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Are e-cigarettes more harmful than we think?

E-cigarettes have effects similar to those seen in regular smokers and patients with chronic lung disease.  This is the conclusion of authors of a new report published online in the journal Thorax.

E-cigarette vapour boosts the production of inflammatory chemicals and disables key protective cells in the lung that keep the air spaces clear of potentially harmful particles.
Impaired lung defences The vapour impairs the activity of vital protective cells in the tiny air sacs of the lung,  the alveolar (air sac) macrophages.

These macrophages are the 'big eaters',  or the scavengers,  of the respiratory tract. They are  cells of the immune system whose role is to engulf debris, removing dust particles, bacteria, and allergens that get through the mechanical defences of the respiratory tract.  They are a crucial line of defence.

Without them, our respiratory systems would become choked with detritus and pathogens, and our lungs would be more readily infected.
E-cigarettes may be mor…
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Stress in pregnancy can increase anxiety in female babies

High maternal levels of the stress hormone cortisol during pregnancy increase prevalence of anxious and depressive-like behaviour in female offspring assessed at the age of two.  This is the finding of a new study in the journal Biological Psychiatry.


Effects of cortisol on the developing brain The effect of elevated maternal cortisol appeared to result from stronger communication between brain regions involved in sensory and emotion processing.  But this effect was seen only in female offspring and not in boys.

Over the last two decades studies have demonstrated the importance of the environment in the womb in health and disease in later life.  Programming of the brain is not gene-centred but critically dependent on conditions during pregnancy and in early postnatal life.  
The findings of this new study show again the role of prenatal conditions in developing later susceptibility to mental health problems in offspring.   It also demonstrates a specific risk factor for females.

John K…

Nicotine exposure in pregnancy linked to cot death

Nicotine exposure during pregnancy, whether from smoking cigarettes, or nicotine patches and e-cigarettes, increases risk of sudden infant death syndrome – sometimes known as “cot death” – according to new research published in The Journal of Physiology.

Sudden infant death syndrome (SIDS) is the sudden and unexpected death of an infant under 12 months of age occuring typically while sleeping. Failure of auto resuscitation, the ability to recover normal heart rate and breathing following gasping caused by lack of oxygen in the brain, has been recorded in human SIDS cases.



Smoking increases risk for SIDS Over the last decade, use of cigarettes has declined significantly, however, over 10% of pregnant women still smoke during pregnancy. Over recent years nicotine replacement therapies, such as nicotine patches or e-cigarettes, have been prescribed to women who wish to quit smoking during their pregnancy. However, nicotine replacement therapies may not protect infants from SIDS. 
With inc…

Maternal DDT exposure associated with autism?

A new study suggests exposure to residues persisting in the environment from pesticides banned fifty years ago is associated with autism.

The new study provides the first biomarker-based evidence in humans that maternal exposure to DDT residues in the food chain may increase the risk of autism in their children.

DDTs (organochlorines) were widely banned as pesticides from the late 1970s,  but residues persist in the food chain.



These persistent organic pollutants can be transferred from the mother across the placenta to the fetus, resulting in fetal blood concentrations ranging from 30% to 50% of levels found in maternal blood.  
The investigation,  published online in the American Journal of Psychiatry, was derived from the Finnish Prenatal Study of Autism, a large national birth cohort with maternal serum specimens from early pregnancy tested for levels of the organochlorine DDT (dichlorodiphenyl-trichloroethane) and its metabolite DDE (dichlorodiphenyl-dichloroethylene).
Low birthwe…

British mammals at risk of extinction

Almost one in five of British mammal species face a high risk of extinction, according to the first comprehensive review of their populations for more than 20 years launched this week by The Mammal Society and Natural England.

The red squirrel, wildcat and the grey long-eared bat are all facing severe threats to their survival.

Other mammals such as the hedgehog and water vole have seen their populations decline by up to 66% over the past 20 years.

Climate change and pesticides Climate change, loss of habitat, use of pesticides and road deaths are all putting pressure on some of the best loved and most recognisable of Britain’s 58 terrestrial mammals.  
Prof Fiona Mathews, Mammal Society Chair and professor of Environmental Biology at the University of Sussex, says This is happening on our own doorstep so it falls upon all of us to try and do what we can to ensure that our threatened species do not go the way of the lynx, wolf and elk and disappear from our shores forever.Urgent need f…

Dame Emma Thompson leads charge against rainforest destruction

Dame Emma Thompson, backed by a host of other famous names, has taken aim at big brands including Unilever, Nestle and Mondelez today, as Greenpeace releases a powerful new 90-second animation that highlights how orangutans are being pushed to the brink of extinction because of deforestation for palm oil.



Launched globally today, just ahead of International Orangutan Day (on August 19), the film, voiced by Emma Thompson, will also be shown across UK cinemas with thousands of screenings throughout August and September. It has been made by creative agency Mother (directed by award-winning Salon Alpin) and produced by Oscar-winning Passion Animation Studios.

Celebrities taking to social media to share it include Stephen Fry, Bryan Adams, Jodie Kidd, Alesha Dixon, Andy Serkis, Geri Horner (née Halliwell), Gregg Wallace and Sharon Osbourne.

The film tells the story of baby Rang-tan as she causes mischief in a little girl’s bedroom. Just as the girl is about to banish her, she asks Rang-tan…

From peregrines to european starlings

A federal court has ordered the US Environmental Protection Agency to ban the pesticide chlorpyrifos because it is harmful to human health.   This is good news for the environment as much as it is for human safety.
From peregrine falcons to european starlings Just as peregrine falcons help alert us to the harmful effects of organochlorine pesticides,  european starlings alert us to the harmful effects of organophosphates.   The studies of these birds demonstrate the harmful effects on wildlife.



In 1973 I was a student of Zoology at Manchester University.   For my very first assignment, my tutor gave me the name of a species,  the peregrine falcon, Falco perigranus, and a set of dates, and asked me to do some research in the library and write a short report.

During the 1940s and 1950s, Derrick Ratcliff of the British Nature Conservancy noted a sharp decline in peregrine falcons across Europe. Soon after this observation correlations between eggshell thickness and reproductive failure i…