Saturday, September 08, 2012

Rare Autism Form May Improve With Diet Change, Study Says

Rare Autism Form May Improve With Diet Change, Study Says

By Ryan Flinn on September 06, 2012
A rare form of autism tied to seizures and mental retardation may be treatable with a simple diet change or supplement, according to a study that suggests similar approaches might work for other forms of the disorder.
Researchers identified gene mutations present in two families with the unusual autism and found the mutations caused lower levels of certain amino acids in their blood. In an experiment described today in the journal Science, mice bred with same gene mutations that were given a supplement of branched chain amino acids, or BCAAs, had fewer seizures and improved autism symptoms.
The next step is to see if the BCAA supplement does the same for patients with the uncommon autism, researchers said. While the autism found in the two families is extremely rare and may not affect other people, the discovery might help identify other forms of autism, said Gaia Novarino, an author of the study and scientist at the University of California, San Diego.
“This can be an example that there possibly are rare forms of autism that are treatable,” Novarino said in a telephone interview. “We don’t know how many there are out there. So that’s what we want to look at and find.”
About 1 in 88 children in the U.S. are diagnosed with an autism-related condition. The disorder hurts brain development and is linked to poor social interaction and communication skills, repeated body movements, and unusual attachments to objects. Twenty five percent of autistic children also have epilepsy, according to the study by researchers from Yale University and the University of California, San Diego.

Wide Spectrum

Because the disorder affects individuals in a wide spectrum of ways, researchers have begun comparing autism to cancer and investigating potential genetic and environmental causes. As with cancer, it is difficult to pinpoint how or why autism strikes some people.
The study focused on a gene, Branched Chain Ketoacid Dehydrogenase Kinase, that was found in a family of Turkish descent and in a second one of Egyptian ancestry, through sequencing their exomes, or the region of the genome that creates proteins. The defect causes lower levels of BCAAs in the blood than typically found, according to the study.
BCAAs are essential nutrients that the body can’t make. It is acquired through proteins in foods such as meat and dairy. The BCAAs leucine, isoleucine, and valine spur the building of protein in muscles, according to WebMD (WBMD), a provider of health information to consumers and doctors.
Supplements containing these amino acids are promoted for helping reduce muscle breakdown during exercise and increase mental concentration. They’ve also been used to treat patients with amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, or Lou Gehrig’s Disease.

Testing Theory

To further test their theory, the researchers took skin samples from the patients and converted them into neural stem cells. These cells acted normally in the presence of an environment rich in the depleted amino acids.
The particular genetic variant is related to another disorder called Maple Syrup Urine Disease, where the opposite occurs -- those affected have a toxic buildup of branched chain amino acids. Patients with this disorder have urine that smells like maple syrup and can develop mental retardation, according to the National Institutes of Health.
Novarino cautioned that the findings shouldn’t be applied to people without this very specific and rare form of the disorder.
“Not all autism patients will have to take amino acid supplementations, because it probably won’t work,” she said.
To contact the reporter on this story: Ryan Flinn in San Francisco at
To contact the editor responsible for this story: Reg Gale at

