Health Bulletin


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Brain of smokers biased against negative images of smoking

Ever wondered why your smoker friend isn't moved by anti-smoking images? His emotional reactions are altered by years of smoking.

A study by the University of Montreal showed that smokers' brains are biased against negative images of smoking. "What if the use of a product influenced your perception of it, making you even more susceptible to its positive aspects and altering your understanding of its drawbacks? This is precisely what happens with cigarettes in chronic smokers," said a press release sent by the university.

Lead author Le-Anh Dinh-Williams said the study noticed a bias depending on how smoking was portrayed. "For example, the brains of the smokers in our study were more aroused by images that showed smoking in a positive light than by images that encouraged them to stop. They were also more affected by aversive non-smoking related images than by images of the specific negative consequences of smoking," said the researcher.

Smoking is an addictive habit, mainly due to the presence of nicotine. It is also a leading cause for cancer—smokers have 3 to 9 times greater risk of developing cancer, lung or heart problem. Studies have shown that 70% to 95% of the smokers who quit their bad habit will start smoking within a year. The Montreal team decided to find out why, despite realising the negative impact of tobacco, smokers continue to light up.

The researchers feel cigarettes 'trick' the brains of smokers. The team used neuroimaging techniques to study the emotional reaction of smokers to aversive smoking-related images (e.g., lung cancer) compared to other aversive images (e.g., an old man on his deathbed) as well as appetitive smoking-related images.

Co-researcher Stephane Potvin said, "We discovered that the brain regions associated with motivation are more active in smokers when they see pleasurable images associated with cigarettes and less active when smokers are confronted with the negative effects of smoking."


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Dropped your biscuit? Follow the five-second food rule
The five-second rule is not just an urban legend. A study conducted by Aston University's School of Life and Health Sciences in the UK says that food picked up within a few seconds of being dropped is less likely to contain bacteria than if it is left out for a longer period of time. If the floor is carpeted, then the chances of bacteria being transferred to the food are lower. Shiny surfaces facilitate faster transfer of bacteria to food, found the research.

The study, undertaken by final year biology students monitored the transfer of the common bacteria Escherichia coli (E. coli) and Staphylococcus aureus from a variety of indoor floor types (carpet, laminate and tiled surfaces) to toast, pasta, biscuit and a sticky sweet when contact was made from 3 to 30 seconds.

The results showed that time plays a significant role in transfer of bacteria from a floor surface to a piece of food. The type of flooring the food has been dropped, too, has an effect: bacteria is least likely to transfer from carpeted surfaces and most likely to transfer from laminate or tiled surfaces to moist foods making contact for more than 5 seconds.

A press release sent out by Columbia University's Mailman School of Public Health on behalf of the research says, "Consuming food dropped on the floor still carries an infection risk as it very much depends on which bacteria are present on the floor at the time; however the findings of this study will bring some light relief to those who have been employing the five-second rule for years, despite a general consensus that it is purely a myth. We have found evidence that transfer from indoor flooring surfaces is incredibly poor with carpet actually posing the lowest risk of bacterial transfer onto dropped food.''

Incidentally, women were more likely than men to eat food dropped on the floor. The university's survey found that 81% of the women surveyed who would eat food from the floor would follow the 5-second rule.


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Hair today, beard tomorrow

Hair transplant as a cure to baldness is passe. Getting beard transplant is the new cool.

Back in the 1970s, facial fuzz was part of a Leftist's accessory in universities, along with chappals and cigarettes. But as the clean, corporate look took over in the decades that followed, beards became increasingly rare, much like Marxists themselves. In recent months, however, newspaper reports say, the beard is back in fashion in the West. And, as cosmetic surgeons say, there is a rising demand to rearrange facial furniture here as well.

Beard transplant involves transplanting hair from the head to a patient's face under local anaesthesia. Plastic surgeons say the procedure costs anywhere between Rs 50,000 to Rs 4 lakh, the same as growing hair on the scalp through transplant. Reshaping beard, a popular non-surgical procedure conducted using laser technology, costs about Rs 15,000 to 25,000.

