Genetic Mutation May Lead to Violent and Reckless Behavior

Photo Courtesy - Getty Images(NEW YORK) -- In a discovery that could help scientists further understand impulsivity in humans, researchers have announced they found a genetic variant that may contribute to spontaneous violent behavior.

In a new study released in the journal Nature, a multinational research team examined the genes of 96 violent criminal offenders in Finland with behavioral disorders and compared it with DNA from a control group of 96 people in the country who had no such psychiatric diagnoses.

Scientists found that the criminal offenders were three times more likely to have a genetic mutation, known as the HTR2B Q20* mutation, than the control group.

The offenders had been diagnosed with antisocial personality disorder, borderline personality disorder or intermittent explosive disorder -- all conditions with symptoms of impulsive aggression.

The mutation was found to affect the brain's levels of serotonin, a neurotransmitter that affects mood, appetite, sleep and impulsive behavior.

"Impulsivity is a normal dimension of behavior, but it also plays a role in many psychiatric disorders, including alcoholism and suicidalism," said Dr. David Goldman, chief of the Laboratory of Neurogenetics at the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism, in Bethesda, Md., and senior author of the study. "These disorders are often difficult to disentangle at the causal level, but by studying traits, we can find genes that contribute to important aspects of them."

Researchers specifically conducted the study in Finland because of its unique population and medical genetics. Goldman said modern Finns descend from a relatively small number of original settlers, which increased the chance of finding specific genes that influence impulsive behavior.

"Finns have the same degree of genetic diversity as people from other cultures, but their genetic disease diversity is reduced," said Goldman. "Genetic heterogeneity tends to be reduced in Finland because of its unique population, which was founded by two major waves of migration." 

Copyright 2010 ABC News Radio


Lousy Mood? It Will Improve in a Couple of Decades

Photo Courtesy - Getty Images(BERKELEY, Calif.) -- Tired of hearing your brain is going to be mush by the time you're old and grey? Well, here's some good news. Your emotions, or how you deal with them, will get better. At least some of them.

Researchers at the University of California, Berkeley, have completed a series of studies showing that as we age, we become better at seeing the good things in life and managing our emotions to make the best of a bad scene.

But seniors tend to become sadder and more empathetic and compassionate, possibly because they have faced so many personal and irreversible losses.

"Lots of things about our lives develop early on, and then they decline with age, like our physical agility and our ability to think quickly," psychologist Robert Levenson, senior author of the studies, said in a telephone interview. "But we don't get bad at emotions. We actually start to develop refinements as we get older. Some emotions kind of stay the same, they were designed for the long run, but there are other things that we actually get better at."

The Berkeley work is in line with a hot button issue in the often fuzzy field of psychology and human behavior. It's called emotional intelligence, frequently defined as "the ability to perceive, regulate and communicate emotions -- to understand emotions in ourselves and others."

The Berkeley team produced several studies this year zeroing in on how our emotional intelligence evolves as we age. In two large studies, the psychologists tested 366 people in three age groups, from the 20s to the 40s and 60s. They were tested for how they responded emotionally to three film clips showing neutral, sad and disgusting scenes.

The scientists wanted to determine how good their subjects were at detaching themselves from the emotional nature of the clips, or whether they could see something good even in sad scenes, as well as suppress their disgust at a woman eating part of a horse not normally consumed in the human diet.

Copyright 2010 ABC News Radio


Patients Report Largest Hospital Drug Shortage in Decades

Photo Courtesy - Getty Images(ALEXANDRIA, Va.) -- Many hospital patients are being turned away for potentially life-saving injection treatments in what may be the largest U.S. hospital drug shortage in over two decades.

Most drugs in short supply are known as injectables and include sedation medication such as propofol, the popular blood thinner heparin, and hard-hitting chemotherapy drugs like doxorubicin.

"I've been in practice more than 30 years and this is the first time I've encountered shortages that may affect patient care," said Dr. Michael Link, president of the American Society of Clinical Oncology.

