Diet to Reduce Blood Pressure May Help Combat Depression

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Medication. Therapy. These are some of ways people can treat depression, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).

But there’s one a surprising one that may help reduce the symptoms: going on a diet.

And not just any diet. The DASH diet.

Let’s backtrack a second. Scientists have known for a long time that food — the kinds we eat, how we digest it  can affect our moods. People who are obese are more likely to have depression, studies have shown; neurotransmitters that alter our moods, such as serotonin and dopamine, are in fact produced by the microbes that live in the gut. There have been so many studies linking diet and depression that Psychiatry Research published a meta-analysis of 21 such studies in April 2017. That analysis concluded what you might expect: a healthy dietary pattern may decrease the risk of depression.

But the relationship is, in many ways, still a correlation. That is, scientists may know that these thing are related, but they haven’t figured out a specific intervention or treatment that would use this knowledge to help patients.

Now, however, it seems they may have stumbled upon a diet that could do just that. It’s called the DASH diet — the Dietary Approaches to Stop Hypertension. The U.S. National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute developed the diet in the 1990s to treat (you guessed it) hypertension, aka high blood pressure.

The diet takes a pretty common sense approach to healthy eating. Fruits, vegetables, lean meats, and low-fat dairy? Good. Foods high in salt and sugar? Bad.

Laurel J. Cherian, an assistant professor of vascular neurology at Rush University Medical Center, performed a study to firm up the relationship between the DASH diet and lower rates of depression. Cherian will present her research at the meeting of the American Academy of Neurology this month.

“There is evidence linking healthy lifestyle changes to lower rates of depression and this study sought to examine the role that diet plays in preventing depression,” Cherian said in a press release.

For more than six years, Cherian screened 964 participants over the age of 60 for signs of depression every year. She also asked them to complete a 144-item questionnaire focused on the foods they ate. Cherian then divided the participants into three groups based on how closely their diets mirrored the DASH diet.

Even after controlling for variables known to affect depression, such as age and education level, Cherian found that the group that most closely adhered to the DASH diet was less likely to experience depression. And conversely, those that strayed the most from the diet were the most likely to show symptoms of depression.

But don’t throw out your antidepressants just yet.

“I think we need to view food as medicine,” Cherian told The Atlantic. “Medications to treat depression are wonderful, but for many people, it’s going to be a combination of things.”

Hear that? Combination is key. A new diet might not totally clear up symptoms of depression. But, then again, it might not hurt.

Admittedly, we’re not there yet. According to Felice Jacka, a professor of nutritional psychiatry at Australia’s Deakin University, now that we are more certain there’s a link between diet and depression, we need to figure out how to exploit it to help people.

“Given how many observational studies there are already published, the field does not really need more of these,” Jacka told The Atlantic. “What it needs now are interventions that show that if you improve diet, you also improve depression.” (Jacka performed a similar study of her own, published in January 2017, concluding that “people who improved their diets showed significantly happier moods than those who received social support,” according to the Wall Street Journal.)

There are lots of benefits to improving your diet, including weight loss and better management of existing health conditions. Improved mood may very well come along with it (that’s what the science suggests), but then again it might not since it’s not a proven treatment yet.

It’s worth trying, at least. But it’s also a good idea to stick to whatever treatments you’re already using for depression.

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YouTube plans ‘information cues’ to combat hoaxes

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During a talk at SXSW 2018, YouTube CEO Susan Wojcicki revealed one way her company will push back against the spread of misinformation. "Information cues" including a text box linking to a third party source like Wikipedia could appear under some vi…
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To Combat Wildlife Trafficking, Tech Companies Take a Stand

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Wildlife trafficking is a pervasive crime that endangers animals and threatens wildlife populations. The internet has made it even easier for traffickers to illegally trade animals and products like ivory and rhino horn online. Now, 21 leading tech companies are working together to prevent animal trading on their sites and platforms.

Last week, the Global Coalition to End Wildlife Trafficking Online was launched by TRAFFIC, the International Fund for Animal Welfare, and the World Wildlife Fund (WWF), and includes companies like Google, Facebook, Microsoft, Instagram, and Alibaba. The coalition will “work together to collectively reduce wildlife trafficking across platforms by 80% by 2020.”