Experts say hair transplant to rearrange your facial furniture is far more challenging than scalp hair transplant. "In beard transplant, we transplant single hair grafts at an acute angle of 15-25 degrees. In scalp, it is 60-70 degrees. The angle and the direction changes at different points of the face making the process more time consuming and challenging," says Dr Swaroop Singh Gambhir, consultant, plastic and hair transplant surgeon at Sir Ganga Ram Hospital. An average beard hair transplant takes about eight to 10 hours, he says.

The method has found more takers in recent years. A few years back, only the odd request came for such a transplant. "Now there are many requests to thicken or reshape beards. We see at least 10- 15 patients every month in our OPD. Transplant is common among those scarred by acne or accident. Many Sikhs, who lose beard hair due to continuous traction or prolonged use of hair-fixers, also undergo the procedure," says Gambhir.

According to Dr Naveen Taneja, director of the National Skin Centre, models and visual artists also go for beard reshaping or transplant to look different. "I have handled three-four such cases in the recent past," he says.

Doctors initially prefer hormonal injections for those with thin beard or lack of hair growth in the face. "If that does not help and patients insist, we suggest transplant. It is a fast-catching trend," he says.

Dr Arvind Poswal, credited with first documented beard hair-to-scalp transplant in February 2006, submits that Indian men generally have ample facial hair. "Beard transplant is more common in the West. Many Hollywood actors flaunt different styles of beard which may be the inspiration behind young individuals trying to ape the look," the expert says. Even Bollywood actor Saif Ali Khan is sporting a bearded look these days.

Trivia: Eighteenth century Russian emperor Peter the Great imposed a tax for anyone sporting a beard. The clergy and the peasants were excluded.


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Home dialysis, a hassle-free option

With the drop in the cost of performing dialysis at home, several working professionals and those living in remote areas are opting for the procedure. The use of Continuous Ambulatory Peritoneal Dialysis (CAPD), which can be done at home, is slowly catching up in Aurangabad.

Medical experts said though the system has been around for 14 years now, it was not being used much because of the high cost involved. Now that the costs have come down, it is an ideal choice for people with kidney failure, especially working professionals and those living in far-off places.

"Though the advantage of the CAPD over hemo dialysis or blood dialysis is that it can be done at home and by the patient," said nephrologist Sudhir Kulkarni.

The first instance of patient opting for CAPD is recorded two decades back in 1995. Today, Aurangabad records about 30 patients from various professions such as engineers, bankers, businessmen, students and senior citizens using CAPD.

"Now that the costs have come down drastically, it is an ideal choice for people with kidney failure, especially those who live in far-flung and rural areas," said Mangala Borkar, head of medicine department at Government Medical College and Hospital.

The GMCH treats around 100-150 patients of hemo and peritoneal dialysis per month but CAPD has not been introduced at GMCH so far.

Suresh Kalyankar, 46, was diagnosed with End Stage Renal Disease (ESRD) around five years ago. His chronic kidney disease aggravated to an extent where the organs were no longer able to function properly enough for Kalyankar to lead his daily life.

"I was thinking of quitting my job. I had to undergo dialysis thrice a week. This continued for three years. Now, I'm on manual dialysis (CAPD) and life is back to normal," the insurance company employee said.

"Home dialysis involves two types of machines - automated peritoneal dialysis and CAPD, in which the patient can carry out the procedure on his own," said Suhas Bawikar, nephrologist.

Hemodialysis costs a patient Rs 10,000 to Rs 12,000 per month (minus the cost of visits to the hospital), while CAPD costs between Rs 15,000- Rs 20,000 every month but is possible in the comfort of the patient's home.

"In blood dialysis, the patient has to be hospitalised for three-four times a week, whereas the peritoneal one is a 25-minute process and has to be done thrice a day," he said.


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New vaginal gel could help protect women against HIV

Researchers have revealed that a new after-sex vagina gel can be used by women to protect themselves against HIV.

According to scientists at Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in Atlanta, Georgia, drugs applied three hours after exposure to the virus could protect female monkeys from a type of HIV, the BBC reported.

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Researchers have said that this study would require large clinical trials to test any new treatment and that condoms still remain the best defense against HIV.