Limited manufacturing, lagging production time, and lack of profits from these drugs are contributing to the shortage, according to an August 2010 editorial published in the New England Journal of Medicine.  The production cost outweighs the profits for some companies.  Since many firms would rather produce cheaper generic drugs, manufacturers are shunning some costly brands.

Doctors at local hospitals are frustrated and many times they're not even informed of the shortage, according to survey results released in September by the Institute for Safe Medication Practices.  Of those surveyed, 85 percent said they were given little to no information on how long the shortages would last.

And since these medications are mainly housed in hospitals, most patients won't know it might not be available until they really need it.

Copyright 2010 ABC News Radio


Rate of Teenage Births at 70-Year Low

Photo Courtesy - Getty Images(WASHINGTON) -- Teenage girls in the U.S. gave birth to babies in 2009 at the lowest rate seen in seven decades.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reported Tuesday that there were 39.1 births per 1,000 females ages 15 to 19 last year.  That figure represents a six percent drop from 2008.

CDC statistician Brady Hamilton, who co-authored the report, said the decline puts teen births at a record low.  One physician not affiliated with the study said that's due to a drop in vaginal intercourse and increased use of effective contraception.

In other developments, the number of overall births fell to around 4,130,000 in 2009, compared to 4,248,000 the year before.  Hamilton says possible factors for that drop include both the weak economy and women postponing having babies until their 30s or 40s.

Copyright 2010 ABC News Radio


Can the Government Stop Massive Insurance Rate Hikes?

Photo Courtesy - Getty Images(WASHINGTON) -- Health insurance companies that want to increase the cost of their premiums by 10 percent or higher will now have to justify those proposed rate hikes, the Obama Administration announced Tuesday.

Rate increases became a sore political point since earlier this year, when the White House seized on an astounding 39 percent hike by Anthem Blue Cross of California to justify the health care bill.

A review by the Congressional Budget Office earlier this year revealed  the health care reform bill signed into law by President Obama does not contain any caps for rising insurance costs, and as such won't prevent premiums from doubling in the next six years.

Premium increases have been most prominent in the individual and small business market, Health and Human Services Secretary (HHS) Kathleen Sebelius said Tuesday, and the new rules will create more transparency for consumers.

Premium costs for people with private insurance have risen sharply in recent years, with double-digit rate increases each of the first three years of the new millennium, according to the non-partisan Kaiser Family Foundation.

States that already have effective rate review systems will conduct their own reviews. But for states without that capability, HHS will step in -- a move that is likely to spur more anger from states that are already claiming that the health care law impinges on their constitutional rights.

The Obama administration plans to disburse $250 million to states to help them develop and improve their rate oversight processes. As part of that effort, HHS gave $46 million to 45 states and the District of Columbia in August.

Currently, only 26 states and Washington, D.C., require insurers to submit their rate increases and have legal authority to reject premium increases they consider "unreasonable." Reviewing methods vary widely from state to state.

Under the new guidelines, state insurance commissioners will be responsible for reviewing rates, collecting data, conducting analysis and setting a standard. By 2014, states would be required to set a more specific threshold based on their individual analysis, rather than using the 10 percent threshold rule.

Sebelius said the notion that this is a federal overreach is absolutely wrong.

Insurance companies panned Tuesday's announcement, charging that it doesn't take into account the high costs that they have to incur given the market changes.

"The public policy discussion on health care costs has focused on health insurance premiums, while ignoring the root causes that are driving up the cost of coverage, including soaring medical prices, new benefit mandates and changes to health plans' risk pools," Karen Ignagni, president and chief executive of America's Health Insurance Plans (AHIP) said in a statement Tuesday.

Copyright 2010 ABC News Radio 


New Report Raises Concern Over 'Erin Brockovich' Chemical in Drinking Water

Photo Courtesy -- Getty Images(WASHINGTON) -- Hexavalent chromium, the chemical made famous by the 2000 film "Erin Brockovich," is once again in the news after an environmental organization released a report indicating that the chemical has contaminated drinking water in more than 30 cities nationwide.

