Russian LGBTQ activist is killed after being listed on gay-hunting website.

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Russian LGBTQ activist is killed after being listed on gay-hunting website

Yelena Grigoryeva sounded the alarm after her name appeared on a website that offered prizes for attacking gays. Days later, she was dead.
Image: Yelena Grigoryeva

Police detain Yelena Grigoryeva during an anti-LGBT discrimination rally in St. Petersburg, Russia, on April 17.Anton Vaganov / Reuters file

Autism largely caused by genetics, not environment, study finds.

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Autism largely caused by genetics, not environment, study finds.

The largest study of its kind, involving more than 2 million people across five countries, finds that autism spectrum disorders are 80% reliant on inherited genes.

That means that environmental causes are responsible for just 20% of the risk.

The findings could open new doors to research into the genetic causes of autism, which the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention now says affects 1 in every 59 U.S. children.

It might also help ease fears that autism is caused by maternal factors — a mother’s weight, mode or timing of delivery, or nutrient intake, for example. The new study found the role of maternal factors to be “nonexistent or minimal.”

Instead, “the current study results provide the strongest evidence to our knowledge to date that the majority of risk for autism spectrum disorders is from genetic factors,” said a team led by Sven Sandin, an epidemiological researcher at the Karolinska Institute in Stockholm, Sweden.

The new study might help dampen public interest in supposed — but unproven — “environmental” causes of autism, such as vaccines. Long-discredited, fraudulent data linking childhood vaccination with autism is still widely cited by the “anti-vaxxer” movement.

“The contribution of the environment to autism spectrum disorder risk appears to be much smaller than the contribution of genetics,” a team of experts said in an editorial comment on the new study, which was published in July in the journal JAMA Psychiatry.

However, genetic factors are frequently ignored, and instead environmental factors “often receive disproportionate attention from the public and the media, even when (as in the case of vaccine fears), they are debunked,” wrote psychiatrists Drs. Amandeep Jutla, Hannah Reed and Jeremy Veenstra-VanderWeele in the editorial. They are all from Columbia University in New York City.

According to Sandin and colleagues, the new study is the largest and most rigorous yet conducted into the causes of autism. The researchers looked at the medical histories of more than 2 million children born in Denmark, Finland, Sweden, Israel and Western Australia between 1998 and 2012. All were tracked until 16 years of age. Of the group, just over 22,000 went on to develop an autism spectrum disorder.

Based on the data, about 80% of their risk of developing the condition was due to genetics, with the remainder of the risk tied to as-yet-unidentified environmental causes. Only a negligible amount of risk, about 1%, was due to maternal factors, the study researchers said.

They noted the new numbers are roughly in line with those from prior, smaller studies on the issue, further bolstering their validity. Dr. Andrew Adesman directs developmental and behavioral pediatrics at Cohen Children’s Medical Center in New Hyde Park, N.Y. Reviewing the findings, he agreed that it “provides stronger evidence that autism is mostly due to genetic, and not environmental, factors.

“Although families are often most concerned about environmental risk factors for autism, the reality is that genetic factors play a much larger role overall,” Adesman said.

But he stressed that the findings don’t let potential environmental factors — which, unlike genetics, can be changed — off the hook.

“Environmental factors also play a smaller, but important, role,” Adesman said, so “this does not mean that we can completely ignore the environmental risk factors and their interaction with the genetic risk factors.”

And he noted that despite the new data, “we are not yet able to identify a specific genetic cause for autism in many children.” The next step, according to Adesman, is for researchers “to identify more of the different specific genetic differences or abnormalities that lead to autism in an individual child or family.”

Source: http://bit.ly/2YHvz8S

Author of Christian relationship guide says he has lost his faith.

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The American author of a bestselling Christian guide to relationships for young people has announced that his marriage is over and he has lost his faith.

Joshua Harris, whose biblical guide to relationships I Kissed Dating Goodbye sold nearly 1m copies around the world after it was published in 1997, has also apologised to LGBT+ people for contributing to a “culture of exclusion and bigotry”.

In his book, Harris, a former pastor at a US megachurch, urged young Christians to reject dating for “courtship” under the guidance of parents and observing sexual abstinence. Young couples should not kiss, hold hands or spend time alone together before marriage, he said. Dating was spiritually unhealthy and a “training ground for divorce”, the book argued.