Scientists found that the gel protected five out of six monkeys from an animal-human laboratory strain of HIV, when it was applied before or three hours after infection.

Dr Charles Dobard, of the division of HIV/Aids prevention, said that the gel used is a promising after-sex vaginal gel to prevent HIV infection and studies still need to look for the window of opportunity.

Dr Andrew Freedman, reader and consultant in infectious diseases at Cardiff University School of Medicine, said that the gel contained a different class of anti- HIV drug, which attacks the virus at a later stage in infection.

The study is published in the journal Science Translational Medicine.


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Ultrasound misses heart defects in fetuses if mother is overweight: Study

It is important for pregnant women to undergo ultrasound scans to detect heart defects, if any, in fetuses. But a study from Sweden says that over six in every ten serious heart defects in fetuses go undetected in the ultrasound scans. The reason? The mother-to-be is too overweight or overweight for the scan to be effective.

"The lives of children born with serious heart defects are in constant danger; some of them need immediate operations or medical treatment," said Eric Hildebrand of the Linkoping University Hospital Women's Clinic. If the defect is serious, parents can plan the delivery is such a manner that the child gets the needed medical attention immediately at birth. If living in an area with inadequate pediatric heart care, the parents to-be can plan the delivery in a better city, for instance.

Hildebrand said one reason for missing malformations is that the ultrasound image is affected by the body of the mother. For example diagnosis is made more difficult by obesity - a BMI over 30 - which is the case for 13% of the mothers in the Swedish study.

"Subcutaneous fat detracts from the quality of the image, making it more difficult for us to see malformations," said Dr Hildebrand.


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According to Scientists, This is The Most Relaxing Tune Ever Recorded

This eight minute song is a beautiful combination of arranged harmonies, rhythms and bass lines and thus helps to slow the heart rate, reduce blood pressure and lower levels of the stress. The song features guitar, piano and electronic samples of natural soundscapes.

A study was conducted on 40 women, who were connected to sensors and had been given challenging puzzles to complete against the clock in order to induce a level of stress. Different songs were then played, to test their heart rate, blood pressure, breathing and brain activity.

The results showed that the song Weightless was 11 per cent more relaxing than any other song and even caused drowsiness among women in the lab.

It induced a 65 per cent reduction in overall anxiety and brought them to a level 35 per cent lower than their usual resting rates.

Moreover, sound therapies have been used for thousands of years to help people relax and improve health and well-being. Among indigenous cultures, music has been the heart of healing and worship. The song, weightless is ideal for unwinding and putting an end to a stressful day.

According to Dr David Lewis-Hodgson, from Mindlab International, which conducted the research, this song induced the greatest relaxation, higher than any other music tested till date. In accordance to the Brain imaging studies, music works at a very deep level within the brain, stimulating not only those regions responsible for processing sound but also ones associated with emotions. The song Weightless can make one drowsy and hence should not be heard while driving.
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Glasses that help doctors live-stream surgeries, check patient's parameters

For about a month now, laparoscopic gynaecologist Dr Rakesh Sinha has been trying out a new technique in the operation theatre in his Khar hospital. Before making the first incision, he gently says, "Go glass". The unobtrusive Google Glass he wears over his spectacles then starts recording the surgery, capturing the surgeon's view in hi-definition.

Welcome to the Google Glass-enabled operation theatre. While Chennai surgeon J S Rajkumar was the first to live-stream a surgery using Google Glass from Lifeline Hospitals in September 2013, the Mumbai chapter is developing medical "apps" for the glass along with an American company.

"This glass is like science fiction," said Dr Sinha. "I can seamlessly share and learn while operating," said Dr Sinha. Doctors using the glassware—as the wearable technology is called in the tech circles—can immediately beam the surgery to the world or surf the internet to learn about complications even while operating.

Last week, Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center in New York started using the glassware in its emergency ward. Closer home, Public Health Foundation of India is waiting to launch its Swasthya Slate in Jammu & Kashmir government's mother and child programme. "The Slate is a computer tablet that will help ASHA (accredited social health activist) conduct and transmit results of 30-odd diagnostic tests, including an ECG, blood pressure or malaria," said Dr Srinath Reddy of PHFI. Dr Sinha and his doctor son, Rushindra, have been working on Google Glass applications that will help doctors read a patient's file or even talk to an expert remotely for advice. "Why should a doctor need to read a patient's ultrasound record from a file kept near the operating table when he or she can just view it on the glassware?" they asked. They have so far used their Google Glasses in eight surgeries.

