New Research Shows Running Helps Children With Autism

Dusty Sweeney faces more obstacles than the average 16 year old. Diagnosed with autism at age 2, Dusty has limited verbal communication skills, and he will likely never be able to live on his own or hold a job.

But, Dusty has picked up one habit that his mother, Katie Sweeney, hopes will make his life a little better – and a little healthier.

“When he runs, he runs with a smile on his face,” Sweeney, who runs with Dusty every week in New York City’s Central Park, told

Dusty was first introduced to running by Achilles International, a group that aims to allow people with all types of disabilities to participate in mainstream athletic events. Now, Achilles has received a grant from the Cigna Foundation to initiate a study on how running can help children with autism, like Dusty.

“We have this running program, and we’ve been seeing amazing effects on kids with autism when they run – incredible physical changes, improvements in behavior and focus, improvements in so many indicators of autism that they suffer from,” Megan Wynne Lombardo, director of the Achilles Kids Running Program, told “We’d like to study this and point to the effect running has on these kids.”

Sweeney said she’s definitely seen a difference in Dusty’s behavior since he began running in 2012. As Dusty progressed through his early teens, the family struggled to help him cope with aggressive behaviors, such as hitting and self-injury. But in recent months, they’ve seen improvements in his behavior, which Katie attributes to both running and an anti-inflammatory diet.

“I think the routine of it, the mental benefits, have been amazing – better than any drug,” Sweeney said. “And I think the endorphins have done wonders.”

Paula Sen, Dusty’s Achilles running guide, said she’s also seen huge changes in Dusty’s behavior since he joined the program.

“There are no more avoidance tactics, no more sitting down in the middle of the road, or shouting to leave, or needing to be rewarded with a snack after each mile. Dusty’s endurance has increased tremendously and his physique has transformed into that of a stronger, leaner, fitter teenage boy,” Sen told via email. “We’ve increased our Saturday morning distances from 3 miles to 6 miles.”

When Achilles International launched in 1983, it primarily served adults with physical disabilities. But now, Lombardo said the running groups for children are primarily filled by people suffering cognitive disabilities.

“In the last 10 to 15 years, that has really switched. The vast, vast majority of kids we work with now are on the [autism] spectrum, which really reflects the growth of autism nationally,” Lombardo said.

The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention now estimates that approximately 1 in 68 children in the U.S. has been identified as having an autism spectrum disorder. In 2000, that number was estimated to be only about 1 in 150. And as the number of children with ASD continues to rise, parents and caregivers alike are becoming increasingly concerned about how these children will fare as adults.

“These kids are going to need to go somewhere; they’re going to need jobs; they’re going to need housing and lifelong support, and we want them to be engaged in [their] community,” Lombardo said. “And [running] is a way they can do that and be part of the world.”

Though the study from Achilles and the Cigna Foundation is still in its early stages, Karen Cierzan, a licensed professional counselor who has worked with children with autism, said she hopes that it will yield insights into how physical activity can be used to improve certain symptoms of ASD. The researchers plan to study how various autistic behaviors are altered by running.

“We look at eye contact during the activity and immediately following – did it last after stopping physical activity? And general focus and demeanor, what it is during and after?” Cierzan, vice president for Behavioral Operations at Cigna, told “And for those that are verbal…did that verbal communication level change after? And how long after did that stay with them? Those are what we will be looking for.”

Sweeney said she plans to continue participating in the Achilles running programs with Dusty – and hopes that one day, he’ll run a marathon. Even more, she expects that running will become a lifelong habit that will help anchor Dusty to his community, and help him live a good life.

“This is a person who will always need care, will never been independent, never live on his own,” Sweeney said. “My only goal for him is happiness.”

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OnJune 27, 2014, posted in: Latest News by

Pesticide exposure during pregnancy may increase autism risk

Scientists have long hypothesized that chemicals found in our environment play a role in causing autism. Research published this week in Environmental Health Perspectives supports that theory, finding children whose mothers are exposed to agricultural pesticides during pregnancy may be at increased risk for autism spectrum disorders, or ASD.

