News and Events

Mom’s Pregnancy Stress Might Make Your Cells Age Faster

August 8th, 2011, filed under Health News

Children born to mothers who are stressed during pregnancy may become adults with prematurely aged cells.

A comparison of 94 young adults found those subjected to prenatal stress tended to have white blood cells with shorter telomeres, the protein caps that prevent chromosome tips from fraying when cells divide.

Whether telomere shortening is a cause of aging’s ravages, or if age-related deterioration causes telomeres to shorten, isn’t known. Either way, shortening is linked to chronic disease risk and diminished longevity.

White blood cells of prenatally stressed adults “had aged the equivalent of approximately 3.5 additional years,” wrote researchers led by University of California, Irvine fetal development specialists Pathik Wadhwa and Sonja Entringer in an August 2 Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences study.

Many studies have linked health problems to physical and psychological stresses, response to which wears down our body’s immune and metabolic systems. Studies have also linked adult health to maternal stress: A mother’s stress responses are passed on to her infants, making them more vulnerable to chronic diseases.

Connecting mother, fetus, and ultimately baby in stress are a variety of mutually inexclusive, as-yet-partially understood factors: stress hormones, oxidation pathways and metabolic pathways. Epigenetic programming — the heritable, on-the-fly form of gene regulation that allows for rapid adaptation to circumstance — is also important.

The latest findings reinforce the researchers’ suspicion that telomere biology plays a role, too. In earlier studies of the same group, telomere length tracked with immune system problems and metabolic dysregulation.

The 94 people in this group are all young adults, carefully selected for demographic comparability. When their telomeres were read for this latest study, they were 25 years old. The extra 3.5 years of white blood cell aging in prenatally stressed people hides a gender difference: In women, prenatally stressed telomeres were shorter by the equivalent of about 5 years’ wear and tear.

Whether short telomeres cause the problems or just reflect them remains to be determined, but a basic pattern is clear: Stress in the womb can set up “a long-term trajectory at birth,” write the researchers.

Note: Several of the paper’s authors are co-founders of Telome Health, a company that offers health-related telomere testing (though not longevity-related testing).

By Brandon Keim

Top image: Menno Hordijk/Flickr.

Fish oil in pregnancy may ward off babies’ colds, study shows

August 1st, 2011, filed under Health News

Newborns whose moms took DHA supplements got sick less often, better quicker

By Linda Carroll contributor
updated 8/1/2011 9:42:14 AM ET

Women who take fish oil supplements during pregnancy may boost their babies’ immune systems and help protect against colds during the first months of life, a new study shows.

Infants whose mothers were given DHA, or docosahexaenoic acid, an omega-3 fatty acid found in fish oil, got sick less often and for shorter periods of time than babies whose mothers got none.

The difference wasn’t huge between the momswho took the supplements starting in the second trimester and those who didn’t, but it was significant. For instance, 1-month-old infants who did catch colds spent a full day less coughing, being congested and sniffling if their moms had taken DHA.

The study’s lead author, Usha Ramakrishnan, a researcher in the Rollins School of Public Health at Emory University, is quick to note that DHA is no cure for the common cold. Still, she added, popping the supplements might pay off.

“Our findings are suggestive of a possible benefit,” said Ramakrishnan, an associate professor in the Atlanta school’s Department of Global Health whose study was published in the latest issue of the journal Pediatrics.

Ramakrishnan and her colleagues followed 851 Mexican women from the second trimester of pregnancy, through the babies’ births, and until the infants were six months old. About half of the women were given 400 milligrams of DHA each day starting in the second trimester. The rest of the women were given placebos.

The new moms were interviewed at one month, three months and six months after the babies were born. Each time, the women were asked whether the babies had experienced various respiratory symptoms, such as cough, phlegm, nasal congestion and wheezing in the previous 15 days. They were also asked if whether their infants had caught a cold during that time.

At one month, babies whose mothers took DHA experienced shorter periods of respiratory symptoms when they got sick.

As for the immune-boosting effect, Ramakrishnan points to earlier research showing that the function of a host of different kinds of cells can be improved by omega-3 fatty acids.

Time will tell how well the results will hold up. Earlier research suggested that DHA supplements might boost cognitive development in babies, but a large study published last year in the Journal of the American Medical Association found no such impact.

Dr. Samuel Parry, chief of the division of Maternal-Fetal Medicine at the University of Pennsylvania Health System, is waiting for more research before he starts recommending the supplement to his patients.

“We don’t think DHA causes harm in pregnancy,” he said. “But we’re skeptical that it really helps prevent colds in babies.”

Parry, a member of the Center for Research on Reproduction and Women’s Health, also urged pregnant women to be careful when choosing any nutritional supplements, because many are not regulated by the federal Food and Drug Administration.

How to Cut Your Gas Bill in Half

August 1st, 2011, filed under Health News

Try these 5 road-tested ways to save money on gas.

Average Gas Prices Are Only Going Up

Gasoline prices have been rising fast following unrest throughout the Mideast. The political instability in Libya, Egypt and other key nations in the oil supply chain highlights one of the clearest reasons for investing in renewable and alternative energy supplies, including electric cars. In the long-term, shrinking supplies, increasing demand and (possibly) new climate change regulations promise, ultimately, to drive oil prices higher.

