But this study does not get at that question.

“This doesn’t tell you anything about the direction of the relationship,” said Allan Geliebter, a senior scientist in psychiatry at Mount Sinai’s Icahn School of Medicine in New York City.

It’s also unclear, he noted, whether factors other than body fat — such as diet or lack of physical activity — could be involved.

Geliebter, who was not part of the study, called it “interesting” in part because it focused on teenagers. If brain differences can be seen that early, that’s important, he noted.

Future studies could look at whether such brain differences remain after obese teens lose weight, Geliebter said. That would suggest — though not prove — that obesity causes the brain structure changes, he explained.

In a study published earlier this year, Geliebter and his colleagues found hints that this could be the case. They focused on severely obese adults who were starting weight-loss treatment, through surgery or lifestyle changes only. Four months on, patients who were losing weight showed increases in the brain’s white and gray matter.

Pamela Bertolazzi, a doctoral student at the University of Sao Paulo in Brazil, is scheduled to present the latest findings Dec. 1 at the annual meeting of the Radiological Society of North America, in Chicago.

Research presented at meetings is considered preliminary until published in a peer-reviewed journal.

For the study, her team used a specialized MRI technique to assess the brains of 59 obese and 61 normal-weight kids, aged 12 to 16. The investigators focused on a measure called fractional anisotropy, or FA: If it’s reduced, that suggests lesser integrity in the brain’s white matter, Bertolazzi explained.

Overall, the study found, obese teens had a lower FA in certain areas of white matter, compared to normal-weight kids. The affected areas control appetite and emotions.

Bertolazzi said her team hopes to do exactly what Geliebter described — repeating the MRI measurements in the same teens after the obese group goes through a weight-loss program.

Other studies, she noted, have shown that obese kids tend to have lower IQ scores than their thinner peers, though it’s not known whether that is due to any effects of obesity on the brain.

WebMD News from HealthDay


SOURCES: Pamela Bertolazzi, Ph.D. student, University of Sao Paulo, Brazil; Harold Bays, M.D., medical director,  Louisville Metabolic and Atherosclerosis Research Center, Kentucky, and fellow, Obesity Medicine Association, Denver; Allan Geliebter, Ph.D., senior scientist, psychiatry, Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai, and distinguished professor, psychology, Touro College, New York City; Dec. 1, 2019, presentation, Radiological Society of North America annual meeting, Chicago

Copyright © 2013-2018 HealthDay. All rights reserved.


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Pet owners should seek immediate medical care if they develop unusual flu-like symptoms, doctors say after a case study about a 63-year-old man in Germany who died of a rare infection contracted when he was licked by his dog.

The infection was caused by capnocytophaga canimorsus bacteria, which is commonly found in the mouths of dogs and cats, but rarely transmitted to humans, CNN reported.

The case study was published in the Journal of Case Reports in Internal Medicine.

In May, doctors amputated an Ohio woman’s legs and hands after she contracted a capnocytophaga canimorsus infection, likely caused when her puppy licked an open cut, CNN reported.

Last year, a Wisconsin’s man nose and limbs were amputated after he contracted the same type of infection.

Capnocytophaga canimorsus is “completely normal flora of a dog’s mouth and usually doesn’t cause any sort of significant disease. However, in the wrong place, at the wrong time, in the wrong patient … it can lead to severe infections — but very, very rarely,” Dr. Stephen Cole, lecturer in veterinary microbiology, University of Pennsylvania School of Veterinary Medicine, told CNN.

WebMD News from HealthDay

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Nov. 25, 2019 — Carla Fitzgerald of southeast Wisconsin was operating a horse and carriage for work in 2013 when a car smashed into her. The carriage crumpled like a soda can, and Fitzgerald was thrown through the air, landing on a metal grate. It took her 5 months to relearn how to walk.

That’s when Daniel the duck became Fitzgerald’s emotional support animal (ESA). She had bought him for $6 at a fair the year before.

“It was the best $6 I ever spent,” says Fitzgerald, 40. “Daniel was very comforting. He would come lay on me, give me kisses and neck hugs, and just be there.”

