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Behavioral Science, In the News, Neuroscience, Research

Embrace your stress: From enemy to friend

Embrace your stress: From enemy to friend

2204059683_09eb09601b_zStress isn’t evil, health psychologist Kelly McGonigal, PhD, emphasized on KQED’s Forum on Friday. “Just a few years ago, that would have sounded like nonsense. But now, thanks in part to several appearances coinciding with the publication of her book, “The Upside of Stress,” McGonigal is making in-roads on the “stress-as-boogeyman” narrative.

By embracing stress, accepting it as your body’s natural response to events, people can live longer and even channel their stress into a productive form, she said.

“One way to think about stress is that it’s energy and you get to decide what the right thing to do with that energy is,” McGonigal said.

Just as top performers and athletes capture the momentum of stress to improve their performance, all of us can learn to relate to stress in a way that leaves us wiser and stronger, she explained.

Stress can also be a catalyst to strengthen relationships: “It’s part of the brain’s  and body’s motivation to help you connect with others and help you strengthen social bonds.”

During rough patches, it can also be immensely helpful to maintain the perspective that life is teaching you a lesson that will leave you stronger, McGonigal told listeners.

Previously: Tend and befriend — helping you helps me, Resolution check-in with a Stanford psychologist, one week into the new year and Exploring the costs and deaths associated with workplace stress
Image by bottled_void

FDA, In the News, otolaryngology, Public Health, Science Policy

With e-cigarettes, tobacco isn’t the only danger

With e-cigarettes, tobacco isn't the only danger

16546091210_99279fd110_zE-cigarettes are far from safe, Robert Jackler, MD, writes in a strongly worded op-ed that appeared over the weekend in the San Jose Mercury News.

Most at risk are teens and tweens, enticed by flavors ranging from cotton candy, gummy bear and root beer to peanut butter cookie. (An aside: Can you imagine a hardened, pack-a-day smoker deciding to curb his or her harmful habit by switching to cotton candy-flavored e-cigarettes?)

Interestingly, these flavors, which are thought to be safe in foods may be upping the harmfulness of the e-cigs; after all, the lungs process chemicals much differently than the stomach does. (Remember popcorn lung? In the early 2000’s, a group of workers at a microwave popcorn plant fell ill after inhaling too much of the flavoring agent, diacetyl, used to give popcorn its buttery taste.)

From Jackler’s piece:

In 2009, to reduce youth smoking, the FDA banned flavors (other than menthol) from traditional cigarettes. Fearing regulatory action, the e-cigarette industry response has echoed the playbook of the tobacco industry. One brand went so far as to commission a study which, not surprisingly, arrived at the improbable finding that flavors do not appeal to the young. The industry argues that flavored e-cigarettes should be allowed because they have not been proven unsafe.

Jackler goes on to warn of the progressive nature of lung damage — e-cigarette smokers may be accumulating harm well before they notice a problem.

Previously: Raising the age for tobacco access would benefit health, says new Institute of Medicine report, How e-cigarettes are sparking a new wave of tobacco marketing, E-cigarettes and the FDA: A conversation with a tobacco-marketing researcher and E-Cigarettes: The explosion of vaping is about to be regulated
Photo by Jonny Williams

Health and Fitness, In the News, Sleep, Videos

“Father of Sleep Medicine” talks with CNN about what happens when we don’t sleep well

"Father of Sleep Medicine" talks with CNN about what happens when we don't sleep well

Dement - smallA good night’s sleep is often the first thing to go when we have an important work deadline or health issue. I know this from firsthand (and recent!) experience: I let a foot injury kept me up until 4 a.m. today even though I know that cheating sleep – or getting a poor night of sleep – is bad for my health.

But is skimping out on sleep now and again really that bad? As Chief Medical Correspondent Sanjay Gupta, MD, and Stanford sleep expert William Dement, MD, PhD, explain in a recent CNN feature: yes. When we rest, our bodies go to work, Gupta explains: “When your head hits the pillow, your body doesn’t shut down. It uses that time to heal tissue, strengthen memory, even grow.”

Dement, who founded the Stanford Center for Sleep Sciences and Medicine in the 1970s and has devoted his career to understanding sleep, has lots of experience with patients who miss out on these benefits because they don’t sleep well – due to obstructive sleep apnea. (The disorder, he says, affects 24 percent of adult males in the U.S.) In the piece, he and Gupta discuss the risk factors, such as excess weight and large tonsils, linked to sleep apnea and what can be done to alleviate the problem.

If you have a few minutes, this video is worth a watch. Dement makes his first appearance at the 2.5-minute mark.

