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Measles outbreaks now a global problem thanks to anti-vaxxers

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Welcome to The National Today newsletter, which takes a closer look at what’s happening around some of the day’s most notable stories. Sign up here and it will be delivered directly to your inbox Monday to Friday.

TODAY:

  • Measles outbreaks are becoming more of a global problem, with more than 300,000 suspected and confirmed cases worldwide​. 
  • Brexit takes a toll on Britain’s scientific community, leading to fears over a “brain drain.” 
  • Missed The National last night? Watch it here.

Connecting the dots

The measles are making a big comeback. 

The latest figures from the World Health Organization show that 2018 will be another (modern) record-setting year for the highly contagious yet easily preventable disease, with 301,702 suspected and confirmed cases worldwide through the end of October. But those represent just a fraction of the actual number of infections, as most cases in the developing world go unreported.

Late last month, the WHO and the U.S. Centers for Disease Control, published a report that found a 31 per cent rise in worldwide measles cases in 2017, estimating 110,000 deaths due to the disease, mostly children under the age of five. Reported cases have increased in five of the six world health regions, with only Western Pacific nations like Australia and Japan showing progress.

A health official administers a measles vaccination at Maple Ridge Secondary School on Sept. 7, 2018. (Rafferty Baker/CBC)

Targeted vaccination campaigns have reduced the number of measles deaths by 80 per cent over the past two decades, from an estimated 545,000 fatal cases in 2000. But vaccine coverage, which needs to be at 95 per cent to offer “herd immunity” and effectively end outbreaks of the disease, has stalled at around 85 per cent and has been falling in several countries. 

The reason is the anti-vaxxer movement, which has lately been gaining strength and support from populist governments who share their science skepticism.

A report in today’s Guardian newspaper captures the frustration of the European Union’s health commissioner, Dr. Vytenis Andriukaitis, at the close to 64,000 cases and 72 deaths across the continent so far this year.
“Not just me – all of scientific society is concerned – epidemiologists, paediatricians, infectious disease experts and a lot of health ministers,” he told the paper. “It is unimaginable that we have deaths because of measles – children dying because of measles. We promised that by 2020 Europe would be measles free.”

Immunization rates have fallen in places like Romania, Italy, Poland and France, as the internet continues to spread discredited concerns about the safety of the MMR vaccine and governments have made it easier for parents to opt out. And the number of cases across Europe have grown exponentially, from 5273 in 2016, to 23,927 last year and now almost triple that figure.

This year, Europe has experienced a particularly large measles outbreaks in Ukraine — 45,000 sickened — and sizeable ones in Serbia, Greece, and Albania among others, with cases now documented in 42 of its 53 nations. In fact, Europe now has more suspected and confirmed cases than Africa, and ranks second behind Southeast Asia, where India is currently experiencing the world’s worst outbreak.

But the problem is global.

Venezuela has seen a sharp spike in the measles in the midst of its economic and political meltdown, with more than 6,000 confirmed cases since the summer of 2017, as has neighbouring Brazil, which reports 9,800 cases. Madagascar has had more than 10,000 cases over just the past three months

And this week, Israel saw its second measles death in a month, as the nation grapples with an outbreak that has affected 2,690 people, resulting in 948 hospitalizations.

It has been a relatively quiet year for measles in North America, with 292 cases reported across the United States, and 29 in Canada — the latest leading to a public health alert this week in the Greater Toronto region

The highly contagious disease, which can be spread by coughs or sneezes, usually manifests itself with cold-like symptoms and a rash. But in certain cases it can cause serious and potentially deadly complications, including encephalitis, meningitis and pneumonia. 

Before the MMR vaccine became widely available in 1980, the measles used to kill 2.6 million people every year. And the the WHO estimates that the two dose treatment has prevented 21.1 million deaths since 2000.


Brexit fuels ‘brain drain’ fears

The U.K.’s departure from the EU has many scientists reconsidering their future, writes CBC London correspondent Thomas Daigle.

A born-and-bred Briton, Emma Bell hadn’t planned to leave the U.K.

That’s until Britain voted to leave the EU.

“I don’t understand why we’re intentionally self-destructing,” she said.

Uncertainties over Brexit led British cancer researcher Emma Bell to accept a new position in Toronto in the new year. She believes a brain drain is “exactly what’s happening” in the U.K. (Stephanie Jenzer/CBC)

As a PhD-trained bioinformatician at Imperial College London, Bell uses computer programming to analyze DNA and identify cancer risks.

But she won’t be here for long.