Their American collobarator, Chris Vukin from Ever Med, told TOI in an email reply: Glassware can make your doctor ten times more efficient. "It gives patients hands-free tools for dealing with everyday tasks such as medication reminders," he said.


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Rigorous exercise reduces flu risk

Doing at least two-and-a-half hours a week of activity that leads to sweating or hard breathing reduces flu or flu-like illness by around 10 percent, says expert.

Taking part in vigorous exercise such as running, rapid cycling or rugby cuts the risk of catching flu.

More gentle pursuits such as walking or light jogging were found to have little effect.

Experts at the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine examined data from its online flu study, Flusurvey.

They found overall flu levels appear to be down on last year, with the flu season apparently curbed by a lack of illness among children and young people, reports

Over the winter flu season, 4.7 percent of people were believed to have flu compared to 6 percent the previous year.

Some 5 percent of children were reported to have flu, compared to almost 8 percent the previous year.

More than 4,800 people took part in this year's Flusurvey so far.

Alma Adler, research fellow at the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine, said: "We need to treat this result cautiously as these are preliminary findings. However they are consistent with findings for other conditions and really show the health benefits of exercise."


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‘Contagious yawning is not linked to empathy’

Contagious yawning has been a mystery and scientists have little idea what causes it. Now, a study from the Duke Centre for Human Genome Variation in Durham , USA, has found that yawning may decrease with age and is not strongly related to variables like empathy, tiredness and energy levels.

Contagious yawning occurs in humans and chimps in response to hearing, seeing or thinking about yawning. It differs from spontaneous yawning, which occurs when someone is bored or tired.

In the new study, 328 volunteers watched a video of people yawning, and the researchers recorded the number of times they yawned. The researchers did not find a strong link between contagious yawning and empathy , intelligence or time of day. The only independent factor that significantly influenced contagious yawning was age: as age increased, participants were less likely to yawn.

But age was only able to explain 8% of the variability in contagious yawning. "The majority of variation was just not explained," the team said.


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Brain reacts unconsciously to our body movement?

Researchers from University College London and Cambridge University have found evidence of a specialized mechanism in the human brain that takes in visual information about our body and triggers an instant, unconscious response.

Standard visual processing is prone to distractions as it requires us to pay attention to objects of interest and filter out others. The new study has shown that our brains have separate 'hard-wired' systems to visually track our own bodies, even if we are not paying attention to them.

The network triggers reactions even before the conscious brain has time to process them. The pathway explains why schizophrenia patients feel their actions are controlled by someone else.

The researchers said, "If someone does not automatically link visual cues with body motion, then they might have the feeling that they are not controlling their movements ." These findings could also explain why people with even advanced prosthetic limbs can have trouble coordinating movements.


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It’s official: Angry people actually ‘see red’

Angry people really do "see red" where others don't, scientists have shown. And a preference for red over blue may even be an indicator of a more hostile personality. In a study examining humankind's ancient association of the colour red with anger, aggression and danger, researchers found that when shown images that were neither fully red nor fully blue, people with hostile personalities were much more likely to see red.

Scientists said that the connection may be linked to our evolution from ancestral hunter-gatherer times to link red with danger and threats.

The research is believed to be the first to look at personality, hostility and the colour red, and involved a number of separate experiments.

In the first, researchers from North Dakota State University asked a group of people which colour they preferred, red or blue. Participants then completed personality tests. Results showed that those who opted for red tended to be inter-personally more hostile.

During a second test, participants were presented with images which were faded so they were red or blue to some extent. There was no absolutely dominant colour, and they could be perceived as either. Those who predominantly saw red scored 25% higher on indicators of hostility in the personality test section of the study.

"Hostile people have hostile thoughts; hostile thoughts are implicitly associated with the colour red, and therefore hostile people are biased to see this colour more frequently," the researchers said, reporting their findings in the Journal of Personality.

