OREGON STATE UNIVERSITY

heath and nutrition

Study: The family dog could help boost physical activity for kids with disabilities

CORVALLIS, Ore. – The family dog could serve as a partner and ally in efforts to help children with disabilities incorporate more physical activity into their daily lives, a new study from Oregon State University indicates.

In a case study of one 10-year-old boy with cerebral palsy and his family’s dog, researchers found the intervention program led to a wide range of improvements for the child, including physical activity as well as motor skills, quality of life and human-animal interactions. 

“These initial findings indicate that we can improve the quality of life for children with disabilities, and we can get them to be more active,” said Megan MacDonald, an assistant professor in OSU’s College of Public Health and Human Sciences and corresponding author on the study. “And in this case, both are happening simultaneously, which is fantastic.”

The researchers detailed the child’s experience in the adapted physical activity intervention program in a case study just published in the journal Animals. Co-authors are Monique Udell of the OSU College of Agricultural Sciences; Craig Ruaux of the OSU College of Veterinary Medicine; Samantha Ross of the OSU College of Public Health and Human Sciences; Amanda Tepfer of Norwich University and Wendy Baltzer of Massey University in New Zealand. The research was supported by the Division of Health Sciences at OSU. 

Children with physical disabilities such as cerebral palsy spend significantly less time participating in physical activity compared to their peers and are considered a health disparity group, meaning they generally face more health concerns than their peers.

Researchers designed an adapted physical activity, animal-assisted intervention where the family dog would serve as a partner with the child in physical activities designed to help improve overall physical activity, motor skills and quality of life. The family dog is a good choice for this type of intervention because the animal is already known to the child and there is an existing relationship – and both the dog and the child will benefit from the activities, MacDonald said. 

Researchers took initial assessments of the child’s daily physical activity, motor skills and quality of life before starting the eight-week intervention. A veterinarian examined the dog’s fitness for participation and the human-animal interaction between the dog, a year-old Pomeranian, and the child was also assessed. 

Then the pair began the eight-week intervention, which included a supervised physical activity program once a week for 60 minutes and participation in activities such as brushing the dog with each hand; playing fetch and alternating hands; balancing on a wobble board; and marching on a balancing disc. 

“The dog would also balance on the wobble board, so it became a challenge for the child – if the dog can do it, I can, too,” MacDonald said. “It was so cool to see the relationship between the child and the dog evolve over time. They develop a partnership and the activities become more fun and challenging for the child. It becomes, in part, about the dog and the responsibility of taking care of it.”

The dog and the child also had “homework,” which included brushing the dog, playing fetch and going on daily walks. The child wore an accelerometer to measure physical activity levels at home. 

At the conclusion of the intervention, researchers re-assessed and found that the child’s quality of life had increased significantly in several areas, including emotional, social and physical health, as assessed by the child as well as the parent. In addition, the child’s sedentary behavior decreased and time spent on moderate to vigorous activity increased dramatically.

“The findings so far are very encouraging,” MacDonald said. “There’s a chance down the road we could be encouraging families to adopt a dog for the public health benefits. How cool would that be?” 

The researchers also found that the relationship between the dog and the child improved over the course of the therapy as they worked together on various tasks. The dog’s prosocial, or positive, behavior toward the child is a sign of wellbeing for both members of the team, said Udell, who is director of the Human-Animal Interaction Lab at OSU.

“A closer child-dog bond increases the likelihood of lasting emotional benefits and may also facilitate long-term joint activity at home, such as taking walks, simply because it is enjoyable for all involved,” she said. 

This study is one of the first to evaluate how a dog’s behavior and wellbeing are affected by their participation in animal-assisted therapy, Udell noted. From an animal welfare standpoint, it is promising that the dog’s behavior and performance on cognitive and physical tasks improved alongside the child’s.

Though the case study features only one child, the research team recruited several families with children with disabilities and their dogs to participate in the larger project, which was designed in part to test the design and methodology of the experiment and determine if it could be implemented on a larger scale. 