The book, written by Harris when he was 21, was widely circulated within evangelical Christian youth groups, helping to promote a “purity culture” and vows to preserve virginity until marriage.

Harris later became a senior pastor in the Covenant Life church in Gaithersburg, Maryland, which he left in 2015. The church had been accused of covering up allegations of child sexual abuse by failing to report the claims to police.

Last year, Harris disavowed the ideas in I Kissed Dating Goodbye, saying in a statement: “I no longer agree with its central idea that dating should be avoided. I now think dating can be a healthy part of a person developing relationally and learning the qualities that matter most in a partner.

“To those who read my book and were misdirected or unhelpfully influenced by it, I am sincerely sorry.”

This month he announced on Instagram that he and his wife were separating after 21 years of marriage because “significant changes have taken place in both of us”.

Another Instagram message posted nine days later said he had “undergone a massive shift in regard to my faith in Jesus”.

He wrote: “The popular phrase for this is ‘deconstruction’, the biblical phrase is ‘falling away’. By all the measurements that I have for defining a Christian, I am not a Christian. Many people tell me that there is a different way to practise faith and I want to remain open to this, but I’m not there now.”

He added: “I have lived in repentance for the past several years – repenting of my self-righteousness, my fear-based approach to life, the teaching of my books, my views of women in the church, and my approach to parenting to name a few.

“But I specifically want to add to this list now: to the LGBTQ+ community, I want to say that I am sorry for the views that I taught in my books and as a pastor regarding sexuality.

“I regret standing against marriage equality, for not affirming you and your place in the church, and for any ways that my writing and speaking contributed to a culture of exclusion and bigotry. I hope you can forgive me.”

His bestselling book was to be discontinued because of its “flaws”, he said.

Source: http://bit.ly/2MP3jKj

Humanitarian crisis in Yemen remains the worst in the world.

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Humanitarian crisis in Yemen remains the worst in the world.

According to the Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) the “severity of needs is deepening”, with the number of people in acute need, a staggering 27 per cent higher than last year, when it was already the most acute crisis on the globe.

Thursday’s 2019 Humanitarian Needs Overview for Yemen report, shows that 14.3 million people are classified as being in acute need, with around 3.2 million requiring treatment for acute malnutrition; that includes two million children under-five, and more than one million pregnant and lactating women.

Highlighting that more than 20 million people across the country are food insecure, half of them suffering extreme levels of hunger, the report focuses on some key humanitarian issues: basic survival needs, protection of civilians and livelihoods and essential basic services.

“The escalation of the conflict since March 2015 has dramatically aggravated the protection crisis in which millions face risks to their safety and basic rights”, OCHA reports.

The UN agency data shows that a total of 17.8 million people lack access to safe water and sanitation, and 19.7 million lack access to adequate healthcare. Poor sanitation and waterborne diseases, including cholera, left hundreds of thousands of people ill last year.

Meanwhile, grain which could help feed millions, is still at risk of rotting in a key Red Sea storage facility because conditions are too unsafe to reach it, UN Special Envoy Martin Griffiths and UN Emergency relief chief Mark Lowcock said earlier this week.

Death toll and displaced people

During the past four years of intense conflict between Government forces and Houthi rebels have left tens of thousands dead or injured including at least 17,700 civilians as verified by the UN.

The agency adds that an estimated 3.3 million people remain displaced, up from 2.2 million last year, including 685,000 people who fled fighting in Hudaydah and on the west coast, from June onwards. According to the UN Refugee Agency (UNHCR), the number of sites hosting displaced people has increased by almost half over the past 12 months.

Pledging conference

In a bid to respond to the urgent humanitarian needs, the United Nations and the Governments of Sweden and Switzerland will convene the third High-Level Pledging Event for the Humanitarian Crisis in Yemen, later this month.

The event is scheduled for 26 February in Geneva and seeks to garner support for the humanitarian response and alleviate the suffering of the Yemeni people. At the beginning of this month, UN Emergency relief chief Mark Lowcock said that $4 billion would be needed.

Source: http://bit.ly/2jJ7Hi9

A Breakthrough in the Mystery of Why Women Get So Many Autoimmune Diseases.

