Exposure to infection in the womb increases risk of autism & depression study says.
Children born to women who had a severe infection during pregnancy, such as sepsis, flu or pneumonia, show an increased risk of autism spectrum disorder and depression, new research finds. Yet those exposed to even a relatively minor urinary tract infection in utero also experienced an increased risk of such disorders.
Women should “make sure you have your influenza vaccination in pregnancy,” said Dr. Kristina Adams Waldorf, co-author of the study and a professor of obstetrics and gynecology at the University of Washington School of Medicine in Seattle.
Although the flu shot is safe for pregnant women, coming down with the illness during pregnancy “can be very dangerous for your baby’s mental health and brain development,” she said.
Autism and depression, not bipolar disorder
Adams Waldorf and her colleagues analyzed patient data from Sweden’s national health registry, specifically looking at information “for the entire population of pregnant women that were hospitalized between 1973 and 2014,” she said. “And then we had up to 41 years of follow-up on those children that stayed in Sweden.”
In total, they looked at the records of 1,791,520 children and, using hospitalization codes, identified those who’d been exposed to their mother’s infection in utero.
The study was published Wednesday in the journal JAMA Psychiatry. The results, Adams Waldorf said, were “very surprising.”
Children born to mothers with an infection during pregnancy had a 79% increased risk of an autism diagnosis anda 24% increased risk of a depression diagnosis as adults, the researchers found. They also saw “an increased risk of suicide in those children that had been exposed to infections in utero,” Adams Waldorf said, adding that this association made the depression findings “much stronger.”
The increased risk level for autism and depression was detected regardless of whether fetal exposure was to a severe infection — such as sepsis, flu, pneumonia, meningitis or encephalitis, chorioamnionitis (an infection of the placental tissues) or pyelonephritis (a severe kidney infection) — or a urinary tract infection.
No increased risk of bipolar disorder or psychosis, including schizophrenia, was seen among those exposed to infection during fetal development, the study showed.
“We need more research into understanding the inflammation that occurs in the urinary tract infection and how it might impact the fetus,” Adams Waldorf said. More research is also needed on areas of the fetal brain that are extremely vulnerable to damage from infection and inflammation.
“The hippocampus is a very vulnerable part of the brain that is targeted by Zika virus infection but may be vulnerable to other infections as well,” she said, explaining that this brain region “plays a key role in social and emotional functioning.”
Sensitive periods in brain development
Margaret McCarthy, a neuroscientist and professor at the University of Maryland School of Medicine, said the study is “astonishing” in terms of both the number of subjects and the length of time. “To my knowledge, this is the largest and most comprehensive study of in utero infections and the health outcomes for the offspring,” said McCarthy, who had no role in the new research.
The fact that both severe infection and urinary tract infection conferred the same level of risk “highlights that there’s something very subtle that can be very profound in brain development, and it probably has to do with sensitive periods in brain development that we don’t understand yet,” she said.
In her own research on sex differences and brain development, she found that a lot of immune system signaling “sculpts” the male brain during development. “And we have speculated that this increases their risk for neurodevelopmental or neuropsychiatric disorders like ADHD, autism, et cetera.” Yet, she added, studies have shown that both boosting inflammatory molecules (due to an illness or infection) or dampening them all the way down (by treating an illness or infection with certain medicines) may have deleterious effects on brain development.
“Brain development is really complicated, and things that we think are relatively benign sometimes aren’t, because we still don’t understand just a lot of the basic signaling molecules that are involved,” she said.
Dr. Alan S. Brown, a professor of psychiatry and epidemiology at the Columbia University Medical Center, said in an email that “overall, the investigators have done a commendable job.” However, he also noted that the “findings could also be influenced by treatment-seeking behaviors.”
A previous study from Taiwan showed that treatment for infection in the third trimester was related to autism risk, explained Brown, who was not involved in the new study.
“Starting in the 1990s, we demonstrated that prenatal exposure to several pathogens including rubella, influenza and toxoplasmosis are related to risk of schizophrenia,” he said of his own research. “In more recent work, we showed that prenatal influenza was related to bipolar disorder.”
Brown believes the new study provides more evidence for “relationships between prenatal infection and autism and opens up a potential new avenue of exploration regarding prenatal infection and depression.”