Based on the initial results, researchers hope to pursue additional studies involving children with disabilities and their family dogs, if funding can be secured. They would like to examine other benefits such a pairing might have, including the sense of responsibility the child appears to gain during the course of the intervention.

“We’re also learning a lot from our child participants,” MacDonald said. “They’re teaching us stuff about friendship with the animal and the responsibility of taking care of a pet, which allows us to ask more research questions about the influence of a pet on the child and their family.” 

Oregon families interested in learning more about future research projects related to this work can contact Megan MacDonald, megan.macdonald@oregonstate.edu, to be included on an interest list.

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

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Researcher Megan MacDonald

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Nutrient offers hope to stop deadly march toward cirrhosis, liver cancer

CORVALLIS, Ore. – A new study suggests that one type of omega 3 fatty acid offers people who are obese or have a poor diet a chance to avoid serious liver damage.

This is something that no available drug can accomplish, and can otherwise only be obtained by significant weight loss based on a very healthy diet.

The findings, published by researchers from Oregon State University today in PLOS ONE, were based on a study done with laboratory animals. They could be significant, researchers say, since millions of people in the developed world try, and fail, to sustain weight loss or eat an optimal diet.

Supplements of DHA, one of the most critically important of the omega 3 fatty acids, were shown to stop the progression of nonalcoholic steatohepatitis, or NASH, into more serious and life-threatening health problems such as cirrhosis or liver cancer. This took place even with the continued consumption in lab animals of what scientists call a “western” diet – one that’s high in fat, sugar and cholesterol.

NASH, which is characterized by liver inflammation, oxidative stress and fibrosis, is a substantial risk factor for cirrhosis and liver cancer. It’s predicted to be the leading cause of liver transplants by 2020, and the FDA currently has no approved medical treatments for it.

Based in large part on consuming the “western diet,” nearly 80 million adults and 13 million children in the United States are obese, and about 30 percent of the nation’s population is estimated to have some form of chronic fatty liver disease.

“Considering there are no FDA-approved ways to stop NASH progression, other than weight loss therapy, this supplement may be of significant help,” said Donald Jump, a professor in the OSU College of Public Health and Human Sciences, and principal investigator with the Linus Pauling Institute.

“In the time frame that we studied, DHA supplementation was not able to achieve full remission of NASH, but it did stop it from getting worse. NASH is a serious disease, an enormous health care cost and we need to put the brakes on it. There’s clear evidence this might help.”

Over one 10-year study period, cirrhosis and liver-related deaths occurred in 20 percent and 12 percent of NASH patients, respectively.

Research has also shown that when humans with NASH are examined, they have very low levels of omega 3 fatty acids. When those levels are raised, the disease progression stops.

Omega 3 fatty acids regulate important biological pathways, including fatty acid synthesis, oxidation, and breakdown of triglycerides, or fats in the blood. A natural nutrient, DHA appears to be one of the most significant of the omega 3 fatty acids, and plays a role in repairing liver damage.

The highest levels of DHA are found in oily fish such as salmon, mackerel, tuna and sardines, and to a much lesser extent in some foods such as poultry, liver, egg yolks, and some types of algae. DHA is also increasingly being included in some prenatal vitamin and mineral formulas because of studies showing its critical importance to a developing fetus.

The current medical approach to NASH is based on lifestyle management, including diet and exercise. If successful and sustained, research indicates such approaches can completely reverse liver damage. However, in this study researchers noted that “this treatment, while ideal for clinical use, is likely not sustainable in NASH patients due to poor compliance.”

EPA, another valuable omega 3 fatty acid, has not been found to lower liver fat and fibrosis in humans, Jump said, probably due to the poor conversion in humans of EPA to DHA.

DHA is a readily available supplement and safe to use, researchers say. Referring to the use of DHA supplementation to address problems with NASH, the researchers said in their report that, “This scenario will likely be used clinically since patient compliance to low-fat, low-sucrose dietary recommendations has historically been poor.”

This research was supported by the U.S. Department of Agriculture and the National Institutes of Health. 

