Researchers Discover Biological Pathway Linked to PTSD

Photo Courtesy - ABC News(ATLANTA) -- Although most people exposed to the horrors of war, trauma or abuse recover emotionally, up to 20 percent develop post-traumatic stress disorder -- a debilitating psychiatric disorder marked by flashbacks and nightmares.

The biological basis for PTSD remains unclear. But a new study offers clues about why some people rebound from horrific events while others relive them, and may lead to predictive tests and even treatments.

To tease out factors that contribute to PTSD risk and resilience, researchers led by Dr. Kerry Ressler, associate professor at Emory University in Atlanta, studied a group of 64 highly traumatized civilians (not veterans) treated at Atlanta's Grady Memorial Hospital, some of whom developed PTSD.

"In a lot of very impoverished, high-violence neighborhoods, we see high rates of trauma, and rates of PTSD can be as high as in veterans," Ressler said.

Based on previous evidence that the hormone-like molecule known as PACAP was important in the brain's response to stress, the researchers measured PACAP levels in the blood of their subjects. To their surprise, PACAP levels were higher in people with PTSD, and correlated with the severity of symptoms. But the boost was only significant in women.

"When we started we didn't have any expectation that there was going to have a gender specificity to it," Kessler said. "We were just looking and found a smaller effect, and then we split it by gender and found that the whole effect was in females."

The team repeated the experiment in a group of 74 traumatized women. Again, PACAP levels correlated with PTSD symptoms -- especially those considered essential for a diagnosis of PTSD: intrusive flashbacks, avoidance of trauma reminders and increased startle response.

"These data may begin to explain sex-specific differences in PTSD diagnosis, symptoms and fear physiology," Ressler and his colleagues wrote in their report, published Wednesday in Nature.

Women are known to have a higher risk of a range of anxiety disorders. But the finding of elevated PACAP in women with PTSD did more than offer a biological explanation for the gender difference; it pointed to a novel biological pathway underlying the brain's response to fear.

Copyright 2011 ABC News Radio


Flexisexual: Girls Who Kiss Girls, But Like Boys

Photo Courtesy - Getty Images(NEW YORK) -- Ever since Madonna planted that wet kiss on Britney Spears in front of millions of television viewers at the 2003 MTV Video Music Awards, women have been loosening up sexually with other women.

These so-called flexisexuals say that although they are not gay or even bisexual, they enjoy flirting and kissing girls -- but they still enjoy having sex with men.

Experts say they may be influenced by the growing visibility of same-sex couples and more open attitudes about sex in general.

Pop culture, itself, seems to celebrate that flexibility in songs like Katy Perry's, "I Kissed a Girl," a song that 19-year-old Alisha Garrison said "made girls be more free to do whatever they want."

"It's not really experimenting, but maybe trying to get some attention," said Garrison, an urban planning student from Simi Valley, Calif.

Perry admits in her lyrics, "I got so brave, drink in hand, I lost my discretion."

Flexisexual is also known as heteroflexible, pansexual or queer, all subtle variations that mean they are not closing any doors.

Women say it has has more to do with their view of the world than their practice in the bedroom.

"When I was younger, girls bounced around in high school about sexuality," said Jamilla Wright, a public relations major at the University of Texas. "I think the older we get the more comfortable we are with it being based more on the individual than either-or as far as sexuality is concerned."

"Labels matter less," said the 21-year-old.

Hollywood has its own examples: Lindsay Lohan, 24, who dated Samantha Ronson, denied she was a lesbian and "maybe" bisexual. She has since returned to men.

Angelina Jolie, 35 and now happily ensconced with Brad Pitt, had a sexual relationship with Jenny Shimizu. And Drew Barrymore, 35, has reportedly said, "Being with a woman is like exploring your own body, but through someone else." is a website where women can find "sexy, open-minded women looking to explore their sexuality, chat, hook up with and more."

"This is where straight women who feel curious about bisexual passion or romance start out," it says. "The common interest makes it easy for like-minded individuals to connect with each other and find someone compatible, compared to leaving it up to chance."

For many of today's women in their late teens and 20s, openness to intimate physical relationships with either gender has become a way of life, rather than an "experiment."

This relatively new phenomenon is likely a product of a generation unconcerned with labels. Often, it begins in the enlightened college cocoon, where women can explore their sexuality, though a recent ABC report from San Antonio, Texas, said flexisexuality is also part of the high school culture.