Researchers at the University of California, Davis, looked at the medical records of 970 participants. They found pregnant women who lived within a mile of an area treated with three different types of pesticides were at a two-thirds higher risk of having a child with ASD or developmental delays. These pesticide-treated areas included parks, golf courses, pastures and roadsides.

The study investigated the use of three classes of pesticides: organophosphates, which include the widely used insecticide chlorpyrifos, as well as pyrtheroids and carbamates.

The study authors also discovered that women exposed to pesticides during their second or third trimesters were even more likely to have a child born with developmental delays or autism.

Until further research determines whether pesticides inside the home pose similar risks, Janie Shelton, one of the study’s authors and a graduate student at UC Davis, advises pregnant woman to limit pesticide exposure as much as possible.

“I would suggest that women who are pregnant or in the process of becoming pregnant avoid using chemicals inside the home,” Shelton said. “Make sure to read the labels and see if any of these chemicals are in the things they use.”

The findings add to the mounting evidence linking autism and developmental delay to pesticide exposure during pregnancy.

“This is the third epidemiological study from California that has shown that prenatal pesticide exposure is associated with ASD,” said Alycia Halladay, senior director of environmental and clinical sciences for Autism Speaks. “It reinforces the advice of public health care experts and doctors to minimize exposure to these chemicals during pregnancy.”

The authors say further research is needed to determine whether a mother’s genes also contribute to the increased risk associated with environmental exposure to pesticides.

Another study published in Pediatrics this week found a link between race and autism spectrum disorders.

The researchers looked at more than 7,500 people and found that children of foreign-born black, Central and South American, Filipino and Vietnamese mothers were at higher risk of developing autism than children of white mothers born in the United States.

This doesn’t necessarily mean that these races are more genetically prone to autism.

“It can be very scary for parents when they hear such high degree of association, but they should also keep in mind that this research is only showing some association and not cause,” William Sharp, director of the Marcus Autism Center and assistant professor at Emory University School of Medicine, wrote in an email. Sharp was not involved with either study.

“Not all pregnant women exposed to pesticides or all immigrants from Central (and) South America go on to have children with autism.”

And experts agree there are many other risk factors that could be at play in increasing the autism risk, such as maternal stress after relocating to the U.S., nutritional deficiencies and/or a lack of access to treatment and diagnosis.

“Both studies highlight the need to further enhance our understanding regarding the relationship between environmental events, fetal and early childhood development and autism,” Sharp wrote.

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OnJune 25, 2014, posted in: Latest News by

Teacher Dances Away 100 Pounds !!

(CNN) — In fall 2012, Roni Tarver was in a bad mood.

The 5-foot-6-inch teacher weighed 235 pounds and suffered back pain almost constantly. She was popping 10 to 15 ibuprofen daily, which took a toll on her stomach. It didn’t help that she was on her feet most of the day and dealing with the stress and exhaustion of being a relatively new teacher.

Her husband never once said anything about her weight, which made her feel worse about not taking care of herself. She had quit smoking, but knew she needed to get active because climbing stairs still left her winded.

“I really married the most sweet, wonderful, compassionate man in the world. He never made me feel bad about it, so I think I felt more guilty,” said Tarver, 29, a high-school agriculture teacher who lives in the Fort Worth, Texas, area. She remembers thinking, “Why aren’t you taking the initiative? This man loves you for who you are.”

She had never had the body she wanted. By that November, she had had enough. She was done being just the outgoing, funny girl. She was done being heavy.

“I found myself crying in bed one night over my weight, and my husband told me that he thought I was beautiful, but if I was so unhappy, I should do something about it,” Tarver wrote on CNN iReport. “This triggered something in me.”

The very next day, she said, she began monitoring her calories and walking or riding the stationary bicycle six days a week. After two months, she was brave enough to step foot inside a gym. That was January 3, 2013.

