Loneliness can cause high BP

Lonely people are more prone to developing high blood pressure in later life, says a study.

Researchers found that chronic feelings of loneliness push up blood pressure over time, causing a marked increase after four years in people aged over 50, reported dailymail.co.uk

The new study is the first to show a direct link between loneliness and high blood pressure, known as hypertension, which raises the risk of heart attack and stroke.

US researchers considered whether depression and stress were pushing up blood pressure but found they were only partly responsible.

“Loneliness behaves as though it is a unique health-risk factor in its own right,” said Louise Hawkley, who is the member of the research team from Chicago University.

“Living alone did not necessarily mean people were lonely. Some people appeared to have busy lives and a good social network but still felt lonely, which puts them at risk,” she added.

The latest research involved 229 people aged 50 to 68 who were part of a long-term study on aging. Members of the group were asked a series of questions to determine if they perceived themselves as lonely.

During the five-year study, Hawkley found a clear connection between feelings of loneliness reported at the beginning of the study and rising blood pressure over that period.

“The increase associated with loneliness wasn’t observable until two years into the study, but then continued to increase until four years later,” she said.

Even people with modest levels of loneliness were affected, says a report in the journal Psychology and Aging.

Among all the people in the sample, the loneliest people saw their blood pressure go up by 14.4 mm more than the blood pressure of their most socially contented counterparts over the four-year study period.

Hawkley said that people who have many friends and a social network can feel lonely if they find their relationships unsatisfying. Conversely, people who live rather solitary lives may not be lonely if their few relationships are meaningful and rewarding.

“Loneliness is characterized by a motivational impulse to connect with others but also a fear of negative evaluation, rejection and disappointment.

“We hypothesise that threats to one’s sense of safety and security with others are toxic components of loneliness, and that hyper-vigilance for social threat may contribute to alterations in physiological functioning, including elevated blood pressure,” she said.

Indian Spices Trigger Lead Poisoning Risk in Kids


A new study conducted by American researchers reveal that consumption of Indian spices will increase the risk of lead poisoning, especially among children.

Researchers from Harvard School of Public Health examined a number of Indian spices and ceremonial powders and found that almost half of them contained lead levels higher than permitted by European Union and the US Foods and Drug Administration

Some of the major ingredients that contained higher levels of lead are Asafetida, henna, kohl, mustard seeds and tamarind candy with kumkum containing highest levels of 67 percent.

Lead author, Dr Cristiane Lin said that increased exposure of children below four years of age to such ingredients could increase the ingestion of lead by almost three times. “Our message is to say, be aware of these products that may contain lead. From a pediatrician’s perspective, it’s good to push for screening of nonpaint sources of lead”, Dr Lin said.

—medindia

Recession left ‘walking wounded’ workers

 Many workers around the world have given up hopes of advancing in their jobs, but the bad economy is keeping them from finding new ones.

 Such “walking wounded” workers are increasingly exchanging ambition for job stability, which now even trumps pay as a consideration, according to a biennial survey by the human resources consultancy Towers Watson Co.

 People are becoming “nesters,” who prefer to stay in one career or with one employer for their entire career.

 The report highlights a disconnect between what such “nesters” want and the growing trends that are shaping the global workforce: an increasing emphasis on flexible staff and short-term employment, more offshoring and part-time work.

 “People are increasingly wanting things that are harder to get,” said Max Caldwell, a leader of Towers Watson’s talent and reward business. “They’d like to settle into one or two companies for life. What people want is security, stability and a long-term employment relationship, (which are) increasingly out of reach.”

 Globally, a third of workers prefer to work for one organization their whole life, according to the study, while another third want to work for just two or three employers.

 That preference for “nesting” reflects anxiety about jobs prospects and about factors like healthcare costs and retirement planning, expenses that are increasingly being shifted onto workers rather than carried by employers.

 In the United States, almost twice as many workers expect continued deterioration in the jobs picture as those who expect improvement. A majority — 51 per cent — say there are no career advancement opportunities at their jobs, but nonetheless 81 per cent are not actively looking for a new position.

