college of public health and human sciences

Obese people need more vitamin E, but actually get less

CORVALLIS, Ore. – A recent study suggests that obese people with metabolic syndrome face an unexpected quandary when it comes to vitamin E – they need more than normal levels of the vitamin because their weight and other problems are causing increased oxidative stress, but those same problems actually cause their effective use of vitamin E to be reduced.

As a result, experts in the Linus Pauling Institute at Oregon State University say that a huge number of Americans may be chronically deficient in vitamin E, which could compound the wide range of diseases known to be associated with metabolic syndrome, including heart disease, diabetes, Alzheimer’s disease and cancer.

Metabolic syndrome affects more than one out of every three adults in the U.S. It is characterized in people who have at least three of five common issues that raise health concerns – excess abdominal fat, high blood pressure, low “good” cholesterol, and/or high levels of blood sugar and triglycerides.

Some of the findings of this study are counterintuitive, the researchers said, because vitamin E is a fat soluble micronutrient and, in theory, should be available at increased levels in people who are overweight and eat large amounts of fatty foods.

However, a study in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition found that even though circulating vitamin E in the bloodstream may be high, in obese people this essential micronutrient is not finding its way into tissues where it is most needed.

“Vitamin E is associated with lipids, or the fats found in the blood, but it’s mostly just a micronutrient that’s going along for the ride,” said Maret Traber, a professor in the College of Public Health and Human Sciences at OSU, and a principal investigator in the Linus Pauling Institute.

“What we found was that tissues of obese people are rejecting intake of some of these lipids because they already have enough fat,” Traber said. “In the process they also reject the associated vitamin E. So even though the tissues are facing serious oxidative stress, the delivery of vitamin E to them is being impaired, and they are not getting enough of this important micronutrient.”

Fat generates oxidants that increase metabolic stress, Traber said. Vitamin E, along with vitamin C and some other antioxidants, are natural dietary defenses against this problem. However, millions of Americans – more than 92 percent by some measures – eat a diet deficient in vitamin E, often about half the desired amount. It’s found at highest levels in some foods such as nuts, seeds, and olive oil.

“Another concern is that when people try to lose weight, often the first thing they do is limit their fat intake,” Traber said. “This may make sense if you are trying to reduce calories, but fat is the most common source of vitamin E in our diets, so that approach to weight loss can sometimes actually worsen a nutrient deficiency.”

A reasonable approach, Traber said, would be to try to eat a balanced and healthy diet, even if attempting to lose weight, while also taking a daily multivitamin that includes 100 percent of the recommended daily allowance of vitamin E, which is 15 milligrams per day. It’s also important to eat some food containing at least a little fat when taking a supplement, because otherwise this fat-soluble vitamin – in the form found in most dietary supplements – will not be well-absorbed.

In this study, the researchers made their findings with a double-blind study of adults, some of whom were healthy and others with metabolic syndrome. The authors concluded that its findings support higher dietary requirements of vitamin E for adults with metabolic syndrome.

This work was done in collaboration with researchers at The Ohio State University, with support from the National Dairy Council.


Maret Traber, 541-737-7977

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Olive oil
Source of vitamin E

New medical research reporting requirements may lead to fewer positive outcomes

CORVALLIS, Ore. – The adoption of new transparent reporting standards may have contributed to a significant reduction in the percentage of studies reporting positive research findings among large-budget clinical trials funded by the National Heart, Lung and Blood Institute, a study published today in the journal PLOS ONE has found.


In all, 57 percent of large-budget clinical trials evaluating drugs or dietary supplements for the treatment or prevention of cardiovascular disease published from 1970 to 1999 reported positive outcomes, while only 8 percent of clinical trials published between 2000 and 2012 reported positive outcomes, researchers from Oregon State University and the federal Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality found. The new reporting standards were phased in around 2000.  


Under the new regulations, researchers conducting drug or dietary supplement trials using human subjects are required to identify projected outcomes and register their trials on the website, ClinicalTrials.gov, before they begin to collect data, said the study’s co-author, Veronica Irvin, an assistant professor in Oregon State University’s College of Public Health and Human Sciences.


ClinicalTrials.gov is a database of clinical trials using human subjects from studies around the world. When entering their trial into the database, researchers are required to state specifically the outcome they will focus on.


