Weekend Links

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We’ve hand-picked a mix of Massachusetts General Hospital and other research-related news and stories for your weekend reading enjoyment:

Trump’s doctor says he has ‘incredible genes.’ Will they keep protecting his health? – quotes and features research by MGH physician Sekar Kathiresan and investigator Chris Newton-Cheh

Increased Risk of Diabetes-Related ED Visits With Unstable Housing – Unstable housing is associated with an increased likelihood of diabetes-related emergency department visits and hospitalization, according to a study from Seth A. Berkowitz, MD, from Massachusetts General Hospital, and colleagues.

 Unflagging government support paves the long path to Nobel Prize in science

‘Loneliness kills’: Former surgeon general sounds alarm on emotional well being

Scientists Aim to Give AI to Robot Cat That Helps the Elderly

Top photo courtesy of Learning English

Research Your Resolution: Consider Heart Health Before Going Gluten-Free

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Andrew Chan, MD
Andrew Chan, MD, MPH

Andrew Chan, MD, MPH, Stuart and Suzanne Steele MGH Research Scholar and Chief of the Clinical and Translational Epidemiology Unit at Massachusetts General Hospital, recently released the results of a study investigating the widespread perception that a gluten-free diet (for reasons other than gluten allergy) can be beneficial to your heart health.


There is intense interest in the potential health benefits of going “gluten-free” even if one does not have a true allergy to gluten as we see in individuals with celiac disease.

For example, some diet books have recommended a gluten-free diet for longevity and heart health. However, there are surprisingly little data to support this recommendation.

In a large study which tracked the dietary habits of more than  100,000 men and women over the last several decades, we did not find any evidence that a low gluten diet was associated with a lower risk of heart disease.

In fact, a low gluten diet tended to be deficient in foods with whole grains that are actually associated with better heart health.

In some situations, pursuing a low gluten diet could actually be harmful. The lesson here is that the most healthful diets still appear to contain a balance of foods rather than being overly restrictive.


Research Your Resolution

Do you have goals for improving your health in the New Year? This month, investigators from the Mass General Research Institute are discussing the science behind some common New Year’s resolutions, and offering tips and advice based on their research into exercise, diet, healthy aging, heart health, and much more.

Massachusetts General Hospital is home to the largest hospital-based research program in the United States, a community of more than 10,000 people working across 30 departments, centers and institutes. The Mass General Research Institute works to support, guide and promote these research initiatives.

Early Treatment for ADHD May Lessen Risk of Substance Abuse Disorders

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Mass General researcher Timothy Wilens, PhD has found that the earlier children with attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) receive treatment with stimulants, the less likely they are to use marijuana or develop a substance use disorder (SUD).

Dr. Wilens is chief of the Division of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry and director of the Center for Addiction Medicine at Massachusetts General Hospital.

He presented on his work at the 30th US Psychiatric and Mental Health Congress last fall. Here are five things to know about Dr. Wilen’s presentation, adapted from this article on the American Journal of Managed care website.

1.) ADHD is a chronic condition mainly characterized by inattention, distraction or hyperactivity and impulsivity. This condition affects between 6 to 9% of children worldwide. Later on, 50% of those affected with ADHD during childhood will still have the condition as adults.

2.) Dr. Wilens’ research shows that youth/adolescents with ADHD are twice as likely  to develop a substance abuse disorder and three times more likely to smoke cigarettes.

3.) While young people with ADHD seem to gravitate towards the same drugs as their peers, Dr. Wilens found that when they develop a substance abuse problem, people with ADHD have more difficulty getting better and sticking to treatment.

4.) Studies have shown that children with ADHD are 60% less likely to develop a substance abuse disorder when regular treatment with stimulants is started in early childhood (before the age of 15).

5.) While it is typically preferable to wait until the individual is sober before increasing medication levels, there are some cases where it’s more effective to increase the dosage during recovery. Wilens says. “It’s best to get people clean and sober for a period of time…but if you can’t, you might want to consider stimulants.”

Research Your Resolution: Take a Slow and Steady Approach to Losing Weight

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Emily_Feig
Emily Feig, PhD

Emily Feig, PhD, is a clinical research fellow in the Department of Psychiatry at Massachusetts General Hospital.