She’s moving to Toronto by early February to work at the Princess Margaret Cancer Centre.

“I decided not to look for a position here in the U.K. because I have concerns about what life will be like and what my work will be like after March 29,” the day Brexit takes effect.

She’s not the only one.

Despite the British government’s assurances that it is managing the risks of a no-deal Brexit, scientists fear research material could be delayed at the border, international scientific cooperation could be held up and EU funding could vanish.

Nearly all London-based scientists (97 per cent) who responded to a recent survey said they believe a “hard” Brexit would be bad for their field. More than 1,000 staff took part in the study at the Francis Crick Institute, the country’s biggest biomedical research lab.

Jasmin Zohren says she took the 2016 vote “quite personally at the time.” A sex chromosome biology researcher at the Crick, Zohren is considering a move back to her native Germany once her contract runs out.

She predicts Brexit with no deal would lead to “chaos.”

“No one knows what’s going to happen.”

In just over three months, Britain is set to leave the European Union. But many uncertainties remain for the scientific community. The CBC’s Thomas Daigle met with a scientist who is moving to Canada because of Brexit. 2:17

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  • You may also like our environment newsletter, What on Earth? Your weekly guide to a changing environment and what we’re doing about it. Sign up here.


A few words on … 

Connecting at Christmastime.


Quote of the moment

“My views on treating allies with respect and also being clear-eyed about both malign actors and strategic competitors are strongly held and informed by over four decades of immersion in these issues. We must do everything possible to advance an international order that is most conducive to our security, prosperity and values, and we are strengthened in this effort by the solidarity of our alliances.”

-U.S. Defense Secretary Jim Mattis airs a fundamental difference with President Donald Trump via his publicly-released resignation letter.

FILE -In this Sept. 21, 2018, file photo, Defense Secretary Jim Mattis speaks during the 2018 POW/MIA National Recognition Day Ceremony at the Pentagon in Washington. President Donald Trump says Mattis will be retiring at the end of February 2019 and that a new secretary will be named shortly. (Susan Walsh/Associated Press)


What The National is reading

  • Canadian held in China questioned daily without lawyer: sources (CBC)
  • Yellow jacket protests head to Portugal (Politico EU)
  • Charlie Hebdo attack suspect arrested in Djibouti (CBC)
  • Mars Express probe beams back images of ice-filled crater (Guardian)
  • Fact-checking fibbing politicians works, study finds (Agence France Presse)
  • Conceal-carry clerk shoots, kills, angry, armed customer (NBC Tusla)
  • Escaping prisoner accidentally hitches lift from policeman (BBC)
  • Tower of London beefeaters to strike over pension changes (Reuters)

Today in history

Dec. 21, 1994: The great fruitcake debate: light or dark?

Should Christmas cake be dark or light? Soak it in enough booze and no one cares. 

The great debate: should Christmas cake be dark or light? 7:13

Sign up here and have The National Today newsletter delivered directly to your inbox Monday to Friday.

Please send your ideas, news tips, rants, and compliments to thenationaltoday@cbc.ca. ​


A note to readers

The National Today will be taking the next couple of weeks off to roast chestnuts on an open fire and test the limits of eggnog tolerance. See you on Jan. 7, 2019. Joyeuses Fêtes! 



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Health

Researchers warn about the severe psychological distress caused by eating junk food

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(Natural News) Does junk food make you sad? While the current state of the American food industry is more than enough to make anyone feel depressed, new research from Loma Linda University demonstrates a link between junk-laden diets and psychological distress. Based on their findings, it appears that what you eat can and does affect your mental health — and that the prepackaged garbage peddled as “food” can have a seriously deleterious effect on your emotional well-being.

Even after adjusting for other external factors, the scientists found this relationship held steady: The more junk food a person ate, the more distress they reported feeling. When you consider the physiological effects junk food has on the body, it is no wonder that people report feeling like they are more distressed: They are in distress, they just don’t know it’s because of what the “food” they’re eating is doing to them on the inside.

Estimates suggest that the average American gets 60 percent of their daily calories from processed or junk food. Junk food consumption is a widespread problem here in the United States. Now, there are questions about whether or not junk food is a driving force in the plague of insanity (and stupidity) striking the U.S.

Scientists link junk food to poor mental health

Published in the journal International Journal of Food Sciences and Nutrition in early 2019, a study from Loma Linda University scientists finds a link between poor diet and poor mental health. Even after adjusting for external factors such as gender, age, education and income level, the association between junk food intake and mental illness remained.

