Monday, May 19th, 2014
Women who smoke during pregnancy may be putting their babies at greater risk of ADHD and other disorders in which impulse control is compromised. A new study may have identified the specific brain changes that are behind this risk. More from Reuters:
People whose mothers smoked during pregnancy had weaker responses in the regions of their brains known to be involved in inhibition control, compared to those whose mothers didn’t smoke, researchers found.
Inhibition control relates to how people keep their impulses in check and resist distractions in certain situations.
“What’s quite surprising is to find such a reliable effect of prenatal smoke exposure that occurred 25 years before,” Nathalie Holz said.
Holz is the study’s lead author from Mannheim/Heidelberg University in Germany.
She and her colleagues write in JAMA Psychiatry that about 22 percent of European women smoke and about half of them continue to smoke during pregnancy.
Smoking while pregnant has been tied to attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder, or ADHD, among kids. Children with the condition usually have trouble concentrating and controlling their impulses.
“Now we were interested in what the specific mechanisms are behind this association,” Holz said.
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Image: Pregnant woman smoking, via Shutterstock
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Friday, May 9th, 2014
A new study presented to the Pediatric Academic Societies (PAS) this week reports that 18 percent of Ivy League college students admit to misusing stimulant drugs like Adderall (an ADHD medication) at least once to help them power through a rigorous homework or test-preparation situation. The study further found that a third of those students who used the drugs said they didn’t consider their actions tantamount to “cheating.” More from Boston.com:
Researchers at Cohen Children’s Medical Center of New York surveyed 616 sophomores, juniors and seniors who were not known to have ADHD who attended an undisclosed Ivy League school. Sixty-nine percent of those surveyed said they took the medication to write an essay, 66 percent said they took it to study for a test, while 27 percent took the drugs before an exam, the study found.
Twenty-four percent of students at the college reported use of these drugs at least eight times, the study found. Those who were involved in extracurricular activities, sports, or are part of a fraternity or sorority were more likely to use stimulants.
“While many colleges address alcohol and illicit drug abuse in their health and wellness campaigns, most have not addressed prescription stimulant misuse for academic purposes,” Dr. Andrew Adesman, chief of developmental and behavioral pediatrics at Cohen Children’s Medical Center of New York and lead author of the study said in a statement. “Because many students are misusing prescription stimulants for academic, not recreational purposes, colleges must develop specific programs to address this issue.”
An estimated 40 percent believed using the drugs to enhance their academic performance is unethical, while 33 percent of the students did not see a problem with it. A quarter of the students surveyed were undecided.
The study did not assess whether the students found the practice to be dangerous to their health. Common side effects of misusing stimulant drugs include headaches, dizziness, chest pains and panic attacks. A report released August 2013 by the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration found emergency room visits for nonmedical use of stimulants among 18 to 34-year-olds tripled between 2005 and 2011.
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Thursday, February 27th, 2014
Mental illnesses, including schizophrenia, autism, and attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), may be more common in children born to fathers who are “middle aged,” or age 45 and older, according to new research conducted in Sweden. The New York Times has more:
In recent years, scientists have debated based on mixed evidence whether a father’s age is linked to his child’s vulnerability to individual disorders like autism and schizophrenia. Some studies have found strong associations, while others have found weak associations or none at all.
The new report, which looked at many mental disorders in Sweden, should inflame the debate, if not settle it, experts said. Men have a biological clock of sorts because of random mutations in sperm over time, the report suggests, and the risks associated with later fatherhood may be higher than previously thought. The findings were published on Wednesday in the journal JAMA Psychiatry.
“This is the best paper I’ve seen on this topic, and it suggests several lines of inquiry into mental illness,” said Dr. Patrick F. Sullivan, a professor of genetics at the University of North Carolina, who was not involved in the research. “But the last thing people should do is read this and say, ‘Oh no, I had a kid at 43, the kid’s doomed.’ The vast majority of kids born to older dads will be just fine.”
Dr. Kenneth S. Kendler, a professor of psychiatry and human molecular genetics at Virginia Commonwealth University, also urged caution in interpreting the results. “This is great work from a scientific perspective,” he said. “But it needs to be replicated, and biomedical science needs to get in gear and figure out what accounts for” the mixed findings of previous studies.
The strengths of the new report are size and rigor. The research team, led by Brian M. D’Onofrio of Indiana University, analyzed medical and public records of some 2.6 million people born in Sweden from 1973 to 2001. Like many European countries, Sweden has centralized medical care and keeps detailed records, so the scientists knew the father’s age for each birth and were able to track each child’s medical history over time, as well as that of siblings and other relatives. Among other things, the analysis compared the mental health of siblings born to the same father and found a clear pattern of increased risk with increasing paternal age.