Image Credit: tracyhammond / pixabay
Image Credit: tracyhammond / pixabay

The black market for wildlife products is more expansive and accessible than ever thanks to the anonymity the internet can provide. We might think of crimes like ivory trade as something from a bygone era, but new technology creates new avenues for criminal activity to emerge.

The current challenge in putting an end to illegal trafficking isn’t that companies don’t care; when such activity is spotted, companies often do take action — but the criminals just move to another platform. As a coalition, companies could stand together to better identify and stop traffickers. Law enforcement can’t effectively police every platform or website that might be utilized for trafficking. Nor can each platform or website monitor for trafficking effectively on their own. “If you have one weak link in the chain, that’s where all of the illegal trade will gravitate towards,” said Crawford Allan, the senior director of wildlife crime at the WWF and TRAFFIC, to National Geographic. “It’s like the whack-a-mole effect.”

The commitment of companies to taking a stand can’t come soon enough, as the wildlife trafficking situation has become dire. Between 2007 and 2014, ivory poaching reduced the savanna elephant population by a whopping 30 percent. From 2007 to 2017, the number of rhinos killed for their horns in South Africa increased from 13 to over 1,000. More and more species are facing extinction, and without comprehensive action, populations will continue to dwindle. Allan shared that companies “realized it’s a non-competitive issue and they stepped up together to help find solutions with us.”

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We’re Getting Closer to Vaccines to Combat Drug Addiction

In the United States, 115 people die as the result of an opioid drug overdose every day. This statistic, gathered as part of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s (CDC) work to understand and combat the current epidemic of opioid drug abuse in America is even more startling when you compare it to figures from the last twenty years or so. In 2016, the number of deaths attributed to an overdose of a drug like heroin or prescription opioid painkillers was five times what it was in 1999.

One of the driving forces behind this epidemic has already been determined: medical professionals over-prescribing opioid painkillers, such as oxycodone, to patients, a practice that is not only completely legal but increasingly common. Many people begin taking the drug legally but become dependent on it. When the prescription runs out and they are no longer able to get it filled, they may try to obtain it illegally. They may be motivated to buy or steal medication to help combat their pain. Some patients end up taking illegal street drugs, like heroin, in an attempt to treat the withdrawals from the opioid medications they were initially prescribed.

Drug addiction is extremely difficult to treat. Addictions that begin as the result of taking legally-prescribed medication, often as a treatment for severe or chronic pain, are even more so. That’s one reason that researchers have been trying to find entirely new avenues for treating drug addiction.

A team of researchers at The Scripps Research Institute recently published their work on the development of a potential vaccine to treat heroin addiction. The idea behind it is fairly intuitive, and in fact, the basic concept has been known to researchers since at least the 1970s.

Like any immunization, an “antiheroin” vaccine would cause a person’s body to create the antibodies that bind to heroin in the blood. Then, it would prevent the drug from crossing the blood-brain barrier, which is what gives the user a high. The theory being that if the drug user no longer felt the effect of the drug, it would be far less likely that they’d relapse.

Other research teams are working on similar vaccines that could be used to treat people addicted to cocaine, or even as a potential treatment for cigarette smokers who are addicted to nicotine. Whether prescription opioid painkillers, heroin, cocaine, fentanyl, nicotine, or even alcohol, the need for new, innovative, ways to address addiction is severe. Given the sheer number of people addicted and dying each year as a result and the distressing lack of available options for treatment, the need for drastic intervention is clear.

“We’re looking for everything and anything,” R. Corey Waller, a practicing addiction specialist and chair of the legislative advocacy committee of the American Society of Addiction Medicine told Chemical and Engineering News “We don’t care if it’s voodoo, unicorns, or rainbows; we’ll take it.”

At present, the biggest challenge is finding the scientific magic that would allow these treatments to work in humans. While they have proven effective in lab animals, the results of the few human clinical trials to date have been disappointing. That was over a decade ago, though, and the failure of those trials gave researchers valuable insight into what needed to be revamped.

It’s only a matter of time before they’ll be able to try again, but those who specialize in substance abuse treatment remain cautiously optimistic. They know, perhaps better than anyone else other than the addicts themselves, just how hard it is to treat drug addiction. “The vaccines seem very promising, and they’re novel, providing a different mechanism to prevent substance abuse,” Kelly E. Dunn, Associate Professor of Psychiatry and Behavior Science at Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine told Chemical and Engineering News. “But there is still a lot of work to do.”