Previously: Stanford doc gives teens a crash course on the dangers of sleep deprivationWilliam Dement: Stanford Medicine’s “Sandman”Stanford docs discuss all things sleep, Why untreated sleep apnea may cause more harm to your health than feeling fatigued and What are the consequences of sleep deprivation?
Photo, which originally appeared in Stanford Medicine, by Lenny Gonzalez

In the News, Neuroscience, Research, Sleep, Stanford News

Stanford researcher’s work, which clarifies role of brain activity during sleep, featured on NPR

Stanford researcher's work, which clarifies role of brain activity during sleep, featured on NPR

ParviziMuch to my delight, I heard the voice of Josef Parvizi, MD, PhD, on NPR yesterday afternoon. He was discussing the results of his latest study, which showed that the brain’s activity during sleep is far from random.

“There is something that’s going on in a very structured manner during rest and during sleep,” Parvizi told NPR. “And that will, of course, require energy consumption.”

A Shots blog entry accompanying the segment describes the findings:

The team saw activity in two widely separated brain areas known to be involved in episodic memories. And the activity was highly coordinated — suggesting the different brain regions were working together to answer the questions…

“What we found,” he says, “was that the same nerve cells that were activated to retrieve memories… have a very coordinated pattern of noise.”

This explains, in part, why the brain consumes 20 percent of the body’s energy, although it constitutes only 2 percent of its weight. There are more details on the study in our press release.

Previously: New findings on exactly why our “idle” brains burn so much fuel, The brain whisperer: Stanford neurologist talks about his work, shares tips with aspiring doctors and How epilepsy patients are teaching Stanford scientists more about the brain

Evolution, In the News, Research, Science

Chins make us human; new study examines why

Chins make us human; new study examines why

il-150226-ts-08When we think of what makes us human, it’s common to think of something like language or tool-making. Something that likely doesn’t pop into mind is the chin – but humans are the only species to have one! The bony prominence is missing from the skulls of Neanderthals, archaic humans, primates, and indeed all other animals. (In the photo, the skull on the left is human, and the one on the right is Neanderthal).

Scientists have puzzled for more than a century over why chins developed, and the dominant theory has been that they resulted from mechanical forces like chewing. Bones under pressure sustain tiny tears that then enable new bone to grow, much like weight lifting does to muscles. But a new study conducted by University of Iowa researchers suggests that mechanical forces have nothing to do with it: It’s more likely that chins resulted from shifting social dynamics.

The study, published in the Journal of Anatomy, capitalized on the fact that children don’t have chins either – the bone underneath their lower lip is smooth, and the prominence develops with age. The study examined nearly 40 people ranging from 3-20 years old, correlating their chin development with various forces exerted by their cranio-facial anatomy (during chewing, for example), and concluded that mechanical forces don’t play a role in chin development. In fact, those with the most mechanical force had the smallest chins.

Nathan Colton, PhD, professor of orthodontics at the UI College of Dentistry and lead author of the study, is quoted in a UI press release:

In short, we do not find any evidence that chins are tied to mechanical function and in some cases we find that chins are worse at resisting mechanical forces as we grow. Overall, this suggests that chins are unlikely related to the need to dissipate stresses and strains and that other explanations are more likely to be correct.

Instead, the researchers think that the chin results from the facial structure being rearranged as faces got smaller – human faces are 15 percent smaller than those of Neanderthals. This reduction resulted from a decrease in testosterone levels, which happened as males of the species benefitted more from interacting socially with other groups rather than fighting other males.

Robert Franciscus, PhD, professor of anthropology at UI and a contributing author on the study, also comments:

What we’re arguing is that modern humans had an advantage at some point to have a well-connected social network, they can exchange information, and mates, more readily, there’s innovation. And for that to happen, males have to tolerate each other. There had to be more curiosity and inquisitiveness than aggression, and the evidence of that lies in facial architecture.

Previously: Humans share history – and a fair amount of genetic material – with Neanderthals
Photo by Tim Schoon, University of Iowa

In the News, Mental Health, Research, Sleep

The importance of screening soldiers for sleep problems to combat mental-health conditions

The importance of screening soldiers for sleep problems to combat mental-health conditions

Watching over

A new report from the RAND Corporation suggests that treating military members’ sleep disturbances early on may be an important step in preventing serious mental-health conditions, including post-traumatic stress disorder, depression, and traumatic brain injury.

The two-year multi-method study examined sleep-related policies and programs across the U.S. Department of Defense and surveyed almost 2,000 veterans from various branches of the military to evaluate their sleep habits. The findings emphasized the negative effects of poor sleep on soldiers’ mental health, daytime impairment and perceived operational readiness; and it outlined interventions for helping identify and prevent sleep problems for service members.