 Among the study’s other findings:

 * 30 per cent of US workers plan to work past age 70.

 * About half of US workers feel unprepared for planning or managing their retirement.

 * 56 per cent of US workers expect little change in the job market this year.

 * Workers in developing economies like India and China are far more willing to jump from job to job than their counterparts in countries like Germany and the United States.

 The study adds to recent data that indicates a high level of uncertainty about the shape and duration of the economic recovery. Global staffing services firm Manpower Inc said last week its quarterly measure of hiring intentions dipped slightly, suggesting US employees are less willing to hire in the second quarter than in the first.

 ‘WALKING WOUNDED’

 Workers are more risk-averse because the recession has shown them how quickly jobs can disappear, and have become discouraged since a tentative economic recovery has not yet produced significant jobs gains.

 “This notion of a jobless recovery is a very relevant trend, creating an environment with greater risk of disengagement. In some organizations, you have a walking wounded syndrome,” Caldwell said.

 Employers are still focused on managing compensation costs and they are cautious about staffing back up as demand increases, he said.

 That may leave more room for companies to hold down compensation costs. The study, based on a survey of 20,000 workers in 22 countries, hints wage growth for the next few years may be flat or at least less robust than in previous recoveries.

 For employers, the key challenges of managing through the next year or two include motivating workers, by creating an appealing work environment with room to advance or develop new skills, according to the study. Employees, meanwhile, may need to reset expectations lower.

 Still, the recession’s effect on workers was not as profound as that of the Great Depression in the 1930s, Caldwell said. But it was the first deep downturn for an entire generation and is likely to leave a lasting impression, likely making people take on less risk and become less ambitious about their careers.

28mn manufacturing jobs by 2015

With industrial output picking up, the manufacturing sector will be a major contributor to new employment and is likely to generate 27.95 million jobs by 2015, but the share of agriculture is expected to decline, according to a study.

In its study ‘Emerging Future Jobs’, the Associated Chambers of Commerce and Industry of India (Assocham) has projected 87.37 million new jobs by 2015, with 32 percent share held by the manufacturing sector, followed by trade and construction.

And within manufacturing, textiles, food and beverages, transport equipment, metals, leather and machinery are expected to contribute the most to employment generation, it says.

“The next most important source of new employment is expected to be trade with 24.24 million new jobs, followed by construction with a figure of 15.13 million,” the chamber said.

But agriculture, which accounts for a major share in total employment, is now likely to be minor contributor to new employment.

“Manufacturing will have the highest employment potential because after agriculture it accounts for the largest share of jobs at 12.5 percent among different divisions of economic activity. A faster growth of employment in it, therefore, would mean addition of a large number of jobs.”

The chamber said a one percent growth in employment in the manufacturing sector would mean over 6.25 lakh (625,000) new jobs and suggested that if manufacturing was made to grow at 10 percent per annum, its employment potential will grow at over five percent.

“This would mean an addition of over three million new jobs every year.”

The study also projected that though financial services has a small share of 3.4 percent in total employment at present, its contribution will almost double. New jobs will also accrue fast in IT and related sectors, growing to 3.28 million by 2015 from 1.62 million.

Indians more open to shifting jobs – study

What is the mindset of an Indian employee? Is he/she open to a job change? Or, is he/she satisfied by staying put at the existing workplace? Who is a risk-taker among the Indian employees? Why does one look for a new job? No serious thought has ever been given in India to get to the bottom of these questions. For the first time, perhaps, Ma Foi Randstad, the country’s largest HR (human resources) services company, has come out with an Internet-based study to understand the mindset of employees.

This exercise is part of its global-level initiative to try and map the attitude of employees towards changing jobs. The findings of its maiden review have just been out. And, Ma Foi Randstad Work Monitor will, henceforth, be a regular quarterly review.

