Health & Medicine

Health bites: Brain discovery may aid in cure for alcoholism

Every two weeks, we gather some of the most interesting, intriguing and even oddball studies from health researchers around the world. Here are the latest:

A new study involving 72 California State University, Sacramento, students showed receiving messages via email evoked more of an emotional response from the recipients than getting similar messages by voicemail.

The students were asked to compose two emails and two voice messages each – one about a romantic topic and one about a business matter. Researchers measured the emotional responses of recipients to each message by analyzing facial expressions and testing skin conductance levels.

Results showed that recipients were more emotionally aroused by emails than voice messages regardless of topic, and that emails contained stronger and more thoughtful language than audio messages in general.

That may be because people have more time to craft emails or are trying to compensate for a possible confusion in an email’s tone, the study suggests.

“The study challenges the idea that email shouldn’t be used for the communication of emotion and shows that people physically respond differently when using different technologies to communicate,” said Taylor Wells, assistant professor of management information systems at CSUS and co-author of the study, in a press release. The other author was Alan R. Dennis, the John T. Chambers Chair of Internet Systems at Indiana University’s Kelley School of Business.

The study has been accepted for publication in the journal Computers in Human Behavior.

Alcohol addiction – it’s all in your head

Using animal models, researchers from the Texas A&M Health Science Center College of Medicine have identified a part of the brain that is specifically affected by alcohol consumption, causing substance cravings associated with alcoholism.

The neurons being studied are located in the dorsomedial striatum, a part of the brain known to be important in goal-driven behaviors. These neurons each have two types of dopamine receptors – D1, which tells the brain to “go,” and D2, which tells the brain to “stop.”

Researchers have discovered that alcohol alters the physical structure of the striatum neurons and activates the D1 receptor, inducing addictive cravings. This creates a cycle, where drinking causes easier activation, and activation causes more drinking, according to a release from Texas A&M.

The study, published this month in the Journal of Neuroscience, could help the development of neuron-inhibiting treatments that combat alcoholism. When researchers gave the animals a drug that partially blocked their D1 receptors, they showed a decreased desire to drink.

“My ultimate goal is to understand how the addicted brain works,” said Dr. Jun Wang, lead author on the paper and an assistant professor in the Department of Neuroscience and Experimental Therapeutics at A&M. “Once we do, one day, we’ll be able to suppress the craving for another round of drinks and ultimately, stop the cycle of alcoholism.”

Blueberry extract may be key to fighting gum disease

Researchers at the American Chemical Society have found that wild blueberry extract inhibits the growth of gum bacteria that can progress to periodontitis, which damages the tissue supporting the teeth.

Many adults suffer from gum disease, a condition that inflames the gums and occurs when bacteria forms plaque or biofilm over teeth.

Researchers at the American Chemical Society wondered if blueberry polyphenols, a micronutrient shown to be effective against food-borne pathogens, would help fight usobacterium nucleatum, one of the main species of bacteria associated with periodontitis.

Their results, published this month in the Journal of Agricultural and Food Chemistry, showed it did inhibit the growth of gum bacteria and blocked a molecular pathway involved in inflammation. The discovery may lead to the development of an oral tool that would inject the substance into gums.

Preterm babies may earn less money later in life

Findings published this month in the journal Psychological Science show that children who were born before their due dates make less money later in life, possibly because they develop weaker math skills than babies who spent longer in the womb.

The study drew on data from two large, long-term studies following premature children into adulthood. Both studies recruited children born within a week in England, Scotland and Wales, though one cohort was born in 1958 and the other in 1970.

All participants – more than 15,000 in total – were born between 28 and 42 weeks of gestational age, and followed up on at age 42.

After conducting a financial assessment, British researchers found that individuals born preterm were more likely to be manual workers and unemployed and to report financial difficulties, and less likely to own a house than those who were born full-term. They also performed less successfully on academic metrics.

“Teachers and educational psychologists receive no training on needs of preterm children,” said author and psychological scientist Dieter Wolke of the University of Warwick. “Providing this knowledge and developing appropriate interventions could make a big difference for many preterm children and improve their life chances.”

Sammy Caiola: 916-321-1636, @SammyCaiola