Psychiatrists are Uncovering Connections Between Viruses and Mental Health

Christina Animashaun/Vox

Immune responses to viruses like SARS-CoV-2 may affect mental health, and vice versa. Doctors are uncovering exactly how. When the Covid-19 pandemic hit, one of the biggest questions was: Why do some people get so much sicker than others? It’s a question that has forced researchers to confront some deep mysteries of the human body, and come to conclusions that have startled them.

By the fall of 2020, psychiatrists were reporting that among the many groups who were high risk, people with psychiatric disorders, broadly, seemed to be getting more severe forms of Covid-19 at a higher rate. Katlyn Nemani, an NYU neuropsychiatrist, decided to dig deeper, asking: Just how much more at risk, and which conditions?

In January, she and a group of colleagues published a study of 7,348 Covid-19 patients in New York. One finding was stark: People with a schizophrenia spectrum diagnosis faced more than two and a half times the average person’s risk of dying from Covid-19, even after controlling for the many other factors that affect Covid-19 outcomes, such as cardiovascular disease, diabetes, smoking, obesity, and demographic factors — age, sex, and race.

“That was a pretty shocking finding,” Nemani says. The patients all were hospitalized in the same medical system, in the same region, which implies they weren’t receiving radically different treatments, she says. In sum, it all suggests that the risk was closely linked to the mental illness itself and not to some other variable.

Since then, more studies have come out — as well as metastudies pooling the conclusions of those studies — showing worse Covid-19 outcomes among people with diagnosed mental health disorders including depression, bipolar disorder, and schizophrenia.

Some of this isn’t surprising; a lot of people with mental health issues experience a general increased risk of poor health outcomes. But the pandemic started to shine a brighter light on why, bolstering a hypothesis that’s been accruing evidence in recent years.

It appears that something in the body, something biological associated with these disorders, may be at play. “That suggests there’s a physiologic vulnerability there in these folks,” said Charles Raison, a psychiatrist and researcher at the University of Wisconsin Madison. 

It’s not necessarily that people with schizophrenia or mood disorders are more likely to become infected with Covid-19. Rather, once they are infected, “the outcomes are worse,” Nemani says. Depending on the study and the severity of the mental health diagnosis, people with these conditions are, roughly, between 1.5 and 2 times more likely to die of Covid-19 than average, after adjusting for other risk factors (unadjusted risk is even higher).

The level of increased risk, Nemani says, is “on par with what we’re seeing for other well-established risk factors like heart disease and diabetes.” What’s happening? Why would mental illness make someone more vulnerable to a respiratory disease? Psychiatrists who study these mental illnesses say the culprit might lie in a connection between mental health and the immune system.

They’re finding that mental health stressors could leave people more at risk for infection, and, most provocatively, they suspect that responses in the immune system might even contribute to some mental health issues.There’s a lot that’s unknown here. But the pandemic is giving researchers a new window into these questions. And the research “might teach us something about how to protect these people from infection going forward,” Nemani says.

How the immune system can impact mental health

In September, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention updated its list of underlying conditions that put people at higher risk for severe Covid-19, adding mood disorders — like depression and bipolar disorder — and schizophrenia spectrum diagnoses, a group that accounts for around 34 million Americans. It was a recognition of the growing evidence published by Nemani and colleagues across medicine, and prioritizes this group for vaccines and booster shots.

Roger McIntyre, a psychiatrist at the University of Toronto, is one of the co-authors of one of two systematic review studies that the CDC cited in its change. (Nemani is a co-author on the second.) To him, it’s no surprise that mental illness imparts an infection risk. “A thread that has been woven through many of these disorders is immune or inflammatory dysregulation,” McIntyre says.

That is, problems with the immune system tend to coincide with mental health issues. And problems with the immune system can lead people to have worse outcomes when it comes to SARS-CoV 2, the virus that causes Covid-19.

“Most of the time in medicine, it’s hard to have one singular explanation for anything,” he cautions. That’s especially true here in the discussion of why people with certain mental health issues might be more at risk for severe disease. People living with mental illnesses like schizophrenia, bipolar disorder, and major depression tend to have shorter-than-average life spans and worse health overall….Continue reading

Source: Can depression worsen Covid-19 and other infections? And can a virus make you depressed? – Vox

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Nanotechnology Is the Future of Renewable Energy

Nanotechnology is advancing so rapidly these days that it seems there is a new nanotech breakthrough being reported on a daily basis.  Top researchers from around the world are using nanotechnology to solve problems once considered impossible, and are even discovering new and interesting properties in our material reality along the way.