It is an index that shows the extent to which employees are thinking of changing their jobs in the short-term. It also sort of measures their trust in job market, their fear over job loss and their willingness to shift job. The findings of the study have shown up a real surprise. Much to everybody’s surprise, the study finds the Indians more open about shifting their jobs in the next six months. India’s mobility index is the highest at 140 in the world, followed by Mexico, China and Turkey. At the bottom of the index are countries such as Luxembourg, Italy and Hungary. Interestingly enough, the study finds highly qualified people exhibiting lesser mobility inclination than others in India. Not surprisingly, it finds the employees in Bangalore most open for job change in the next six months. Significantly, it notes that the employees in the salary (annual) bracket of Rs. 5-10 lakh are least mobile in India.

The job mobility, the study says, has been hit in the last few months are so due to the economic slowdown in India and recession overseas. Consequently, the study finds ‘extremely limited movement’ in the past few months. If better prospect is the reason for people in the 25-34 age group to hop job, organisational issues clearly are the reasons for higher income group employees to look for a change.

According to the study, over 80 per cent of the Indian employees are confident of finding new jobs in the short-run. While employees in the 25-44 age group appear confidence-personified, the younger lot in the 18-24 age group is found to be low on confidence. Around 15 per cent of the employees interviewed are frightened about the job loss. An additional 57 per cent are in partial fear. Employees in Chennai, according to the study, are the most frightened about job loss.

Older employees, above the age of 45, are most satisfied in their jobs. Those in the age group of 25-34 are found to be least satisfied.

According to K. Pandia Rajan, Managing Director of Ma Foi Randstad, the study covered over 600 employees across cities and verticals in India. He is confident that the study will provide employers useful insights into the mindset of their employees and trigger greater engagement between them for mutual benefit.

Lunchtime coffee fights diabetes risk

Drinking coffee cuts diabetes risk, but you may need to enjoy your java with lunch if you want to get any benefit.

 Over a dozen studies have linked coffee drinking to a lower risk of type 2 diabetes – the type closely linked to obesity. But the mechanism behind the relationship hasn’t been established and no studies have looked at whether the timing of coffee drinking influences this effect.

 To investigate, researchers looked at 69,532 French women participating in a large European nutrition study. The women ranged in age from 41 to 72 years when they were enrolled in the study, and were followed for 11 years, on average.

 During that time, 1,415 of them developed type 2 diabetes. Overall, those who drank at least three cups of coffee daily were 27 percent less likely to become diabetic. But when the researchers looked at the timing of coffee consumption, they found that only lunchtime coffee drinking reduced type 2 diabetes risk; women who drank more than a cup with lunch every day were 33 percent less likely to develop diabetes.

 The lunchtime effect was seen only for black coffee, not for coffee with milk added, but because the number of study participants who drank coffee with milk at lunch was small, the significance of this finding isn’t clear.

 Lunchtime coffee benefits could have something to do with timing, or they might be related to the types of food that people eat at lunch, the researchers suggested

 –ndtv

Genes decide how well you recognise faces

 

Scientists found that identical twins were twice as similar to each other in terms of their ability to recognise faces, compared to non-identical twins.

 Your genes might have something to do with face recognition, says a new study.

Scientists found that identical twins were twice as similar to each other in terms of their ability to recognise faces, compared to non-identical C.

They also found that the genetic effects that allow people to recognise faces are linked to a highly specific mechanism in the brain, unrelated to the organ’s ability to recognise words or abstract art.

“Face recognition is a skill that we depend on daily and considerable variability exists in the ability to recognise faces,” said Brad Duchaine from the University College London (UCL).

“Our results show that genetic differences are responsible for the great majority of the difference in face recognition ability between people,” added Duchaine, study co-author.

The study consisted of 164 identical twins, who share all their genes, and 125 non-identical same-sex twins, who share 50 percent of their genes.

All the participants took the Cambridge Face Memory Test, which measures the ability to learn six faces and then recognise them in novel poses and lighting, said a UCL release.

These findings were published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

Global warming both bane and boon for world’s poor

An iceberg floats in the bay in Kulusuk, Greenland near the arctic circle, in this file photo

 A new study by researchers at Stanford University, US, has determined that global warming may have an adverse impact on food prices and hunger in poor populations of the world, while others would be helped out of poverty because of it.