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A Breakthrough in the Mystery of Why Women Get So Many Autoimmune Diseases.

About 65 million years ago, shortly after the time of the dinosaurs, a new critter popped up on the evolutionary scene. This “scampering animal,” as researchers described it, was likely small, ate bugs, and had a furry tail. It looked, according to artistic renderings, like an especially aggressive New York City rat. And it had a placenta, an organ that grows deep into the maternal body in order to nourish the fetus during pregnancy.

The rodentlike thing would become the common ancestor of the world’s placental mammals, with descendants that include whales, bats, dogs, and humans, among many other species. And today, the placenta might hold the key to one of the most enduring mysteries in human medicine: Why do women suffer much higher rates of autoimmune disease than men do?

Autoimmune diseases turn people’s own immune systems against their bodies. In the United States alone, women represent 80 percent of all cases of autoimmune disease. Women are 16 times more likely than men to get Sjogren’s syndrome, in which the immune system goes after the glands that make tears and saliva, and nine times more likely to have Hashimoto’s thyroiditis, in which it sets its sights on the thyroid. Sjogren’s forced Venus Williams to drop out of the U.S. Open in 2011. The singer Selena Gomez underwent a kidney transplant after suffering complications from lupus, which is eight times more common in women than in men.

Some scientists now think the placenta itself might be the reason why women are so disproportionately affected. In a paper published last week in the journal Trends in Genetics, Melissa Wilson, an evolutionary biologist, along with her colleagues from Arizona State University, put forward an explanation called the “pregnancy-compensation hypothesis.” It suggests that women’s immune systems are engaged in a fierce tug of war with placentas, even when the organs aren’t actually present.

Here’s how the theory goes: Women—and all other placental mammals—evolved such that they would be pregnant for many of their adult years. Before the advent of birth control, that was pretty much the fate of the female sex. In modern hunter-gatherer populations, Wilson told me, it’s not uncommon for women to have eight to 12 children each.

Though bearing so many babies might sound grueling, women’s bodies evolved to cope. When the placenta grows during pregnancy, the organ sends signals to the mother’s immune system to change its activity so that the mother’s body doesn’t eject the placenta and the fetus. This might even mean turning down the immune system in some ways, or for some periods of time. Turning down the immune system too much, though, risks leaving women sensitive to pathogens, which would also be bad for the fetus. So instead the mother’s immune system ramps up in other ways throughout adulthood, Wilson and her colleagues think, so as to remain vigilant against germs even when some of its parts become dormant during pregnancies.

Things get complicated, however, when those pregnancies don’t actually occur. Women today tend to have far fewer children—fewer than two on average in the United States, according to the CDC. Wilson reasons that without a more or less constant pushback from placentas during pregnancies—the pushback that women’s immune systems have evolved to anticipate—the immune system can get too aggressive, too ramped up. It starts looking for things to attack that aren’t dangerous, which is how autoimmune diseases set in.

For millions of years, minus the past 100, “the immune system was expecting to have exposure to a placenta,” Wilson says. Imagine if you’re pulling on something heavy, and then the rope snaps. “If you suddenly don’t have that heavy thing anymore,” she says, “you’re gonna go off the moon.”

This is certainly not the first theory for why women suffer from more autoimmune disease than men do. One has to do with a protein called BAFF; another has to do with the fact that women have two X chromosomes instead of one. The way Wilson sees it, the pregnancy-compensation hypothesis synthesizes many of the previous theories into one and provides the evolutionary explanation behind them. “They were all right,” she says. “But everyone was looking under their own streetlight, and we just waited for it to be daytime.”

Wilson says that so far, no one has come forward to attack her for being wrong, despite the seeming boldness of this theory. Several experts I spoke with—even those who have competing theories for the sex difference in autoimmune disease—say Wilson’s theory might fit with what we already know. “I would say there’s not one theory that explains all [autoimmune diseases],” says Nikolaos Patsopoulos, an assistant professor of neurology at Brigham and Women’s Hospital. “This isn’t Lord of the Rings.” Still, he says, “this theory puts together a lot of things we know that are true and some that we’re still trying to understand.”