In the past, a researcher might have published an aspect of a study that was successful, even if the study overall did not produce the expected results. But the new requirements mean investigators are less likely to change their analysis plan to consider another outcome that, by chance, may have shown a positive result following drug treatment, she said.


“Some people focus only on positive results,” said Irvin, whose research interests include publication bias and transparency in reporting research outcomes. “Null outcomes, or results other than what was expected, might be disappointing, but they may inform doctors and patients about which treatments are not likely to be helpful. Publication of null results also prevents the unnecessary replication of the study by other investigators.”


In many cases, trials that do not show a significant benefit of the drug lead to less patient use of ineffective or even harmful treatments, Irvin said. One of the trials included in the analysis was the Women’s Health Initiative, which demonstrated that postmenopausal estrogen replacement therapy was not helpful for most women, for example.


ClinicalTrials.gov is accessible to the public, which improves transparency for clinicians, patients and others interested in learning more about a drug’s development or efficacy, she said.


Irvin began working on the project with the study’s lead author, Robert M. Kaplan of the Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality, while the two worked together in the National Institutes of Health’s Office of Behavior and Social Science Research.


They reviewed all large-budget clinical trials evaluating drugs or dietary supplements for the treatment or prevention of cardiovascular disease that had received funding from the National Heart, Lung and Blood Institute between 1970 and 2012.


They chose the large-budget, NHLBI-funded trials in part because outcomes from the trials were more likely to be published, even if they did not produce the expected result. In all, 55 studies were included in the research, including 30 published prior to the reporting changes in 2000 and 25 published after the changes. Of the 25 studies published after 2000, only two showed positive outcomes, while 17 of the 30 studies published from 1970 to 2000 showed positive results. 


There may be other factors contributing to the decline in positive outcomes, but Kaplan and Irvin were unable to identify other compelling alternative explanations. One suggestion, for example, was that older trials were more likely to compare new treatments to placebos, while newer treatments were more likely to compare new treatments to established treatments.


But when Kaplan and Irvin examined the data, they found that 60 percent of trials published before 2000 used placebo comparators and nearly the same amount, 64 percent, of trials after 2000 used placebos, making that an unlikely explanation.


Although many of the studies found that treatments were not effective, the authors praised the National Heart, Lung and Blood Institute for its leadership in enforcing transparent reporting requirements. Irvin said that the institute was an important leader in requiring higher standards for their clinical trials.


While the researchers focused on clinical trials related to cardiovascular health, the new reporting requirements affect all drug trials using human subjects. It would be reasonable to see similar changes in results across other disease types, she said.


“We don’t know if this decrease in positive outcomes also affects drug trials for prevention and treatment of cancer, diabetes or other diseases, but it would not be surprising because they have the same reporting requirements,” she said.


Irvin and Kaplan also are examining how results of clinical trials involving behavioral interventions may have changed under the new reporting requirements. At this time, researchers conducting studies involving behavioral changes are encouraged to register their trials but the National Institutes of Health is moving toward requiring the registration, Irvin said.

Media Contact: 

Veronica Irvin, 541-737-1074

OSU names Hoffman vice provost for international programs

CORVALLIS, Ore. – Mark Hoffman, associate dean in the College of Public Health and Human Sciences, has been named vice provost for international programs at Oregon State University. He will begin his new duties July 15.

Hoffman, an Exercise and Sport Science faculty member since 2000, has provided leadership for the college’s international education and student services efforts, including collaborations on campus-wide student success initiatives.

The vice provost for international programs plays a key role in the development and implementation of programs that further the university’s internationalization goals, according to Sabah Randhawa, OSU provost and executive vice president.

“Mark has been an active leader for the college and university in our internationalization efforts, and he will be able to focus on and expand those efforts in his new role,” Randhawa said. “We want to provide the best possible experience for international students who come to Oregon State and for OSU students who study in other countries.”

As vice provost, Hoffman will provide strategic direction for OSU’s internationalization efforts, coordinate relevant campus activities, facilitate integration of international students and scholars into OSU, support and expand education abroad opportunities for students and faculty, and oversee INTO Oregon State University academic programs and the OSU Office of International Admissions.