Here are five* road-tested ways to save money on gas. Of course saving money isn’t the only goal: the more gas we save, the less pollution we create, and the less beholden we are to those who control the oil supply.

* Plus one bonus tip (no extra charge).


Pay $3.19: Take Public Transportation

By one estimate, the public transportation system in the United States saves 3.4 billion gallons of oil a year (and cuts greenhouse gas emissions by 26 million tons).

Get your fair share of the savings by looking up the local bus route or climbing on the subway. (After all, as a taxpayer, you’ve already invested in the service.)

Sure, it costs money to take the bus or subway. But consider this: The average U.S. commute is 16 miles, and at these prices the average U.S. passenger costs $2.26 to go 16 miles ($2.80 for an SUV), and that’s roughly the cost of a typical public transit fare. It’s a wash.

Plus, you’ll save wear and tear on your car, a hefty hidden cost of driving.

Pay $2.55 Per Gallon: Drive Smarter

If all else fails, you can at least drive the car you own to greater fuel-efficiency. By one estimate, you can improve fuel economy 20% by reversing bad habits. That’s like spending $2.55 per gallon instead of $3.19.

The gravy: Changing bad driving habits and scheduling regular vehicle maintenance lessens the pollution your car produces by burning fossil fuel. That means less smog, less asthma, less acid rain and less of a contribution to global warming. All in all, not a bad outcome from saving a few dimes.

Start by inflating your tires to the recommended level. Visit your mechanic for a tune-up if you’re due. Be sure to have your tires aligned, your air filter checked and your oil changed if needed.

When making trips, combine errands so that the trip home from work also includes the trip to the grocery store (and thereby cuts your gas bill in half). When you’re on the road, drive smoothly, accelerate slowly and don’t speed. The biggest savings are in your right foot.

For more tips, see The Daily Green’s 10 Ways to Save 20% on Gas Every Day.

Pay $0.80-$1.60 Per Gallon: Carpool

You can cut your gas bills in half, right now. Share your trip to work with one other person and split the bill. That’s like paying $1.60 for gas that costs $3.20 at the pump. (It’s been a decade sine the actual pump price hovered in the $1.60-per-gallon range.) With a full car of four people, the cost per gallon is just $0.80! Now that sounds like real savings.

If you’re looking for help getting started, consult with Divide the Ride, eRideShare, RideCheck, Carpool World or other Web-based tools designed to help like-minded commuters find each other.

Pay $0.80 a Gallon: Trade in Your SUV

If you must drive, replace your gas guzzler with a fuel-efficient model. The most fuel-efficient car, several years running has been the hybrid Toyota Prius, which gets 50 mpg. But new electric cars like the Nissan Leaf and Chevy Volt get the equivalent of 100 mpg. The least fuel-efficient 2011 SUVs, the Chevrolet Suburban and the GMC Yukon, get about 12.

If you swapped that gas-guzzler for an electric car, it would be like shaving more than $3,000 from your annual fuel bill. The cost of an average commute in a Prius is about $1 at current gas prices, versus about $4 in one of those SUVs. In other words, you’ll go almost four times as far on a tank of gas in the Prius, so the $3.19 you pay to fill your SUV is like paying $0.80 in the Prius.

If you’re buying a new car, consult The Daily Green’s list of the most fuel-efficient cars and SUVs, or invest in a reliable fuel-efficient used car.

Save $2 a Gallon: Walk, Bike or E-Bike

Keep your wallet fat and your pants loose. Whenever possible, walk or bike. If your commute is a little too long to manage, try an electric bike, which provides an electric boost.

Every mile you pedal or stride saves you gas, saves you money and helps you stay in shape. If you trade in a trip in the average car, you’d save about $2 per average commute. (Use the money to buy a new umbrella for rainy days.)

During the hot summer months, though, be sure to check the air quality forecast in your area. Particulates, ozone and other components of smog can make it unhealthy to exercise outdoors on some hot, sunny days, particularly during the evening commute. Those with asthma or other lung or heart ailments are most at risk.

Invest in the Future: Support Smart-Growth Planning

Bonus Tip (no extra charge)

This tip won’t save you a dime today. But it’s well worth it for what it will save your children and grandchildren.

Gas prices are the most painful for folks in the suburbs, where there’s often no viable option but to drive from home to school, to work, to the grocery store, etc. Sprawling development gives each family God’s green acre, but it makes them pay in oil.

It doesn’t have to be this way. Legions of planners, advocates and a young generation of home buyers are reinvesting in city and village living. New development can be clustered around existing public transportation infrastructure, integrated with employment, schools and shopping, and connected by sidewalk into walkable neighborhoods. Another advantage: This pattern preserves outlying farms, which can supply local food, and nearby forests, where urbanites can take a hike.

Tax money can be used to invest in new public transportation routes. Local laws can be written to counteract sprawl. If you want to see the next generation have an easier time dealing with high oil prices (and there’s little reason to expect the price of oil will drop significantly), then start thinking about the bigger picture. Tell your representatives in Congress, the statehouse, at the county commission and town council to plan for the next building boom now, while housing starts are low.