Johann E. Gudjonsson, a professor of skin molecular immunology at the University of Michigan, found that women have more of a molecular switch called VGLL3 in their skin than men do, and that all this VGLL3 might be what causes a heightened immune response in women. In this case, then, the VGLL3 might be how the body ramps up the immune system, but the pregnancy-compensation hypothesis might be why it does so.

Similarly, Hal Scofield, a professor of pathology and medicine at the University of Oklahoma, says that it appears there are lots of genes involved in the immune response on the X chromosome, and because women have two X chromosomes while men have only one, women have more of those immune genes. The placental theory that Wilson’s team devised could be the reason this happens. Because women have to have strong immune systems that buck against the placenta, they evolved to produce more genes involved in the immune response. “I don’t think there’s any way out of thinking that placental pregnancy has to have influenced the evolutionary immune system,” Scofield told me.

Not everyone I reached was impressed by the paper. David Hafler, a professor of neurology at the Yale School of Medicine, told me, “Ideas are cheap. It’s data which is hard to get.” In other words, sure, the pregnancy-compensation hypothesis is an interesting idea, but it still has to be tested.

Wilson says there are opportunities to do just that. Scientists could try to determine whether the number of pregnancies a woman has is predictive of her risk of autoimmune disease. If Wilson’s theory holds, women who have more pregnancies should have a lower risk. Or scientists could study the differences between mammals in the wild and zoo animals, which are sometimes on birth control, to determine whether they have differences in their autoimmune function.

Some people might take Wilson’s findings to mean that women should simply be pregnant all the time, but that’s far from the takeaway here. Pregnancy, after all, also carries major health risks, and not all women want to have 12 kids. And Wilson’s findings suggest that women’s extra-strong immune systems might protect them in some cases. Women are less likely than men to get certain kinds of nonreproductive cancers, for example.

Wilson says that the hope is to eventually learn what it is in the immune system that’s trying to respond to the placenta, and to target that thing with vaccines or treatments. More research could mean major improvements in the way women’s autoimmune diseases are treated. “I’ve never been more excited about an idea than I am about this,” Wilson told me. “This is the first time that I can see my work having a direct impact in the next 10 years on human health.”

Source: http://bit.ly/2JlFV53

Iranian lawyer who defended women’s right to remove hijab gets 38 years, 148 lashes.

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Iranian lawyer who defended women’s right to remove hijab gets 38 years, 148 lashes.

Nasrin Sotoudeh, an internationally renowned human rights lawyer jailed in Iran, has been handed a new sentence that her husband said was 38 years in prison and 148 lashes.

Sotoudeh, who has represented opposition activists including women prosecuted for removing their mandatory headscarf, was arrested in June and charged with spying, spreading propaganda and insulting Iran’s supreme leader, her lawyer said.

She was jailed in 2010 for spreading propaganda and conspiring to harm state security – charges she denied – and was released after serving half of her six-year term. The European parliament awarded her the Sakharov human rights prize.

Sotoudeh’s husband, Reza Khandan, wrote on Facebook that the sentence was decades in jail and 148 lashes, unusually harsh even for Iran, which cracks down hard on dissent and regularly imposes death sentences for some crimes.

Iran, often accused of human rights abuses, said it had allowed the UN deputy high commissioner for human rights, Kate Gilmore, to visit last week at the head of a “technical mission”.

The visit, confirmed by a UN official, appeared to be the first in many years by UN human rights investigators, who have been denied access by the government.

The UN investigator on human rights in Iran, Javaid Rehman, raised Sotoudeh’s case at the UN human rights council in Geneva on Monday, saying that last week that she “was reportedly convicted of charges relating to her work and could face a lengthy prison sentence”.

He added: “Worrying patterns of intimidation, arrest, prosecution and ill-treatment of human rights defenders, lawyers and labour rights activists signal an increasingly severe state response.”

Source:  http://bit.ly/2RRifIx

Pros and cons of vegetarian and non-vegetarian diets.

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Pros and cons of vegetarian and non-vegetarian diets.

Michael Pollan’s famous advice — “Eat food. Not too much. Mostly plants.” — has become an oft-repeated mantra of the modern era. The first part is a reminder to eat actual food, not the processed chemistry dominating supermarket shelves. The second is personal responsibility: eat until you’re full, not until your plate is clean. Don’t snack so much. Recognize the link between emotional problems and binge eating, and address them simultaneously.