McCarthy said, “I don’t think pregnant women should panic. Try to avoid any kind of infection; avoid it if you can, and if you do have to treat it, treat it judiciously.”
Thailand is sick of tourists begging for money to get to home.
A Western tourist has sparked anger after begging for money from locals working at a market in a Thai holiday resort. The so-called ‘begpacker’ – calling himself Alex – was seen next to a donation box and signs pleading ‘I’m out of savings… please donate for my trip’ at Samkong Market on the island of Phuket.
There have been numerous reports of Western travellers begging in the country in the past. But many Thais do not know of the trend and demonstrate their generosity and hospitality by making donations, assuming they are in desperate need of help.
One sign said: ‘My name is Alex. I’m travelling in Asia for 15 months. Sadly, I’m out of my savings, but I stay positive.’
The Thai version translated as: ‘I’d like to ask for your kindness to fulfill my dream of travelling. Please donate for my trip. Thank you.’
Last year, German Benjamin Holst, dubbed ‘the big-legged beggar’ because he used his deformed limb to get sympathy and cash to fund partying in Thailand, was banned from the country
Kind-hearted Thais donated hundreds of pounds to help Benjamin Holst in 2014 after they saw him begging on the street and assumed he needed help. But they were left outraged when pictures later emerged appearing to show him partying with girls in Pattaya – the country’s sex tourism capital
Benjamin Holst, originally from Flensburg in Germany, suffers from a rare condition known as macrodystrophia lipomatosa which has left his right leg severely inflated
‘Wait a minute. They do this now?’ he said, adding: ‘Is this right?’
The nationality of the men is not yet clear.
Last year, a German man dubbed ‘the big-legged beggar’ because he used his deformed limb to get sympathy and cash to fund partying in Thailand was banned from the country.
Benjamin Holst, originally from Flensburg in Germany, suffers from a rare condition known as macrodystrophia lipomatosa which has left his right leg severely inflated.
Kind-hearted Thais donated hundreds of pounds to help him in 2014 after they saw him begging on the street and assumed he needed help.
But they were left outraged when pictures later emerged appearing to show him partying with girls in Pattaya – the country’s sex tourism capital.
An attempt to reach the country in September last year, however, appeared to backfire after he was barred from boarding a flight from Zurich in Switzerland amid reports he had been blacklisted by Thai immigration.
Last year, a series of pictures emerged showing how wealthy Western backpackers are increasingly begging across South East Asia simply to fund their trips in the region.
The trend caused outrage among locals, who say the tourists are taking money from the truly needy in order to finance lifestyle choices many consider a luxury.
Thailand is cracking down on “beg-packers” — shameless Western backpackers begging for travel money on the streets of Southeast Asia.
According to reports, visitors entering Thailand may be required to show immigration officials they have 20,000 baht ($748) in cash on them before being allowed into the country.
Thaivisa, an online forum for expats in Thailand, says it has learned of several instances where immigration officials at a number of border checkpoints across Thailand have been asking people entering the country on tourist visas to prove they have the funds.
Reports of this have also been surfacing increasingly on social media in Thailand expat groups.
According to Thaivisa, people trying to enter with a history of tourist visa entries appear to be the ones under the most scrutiny, but education visa holders are also subject to similar scrutiny.
It is believed that the new requirements at border checkpoints around the country could be a response to the rise in “beg-packers” and foreigners who want to work in the country illegally.
Last week, a Thaivisa member was held in an immigration detention center at Suvarnabhumi Airport, having been refused entry on the grounds that he could be working illegally.
During the same time, another Thaivisa member in possession of an education visa was also being held at Suvarnabhumi after he was asked to show 20,000 baht in cash. He was only able to show 8,000 baht.
The member told Thaivisa he previously had four tourist visas and a 30-day stamp on arrival.
A Thailand immigration officer, who spoke to Thaivisa under the condition on anonymity, confirmed that people entering Thailand on tourist visas should be able to show they can support their stay.
He said it is normal procedure and up to the discretion of the immigration officer to ask for more information if they suspect that the individual may not be a genuine tourist or may be working in Thailand illegally.
However, Thaivisa has been unable to confirm whether the 20,000 baht in cash is a requirement nationwide.
School in Russia wants a return to monarchy reversing 100 years of history.