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Steve Lundeberg, 541-737-4039

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Diversity within Latino population may require more nuanced public health approaches

CORVALLIS, Ore. –Not all Latinos face the same health challenges, suggesting that public health approaches may need to be tailored based on needs of the diverse groups within the Latino population, new research from Oregon State University indicates.

Much of the health research today tends to focus on Latinos as a single racial/ethnic group. But in reality, that group includes people from a diverse range of backgrounds, including Cuban, Mexican, Puerto Rican, Dominican, Central American and South American, and the health risks they face may vary from group to group, said lead researcher Daniel López-Cevallos, assistant professor of ethnic studies in OSU’s College of Liberal Arts. 

“What we found is that it’s important to be careful not to make assumptions that everyone who is considered Hispanic or Latino can be put into the same basket,” he said. “There are differences within the group that are important to take into consideration when it comes to addressing public health issues such as cardiovascular health.”

The study was published this month in the journal Ethnicity and Health. The findings underscore the need for further examination of differences within the Hispanic/Latino population, particularly when developing medical treatments or public health interventions, said López-Cevallos, who also is associate director of research for the Center for Latino/a Studies and Engagement at OSU

“As the Latino population continues to grow, these differences between groups will be more and more important to addressing health needs,” López-Cevallos said.

The Hispanic/Latino population is the largest and one of the fastest-growing racial/ethnic minority groups in the United States. Cardiovascular disease is one of the leading causes of death among Hispanic/Latinos. 

López-Cevallos set out to examine the relationship between wealth and cardiovascular disease risk factors, including obesity and high blood pressure, and wealth among Hispanic/Latinos of diverse backgrounds.

Past research has shown that increased wealth – defined as the accumulation of property such as homes and cars, savings and more - has been linked to better cardiovascular health across various racial and ethnic groups. But among Hispanic/Latinos, the association between wealth and heart health has been inconsistent. 

An analysis of health data for nearly 5,000 Hispanic/Latino people ages 18 to 74, collected for the Hispanic Community Health Study/Study of Latinos and the Sociocultural Ancillary Study, showed that on whole there was no strong association between wealth and cardiovascular health among Hispanic/Latinos.

More than a third of the participants, about 37 percent, had low wealth, while 45 percent were in the middle wealth category and 18 percent were in the high wealth category. Among Hispanic/Latinos with high wealth, Mexicans were the largest group represented, with 55 percent, and Central Americans had the lowest share of high wealth, at 4 percent.

As researchers began to examine the links between health and wealth among subgroups of the Latino population, they found that health and wealth were closely associated for some groups but not others. For example, wealthier Central Americans were less likely to be obese, while wealthier Puerto Ricans were more likely to be obese.

“Within this group, there is a diversity of experiences,” he said. “What is it about the experience of wealthy Puerto Ricans that is different from the experience of wealthy Central Americans? Unless we explore those differences further, we won’t be able to understand and address health risk factors appropriately.” 

Further research is needed to understand and tailor public health messaging and health interventions for sub-groups within the Hispanic/Latino population, López-Cevallos said.

“As the Latino population continues to grow, these differences within groups will become more and more important,” he said. “We really need to amp up our study of these deeper differences.”

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Daniel López-Cevallos, 541-737-3850, Daniel.lopez-cevallos@oregonstate.edu

Accepting and adapting are keys to sustaining a career after acquired hearing loss

CORVALLIS, Ore. – For adults who acquire severe hearing loss, accepting and adapting to the loss play key roles in sustaining a career and thriving in the workplace, new research from Oregon State University indicates.

“People who are successful at adapting to hearing loss tend to accept that they are now biologically different from how they used to be,” said David Baldridge, an associate professor of management in the OSU College of Business

“People who remain successful tend to adapt what they do at work and how they do it,” he said. “They also tend to stay abreast of medical and workplace technologies such as hearing aids, cochlear implants, video relays, speech to text and interpreters.”

Hearing loss is a common disabling disorder that affects more than 360 million people worldwide. In the United States, more than 50 million people have hearing loss, including 60 percent of military veterans returning from Iraq and Afghanistan. 

