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Power Lines and Cell Towers May Cause Pain for Amputees

For decades, a small but vocal subset of people have attributed their pain, dizziness, and fatigue to power lines, cell towers, and cordless phones. Some of these people resort to extreme measures to isolate themselves from electromagnetic fields (EMF), relocating to remote areas or even caves in an attempt to protect themselves. It’s reasonable to think that EMF might have some effect on our bodies; after all, electricity is one of the things that keeps our bodies running. But with no hard evidence to back them up, these complaints have generally been written off as psychosomatic. Now, scientists say they’ve found evidence that EMF can indeed cause pain in some people. The findings were published last month in the journal PLOS One.

Retired Major David Underwood lost his left arm in the Iraq War. Underwood and a number of other amputees have no doubt that EMF trigger their nerve pain. “When roaming on a cellphone in the car kicked in, the pain almost felt like having my arm blown off again," he said in a press release. “I didn’t notice the power lines, cell phones on roam or other electromagnetic fields until I first felt them in my arm.”

Underwood mentioned this phenomenon in a conversation with Mario Romero-Ortega, a bioengineer at the University of Texas, Dallas. The scientist was intrigued. He decided to find out if the EMF really could be to blame for Underwood’s excruciating nerve pain. He was especially interested in the role of the neuroma, a type of painful nerve growth common after amputation.

Romero-Ortega and his colleagues began their research with two groups of lab rats. The rats in the control group were otherwise healthy, while rats in the second group had sustained nerve injuries similar to those in amputated limbs.

Once a week for eight weeks, the researchers exposed all the rodents to a rat-sized dose of the EMF, similar to the amount of exposure you’d get just by living your life in a populated area. They found that four weeks in the experiment, 88 percent of the “amputee” rats showed a pain response during EMF exposure. Like human amputees, the rats also developed neuromas as their injuries healed.

The researchers then gave half of those rats surgery to remove their neuromas and tested them all again. Even without the neuromas, the injured rats’ pain persisted.

"Many believe that a neuroma has to be present in order to evoke pain. Our model found that electromagnetic fields evoked pain that is perceived before neuroma formation; subjects felt pain almost immediately," Romero-Ortega said in a press release. "My hope is that this study will highlight the importance of developing clinical options to prevent neuromas, instead of the current partially effective surgery alternatives for neuroma resection to treat pain."

The researchers say their study is clear evidence that EMF can cause pain to those with nerve damage. After all, Romero-Ortega noted in the press release, it’s not like the rats could have been faking or imagining it. "In our study, the subjects with nerve injury were not capable of complex psychosomatic behavior. Their pain was a direct response to man-made radio-frequency electromagnetic energy."

And while the study was conducted on rats, the researchers believe their results can “very likely” be generalized for humans.

Romero-Ortega showed retired Major Underwood a tape of the “amputee” rats during EMF exposure. “It was exactly the same type of movements I would have around cell phones on roam, power lines and other electromagnetic fields," said Underwood, who has served on congressional medical committees and been exposed to some of the best doctors in the world. "It is pretty amazing that a few short conversations with this team led to validation of what I, and many others, experience."

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New Patient Test Could Suggest Whether Therapy or Meds Will Work Better for Anxiety
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Like many psychological disorders, there's no one-size-fits-all treatment for patients with anxiety. Some might benefit from taking antidepressants, which boost mood-affecting brain chemicals called neurotransmitters. Others might respond better to therapy, and particularly a form called cognitive behavioral therapy, or CBT.

Figuring out which form of treatment works best often requires months of trial and error. But experts may have developed a quick clinical test to expedite this process, suggests a new study published in the journal Neuropsychopharmacology.

Researchers at the University of Illinois at Chicago have noted that patients with higher levels of anxiety exhibit more electrical activity in their brains when they make a mistake. They call this phenomenon error-related negativity, or ERN, and measure it using electroencephalography (EEG), a test that records the brain's electric signals.

“People with anxiety disorders tend to show an exaggerated neural response to their own mistakes,” the paper’s lead author, UIC psychiatrist Stephanie Gorka, said in a news release. “This is a biological internal alarm that tells you that you've made a mistake and that you should modify your behavior to prevent making the same mistake again. It is useful in helping people adapt, but for those with anxiety, this alarm is much, much louder.”

Gorka and her colleagues wanted to know whether individual differences in ERN could predict treatment outcomes, so they recruited 60 adult volunteers with various types of anxiety disorders. Also involved was a control group of 26 participants with no history of psychological disorders.

Psychiatrists gauged subjects’ baseline ERN levels by having them wear an EEG cap while performing tricky computer tasks. Ultimately, they all made mistakes thanks to the game's challenging nature. Then, randomized subjects with anxiety disorders were instructed to take an SSRI antidepressant every day for three months, or receive weekly cognitive behavioral therapy for the same duration. (Cognitive behavioral therapy is a type of evidence-based talk therapy that forces patients to challenge maladaptive thoughts and develop coping mechanisms to modify their emotions and behavior.)

After three months, the study's patients took the same computer test while wearing EEG caps. Researchers found that those who'd exhibited higher ERN levels at the study's beginning had reduced anxiety levels if they'd been treated with CBT compared to those treated with medication. This might be because the structured form of therapy is all about changing behavior: Those with enhanced ERN might be more receptive to CBT than other patients, as they're already preoccupied with the way they act.

EEG equipment sounds high-tech, but it's relatively cheap and easy to access. Thanks to its availability, UIC psychiatrists think their anxiety test could easily be used in doctors’ offices to measure ERN before determining a course of treatment.

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Food
A Pitless Avocado Wants to Keep You Safe From the Dreaded 'Avocado Hand'
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The humble avocado is a deceptively dangerous fruit. Some emergency room doctors have recently reported an uptick in a certain kind of injury—“avocado hand,” a knife injury caused by clumsily trying to get the pit out of an avocado with a knife. There are ways to safely pit an avocado (including the ones likely taught in your local knife skills class, or simply using a spoon), but there’s also another option. You could just buy one that doesn’t have a pit at all, as The Telegraph reports.

British retailer Marks & Spencer has started selling cocktail avocados, a skinny, almost zucchini-like type of avocado that doesn’t have a seed inside. Grown in Spain, they’re hard to find in stores (Marks & Spencer seems to be the only place in the UK to have them), and are only available during the month of December.

The avocados aren’t genetically modified, according to The Independent. They grow naturally from an unpollinated avocado blossom, and their growth is stunted by the lack of seed. Though you may not be able to find them in your local grocery, these “avocaditos” can grow wherever regular-sized Fuerte avocados grow, including Mexico and California, and some specialty producers already sell them in the U.S. Despite the elongated shape, they taste pretty much like any other avocado. But you don’t really need a knife to eat them, since the skin is edible, too.

If you insist on taking your life in your hand and pitting your own full-sized avocado, click here to let us guide you through the process. No one wants to go to the ER over a salad topping, no matter how delicious. Safety first!

[h/t The Telegraph]

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