Lack of vitamin D linked to winter blues
New research has found that vitamin D deficiency may be responsible for the onset of sesaonal affective disorder (SAD)–a form of depression that usually occurs in the fall and winter.
Previous research has suggested that SAD may be caused by disruption of the body’s internal clock or an imbalance of mood-regulating hormones, both of which have been associated with a reduction in sunlight exposure.
In the new study, scientists from the College of Education at the University of Georgia said that vitamin D deficiency may be the root cause. They first noted that levels of naturally-occurring vitamin D in the body change according to the season and sunlight exposure. They found that it typically takes eight weeks for the body develop SAD after sunlight exposure starts to decrease.
The researchers then noted that vitamin D plays an important role in the body’s production of the mood-regulating hormones dopamine and serotonin, which they said suggests that there may be a relationship between low vitamin D levels and depressive symptoms.
Lastly, the researchers found that people with darker skin pigmentation may be at higher risk of vitamin D deficiency, particularly if they live in areas with high altitudes.
The new research, published in the journal Medical Hypotheses, suggests that there is strong reason to believe that maintaining adequate levels of vitamin D is important for good mental health, especially in the winter months. Researchers suggested that people should try to get at least a few minutes of sunlight exposure every day to prevent low vitamin D levels.
Green vegetables boost heart health
Three new studies have found that the chemical nitrate is what makes green vegetables boost your heart health and help prevent conditions like diabetes and obesity.
In the first study, scientists from the University of Cambridge and the University of Southampton in the U.K. determined that eating nitrate-rich vegetables caused the body to reduce promotion of the hormone erythropoietin, which regulates red blood cell count in the body. The findings, published in The FASEB Journal, suggest that eating nitrate-rich vegetables could lower blood thickness, and that can help reduce risk of stroke or heart attack.
The second bit of research was an animal study in which scientists increased blood cell count in rats by exposing them to high altitudes. When the rats were fed a diet with nitrate, researchers found that they were better protected against heart and circulatory conditions than were rats that were not fed any nitrate. The findings, published in The Journal of Physiology, also showed that nitrate may help improve blood flow and protect heart cells.
In the third study, scientists demonstrated that nitrate also possesses the ability to convert harmful white fat cells into beige fat cells. These beige cells, researchers said, are similar to brown fat cells, which have been linked to reduced risk of obesity and diabetes.
The cumulative findings of these studies make a strong case that adding nitrate into a person’s diet–particularly in the form of green vegetables–could help protect against an array of conditions.
First Anesthesia: Dec. 11, 1844
After taking a deep breath of nitrous oxide—aka laughing gas—Horace Wells, a respected dentist in Hartford, Connecticut, has his assistant yank a wisdom tooth out of his mouth. It doesn’t come out easily, but Wells feels no pain. After the gas wears off, Wells declares that they have witnessed the beginning of “a new era in tooth-pulling.”
Wells had come up with the idea of using laughing gas as anesthesia only the night before, after attending a nitrous oxide demo at a local theater. At the time, such exhibitions weren’t that unusual; the “shows” were built around the onstage antics of audience members who had volunteered to inhale the gas.
That night, one man under the influence of the gas ran into a settee onstage and badly cut his knee. Yet he seemed to feel no pain. Afterwards, Wells asked the man running the exhibition to bring nitrous oxide to his office the next morning. As he had suspected, the gas kept him pain-free while his wisdom tooth was extracted.
Wells immediately began using nitrous oxide in his practice and encouraged other local dentists to do likewise. Then he boldly arranged to do a demonstration for doctors at Massachusetts General Hospital a month later. It didn’t go well.
A medical student in the audience volunteered to have an aching tooth removed after inhaling nitrous oxide. But when he cried out during the procedure, the doctors and students watching began heckling Wells. The volunteer would later say that he hadn’t really felt pain and had likely responded instinctively to someone pulling his tooth.
But Wells was humiliated by the experience and returned dejectedly to Hartford. Soon thereafter, he developed a serious illness and gave up his dental practice, although he continued to be an advocate for using nitrous oxide.
To make matters worse, later that year a former partner of Wells’ named William Morton demonstrated the use of ether as an anesthetic before an audience at Massachusetts General—where Wells had suffered such embarrassment. Not only were the doctors impressed, but Morton went on to claim that he had discovered anesthesia.
Wells spent much of the next few years engaged in what his wife would refer to as “the gas wars,” even traveling to Europe to meet with scientific societies and academies to make the case that the use of anesthesia for surgery had been his discovery.
By 1848, he had moved to New York and began to experiment with chloroform as an anesthetic. He became addicted to the gas and began behaving erratically, at one point tossing sulfuric acid at two prostitutes outside his office.
He was arrested, but managed to take chloroform and a razor into his jail cell. It was there, at the age of 33, that Wells slashed his femoral artery and died.
The Parisian Medical Society had voted to acknowledge Wells as the person who had pioneered the use of gas as anesthesia, but he died before his heard the news.
Sixteen years after his death, the American Dental Association officially recognized Wells as the discoverer of anesthesia. Six years later, in 1870, the American Medical Society followed suit.
More slices of history
Daily aspirin may be harmful for younger women
The health benefits to women of taking a daily dose of aspirin may depend largely on their age, according to a new study.
Previous research on the effects of aspirin has led to mixed results. Some studies have suggested that aspirin may help prevent heart disease and some cancers and may be particularly effective for women above the age of 65. Other studies, however, have suggested that the potential benefits may not outweight the harm, which can include risk of internal bleeding.
In the new study, scientists recruited nearly 28,000 women ages 45 and older, who were randomly assigned to take either 100 milligrams of aspirin or a placebo every other day. Over an average of 10 years, the researchers collected data on how many women in each group experienced heart disease, cancer or internal bleeding.
The researchers observed that the women who took aspirin experienced either little benefit–such as slightly lowered risk of heart disease and colon cancer–or higher rates of hospitalization due to complications.
The results of the study, published in the journal Heart, also showed that whether a woman experienced benefits of taking aspirin was most determined by age. The women who experienced the most benefits, researchers said, were those age 65 or older. They added that they are still unable to reach a consensus as to whether the benefits outweigh the risks but that older women who are at high risk of heart disease or stroke may want to consult with their doctor about taking aspirin for treatment.