Dr. Feig recently published the results of a study she conducted as a doctoral student at Drexel University showing that individuals who maintained a steady rate of losing weight during the first few months of a behavioral weight loss program had better long term results than individuals who fluctuated in the amount they lost from week to week. Read more about her research study here.


If your goal for the New Year is losing weight, I recommend finding eating and exercise behaviors that lead to a steady weight loss week to week, even if the pace at which you are losing weight is slow.

For example, you might commit to bringing a healthy afternoon snack to work to replace stopping at the vending machine, setting a “kitchen closed” time when evening snacking will end, adding a vegetable to dinner five nights a week, or setting aside an hour each weekend to plan ahead for meals the next week.

By keeping track of how different behaviors affect your weight, you can adjust to find what leads to a slow and steady weight loss pace for you.

This is because we found that, in a sample of 183 participants in a behavioral weight loss program, better long-term weight loss at one and two years was achieved by those who lost weight at a consistent pace during the first few months of the program, compared to those whose weights varied more week to week.

So finding healthy behaviors that lead to a slow and steady rate of weight loss is likely a key factor in keeping the weight off long-term.


Research Your Resolution

Do you have goals for improving your health in the New Year? This month, investigators from the Mass General Research Institute are discussing the science behind some common New Year’s resolutions, and offering tips and advice based on their research into exercise, diet, healthy aging, heart health, and much more.

Massachusetts General Hospital is home to the largest hospital-based research program in the United States, a community of more than 10,000 people working across 30 departments, centers and institutes. The Mass General Research Institute works to support, guide and promote these research initiatives.

Weekend Links

Jupiter.jpgWe’ve hand-picked a mix of Massachusetts General Hospital and other research-related news and stories for your weekend reading enjoyment:

Breathalyzers and brain caps: Researchers race to devise a roadside test for driving while high – Researchers at Mass General’s Center for Addiction Medicine are testing out a brain imaging device that could potentially meet the growing need for a Breathalyzer for marijuana.

You aren’t at the mercy of your emotions—your brain creates them – A TED Talk featuring Mass General’s Lisa Feldman Barrett, PhD.

The Gut and the Brain – What is the connection between these two large nerve centers? Mass General’s Braden Kuo, MD, and Kyle Staller, MD, of the Center for Neurointestinal Health, explain.

12 of the best science podcasts that will make you smarter

NASA’s Juno Just Took the Most Beautiful Photo of Jupiter We’ve Ever Seen

Top photo courtesy of: NASA / SwRI / MSSS / Gerald Eichstädt / Seán Doran © PUBLIC DOMAIN

 

Research Your Resolution: Boost Your Brain Health With Social Connections

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Joel Salinas, MD
Joel Salinas, MD

Joel Salinas, MD, is a behavioral neurologist, neuropsychiatrist, and social epidemiologist at the Massachusetts General Hospital Institute for Brain Health. To learn more about his research, please visit his lab website.


When we make social connections with other people, we live better and have healthier brains for longer.

This might mean re-connecting with old friends, making new friends, joining a group or a class, teaching someone something new, volunteering or offering to help others, or using technology to keep in touch, getting a pet, or simply sharing a smile.

Studying over 3,000 members of the Framingham, MA, community since 1948, and across multiple generations, we found that people who are the most socially isolated have lower blood levels of a molecule known as brain-derived neurotrophic factor (or BDNF) which is critical for keeping brain cells healthy and forming new connections between cells.

However, people who have someone available to listen to them or receive emotional support from someone else most or all of the time not only seem to have increased levels of BDNF, but they also have a lower risk of developing stroke and dementia.

There is no cure yet for many age-related brain diseases, but there is a cure for social isolation.

By addressing what we can change in our life to reduce our risk for brain disease, there may be a way to delay and eventually prevent these diseases and prolong the span of our brain health.


Research Your Resolution

Do you have goals for improving your health in the New Year? This month, investigators from the Mass General Research Institute are discussing the science behind some common New Year’s resolutions, and offering tips and advice based on their research into exercise, diet, healthy aging, heart health, and much more. See more posts in the series.

Massachusetts General Hospital is home to the largest hospital-based research program in the United States, a community of more than 10,000 people working across 30 departments, centers and institutes. The Mass General Research Institute works to support, guide and promote these research initiatives.