We are raising a new elite here,” said Zurab Chavchavadze, the dapper 74-year-old headteacher of St Basil the Great School, sitting beneath a large portrait of Russia’s last tsar, Nicholas II. “The students will be morally sound, religious, intellectual and patriotic, and will have every chance of getting into power.”
A collection of grand buildings set around a new cathedral in an upmarket suburb of Moscow, the school harks back to Russia’s tsarist traditions to inculcate a sense of patriotism in its 400 students.
As the centenary approaches of Russia’s 1917 revolution, which deposed the Romanov dynasty after centuries of rule, Chavchavadze is part of a small but influential section of Russians who are looking to the tsarist past for inspiration – and even hope to restore a monarchy one day soon.
“Look at what the Russian people did with Lenin, Stalin, Putin. As soon as someone is in power for a few years, they become sacred. The Russian people strive for a monarchy; the Russian soul is monarchic,” said Chavchavadze.
At St Basil the Great school, portraits of the tsars look out at pupils from the corridors. A statue of Catherine the Great dominates a hallway, and the student ballroom features vast portraits of eight tsars. The lessons include scripture studies and Latin, and the school’s history textbooks were specially commissioned, to avoid the positive view of much of the Soviet period given by the standard Russian textbooks.
The school is the pet project of Konstantin Malofeyev, a mysterious Russian financier known as the “Orthodox oligarch”. Malofeyev, well-connected in the Kremlin, is believed to have funded rebel forces in East Ukraine, and has set up a nationalist, Orthodox Christian television channel, Tsargrad. The school, he said in an interview with the Guardian, is meant to function as “an Orthodox Eton”, which will prepare the new elite for a future Russian monarchy.
“The mission of our school is to ensure that our graduates will be Orthodox patriots who will carry the thousand-year traditions of Russia, not just those of the last 20 or 100 years,” said Malofeyev, from his central Moscow office, adorned with Orthodox icons and a large portrait of Tsar Alexander III, a 19th century ruler known for his conservatism. “For me it’s very important to restore the traditions that were broken off in 1917.”
After the February revolution – named for the month it began in Russia’s then-Juilan calendar – the country embarked on a short liberal experiment, but the provisional government was deposed by Vladimir Lenin’s Bolshevik uprising in October of the same year. Nicholas II and his family were executed in 1918; many aristocrats fought for the White armies in the Russian civil war, or fled to western Europe or further afield.
During the Soviet period, discussion of the Whites was forbidden. Chavchavadze’s family returned to the Soviet Union in 1947 in a wave of patriotism after victory in the second world war, but his father was quickly arrested as a spy and sent to the Gulag for 25 years, while the family was exiled to Kazakhstan.
In the post-Soviet period there has been renewed interest in the history of the pro-tsarist forces. Nicholas II has been canonised by the Russian Orthodox church. While Vladimir Putin’s administration has expressed admiration for the achievements of the Soviet Union, its foundation in 1917 is regarded as a tragedy, for the bloodshed and turmoil it caused.
Malofeyev, now 42, was born near Moscow to parents who lived in a special housing reservation for Soviet scientists. As a teenager during Mikhail Gorbachev’s perestroika, he devoured literature about the Whites, and swiftly became a monarchist.
“When I was 14, I read two books which had a huge impact on me,” he recalled. One was the memoirs of a former tsarist officer who went on to publish an émigré newspaper in Argentina, while the other was Lord of the Rings. “The image of Aragorn returning to Gondor was my second image of monarchy. It also affected my monarchism,” he said.
Taken with the idea of monarchy, Malofeyev wrote a letter to the Paris-based Grand Duke Vladimir Kirillovich, born in 1917 and considered the head of the imperial family after Nicholas II and his family were executed by the Bolsheviks and other royals died in exile.
After reading Malofeyev’s letter, the duke asked Chavchavadze, who was then working as his assistant, to deliver his reply in person. The pair have stayed in touch ever since.
New Evidence Suggests Parkinson Starts in The Gut – Not The Brain.
Scientists have found more new evidence that Parkinson’s could start in the gut before spreading to the brain, observing lower rates of the disease in patients who had undergone a procedure called a truncal vagotomy.