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China Will Plant 32,400 Square Miles of Trees to Combat Air Pollution

China has an air pollution problem. But recently the country has worked to improve its air quality and reduce emissions. In 2017, China elected to shut down 40 percent of its factories, and announced plans to ban diesel-powered cars. In 2018, it became home to the world’s largest smog tower that is capable of reducing nearby air pollution by 15 percent.

Now, China is proceeding with a new plan: planting trees — 84,000 square kilometers (32,400 square miles) of them, to be exact.

Currently, China has roughly 208 million hectares of forested area. Throughout 2018, the country hopes increase its total forest coverage from 21 percent to 23 percent, and tasked roughly 60,000 soldiers to handle the job, according to Asia Times. A regiment of the People’s Liberation Army, as well as the nation’s armed police force, have been pulled from their posts on the northern border for the project. The Independent reports that Zhang Jianlong, head of China’s State Forestry Administration, said the country’s total forest coverage could reach as high as 26 percent in less than two decades.

Most of the troops are being dispatched to the heavily-polluted Hebei province near Beijing — one of the biggest contributors to the country’s smog problem. The province pledged to increase its forest coverage to 35 percent by 2020.

While it’s reassuring to see China take its air pollution issues so seriously, it’s unlikely that additional trees will solve the problem. China’s forest coverage is already at 21 percent, and the country still has a significant amount of smog.

While an additional two percent of forest will certainly help, it probably won’t change China’s air quality all that much. Not on its own, anyway; but that’s where other endeavors like the aforementioned diesel car ban and push for renewable energy come into play.

Air pollution has major impacts on human health, and countries like China would do well to reduce national levels sooner than later.

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Verizon Will Stop Selling Unlocked iPhones to ‘Combat Theft’

Calling it an “extra step” in helping to prevent fraud and the theft of its valuable hardware, Verizon announced Monday that it plans to begin locking the phones it sells online and via its retails stores, CNET reports.

America’s largest wireless carrier has opted to implement the policy change as a way to deter criminals from stealing phones, noting how stolen devices are often “on route to retail stores, or from the stores themselves” at the time they’re stolen.

“We’re taking steps to combat this theft and reduce fraud,” said Tami Erwin, Verizon’s executive vice president of wireless operations. “These steps will make our phones exponentially less desirable to criminals.”

What Does This Mean for Verizon Customers?

Essentially, Verizon’s decision to lock its new phones means they won’t be compatible with any other carrier’s SIM card (unless Verizon authorizes your unlock request).

It’s worth noting that, at least for the time being, any new phone purchased directly from Verizon will automatically be unlocked just as soon as the customer signs up for and activates Verizon service for it.

“Later in the spring” Verizon will shift its policy back in line with the mobile industry’s general protocol, which in most cases involves maintaining that new phones stay locked to their host carrier for “a period of time” after they’ve been purchased.

Such is the case with AT&T who requires its customers to not only pay off their phone entirely, but also be active on the carrier’s network for at least 60 days prior to being eligible for an unlock. Sprint and T-Mobile have similar terms and “wait periods” of 50 and 40 days, respectively, following device payoff.

Will I Ever Be Able to Unlock My Verizon Phone?

To be clear, under its new policy, Verizon will not be doing away with unlocked phones in their entirety.. Rather, customers who purchase a new device — including any of Apple’s iPhone models, present and future — through Verizon, will simply have to wait for this “period of time.”

Unfortunately, Verizon stopped short of providing guidance of how long its customers will have to wait, after purchasing their new device, before it’s eligible to be unlocked, saying only that the company will provide an official update ahead of the policy going live.

So, starting [sometime] this spring, if you own a locked Verizon phone, you’ll have to contact the carrier or visit a retail store to have it unlocked — assuming Big Red will grant you its blessing, of course — before trying to swap out your SIM card.

Verizon assures its customers that “a wait period” is necessary to help “deter scammers from signing up for service using stolen identities” — in a fraudulent bid to obtain a new phone, turn around, and sell it for personal gain, for example. It’s also possible, however, that Verizon is merely trying to protect its cushy position amid the ever-competitive U.S. carrier wars..