DASH Diet — Ranked Best Overall Diet, Could Prevent Hypertension and Gout

For the eighth consecutive year, U.S. News and World Report recently ranked the DASH Diet “best overall” diet among nearly 40 it reviewed. The announcement came just as new research suggests that combining DASH (Dietary Approaches to Stop Hypertension) with a low-sodium diet has the potential to lower blood pressure as well as or better than many anti-hypertension medications.

The diet tied this year for “best overall” diet and was ranked No. 1 in the “healthy eating” and “heart disease prevention” categories.

Did you know that in addition to lowering blood pressure, the DASH diet may also reduce the risk of developing gout? In this article, originally published last year, researchers from Mass General describe how following the diet could prevent the intense pain and swelling associated with the disease:

Diet Known to Reduce Risk for Hypertension May Also Prevent Gout

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recent study from Massachusetts General Hospital suggests that following the Dietary Approaches to Stop Hypertension (DASH) diet may reduce the risk of gout.

What is gout?

When excess uric acid in the bloodstream builds up too quickly or can’t be eliminated fast enough, it is deposited as needle-shaped crystals in the tissues of the body, including joints, causing intense pain. This pain, otherwise known as gout, is the most common type of inflammatory arthritis.

What are the current dietary recommendations for gout?

Doctors recommend a diet low in purines (chemical compounds that can be broken down into uric acid), which are found in certain meats and seafood. “But following such a diet has limited effectiveness and proves challenging for many patients,” says Hyon Choi, MD, DrPH, director of the Gout and Crystal Arthropathy Center in the MGH Division of Rheumatology, Allergy, and Immunology, senior author of the study.

What is the DASH diet?

The DASH diet (originally created to help patients with high blood pressure) emphasizes eating fruits, vegetables, low-fat dairy items, whole grains, poultry, fish and nuts while discouraging eating foods high in saturated fats, cholesterol, trans fats and sodium, as well as red meats and sweets. Several studies have confirmed its ability to reduce risks for hypertension and cardiovascular disease.

What did the study investigate?

The study enrolled over 44,000 men with no history of gout. The research team applied two scoring systems to the dietary patterns of participants:

  1. A DASH dietary pattern score (based on the criteria for the DASH diet)
  2. A Western dietary pattern score (based on high intake of red and processed meats, French fries, refined grains, sweets and desserts)
What did they find?

During the 26 years of follow up, 1,731 participants were newly diagnosed with gout. Researchers found that a higher DASH dietary pattern score was associated with a lower risk for gout, while a higher western dietary pattern score was associated with an increased risk for gout. “For individuals at high risk for gout, especially those who also have hypertension, the DASH diet is likely to be an ideal preventive approach,” says Sharan Rai, MSc, of the MGH Division of Rheumatology, Allergy and Immunology, and lead author of the paper.

What are the implications of the study?

While these findings need to be confirmed in future interventional trials, the researchers note that many individuals at risk for gout because of elevated uric acid levels might already be candidates for the DASH diets, since more than half of such individuals also have hypertension. The only group that probably should be careful with the DASH diet would be patients with severe kidney disease, since the diet can be high in potassium.

Research Your Resolution: Reduce Your Risk of A Heart Attack

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Do you have goals for improving your health in the New Year? This month, investigators from the Mass General Research Institute are discussing the science behind some common New Year’s resolutions, and offering tips and advice based on their research into exercise, diet, healthy aging, heart health, and much more.


Sekar Kathiresan, MD
Sekar Kathiresan, MD

Sek Kathiresan, MD, is Director of the Center for Genomic Medicine at Massachusetts General Hospital and an Ofer and Shelly Nimerovsky MGH Research Scholar. He studies human genetics to understand the root causes of heart attacks and develop new strategies for preventative cardiac care. To learn more about his research, please visit his lab website.

A family history of heart attacks does not necessarily mean you are destined to suffer one as well.

By studying genetic data from 55,000 individuals who are enrolled in four long-term research studies, we found that following a healthy lifestyle—defined as not smoking, exercising once a week, eating healthy and maintaining a body mass index of less than 30—can reduce your chances of having a heart attack by close to 50 percent.

The basic message of our study is that DNA is not destiny. Many individuals—both physicians and members of the general public—have looked on genetic risk as unavoidable, but for heart attack that does not appear to be the case.

