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Science and Health Discoveries in 2015 That Promise Great Change

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Science and Health Discoveries in 2015 Promising Great Change Boggy/Fotolia

Science discoveries in 2015 have cast shade on a vegetable synonymous with good health and have revealed a promising future for the diagnosis and treatment of MS.

A link has been found between autism and GABA, and another between autism and maternal use of SSRIs. Research shows inflammation may cause depression, ovarian cancer screening saves a significant number of lives and the polio virus can battle brain cancer.

Want to hang on to your youth as long as possible? Run for it!

Read on for the research that changed how we think about health in 2015.

1) Lettuce: Good for You, Bad for the Earth

Wait, what? Researchers at Carnegie Mellon University found that if Americans actually upped their fruit and veg consumption to the USDA’s recommended daily allowances, energy use would increase 8 percent, water use 10 percent and greenhouse gas emissions would go up 6 percent. (1)

Fruits and veggies require more water and energy per calorie than meat to produce, lettuce being the worst culprit. But calorie for calorie, meat produces the most greenhouse emissions. Despite the high carbon footprint of lettuce, eliminating meat and adopting a vegetarian diet would reduce emissions 33 percent. A vegan diet would reduce emissions by 53 percent. (1)

Now we can even feel guilty about lettuce. For the clearest environmental conscience, grab onions, okra, carrots, broccoli and Brussels sprouts.

2) A New Drug for MS

Multiple sclerosis is a chronic, debilitating autoimmune disease in which the body’s immune system attacks the myelin sheaths that surround neurons.

Ten to 15 percent of MS cases are progressive rather than relapsing. Primary progressive multiple sclerosis occurs later in life and continually worsens, without relapse or remission like other types of MS. (2) Until now, there has been no treatment.

In 2015, Hoffmann–La Roche announced positive results from three large clinical trials of ocrelizumab, medication for both relapsing and progressive MS. Ocrelizumab was shown to be more effective than the top drug currently used to treat relapsing MS. (3)

More exciting, ocrelizumab was found to slow the symptoms of progressive MS for the duration of the 12-week study. (3) Look for FDA approval soon.

3) Key Brain Difference in Autism

Scientists at MIT and Harvard have found a connection between a neurotransmitter in the brain and autism. The role of the transmitter involved, GABA, functions to inhibit brain cells from firing in response to environmental stimuli. (4)

While more research into GABA levels and autism are needed, these findings promise new advances in diagnosis, treatment and prevention of autism. (4)

4) Autism Linked to Antidepressant Use in Pregnancy

In other autism news, please vaccinate your children. While there is no scientific evidence linking vaccines to autism, 2015 did reveal a possible link between antidepressant use during pregnancy and autism.

Boys with autism were found to be three times as likely to have been exposed to SSRI antidepressants in utero than typically developing boys. The risk was greatest when mothers took SSRIs during the first trimester. (5)

5) Ovarian Cancer Screening Reduces Mortality

In the largest study ever conducted, ovarian cancer screening has been found to reduce women’s mortality by an estimated 20 percent. (6)

Over 200,000 women participated in this randomized controlled trial through 13 trial centers located in England, Northern Ireland and Wales. To date, ovarian cancer is usually caught late, with over 60 percent of women dying from the disease within five years. (6)

Little progress has been made in ovarian cancer treatment in the last 30 years. Study authors believe ovarian cancer screening opens up a new era in ovarian cancer research and care.

6) Athleticism May Be the Fountain of Youth

Elite runners have been shown not to experience the muscle weakness associated with aging. But when muscles of older elite runners and non-athletes in the same age range were tested, the athletes in their 80s and 90s showed the same decreased muscle quality as their non-athletic peers. (7)

So how do the older runners maintain their muscular strength? The explanation may lay in how the body compensates for aging muscles.

According to the lead author of the study, Geoff Power, “there are many structural ways to compensate for the reduced performance at the fiber level to maintain performance at the whole muscle level.” (7)

Staying in top physical shape keeps muscles strong despite the inevitable decline in quality that comes with advancing years. It appears that you can find the fountain of youth if you run to it.

7) The Link Between Inflammation and Depression

A study published in The American Journal of Psychiatry reviewed 200 existing studies linking depression and inflammation. Already known to be linked to numerous health issues including cancer and diabetes, chronic inflammation also plays a role in mental illness.

Blood concentrations of two inflammatory markers, CRP and IL-6, were elevated by up to 50 percent in patients with depression. (8)

The study found that inflammation-related depression is resistant to traditional therapy. Meditation, a healthy lifestyle, low stress levels, regular sleep, and good diet work together to keep inflammation in check. (8)

8) Polio Virus Cures Brain Cancer

The most exciting breakthrough in 2015 involves a virus that was killing and disabling millions only 50 years ago. When genetically re-engineered, the polio virus has been shown to cure brain tumors. (9)

Glioblastomas have heretofore been a death sentence. Cancers are lethal because they are invisible to the human immune system.

Dr. Matthias Gromeier at Duke explained to 60 Minutes that cancer’s invisibility cloak “... is precisely what we try to reverse with our virus. So by infecting the tumor, we are actually removing this protective shield. And ... enabling the immune system to come in and attack.” (9)

When injected into brain tumors of human patients, a genetically engineered polio virus, PVS-RIPO, has been shown to poison cancer cells. Clinical trials have been successful, and researchers plan to investigate the use of PVS-RIPO in treating other cancers. (9)

In the meantime, the treatment awaits approval from the FDA. Look for their final verdict in 2016.


1) Lettuce Produces More Greenhouse Gas Emissions Than Bacon Does. Scientific American. Retrieved December 28, 2015.

2) Primary Progressive Multiple Sclerosis. WebMd.com. Retrieved December 28, 2015.

3) New Drug Is First to Treat Progressive Multiple Sclerosis. ScientificAmerican.com. Retrieved December 28, 2015.

4) Landmark Study Identifies Key Brain Difference In Autism. huffingtonpost.com. Retrieved December 28, 2015.

5) Antidepressant Use in Pregnancy Tied to Autism Risk. WebMd.com. Retrieved December 22, 2015.

6) Largest ever ovarian cancer trial suggests that screening reduces mortality, but longer follow-up is needed. ScienceDaily.com. Retrieved December 22, 2015.

7) Still a champion runner at 80: Do elite athletes have an anti-aging secret in their muscles? ScienceDaily.com. Retrieved December 23, 2015.

8) Inflammation can fan the flames of depression. ScienceDaily.com. retrieved December 22, 2015.

9) Polio Virus May Cure Brain Cancer Thanks To Genetic Re-Engineering. MedicalDaily.com. Retrieved December 29, 2015.

Reviewed December 29, 2015
by Michele Blacksberg RN
Edited by Jody Smith

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We value and respect our HERWriters' experiences, but everyone is different. Many of our writers are speaking from personal experience, and what's worked for them may not work for you. Their articles are not a substitute for medical advice, although we hope you can gain knowledge from their insight.


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