Researchers say that higher temperatures could significantly reduce yields of wheat, rice and maize – dietary staples for tens of millions of poor people who subsist on less than 1 dollar a day. The resulting crop shortages would likely cause food prices to rise and drive many into poverty.

“But even as some people are hurt, others would be helped out of poverty,” said Stanford agricultural scientist David Lobell. Lobell and his colleagues recently conducted the first in-depth study showing how different climate change scenarios could affect incomes of farmers and labourers in developing countries. In the study, Lobell, former FSE researcher Marshall Burke and Purdue University agricultural economist Thomas Hertel focused on 15 developing countries in Asia, Africa and Latin America. Hertel has developed a global trade model that closely tracks the consumption and production of rice, wheat and maize on a country-by-country basis. The model was used to project the effects of climate change on agriculture within 20 years and the resulting impact on prices and poverty. The study revealed a surprising mix of winners and losers depending on the projected global temperature. The “most likely” scenario projected by the International Panel on Climate Change is that global temperatures will rise 1.8 degrees Fahrenheit (1 degree Celsius) by 2030. In that scenario, the trade model projected relatively little change in crop yields, food prices and poverty rates.

But under the “low-yield” scenario, in which temperatures increase by 2.7 F (1.5 C), the model projects a 10 to 20 percent drop in agricultural productivity, which results in a 10 to 60 percent rise in the price of rice, wheat and maize. Because of these higher prices, the overall poverty rate in the 15 countries surveyed was expected to rise by 3 percent.

However, an analysis of individual countries revealed a far more complicated picture. In 11 of the 15 countries, poor people who owned their own land and raised their own crops actually benefited from higher food prices, according to the model. In Thailand, for example, the poverty rate for people in the non-agricultural sector was projected to rise 5 percent, while the rate for self-employed farmers dropped more than 30 percent – in part because, as food supplies dwindled, the global demand for higher-priced crops increased.

“If prices go up and you’re tied to international markets, you could be lifted out of poverty quite considerably,” Lobell explained.

‘Music lessons can improve child’s mind

 

Playing musical instruments have a direct impact on a child’s ability to learn languages

 Music lessons improve children’s ability to learn languages by increasing their brain’s sensitivity to sounds, including speech, a new study has claimed.

Tests by researchers at Northwestern University, Chicago, found that exposure to music could be beneficial to the brain in its developmental stages and it has advantages for all children, including those who are dyslexic and autistic, The Telegraph reported.

The researchers established a link between musical ability and the capacity of the nervous system to take in sound patterns and said playing musical instrument have a direct impact on a child’s ability to learn languages.

Professor Nina Kraus, who led the team, said playing an instrument had an impact on automatic processing in the brainstem, the lower section of the brain which governs breathing, the heartbeat and reaction to sounds.

She said: “Playing music engages the ability to extract relevant patterns, such as the sound of one’s own instrument, harmonies and rhythms, from the ‘soundscape’. Playing an instrument may help youngsters better process speech in noisy classrooms and more accurately interpret the nuances of language that are conveyed by subtle changes in the human voice.”

A spokeswoman for the National Autistic Society, U.S., said many children with autism respond well to music. She said: “It seems that music can help children to communicate and interact with those around them, relax or to express emotions.”

‘Chocolates help keep strokes at bay’

Eating chocolate every day can protect against strokes and may lower the risk of death after suffering a stroke

 There is no need to feel guilty the next time you gorge on chocolate, for researchers claim that eating a few squares daily is good for your heart.

An international team, led by McMaster University in Ontario, has carried out two studies and found that eating chocolate every day can protect against strokes and may also lower the risk of death after suffering a stroke.

The first study looked at 45,000 men and women and found that among those who ate a small bar a week the risk of stroke was down by 22 per cent compared with those who ate no chocolate.

The second study found that 1,169 people who ate 50 grams of chocolate once a week were 46 per cent less likely to die following a stroke than people who did not eat chocolate.

Chocolate is rich in antioxidants called flavonoids, which may have a protective effect against stroke, but more research is needed, say the researchers.