The mental health crisis on campus

The mental health crisis on campus

Canadian students feel hopeless, depressed, even suicidal
Stephanie Duchon at Kings College, (Sándor Fizli)
This week’s issue of Maclean’s took an in-depth look at the mental health crisis on university campuses. Read the story, check out our tips for dealing with stress and join the conversation on Twitter: #brokengeneration
In late August, as the first leaves changed from green to red and gold, university ghost towns were coming back to life. Residences were dusted out. Classrooms were readied. Textbooks were purchased—and new outfits, new computers, new posters to decorate dorm room walls. Amid this bustle, construction workers at Cornell University began installing steel mesh nets under seven bridges around campus. They overlook the scenic gorges for which Ithaca, N.Y., is known; in early 2010, they were the sites of three Cornell student suicides of a total of six that year. Students cross the bridges daily on their way to class.
Cornell’s bridge nets are the latest and most visible sign that the best and brightest are struggling. In an editorial in the Cornell Daily Sun following the 2010 suicides, president David J. Skorton acknowledged these deaths are just “the tip of the iceberg, indicative of a much larger spectrum of mental health challenges faced by many on our campus and on campuses everywhere.”
Last year, Ryerson University’s centre for student development and counselling in Toronto saw a 200 per cent increase in demand from students in crisis situations: “homeless, suicidal, really sick,” says Dr. Su-Ting Teo, director of student health and wellness. Colleagues at other schools noticed the same. “I’ve met with different key people. They’re saying last year was the worst they’ve ever seen,” says psychologist Gail Hutchinson, director of Western University’s student development centre in London. “The past few years, it’s been growing exponentially.” Fully a quarter of university-age Canadians will experience a mental health problem, most often stress, anxiety or depression.
One need only to look at the results of a 2011 survey of 1,600 University of Alberta students to know something is very wrong. About 51 per cent reported that, within the past 12 months, they’d “felt things were hopeless.” Over half felt “overwhelming anxiety.” A shocking seven per cent admitted they’d “seriously considered suicide,” and about one per cent had attempted it. These problems aren’t unique to U of A. “It’s across all of North America,” says Robin Everall, provost fellow for student mental health.
In March 2010, first-year Queen’s University student Jack Windeler died by suicide. “He did well in school, was active in sports, and we thought he was ultimately prepared to go to university,” his father, Eric Windeler, says. But Jack, who seems to have been suffering from depression, had begun withdrawing from friends. “It seemed to go amiss,” Windeler says, “and go amiss very fast.”
In the 14 months that followed, five more Queen’s students (all male) died suddenly, three by suicide. “It was a very difficult period,” says Queen’s principal Daniel Woolf. In the wake of these deaths, he established a commission on mental health to see what could be done. Its panel of five members—two administrators, the head of the school of nursing, one student, and chair Dr. David Walker, former health sciences dean—met once a week for eight months, and heard from students, parents and others.
The Queen’s commission was, in some ways, influenced by Cornell’s experience. That university has grappled with the label of “suicide school,” a reputation Tim Marchell, director of mental health initiatives, acknowledges, but insists is a misperception. Cornell’s student suicide rate resembles that of other universities and colleges across the U.S. What’s different is that at Cornell, nearly half of suicides occurred at the city’s public gorges. The fact is Cornell’s mental health initiatives have been a model to other schools. Cornell’s bridge nets are just a small, if highly visible, part of its overall mental health strategy—an effort aimed at restricting access in case of impulsive suicides, not unlike keeping firearms locked inside a cabinet.
At Queen’s, a final report from the commission is due in October. A discussion paper, delivered in June, offered a range of reasons students are grappling with mental health problems: everything from the stress of moving away from home, to academic demands, social pressures, parents’ expectations, and a looming recognition of the tough job market awaiting them. More students than ever are entering university with a pre-existing diagnosis of mental illness, and there’s less stigma attached to getting help. This partly explains the flood that counsellors are seeing. But there’s something else going on, too. Some wonder if today’s students are having difficulty coping with the rapidly changing world around them, a world where they can’t unplug, can’t relax, and believe they must stay at the top of their class, no matter what.
The stress of it all is a huge burden to bear. In preliminary findings from an unpublished study involving several U.S. schools, Cornell psychologist Janis Whitlock found 7.5 per cent of students who started university with no history of mental illness developed some symptoms. About five per cent who did have a previous history of mental illness saw symptoms increase while at university. She says, “there’s probably never been a more complicated time to be growing up than right now.”
The truth is, it’s never been easy to be young. People in their late teens and early twenties are at the highest risk for mental illness; in these years, first episodes of psychiatric disorders like major depression are most likely to appear. After motor vehicle accidents, suicide is the leading cause of death in Canadians aged 10 to 24, the Queen’s report notes. In this delicate life period, people move out on their own, strike up new relationships, experiment with drugs and alcohol, and assume new responsibilities. At college or university, they could be away from friends and family who know them best—people who might better recognize the warning signs of mental illness, like social withdrawal, increasing anxiety, a growing inability to cope, or other changes in behaviour.