2011 alone has seen some major advances in nanotechnology applied to the energy sector, and the promise nanotech holds for renewable energy is exactly what the budding market needs to eventually overtake fossil fuels as the energy generation mode of choice.

Super Efficient Solar Nantennas

University of Missouri researcher Patrick Pinhero and collaborators have developed microscopic antennas called, “nantennas,” that capture sunlight in both the visible and near-infrared spectrum as well as heat energy to create a thin-film solar sheet capable of 90 percent efficiency—far better than the 20 percent efficiency offered by current solar panels.

Energy Generation from Sound

Researchers at Sungkyunkwan University have created microscopic strings of zinc oxide that when exposed to sound vibrate between two electrodes, thus creating a charge. “Sound power can be used for various novel applications including cellular phones that can be charged during conversations and sound-insulating walls near highways that generate electricity from the sound of passing vehicles,” says lead researcher Dr. Sang-Woo Kim.

Energy Transmission Via Nanotubes

A never-before witnessed energy effect has been observed by MIT scientists working with carbon “nanotubes.”  Apparently, heat waves travel through these microscopic tubes up to 10,000 times faster than normal while picking up ambient charged particles along the way, thus creating and electric charge.  This offers untold potential in energy transmission.

Focusing Energy with Nanocones 

Oak Ridge National Laboratory has created microscopic zinc oxide cones, dubbed “nanocones,” that exhibit the unique property of focusing and intensifying energy at the cones’ tips.  The nanocones have been applied to solar cells to boost efficiency.

Storing Energy with Nanosponges

University of Texas researchers have created carbon nano-supercapacitors called “nanosponges” which are capable of storing static-electric energy in their sponge-like pores.  Like traditional supercapacitors, nansponges can deliver energy faster and more efficiently than chemical-based batteries, but at a far higher capacity.  Currently, the nanosponges can store the energy equivalent of a lead-acid battery, but material improvements could put them on par with lithium-ion very soon.

Source: Nanotechnology Is the Future of Renewable Energy | Energy Digital

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Related contents:

Ludwig Chicago Nanotechnology Induces Therapeutic Immune Responses Against Multiple Types of Tumors Newswise (Press Release)

Thursday
23:39 Thu, 27 Oct
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19:04 Fri, 21 Oct
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Nanotechnology’s spring Works in Progress
16:45 Wed, 12 Oct
23:45 Tue, 11 Oct
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Memories of The End of The Last Ice Age, From Those Who Were There

Aerial view of a dark islanf in a rectangular shape with a sunset on the water

Twenty-two kilometers of salt water separates the island of Jersey from France. But it didn’t used to. Photo by Mauritius images GmbH/Alamy Stock Photo

It wasn’t long after Henry David Inglis arrived on the island of Jersey, just northwest of France, that he heard the old story. Locals eagerly told the 19th-century Scottish travel writer how, in a bygone age, their island was much more substantial, and that folks used to walk to the French coast. The only hurdle to their journey was a river—one easily crossed using a short bridge.

“Pah!” Inglis presumably scoffed as he looked out across 22 kilometers of shimmering blue sea—because he went on to write in his 1832 book about the region that this was “an assertion too ridiculous to merit examination.” Another writer, Jean Poingdestre, around 150 years earlier, had been similarly unmoved by the tale. No one could have trod from Jersey to Normandy, he withered, “vnlesse it were before the Flood,” referring to the Old Testament cataclysm.

Yet, there had been a flood. A big one. Between roughly 15,000 and 5,000 years ago, massive flooding caused by melting glaciers raised sea levels around Europe. That flooding is what eventually turned Jersey into an island. Rather than being a ridiculous claim not worthy of examination, perhaps the old story was true—a whisper from ancestors who really did walk through now-vanished lands. A whisper that has echoed across millennia.