The operation removes sections of the vagus nerve – which links the digestive tract with the brain – and over the course of a five-year study, patients who had this link completely removed were 40 percent less likely to develop Parkinson’s than those who hadn’t.
According to a team led by Bojing Liu from the Karolinska Instituet in Sweden, that’s a significant difference, and it backs up earlier work linking the development of the brain disease to something happening inside our bellies.
If we can understand more about how this link operates, we might be better able to stop it.
“These results provide preliminary evidence that Parkinson’s disease may start in the gut,” says Liu.
“Other evidence for this hypothesis is that people with Parkinson’s disease often have gastrointestinal problems such as constipation, that can start decades before they develop the disease.”
The vagus nerve helps control various unconscious processes like heart rate and digestion, and resecting parts of it in a vagotomy is usually done to remove an ulcer if the stomach is producing a dangerous level of acid.
For this study, the researchers looked at 40 years of data from Swedish national registers, to compare 9,430 people who had a vagotomy against 377,200 people from the general population who hadn’t.
The likelihood of people in these two groups to develop Parkinson’s was statistically similar at first – until the researchers looked at the type of vagotomy that had been carried out on the smaller group.
In total, 19 people (just 0.78 percent of the sample) developed Parkinson’s more than five years after a truncal (complete) vagotomy, compared to 60 people (1.08 percent) who had a selective vagotomy.
Compare that to the 3,932 (1.15 percent) of people who had no surgery and developed Parkinson’s after being monitored for at least five years, and it seems clear that the vagus nerve is playing some kind of role here.
So what’s going on here? One hypothesis the scientists put forward is that gut proteins start folding in the wrong way, and that genetic ‘mistake’ gets carried up to the brain somehow, with the mistake being spread from cell to cell.
Parkinson’s develops as neurons in the brain get killed off, leading to tremors, stiffness, and difficulty with movement – but scientists aren’t sure how it’s caused in the first place. The new study gives them a helpful tip about where to look.
The latest research isn’t alone in its conclusions. Last year, tests on miceshowed links between certain mixes of gut bacteria and a greater likelihood of developing Parkinson’s.
What’s more, earlier this year a study in the US identified differences between the gut bacteria of those with Parkinson’s compared with those who didn’t have the condition.
All of this is useful for scientists looking to prevent Parkinson’s, because if we know where it starts, we can block off the source.
But we shouldn’t get ahead of ourselves – as the researchers behind the new study point out, Parkinson’s is complex condition, and they weren’t able to include controls for all potential factors, including caffeine intake and smoking.
It’s also worth noting that Parkinson’s is classed as a syndrome: a collection of different but related symptoms that may have multiple causes.
“Much more research is needed to test this theory and to help us understand the role this may play in the development of Parkinson’s,” says Lui.
France wants mandatory vaccinations as it is ‘unacceptable children are still dying of measles’
Parents in France will be legally obliged to vaccinate their children from 2018, the government has announced.
French Prime Minister Édouard Philippe said it was “unacceptable” that children are “still dying of measles” in the country where some of the earliest vaccines were pioneered.
Three childhood vaccines, for diphtheria, tetanus and polio, are currently mandatory in France. Others, including those against hepatitis and whooping cough, are simply recommended.
Announcing the policy, Mr Philippe evoked the name of Louis Pasteur, the French biologist who made breakthroughs in disease research and developed the first vaccines for rabies and anthrax in the 19th century.
He said all the vaccines which are universally recommended by health authorities – 11 in total – would be compulsory.
The move follows a similar initiative in Italy, which recently banned non-vaccinated children from attending state schools.
The World Health Organisation has warned of major measles outbreaks spreading across Europe despite the availability of a safe, effective vaccine.
Anti-vaccine movements, whose followers are known as anti-vaxxers, are believed to have contributed to low rates of immunisation against the highly contagious disease in a number of countries.
A recent survey found more than three out of 10 French people don’t trust vaccines, with just 52 per cent of participants saying the benefits of vaccination outweigh the risks.
There were 79 cases of measles reported in France in the first two months of 2017, mostly due to an outbreak of 50 cases in the north-eastern Lorraine region, according to the European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control.
Between the beginning of 2008 and the end of 2016, more than 24,000 cases of measles were declared in France, official figures show. Of these, around 1,500 had serious complications and there were 10 deaths.