Experts say more sexual experimentation occurs when people have not yet found a partner, before they settle into monogamous relationships. College is also a safe cocoon for self-discovery.

Copyright 2011 ABC News Radio


Study: Caffeine Gives Boys a Stronger Rush Than Girls

Photo Courtesy - Getty Images(BUFFALO, N.Y.) -- Boys are stimulated more by caffeine than girls, according to new research, and both genders have a preference for junk food after being primed with caffeine, leaving scientists with tantalizing questions that they can't yet answer.

Does early exposure to caffeine predispose a person toward drug abuse?  Is caffeine a contributor to the current obesity epidemic?

Scientists at the University at Buffalo are exploring an area that has not been studied much, probably because caffeine is the most widely used drug in the world, and it is thought to be largely benign.  Various studies show that, but those studies involved adults, not children.

And it turns out that lots of kids consume prodigious amounts of caffeine, mostly in sodas, but even very young children are drinking coffee.

That began worrying neurobiologist Jennifer Temple six years ago when she switched from animal research to human studies.

There's a fair amount more now because of a four-year research project by Temple and her colleagues at Buffalo.  The research is supported by the National Institute of Drug Abuse.

The latest study to come out of that work was published in December's issue of Experimental and Clinical Psychopharmacolgy.  In that carefully controlled study, boys experienced a greater rush and more energy from caffeine than girls.

Boys, but not girls, also thought the caffeine gave them a boost on the athletic field.  Diastolic blood pressure increased in boys, but not girls, and pulse dropped to offset the rising blood pressure.  This is believed to be the first time a gender difference in caffeine reaction has been documented among adolescents.

The Buffalo research reinforces other studies showing that children who drink sodas tend to have poor diets, and Temple said the correlation between caffeine and a preference for junk food is convincing.

In the latest study, 26 boys and 26 girls, age 12-17, took part in a series of experiments designed to measure the effect of various levels of caffeine.  The participants received a different dosage of caffeine each time, ranging from high to none, the latter serving as a placebo.

The bottom line: the more caffeine they consumed, the more calories they ate, including junk food.  Of course, the sodas also had lots of sugar, so was it the caffeine or the sugar hit that caused them to turn to sweet foods?

Temple says she's confident it was the caffeine.

Copyright 2011 ABC News Radio


Study: Allergy Season Getting Longer Each Year

Photo Courtesy - Getty Images(WASHINGTON) -- Allergy season is looming, and for the millions of Americans who suffer from the seasonal sneezing and watery eyes, this year may seem worse than years past.

According to a new study published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, spring keeps arriving a little earlier each year as warming temperatures force winter to start later and end earlier.  This climate change, in turn, is allowing more time for plants to produce pollen, causing those with allergies to battle their symptoms longer.

Researchers studied 15 years worth of data on climate and ragweed from various locations in the U.S. and Canada.  They found that the ragweed season had been extended by nearly a month in some areas.

Copyright 2011 ABC News Radio


Red Cross Makes Appeal for Blood Donations

Photo Courtesy - PRNewsFoto/American Red Cross(WASHINGTON) -- The need for blood in the United States is urgent. The Red Cross says January donations were at their lowest level in a decade.  A big reason for the shortage is the bad weather on the East Coast and Midwest. Since January, severe weather has cancelled about 750  blood drives.

The Red Cross says it's short more than 30,000 units and climbing. Amy Moody heard about the need and responded saying, "It makes me feel like I'm doing something. I mean what else can i do to save a life? I can't think of anything else i can do except give blood."

The effort to make up for blood lost due to bad weather even has a name: "Recovery 2011."

The Red Cross says only three in every 100 people are regular blood donors. In general, most Americans don't give enough blood to even cover their own need for blood. 

Copyright 2011 ABC News Radio


Third Federal Judge Upholds Health Care Law; Score Now 3-2

Photo Courtesy - Getty Images(WASHINGTON) -- In a victory for the Obama administration, a federal  judge Tuesday night has upheld the constitutionality of the administration's health care law.

