Monday, March 09, 2009

Not too bright? Now the blame is on your father

This replicates a recent Israeli study and similar cautions apply. A social rather than a biological explanation for the finding is the most parsimonious. Older fathers will often be men who had difficulty partnering so may well be biologically unfit in various ways and low IQ could easily be one of those ways. So they pass on their low IQ to their kids in the normal genetic way (IQ is two thirds genetic). A social explanation also does best in explaining the finding with mothers. Late-marrying women are overwhelmingly middle class and hence likely to be of higher IQ. So their kids are smarter too. The QBI does not give publication lists for its members so I cannot check the original study but I doubt that he had the IQ data needed to test or control for the social explanation

Children with older fathers seem to perform worse in intelligence tests, according to a study due out this week. They tended to obtain significantly lower scores in a variety of cognitive tests than those born to younger fathers, researchers have found. The results could be controversial. Until recent years it had been thought that it was a mother's age that had most impact on the health and abilities of children. The father's age, by contrast, was thought to be much less important.

The research, led by John McGrath, of the Queensland Brain Institute at the University of Queensland in Australia, suggests such ideas need rethinking. "The offspring of older fathers show subtle impairments on tests of neurocognitive ability during infancy and childhood," he said. "In light of the trends to delay fatherhood, the clinical implications and the mechanisms underlying these findings warrant closer scrutiny."

Other research has shown linkage between advanced paternal age (men over 35) and an increased risk of neurodevelopmental disorders, such as autism and schizophrenia, as well as dyslexia. Such findings prompted James Watson, co-discoverer of the structure of DNA, to speak of his concern. His son Rufus suffers from schizophrenia and as more is uncovered about its causes Watson has publicly questioned if he is to blame. "I worry that I was 42 with Rufus," he says. "I read that the frequency of schizophrenia goes up with the age of both parents."

The tests, designed to measure the ability to think and reason, also generated a second startling finding - that children with older mothers gain higher intelligence scores. McGrath analysed data on 33,437 Americans born between 1959 and 1965. All were tested at eight months, four years and seven. The data set, despite its age, remains one of the best resources. McGrath also used advanced statistical techniques to remove environmental influences.

For McGrath one of the key questions is the underlying biological mechanisms. One idea is that as men age the cells that produce sperm suffer increasing numbers of mutations, which are passed on to an offspring. Why, though, would children born to older mothers tend to have higher intelligence? McGrath suggests this is because women's eggs are formed when they are still in the womb and so their DNA is protected from mutation until they are used.


More benefits of moderate alcohol consumption

I don't know what time it is where you are right now, but as the song goes: it's five o'clock somewhere. So go ahead, have a beer! What better way to toast the good news of a new study that shows even more benefits of alcohol?

The research done at UCLA's David Geffen School of Medicine shows that those who have a few drinks now and then are less likely to suffer from the kinds of physical ailments that so often limit your independence later in life. 25 percent less likely, in fact.

But don't go crazy at the bar - remember, the key words are "light-to-moderate." In fact, the study also found that people who routinely cross that moderation line were actually MORE LIKELY to have physical limitations that can inhibit their independence as seniors. And so were teetotalers!

But it's nothing new that there's a plus to the moderate intake of alcohol. I've told you about lots of studies that prove the health plusses of responsible drinking. Often, this research focuses on the overall benefits of tipping a daily glass or two - things like an increased resistance to heart disease, certain cancers, and the like. There was even a study that concluded that a daily alcoholic drink may stave off age-related mental decline in women 70 and older.

Now that I've made you nice and thirsty, you're probably wondering what the exact definition of "light-to-moderate" is. This study defined it as less than 15 drinks a week - placing a maximum of five drinks per day for men, and four per day for women. One of the study co-authors explained that it's the daily consumption of at least one drink that helps to prompt alcohol's preventative benefits.

I think it's great that in this day and age where fun is being sucked out of nearly every aspect of our lives that researchers are seeking - and finding - the upsides to having a nice glass of wine, beer, or bourbon. This is the kind of research that must drive the health Nazis in this country up the wall. But the fact is, the evidence of all of these studies can't be ignored. Alcohol can be good for you. Just like coffee, another much- maligned beverage.

And to all those stuffed shirt naysayers, I'd encourage you to sit back, relax, and have a drink. it'll do you some good.


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