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Friday, 31 July 2015

Know it's a placebo? CU-Boulder study shows the 'medicine' could still work

You don't think you're hungry, then a friend mentions how hungry he is or you smell some freshly baked pizza and whoaaa, you suddenly feel really hungry. Or, you've had surgery and need a bit of morphine for pain. As soon as you hit that button you feel relief even though the medicine hasn't even hit your bloodstream.
These are two examples of the oft-studied placebo effect that demonstrate the amazing and still somewhat confounding powers of the human brain.
Now, CU-Boulder graduate student Scott Schafer, who works in Associate Professor Tor Wager's Cognitive and Affective Neuroscience Lab in the Department of Psychology and Neuroscience, has conducted an intriguing piece of research to advance knowledge about how and when the placebo effect works - or doesn't.
In short, he discovered that the placebo effect still works even if research participants know the treatment they are receiving to ease pain has no medical value whatsoever.
Here's the hitch: The subjects need ample time - in this case four sessions - to be conditioned to believe the placebo works. Then, even after it is revealed that the treatment is fake, they continue to get pain relief. When participants are told the truth about the treatment after only one session, they don't show a continued placebo effect.
The findings suggest that reinforcing treatment cues with positive outcomes can create placebo effects that are independent of reported expectations for pain relief. Wager, the senior author of the study, explains: "We're still learning a lot about the critical ingredients of placebo effects. What we think now is that they require both belief in the power of the treatment and experiences that are consistent with those beliefs. Those experiences make the brain learn to respond to the treatment as a real event. After the learning has occurred, your brain can still respond to the placebo even if you no longer believe in it."
Schafer, Wager, and co-author Luana Colloca, of the University of Maryland Baltimore, had their paper "Conditioned Placebo Analgesia Persists When Subjects Know They Are Receiving a Placebo" published in the May issue of The Journal of Pain, a peer-reviewed scientific publication.
Schafer, 33, said his advisor helped him refine his area of research around placebos.
"My general interests are specifically in how we learn to predict the environment around us," he said. "Digging into how placebos occur and when and why they arise is really interesting."
To conduct the research, Schafer and Colloca applied a ceramic heating element to research subjects' forearms. They applied enough heat to induce strong pain sensations, though not enough to burn the skin.
Interestingly, Schafer ended up having to turn some potential test subjects away because of a higher than normal pain tolerance on their forearms. Turns out, some of these people were food servers accustomed to carrying hot plates of food to hungry diners.
After applying heat of up to 117.5 degrees Fahrenheit to the research subjects who passed the initial screening, Schafer applied what the subject thought was an analgesic gel on the affected skin then - unbeknownst to the research subject - turned down the temperature. To aid in the charade, the subject was asked to read drug forms and indicate whether they had liver problems or were taking other medications prior to receiving the treatment..
In fact, the treatment was Vaseline with blue food coloring in an official-looking pharmaceutical container.
"They believed the treatment was effective in relieving pain," Schafer said. "After this process, they had acquired the placebo effect. We tested them with and without the treatment on medium intensity. They reported less pain with the placebo."
For Schafer, the research findings could open doors to new ways to treat drug addiction or aid in pain management for children or adults who have undergone surgery and are taking strong and potentially addictive painkillers.
"If a child has experience with a drug working, you could wean them off the drug, or switch that drug a placebo, and have them continue taking it," Schafer said.
Schafer believes the brain plays a key role in subjects for whom the placebo gel worked, and that more research is warranted.
"We know placebos induce the release of pain-relieving substances in the brain, but we don't yet know whether this expectation-independent placebo effect is using the same or different systems," Schafer said.

Bio-inspired robots jump on water

IMAGEBy studying how water striders jump on water, Je-Sung Koh and colleagues have created a robot that can successfully launch itself from the surface of water. As the team watched the water strider jump on water surfaces using high-speed cameras, they noticed that the long legs accelerate gradually, so that the water surface doesn't retreat too quickly and lose contact with the legs. Using a theoretical model of a flexible cylinder floating on liquid, the authors found that the maximum force of the water striders' legs is always just below the maximum force that water surface tension can withstand. To recreate this controlled acceleration in their robot, the researchers used a torque reversal catapult (TRC) mechanism that generates a small initial torque and gradually increases - but that never exceeds the surface tension force of water. As well, the high-speed cameras reveal that the water strider sweeps its legs inward in order to maximize the time the legs can push against the surface of the water, thus maximizing the overall force; this additional concept was also applied to the robots to help them achieve lift off. With sufficiently light weight, long limbs, and the proper physical mechanisms, these robots effectively mimic their inspirational counterparts in nature. This paper is accompanied by an explanatory video that includes footage of the robots jumping, as well as a Perspective by Dominic Vella.

St. John's Wort Could Lead to Similar Side Effects as That of Antidepressants

 St. John's Wort Could Lead to Similar Side Effects as That of AntidepressantsSt. John's wort is a herb. Its flowers and leaves are used to make medicine. St. John's wort is effective for mild to moderate depression and conditions that sometimes go along with depression such as anxiety, tiredness, loss of appetite and trouble sleeping. However, a new study by researchers at University of Adelaide has revealed that it St. John's Wort can produce the same adverse reactions as antidepressants and serious side effects can occur when the two are taken together.
 The research teams compared the pattern of spontaneous reported adverse drug reactions of St. John's Wort, a herbal treatment for depression, and fluoxetine, a commonly prescribed antidepressant. They found the unfavorable reactions were the same for patients who took St. John's Wort as it was for those who took fluoxetine. 

Claire Hoban from the University of Adelaide pharmacology said, "St. John's Wort, like all herbal medicines, was a drug. It could cause serious side effects such as dangerous increases in body temperature and blood pressure. People needed to start thinking of St. John's Wort, and other herbal medicines, as a drug and seek advice from a qualified healthcare practitioner to be sure they use it safely. The severe adverse reactions in the population for St. John's Wort were very similar to fluoxetine, which included anxiety, panic attacks, dizziness, vomiting, amnesia and aggression."

Dr. Ian Musgrave said, "The real danger was that people can access St. John's Wort without a prescription so there was no control over the dosage or what drugs people were using it with." He appealed for improved warming signs on the bottle of St. John's Wort.

The study is published in the Clinical and Experimental Pharmacology and Physiology.

Source: ANI


Junk Food Not Defined Under Food Safety Act by Indian Health Ministry

The MoS, Ministry of Health and Family Welfare, Shri Shripad Yesso Naik stated that "Junk Food" has not been defined under the Food Safety and Standards (FSS) Act, 2006.At present, there is no proposal under consideration of the Ministry of Health and Family Welfare to define junk food under the FSS Act. However, guidelines for making available Wholesome, Nutritious, Safe and Hygienic Food to School children in the country have been framed by the Central Advisory Committee, FSSAI. 

ICMR has not conducted a study on junk food. A study had, however, been conducted by  the National Institute of Nutrition (NIN) NIN to assess ill-effects of consumption of Carbonated Water beverages (CWBs) on the health of adolescents and young Adults, which showed higher increments of body fat in young consumers. 

The consumers are educated/made aware of the food safety through consumer awareness programs launched jointly by the Department of Consumer Affairs and the Food Safety and Standards Authority of India (FSSAI). These include advertisements in different media, campaigns launched by the FSSAI on social media such as Face-book, documentary films on YouTube, educational booklets, information on FSSAI website, stalls at Fairs/Melas/Events and mass awareness campaigns. 

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