Lab Report: Health, Science and Medicine

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CHILD BEHAVIOR
How Routine Can Help Kids Stave Off Anxiety
Keeping young children on a stable schedule of activities — with consistent wake and sleep times, regular play periods and reliable intervals between meals — can make them less anxious about new situations and environments as they grow older. That's the conclusion of a unique new study led by Timothy Monk at the University of Pittsburgh. Monk asked the parents of 59 1-month-old babies to document when they performed specific tasks, such as feeding, changing, playing with and comforting their infants. Over the next 13 years, the parents answered periodic questionnaires about their children's developing mental state, including how often they cried or felt fearful about new situations in school.

Monk found that babies who had more dependable routines at 1 month were less likely to be anxious at age 10. He thinks the reason may have to do with both physiological factors — like the levels of the hormones cortisol and melatonin, which help regulate sleep and eating — and environmentally influenced ones like sociability, which is encouraged in children who feel secure in their daily routines and interactions with their parents.

DRUG POLICY
Veterans Get the Go-Ahead to Use Medical Marijuana
The U.S. department of Veterans Affairs has issued a long-awaited directive allowing its patients to use marijuana for medical reasons without jeopardizing their access to government-sponsored health care.

Until now, physicians and patients were unclear on whether veterans using medical marijuana, even in the 14 states where it is legal, were breaking federal law — which prohibits possession or use of the drug for any reason — and thus were ineligible to participate in VA-based pain-management programs. The uncertainty made some VA physicians reluctant to treat medical-marijuana users and led patients to avoid seeking care there.

With the official policy clarification, VA patients who register for a medical-marijuana card in states where such use is legal may use the natural painkiller to alleviate conditions including nausea caused by chemotherapy, chronic pain, insomnia and anxiety. VA physicians still cannot prescribe, dispense or endorse cannabis use for any reason, in accordance with federal law. But patients who obtain the drug for medicinal purposes outside the VA system in a state where it is legal may discuss the use of marijuana with their doctor as part of their pain-management program.

FROM THE LABS
Risk at the RegisterBisphenol a (BPA), the estrogen-mimicking compound found in plastic, also coats many cash-register receipts, according to a new study by the Environmental Working Group. Tests found that 40% of receipts from gas stations, fast-food outlets, grocery stores and other retailers contained significant amounts of the potentially cancer-causing chemical. But experts note that while BPA can rub off paper when handled, it's not clear how much is actually absorbed by the body.

Clues to Alzheimer's
Researchers at MIT have found a protein in the sirtuin family that interrupts the formation of sticky protein plaques in the brains of mice with Alzheimer's disease. Sirtuin has also been associated with longevity in mouse studies, though drugs that boost the protein do not appear to extend life.

ON CALL: BEDBUG CZAR
New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg redirected $500,000 to fund a war on bedbugs to rein in the city's exploding rates of infestation. But New York is hardly the only town with a pest problem: a new survey finds that nearly 95% of U.S. exterminators have responded to bedbug calls in the past year — from residences, hotels, offices, laundromats and even movie theaters — compared with only 25% before 2000. Global travel is largely to blame, say experts.