Hearing loss also is part of many people’s life course and careers. The percentage of the population with hearing loss increases exponentially as people age: 3.2 percent of people age 20-29, but 44.9 percent of those age 60-69.

The population overall is aging and people are working longer and delaying retirement, which leads to hearing loss becoming more prevalent in the workplace. Environmental noise also plays a role in the increasing prevalence of hearing loss. How well employers and employees adapt to this change may have significant implications for both a healthy economy and healthy aging, Baldridge said. 

“One of our goals with this study was to understand how people who acquire a severe hearing loss can remain productive and sustain their careers,” he said. “We found that there are some key traits to successfully doing so.”

The findings were published this month in the journal Human Relations. The co-author of the study is Mukta Kulkarni of the Indian Institute of Management in Bangalore, India. The work was supported by Oregon State University, Indian Institute of Management and the National Technical Institute for the Deaf. 

Baldridge and Kulkarni interviewed 40 professionals, including doctors, lawyers and consultants, who had acquired a severe hearing loss as adults in an effort to pinpoint how their hearing loss has affected their careers and identify strategies that helped them remain productive and successful.

“It was not a random sample – these are the best and brightest, most successful folks we could find,” Baldridge said. “We wanted to know what they did to survive and thrive. The hope is that lessons learned from them might help others.” 

The researchers found that those who tried to hide or deny their hearing loss tended to struggle more in the workplace, avoided social engagements and often became isolated.

Those who were able to sustain their careers tended to accept and adapt to their hearing loss using a wide range of strategies, including communicating more via email and less by phone, or holding individual meetings rather than participating in group meetings. 

The researchers found that those who were most satisfied in their careers found ways to adopt a new work role or craft a new career around their hearing loss, sometimes becoming advocates for others. They also tended to redefine their own success, with a shift away from economic success and toward social success through service to others.

“Some people are able to figure out that the hearing loss can be a positive,” Baldridge said. “Those are probably the people with the highest satisfaction in their work.” 

Additional research is needed to better understand how employers adapt to hearing loss changes among employees, with an emphasis on the roles of managers, supervisors and human resources personnel, Baldridge said.

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David Baldridge, 541-737-6062, david.baldridge@bus.oregonstate.edu

Healthy recipes and effective social marketing campaign improve eating habits

CORVALLIS, Ore. – The Food Hero social marketing campaign is an effective way to help low-income families eat more nutritious meals through fast, tasty, affordable and healthy recipes, two new research studies from Oregon State University have found.

Food Hero was launched by the OSU Extension Service in 2009 in an effort to encourage healthy eating among low-income Oregonians. The initiative includes several components, such as a website, www.foodhero.org, with information in both English and Spanish; Food Hero recipe taste-tasting events in schools and communities across Oregon; and a library of healthy recipes that have all been taste-tested and many approved by children.

“The success of the program is by far exceeding the scope of what we envisioned when we started,” said Melinda Manore, a professor of nutrition in the College of Public Health and Human Sciences at OSU and co-author of the studies. “Getting people to change their diet and eating behavior, especially when they do not have much money, is very difficult, and this program is helping to do that.”

The social marketing program is led by Lauren Tobey of Extension Family and Community Health at OSU, and Tobey is lead author of the studies. Food Hero is funded by the U.S. Department of Agriculture Food and Nutrition Service’s Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program – Education, or SNAP-Ed. SNAP-Ed focuses on obesity prevention within low-income households.

One of the new studies, published in the journal Nutrients, explores how Food Hero was developed and tested. The goal of the program is to increase fruit and vegetable consumption among those eligible for SNAP benefits in Oregon, with a particular focus on low-income mothers.

The campaign’s strategy includes providing clearly focused messages, writing in plain language, being positive and realistic with the messaging, and offering simple tools for action that include an explanation of what to do and how to do it. The campaign has been effective in part because educators stayed focused on their target audience, the researchers said.