That’s exactly what geologist Patrick Nunn and historian Margaret Cook at the University of the Sunshine Coast in Australia have proposed in a recent paper. In their work, the pair describe colorful legends from northern Europe and Australia that depict rising waters, peninsulas becoming islands, and receding coastlines during that period of deglaciation thousands of years ago. Some of these stories, the researchers say, capture historical sea level rise that actually happened—often several thousand years ago.

For scholars of oral history, that makes them geomyths. “The first time I read an Aboriginal story from Australia that seemed to recall the rise of sea levels after the last ice age, I thought, No, I don’t think this is correct,” says Nunn. “But then I read another story that recalled the same thing.”

Nunn has since gathered 32 groups of stories from Indigenous communities around the coast of Australia—a continent nearly as large as Europe—that seem to refer to geological changes along shorelines. Take the legend of Garnguur, told by the Lardil people, also known as Kunhanaamendaa, in the Wellesley Islands, off northern Australia. It describes a seagull woman, Garnguur, who cut the islands off from the mainland by dragging a giant raft, or walpa, back and forth across a peninsula.

In some versions of the story, this is punishment for her brother, Crane, who failed to look after her child when asked. Nunn and Cook argue that the narrative can be taken as a memory of how, no more than 10,000 years ago, melting glaciers caused the Wellesley Islands to be cut off from the mainland. Interestingly, there is a large underwater trench between two of the Wellesley Islands—perhaps a feature of the seabed that prompted the image of Garnguur plowing her raft into the earth, the researchers suggest in their paper.

Separately, other Indigenous groups in South Australia, such as the Ngarrindjeri and Ramindjeri, tell of a period when Kangaroo Island was once connected to the mainland. Some say it got cut off by a big storm, while others describe a line of partially submerged boulders that once allowed people to cross to the island.

For Jo Brendryen, a paleoclimatologist at the University of Bergen in Norway who has studied the effects of deglaciation in Europe following the end of the last ice age, the idea that traditional oral histories preserve real accounts of sea level rise is perfectly plausible.

During the last ice age, he says, the sudden melting of ice sheets induced catastrophic events known as meltwater pulses, which caused sudden and extreme sea level rise. Along some coastlines in Europe, the ocean may have risen as much as 10 meters in just 200 years. At such a pace, it would have been noticeable to people across just a few human generations.

“These stories are anecdotes, but enough anecdotes makes for data,” Brendryen explains. “By systematically collecting these kinds of memories or stories, I think you can learn something.” Beyond capturing historical events, geomyths offer a glimpse into the inner lives of those who were there, says Tim Burbery, an expert on geomyths at Marshall University in West Virginia, who was not involved in the research: “These are stories based in trauma, based in catastrophe.”

That, he suggests, is why it may have made sense for successive generations to pass on tales of geological upheaval. Ancient societies may have sought to broadcast their warning: beware, these things can happen! “They would mythologize it,” Burbery adds. “They would use the language of legend, and within that there could be some real data.”

Today, many people report a sense of eco-anxiety because of climate change and its effects, including sea level rise. Nunn points out that our contemporary situation differs in some ways from ancient predicaments—there are many more humans on the planet and huge, densely populated coastal cities, for example. And unlike historical periods of deglaciation, we are today both the agents and victims of rapid environmental change.

But vulnerability to climatic shifts allows us to feel an affinity toward our forebears. And the old stories still have things to teach us. As Nunn says, “the fact that our ancestors have survived those periods gives us hope that we can survive this.”

By Chris Baraniuk

Chris Baraniuk is a freelance science and technology journalist based in the United Kingdom. His work has been published by the BBC, New Scientist, Scientific American, and The Atlantic. Originally from the coast of Northern Ireland, he has been known to yearn for the sight of the sea.

Source: Memories of the End of the Last Ice Age, from Those Who Were There | Hakai Magazine

Critics by Zeke Hausfather

The Earth’s climate has been quite stable over the past 11,000 years, playing an important role in the development of human civilisation. Prior to that, the Earth experienced an ice age lasting for tens of thousands of years. The past million years of the Earth’s history has been characterised by a series of ice ages broken up by relatively short periods of warmer temperatures.