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Study leader Jim E. Banta, Ph.D., MPH, an associate professor at the school, says that their conclusions support the findings of previous research. To conduct their study, Banta and his team looked at data from the California Health Interview Survey (CHIS). The scientists used 240,000 phone surveys conducted by CHIS between 2005 and 2015, and included data on socio-demographics, health status and health behaviors.

“This and other studies like it could have big implications for treatments in behavorial medicine,” Banta said of the findings.

“Perhaps the time has come for us to take a closer look at the role of diet in mental health, because it could be that healthy diet choices contribute to mental health. More research is needed before we can answer definitively, but the evidence seems to be pointing in that direction,” he added.

The fact that scientists in the 21st century are only now just beginning to even consider the possibility of a relationship between nutrition and mental health is truly disturbing. Natural health practitioners have long been aware of the importance of good nutrition for total well-being, including mental state.

Is poor nutrition turning America insane?

Vitamin D deficiency is a well-known cause of depression. B vitamins, iron, selenium and magnesium also support good mental health and deficiencies in these nutrients can also cause depression and anxiety. There is a growing body of research which strongly supports poor nutrition as a causative factor not only in depression, but in other mental illnesses — including schizophrenia, bipolar disorder, OCD and more.

For example, Dr. Banta notes that some research has linked high sugar consumption to bipolar disorder, while fried foods and processed grains are linked to depression. There is no ignoring the link between diet and disease — whether it is of the body or of the mind makes no difference.

Nearly 60 percent of the American population’s diet comes from disease-causing food, and it is hard not to wonder if obesity, heart disease and death aren’t the only problems being caused by junk food diets.

Are the increasingly insane leftists just running around in a nutrient-deprived, sugar-spiked frenzy? Whether you’re talking about the inanity of “social justice” score-keeping or the rapid acceptance of censorship to silence conservatives, it’s clear that the far left is missing a few bolts upstairs. A diet of GMOs, pesticides and toxic food additives will do that to you, though.

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Eat healthier to improve your physical and mental well-being

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(Natural News) The physical health and mental well-being of a person depend a lot on nutrition and the food that he eats. Diet also influences the risk of developing chronic diseases. While the relationship between physical health and diet is well-understood, little is known about how diet and its quality influence the development of mental disorders. In a recent study, researchers from the University of Regensburg in Germany investigated the behavioral effects of a Western diet on pattern separation – the process of keeping items distinct in memory. They discovered that a diet consisting of increased amounts of sugar and saturated fatty acids, reduced levels of polyunsaturated fatty acids, and an increased ratio of omega-6/omega-3 fatty acids (Western diet) harms memory. The results of their study were published in the journal Food Science and Human Wellness.

The Western diet impairs pattern separation

In this study, researchers investigated the utility of spatial separation – a behavioral process associated with the hippocampus – in the assessment of dietary interventions and the behavioral effects of the transgenerational administration of a Western diet on pattern separation. Pattern separation is the process of keeping items distinct in memory and is mediated by the hippocampus. Previous studies have suggested that there is a relationship between hippocampal function and diet quality in both humans and animals.

To examine the association between them, the researchers used rats, feeding over seven generations a diet containing increased amounts of sugar and saturated fatty acids, reduced levels of polyunsaturated fatty acids, and an increased ratio of omega-6/omega-3 fatty acids. This diet composition is characteristic of a diet known as the Western diet. The researchers administered it transgenerationally because previous studies have shown that interventional diets need to be implemented over several generations to induce behavioral effects.

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They compared the spatial pattern separation (or local discrimination) performance of these animals with that of rats fed a standard diet. For the test, they presented the rats two locations and allowed them to learn across trials to respond to the correct location. During spatial discrimination training, they designated a location as the correct one and rewarded the rats if they touched the correct location. They reversed the correct and incorrect locations every time the rats successfully got the correct ones nine times out of 10 trials.

The researchers found a separation-dependent difference between the standard and Western diet groups in the number of discriminations performed in the pattern separation task. The rats fed with a Western diet performed fewer discriminations. Rats with lesions in the dorsal hippocampus showed impaired pattern separation when the locations were close together but not when they were far apart. The researchers associated this impairment with hippocampal dysfunctioning. Their results align with previous studies which demonstrated that consumption of a Western diet impaired cognitive functions, damaged brain regions, and contributed to the occurrence of neurodegenerative diseases. Their results confirmed that pattern separation could be negatively affected by transgenerational administration of a Western diet.

The researchers concluded that spatial pattern separation can help detect the effects of dietary interventions and that the Western diet can impair pattern separation.