“More research is needed to determine whether chocolate truly lowers stroke risk or whether healthier people are simply more likely to eat chocolate than others,” Sarah Sahib, who led the team, was quoted by the media as saying.

Last year, an international study in the U.S. found that chocolate may ease emotional stress.

In the study, the scientists identified reductions in stress hormones and other stress-related biochemical changes in volunteers who rated themselves as highly stressed and ate dark chocolate for two weeks.

“The study provides strong evidence that a daily consumption of 40 grams during a period of around two weeks is sufficient to modify the metabolism of healthy human volunteers,” the scientists had claimed.

Computer simulations as good as observations

Students can learn some science concepts just as well from computer simulations as they do from direct observation, says a new research.

A study found that people who used computer simulations to learn about moon phases understood the concepts just as well – and in some cases better – than did those who learned from collecting data from viewing the moon.

The results suggest the use of computer simulations in science classes may be an effective and often less expensive and time-consuming way to teach some science concepts, said Kathy Cabe Trundle, associate professor of science education at Ohio State University (OSU), who led the study.

“These results give us confidence that computer simulations can be effective in the classroom,” Trundle said. “But now we need to do further study to see if it works in others areas of science.”

Trundle conducted the study with Randy Bell, associate professor of science education at the University of Virginia.

While there have been many studies examining computer use in the classroom, most have only examined whether students find computers easy to use and enjoy using them.

The few studies that have examined whether computers are effective for learning content have had mixed results, Trundle said.

This study is an improvement because it actually compares people who used a computer simulation with those who had more direct observations.

“Our expectation was that the computer simulation would be at least as effective as direct observation in teaching about moon phases,” Trundle said.

Participants in the study were 157 pre-service teachers — master’s degree students who are in training to become early childhood teachers.

This study examined how well these pre-service teachers understood moon phases before and after taking a 10-week science methods course that included a unit on moon phases, said an OSO release.

One class learned about moon phases using only a computer simulation, one group from nature alone and a third group from both a computer simulation and nature.

Their study appears online in Computers & Education and will be published in a future print edition.

Gadgets may not cause headaches in teens

Excessive use of electronic media is often reported to be associated with long-lasting adverse effects on health

Use of electronic gadgets have been found not to be associated with headaches, at least not in adolescents.

A study of 1,025 teenagers, found no link between the use of computer games, mobile phones or TV and occurrence of headaches or migraines.

However, listening to music for one or two hours every day is associated with a pounding head.

Astrid Milde-Busch, from Ludwig-Maximilians University Munich, Germany, worked with a team of researchers to study the links between exposure to electronics and the prevalence and type of headaches.

“Excessive use of electronic media is often reported to be associated with long-lasting adverse effects on health like obesity or lack of regular exercise, or unspecific symptoms like tiredness, stress, concentration difficulties and sleep disturbances,” she said.

Researchers interviewed 489 teenagers who claimed to suffer from headaches and 536 who said they did not.

When the two groups were compared, no associations were found for television viewing, electronic gaming, mobile phone usage or computer usage.

Daily consumption of music was significantly associated with suffering from any type of headache, said a Ludwig-Maximilians release.

Milde-Busch points out that “it cannot be concluded whether the habit of listening to music is the cause of frequent headaches, or the consequence in the sense of a self-therapy by relaxation.”

These findings were published in the BMC Neurology.

Saffron may halt or reverse sight loss

The new research indicates that saffron, traditionally used to colour and flavour curries and Mediterranean dishes, can prove to be an effective weapon in the fight against one of the commonest causes of sight loss, age-related macular degeneration (AMD).

The first trials of saffron on human vision shows it significantly enhanced eyesight, reports The Daily Express.

Lead researcher Professor Silvia Bisti said, “When patients were tested with traditional eye charts, a number could read one or two lines smaller than before. Others said they could read newspapers and books again.”

Bisti hailed the results as ‘remarkable’ and claimed saffron “may hold the key to preventing sight loss in the elderly”.

Flexi-hours make employees work better

 The study from Cranfield School of Management in the United Kingdom suggests that workers allowed flexible hours work more intensely than their counterparts with more rigid office hours.