The other study, published in the Journal of Nutrition Education and Behavior, examines Food Hero’s recipe project in more depth. The recipes used in the Food Hero campaign are formulated to be healthy, tasty and kid-friendly. To date, the Food Hero recipes have been accessed millions of times via the website and social media sites such as Pinterest.

“All of the recipes are simple to make and cost-effective for families on tight budgets,” Tobey said. “Many families can’t afford to have a recipe fail or try an untested recipe the family may not end up liking.”

The recipes also are being tested with children who complete surveys or participate in a vote. If at least 70 percent of participating children say they “like the taste” of a recipe, it is considered “kid-approved.” The program has collected more than 20,000 assessments from kids who have tried Food Hero recipes at school or at community events. About 36 percent of the tested recipes have received the “kid-approved” rating to date.

“When our nutrition educators say to the children, ‘Would you like to try this for us and tell us what you think?’ it empowers them,” Manore said. “It also is a way to expose kids to foods they may not have tried before.”

Parents and caregivers are also surveyed after their children participate in tasting exercises. Of those who completed surveys, 79 percent said their child talked about what they had learned in school about healthy eating; 69 percent reported that their child asked for specific recipes; and 72 percent reported making at least one Food Hero recipe, the research showed.

As Food Hero’s tips, tools and recipes get shared in person, online, through the media and via social media, the program’s reach also expands beyond the initial audience, the researchers said. Recipes from the program are now being used around the world, and in 2015, the recipes on the Food Hero website received more than 290,000 page views.

Anyone interested can also subscribe to Food Hero Monthly, an electronic magazine that includes recipes and tips. To sign up, visit https://foodhero.org/monthly-magazine.

In addition to their collaborations with Oregon partners such as the Department of Human Services, Department of Education and Oregon Health Authority, Food Hero program leaders are sharing materials and ideas with public health and SNAP-Ed programs in other states.

“Since 95 percent of the Food Hero recipes contain fruits and/or vegetables, people who try the recipes are helping us meet the primary goal of the campaign, which is to encourage more fruit and vegetable consumption, especially among low-income families,” Tobey said.

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Melinda Manore, 541-737-8701, Melinda.manore@oregonstate.edu; Lauren Tobey, 541-737-1017, lauren.tobey@oregonstate.edu

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Cowboy salad

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Working longer may lead to a longer life, new OSU research shows

CORVALLIS, Ore. – Working past age 65 could lead to longer life, while retiring early may be a risk factor for dying earlier, a new study from Oregon State University indicates.

The researchers found that healthy adults who retired one year past age 65 had an 11 percent lower risk of death from all causes, even when taking into account demographic, lifestyle and health issues. Adults who described themselves as unhealthy were also likely to live longer if they kept working, the findings showed, which indicates that factors beyond health may affect post-retirement mortality.

“It may not apply to everybody, but we think work brings people a lot of economic and social benefits that could impact the length of their lives,” said Chenkai Wu, the lead author of the study. He conducted the research as part of his master’s thesis at OSU, where he is now a doctoral student in the College of Public Health and Human Sciences.

The findings were published recently in the Journal of Epidemiology and Community Health. Co-authors include Associate Professor Robert Stawski and Assistant Professor Michelle Odden of OSU and Gwenith Fisher of Colorado State University. The research was supported by a grant from the National Institute on Aging.

The research was the basis for Wu’s master’s thesis in human development and family science; he’s now pursuing a doctorate in epidemiology.

Wu took an interest in the effects of retirement on health in part because of China’s mandatory laws, which are often debated. Retirement age is also an issue for debate elsewhere around the world, including the United States, he said.

“Most research in this area has focused on the economic impacts of delaying retirement. I thought it might be good to look at the health impacts,” Wu said. “People in the U.S. have more flexibility about when they retire compared to other countries, so it made sense to look at data from the U.S.”

Wu examined data collected from 1992 through 2010 through the Healthy Retirement Study, a long-term study of U.S. adults led by the University of Michigan and funded by the National Institute on Aging. Of the more than 12,000 initial participants in the study, Wu narrowed his focus to 2,956 people who began the study in 1992 and had retired by the end of the study period in 2010. 