Now what does “mostly plants” actually entail?

Every month an onslaught of new nutrition news dominates the health blogosphere. Fish will kill you. Fish are heart-healthy. Coconut oil is like manna from heaven. Coconut oil will definitely give you a heart attack. Red meat is the devil, unless it’s raw, in which case you can survive solely from it. Kelp. And so on.

Part of the challenge of reading the studies this news is based on — and, often, not based on at all — is recognizing that small sample groups do not always make for solid science. This is especially true with our diets, as environment, activity level, and genetics all play a role in how we interact with our food choices. Some people simply process certain foods better than others. There is no singular ideal diet.

A team of Austrian researchers based at the Institute of Social Medicine and Epidemiology, Medical University Graz, wanted to find out. Their meta-analysis of over 15,000 Austrians, age 15 and older, revealed important insights into what all-plant, mostly plant, and occasional-plant diets mean for our health.

Of those 15,000+ Austrian citizens, the team analyzed the data of 1,320 individuals: 330 vegetarians, 330 carnivores who eat a lot of fruits and vegetables, 330 carnivores who do not eat much meat and an equal number who eat a lot of meat. They took age, sex, and socioeconomic factors into consideration when matching groups. In the end 76.4 percent of this group were female, with 40 percent being under age 30. Another 35 percent fell between the ages of 30 and 50.

Interestingly, while there were positive benefits associated with vegetarianism, the group concludes the following:

Overall, our findings reveal that vegetarians report poorer health, follow medical treatment more frequently, have worse preventive health care practices, and have a lower quality of life… Our results have shown that vegetarians report chronic conditions and poorer subjective health more frequently.

They also discovered “significantly higher” incidences of cancer in vegetarians, as well as increased rates of anxiety disorder and depression, although they note that this is inconsistent with other research. They did point out another study which shows an increased risk of mental disorders in vegetarians. In general, vegetarians suffer from more chronic conditions and take more medication than even occasional meat eaters.

Data source: Austrian Health Interview Survey (AT-HIS) 2006/07. Percentage of subjects suffering from the different chronic conditions. p (x2): probability value of Chi-Square-Test. Analyses were calculated with subjects matched according to their age, sex, and socio-economic status (N = 1320).

It’s not all bad news. Vegetarians have a lower body-mass index and suffer less from cholesterol problems, hypertension, coronary artery disease, and type 2 diabetes. Vegetarians enjoy a higher socioeconomic status, though correlation might not equal causation: a lot of lower income workers might not be able to afford high-quality plant products. Vegetarians also treat their bodies better: they exercise more and smoke and drink alcohol less.

The correlation between BMI and meat is clear in this study. Carnivores who eat a lot of meat have the highest BMI while pure vegetarians have the lowest. Again, correlation and causation are not clear, as meat eaters also show a much higher rate of alcohol consumption, which is one of the quickest and surest ways to pack on pounds.

Interestingly, vegetarians are vaccinated and visit the doctor less often than the other groups, which could play into the chronic conditions data. Given the questionable marketing tactics by “health food” brands that claim that “food is medicine” and call their products “superfoods,” it’s no surprise that some vegetarians believe their diet to be a panacea. Factor in that this group vaccinates less often and it’s easy to understand how one conspiracy rolls into the next, a pattern that could prove detrimental to their health.

The team’s conclusion is stark:

Our study has shown that Austrian adults who consume a vegetarian diet are less healthy (in terms of cancer, allergies, and mental health disorders), have a lower quality of life, and also require more medical treatment.

So the “mostly” part of Pollan’s creed appears valid. Diet is a balancing act only in an era of excess. Protein and fat was, for most of our evolutionary history, scarce and harder to secure. We had to eat “mostly” plants. Choosing to overload on meat today, while ignoring plant carbohydrates (and the fiber that goes along with it) appears to be just as dangerous as avoiding meat altogether. During a time when so much is available, the inherent — and necessary, given they didn’t have a choice — wisdom of our ancestors stands up. We do have a choice today, and must always remember that when deciding what we put into our mouths.

Source: http://bit.ly/2IsUnb0

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