The Environmental Working Group tested tap water in 35 cities and found hexavalent chromium, or chromium-6, in 31 of the cities.

Scientists for the group say previous research found the chemical can cause cancer, and that its presence in drinking water is much more widespread than originally believed.

Regulations set by the Environmental Protection Agency set a total chromium limit of 100 ppb, or parts per billion, for drinking water. However, there is no set limit for chromium-6, and water utility companies are not required to test for it. California is the only state that mandates testing, and that state's legal limit for chromium-6 in drinking water is .06 ppb. Researchers found that 25 of the 31 cities with chromium-6 contaminated water had levels higher than that amount.

Norman, Okla., the city with the highest concentration of chromium-6, measured about 200 times that level, with a concentration of about 12 ppb.

But some scientists say that's an extremely small amount. One part per billion is equivalent to about a drop in 250 gallon drums of water, or three seconds in a century.

Toxicology experts say inhaling chromium-6 can cause cancer, but there isn't much data on the dangers of drinking it.

"The evidence is fairly good that it's carcinogenic in people in occupational settings who inhale it and get a good dose," said Dr. Shan Yin, assistant medical director of the Cincinnati Drug and Poison Information Center.

Most unintentional chromium exposure comes from industrial processes, such as leather tanning and metal plating.

Copyright 2010 ABC News Radio


Ho Ho Horrible: Is Your Child Scared of Santa? 

Photo Courtesy -- Getty Images(CLEVELAND, Ohio) -- At age 2, Christopher Texler couldn't wait to meet Santa. He watched patiently as, one by one, his daycare mates were hoisted onto Santa's knee. But when it came his turn, Christopher was petrified.
"The look on his face was one of desperate terror," recalled Christopher's mom, Kirsten Texler, who has the photo to prove it. "He just lost it!"

Christopher's reaction is surprisingly common. Margaret Richards, PhD, a child psychologist at Cleveland Clinic Children's Hospital, says it's normal for young children to be wary of strangers – especially ones so strangely dressed.

"We really work with kids on not talking to strangers and being cautious about those kinds of things, and that all goes out the window at Christmas time," Richards says.

Coulrophobia, the fear of clowns, is perhaps more widely accepted than the fear of Santa. But the figures share similar disconcerting features, including their large stature, abnormal dress and covered faces.

The key to overcoming Santa-induced stress, Richards said, is talking about what to expect. But if, like Christopher, a child wants to be nowhere near Santa, there are other ways to get in touch.

"They can write letter or draw a picture," Richards said. "Parents should make sure their children know Santa will still get the message."

Copyright 2010 ABC News Radio


Tan Skin is In, But Many Don't Know the Risks

Photo Courtesy - Getty Images(MINNEAPOLIS) -- Researchers at the University of Minnesota found that women are three times as likely to use indoor tanning facilities as men, and almost one third of 18- to 24-year-old women went to a tanning booth in the last 12 months. The use of indoor tanning went down as the women's age went up.

And when researchers asked study participants to list ways to avoid skin cancer, only about 13 percent of women and four percent of men suggested that people should avoid tanning booths.

"Tanning beds actually cause cancer," said Kelvin Choi, PhD, a research associate at the University of Minnesota School of Public Health and lead author of the study. "I was surprised to see such a knowledge gap there."

Scientists analyzed data from more than 2,800 Caucasian study participants ages 18-64 who answered questions related to lifestyle, demographics and indoor tanning use. About a third of those participants also answered questions regarding skin cancer prevention.

The research showed that women who used indoor tanning booths were more likely to be from the Midwest and the South. They were also more likely to use spray tan products. And, as age increased, indoor tanning use decreased.

Skin cancer is the most common type of cancer in Americans. About one in five Americans will develop skin cancer at some point in their lives.

