Saturday, January 28, 2012

Why a mother's love really is priceless: It prevents illness even into middle age(?)

This is the old "correlation is causation" fallacy yet again. IQ was apparently not controlled for but there are pockets of high IQ among poor families and high IQ parents probably treat their children better on the whole and high IQ people have better health anyhow and would transmit that to their children genetically

You comfort them over a skinned knee in the playground, and coax them to sleep with a soothing lullaby. And being a nurturing mother could well pay dividends in later life by protecting your child from serious illnesses, scientists say.

Tender loving care in childhood was found to reduce a person’s risk of conditions including diabetes and heart disease in adulthood, according to researchers at Brandeis University in Boston.

They examined 1,000 people from low-income backgrounds, which has been shown by a wealth of previous research to be related to poorer health in later life and lower life expectancy. However, they found some people from disadvantaged families managed to buck this trend – and they tended to have had a loving mother.

Participants were recruited at an average age of 46 and had a full health check in hospital. They were asked about their mothers with questions such as ‘how much did she understand your problems and worries?’ and ‘How much time and attention did she give you when you needed it?

A decade later half of the people had metabolic syndrome – a major risk factors for heart disease, strokes and diabetes. It is a combination of symptoms including excess fat around the waist, high blood pressure, high cholesterol and insulin resistance, which affects around one in four people in the UK.

They found people in the lowest socio-economic category, with neither parent having finished school, had the highest rate of this condition – half of them were affected and regardless of their social mobility in later life.

‘The stresses of childhood can leave a biological residue that shows up in midlife. Yet, among those at risk for poor health, adults who had nurturing mothers in childhood fared better in physical health’

But although this high risk seemed to be ‘embedded’ from childhood, the researchers said, those who said their mothers were very nurturing were far less likely to have it.

Psychology professor Margie Lachman said events in childhood seem to leave a ‘biological residue’ on health during adult life. She said: ‘The fact that we can see these long-term effects from childhood into midlife is pretty dramatic.

‘We want to understand what it is about having a nurturing mother that allows you to escape the vulnerabilities of being in a low socioeconomic status background and wind up healthier than your counterparts.’

The authors suggest it could be a combination of empathy, teaching children ‘coping strategies’ to deal with stress so it does not affect their health and encouraging them to eat well and live a healthy lifestyle.

They did not look at how nurturing their fathers were but the authors believe they probably have a big influence too particularly for the next generation as parental roles are less rigid than they were when the people they studied were young.

Prof Lachman said the information could help devise training for parents about coping with their child’s stress, living a healthy lifestyle and having ‘control over their destiny’.

The study was published in the journal Psychological Science.


Scientists urge universities to axe alternative medicine courses

MORE than 400 doctors, medical researchers and scientists have formed a powerful lobby group to pressure universities to close down alternative medicine degrees.

Almost one in three Australian universities now offer courses in some form of alternative therapy or complementary medicine, including traditional Chinese herbal medicine, chiropractics, homeopathy, naturopathy, reflexology and aromatherapy.

But the new group, Friends of Science in Medicine, wrote to vice-chancellors this week, warning that by giving "undeserved credibility to what in many cases would be better described as quackery" and by "failing to champion evidence-based science and medicine", the universities are trashing their reputation as bastions of scientific rigour.

The group, which names world-renowned biologist Sir Gustav Nossal and the creator of the cervical cancer vaccine Professor Ian Frazer among its members, is also campaigning for private health insurance providers to stop providing rebates for alternative medical treatments.

A co-founder of the group, Emeritus Professor John Dwyer, of the University of NSW, who is also a government adviser on consumer health fraud, said it was distressing that 19 universities were now offering "degrees in pseudo science".

"It's deplorable, but we didn't realise how much concern there was out there for universities' reputations until we tapped into it," Professor Dwyer said. "We're saying enough is enough. Taxpayers' money should not be wasted on funding [these courses] … nor should government health insurance rebates be wasted on this nonsense."

Professor Dwyer said it was particularly galling that such courses were growing in popularity while, at the same time, the federal government was looking at ways to get the Therapeutic Goods Administration to enforce tougher proof-of-efficacy criteria for complementary medicines, following the release of a highly critical review by the Australian National Audit Office last September.

Of particular concern to the group is the increase in chiropractic courses, following the recent announcement of a new chiropractic science degree by Central Queensland University. More than 30 scientists, doctors and community advocates wrote to the vice-chancellor and health science deans at the university voicing their concern, which laid the foundations for Friends of Science in Medicine.

The groundswell of protest from medical professionals comes after a decision in Britain that means from this year it will no longer be possible to receive a degree from a publicly-funded university in areas of alternative medicine, including homeopathy and naturopathy.

German and British medical insurance providers are also in the process of removing alternative therapies from the list of treatments they will cover.

Australia's vice-chancellors will meet in March and Professor Dwyer said his group was aiming to get a commitment from them to endorse health courses only with evidence-based science.

The spokesman for Universities Australia said tertiary institutions were self-accrediting. "[They have] the autonomy … to ensure the quality and relevance of the courses they offer," he said.

The Tertiary Education Quality and Standards Agency, a government body set up to regulate higher education, refused to comment.

Most health funds pay rebates for alternative therapies under top cover polices. Private Healthcare Australia did not return the Herald's calls.


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