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Verizon to stop selling unlocked iPhones to combat theft

Verizon is going to stop selling unlocked iPhones, CNET reports. The carrier tells the outlet that it plans to begin locking the phones it sells to customers, for an undetermined period of time, beginning in the spring…. Read the rest of this post here

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Irony Alert? Tech Insiders Form Organization to Combat the Dangers of Technology

Reforming an Industry

Today, children have access to technology at quite young an age, something that was largely impossible for generations past. Given that research shows that digital technology affects our brains and that our brains are most malleable when we are children, the potential dangers of tech when used by young people is a hot topic.

Now, a number of tech experts are joining forces in an attempt to protect today’s youth from these dangers. The group is called the Center for Humane Technology, and amongst its ranks are tech experts who worked for Google and Facebook when the companies were just starting out.

“We were on the inside. We know what the companies measure. We know how they talk, and we know how the engineering works,” former Google in-house ethicist Tristan Harris, who heads the new group, told CNBC.

The Center for Humane Technology is working in close collaboration with a number of other groups, including nonprofit media watchdog Common Sense Media, to launch an educational ad campaign called The Truth About Tech.

The campaign will take a similar approach to antismoking programs aimed at children. The goal is to raise awareness amongst children, parents, and educators about the dangers of tech, particularly the depression and depressive behavior that could result from excessive exposure to social media.

“The largest supercomputers in the world are inside of two companies — Google and Facebook — and where are we pointing them?” Harris told CNBC. “We’re pointing them at people’s brains, at children.”

Common Sense Media and the Center for Humane Technology will invest $ 7 million to fund the campaign to spread awareness about the dangers of tech, while media partners including Comcast and DirecTV will donate $ 50 million in the form of airtime.

A Degree of Hypocrisy

While the intentions of the Center for Humane Technology’s members are quite noble, there’s something ironic about the whole movement — without the efforts of these early innovators, the state of technology and social media would likely be far different.

Roger McNamee, a Center for Humane Technology member and early investor at Facebook, acknowledges the role guilt plays in the formation of the group, noting that he’s horrified at what he helped create.

“Facebook appeals to your lizard brain — primarily fear and anger. And with smartphones, they’ve got you for every waking moment,” he told CNBC. “This is an opportunity for me to correct a wrong.”

For many, perhaps the biggest surprise is that tech bigwigs, including Apple co-founder Steve Jobs, have long been wary of — or at least aware of — the potential dangers of tech for children.

The iconic “genius” behind Apple was reportedly a low-tech parent who didn’t allow his children to use the iPad when it first launched. The company’s current CEO, Tim Cook, seems to have followed in his predecessor’s footsteps. “I don’t have a kid, but I have a nephew that I put some boundaries on,” he told The Guardian. “There are some things that I won’t allow; I don’t want them on a social network.”

Even Sean Parker, the founder of Napster and a known investor at Facebook, has criticized the social network for its “unintended consequences,” telling Axios, “God only knows what it’s doing to our children’s brains.”

Yet despite these words of warning from insiders, it’s business as usual in Silicon Valley. The irony of that is not lost on Common Sense CEO and founder Jim Steyer. “You see a degree of hypocrisy with all these guys in Silicon Valley,” he told CNBC.

“Reversing the digital attention crisis,” as the Center for Humane Technology puts it, will take more than a targeted ad campaign. As such, the group is also planning to lobby Congress to pass legislation that will help by limiting the powers of tech companies and funding research into the impact of tech on children’s health.

While social media and technology can be harmful for adults, children are even more vulnerable. Hopefully, the Center for Humane Technology will be able to help us usher in a future in which we can reap the benefits of technology without the negative consequences.

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TV writers are sharing their salaries in a Google spreadsheet to combat pay disparity

TV writers, producers, executives, and assistants have been anonymously sharing their salaries in a widely circulated Google spreadsheet this week as part of an effort to help people working in the entertainment industry achieve pay parity, The Hollywood Reporter reports.

The spreadsheet is broken down by type of job (staff writer versus assistant versus executive), with columns for position or title, studio, network, amount of experience, and whether a person identifies as a man or a woman, or a person of color. No specific TV series are mentioned, though some entries note if a show is scripted or unscripted.

There is a huge range of salaries in the spreadsheet, which has more than 100 entries on the “staff writers” page alone, but…

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