 Management professors Clare Kelliher and Deirdre Anderson, who conducted the study, explain that the phenomenon is a kind of payment to the employer from the worker in exchange for the freedom to choose where and when to work.

 They surveyed more than 2,000 employees at three large multi-national, UK-based corporations to reach the conclusion.

 The responses to the questionnaire they had set indicated that employees who worked remotely one day a week and workers who had reduced their required weekly office hours tended to report higher job satisfaction, lower stress and higher loyalty to their company than employees who didn’t have flexible hours.

 Further, 37 random interviews hinted that flexible schedules are also linked to increased work intensity in the form of higher productivity and longer hours.

 Anderson and Kelliher claim that most employees are willing to maintain equilibrium with his or her employer.

 “We argue that flexible workers ‘repay’ the choice opened up to them, by means of extending a greater effort,” Discovery News quoted Kelliher as saying.

 Kelliher concluded, “In the article, we don’t necessarily present work intensification as a positive thing.”

 “There is a whole body of evidence which suggests that in the longer term, there are costs to employee well-being. We caution, therefore, that there may be longer-term costs associated with work intensification.”

 The study has been published in the January issue of the journal Human Relations.

Scientists design world’s most accurate clock

Physicists have built the world’s most accurate timepiece, based on an advanced version of an experimental atomic clock relying on a 
 
It is more than twice as precise as the previous pacesetter based on a mercury atom. The new aluminum clock would neither gain nor lose one second in about 3.7 billion years, according to measurements.

The new clock is the second version of National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) “quantum logic clock,” because it borrows the logical processing used for atoms storing data in experimental quantum computing.

“This paper is a milestone for atomic clocks” for a number of reasons, says NIST postdoctoral researcher James Chou, who developed most of the improvements.

In addition to demonstrating that aluminum is now a better timekeeper than mercury, the latest results confirm that optical clocks are widening their lead – in some respects – over the NIST-F1 cesium fountain clock, the US civilian time standard, which currently keeps time to within one second in about 100 million years.

Because the international definition of the second (in the International System of Units, or SI) is based on the cesium atom, cesium remains the “ruler” for official timekeeping, and no clock can be more accurate than cesium-based standards such as NIST-F1.

The logic clock is based on a single aluminum ion (electrically charged atom) trapped by electric fields and vibrating at ultraviolet light frequencies, which are 100,000 times higher than microwave frequencies used in NIST-F1 and other similar time standards around the world, says a NIST release.

Optical clocks thus divide time into smaller units, and could someday lead to time standards more than 100 times as accurate as today’s microwave standards. Higher frequency is one of a variety of factors that enables improved precision and accuracy.

These findings are slated for publication in Physical Review Letters.

Headache pill can save quake victims: Study

A woman runs after taking items from a quake-damaged building in Port-au-Prince

 Although the finding has come too late to save lives following the quake in Haiti, researchers are hopeful that “the treatment can be validated in humans before, or even during, the next big quake”

A common drug used to treat headache can help save thousands of earthquake victims who die of “crush syndrome” — a condition in which their kidneys fail after being rescued, scientists have claimed.

Researchers at Vanderbilt University in Nashville, Tennessee, claimed that their experiments in rats have shown that the drug “acetaminophen” prevents the syndrome, also called as rhabdomyolysis, in which muscle debris from crushed limbs floods the kidneys soon after the limb is freed from rubble, causing them to fail.

“When you release the pressure on muscle through rescue, debris goes to the kidney. It’s like a chain reaction, and acetaminophen blocks it,” said Olivier Boutaud, who headed the research team.

Although the finding has come too late to save lives following the quake in Haiti, Mr. Boutaud is hopeful that “the treatment can be validated in humans before, or even during, the next big quake”, the New Scientist reported.

According to the researchers, the destruction of muscle through crushing leads to the release of myoglobin, a protein vital for delivering oxygen to muscle and other tissue.

When the myoglobin reaches the kidneys it clogs the tubules and produces harmful chemical agents called free radicals.