U.S. District Court Judge Gladys Kessler, of the District of Columbia, wrote that Congress "was acting within the bounds of its Commerce Clause power" when it mandated that individuals buy health insurance by 2014 or pay a penalty.
The ruling brings the judicial scorecard to 3-2. Three federal judges -- all nominated by Democratic presidents -- have upheld the law, while two judges -- nominated by Republican presidents -- struck down its core provision.
In upholding the law, Kessler said that the decision to forgo health insurance by some individuals leads to substantially higher insurance premiums for other individuals who do obtain coverage.
"There is nothing extraordinary about Congress' use of its Commerce Clause power," she wrote, "to rein in the price of health insurance policies."
She rejected any claim that an individual's choice not to enter the health insurance marketplace was akin to "inactivity." The law's critics claim that while Congress can regulate economic activity, it cannot regulate "inactivity," such as an individual's choice not to buy health insurance. Kessler called the debate between activity and inactivity "pure semantics."

The case was brought by several plaintiffs who could afford health insurance but for reasons of religion, or a belief in holistic health care, chose not to participate in the marketplace.

In a statement Tuesday evening, the Department of Justice praised the ruling.

"This court found -- as two others have previously -- that the minimum coverage provision of the statute was a reasonable measure for Congress to take in reforming our health care system," spokeswoman Tracy Schmaler said.

Kessler noted in her ruling that it was "highly likely" that the Supreme Court of the United States would eventually be required to rule on the matter.

Copyright 2011 ABC News Radio 


Bloomberg Expands NYC Smoking Ban

Photo Courtesy of Getty Images(NEW YORK) -- Mayor Michael Bloomberg signed legislation Tuesday expanding New York City's smoking ban.

According to the new law, smoking will be outlawed in all of the city's parks, recreation centers, public pools, bench spaces and pedestrian plazas like Times Square.

Violators could face a $50 fine for breaking the law. However, Bloomberg said enforcement of the law will be more the responsibility of citizens than police officers.

"Smoking in parks and beaches not only harms people trying to enjoy these recreational facilities, it also causes a litter problem that harms the beauty of our parks," said Mayor Bloomberg at a Public Hearing on Local Laws. "Cigarette litter is difficult and expensive to clean up and is a hazard to children, pets, and the environment.  Cigarette-related litter accounts for 75 percent of all litter on beaches and 33 percent of all litter in parks."

The law goes into effect in 90 days.

Copyright 2011 ABC News Radio


New Study: Drinking Improves Heart Health

Photo Courtesy - Getty Images(NEW YORK) -- One to two drinks per day may reduce risk of heart disease, according to a new report published in the British Medical Journal.

Led by Dr. William Ghali from the University of Calgary, the study shows that individuals who drink in moderation -- about one drink per day -- are 14 to 25 percent less likely to develop heart disease than those who don't drink at all.

The research also found that the health benefits from alcohol is a result of the amount consumed, not the type (beer, wine, etc).

Professor Ghali concludes that “with respect to public health messages there may now be an impetus to better communicate to the public that alcohol, in moderation, may have overall health benefits that outweigh the risks in selected subsets of patients…any such strategy would need to be accompanied by rigorous study and oversight of impacts."

Copyright 2011 ABC News Radio


High Court Backs Vaccine Makers

Photo Courtesy of Getty Images(WASHINGTON) -- In a 6-2 decision, the Supreme Court ruled Tuesday that U.S. law shields vaccine makers from product liability lawsuits.

In the case in focus, the court ruled against parents who sued the drug maker Wyeth for health issues they alleged their daughter suffered as a result of the company's vaccine.

Justices Ruth Bader Ginsburg and Sonia Sotomayor dissented.

The ruling is viewed as a large victory for vaccine makers who have been accused of creating autism-causing vaccines by many parents with autistic children.

Copyright 2011 ABC News Radio


FDA Warns Pregnant Women about Antipsychotic Drugs

Photo Courtesy - Getty Images(WASHINGTON) -- The FDA Tuesday ordered new warning labels for a host of antipsychotic drugs, worried after seeing 69 cases of newborns who experienced withdrawal symptoms because their mothers took the drugs while pregnant.
The new labels will feature the risk of abnormal muscle movements (called EPS) or withdrawal symptoms. The symptoms include agitation, increased or decreased muscle tone, tremor, sleepiness, severe breathing difficulty and difficulty in feeding.  FDA says in some cases the symptoms resolve within hours or days while other infants require longer hospital stays.
Drugs that will get the new warning include Haldol, Risperdal, Zyprexa, Seroquel, Abilify, Invega and Thorazine.
Copyright 2011 ABC News Radio

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