When she travels, she brings Daniel — who wears a diaper — on flights with her, providing documentation from her doctor saying that Daniel is her emotional support animal.

Fitzgerald is among the growing number of people flying with furry and feathered companions for emotional support. According to the industry trade group Airlines for America, more than 1 million people brought emotional support animals on flights last year.

The rules are murky, and the increase in their use prompted the U.S. Department of Transportation to offer clarifying guidance on the issue last August.

The guidelines state that airlines can deny allowing emotional support animals on flights based on size, weight, and age — if the animal is younger than 4 months, they may not be allowed to board. The department is expected to release new regulations later this year.

Individual airlines have some leeway in how they interpret the rules. Delta Air Lines, for example, forbids the use of “pit bull type dogs” as emotional support animals. American Airlines may turn away animals other than dogs, cats, and miniature horses, and the same goes for JetBlue. Southwest Airlines only allows dogs and cats. Alaska Airlines specifies on its website that there are several animals not allowed, including ferrets, reptiles, and hedgehogs. All airlines require documentation from a doctor or mental health professional.

Airlines can also request behavioral assessment documents for the animal and health forms, and can turn away an animal if it threatens the well-being of other passengers.

Airports Offering Assistance, Too

The use of animals to relieve emotional distress and calm travel jitters is widespread, and even some airports provide these services. San Francisco International Airport has a program called the Wag Brigade that consists of 22 dogs and one unlikely addition: a good-natured pig named LiLou who parades around with red-painted toenails and steals the hearts of people passing through. All of them are therapy animals trained through the San Francisco Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals and certified through SPCA’s Animal Assistsed Therapy Program.

“When we first launched the program, it was to ease stress,” says Jennifer Kazarian, manager of the Wag Brigade program. “But we have since found it was a way to connect with passengers.”

But taking animals on airplanes is a different story for many. Some in-flight disturbances have created controversy about emotional support animals in general. In July, a flight attendant was bitten on his hand by an emotional support dog during a Dallas-to-Greensboro, NC, flight and needed five stitches. Two passengers and their emotional support French bulldogs were told to leave a Norwegian Air flight from London to Austin, TX, in October when the dogs started showing signs of distress in the cabin.

Experts Question Benefits

Critics are skeptical of whether emotional support animals really serve a purpose, and are wary of people who may be abusing the system. Certain online services will provide a letter to document the need for a small fee, says Hal Herzog, PhD, an emeritus professor of psychology at Western Carolina University.

“The problems with emotional support animals come from a variety of areas, including the fraud issue,” he says.

It is also important to know the difference between an emotional support animal and a service animal, he says. A service animal falls under the Americans with Disabilities Act and is trained to help a person do tasks that would otherwise be difficult because of a physical, mental, or intellectual disability. Emotional support animals, on the other hand, do not have to get special training.

Herzog says there is a lack of scientific evidence backing the need for emotional support animals, and there is doubt about whether there is any psychological benefit. But he does say it is a difficult area to study.

“The degree to which they alleviate anxieties associated with travel is unclear,” Herzog says. “At the very least, emotional support animals on planes should be restricted to dogs,” because they are trainable, people-friendly, and are comfortable around humans.

A Turkey Named Easter

Despite the skepticism, many people have unlikely emotional support animals. Jodie Smalley of Corvallis, OR, flew with an emotional support turkey named Easter after her husband died of esophageal cancer in 2015. Unfortunately, she had to put Easter to sleep in 2017 due to heart problems.

Smalley wants to spread the word that preconceived notions of many emotional support animals are often misguided. Her turkey’s calm demeanor helped soothe her, she says.

“People think about turkeys and imagine noisy gobbles, but Easter sat in my lap very quietly,” Smalley says. “She brought a lot of happiness to people. And she kept me from going down a dark hole.”


Carla Fitzgerald.

Jodie Smalley.

Hal Herzog, PhD, emeritus professor of psychology, Western Carolina University.

Airlines for America.

Department of Transportation.

Delta Air Lines.

American Airlines.


Southwest Airlines.

Alaska Airlines.


USA Today.

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