If some pressures are age-old, others are brand new. Students are competing more fiercely to win a spot in top universities: the average grade of incoming students at Queen’s in 2011 was 88.1 per cent, up from 87.4 in 2007. At the University of Virginia, 90 per cent of students are from the top 10 per cent of their high school classes, according to Joseph Davis, associate professor of sociology. But only 10 per cent of those high achievers can leave UVA with the same distinction. “Students experience it as a kind of downward mobility,” he says. “Maybe you were in your high school gifted program, and suddenly you’re no longer the brightest student in the room. You might not even be close.”
Davis’s student Katherine Moriarty surveyed UVA undergrads about the illegal use of prescription stimulants, like Adderall and Ritalin, to get an academic edge. Of 525 respondents, 20 per cent said they’d used stimulants non-medically at least once in their lifetimes, most commonly to “improve academic performance,” “study more efficiently” and “increase wakefulness.” Other motives—recreational use at parties, or weight loss—were deemed less important than academic ones.
Students might feel they have little choice but to compete as hard as they can. Tuition costs are rising, and the job market looks grim. In July, the unemployment rate for Canadians aged 15 to 29 was nearly 12 per cent; having an undergraduate degree doesn’t make job candidates stand out like it once did. After graduation, often weighed down by student debt, many will have to string together short-term contracts with unpaid internships—and even those can be hard to get. “Students say, ‘I need to know what I’m doing now,’ ” Hutchinson says. “ ‘I need to get into this or that program, because the world is scary and I see people out of work.’ ”
The postings to Kids Help Phone’s Ask Us Online counselling service give a hint of how dire the future can seem. “Im a 2nd year University student and the #1 thing that has been on my mind is marks!” one writes. “im worried that im not going to be able to get into teachers college and if I dont get into teachers college I really dont know what to do! In High School I was an overachiever but now in the real world it is more of a challenge! Things just seem so hopeless right now and I can barely sleep because of the stress.”
Another says, “My parents want me to become a doctor. My mom puts a lot of pressure on me. I have chemistry which I dislike, although I loved it in high school. I’m not sure why that is, maybe it’s because it has become much harder, and im so use to just ‘getting it’ that i dont feel like putting the extra effort, even though i know i should.” Students seem to be under more pressure than ever from home. Part of it could be due to the fact that families are smaller, Hutchinson suggests, so students carry a bigger piece of their parents’ expectations. Failing a class, or an exam, can seem disastrous.
Miranda struggled with depression most of her life. When she moved to Toronto to attend Ryerson, the 22-year-old (who asked not to use her last name for fear it could jeopardize her chances with future employers) found her symptoms worsening. By her second year, she was suffering from more frequent panic attacks. “I realized I was struggling, and tried to reach out for help, but [Ryerson’s is] a very widely utilized program,” she says. “There was a very, very long wait list. They do their best to find you help, but in the rest of the city, wait lists are just as long.”
Miranda was eventually referred to a counsellor at St. Joseph’s Health Centre in Toronto, but didn’t feel she was improving. Halfway through her third year, Miranda—who’d been living with a roommate—moved into her own place. “My mental health issues peaked the first summer I lived by myself,” she says. “I got bedbugs, and that was it.” She packed up and moved in with her grandparents. Finally, afraid she might hurt herself, she went to the ER and was held in a psychiatric intensive-care unit for eight days. “The resources at Ryerson weren’t helping,” she says. “That seemed like the best option.”
Ryerson has three full-time equivalent (FTE) family physicians and half an FTE psychiatrist, Teo says, as well as 14 counsellors, three of them psychologists. (After last year’s demand, two more counsellors were added.) With such a small staff, and a student body of 28,300, it’s no wonder on-campus mental health care resources can feel stretched to the limit. (Cornell has 30.6 FTE mental health professionals to serve 22,000 students.) At Ryerson, those in crisis can usually see somebody the same day “or the next at the latest,” Teo says. “If you’re not as urgent, that’s when the wait comes in.” The goal is to get each student an appointment within two weeks, says Teo, “but last year, because of the level of severity, the wait became much longer. Maybe three or four times as long.”
After Miranda got out of the hospital, and as she adjusted to new medication, her family helped her get back on her feet. She graduated from Ryerson in the spring. She’s now working an unpaid internship, hoping to land a job in communications. “It’s as promising as it is terrifying. There’s so much unknown,” she says. “Not knowing where your next paycheque is going to come from; working 60 hours a week. A lot of people I know, whether they have mental health issues or not, have trouble balancing it all.” She sometimes sits outside her building, chatting with older women who live on her street. “They say, ‘We wouldn’t trade with you to be young again.’ ”
Some problems are the natural ups and downs of life, like a bad mark or a sloppy roommate. There’s a question of whether today’s young adults are somehow less equipped to cope. “Not all pressures can be removed,” says Woolf, principal of Queen’s. “There is pressure just by going to university, or doing anything in life.” When he was in university in the 1970s, he recalls, students didn’t fret so much about their marks, or employment prospects after graduation.