Compared with the children of young fathers, aged 20 to 24, those born to men age 45 and older had about twice the risk of developing psychosis, the signature symptom of schizophrenia; more than three times the likelihood of receiving a diagnosis of autism; and about 13 times the chance of having a diagnosis of attention deficit disorder. Children born to older fathers also tended to struggle more with academics and substance abuse.
The researchers controlled for every factor they could think of, including parents’ education and income. Older couples tend to be more stable and have more income — both protective factors that help to temper mental problems — and this was the case in the study. But much of the risk associated with paternal age remained.
“We spent months trying to make the findings go away, looking at the mother’s age, at psychiatric history, doing sub-analyses,” Dr. D’Onofrio said. “They wouldn’t go away.”
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Image: Older dad, via Shutterstock
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Wednesday, February 26th, 2014
Women who take the over-the-counter medication aceitaminophen during pregnancy may have babies with a greater risk of being diagnosed with attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) later in childhood, a new study has found. More from The Huffington Post:
The findings, published in JAMA Pediatrics on Monday, are preliminary and do not establish cause and effect. However, they do intensify questions about the risks and benefits of taking the medication while pregnant.
Aspirin and ibuprofen — nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs, or NSAIDs — are generally not recommended as pain relievers for pregnant women, particularly during the last three months. Acetaminophen-based medications such as Tylenol, however, have generally been thought to be safe, and estimates suggest that more than 50 percent of women in the United States take acetaminophen at some point while pregnant.
“It is important we follow up [on] the potential health risks that acetaminophen may cause,” Zeyan Liew, a Ph.D. candidate with the UCLA Fielding School of Public Health and an author on the study, told The Huffington Post. “ADHD incidence has been noticed to be increased in the last decades, and we are interested in searching for avoidable environmental factors that may contribute to the trend.”
Liew and his co-authors looked at data on more than 64,000 women and their children taken from the Danish National Birth Cohort. They found that children whose mothers took acetaminophen while pregnant had a 13 percent to 37 percent greater risk of later being diagnosed with hyperkinetic disorder (which is similar to ADHD, but uses different diagnostic criteria), taking medications for ADHD, or displaying ADHD-like behaviors at age 7.
That link was stronger among women who took acetaminophen in multiple trimesters or who used it more frequently. For example, the risk of behavioral issues was elevated by 50 percent or more in children whose mothers took the pain reliever for more than 20 weeks while pregnant.
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Wednesday, February 19th, 2014
American children are exposed to at least double the levels of chemicals that are known to affect the brain in ways that are linked with disorders including autism, ADHD, and dyslexia–all disorders that have been on the rise in recent years. Time.com reports on new research that has found radical changes in chemical exposure since 2006:
In 2006, scientists from the Harvard School of Public Health and the Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai identified five industrial chemicals responsible for causing harm to the brain — lead, methylmercury, polychlorinated biphenyls (found in electric transformers, motors and capacitors), arsenic (found in soil and water as well as in wood preservatives and pesticides) and toluene (used in processing gasoline as well as in paint thinner, fingernail polish and leather tanning). Exposure to these neurotoxins was associated with changes in neuron development in the fetus as well as among infants, and with lower school performance, delinquent behavior, neurological abnormalities and reduced IQ in school-age children.
Now the same researchers have reviewed the literature and found six additional industrial chemicals that can hamper normal brain development. These are manganese, fluoride, chlorpyrifos, dichlorodiphenyltrichloroethane, tetrachloroethylene and polybrominated diphenyl ethers. Manganese, they say, is found in drinking water and can contribute to lower math scores and heightened hyperactivity, while exposure to high levels of fluoride from drinking water can contribute to a seven-point drop in IQ on average. The remaining chemicals, which are found in solvents and pesticides, have been linked to deficits in social development and increased aggressive behaviors.
The research team acknowledges that there isn’t a causal connection between exposure to any single chemical and behavioral or neurological problems — it’s too challenging to isolate the effects of each chemical to come to such conclusions. But they say the growing body of research that is finding links between higher levels of these chemicals in expectant mothers’ blood and urine and brain disorders in their children should raise alarms about how damaging these chemicals can be. The developing brain in particular, they say, is vulnerable to the effects of these chemicals, and in many cases, the changes they trigger are permanent.
“The consequence of such brain damage is impaired [central nervous system] function that lasts a lifetime and might result in reduced intelligence, as expressed in terms of lost IQ points, or disruption in behavior,” they write in their report, which was published in the journal Lancet Neurology.
They point to two barriers to protecting children from such exposures — not enough testing of industrial chemicals and their potential effect on brain development before they are put into widespread use, and the enormous amount of proof that regulatory agencies require in order to put restrictions or limitations on chemicals.
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ADHD, Autism, brain chemistry, chemicals, dyslexia, fluoride, pesticides, toxic chemicals | Categories:
Child Health, Must Read, New Research, Trends