Vaccination is not mandatory in Britain, and around 24,000 children a year in England are not immunised against measles, mumps and rubella.
Fear surrounding the combined inoculation for the three infectious diseases, known as the MMR vaccine, stems in part from a discredited study claiming to show a link between the jab and autism.
The paper, published in medical journal The Lancet nearly 20 years ago by disgraced former doctor Andrew Wakefield, led to a heavy fall in uptake among parents at the time, but exhaustive scientific research has now disproved the theory.
Two children in the UK have died of measles since 2006, and in 2013 a young man from Wales died of the disease – all a “waste of life,” Dr Farah Jameel told doctors at the British Medical Association (BMA) annual meeting last month.
The BMA is calling for evidence to be submitted to the UK Government on “the potential advantages and disadvantages of childhood immunisation made mandatory under the law”.
Karen Smith has a lot on her mind. The 32-year-old lives in Chicago, where, after working for tech startups abroad for 10 years, she moved last year with her husband to attend a graduate program in data science. On top of her academic studies, Smith works 10 to 30 hours a week as the data guru for a consulting firm. But late last year, what was really bringing her down was the bleak Midwest winters. That, and she’d recently cut out her daily habit of cigarettes and marijuana, frustrated that she’d become so dependent on pot to manage her mood. She needed something to take the edge off.
Smith—whose husband was also feeling low and looking for relief—had an idea, something she’d run across on Reddit. After some research, her husband bought psilocybin (psychedelic) mushrooms from a friend, ground them up with a Cuisinart spice grinder, and separated them into gel capsules ordered from Amazon. The dosage was precisely measured and precisely tiny: 10 micrograms for Smith’s husband and about half of that for her, which is just below the threshold of what would normally make a user “trip.” She took the homemade pill with a glass of water and waited. A few days later, she swallowed another one.
For the rest of the winter and into the spring, Smith (not her real name—she’s concerned that the illegality of her self-medication could compromise her career) and her husband continued to take tiny doses of magic mushrooms every few days while going about their daily lives. Smith didn’t see swirling wild colors or shifting shapes. She didn’t feel as if the trees and sky were sparkling magically at her. She didn’t imagine that she saw God. Instead—along with shaking off those winter blues—she became very, very efficient. “It gives you fresh eyes,” she says, “for programming or figuring out algorithmic stuff. It made me really productive in a motivated way. Whatever mental block that was stopping me from doing something would disappear.” Plus, during her four-month-long mushroom experiment, she got a lot of household chores done.
The term for what Smith and her husband were trying is “micro-dosing,” a growing trend in psychotropic experimentation. Unlike other trending hallucinogenic experiences, like, say, drinking ayahuasca (a psychedelic tea brewed from Amazonian plants, sipped under the supervision of a shaman), micro-dosing doesn’t deliver an earth-shattering, body-wrenching, mind-blowing journey through the other side of the Doors of Perception. The idea is to change, in an almost imperceptible way, your everyday neural functioning for the better.
While it’s impossible to gather hard data on micro-dosing, anecdotal evidence suggests that its use is on the rise: The popular podcast Reply All devoted a segment to it last fall; Rolling Stone, VICE, and Forbes chronicled it as a trend shortly afterward; and one YouTube how-to tutorial has been streamed more than half a million times since it was posted in September 2015. Reddit, where Smith picked up the idea, has an entire subReddit devoted to the topic with more than 9,000 subscribers. Tech insiders in particular seem eager to try it out as an alternative to Adderall (the prescription stimulant, prescribed to treat ADD/ADHD, that helps users stay motivated and on task, but may cause irritability and anxiety)—one that helps not just with efficacy and focus, but also with creativity. The women who try micro-dosing aren’t burnouts; in fact, the ones we spoke to are high-achieving, and interested in becoming more so.
Women like New York Times best-selling author Ayelet Waldman. The writer and former drug-policy lawyer (and wife of author Michael Chabon) suffered for years from PMDD (premenstrual dysphoric disorder), a severe form of PMS that mimics depression, which she was treating with SSRIs (antidepressants) timed to the week before her period. But when the Berkeley, California-based Waldman, 52, hit perimenopause, her periods became far less predictable, and she began to hunt around for other options to manage her moods, which is how she began micro-dosing as a one-month experiment, despite her self-confessed aversion to drugs of that sort.