These free radicals destroy fatty membranes in the kidney, which die and turn black. They also trigger constriction of blood vessels, cutting off blood flow to the kidney and halting filtration of blood, rapidly leading to death through kidney failure.

The condition became known as the “smiling death” in China after apparently uninjured victims died, said the report.

For their study, Mr. Boutaud and colleagues induced crush syndrome in rats via muscular injections of sugar.

But after giving them human-equivalent dose of acetaminophen, the scientists found the drug successfully blocked both of these processes, whether given before or shortly after the injury.

Reporting their findings in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, Mr. Boutaud said: “We don’t know yet whether it would work, or how soon we’d need to give it to prevent kidney damage.

“But we must try because it could save thousands of lives.”

Device to turn thoughts into sounds

In what could be a revolution in communication for paralysed people, a man with locked-in syndrome has “spoken” three different vowel sounds using a voice synthesiser controlled by an implant deep in his brain.

Scientists have said that if they could add more sounds to the repertoire of brain signals the implant can translate, such systems could be a scientific breakthrough in communication for such patients.

“We’re very optimistic that the next patient will be able to say words,” New Scientist quoted Frank Guenther, a neuroscientist at Boston University who led the study as saying.

Eric Ramsey, 26, has locked-in syndrome, in which people are unable to move a muscle but are fully conscious.

Guenther said that while a brain implant with invasive surgery could be drastic, but lifting signals directly from neurons may be the only way that locked-in people like Ramsey, or those with advanced forms of ALS, a neurodegenerative disease, will ever be able to communicate quickly and naturally.

Devices that use brain signals captured by scalp electrodes are slow, allowing typing on a keyboard at a rate of one to two words per minute.

“Our approach has the potential for providing something along the lines of conventional speech as opposed to very slow typing,” said Guenther.

His team”s breakthrough was to translate seemingly chaotic firing patterns of neurons into the acoustic “building blocks” that distinguish different vowel sounds.

Ramsey, who suffered a brain-stem stroke at the age of 16, has an electrode implanted into a brain area that plans the movements of the vocal cords and tongue that underlie speech.

Over the past two decades, the team has developed models that predict how neurons in this region fire during speech.

They used these predictions to translate the firing patterns of several dozen brain cells in Ramsey”s brain into the acoustical building blocks of speech.

“It”s a very subtle code; you”re looking over many neurons. You don”t have one neuron that represents ”aaa” and another that represents ”eee”. It”s way messier than that,” said Guenther.

Next, Guenther”s team provided Ramsey with audio feedback of the computer”s interpretation of his neurons, allowing him to tune his thoughts to hit a specific vowel.

Over 25 trials across many months, Ramsey improved from hitting 45 per cent of vowels to 70 per cent.

While the ability to produce three distinct vowels from brain signals won”t allow for much communication, but Guenther has said that technological improvements should have a next-generation decoder producing whole words in three to five years.

This next device will read from far more neurons and so should be able to extract the brain signals underlying consonants, he said.

The team plan to have it controlled by a laptop, so people can practise speaking at home as much as they like.

 The study has been published in the journal PLoS One. (ANI)

Running shoes damage joints

Finally got that new pair of running shoes? Well, before you get down to taking them on the jogging track, here’s a piece of information—running shoes are likely to damage knees, hips and ankles.

 In a study, researchers compared the effects on knee, hip and ankle joint motions of running barefoot versus running in modern running shoes.

 They concluded that running shoes exerted more stress on these joints compared to running barefoot or walking in high-heeled shoes.

 Sixty-eight healthy young adult runners (37 women), who run in typical, currently available running shoes, were selected from the general population.

 None had any history of musculoskeletal injury and each ran at least 15 miles per week.

 All runners were provided with a running shoe, selected for its neutral classification and design characteristics typical of most running footwear.

 They observed each subject running barefoot and with shoes using a treadmill and a motion analysis system.

 The researchers observed increased joint torques at the hip, knee and ankle with running shoes compared with running barefoot.

 Disproportionately large increases were observed in the hip internal rotation torque and in the knee flexion and knee versus torques.