The Huffington Post reports:

The researchers recommended that the military improve screening for sleep disturbance, and develop guidelines for doctors on how to identify and treat sleep disorders in the military. Apps on mobile phones might be one new way to identify and monitor sleep problems so they do not become chronic and debilitating, the researchers said.

Although the new report focused on activity-duty troops, studies show that sleep problems are often missed in veterans as well, [Wendy Troxel, PhD, co-author of the report] said, so there is also a need to develop guidelines for treating this population. In a previous survey of 3,000 veterans, 74 percent had symptoms of insomnia, but only 28 percent had talked with their doctor about it, Troxel said.

The researchers also recommended improving policies and programs to educate military personnel about the importance of sleep, and provide guidance on how to help military members get better sleep.

Previously: Study shows benefits of breathing meditation among veterans with PTSD, The promise of yoga-based treatments to help veterans with PTSD and Using mindfulness therapies to treat veterans’ PTSD
Photo by DVIDSHUB

In the News, Pediatrics, Sleep, Stanford News, Videos

Stanford doc gives teens a crash course on the dangers of sleep deprivation

Stanford doc gives teens a crash course on the dangers of sleep deprivation

Numerous studies, including a big one published in Pediatrics earlier this year, have shown that adolescents are getting less sleep than ever before. But most teens are unlikley unaware of the dangers of sleep deprivation – and that’s something that a group of Stanford clinicians is trying to change. Rafael Pelayo, MD, with the Stanford Center for Sleep Sciences and Medicine, and colleagues recently gave a “crash course” on sleep, and the importance of getting enough, to students at nearby Menlo-Atherton High School. ABC7 captured the story in the video above.

Previously: Talking about teens’ “great sleep recession”, With school bells ringing, parents should ensure their children are doing enough sleeping, Study shows poor sleep habits as a teenager can “stack the deck against you for obesity later in life”, What are the consequences of sleep deprivation? and Want teens to eat healthy? Make sure they get a good night’s sleep

In the News, Media, Science

Science enthusiasts flock to #IAmAScientistBecause and #BeyondMarieCurie on Twitter

Science enthusiasts flock to #IAmAScientistBecause and #BeyondMarieCurie on Twitter

iamascientistbecause tweet - smallRecently, a friend of mine commented that scientists “don’t use Twitter much.” The statement may have been true in the past, but as evidenced by #IAmAScientistBecause and #BeyondMarieCurie, scientists and science enthusiasts are now driving some trending topics on Twitter.

Yesterday, a story on Nature.com explained how these two popular hashtags have encouraged scientists to speak out. The first was created by the NatureCareers team in summer 2014, and the hashtag’s popularity suddenly increased earlier this week after Jon Tennant (@Protohedgehog), a graduate student studying paleontology at Imperial College London, shared the hashtag with his 6,000 some followers on Twitter. By Tuesday, the hashtag was trending on Twitter.

The resulting flood of tweets rallied scientists like epidemiologist Chelsea Polis, PhD, (@cbpolis) who told Nature.com she spent a day following the IAmAScientistBecause Twitter campaign online. “Despite all of the negatives, there’s so much that’s beautiful about science,” Polis said.

Meanwhile, a separate empowering conversation began when science editor Melissa Vaught (@biochembelle) tweeted about Rachel Swaby’s (@rachelswaby) Wired.com story on scientific achievements made by women. In her story, Swaby states that one woman tends to dominate conversations of female scientists and that we need to open our eyes to the many contributions other female scientists have made, and are making, to science:

Today if you ask someone to name a woman scientist, the first and only name they’ll offer is Marie Curie. It’s one of the biggest obstacles to better representation of women in science and technology, and it’s time to cut it out. Stop talking about Marie Curie; she wouldn’t have wanted things this way.

Vaught told Nature.com that she created #BeyondMarieCurie as a response to Swaby’s article because “we need diverse stories of women in science.”

As I scrolled through the hundreds of Tweets aggregated by the two hashtags one post in particular stood out. As shown above, chemist Carina Jensen, PhD, (@Chem_Monkey) tweeted, “IAmAScientistBecause a professor said women don’t do well in Chemistry. I proved him wrong.” For me, this unites the sentiments of the two hashtags beautifully.

Previously: The power of social media: How one man uses it to help amputees get prostheticsA day in the lab: Stanford scientists share their stories, what fuels their workChipping away at stereotypes about older women and science, one story at a timeWhat’s holding women in the sciences back? and Women in science: A rare breed

In the News, Medicine and Literature, NIH, Research, Science

The value of exploring jellyfish eyes: Scientist-penned book supports “curiosity-driven” research

The value of exploring jellyfish eyes: Scientist-penned book supports "curiosity-driven" research

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As an academic, I often encounter variations of the question “And so… what are you going to do with that?” In other words, why should anyone care about insights, experiments, and questions that serve no obvious functional purpose?