“If we got a bad mark, it was ‘Too bad, on to the next one,’ ” Woolf says. “There’s a generation of students now—and I’m not saying it’s every student—but a tendency to want to be a winner in all that they do. They all get a trophy at field day; they all get a treat bag at the party; and then they get to university and suddenly find they’re now playing in a different league, and no longer necessarily the smartest in their class.” Woolf is quick to note that serious, long-term mental health struggles are a different matter.
The ability to cope is an acquired skill, and one that takes time to learn. “I speak to parents who insist their children not take summer jobs so they can go to summer school, to get the best marks,” says Trent University psychology professor James Parker, who holds the Canada Research Chair in Emotion and Health. “I say, ‘I’m not sure that’s the best strategy.’ ” It’s often at those summer jobs that kids learn resiliency: serving coffee, waiting on tables and dealing with demanding bosses and crabby customers. Overprotective parents may think they’re helping their kids, but once these kids arrive on campus, small problems can seem overwhelming.
Getting over the hurdles of life takes time for introspection, and that’s also in short supply. Students aren’t left alone with their thoughts on the bus to school or the walk across campus. They’re texting, listening to music, checking Facebook or Twitter, often all at once. There’s no time to mull over difficult, complicated emotions, and no immediate reason to do it, either.
In a 2011 study of eight U.S. universities, Whitlock, who is director of the Cornell Research Program on Self-Injurious Behaviors, found that 15 per cent of students had cut, burned or otherwise injured themselves. This behaviour is most common at the end of the day, when they’re supposed to be winding down into sleep. “It’s terrifying for them,” Whitlock says. “They can’t make that transition. They don’t have experience with it.”
Mariette Lee couldn’t wait to become a student at McMaster University in Hamilton. Toward the end of her second year, she began to feel overwhelmed. “I was trying to do too much simultaneously, to be the perfect student,” says Lee, 22. She began skipping class, and she wasn’t eating right; she became increasingly withdrawn, gripped by sadness or anxiety for reasons she couldn’t understand. “I remember sitting in class, and a whole hour would go by without me realizing it.” It wasn’t until a friend reached out to her—one who said he himself had a mental illness—that Lee understood she needed to talk to someone.
Lee got help, first at the campus health clinic, and then at St. Joseph’s Healthcare in Hamilton. She was diagnosed with depression. At first, Lee was shy about sharing her diagnosis, but once she saw others were supportive, she opened up. “If people don’t talk about it, they won’t recognize the signs,” she says. Lee, who’s beginning her fourth year, is now president of COPE McMaster, a student club. This fall, they’re holding their first-ever “Move for Mental Health” five-kilometre run, with the purpose of speaking openly about depression and other mood disorders.
Student-run mental health programs are an increasingly important resource. At the University of King’s College in Halifax, Stephanie Duchon, 23, appears on posters that say, “I am not my mental illness.” Duchon, an organizer with the King’s Mental Health Awareness Collective, came up with the idea. “I’ve suffered from depression for 12 years,” she says. “By coming out to the community, I’m hoping others will do the same.”
Alongside students’ own efforts, university administrators are introducing an ever-growing number of programs. Queen’s, Cornell and others instruct faculty and staff on how to look for warning signs that could signal a student in crisis, making it a campus-wide effort. The Queen’s report mentions initiatives at other institutions as possible models, like Bounce Back, at Carleton University, which sets up undergrads who receive less than a 60 per cent average in their first semester with an upper-year mentor. Teo, of Ryerson, sits on the board of the Canadian Association of College and University Student Services, which has a mental health working group, partnered with the Canadian Mental Health Association, to study best practices in Canada and abroad. And Everall, at the University of Alberta, is producing a report on campus mental health services and best practices elsewhere, due in 2013.
Universities are still trying to define their exact role when it comes to students’ mental health. “We are not a treatment facility,” Woolf says. “Our role is education and research, and to some degree, community service. That said, we do have a care and nurturing role over the young people that come to us.” Eric Windeler believes that mental health and well-being of students should rank alongside academics. “If students are healthy and happy, it will help them succeed academically and socially,” he says.
Following Jack’s death, Windeler and his family made a decision: to be open about what happened and to encourage others to seek help. They partnered with Kids Help Phone to launch the Jack Project, aimed at supporting young people through the transition period from high school to college. Over 20 high schools and 12 post-secondary institutions in Ontario joined in the Jack Project’s year-long pilot, involving a series of workshops and presentations, which wrapped up in June. Windeler is a full-time volunteer.
As he and others, like Lee and Duchon, come forward, the stigma around mental health issues can only diminish. In her work with COPE McMaster, Lee has been surprised to learn just how many people have struggled, but didn’t admit it, or couldn’t. “When we run events, people say, ‘Thank you, I never would have felt comfortable before talking about this,’ ” Lee says. “It does feel good.”

