Yoga may improve cardiovascular and metabolic health

By AMERICAN HEART ASSOCIATION NEWS

namasteYoga has been around for centuries, with writings extolling its virtues in producing serenity and transcendence – but world leaders, as well as a growing collection of scientific research, are pointing to how the ancient practice also can be good for your health.

The United Nations General Assembly passed a resolution commemorating June 21 as International Day of Yoga. Cosponsored by more than 170 member states, representatives said yoga not only promotes “clarity of vision and action” but health.

“Yoga can contribute to resilience against non-communicable diseases. Yoga can bring communities together in an inclusive manner that generates respect,” U.N. Secretary General Ban Ki-moon told the news agency Reuters at the time of the resolution in December. “Yoga is a sport that can contribute to development and peace. Yoga can even help people in emergency situations to find relief from stress.”

A recent review of 37 randomized controlled trials concluded that yoga may improve cardiovascular and metabolic health, according to researchers at Harvard University and its Schools of Medicine and Public Health and Erasmus University Medical Center in the Netherlands. The study was published in December in the European Journal of Preventive Cardiology.

The research paper said “yoga showed significant improvement” for body mass index, systolic blood pressure, low-density lipoprotein (also called “bad”) cholesterol and high-density lipoprotein (also called “good”) cholesterol compared to those who did not exercise. The study noted “significant changes” in heart rate, body weight and diastolic blood pressure, as well.

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Autism and Toxic Chemicals: Are Pollutants Fueling Rising Prevalence?

Date: February 18, 2014
Researchers link more pollutants to disorders of brain development; call for global prevention strategy to control their use

A new report implicates a growing number of industrial chemicals as contributing to autism and other disorders of brain development. The authors call for a global strategy to reduce exposure.

The report appears online in Lancet Neurology. The authors are Harvard environmental epidemiologist Philippe Grandjean and Mount Sinai Medical School pediatrician and epidemiologist Philip Landrigan.

The new report summarizes evidence from published studies on industrial chemicals and brain toxicity and updates the review that the authors conducted in 2006.

Five known threats to brain development
Their 2006 review identified five widely used industrial chemicals as “developmental neurotoxicants.” Such chemicals can contribute to developmental brain disorders such as autism. The five were lead, methylmercury, polychlorinated biphenyls, arsenic and toluene.

In addition, the 2006 report identified more than 200 industrial chemicals that cause brain damage in adults. The authors warned that many of these might likewise cause developmental brain disorders.

Six more chemicals on the danger list
The new report adds six chemicals to the list of developmental neurotoxicants. They are high-doses of manganese or fluoride, the pesticides chlorpyrifos and DDT, the solvent tetrachloroethylene and polybrominated diphenyl ethers. Polybrominated diphenyl ethers are flame retardants applied to furniture.

Manganese and fluoride become toxic only at unnaturally high levels. The doses in vitamins and dental-hygiene products are safe.

While exposure to some of these chemicals is common in North America, the highest exposures tend to occur in developing nations, notes Alycia Halladay, Autism Speaks senior director for environmental and clinical sciences.

“Most exposures are hard for individuals to control themselves,” Dr. Halladay adds. “One way to prevent exposure is through regulation. Examples include the elimination of lead from gasoline and paint and the Clean Air Act.”

Meanwhile, Dr. Halladay agrees with the authors’ call for more research on the hundreds of toxic industrial chemicals now polluting the environment.

Many other neurotoxicants are likely contributing to a “silent pandemic” of developmental brain disorders, Drs. Grandjean and Landrigan write. As evidence, they cite studies linking autism risk to prenatal exposure to high levels of air pollution. (Click here for the full text of one of these studies, funded in part by Autism Speaks.)

Autism Speaks funds further research
Autism Speaks has funded a number of studies on autism risk and air pollution. In addition, it is currently supporting several studies collecting information on autism risk and exposures to other types of toxic chemicals.

To further speed discoveries, Autism Speaks is also funding the development of the Early Life Exposure Assessment Tool (ELEAT). Designed for autism research, this instrument allows investigators to combine the results of multiple studies on early environmental exposures. By increasing sample sizes, this will boost scientists’ ability to uncover toxic effects.

Learn more about Autism Speaks Environmental Factors in Autism Initiative here. For a full list of Autism Speaks studies on environmental risk factors for autism, click here.

Explore all the research Autism Speaks is funding using this website’s grant search.