Hoffman is a certified athletic trainer with expertise in the human sensory and motor systems, and has focused his scholarship on understanding and preventing injuries of the lower extremity in active individuals. He has a Ph.D. in motor control with a minor in neuroscience from Indiana University, where he also earned a bachelor’s degree. He has a master’s from San Jose State University.

“I strongly share OSU’s aspiration to be a top international research university,” Hoffman said. “Comprehensive campus internationalization is critical for the development of globally-minded students. It’s not just about increasing our international enrollment, but we need to strengthen our education abroad opportunities and promote global learning and appreciation for global diversity among all students and create strategic international partnership opportunities for our faculty.”

Media Contact: 

Sabah Randhawa, 541-737-2111, Sabah.randhawa@oregonstate.edu;

Mark Hoffman, 541-737-6787, mark.hoffman@oregonstate.edu

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Mark Hoffman

                  Mark Hoffman

Mechanism outlined by which inadequate vitamin E can cause brain damage


The study this story is based on is available online: http://bit.ly/1DtAIyU


CORVALLIS, Ore. – Researchers at Oregon State University have discovered how vitamin E deficiency may cause neurological damage by interrupting a supply line of specific nutrients and robbing the brain of the “building blocks” it needs to maintain neuronal health.

The findings – in work done with zebrafish – were just published in the Journal of Lipid Research. The work was supported by the National Institutes of Health.

The research showed that zebrafish fed a diet deficient in vitamin E throughout their life had about 30 percent lower levels of DHA-PC, which is a part of the cellular membrane in every brain cell, or neuron. Other recent studies have also concluded that low levels of DHA-PC in the blood plasma of humans are a biomarker than can predict a higher risk of Alzheimer’s disease.

Just as important, the new research studied the level of compounds called “lyso PLs,” which are nutrients needed for getting DHA into the brain, and serve as building blocks that aid in membrane repair. It showed the lyso PLs are an average of 60 percent lower in fish with a vitamin E deficient diet.

The year-old zebrafish used in this study, and the deficient levels of vitamin E they were given, are equivalent to humans eating a low vitamin E diet for a lifetime. In the United States, 96 percent of adult women and 90 percent of men do not receive adequate levels of vitamin E in their diet.

DHA is a polyunsaturated fatty acid, or PUFA, increasingly recognized as one of the most important nutrients found in omega-3 fatty acids, such as those provided by fish oils and some other foods.

“This research showed that vitamin E is needed to prevent a dramatic loss of a critically important molecule in the brain, and helps explain why vitamin E is needed for brain health,” said Maret Traber, the Helen P. Rumbel Professor for Micronutrient Research in the College of Public Health and Human Sciences at OSU and lead author on this research.

“Human brains are very enriched in DHA but they can’t make it,” said Traber, who also is a principal investigator in the Linus Pauling Institute at OSU. “They get it from the liver. The particular molecules that help carry it there are these lyso PLs, and the amount of those compounds is being greatly reduced when vitamin E intake is insufficient. This sets the stage for cellular membrane damage and neuronal death.”

DHA is the needed nutrient, Traber said, but it’s lyso PLs which help get it into the brain. It’s the building block.

“You can’t build a house without the necessary materials,” Traber said. “In a sense, if vitamin E is inadequate, we’re cutting by more than half the amount of materials with which we can build and maintain the brain.”

Some other research, Traber said, has shown that the progression of Alzheimer’s disease can be slowed by increased intake of vitamin E, including one study published last year in the Journal of the American Medical Association. But that disease is probably a reflection of years of neurological damage that has already been done, she said. The zebrafish diet used in this study was deficient in vitamin E for the whole life of the fish – as is vitamin E deficiency in some humans.

Vitamin E in human diets is most often provided by dietary oils, such as olive oil. But many of the highest levels are in foods not routinely considered dietary staples – almonds, sunflower seeds or avocados.

“There’s increasingly clear evidence that vitamin E is associated with brain protection, and now we’re starting to better understand some of the underlying mechanisms,” Traber said.

Other collaborators on this research included Jan Stevens from the OSU College of Pharmacy and Robert Tanguay from the College of Agricultural Sciences.