The test participants were presented with imaginary scenarios where they could take various forms of action. Red-preferring people were more likely to indicate that they would harm another person in the scenarios than those who preferred blue.

"A core take-home message from this research is that colour can convey psychological meaning and, therefore, is not merely a matter of aesthetics," the researchers said.


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New glucose tolerance test shows spike in incidence of gestational diabetes

The number of pregnant women diagnosed with gestational diabetes mellitus has doubled after the glucose challenge test was introduced in government hospitals two years ago. While this has led to government hospitals often facing an insulin shortage, gynaecologists say it has made protection of the foetus from the effects of gestational diabetes more effective.

In Coimbatore Medical College, 4 per cent, or 105 of 2,556 pregnant women tested between September 2013 and January 2014 were found to have diabetes. Doctors say this is a two to five-fold increase from the 1 to 2 per cent of women diagnosed earlier by conducting other tests. "Earlier, we used to do a simple blood sugar test for which the number of women testing positive were much lower," says Dr S Revwathy, dean, Coimbatore Medical College.

Though most women diagnosed with high blood sugar levels are prescribed new meal plans and simple physical exercises, many of them need insulin due to other complications. This along with increase in juvenile and type 1 diabetes often leaves government hospitals across the state short on glucose.

Pregnant women have been made to take the glucose challenge test (GCT) or Glucose Tolerance Test (GTT) over the last two years, which gynaecologists feel are a lot more effective. According to Federation of Obstetric and Gynaecological Societies of India (FOGSI), the numbers could be as high as 10%. This increase in numbers has led to most nursing homes and maternity clinics employing full time diabetologists.

"The numbers are definitely increasing, but they point towards better diagnosis rather than an increase in gestational diabetes in women," says gynaecologist and infertility expert Dr Kannagi Uthararaj. The Glucose Challenge Test is a method by which the patient is orally administered 50gms of glucose, told not to consume anything for the next one hour, and is then tested for blood sugar levels. Sugar levels above 140 indicate diabetes. The Glucose Tolerance Test (GTT) is a method by which a patient is administered anywhere between 75gms to 100gms of glucose and has their blood tested every hour for two or three hours. "These tests when done in the very initial stages of pregnancy help us prevent diabetes with dietary changes alone, which in turns protects the foetus" says Dr Uthararaj.

High blood sugar levels in a pregnant woman during the first trimester could lead to a range of serious complications such as development of foetal anomalies, premature lungs in new born babies leading to breathing difficulties and intra uterine foetal death, says Dr Asha Rao, director, Rao Hospital and Care. "It also helps us prevent conditions like foetal macrosomia, where the baby is more than 4 kg and glucose is considered toxic for the baby," says Dr Uthararaj.

Doctors recommend pregnant women undergo the GCT or GTT test every trimester of their pregnancy. "We usually manage their diabetes with just new meal plans. Only in extreme cases do we prescribe medication for patients," says Dr Rao.


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Honey found to be giant killer of antibiotic resistant bugs

Scientists have confirmed an age-old Indian recipe to boost our immune system - honey.

Honey, that delectable condiment for breads and fruits, could be one sweet solution to the serious, ever-growing problem of bacterial resistance to antibiotics.

The American Chemical Society (ACS), the world's largest scientific society reported on Monday that honey is highly effective against drug resistant bugs because it is filled with healthful polyphenols, or antioxidants.

These include the phenolic acids, caffeic acid, p-coumaric acid and ellagic acid, as well as many flavonoids.

Scientists have confirmed that honey uses a combination of weapons, including hydrogen peroxide, acidity, osmotic effect, high sugar concentration and polyphenols — all of which actively kill bacterial cells.

The osmotic effect, which is the result of the high sugar concentration in honey, draws water from the bacterial cells, dehydrating and killing them.

Honey also inhibits the formation of biofilms or communities of slimy disease-causing bacteria. Honey also disrupts quorum sensing, which weakens bacterial virulence, rendering the bacteria more susceptible to conventional antibiotics.

