Body & Brain

Thank your mom for your big brain, plus contagious itching and phobia therapy in this week’s news

Ecstasy ER visits up The number of people visiting hospital emergency rooms with symptoms related to use of the illicit drug ecstasy grew by nearly 75 percent between 2004 and 2008, according to the U.S. Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration. ER visits for ecstasy can arise from anxiety, agitation, high blood pressure, dehydration, recklessness, blurred vision, elevated body temperature and heart or kidney failure. In 2008, 17,865 people in the United States showed up at ERs with ecstasy-related problems, compared with 10,220 in 2004, researchers note. Most of the visits involved ecstasy in combination with other drugs, the authors note. The study appears in the March 24 DAWN Report, from SAMHSA’s Drug Abuse Warning Network. — Nathan Seppa
Growth hormone plus estrogen Girls born with the genetic disorder Turner’s syndrome who are treated with a growth hormone and estrogen grow 5 more centimeters on average than girls not getting treatment, a study begun in 1987 shows. U.S. researchers randomly assigned 149 girls ages 5 to 12.5 years to get growth hormone, low-dose estrogen, both treatments or a placebo. Girls who received only growth hormone grew marginally less than those getting the combined treatment, the scientists report March 31 in the New England Journal of Medicine . The girls reached adult height at age 17 on average. Turner’s syndrome causes short stature, infertility and other health problems. — Nathan Seppa Big brains come from mom Humans should thank their mothers for their oversized brains. Mathematical analyses of 128 species of placental mammals find that the longer a mother spends gestating and nursing her baby, the bigger the baby’s brain grows relative to its body. Bigger brains didn’t come at the expense of smaller bodies, and the size of litters didn’t have an effect, either. Humans may have developed their large, energy-hogging brains because of the species’ long gestational and nursing times, Robert Barton and Isabella Capellini of Durham University in England propose in a paper to appear in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences . — Laura Sanders Catching an itch Watching someone else scratch an itch can make you itchier. People who saw a video of other people scratching an itch were more likely to scratch themselves, scientists led by Gil Yosipovitch of Wake Forest Baptist Medical Center in Winston-Salem, N. C. report in an upcoming British Journal of Dermatology . What’s more, the researchers found that people with atopic dermatitis who experience chronic itchiness seem to be more susceptible to catching an itch from watching others. The researchers don’t know what’s happening in people’s brains as they experience contagious itchiness. Figuring out why itches are catching might lead to better ways to curb the sensation. — Laura Sanders Stress hormone improves phobia therapy Don’t tell Hitchcock. A common steroid hormone could make virtual reality treatments for the fear of heights — and, hopefully, the vertigo that goes along with it — more successful. Phobic patients given cortisol, a hormone associated with response to stress, shrugged off fear better following exposure therapy than patients given a placebo. It may last, too, an international team of researchers reports online March 28 in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences . In surveys, many patients who received hormone pills before scary virtual reality trips reported fewer height-related anxieties one month after the end of treatment. It looks like cortisol fudges with the brain’s retrieval of bad memories, researchers say. — Daniel Strain

More Stories from Science News on Health & Medicine

From the Nature Index

Paid Content