Media Contact: 

Maret Traber, 541-737-7977

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Vitamin E source

High cholesterol, triglycerides can keep vitamin E from reaching body tissues

CORVALLIS, Ore. – In the continuing debate over how much vitamin E is enough, a new study has found that high levels of blood lipids such as cholesterol and triglycerides can keep this essential micronutrient tied up in the blood stream, and prevent vitamin E from reaching the tissues that need it.

The research, just published in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, also suggested that measuring only blood levels may offer a distorted picture of whether or not a person has adequate amounts of this vitamin, and that past methods of estimating tissue levels are flawed.

The findings are significant, the scientists say, because more than 90 percent of the people in the United States who don’t take supplements lack the recommended amount of vitamin E in their diet.

Vitamin E is especially important in some places such as artery walls, the brain, liver, eyes and skin, but is essential in just about every tissue in the body. A powerful, fat-soluble antioxidant, it plays important roles in scavenging free radicals and neurologic function. In the diet, it’s most commonly obtained from cooking oils and some vegetables.

Some experts have suggested that recommended levels of vitamin E should be lowered. But because of these absorption issues, the recommended level of 15 milligrams per day is about right, said Maret Traber, the lead author of this study. Inadequate vitamin E intake remains a significant societal problem, she said.

“This research raises particular concern about people who are obese or have metabolic syndrome,” said Traber, who is the Helen P. Rumbel Professor for Micronutrient Research in the College of Public Health and Human Sciences at Oregon State University, and a principal investigator in OSU’s Linus Pauling Institute.

“People with elevated lipids in their blood plasma are facing increased inflammation as a result,” Traber said. “Almost every tissue in their body is under oxidative attack, and needs more vitamin E. But the vitamin E needed to protect these tissues is stuck on the freeway, in the circulatory system. It’s going round and round instead of getting to the tissues where it’s needed.”

This research was done with 41 men and women, including both younger and older adults, who obtained vitamin E by eating deuterium-labeled collard greens, so the nutrient could be tracked as it moved through the body. Of some interest, it did not find a significant difference in absorption based solely on age or gender. But there was a marked difference in how long vitamin E stayed in blood serum, based on higher level of lipids in the blood – a more common problem as many people age or gain weight.

The study also incorporated a different methodology, using a stable isotope instead of radioactive tracers, than some previous research, to arrive at the estimates of vitamin E that made it to body tissues. Using the stable isotope methodology that these researchers believe is more accurate, they concluded that only 24 percent of vitamin E is absorbed into the body, instead of previous estimates of 81 percent measured by the use of radioactive vitamin E.

“In simple terms, we believe that less than one third the amount of vitamin E is actually making it to the tissues where it’s most needed,” Traber said.

Vitamin E in the blood stream is not completely wasted, Traber noted. There, it can help protect LDL and HDL cholesterol from oxidation, which is good. But that doesn’t offset the concern that not enough of this micronutrient may be reaching tissues, she said.

Collaborators on this study were from the USDA Human Nutrition Center on Aging at Tufts University, and the Children’s Nutrition Research Center at the Baylor College of Medicine. The work was supported by the USDA Agricultural Research Service and the National Institutes of Health.

Media Contact: 

Maret Traber, 541-737-7977

Beyond prevention: sulforaphane may find possible use for cancer therapy

CORVALLIS, Ore. – New research has identified one of the key cancer-fighting mechanisms for sulforaphane, and suggests that this much-studied phytochemical may be able to move beyond cancer prevention and toward therapeutic use for advanced prostate cancer.

Scientists said that pharmacologic doses in the form of supplements would be needed for actual therapies, beyond the amount of sulforaphane that would ordinarily be obtained from dietary sources such as broccoli. Research also needs to verify the safety of this compound when used at such high levels.

But a growing understanding of how sulforaphane functions and is able to selectively kill cancer cells indicate it may have value in treating metasticized cancer, and could work alongside existing approaches.

The new findings on the unique abilities of sulforaphane were recently published in the journal Oncogenesis, by researchers from Oregon State University and the Texas A&M Health Science Center. The work was supported by the National Institutes of Health.

“There’s significant evidence of the value of cruciferous vegetables in cancer prevention,” said Emily Ho, professor and director of the Moore Family Center for Whole Grain Foods, Nutrition and Preventive Health in the OSU College of Public Health and Human Sciences, and lead author on this research.

