August 25, 2017

Weekend reads: We're teetering on the verge of 'ratpocalypse,' experts warn

Daily Briefing

Ben Palmer's reads

Certain lithium levels in tap water could prevent dementia, study finds. People who lived in areas of Denmark where the tap water had higher-than-average levels of lithium were less likely to be diagnosed with dementia than those living in areas with low and moderate levels of lithium, according to a new study in JAMA Psychiatry. For the study, the researchers assessed the medical records of 800,000 Danish people—including 73,731 who had dementia and 733,653 who did not—and then tested the lithium levels in tap water across 151 areas of the country. They found that while moderate levels of lithium (between 5.1 and 10 micrograms per liter) raised the risk of dementia by 22 percent when compared with lower levels (less than 5 micrograms per liter), high levels of lithium (more than 15 micrograms per liter) was associated with a 17 percent lower risk of dementia.

Peanut allergy pill shows long-term benefits, small study finds. The majority of children who in an initial study achieved a peanut tolerance after ingesting a peanut-probiotic pill every day for 18 months were still peanut tolerant four years later, according to a follow-up study published in the Lancet Child and Adolescent Health. According to the researchers, 16 of the 24 children in the original study who took the pill—a combination of a tiny amount of peanuts and a mix of probiotics—were still consuming peanuts at the time of the follow-up study, and 20 of them said they had not had an allergic reaction to peanuts since completing the initial trial. In comparison, among the group of 24 children who in the initial trial took a placebo pill, only one was still eating peanuts four years later and six had has allergic reactions. The researchers cautioned that their study was small and the findings preliminary, but they said it suggested that "combined probiotic and peanut oral immunotherapy provides long-lasting clinical benefit."

Rachel Schulze's reads

What happens to stress when you call yourself by your name, instead of 'I.' Referring to yourself in the third person appears to calm negative emotional responses to stressful situations, according to a paper published in Scientific Reports. For one experiment, the researchers showed participants stressful stimuli, such as violent news stories or film, and asked them to reflect on what they saw. When participants recalled their feelings using "I"—such as, "I was scared"—there was more activity in the parts of their brains associated with emotion than when they recalled their feelings using the third person—such as, "Anne was scared."

The 'ratpocalypse' is nigh. Several major U.S. cities are "on the verge of a ratpocalypse," thanks to big increases in the rat population, Emily Atkin reports for the New Republic. Experts attribute the rise to warmer winters that give rats more time to breed—and warn that more rats means more rodent-borne disease, such as E. coli, salmonella, and even the potentially fatal bacterial disease leptospirosis. One way to tackle the problem, Atkins reports, could be to revive the defunct federal Urban Rat Control program, which ran from 1969 to 1982. Currently, states have to fend for themselves when it comes to rat control, Atkin explains, which is a challenge made all the more difficult because of how elusive the rodents are. In fact, despite increasing rat populations, "no one really knows how many rats there are" overall, Linda Poon writes for CityLab, "Not in New York City, nor Washington, D.C., nor Chicago—all three of which rank among the most rodent-infested cities in the U.S."

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