How to make your diet healthier

A healthy diet can provide many benefits, the most important of which is the prevention of chronic diseases. Here are some things that you can do to make your diet healthier:

  • Eat slowly
  • Choose whole grains
  • Add probiotics to your diet
  • Increase your protein intake
  • Drink plenty of water
  • Avoid frying food and eating fast food
  • Take vitamin and mineral supplements
  • Try new and healthy recipes
  • Eat vegetables first before every meal
  • Eat fruits instead of drinking them
  • Exercise regularly
  • Stop drinking sweetened beverages
  • Get adequate sleep

Eating healthier and becoming aware of your nutritional needs will not only improve your physical health, but these will also benefit your mental and emotional well-being.

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Apples: Eat them to keep the doctor away – and boost stem cell therapy

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(Natural News) There is some truth behind the saying, “an apple a day keeps the doctor away.” Apples are superfoods, and they are good sources of antioxidants that protect cells from oxidative damage and boost the immune system. They also contain dietary fiber, which is good for digestion and the maintenance of gut microbiota. But there is more to apples than just being healthy, antioxidant fruits. In a recent study published in the journal Nutrition Research, researchers from Sungkyunkwan University in South Korea showed the beneficial effect of apple extracts on the proliferation of adult stem cells. They also identified the possible molecular mechanisms underlying apple’s pro-proliferative effects.

Apple ethanol extracts can enhance the proliferation of stem cells useful for tissue regeneration

Tissue regeneration using adult stem cells (ASCs) has significant potential in the treatment of many degenerative diseases. It also provides a promising means of repairing chronic tissue or organ failure due to injuries, congenital defects, and aging. Stem cells are essential in regenerative medicine because they can be used directly in cell replacement therapies. However, studies on their application in clinical settings suggest that age negatively affects the proliferation status and differentiation potential of ASCs. This presents a possible limitation in their therapeutic use.

In the hopes of addressing this limitation, researchers turned their attention to the pro-proliferative activity of apples. Apples are rich sources of valuable phytochemicals that are known to be beneficial to human health. They possess anti-inflammatory, antioxidant, and even anticancer activities. These antioxidants can help maintain human cells and protect them from harmful oxidation products. In addition, apples contain metabolites that could ensure longevity and increase the number of human cells in culture. (Related: Apples could hold key for increasing lifespan.)

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Because of this, researchers hypothesized that apple extracts might exert beneficial effects on ASCs. They obtained apple extracts using ethanol as the extraction solvent and tested these on human adipose tissue-derived mesenchymal stem cells (ADSCs) and human cord blood-derived mesenchymal stem cells (CB-MSCs). They also used 3-(4,5-dimethylthiazol-2-yl)-2,5-diphenyltetrazolium bromide and Click-iT 5-ethynyl-2?-deoxyuridine flow cytometry assays to evaluate the pro-proliferative effects of the extracts.

The researchers found that treatment with apple extracts promoted the proliferation of ADSCs and CB-MSCs. Apple extracts also induced the stepwise phosphorylation of p44/42 MAPK (ERK), mammalian target of rapamycin (mTOR), p70 S6 kinase (p70S6K), S6 ribosomal protein (S6RP), eukaryotic initiation factor (eIF) 4B, and eIF4E in ADSCs. p44/42 MAPK (ERK) is a signaling pathway involved in the regulation of cell proliferation and differentiation. Inhibition of this pathway results in cell apoptosis. mTOR is a key signaling node that coordinates cell cycle progression and cell growth. p70S6K is a cytokine that regulates cell growth by inducing protein synthesis. eIFs, on the other hand, are proteins or protein complexes involved in translation and protein biosynthesis.

The researchers also reported that apple extracts significantly induced the production of vascular endothelial growth factor (VEGF) and interleukin-6 (IL-6) in both ADSCs and CB-MSCs. VEGF is a potent angiogenic factor, which means it promotes the formation of blood vessels. VEGF also plays a role in other physiological functions, such as hematopoiesis, wound healing, and development. IL-6 is a promoter of proliferation. The researchers further confirmed that the apple extract-induced proliferation of ADSCs under serum-free conditions is mediated by ERK-dependent cytokine production because when they pre-treated cells with PD98059, a specific ERK inhibitor, it inhibited the phosphorylation of the mTOR/p70S6K/S6RP/eIF4B/eIF4E pathway.

Based on these findings, the researchers concluded that extracts from apples are potent pro-proliferative agents, and the beneficial effect of apple extract on the proliferation of ASCs may overcome the limitation in their therapeutic use in tissue regeneration.

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