 An average 54 pct increase in the hip internal rotation torque, a 36 pct increase in knee flexion torque, and a 38 pct increase in knee varus torque were measured when running in running shoes compared with barefoot.

 The findings confirmed that while the typical construction of modern-day running shoes provides good support and protection of the foot itself, one negative effect is the increased stress on each of the 3 lower extremity joints.

 These increases are likely caused in large part by an elevated heel and increased material under the medial arch, both characteristic of today””s running shoes.

 “Remarkably, the effect of running shoes on knee joint torques during running (36pc-38pc increase) that the authors observed here is even greater than the effect that was reported earlier of high-heeled shoes during walking (20pc-26pc increase). Considering that lower extremity joint loading is of a significantly greater magnitude during running than is experienced during walking, the current findings indeed represent substantial biomechanical changes,” said lead author D. Casey Kerrigan, JKM Technologies LLC, Charlottesville, VA, and co-investigators.

 Kerrigan concluded: “Reducing joint torques with footwear completely to that of barefoot running, while providing meaningful footwear functions, especially compliance, should be the goal of new footwear designs.”

 The study has been published in the latest issue of PM&R: The journal of injury, function and rehabilitation. (ANI)

Eat pistachio to lower blood sugar

Munching a handful of pistachio nuts not only makes for a great snack but also a healthy one because it lowers the blood sugar level by slowing down the absorption of carbohydrates in the body, a study said on Tuesday.

 “Pistachio, when eaten with high carbohydrate food items like white bread, may actually slow the absorption of carbohydrates in the body, resulting in a lower than expected blood sugar level,” said a statement on a study conducted by the University of Toronto.

 “Therefore, these nuts can help control diabetes in a country like India where 40 million people suffer from the disease. This figure is likely to go up to 80 million by 2025,” the statement added.

 Cyril Kendall, lead researcher of the study, said: “Controlling blood glucose level is important for preventing and controlling diabetes. Our preliminary findings demonstrate that suppressing the glycemic (blood sugar) response of high carbohydrate foods may be part of the mechanism by which pistachio contributes to the prevention and control of diabetes.”

 The study further found that pistachio helps control the appetite by controlling hunger stimulating hormones – thus improving long-term blood sugar control.

 According to an India-US study, there are about 2.98 million people suffering from diabetes in Delhi alone.

 Health expert R.R. Kasliwal said: “In the past five decades, the rate of coronary disease among urban population has more than doubled from four to 11 percent. The situation is of concern in India where more and more young people are getting affected by heart diseases.”

 “The mono-unsaturated fat in pistachio has been scientifically proven to help lower the bad cholesterol (LDL) and increase the good cholesterol (HDL) which protects the heart,” he added.

Six types of learners in neotech age

Are you intimidated by new gadgets and technologies at your work place or do you take it in stride and learn the skill of handling them with dexterity? The answer will tell which of the six different types of human reactions to new scientific innovations you have.

 A study led by Deborah Compeau of Management Information Systems at the Richard Ivey School of Business in Canadian University of Western Ontario focussed on how people in different organisations embrace and use technology.

 The Canadian researchers found that people fall into six categories depending on their attitude towards technologies and learning capabilities.

 Leading the list are ‘Purposive planners’. These are people who plan in advance with careful attention to detail while learning about new operations.

 Next follow ‘Explorers’ who learn on their own by delving into new areas.

 Close on the heels are ‘Visionaries’, who think about what way a new technology can help them and their organisations.

 They are followed by ‘Problem solvers’ who possess a task-oriented mindset and learn about a technology merely to master workplace tasks.

 Then there are ‘Reluctant learners’ – who don’t see the value of technology and learn only what they need to survive at work.

 Rounding off the list are ‘Pinballs’ – who pick up a variety of knowledge often through incidental learning.

 According to the research, hitting the wrong computer key may be all it takes for some people to learn new technology skills, while others need intensive training.

 Compeau has co-authored the study with Barb Marcolin, a Ph.D graduate at the Ivy School and Alain Ross, assistant professor of E-Commerce at Athabasca University in Alberta.