“However, this study is one of the first times we’ve shown how sulforaphane can affect a histone methylation and alter gene expression in metasticized prostate cancer cells,” said Ho, who is also a principal investigator in OSU’s Linus Pauling Institute. “It begins a process that can help to re-express tumor suppressors, leading to the selective death of cancer cells and slowing disease progression.”

The evidence now shows that sulforaphane should have therapeutic value against some forms of cancer, Ho said, including late-stage, metasticized disease. Its multiple impacts on metabolic processes might also make it a valuable adjunct to existing therapies, helping them to work better.

No clinical trials have yet been done to test the value of sulforaphane in cancer therapy, although a trial is under way using sulforaphane supplements in men with high risk for prostate cancer. Results from that may help demonstrate the safety of higher-dosage supplements and set the stage for therapeutic trials, Ho said.

Dozens of studies have examined the health value of cruciferous vegetables such as broccoli, cauliflower, and cabbages, and many of them ultimately focused on the role of sulforaphane, one compound found in these foods. Broccoli sprouts contain some of the highest dietary levels of the sulforaphane precursor.

The new study identified a particular enzyme in prostate cancer cells, SUV39H1, that is affected by exposure to sulforaphane. Aside from potential dietary approaches, the researchers said that this establishes SUV39H1 as a new therapeutic target, in general, for advanced cancer.

Prostate cancer is one of the most commonly diagnosed cancers in the United States, and existing therapies include surgical removal of the prostate, radiation therapy, hormones or other approaches. Although often slow growing, prostate cancer can be much more aggressive if it metasticizes to other areas of the body, at which point survival rates decrease dramatically. In the U.S. it’s the fifth leading cause of cancer death.

In laboratory studies, sulforaphane has shown toxicity to a number of human cancer cell lines, including prostate, breast, ovarian, colon and pancreatic cancer, and in animal studies it decreased metastases of prostate cancer.

Media Contact: 

Emily Ho, 541-737-9559

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Vitamin E intake critical during “the first 1000 days”

CORVALLIS, Ore. – Amid conflicting reports about the need for vitamin E and how much is enough, a new analysis published today suggests that adequate levels of this essential micronutrient are especially critical for the very young, the elderly, and women who are or may become pregnant.

A lifelong proper intake of vitamin E is also important, researchers said, but often complicated by the fact that this nutrient is one of the most difficult to obtain through diet alone. Only a tiny fraction of Americans consume enough dietary vitamin E to meet the estimated average requirement.

Meanwhile, some critics have raised unnecessary alarms about excessive vitamin E intake while in fact the diet of most people is insufficient, said Maret Traber, a professor in the College of Public Health and Human Sciences at Oregon State University, principal investigator with the Linus Pauling Institute and national expert on vitamin E.

“Many people believe that vitamin E deficiency never happens,” Traber said. “That isn’t true. It happens with an alarming frequency both in the United States and around the world. But some of the results of inadequate intake are less obvious, such as its impact on the nervous system and brain development, or general resistance to infection.”

Some of the best dietary sources of vitamin E – nuts, seeds, spinach, wheat germ and sunflower oil - don’t generally make the highlight list of an average American diet. One study found that people who are highly motivated to eat a proper diet consume almost enough vitamin E, but broader surveys show that 90 percent of men and 96 percent of women don’t consume the amount currently recommended, 15 milligrams per day for adults.

In a review of multiple studies, published in Advances in Nutrition, Traber outlined some of the recent findings about vitamin E. Among the most important are the significance of vitamin E during fetal development and in the first years of life; the correlation between adequate intake and dementia later in life; and the difficulty of evaluating vitamin E adequacy through measurement of blood levels alone.