These ice ages are triggered and ended by slow changes in the Earth’s orbit. But changing atmospheric concentrations of CO2 also plays a key role in driving both cooling during the onset of ice ages and warming at their end. The global average temperature was around 4C cooler during the last ice age than it is today. There is a real risk that, if emissions continue to rise, the world warms more this century than it did between the middle of the last ice age 20,000 years ago and today. 

In this explainer, Carbon Brief explores how the last ice age provides strong evidence of the role CO2 plays as a “control knob” for the Earth’s climate. It also acts as a cautionary tale of how the climate can experience large changes from relatively small outside “forcings”.

Milankovitch cycles

The Earth has experienced a number of periods over the past million years in which large continental ice sheets have covered much of the northern hemisphere. These ice ages are associated with a large drop in global temperatures – 4C or more below today’s levels – with much larger changes over land and in the high latitudes. 

These ice ages are punctuated by “interglacial” periods where temperatures rise to around current levels. The most recent ice age occurred between 120,000 and 11,500 years ago, while the current interglacial period – the Holocene – is expected to last for additional tens of thousands of years (and human activity may inadvertently delay the start of the next ice age even further).

Ice-age cycles are primarily driven by periodic changes in the Earth’s orbit. Three distinct orbital cycles – called Milankovitch cycles after their discoverer, Serbian scientist Dr Milutin Milankovitch – interact to change the distribution of incoming solar energy in ways that can dramatically affect the Earth’s climate.

These include:

  • Precession – a 26,000-year shift in the orientation of Earth’s axis of rotation that affects how much summer sun is received at high latitudes (and shifting how much reaches the north vs south).
  • Obliquity – a 41,000-year change in the tilt of the Earth’s axis relative to the sun that changes how much sun is received during a year at the poles versus the equator.
  • Eccentricity – a 100,000-400,000 change in the shape of the Earth’s orbit around the sun that alters the length of the seasons and affects the importance of precession.

These three cycles overlap in different ways over time given their different periods, which means that ice ages do not always have the same duration. None of these cycles substantially changes the total amount of energy reaching the Earth from the sun; rather, they mostly act to change the distribution of the sun’s energy across the surface of the Earth. 

When these cycles cause the northern latitudes to get less sun in the summer, it allows ice sheets to begin to expand. These ice sheets in turn reflect more incoming sunlight back to space, resulting in a “positive feedback” that drives additional regional cooling.

The northern latitudes matter much more than the southern latitudes – at least over the past few million years – as it contains more land area (which can more easily become ice-covered than the oceans) and because the Antarctic has remained covered in ice…..To be continued

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Related contents:

John Wheeler: The last 2.6 million years on Earth is known as the Ice Age INFORUMJohn Wheeler: During the last Ice Age glacial advance, more land was exposed INFORUM

15:18 Wed, 12 Oct
06:56 Sun, 09 Oct
11:49 Wed, 05 Oct
03:30 Wed, 05 Oct
05:18 Thu, 22 Sep
What does forest restoration in the U.S. Southwest look like in the age of climate change? Ensia

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Russian Seizure of Ukraine Nuclear Plant Sparks Worries About Radiation

Russia’s seizure of a Ukrainian nuclear power plant has raised fears about access to data, atomic experts said, although they stressed they did not see immediate radiological risks and a U.N. watchdog said its reactors were undamaged.

Russian forces captured the Zaporizhzhia plant – Europe’s largest – after attacking it in the early hours of Friday, setting an adjacent five-storey training facility on fire

Russian forces captured the Zaporizhzhia plant – Europe’s largest – after attacking it in the early hours of Friday, setting an adjacent five-storey training facility on fire, Ukrainian authorities said. Russia has blamed the attack on the plant on Ukrainian saboteurs.

In a press conference on Friday, Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) chief Rafael Grossi said no damage had been done to the Zaporozhzhia reactors and Ukrainian staff continued to operate the nuclear facilities while Russian forces controlled the area.

The monitoring system at the site was functioning normally and there had been no release of radioactive material, Grossi said.

Park Jong-woon, a professor at the energy and electric engineering department of Dongguk University, said he did not think there was an immediate radiological threat posed by the plant’s seizure, but added Russia could disrupt public access to data to sow confusion.

“They can make people wonder, freak them out and spread fear,” said Park, who worked at state-run power operators between 1996 and 2009, helping build nuclear reactors.