“I thought if there was one human being in the world destined to have a bad trip, it was Ayelet Waldman,” she says. “I mean, I could have a bad trip over breakfast. I don’t need a drug for that.” But she’d begun to realize that the legal drugs she’d been prescribed for years had plenty of drawbacks: “There was a study published about Ambien and Alzheimer’s long after I’d taken a thousand Ambien.”
Before trying her experiment, Waldman conducted extensive research into the myths and realities surrounding LSD. (Perhaps the most encouraging fact of all: “LSD is, as drugs go, safe. In terms of morbidity, it’s a lot more like marijuana than heroin,” according to her research.) She also corresponded with Menlo Park, California-based psychologist James Fadiman, Ph.D., whose chapter on micro-dosing in his 2011 underground classic, The Psychedelic Explorer’s Guide, meant to be a practical guide to psychedelics, introduced the term to the mainstream of drug culture (if not yet the mainstream itself). Fadiman explained exactly how to microdose and how he developed his method. Waldman was thrilled with the results: She regulated her own moods better and worked through marital bumps more easily. Her children—whom she told only that she was trying a new medication—gave her experiment glowing reviews. “I didn’t fly off the handle as much,” she says. “I wrote a whole book called Bad Mother [which was published in May 2009]. If I had been micro-dosing back then, I probably would have written Remarkably Calm, Compassionate Mother.”
What really surprised Waldman was the way it affected her work. “I found it inspired a state of calm hypomania. It was a flow but without the Adderall irritability. You lose track of time because you’re so into the work, and you’re making all these exciting connections.” Most tellingly, says Waldman, is that, “I wrote a book in a month!” She turned her journal and research on micro-dosing into A Really Good Day: How Microdosing Made a Mega Difference in My Mood, My Marriage, and My Life (which will be published in January by Knopf ).
Diet, not social life, may be the driver of brain size evolution, a new study suggests.
The findings call into question “the social brain hypothesis,” which argues that humans and other primates are big-brained because of their sociality.
The findings, which appear in the journal Nature Ecology and Evolution, reinforce the notion that both human and non-human primate brain evolution may be driven by differences in feeding rather than in socialization.
“Are humans and other primates big-brained because of social pressures and the need to think about and track our social relationships, as some have argued?” asks James Higham, assistant professor of anthropology at New York University.
“This has come to be the prevailing view, but our findings do not support it—in fact, our research points to other factors, namely diet.”
“Complex foraging strategies, social structures, and cognitive abilities, are likely to have co-evolved throughout primate evolution,” adds Alex DeCasien, a doctoral candidate and lead author of the study in the journal Nature Ecology and Evolution.
“However, if the question is: ‘Which factor, diet or sociality, is more important when it comes to determining the brain size of primate species?’ then our new examination suggests that factor is diet.”
The social brain hypothesis sees social complexity as the primary driver of primate cognitive complexity, suggesting that social pressures ultimately led to the evolution of the large human brain.
While some studies have shown positive relationships between relative brain size and group size, other studies which examined the effects of different social or mating systems have revealed highly conflicting results, raising questions about the strength of the social brain hypothesis.
In the new study, researchers, including Scott Williams, an assistant professor of anthropology, examined more than 140 primate species—or more than three times as many as previous studies—and incorporated more recent evolutionary trees, or phylogenies.
They took into account food consumption across the studied species—folivores (leaves), frugivores (fruit), frugivores/folivores, and omnivores (addition of animal protein)—as well as several measures of sociality, such as group size, social system, and mating system.
The findings show that brain size is predicted by diet rather than by the various measures of sociality—after controlling for body size and phylogeny. Notably, frugivores and frugivore/folivores exhibit significantly larger brains than folivores and, to a lesser extent, omnivores show significantly larger brains than folivores.
The results don’t necessarily reveal an association between brain size and fruit or protein consumption on a within-species level; rather, they are evidence of the cognitive demands required by different species to obtain certain foods.
“Fruit is patchier in space and time in the environment, and the consumption of it often involves extraction from difficult-to-reach-places or protective skins,” DeCasien says. “Together, these factors may lead to the need for relatively greater cognitive complexity and flexibility in frugivorous species.”