Findings include:

  • Inadequate vitamin E is associated with increased infection, anemia, stunting of growth and poor outcomes during pregnancy for both the infant and mother.
  • Overt deficiency, especially in children, can cause neurological disorders, muscle deterioration, and even cardiomyopathy.
  • Studies with experimental animals indicate that vitamin E is critically important to the early development of the nervous system in embryos, in part because it protects the function of omega-3 fatty acids, especially DHA, which is important for brain health. The most sensitive organs include the head, eye and brain.
  • One study showed that higher vitamin E concentrations at birth were associated with improved cognitive function in two-year-old children.
  • Findings about diseases that are increasing in the developed world, such as non-alcoholic fatty liver disease and diabetes, suggest that obesity does not necessarily reflect adequate micronutrient intake.
  • Measures of circulating vitamin E levels in the blood often rise with age as lipid levels also increase, but do not prove an adequate delivery of vitamin E to tissues and organs.
  • Vitamin E supplements do not seem to prevent Alzheimer’s disease occurrence, but have shown benefit in slowing its progression.
  • A report in elderly humans showed that a lifelong dietary pattern that resulted in higher levels of vitamins B,C, D and E were associated with a larger brain size and higher cognitive function.
  • Vitamin E protects critical fatty acids such as DHA throughout life, and one study showed that people in the top quartile of DHA concentrations had a 47 percent reduction in the risk of developing all-cause dementia.

“It’s important all of your life, but the most compelling evidence about vitamin E is about a 1000-day window that begins at conception,” Traber said. “Vitamin E is critical to neurologic and brain development that can only happen during that period. It’s not something you can make up for later.”

Traber said she recommends a supplement for all people with at least the estimated average requirement of vitamin E, but that it’s particularly important for all children through about age two; for women who are pregnant, nursing or may become pregnant; and for the elderly.

This research was supported in part by the National Institutes of Health.

Media Contact: 

Maret Traber, 541-737-7977

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High in vitamin E

Few surfers are deterred by ocean bacteria that makes them sick

CORVALLIS, Ore. – Health warnings issued when beaches have high levels of bacteria do not keep many surfers out of the water, according to a new study by Oregon State University.

Nearly three in 10 surfers admit they knowingly surf during health advisories – nearly the same amount that chooses not to surf during periods of elevated bacteria. About 40 percent of surfers said they were unaware if they had ever surfed during an active health advisory.

The data can help public officials better warn surfers of potential health risks, said Anna Harding, co-author of the study and professor in OSU's College of Public Health and Human Sciences.

"Beach advisories for bacteria are not having their intended effect of dissuading surfers,” Harding said. “The lack of awareness about advisories – and willingness to take risks surfing in water that may be contaminated – suggests the need to educate surfers about behaviors that make them vulnerable to illness."

More than 500 surfers from the Pacific Northwest provided information for OSU's study and spanned a wide range of ages, incomes, surfing frequency and other demographics.

Of those surveyed by OSU, nearly 40 percent reported ear infections or discharge at some point during surfing; 30 percent, a sore throat or cough; 16 percent experienced diarrhea; 10 percent, fever; and 7 percent had vomited. Results were consistent across experience levels and were not lessened by showering after surfing.

Surfing during and after rain also led to higher rates of waterborne illnesses. Surfers are attracted to large waves that accompany a storm, but rain can send fecal bacteria from stormwater outfalls into the Pacific Ocean, as well as flush harmful microbes from animal feces present in streams and rivers onto beaches.

Surfers cannot avoid swallowing water – which can include harmful bacteria – during wipeouts, Harding said. They ingest 10 times more ocean water than swimmers, about 170 milliliters a day, or half a can of soda, she added.

Health advisories are posted online and on signs around the West Coast. But not every beach entrance has a warning sign, and many surfers do not notice them, said Dave Stone, co-author of the study and an environmental and molecular toxicology professor in OSU's College of Agricultural Sciences.

Beach sampling by states is intermittent, tends to lag behind current conditions and cannot cover all waters, Stone added.

"The best thing surfers can do is pay attention to the weather and where stormwater outfalls are located," said Stone, a toxicologist with OSU Extension. “They should also bookmark beach advisory websites with the latest information.”

"Surfers can go far in minimizing their exposure to microbes just by choosing when and where to surf," he added.

When an advisory is issued for a particular beach, water contact is discouraged and state websites advise beachgoers to avoid any activities during which they might swallow water, such as swimming, surfing, diving, and kayaking.

Using earplugs during surfing also leads to higher rates of ear infections, OSU researchers found. Generic earplugs tend to let water and bacteria inside the ear, Stone said, and then trap it inside the canal

OSU's study was funded by Oregon Sea Grant and is available online in the Journal of Water and Health.