Poor health is one reason people retire early and also can lead to earlier death, so researchers wanted to find a way to mitigate a potential bias in that regard.

To do so, they divided the group into unhealthy retirees, or those who indicated that health was a factor in their decision to retire – and healthy retirees, who indicated health was not a factor. About two-thirds of the group fell into the healthy category, while a third were in the unhealthy category.

During the study period, about 12 percent of the healthy and 25.6 percent of the unhealthy retirees died. Healthy retirees who worked a year longer had an 11 percent lower risk of mortality, while unhealthy retirees who worked a year longer had a 9 percent lower mortality risk. Working a year longer had a positive impact on the study participants’ mortality rate regardless of their health status.

“The healthy group is generally more advantaged in terms of education, wealth, health behaviors and lifestyle, but taking all of those issues into account, the pattern still remained,” said Stawski, senior author of the paper. “The findings seem to indicate that people who remain active and engaged gain a benefit from that.”

Additional research is needed to better understand the links between work and health, the researchers said. As people get older their physical health and cognitive function are likely to decline, which could affect both their ability to work and their longevity.

“This is just the tip of the iceberg,” Stawski said. “We see the relationship between work and longevity, but we don’t know everything about people’s lives, health and well-being after retirement that could be influencing their longevity.”

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Chenkai Wu, wuche@oregonstate.edu; Robert Stawski, robert.stawski@oregonstate.edu, 541-737-9052

OSU study: Silicone breast implants may absorb harmful pollutants from body tissues

CORVALLIS, Ore. – Silicone breast implants may absorb environmental pollutants from surrounding tissues and possibly reduce their concentrations within the body, according to a new study by Oregon State University.

OSU environmental chemist Kim Anderson and her colleagues found that silicone implants are a “sink” for environmental chemicals that build up in the fatty tissues of humans and animals. Over time they can become a long-term record of a person’s exposure to environmental toxins.

The study, which appeared in the journal Environmental International, was partly inspired by recent studies showing that silicone implants may reduce risk of breast cancer by as much as 50 percent, Anderson said. “That research piqued our interest in looking at implants as a potential sink for contaminants,” she said. She cautioned that her findings don’t prove that breast implants protect against cancer or any other disease.

In a two-part experiment, Anderson, a professor in OSU's College of Agricultural Sciences, and her colleagues screened eight discarded silicone breast implants—surgically removed from women for medical or personal reasons—for some 1,400 environmental chemicals. For controls, they also screened unused silicone “sizers,” used in fitting breast implants or prostheses.

The implants contained 14 common compounds used in foods and personal-care products, commercial and industrial products, and pesticides. The most common one detected was caffeine, found in all eight samples. Next was p,p’-DDE, a suspected cancer-causing agent that results from the breakdown of the now-banned insecticide DDT. It was found in five of the samples.

Nine of the chemicals showed up in only one sample. That was not surprising, said Anderson, because individual exposure to environmental chemicals varies widely depending on where a person lives and what kind of work he or she does. “People are exposed to different chemicals in Burns, Oregon, than in Portland,” she said, “and there are differences even between neighborhoods in Portland.”

In the second phase of the study, to determine how silicone implants respond to a known chemical exposure, the researchers surgically implanted tiny silicone disks into anesthetized laboratory mice. The mice received as much silicone, in proportion to their body mass, as would be used in a range of typical human breast implants or reconstructions.

The mice then were given injections of two compounds: p,p’-DDE and also PCB 118, which belongs to a class of once widely used industrial chemicals and is also a probable carcinogen. These two substances are known to accumulate in fatty tissues. A group of control mice received surgical implants but no chemicals; another control group received chemicals and surgery but no implants.

After nine days, the researchers analyzed the silicone that had been implanted in the mice along with the surrounding fatty tissue. They found that the silicon and the tissue contained both chemicals. This, said Anderson, indicated that the chemicals had passed from the tissue into the silicone until the concentrations may have reached a balance.

