younger siblings. Also, the study found that children as young as toddlers were exposed to multiple media sources at one time, or media multitasking.

Other findings include:

  • Negotiations and conflict are common among parents and children.
  • Parallel family media use is common, meaning different family members use their own devices at the same time.

“One of the most challenging aspects of parenting today is being aware of what children are exposed to online, particularly content delivered via mobile devices,” Domoff said.

“Thus, it is critical that parents utilize privacy settings and restrictions to protect children from certain content. Ideally, this would occur before the child received their own mobile device.”

Domoff recommends developing a family media plan. In 2016, The American Academy of Pediatrics released a tool that helps families set different goals and media use rules based on individual needs, she said.

It’s also troubling that some apps downloaded by children include advertising or request in-app purchases, she said. Parents can identify these apps by using Common Sense Media’s app review.

Parents can also recruit older children to help younger siblings make good content choices.

The study aimed to identify themes of parental mediation and family communication around mobile media devices. There’s a dearth of scientific data in this area compared to television and video games, but studies show that parental mediation leads to better outcomes for children.

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Internet Therapy Apps Reduce Depression Symptoms

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BLOOMINGTON, Ind. — In a sweeping new study, Indiana University psychologists have found that a series of self-guided, internet-based therapy platforms effectively reduce depression.

The work, which reviewed 21 pre-existing studies with a total of 4,781 participants, was published in the November issue of the Journal of Medical Internet Research. The study was led by Lorenzo Lorenzo-Luaces, an assistant professor of clinical psychology in the IU Bloomington College of Arts and Sciences’ Department of Psychological and Brain Sciences.

In the past several years, many internet-based apps and websites have made claims to treat depression. The subjects of the IU study were specifically those applications that provide treatment with cognitive behavioral therapy, a form of psychotherapy that focuses on changing thought patterns and behavior to alleviate symptoms of depression and other mental disorders.

Previous studies had examined the effectiveness of individual internet-based cognitive behavioral therapy apps, or iCBT, using a range of methods. Until this study, however, no review had examined whether the effects of these treatments were inflated by excluding patients with more severe depression or additional conditions such as anxiety or alcohol abuse.

“Before this study, I thought past studies were probably focused on people with very mild depression, those who did not have other mental health problems, and were at low risk for suicide,” Lorenzo-Luaces said.

“To my surprise, that was not the case. The science suggests that these apps and platforms can help a large number of people.”

For Lorenzo-Luaces, internet-based cognitive behavioral therapy apps are an important new tool for addressing a major public health issue: that individuals with mental health disorders like depression far outnumber the mental health providers available to treat them.

“Close to one in four people meet the criteria for major depressive disorder,” he said.

“If you include people with minor depression or who have been depressed for a week or a month with a few symptoms, the number grows, exceeding the number of psychologists who can serve them.”

People with depression are also expensive for the health care system, he added.

“They tend to visit primary-care physicians more often than others,” Lorenzo-Luaces said.

“They have more medical problems, and their depression sometimes gets in the way of their taking their medication for other medical problems.”

By conducting a “meta-regression analysis” of 21 studies, Lorenzo-Luaces and collaborators decisively determined that internet-based therapy platforms effectively alleviate depression. A central question was determining whether previous studies distorted the strength of these systems’ effects by excluding people with severe depression.

The conclusion was that the apps worked in cases of mild, moderate and severe depression.

Many of the studies in the analysis compared use of internet-based cognitive behavioral therapy apps to placement on a wait list for therapy or the use of a “fake app” that made weak recommendations to the user. In these cases, the iCBT apps worked significantly better.

“This is not to say that you should stop taking your medication and go to the nearest app store,” added Lorenzo-Luaces, who said both face-to-face therapy and antidepressants may still prove to be more effective than the iCBT apps alone.

“People tend to do better when they have a little bit of guidance,” he said. But he added that a 10- to 15-minute check-in may be sufficient for many people, freeing health care providers to see more patients.

App-based therapy also has an advantage in situations where access to face-to-face therapy is limited due to logistical barriers, such as long distances in rural areas or inflexible work schedules.

“ICBT apps take the methods we have learned and make them available to the many people who could benefit from them,” Lorenzo-Luaces said.

“It’s an exciting development.”

 

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New Study Finds Employee Incentives Can Lead To Unethical Behavior In The Workplace

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Considering end-of-year bonuses for your employees? Supervisors be forewarned, a new study finds that while incentive rewards can help motivate and increase employee performance it can also lead to unethical behavior in the workplace.

“Goal fixation can have a profound impact on employee behavior, and the damaging effects appear to be growing stronger in today’s competitive business landscape,” says Bill Becker, co-author of the study and associate professor of management in the Pamplin College of Business at Virginia Tech.

The study, “The effects of goals and pay structure on managerial reporting dishonesty,” provides valuable insight into the relationship between pay structures and motivation.

Findings suggest that setting compensation goals can increase dishonesty when managers are also paid a bonus for hitting certain targets.

“These unintended negative consequences can lead to dishonesty, unethical behavior, increased risk-taking, escalation of commitment, and depletion of self-control,” says Becker.

The study points to observations of unethical behaviors in the workplace that include employees falsifying or manipulating financial reporting information as well as time and expense reports.

For example, service professionals such as auditors, contractors, lawyers, and consultants who report hours billed against a target budget is often based on a fixed contract price.

“This causes potential for both under-reporting and over-reporting costs, which can undermine organizational objectives and negatively impact the interest of the firm,” says Becker.

“Using purely monetary incentives is almost always a double edged sword.”

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