Soon after, she signed up for her first Zumba class.  It was the beginning of her new life.

Tarver started sampling every available evening dance class. As the daughter of an aerobic dance instructor, the movements came easily. By the third week, she wanted to be there all the time, dancing to exhaustion under the club lights in the gym’s group fitness room. She supplemented classes with one to two nights working out on the elliptical machine and lifting weights.

“My instructors were amazing, and made me feel like they loved having me there,” she said. “I was having a blast exercising for the first time in my life.”

One of her instructors, now a close friend, found her on Facebook and would message her if Tarver missed a class. She also offered to make her CDs with music she noticed Tarver liked in class.

After 10 months, Tarver’s teacher encouraged her to get certified to teach her own classes. Tarver has been teaching Zumba and other classes that combine fitness and dance for the past four months, in addition to the classes she takes.

“You really feel like you’re in a club, dancing with people, but you don’t have a hangover in the morning. At the end of it, you feel awesome, you’re exhausted, and you can go back and do it tomorrow if you want. It’s good for your soul, if you ask me.”

Tarver knew exercise wasn’t enough to really get healthy. She had to change her eating habits, too. She didn’t follow a particular diet, but stuck to a few principles.

The first few months, she rarely ate out, if at all, and cut out fast food in favor of salmon or grilled chicken with vegetables. At school, she ate a protein shake or bar for breakfast, a banana, apple, pear or some clementines for a snack, more fruit and a low-calorie frozen dinner for lunch. She used a calorie counter app on her phone to track her intake, sticking to about 1,500 to 1,700 calories per day based on how fast or slow she was losing weight.

She also cut out dairy, which was probably the hardest sacrifice.

Tarver’s weight-loss advice:  “Find something active that you love doing, and don’t give up.”

“I could drink a whole gallon of whole milk in two days. I really, really liked cheese and milk a lot,” she said. “It was difficult at first because I was so conditioned to eating cheese, but I felt better.”

After a couple of months, she allowed herself one cheat meal a week — two bacon and egg taquitos from her favorite fast food chain every Tuesday. She still has that ritual, but is a little freer with her diet on the weekends.

When Tarver started her weight loss journey in November 2012, at 235 pounds, she wore size 22 pants and was about 42% body fat. Within 14 months, she was down to 135 pounds, a size 6 and 21% body fat. Her back pain is almost completely gone, she has her dream body and is “the happiest I have ever been.”

“I can’t believe how easy it was — how fast the weight came off when I was doing the right thing,” she said. “I’m thrilled out of my mind with my body.”

Her husband, Tom Tarver, says Roni has always been beautiful, but it’s clear to him how much better she feels.

“I’m very proud of her, and I would choose the way she feels now over however she looks,” he said. “She’s happier, and she is just a fun person to be around. It’s the kind of person you want to be married to.”

Tarver fluctuates between 130 and 135 pounds and considers herself to be in maintenance mode; she carries around some extra skin from the weight loss, but will happily accept the extra skin over the extra weight.

“If I could give one piece of advice to anyone struggling with their weight, it would be to find something active that you love doing, and don’t give up,” Tarver said. “Consistency is key to making any lifestyle changes. Find a support system and tell people what you are trying to do for yourself. When you say it out loud, you become accountable.”

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OnJune 3, 2014, posted in: Latest News by

Pancreatic cancer second most deadly by 2030


By 2030, the top cancer killers in the United States will be lung, pancreas and liver, according to a new report published Monday in the American Association for Cancer Research’s journal.

Lung cancer is already the top killer overall, but pancreatic and liver cancer will surpass the cancers currently considered the second and third leading causes of death, researchers say. Right now, second most dangerous is breast cancer for women and prostate cancer for men; and third is colorectal cancer for both men and women.


Researchers looked at trends in cancer incidence and death rates between 2006 and 2010, and used that data — combined with expected U.S. demographic changes — to predict numbers for 2030.