The fire at the Zaporizhzhia facility has since been extinguished but it had raised “a very real concern” about the potential for disaster, Edwin Lyman, director of nuclear power safety at the Union of Concerned Scientists in Washington D.C., said.

“For example, the prospect of a widespread fire, although that appears not to be the case, could disable the plant’s electrical systems and lead to an event very much like Fukushima if cooling is not restored in time,” he said.

More broadly, experts expressed worries about access to real time data necessary for gauging the radiation situation on the ground.

The official website for radiation readings at the Zaporizhzhia site was not immediately accessible as of Friday afternoon, Lyman said.

Since last week’s takeover by Russian forces of Chernobyl – the site of the world’s worst nuclear disaster and now a defunct power plant – monitoring of radiation levels there has been more difficult, according to Kenji Nanba, who heads Fukushima University’s Institute of Environmental Radioactivity and has been involved in a joint research project with Ukrainian scientists.

He said an official Ukrainian website with hourly radiation measurements from Chernobyl’s exclusion zone had been down for days and that another site had gradually lost most of its real-time readings.

Although the damaged Chernobyl reactor is stable and is covered under a large new containment structure, Nanba said it was still crucial for researchers like himself to track radiation data at the site to make sure there were no sudden changes.

Elevated radiation readings were recorded near Chernobyl after it was taken over by Russian forces last week, but experts say those were most likely caused by military activity that kicked up irradiated dirt and earth into the air.

The fourth reactor at Chernobyl exploded in April 1986 during a botched safety test, sending clouds of radiation billowing across much of Estimates for the numbers of direct and indirect deaths from the disaster vary from the low thousands to as many as 93,000 extra cancer deaths worldwide.

Source: Russian seizure of Ukraine nuclear plant sparks worries about radiation | Business Standard News

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A Simple Retina Scan Could Predict Your Risk of Early Death

A new study has proposed that a simple retina scan could indicate whether a person is at risk of early death. The research found the greater the gap between a person’s chronological age and retinal age the higher their risk of dying.

We have all heard the saying “age is just a number.” Plenty of people can act much more youthful than you’d expect from their chronological age while others certainly seem older than their years.

Researchers have long suggested measuring a person’s biological age could offer insight into their risk for many diseases. But the challenge has been finding a simple measure to objectively track how fast a body is aging.

One recent study homed in on a pattern of blood-based inflammatory biomarkers to measure a person’s immune system age. Another project is tracking the accumulation of DNA mutations over time as a way of calculating biological age and determining potential lifespan.

This latest method is perhaps the simplest to date, relying on an easy retinal scan to evaluate a person’s biological age. The researchers used machine learning to create a deep learning model designed to predict a person’s age by measuring deterioration in tissue at the back of the eye.

In most healthy middle-aged adults the algorithm could accurately predict a person’s age within a window of three and half years from a single retinal image. More interesting was the discovery that those with a large gap between their chronological age and their retinal age had a higher risk of death over an 11-year follow-up.

Those with retinal age gaps larger than three years were between 49 and 67 percent more likely to die than those with a small retinal age gap. For every year difference between retinal age and chronological age the study calculated a two percent increase in all-cause mortality and a three percent increase in death from causes other than cardiovascular disease and cancer.

“The retina offers a unique, accessible ‘window’ to evaluate underlying pathological processes of systemic vascular and neurological diseases that are associated with increased risks of mortality,” the researchers noted in the study.

“Our novel findings have determined that the retinal age gap is an independent predictor of increased mortality risk, especially of non-[cardiovascular disease]/ non-cancer mortality. These findings suggest that retinal age may be a clinically significant biomarker of aging.”

More work will be needed to further verify these findings in broad cohorts but the researchers hypothesize a simple eye scan could be used to easily monitor a person’s general health. The algorithm could also be incorporated into a smartphone app allowing for doctors to remotely assess patients.

“Given the rising burden of non-communicable diseases and population aging globally, the early identification and delivery of personalized healthcare might have tremendous public health benefits,” the researchers concluded in the study.

“Further, the recent development of smartphone-based retinal cameras, together with the integration of deep learning algorithms, may in the future provide point-of-care assessments of aging and improve accessibility to tailored risk assessments.”

Rich Haridy

Source: A simple retina scan could predict your risk of early death

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