Thursday, February 03, 2011

How coffee can boost the brainpower of women... but scrambles men's thinking

The heading above reflects the heading of the academic journal article concerned but is a poor reflection of the journal abstract, which follows:

"We tested whether increased caffeine consumption exacerbates stress and disrupts team performance, and we explored whether “tend and befriend” characterizes women's coping. We gave decaffeinated coffees, half of which contained added caffeine, to coffee drinkers in same-sex, same-aged dyads. We measured individual cognitive appraisals, emotional feelings, bodily symptoms, coping, and performance evaluations, together with dyad memory, psychomotor performance, and negotiation skills under higher or lower stressful conditions. Evidence consistent with the first hypothesis was weak, but we found that women performed better than did men on collaborative tasks under stress, provided caffeine had been consumed. The usefulness of multi component, cognitive-relational approaches to studying the effects of caffeine on stress is discussed, together with special implications of the effects for men"

It would appear that the authors have over-interpreted their results. What they found was that women were better at collaborative tasks, which is not big news, given the female specialization in socio-emotional relationships. What is interesting is that women needed caffeine to bring out their greater abilities in that respect. One would have thought that they would be superior with or without caffeine. I suspect poor experimental design -- unrepresentative sampling etc. There is no obvious reason why caffeine should affect men and women differently

Next time you have a high-pressure meeting at work, keep an eye on what goes into your colleagues’ cups. Drinking coffee improves women’s brainpower in stressful situations – but sends men into meltdown, according to a study. While sipping a cappuccino or downing an espresso boosts women’s performance when working with others, the same drinks impair men’s memories and slow their decision-making.

And given that Britons get through some 70million cups of coffee a day, the implications are significant, say the researchers.

Psychologist Dr Lindsay St Claire said: ‘Many meetings, including those at which military and other decisions are made, are likely to be male-dominated.

‘Because caffeine is the most widely consumed drug in the world, the global implications are potentially staggering.’

The researchers, from Bristol University, wanted to examine what coffee does to the body when it is already under stress, such as during a tense meeting.

They recruited 64 men and women and put them in same-sex pairs. Each pair was given a range of tasks to complete, including carrying out negotiations, completing puzzles and tackling memory challenges, and told they would have to give a public presentation relating to their tasks afterwards. Half of the pairs were given decaffeinated coffee, while the others were handed a cup containing a large shot of caffeine.

The researchers found that men’s performance in memory tests was ‘greatly impaired’ if they drank the caffeinated coffee. They also took an average of 20 seconds longer to complete the puzzles than those on the decaffeinated coffee.

But women completed the puzzles 100 seconds faster if they had been given caffeine, the Journal of Applied Social Psychology reports.


New antibiotic weapon in war on hospital superbug C.diff

A new antibiotic could transform treatment of hospital patients with life-threatening C. diff infections. A study shows Fidaxomicin – the first advance in the field for decades – cuts the rate of repeat infections by 45 per cent compared with an existing antibiotic. It also shortens the duration of diarrhoea symptoms affecting hundreds of NHS patients each year.

Experts claim the drug helps preserve the natural ‘good’ bugs in the intestine that are normally wiped out by diarrhoea and the action of conventional antibiotics.

C. diff is among the more virulent of hospital-acquired infections, with more than eight out of ten victims of C. diff aged 65 and over. Almost one in three people contracting the debilitating stomach bug suffers recurrent illness because current treatment fails to eradicate it.

A study of 629 patients published in the New England Journal of Medicine marks the final stage of investigation of the drug prior to licensing for clinical use.

Study co-leader Dr Mark Miller, head of the Division of Infectious Diseases at the Jewish General Hospital in Montreal, Canada, said: ‘There wasn’t much interest in C. difficile for many years, because it wasn’t considered a serious disease.

'However, over the past decade the bacterium has mutated into something much more serious that has caused epidemics worldwide.’
Hospitals have installed alcohol hand gel dispensers to reduce the risk from superbugs

Fidaxomicin, developed by Optimer Pharmaceuticals of San Diego, is the first in a new class of antibiotics. It is only minimally absorbed from the gut into the bloodstream, which means its killing power is specifically targeted at C. diff in the intestine.

Patients taking part in the phase 3 trial were randomly allocated oral treatment with Fidaxomicin or the antibiotic Vancomycin for ten days. Just 15 per cent of those treated with the new drug suffered recurrences compared with 25 per cent of those given Vancomycin, a 45 per cent reduction.

The length of illness was shorter for those on Fidaxomicin and the low rate of side effects was similar in both groups.

Dr Miller said: ‘Anybody who knows C. difficile recognises that recurrences are the major problem with this disease. 'Anything that can reduce the recurrence rate, especially as dramatically as Fidaxomicin, is a very important milestone in the treatment of C. difficile.’

Latest figures show there were 783 C. diff infections in hospitals in England in December 2010. There were almost 13,000 hospital infections recorded between October 2009 and 2010.


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