A PNAS release published earlier this week spotlights a novel that tackles just this issue. Joram Piatigorsky, PhD, a retired scientist from the NIH’s National Eye Institute who now devotes his time to his passion for art and literature, went through the arduous process of writing and publishing a novel because he sees literature as an important way to make statements about society. And the statement that he wants to get across loud and clear is that basic research matters, and needs to be funded.

The book, called Jellyfish Have Eyes, is set in the near future and follows a scientist who gets into serious legal and professional trouble because he departs from research that is clearly related to a human disease in favor of researching jellyfish, and in a mix-up uses government funding to do so. Piatigorsky laments how in today’s tight funding environment, students who would otherwise pursue basic questions – such as whether jellyfish have eyes – are forced to do more routine, translational research that doesn’t make use of their creativity.

And when creativity gets stymied, important breakthroughs are simply missed. The release quotes the book’s main character, who is modeled after Piatigorsky:

I justify my research on delving into the mysteries of Nature because generally the experiments yield new insights that benefit people. There’s penicillin, recombinant DNA, genetic engineering… Bacteria provided the first models for gene regulation, which set the stage for gene therapy. Sea slugs—snails without shells—revealed mysteries of memory. Birds have taught us that it’s possible to rest half the brain at a time. Think how useful it would be if we could be asleep and active at the same time.

Piatigorsky worries about the current research climate, where “anti-science politicians” force cuts to basic research and pundits and the public insist on knowing what “cure” a research project aims to find, says the release. But Piatigorsky is optimistic about the power of storytelling: “I have a very strong feeling that science is not a collection of facts. You have to make the facts into a story of communication… The narrative aspect of science is very compelling.”

And, in case you were wondering, jellyfish do have eyes – “magnificent eyes. It depends on the species. They have lenses, corneas, retinas,” says Piatigorsky in the release. No one knows what they can see or how vision might affect their behavior, but such impractical questions might lead to the next breakthrough. In the meantime, they promote curiosity and wonder about our world.

Previously: Research in medical school: the need to align incentives with value, Can science journals have beautiful prose? and Science is like an ongoing mystery novel, says Stanford neurobiologist Carla Shatz
Photo by Lassi Kurkijarvi

Global Health, In the News, Medical Education, Pregnancy, Women's Health

Project aims to improve maternal and newborn health in sub-Saharan Africa

Project aims to improve maternal and newborn health in sub-Saharan Africa

5567854013_6bd1e2b76b_zIn sub-Saharan Africa, maternal and neonatal outcomes are some of the worst in the world. What would happen to those numbers if 1,000 new obstetrician/gynecologists were trained with state-of-the-art educational materials in the region over the next ten years? The 1000+OBGYN Project, a collaborative training effort between American and African universities, aims to do just that.

The University of Michigan’s Open.Michigan initiative, in partnership with the UM Medical School’s Department of Obstetrics and Gynecology and Department of Learning Health Sciences, just released four new collections into the 1000+OBGYN Project’s open-access database, thanks to a grant from the World Bank.

A UM press release published today describes the new contributions, which cover a diverse range of subjects, including abnormal uterine bleeding, pregnancy complications, vaginal surgeries, pelvic masses, newborn care, postpartum care and family planning. The materials are all free, publicly available, and licensed for students, teachers and practitioners to modify according to their own curricular context.

Frank Anderson, MD, MPH, associate professor in the UM Department of Obstetrics and Gynecology and director of the 1000+OBYGN Project, comments in the release:

There is an urgent need to train Obgyns [sic] in sub-Saharan Africa, but their institutions don’t always have access to the same body of educational materials as doctors in developed countries have… Many newborn and maternal deaths are preventable. We want to ensure that future Obgyns in low resource countries have access to the same high-quality learning materials available here so they are equipped to provide the best care possible for mothers and babies.

The project hopes to overcome local barriers to good education, such as availability of training materials, licensing costs, and unreliable internet access. To make the materials available offline, the initiative partnered with the Global Library of Women’s Medicine, which compresses research onto USB flash drives and distributes them globally, particularly to women’s health professionals in Africa.

Previously: Countdown to Childx: Global health expert Gary Darmstadt on improving newborn survival, Gates Foundation makes bold moves toward open access publication of grantee research, Improving maternal mortality rate in Africa through good design and Using family planning counseling to reduce number of HIV-positive children in Africa
Photo by DFID – UK Department for International Development

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