Silicone is known to absorb organic-based pollutants in much the same way human cells do. “Silicone is lipophilic—meaning it loves fat,” Anderson explained. “Our bodies’ cells are also lipophilic. In order for a chemical to do us harm, it has to cross our cell barriers. So silicone is a good surrogate for an organism’s cell.”

Anderson’s lab pioneered the use of silicone wristbands as passive samplers of environmental pollution in air and water. “However, those environments are hydrophilic—water-loving—which is the opposite of lipophilic,” she said. “We wanted to demonstrate that silicone would also pull contaminants out of a fat-rich environment.”

Anderson added that discarded breast implants could be a gold mine for public-health researchers. “Tens of thousands of implants are removed from women every year, and they’re typically burned as waste,” she said. “Instead, they could be an important resource for quantifying the types and amounts of environmental chemicals absorbed by the human body and for assessing long-term toxic exposure.”

The research was funded by the National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences and OSU's Food Safety and Environmental Stewardship Program.

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Kim Anderson, 541-737-8501, kim.anderson@oregonstate.edu

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Silicone breast implants may pick up chemical pollution from the body's tissues. Researcher Kim Anderson, environmental chemist at Oregon State University, wears a silicone pollution-sampling wristband. Photo by Stephen Ward.

Kim Anderson

Doctor, investigative journalist to speak at OSU

CORVALLIS, Ore. – Dr. Richard Besser, a physician, former administrator for the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, and nationally-known investigative journalist will speak at Oregon State University on Monday, April 13, as part of the Provost’s Lecture Series.

Besser will present “A View From Both Sides of the Camera: Using Television to Promote Public Health.” The lecture will begin at 7:30 p.m. in Austin Auditorium of the LaSells Stewart Center, 875 S.W. 26th St., on the Corvallis campus. It is free and open to the public.

Besser has covered major medical news stories around the world for ABC, including several recent trips to Liberia to cover the Ebola outbreak. At the CDC, Besser was director of the Coordinating Office for Terrorism Preparedness and Emergency Response. His previous medical work included the epidemiology of food-borne diseases and pediatric tuberculosis.

His reporting has received numerous awards, including an Emmy nomination in 2011 for a piece on umbilical cord blood banking. He received two Peabody Awards as part of his work at ABC, and published his first book, “Tell Me the Truth, Doctor: Easy-to-Understand Answers to Your Most Confusing and Critical Health Questions,” in 2013.

Creating healthy people, a healthy planet and a healthy economy are top priorities for OSU, which has the state’s first accredited school of public health. For more on health-based research at the university, see the winter edition of Terra Research Magazine.

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Shelly Signs, 541-737-0724; shelly.signs@oregonstate.edu

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Richard Besser Dr. Richard Besser

Low vitamin D levels and depression linked in young women, new OSU study shows

CORVALLIS, Ore. – A new study from Oregon State University suggests there is a relationship between low levels of vitamin D and depression in otherwise healthy young women.

OSU researchers found that young women with lower levels of vitamin D were more likely to have clinically significant depressive symptoms over the course of a five-week study, lead author David Kerr said. The results were consistent even when researchers took into account other possible explanations, such as time of year, exercise and time spent outside.

“Depression has multiple, powerful causes and if vitamin D is part of the picture, it is just a small part,” said Kerr, an associate professor in the School of Psychological Science at OSU. “But given how many people are affected by depression, any little inroad we can find could have an important impact on public health.”

The findings were published recently in the journal Psychiatry Research. Co-authors are Sarina Saturn of the School of Psychological Science; Balz Frei and Adrian Gombart of OSU’s Linus Pauling Institute; David Zava of ZRT Laboratory and Walter Piper, a former OSU student now at New York University.

Vitamin D is an essential nutrient for bone health and muscle function. Deficiency has been associated with impaired immune function, some forms of cancer and cardiovascular disease, said Gombart, an associate professor of biochemistry and biophysics, principal investigator with the Linus Pauling Institute and international expert on vitamin D and the immune response.

