AP Biology class blog for discussing current research in Biology

Author: nicleus2

Mothers: Avoid Drugs for Pain so Your Baby is Sane

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While pregnant or in labor, women experience amounts of pain that most men couldn’t dream of. They have to put up with this pain somehow…so according to a recent article, over the last decade, there has been a rise in use of prescription pain killers that has spread to maternity wards in the US. Unfortunately, because these painkillers are opiate-based, there has also been a rapid increase in the number of pregnant women addicted to opiates and also the number of babies born with withdrawal symptoms.

A study in the Journal of the American Medical Association has estimated that about one baby every hour is born with opiate withdrawal symptoms, and about 13,500 per year. According to the study, this condition, known as neonatal abstinence syndrome, results in seizures, breathing problems, dehydration, difficulty feeding, tremors and irritability in infants at birth. These infants must be hospitalized for up to many weeks while doctors ween them of their opium dependence with smaller doses of morphine or methadone.

The study, after looking at two databases consisting of “representative samples” from patients across the country, made two shocking discoveries. Over the period from 2000-2009, the number of pregnant women using opiate pain killers increased to five times as much, while the number of babies diagnosed with neonatal abstinence syndrome tripled at the same rate.

Not only is it an awful thing for these infants to be born addicted to opiates, but it also takes “a tremendous amount of nursing care” and time to cure these babies, according to Dr. Mark Hudak of the University of Florida College of Medicine. In the study, infants averaged about 16 days in the hospital. It takes them this long to be initially “cuddled,” placed in a dark room, then given tapered doses of methadone or morphine until the baby is weened. However, Hudak also states that “[morphine and methadone] are easy to overdose babies with” and that “there have been deaths” in this treatment.

According to the article, doctors agree that the best approach to deal with this problem is to cure women of their addictions before they are pregnant and prescribe them little or no opiate painkillers.

Overweight?? Blame your genes

It’s always the fat kid who gets blamed for eating the last cookie or finishing the last bag of chips. People are always expecting him to take seconds, and will hide the good snack from him because they know he won’t hesitate to finish it. Unfortunately, he gets made fun of sometimes for his weight. However, it may not be all his fault…he may have something other than his food intake to blame for his heavier complex…

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A recent article has shown  that certain genes in our DNA may be indirectly responsible for human obesity. These two genes, TAS2R38, a bitter taste receptor, and CD36, a fat receptor, are now believed to “play a role in some people’s ability to taste and enjoy dietary fat.” Many factors, including food texture and smell are proven to affect how fat is perceived in our mouths. However, these two genes could be the responsible for tasting and thus directly responsible for wanting certain fats.

A recent study tested this theory of the genes. Scientists focused on only one ethnic group, and conducted an experiment to determine the fat preference and corresponding gene CD36 status of over 300 African Americans. Results showed that higher genetic variance that was directly “associated with higher preferences for added fats and oils,” including salad dressing and cooking oils. In addition, they discovered that those with the genetic variance of CD36 prefered “dressings creamier” than those without the variance, suggesting that the CD36 gene directly affects the preference for fats. Investigators than targeted the second gene, TAS2R38, and found that 70% of people are “tasters” of bitter compounds while others are “nontasters.” Those that were nontasters were found to have more fewer buds for these compounds, which was directly the result of the gene. As a result, these individuals had more difficulty detecting the presence of fats, and thus consume more fats to compensate. The gene was indirectly responsible for the wanting of fats.


Avoid Your Vitamins?

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Taking additional vitamins, or dietary supplements, has always been viewed as being positive for our diets. Parents often encourage their young children to take multi-vitamin pills on a daily basis. Flintstones Vitamins (above), which consist of vitamins such as iron, calcium, and vitamin C, are among one of the most popular multi-vitamin supplements. I even remember my parents making me take them every morning when I was a kid. Many people continue to take these dietary supplements when they are adults. Daily vitamin supplements are also extremely popular among elderly people.

The question is, do these vitamin pills truly have positive health benefits if consumed along side a normal diet? A recent study in the New York Times challenges these long-held beliefs behind dietary vitamin supplements.

In this large study, scientists followed 38,772 women who averaged 62 years of age. Over 19 years, almost half of the women died, and scientists were surprised to find out that those who consumed multivitamins or supplements of folic acid, iron, magnesium, or zinc were more likely to die over the period than those who did not take any multivitamins or supplements. Thus,  “older women who used common dietary supplements died at slightly higher rates than women who did not rely on supplements.”

The scientists were also able to notice trends from their results that showed what effects the different supplements and multivitamins had on the women’s lives. For example, supplements like iron were “directly associated” with an increase in death among the women. Certain supplements like vitamin A & vitamin D had no affect at all on the women’s lives. Multivitamins were responsible for a 2.4 % increase in risk of death. Calcium supplements, however, actually decreased the risk of death.

After a study like this one, it may be necessary to re-consider the notion that taking additional vitamins is a positive addition to our diets. Parents might now want to reconsider giving their child a Flintstone Vitamin with his breakfast every morning, and a grandmother might want to lay off the daily pills.

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