Debunking the cholesterol myth and cultivating true heart health


Debunking the cholesterol myth 

and cultivating true heart health

Friday, September 07, 2012 by: Carolanne Wright

(NaturalNews) Cholesterol has received plenty of negative media over the last decade as the reason behind heart attack and arterial disease. Several pivotal studies have shown that cholesterol is not the cause behind problems of the heart as once thought. With a strange twisting of information, the pharmaceutical companies who manufacture cholesterol-lowering drugs have protected their $34 billion a year industry.

One of the most damaging myths in medical history

Cholesterol has been blamed for heart disease, but inflammation is actually the true culprit. When the body experiences an inflammatory response due to an injury, the system responds by constricting blood vessels, thickening the blood, and triggering cells to multiply in order to repair the damage. Cholesterol is produced because cells need it to form. Vascular plaque is created when a damaged artery needs to be repaired. When an individual is in a chronic state of inflammation, the risk of high blood pressure and heart attack greatly increases.

The Great Cholesterol Myth authors Jonny Bowden, Ph.D. and cardiologist Stephen Sinatra state:

"We believe that a weird combination of misinformation, questionable studies, corporate greed, and deceptive marketing has conspired to create one of the most damaging myths in medical history: that cholesterol causes heart disease."

Through reviewing the data of numerous studies, Bowden and Sinatra found that cholesterol levels are not a good predictor of heart attacks; half of the people who have heart attacks have normal cholesterol; half of the people with high cholesterol have healthy hearts; keeping cholesterol levels low has few benefits. The Framingham Heart Study, which began in 1948 and continues to this day, distinctly shows that those who lived the longest were inclined to be in the highest cholesterol category.

The Lyon diet-heart study

Another study presents startling evidence regarding the role diet plays in heart health. Researchers in France during the 1990s decided to observe the effect different diets have on heart disease. Two groups of high-risk men participated. All had survived heart attacks. Everyone had high cholesterol and stressful lifestyles. They also smoked and did not exercise.

One group was asked to eat the American Heart Association diet which is low in fat and cholesterol. The second group ate a Mediterranean diet, rich in fish, omega-3 fatty acids, vegetables, and olive oil.

The study ended early because the results of the Mediterranean diet were so striking. Those in this group had a 70 percent reduction in fatal heart attacks, yet their high cholesterol levels remained the same throughout the study. They simply stopped dying.

As observed by Bowen in Better Nutrition magazine:

"The tragedy is that by putting all our attention on cholesterol, we've ignored the real causes of heart disease: inflammation, oxidation, stress, and sugar. Things we can actually control with foods, supplements and lifestyle changes - none of which have the costs or side effects of pharmaceutical drugs."

Sources for this article include:

"The cholesterol myth? Why lowering cholesterol isn't nearly as important as you think" by Jonny Bowden, PhD, CNS, Better Nutrition, July 2012

"The Cholesterol Myth That Could Be Harming Your Health" Dr. Joseph Mercola, Huffpost Healthy Living, August 12, 2012. Retrieved on July 18, 2012 from:

"Ending the Cholesterol-Heart Disease Myth" Andreas Moritz, Natural News, April 8, 2010. Retrieved on July 18, 2012 from:

About the author:
Carolanne enthusiastically believes if we want to see change in the world, we need to be the change. As a nutritionist, natural foods chef and wellness coach, Carolanne has encouraged others to embrace a healthy lifestyle of organic living, gratefulness and joyful orientation for over 13 years. Through her website she looks forward to connecting with other like-minded people from around the world who share a similar vision.

Read her other articles on Natural News here:

Learn more:

#Reconnect (2012) - Extended Trailer

#Reconnect (2012) - Extended Trailer