Overall, the cancer-related death rate has been decreasing, researchers say, as a result of improved screening and treatment options. Yet while deaths from breast, prostate and colon cancers are projected to drop, deaths caused by liver, pancreatic, bladder and leukemia cancers are expected to increase.


In fact, liver and pancreatic cancers will surpass breast and prostate to become the second and third-leading causes of cancer-related deaths, the researchers say.


“We’ve been able to turn the tide in other cancers, with an investment in (research),” said lead author Lynn Matrisian, vice president of scientific and medical affairs at the Pancreatic Cancer Action Network, which funded the study. “We’re hoping that with increased effort … we will be able to impact and change those projections.”


The rate of pancreatic cancer has been slowly increasing for the past 15 years, says Dr. Otis Brawley, chief medical officer of the American Cancer Society. Some of that rise can be attributed to the prevalence of obesity and diabetes.


“Many Americans are not aware that the combination of obesity, high-caloric intake and lack of physical activity is the second-leading cause of cancer in the U.S.,” Brawley said. “It is linked to at least 12 types of cancer, of which these are two. This is an American problem … the rise in pancreatic cancer is not as severe as in Europe where obesity is less of an issue.”


Overall, the number of cancer cases is expected to increase over the next 16 years, due to the rapidly aging population. In 2010, the United States had about 1.5 million cases of cancer; in 2030, researchers expect that number to reach 2.1 million.


“We’re living much longer in the United States, so the number of people 65 age and older will be much greater,” Matrisian said. “And that’s, of course, one of the biggest risk factors for cancer: Age.”

Lung, breast, prostate and colorectal cancers are currently the most common in the United States. Known as the “big four,” these cancers have the highest incidence rates and receive the most research funding from the National Cancer Institute.


This is unlikely to change by 2030, the researchers say, except for colorectal cancer, which is expected to be surpassed by thyroid, melanoma and uterine cancers in total number of cases.

“The decrease in colorectal cancer, falling from the top four incidence and top two in deaths, seems to be primarily the result of advances in colorectal cancer screening,” the report authors write.

The dramatic increase in thyroid cases is not a new epidemic, they say, but simply an increase in the number of cases being diagnosed. And while thyroid cancer has a 98% five-year survival rate, only 6% of pancreatic cancer patients are alive five years after diagnosis.


The pancreas is difficult to scan with current imaging technologies, Matrisian says, because of its location in the body. And pancreatic tumors are often surrounded by dense tissue that render drugs useless. Surgery is the only treatment known to cure pancreatic cancer, but less than 20% of cases are operable, the report says.


“If we want to change the death rate for these diseases, it is necessary to increase the investment in understanding them and identifying early detection strategies,” the report says.


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OnMay 22, 2014, posted in: Latest News by

Xanax-related ER visits double in 6 years


Alprazolam, the prescription sedative more commonly known by its brand name, Xanax, is being implicated in a spiraling number of emergency room visits, according to a new report by the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration.

Over the past few years, the number of ER visits associated with misuse of the drug more than doubled. In 2005, the number of patient cases involving Xanax was 57,419, and by 2011 (the last year for which there is data), there were 123,744.

“We have been clamping down on opiates (prescription painkillers) but Xanax is becoming a fast-riser in the game,” said Dr. Howard Mell, an emergency room physician based in Cleveland, Ohio.

“It’s not even a little surprising,” he said of the new figures. “I wish it was.”

In 2011, 1.2 million visits to the emergency room involved prescription drug misuse and abuse. And, according the report, alprazolam was involved in 10% of those visits.

Part of alprazolam’s fast rise: It is a go-to anti-anxiety drug for psychiatrists and primary care physicians. According to recent studies, Xanax was the most commonly prescribed psychiatric medication in 2011.

And with its addictive qualities, abuse is common, said Mell, a spokesman for theAmerican College of Emergency Physicians.

The most common drug combinations he encounters in ER patients are Xanax and alcohol, and Xanax combined with prescription opiates like hydrocodone andoxycodone.