In 2007, the United States Department of Health and Human Services and the International Agency of Research on Cancer declared sources of radiation from artificial lights, like tanning beds, as carcinogenics, or cancer-causing substances.

Copyright 2010 ABC News Radio


Holiday Stress: Bad for Holidays and Health

Photo Courtesy - Getty Images(NEW YORK) -- The winter holidays are full of festive decorations, gatherings with loved ones and plenty of home-cooked food and drinks.

They are also filled with stress, and experts say that stress can be counterproductive and harmful to one's health, even if it is just for a few weeks.

"When we're stressed, our adrenal glands release hormones, especially adrenaline and cortisol,as part of the normal 'fight-or-flight' response," said Dr. Philip Ragno, president of Island Cardiac Specialists in Garden City, N.Y. and director of cardiovascular health and wellness at Winthrop University Hospital in Mineola, N.Y. "With an increase in adrenaline, our heart rate and blood pressure go up in order to deliver more blood to our muscles and the release of cortisol heightens our immune system and increases our blood glucose levels."

These are all a healthy part of the body's response to stress, but over time, chronic stress can really take a toll on the heart.

"Constant stress can cause cortisol to become chronically elevated, with levels up to 10 times higher than our normal baseline. Persistent elevation of cortisol levels can lead to increased levels of bad cholesterol, decreased levels of good cholestero, and elevated blood sugar levels. These changes result in the development of excess abdominal fat and diabetes, as well as reducing our immune response," said Ragno.

The triggers are the same every year: too much shopping and preparation to do, end-of-year job responsibilties, crowds, and family gatherings are among them.

In order to ease their holiday stress, experts advise people to really make time to relax, take a few deep breaths, and put things into perspective.

"Just stopping and reflecting for a few minutes will help to lower adrenaline and cortisol levels," said Ragno.

"Take a few minutes when you can to relax and appreciate what the holidays are about," said Rego. "Watch the joy in children's faces, watch an old movie or listen to a holiday song."

"The world's not going to end if something doesn't get done," said Williams.

People should also eat well and make time to exercise, since overindulging and putting off workouts until it's time for New Year's resolutions are common.

To prevent an unwanted meltdown, experts say there are some signs to watch out for that you may be about to have one.

"If you're not able to sleep, if you find yourself waking up at 4 a.m. because you can't sleep, if you find yourself drinking too much and behaving in ways that really aren't like you, you should really take a step back and say that things are getting out of hand," said Williams.

Copyright 2010 ABC News Radio


Connie Culp, Recipient of First US Face Transplant, Meets Donor Family

Photo Courtesy - Getty Images(NEW YORK) -- Since Connie Culp had her face torn off by a shotgun blast in 2004, she's measured her recovery with countless milestones. This weekend, Culp reached another, finally meeting the family of the donor who gave her a new face.

Culp, a 47-year-old mother and grandmother, underwent the first full face transplant surgery in the U.S. in Dec. 2008 at the Cleveland Clinic. Before the surgery, Culp couldn't walk down the street without drawing stares, but the transplant has given her a new chance at life.

"I don't have little kids coming up saying, 'Eww, there's a monster,'" Culp said. "They think I'm amazing. I'm just normal, but we need more people like the donors to help people."

Until now, though, Culp knew little about the woman who provided her face. Doctors would tell her only the donor's age and nothing about the surviving family.

"They've never contacted me," Culp told ABC News this past August.

But two years after losing their beloved wife and mother, the family of donor Anna Kasper was finally ready to step forward. The Kasper family decided to break their silence and share their story, hoping to raise awareness for organ donation.

Two weeks before Christmas in 2008, Anna suffered a fatal heart attack.

Two years after the trauma of losing their loved one, the Kasper family decided that they wanted to meet Connie Culp, having seen her remarkable spirit in Culp's previous interviews.

After waiting and wondering for so long, they finally met this weekend with tears and hugs.

Copyright 2010 ABC News Radio

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