Anna Harding, 541-737-3830

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Oregon beach sign, Brookings

Beach signs

Motor skill deficiencies linked to autism severity in new research

CORVALLIS, Ore. – An Oregon State University researcher has found a relationship between motor skill deficiencies and the severity of the symptoms of autism spectrum disorder in very young children.

The findings, believed to the be the first to show a direct relationship between motor skills and autism severity, indicate that development of fine and gross motor skills should be included in treatment plans for young children with autism, said Megan MacDonald, an assistant professor in OSU’s College of Public Health and Human Sciences.

“Recognizing those deficits really early gives us more time to help children catch up to their peers in regards to motor skill,” said MacDonald, who is an expert on the movement skills of children with autism.

The research was based on a study of the development and motor skills of 159 children ages 12 months to 33 months old, including 110 children with an autism diagnosis. Results were published this week in “Adapted Physical Activity Quarterly.” 

The motor skill deficiencies among the children with autism were not related to intellectual ability, MacDonald said. She found that the children with autism were nearly a year behind their typical peers in fine motor skills, such as holding a spoon or grasping a small toy. They also were about six months behind in their gross motor skills, including activities like running and jumping.

“It’s not that big a deal if we’re talking about older kids, but for kids between 1 and 3 years old, those are substantial deficits, almost one-third of their life,” MacDonald said. “At that age, they’re like little sponges – we can teach them motor skills.”

Most autism treatment plans for young children focus on social communication because the disability has such a significant effect in that area. Research has shown that successful social communication interventions can improve IQ, language, play skills and more for children with autism.

Incorporating fine and gross motor skill development into early interventions could provide a similar boost, MacDonald said. She also recommends that parents consider adaptive physical education programs, which are designed around a child’s abilities and needs.

MacDonald said she hopes the new research will help build awareness about the importance of motor skill development and the need to include adapted physical education and physical and occupational therapy in treatment plans. Future research will look at different types of motor skill interventions to see if there are some that work better than others, she said.

Co-authors of the study are Catherine Lord of Weill Cornell Medical College and New York Presbyterian Hospital in White Plains, N.Y., and Dale A. Ulrich of the School of Kinesiology at the University of Michigan.

The research was funded in part by a grant to MacDonald from the Blue Cross Blue Shield Foundation of Michigan. Study co-author Lord received funding from the Simons Foundation, First Words; the National Institute of Child Health and Human Development and the National Institute of Mental Health.

Media Contact: 

Megan MacDonald, 541-737-3273, Megan.MacDonald@oregonstate.edu

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Megan MacDonald

Religion, spirituality influence health in different but complementary ways

CORVALLIS, Ore. – Religion and spirituality have distinct but complementary influences on health, new research from Oregon State University indicates.

“Religion helps regulate behavior and health habits, while spirituality regulates your emotions, how you feel,” said Carolyn Aldwin, a gerontology professor in the College of Public Health and Human Sciences at OSU.

Aldwin and colleagues have been working to understand and distinguish the beneficial connections between health, religion and spirituality. The result is a new theoretical model that defines two distinct pathways.

Religiousness, including formal religious affiliation and service attendance, is associated with better health habits, such as lower smoking rates and reduced alcohol consumption. Spirituality, including meditation and private prayer, helps regulate emotions, which aids physiological effects such as blood pressure. 

The findings were published recently in the journal “Psychology of Religion and Spirituality.” Co-authors were Crystal L. Park of the University of Connecticut, and Yu-Jin Jeong and Ritwik Nath of OSU. The research was supported by a grant from the John Templeton Foundation.

“No one has ever reviewed all of the different models of how religion affects health,” said Aldwin, the Jo Anne Leonard endowed director of OSU’s Center for Healthy Aging Research. “We’re trying to impose a structure on a very messy field.”

There can be some overlap of the influences of religion and spirituality on health, Aldwin said.  More research is needed to test the theory and examine contrasts between the two pathways. The goal is to help researchers develop better measures for analyzing the connections between religion, spirituality and health and then explore possible clinical interventions, she said.

Media Contact: 

Contact: Carolyn Aldwin, 541-737-2024; Carolyn.aldwin@oregonstate.edu