 

Research Your Resolution: Use Food Placement to Set Yourself Up for Weight Loss Success

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Do you have goals for improving your health in the New Year? This month, investigators from the Mass General Research Institute are discussing the science behind some common New Year’s resolutions, and offering tips and advice based on their research into exercise, diet, healthy aging, heart health, and much more.


Anne Thorndike, MD
Anne Thorndike, MD, MPH

Anne Thorndike, MD, MPH, is an investigator in the Department of Medicine at Massachusetts General Hospital. Her research uses the principles of behavioral economics to develop strategies to encourage healthy food choices at home, in the workplace and in community settings. To learn more about her work, please visit her physician profile page.

Sticking to a healthy diet is difficult when you are exposed to unhealthy food choices on every street corner, restaurant, shelf and snack drawer.

It is even more difficult to make healthy food choices when you are busy, hungry, stressed or tired.

Using “point-of-purchase” nutrition information, such as menu calorie labels, and restructuring your home food environment are two strategies that can help you achieve your New Year’s goals.

For example, if that burrito you are thinking about for lunch has 1,000 calories, maybe it isn’t the best choice—it will give you approximately half a day’s worth of calories if you are a man, and more than half if you are a woman.

At home, you can engineer your kitchen to make healthy foods more convenient—and unhealthy foods harder to reach.

Put healthy snacks at eye level on the shelf, and hide the cookies on the top shelf.  Better yet, don’t even bring the cookies into the house!

Our research in the cafeterias at Mass General showed that labeling foods with simple traffic-light labels (red=unhealthy; green=healthy), and placing healthy foods in highly visible and convenient locations prompted cafeteria customers to make more healthy food choices (e.g. bottled water, salads) and fewer unhealthy items (e.g. soda, pizza).

In other research, we showed that placing fresh fruits and vegetables near the front of small urban food stores increased produce purchases by low-income families.

In Case You Missed it: Science Stories from Around the Web

We love good science stories here at the Mass General Research Institute and wanted to share a few of our favorites from other health and science websites. Enjoy!

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The best and worst analogies for CRISPR, ranked

From a knockout punch to an act of God, CRISPR technology has drawn comparisons to a vast array of things. Here is a list of 10 analogies ranked from worst to best. (STAT)


Is ‘Man Flu’ real? Men suffer more when sick, study suggests

A research team in the United Kingdom found evidence that men may have a weaker immune response to the viruses that cause the flu or common cold, and as a result, men may have a greater risk for serious symptoms.


It’s time to stop excluding people with disabilities from science

You can be a great scientist without being able to carry a 50-pound backpack out of cave, writes Gabriela Serrato Marks, a Marine Geologist at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology.


Altmetric’s Top 100 Articles of the Year

In the past year, Altmetric has tracked over 18.5 million mentions of 2.2 million research outputs. Here are the Top 100 ranked in order of their Altmetric Attention Score as of Nov. 15, 2017.


What is really driving the Altmetric’s Top 100 Articles List

“There is a data availability problem plaguing Altmetric’s annual top 100 list,” argues Kent Anderson of Scholarly Kitchen in this detailed critical breakdown of how the rankings are compiled. But Anderson also concludes that “Overall, the Top 100 list remains interesting, and perhaps data availability and other elements will improve over time.”


How loneliness affects our health

Scientists are gaining a more refined—and surprising—understanding of the effects of loneliness and isolation on health. (New York Times)


Jawdropping images reveal science is amazing

Photos are said to be worth “a thousand words.” And that’s what the Royal Society looks for when judging images for their Publishing Photography Competition, which celebrates the power of photography to communicate science.


Study: Opioids overused in migraine treatment, regardless of race

African Americans are more likely to experience debilitating migraine headaches than whites, but a new study probing the issue found no evidence of racial disparities in treatment practices. Instead, researchers from the University of Michigan report a different finding that affects everyone: opioid overuse.


Check out this video of perspiration on a human fingertip

This incredible up close video shows drops of sweat forming on the ridges of human fingertips. It was the second place winner in the video portion of the Nikon Small World Competition this year.


Neuroscience can learn a lot from Buddhism

A scientist and a monk compare notes on mediation, therapy and their effects on the brain. (Atlantic Monthly)