People create their own vitamin D when their skin is exposed to sunlight. When sun is scarce in the winter, people can take a supplement, but vitamin D also is found in some foods, including milk that is fortified with it, Gombart said. The recommended daily allowance of vitamin D is 600 IU per day. There is no established level of vitamin D sufficiency for mental health.

The new study was prompted in part because there is a widely held belief that vitamin D and depression are connected, but there is not actually much scientific research out there to support the belief, Kerr said.

“I think people hear that vitamin D and depression can change with the seasons, so it is natural for them to assume the two are connected,” he said.

According to Kerr and his colleagues, a lot of past research has actually found no association between the two, but much of that research has been based on much older adults or special medical populations.

Kerr’s study focused on young women in the Pacific Northwest because they are at risk of both depression and vitamin D insufficiency. Past research found that 25 percent of American women experience clinical depression at some point in their lives, compared to 16 percent of men, for example.

OSU researchers recruited 185 college students, all women ages 18-25, to participate in the study at different times during the school year. Vitamin D levels were measured from blood samples and participants completed a depression symptom survey each week for five weeks.

Many women in the study had vitamin D levels considered insufficient for good health, and the rates were much higher among women of color, with 61 percent of women of color recording insufficient levels, compared to 35 percent of other women. In addition, more than a third of the participants reported clinically significant depressive symptoms each week over the course of the study.

“It may surprise people that so many apparently healthy young women are experiencing these health risks,” Kerr said.

As expected, the women’s vitamin D levels depended on the time of year, with levels dropping during the fall, at their lowest in winter, and rising in the spring. Depression did not show as a clear pattern, prompting Kerr to conclude that links between vitamin D deficiency and seasonal depression should be studied in larger groups of at-risk individuals.

Researchers say the study does not conclusively show that low vitamin D levels cause depression. A clinical trial examining whether vitamin D supplements might help prevent or relieve depression is the logical next step to understanding the link between the two, Kerr said.

OSU researchers already have begun a follow-up study on vitamin D deficiency in women of color. In the meantime, researchers encourage those at risk of vitamin D deficiency to speak with their doctor about taking a supplement.

“Vitamin D supplements are inexpensive and readily available.” Kerr said. “They certainly shouldn’t be considered as alternatives to the treatments known to be effective for depression, but they are good for overall health.”

The research was supported by grants from the Good Samaritan Hospital Foundation’s John C. Erkkila Endowment for Health and Human Performance and the National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences.

 


About the Linus Pauling Institute:  The Linus Pauling Institute at OSU is a world leader in the study of micronutrients and their role in promoting optimum health or preventing and treating disease. Major areas of research include heart disease, cancer, aging and neurodegenerative disease.

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David Kerr, 541-737-1364, david.kerr@oregonstate.edu

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Students at Oregon State University enjoy a sunny winter day on the Corvallis campus.

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OSU celebrates National Nutrition Month with March 4 event

CORVALLIS, Ore. – Oregon State University’s Nutrition and Dietetics Club is celebrating National Nutrition Month on Wednesday, March 4, with an event in the Memorial Union quad from 10 a.m. to 2:30 p.m.

Its theme of “Bite Into a Healthy Lifestyle” encourages everyone to adopt eating plans focused on making informed food choices and promoting overall health. The event will feature games, prizes, free food, and tips on how to stay healthy from guests representing Bob’s Red Mill, Trader Joes, Pacific Fruit Company, Food@OSU and more.

Activities will focus around vitamins, mineral and fiber content in food, and helping students, faculty and staff learn more about what makes a healthy, balanced meal. There will be free cookbooks for the first 200 participants, a competition to win a bullet blender, and other prizes.

“Eating a healthy, well-balanced meal is crucial to success in the rest of your life, including your academic success,” said Jessica Hummel, vice president of OSU’s Nutrition and Dietetics Club. “We want students and staff to stop in and learn some fun facts about food, and maybe look at the way they eat in a new way.”

As part of this public education campaign, the academy’s National Nutrition Month website includes a variety of helpful tips, games, promotional tools and nutrition education resources, all designed to spread the message of good nutrition.  

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