Body & Brain

Chilled newborns, statin drugs for stroke, effects of mom’s stress and more in this week’s news

Chill that baby
Cooling a newborn who has suffered a lack of oxygen and possible brain damage during birth improves the baby’s chances, researchers report in the August Archives of Pediatric and Adolescent Medicine. Neonatal units in Australia, New Zealand, Canada and the United States randomly assigned 110 such infants to be cooled within six hours of birth to a whole-body state that was 3.5 degrees Celsius below normal, while 111 other such babies weren’t cooled. The chilling lasted 72 hours. Two years later, 27 of the cooled newborns had died, compared with 42 of the others. Also, 42 of the cooled babies were living free of any disability at age 2, compared with only 22 of the babies not chilled. —Nathan Seppa

Stressful pregnancies, sicker children
Ommmm. Obstetricians may want to advocate calming exercises, a new study finds. Children born to women reporting the most life stress (feeling burdened by events and conditions) had higher rates of birth defects, disease and behavioral disorders. Anxiety and depression during pregnancy, by contrast, correlated most strongly with a child’s risk of developing early infectious or parasitic disease, an international research team reported online July 21 in Environmental Health Perspectives. More than 66,000 pregnant Danish women participated in phone interviews asking 18 questions about their levels of stress. Answers were correlated with data on their children’s health throughout the next six years.—Janet Raloff

Exercise takes on liver disease, diabetes
Exercise may help hold diabetes at bay, a study at Yale University suggests. Nonalcoholic fatty liver disease is the most common liver disease — and can be fostered by insulin resistance, a risk factor for diabetes. Normally, a meal rich in sugars and starches would induce the livers of people with insulin resistance to go into overdrive making fat. And in 12 trim men with insulin resistance it did — except when that meal was followed by 45 minutes of brisk exercise, the scientists report online August 1 in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. Exercise also reversed insulin resistance in the volunteers’ muscle tissue. —Janet Raloff

European E. coli strain deciphered
The unusual strain of E. coli that left more than 4,000 Europeans sick arose because less-virulent E. coli strains swapped genes, a U.S.-Danish team has found. After comparing this new microbe to 11 other E. coli strains, the researchers also identified characteristics in the new strain that enabled it to produce a potent toxin and harbor resistance to some antibiotics. The outbreak is a dramatic example of genes being transferred among bacteria, the researchers conclude in a report released online July 27 in the New England Journal of Medicine. The life-threatening bacterium destroyed red blood cells and caused kidney damage in some people. —Nathan Seppa

Statins versus stroke
In young-to-middle-aged people who have had a stroke, regularly taking a cholesterol-lowering statin drug reduces the risk of a second stroke or heart attack, researchers at Helsinki University report in the Aug. 2 Neurology. The scientists identified 215 people who had had a stroke at an average age of 39. The scientists reached 197 of them by phone about nine years after each person’s stroke. Of 143 who were never prescribed a statin afterward, 29 (or 20 percent) had a subsequent stroke, heart attack or other vascular problem. Of 36 given a statin off and on, four (11 percent) reported one of these incidents. Of 36 who were continuously on a statin after the stroke, none had any vascular problems. —Nathan Seppa

Med no help for PTSD
Military veterans with post-traumatic stress disorder that fails to improve with the use of antidepressants, the typical first-line medicine, also fail to get relief from risperidone, an antipsychotic drug. Risperidone is commonly prescribed for such patients, even though it is approved for treatment of other conditions. To test its effect on PTSD, researchers at Yale University and the Department of Veterans Affairs randomly assigned 123 PTSD patients who didn’t respond to an antidepressant to get risperidone and 124 other non-responders to get a placebo. After six months, PTSD symptoms were roughly the same in the two groups. The study appears in the Aug. 3 Journal of the American Medical Association. —Nathan Seppa

More Stories from Science News on Health & Medicine