According to the SAMHSA report, in 81% of cases, alprazolam was mixed with another drug (including alcohol).

“Alprazolam…has been shown to be significantly more toxic than other benzodiazepines,” a class of anxiety medications that includes Valium, “if more than the prescribed amount is taken,” according to the report.

The impact – what leads patients to the emergency room – is the sedating effect of each of these drugs. When one sedative (Xanax) is added to another (alcohol or painkillers) there is what is called a synergistic effect, with each drug amplifying the other.

To use a mathematical analogy – instead of 1+1 equaling 2, 1+1 equals 5. The worst case scenario for a patient is that he or she stops breathing.

“If you’re someone taking Xanax and you take an extra before going out Saturday night, then have a couple of mixed drinks, it’s going to hit you much faster,” said Mell. “It’s going to cause an interaction that could be deadly.”

Mell says his typical patient is not the “pimply-faced” kid you might expect to be abusing drugs. His overdose patients, he says, are soccer moms, local politicians and business leaders.

“They think because the drugs (are) given out by doctors that they can handle it,” he said. “They figure ‘I wouldn’t put anything in my medicine cabinet that’s unsafe to take,’ and that’s just not true.”

Between 2005 and 2011, according to the SAMHSA report, the age group most likely to show up in the ER as a result of alprazolam was 25 to 34 year olds. In 2005, about 12,731 visits were among that age group, but by 2011 that number had risen to 39,651.


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OnMay 22, 2014, posted in: Latest News by

Breaththrough Helps a Paralyzed Man Move

LONDON –  Three years ago, doctors reported that zapping a paralyzed man’s spinal cord with electricity allowed him to stand and move his legs. Now they’ve done the same with three more patients, suggesting their original success was no fluke.

Experts say it’s a promising development but warn the experimental treatment isn’t a cure. When the implanted device is activated, the men can wiggle their toes, lift their legs and stand briefly. But they aren’t able to walk and still use wheelchairs to get around.

“There is no miracle cure on the way,” said Peter Ellaway, an emeritus professor of physiology at Imperial College London, who had no role in the study. “But this could certainly give paralyzed people more independence and it could still be a life-changer for them.”

In a new study published Tuesday in the British journal Brain, researchers gave an update on Rob Summers, of Portland, Oregon, the first to try the treatment, and described successful results for all three of the other men who have tried it. All had been paralyzed from below the neck or chest for at least two years from a spinal cord injury.

The study’s lead author, Claudia Angeli of the Kentucky Spinal Cord Research Center at the University of Louisville, said she believes the device’s zapping of the spinal cord helps it to receive simple commands from the brain, through circuitry that some doctors had assumed was beyond repair after severe paralysis.

Dustin Shillcox, 29, of Green River, Wyoming, was seriously injured in a car crash in 2010. Last year, he had the electrical device surgically implanted in his lower back in Kentucky. Five days later, he wiggled his toes and moved one of his feet for the first time.

“It was very exciting and emotional,” said Shillcox. “It brought me a lot of hope.”

Shillcox now practices moving his legs for about an hour a day at home in addition to therapy sessions in the lab, sometimes wearing a Superman T-shirt for inspiration. He said it has given him more confidence and he feels more comfortable going out.

“The future is very exciting for people with spinal cord injuries,” he said.

The study’s other two participants — Kent Stephenson of Mount Pleasant, Texas and Andrew Meas of Louisville, Kentucky — have had similar results.

“I’m able to (make) these voluntary movements and it really changed my life,” Stephenson said. He said the electrical device lets him ride on an off-road utility vehicle all day with his friends and get out of the wheelchair.

“I’ve seen some benefits of (the device) training even when it’s turned off,” he added. “There have been huge improvements in bowel, bladder and sexual function.”

The new study was paid for by the U.S. National Institutes of Health, the Christopher and Dana Reeve Foundation and others.