Quorum sensing is the way bacteria communicate with one another, and may be involved in the formation of biofilms.

In certain bacteria, this communication system also controls the release of toxins, which affects the bacteria's pathogenicity, or their ability to cause disease.

"Several studies have demonstrated a correlation between the non-peroxide antimicrobial and antioxidant activities of honey and the presence of honey phenolics. A large number of laboratory and limited clinical studies have confirmed the broad-spectrum antibacterial, antifungal and antiviral properties of honey," study leader Susan M Meschwitz from the Salve Regina University said.

"The unique property of honey lies in its ability to fight infection on multiple levels, making it more difficult for bacteria to develop resistance," Meschwitz added.

Meschwitz said another advantage of honey is that unlike conventional antibiotics, it doesn't target the essential growth processes of bacteria. The problem with this type of targeting, which is the basis of conventional antibiotics, is that it results in the bacteria building up resistance to the drugs.

She said that her team also is finding that honey has antioxidant properties and is an effective antibacterial. "We have run standard antioxidant tests on honey to measure the level of antioxidant activity," she explained. "We have separated and identified the various antioxidant polyphenol compounds. In our antibacterial studies, we have been testing honey's activity against E. coli, Staphylococcus aureus and Pseudomonas aeruginosa, among others".


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New research links body clocks to chronic lung diseases

Using the body clock effectively could keep lung diseases away, suggests a new research from Manchester University.

This study is part of on-going research into how chronic disruption to body clocks by changes like ageing or shift work contribute to a number of conditions such as osteoarthritis, cardiovascular disease, breast cancer and mood disorder.

The new study which is published in the Genes & Development journal has, for the first time, found that the circadian clock in the mouse lung rhythmically switches on and off genes controlling the antioxidant defense pathway. This 24 hourly rhythm enables the lungs to anticipate and withstand daily exposure to pollutants.

Lead researcher Dr Qing-Jun Meng from The University of Manchester said, "We used a mouse model that mimics human pulmonary fibrosis, and found that an oxidative and fibrotic challenge delivered to the lungs during the night phase (when mice are active) causes more severe lung damages than the same challenge administered during the day which is a mouse's resting phase."

The researchers interpret this to mean that drugs for given as per the lung clock time could increase their effectiveness, allowing for lower dosage and fewer side effects.

Dr Vanja Pekovic-Vaughan, who was part of the university's research team, said: "This research is the first to show that a functioning clock in the lung is essential to maintain the protective tissue function against oxidative stress and fibrotic challenges. We envisage a scenario whereby chronic rhythm disruption (e.g., during ageing or shift work) may compromise the temporal coordination of the antioxidant pathway, contributing to human disease."


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Fear of math may lie in your genes

Genetic factors may put some people at a greater risk of developing math anxiety, a new study has found.

Researchers from the Ohio State University found that some people may be at greater risk to fear math not only because of negative experiences, but also because of genetic risks related to both general anxiety and math skills.

The study, which examined how fraternal and identical twins differ on measures of math anxiety, provides a revised view on why some children — and adults — may develop a fear of math that makes it more difficult for them to solve math problems and succeed in school.

"We found that math anxiety taps into genetic predispositions in two ways: people's cognitive performance on math and their tendency toward anxiety," said Zhe Wang, lead author of the study and postdoctoral researcher in psychology at The Ohio State University.

In the study, genetic factors explained about 40 per cent of the individual differences in math anxiety. Much of the rest was explained by the different environments — in the school, in the home and elsewhere — that the twins experienced.

The results do not mean that math anxiety can be blamed solely or even mostly on genetic factors, the researchers cautioned.

But the findings do suggest that we can't say that classroom quality, aspects of the home, or other environmental factors are the only reasons why people differ in how they experience math, researchers said.

"Genetic factors may exacerbate or reduce the risk of doing poorly at math," said Stephen Petrill, professor of psychology at Ohio State, and the principal investigator of the study.

"If you have these genetic risk factors for math anxiety and then you have negative experiences in math classes, it may make learning that much harder. It is something we need to account for when we're considering interventions for those who need help in math," Petrill said.

The study will be published in the Journal of Child Psychology and Psychiatry.

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