Experts said refining the use of electrical stimulators for people with paralysis might eventually prove more effective than standard approaches, including medicines and physical therapy.

“In the next five to 10 years, we may have one of the first therapies that can improve the quality of life for people with a spinal cord injury,” said Gregoire Courtine, a paralysis expert at the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology in Lausanne, who was not part of the study.

Ellaway said it was unrealistic to think that paralyzed people would be able to walk after such treatment but it was feasible they might eventually be able to stand unaided or take a few steps.

“The next step will be to see how long this improvement persists or if they will need this implant for the rest of their lives,” he said.

The National Institutes of Health is investing in more advanced stimulators that would better target the spinal cord as well as devices that might work on people who are paralyzed in their upper limbs.


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OnApril 8, 2014, posted in: Latest News by

“Perfect Storm” for Allergy Sufferers?

The late arrival of spring coupled with high pollen counts throughout the U.S. may make this spring season especially difficult for asthma sufferers, according to one expert.

“There are two things about this year’s season: It just came out that the pollen peaks will be a little bit delayed because of the severity of winter and late snow storms. Some are saying it will be a perfect storm because of the pent up storage of pollen,” Dr. Andrew S. Ting, assistant professor of pediatrics, pulmonary and critical care at The Mount Sinai Hospital in New York City, told “The second thing is if you go to, [pollen counts are] already high.”

The combination of a late-season ‘explosion’ of tree pollen and already-high pollen counts indicate a rough season for people suffering from asthma induced by tree pollen allergies.

“Those who do have tree pollen sensitivities, they are having right now more asthma, more use of rescue inhalers and likely more use of steroids,” Ting said.

Among adolescents and adults, tree-pollen allergies are the most common trigger of breathing difficulties. Pollen-triggered asthma can be treated using a rescue inhaler, doses of the oral steroid prednisone or through long-term asthma-control medications. However, Ting emphasizes that asthma-sufferers should prepare for potential difficulties well before allergy season begins.

“Always make sure you have fresh prescriptions of rescue inhaler, that will be most likely albuterol, and if you are using that excessively, get a dose of prednisone, an oral steroid, prior to high pollen counts and see your doctor for use of controller medication,” Ting said.

Ideally, asthma sufferers should have visited their doctor two weeks ago, as pollen counts are already high, Ting said. But it’s not too late to make an appointment and enact preventive measures to make sure pollen allergies don’t escalate.

“A lot of doctors believe you should treat the nose as aggressively as the lungs because it’s all one passageway. Take an antihistamine and consider nasal steroids,” Ting said, noting that the nasal spray Nasacort AQ, is now available to patients over-the-counter for the first time.

The Asthma and Allergy Foundation of America (AAFA) recently released its annual “Spring Allergy Capitals” report, naming Louisville, Ky., as the worst city for allergies based on pollen score, rates of allergy medicine use and number of board-certified allergists in the area.

Ting said there is no one region of the country more prone to asthma difficulties – though asthma sufferers may experience more symptoms in some of the high-ranking ‘Allergy Capitals.’ However, people with a history of asthma shouldn’t fear travelling to or living in cities with high pollen counts, according to Ting.

“We have excellent medication to control [asthma and allergies] right now. You can get allergy shots, we have inhaled steroids, nasal steroids,” Ting said. “Live your life, even if you move to the #100 [city on the ‘Allergy Capitals’ list], there’s pollen there too.”

For asthma suffers, the best way to avoid severe complications this spring is to be proactive about their health. Ting advises patients to change their clothes and wash their hair after spending time outdoors, to avoid tracking pollen into the house. And most importantly – people with asthma problems should check in with their doctor before their allergies and asthma begin to escalate.

“Be prepared. Human nature is to hope that this year will be better than last, but since every spring for the last five years has been the ‘worst ever’ [for allergies], this one might be bad too,” Ting said. “You should have gone [to the doctor] in March, but in April it’s not too late.”

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OnApril 4, 2014, posted in: Latest News by