TIME Autism

Major Autism Studies Identify Dozens of Contributing Genes

Researchers collaborate on two large studies identifying the genetic basis of autism

Two new studies exploring the genetic basis of autism tie mutations in hundreds of genes to the disease.

Several teams of researchers collaborated on the studies, both published in the journal Nature, and found that about 60 of the genes are considered “high confidence,” meaning there’s a 90% chance that mutations within those genes contribute to risk for autism. Both studies show through genomic sequencing that many of these mutations are de novo, meaning that parents do not have the gene mutation, but they present spontaneously just before a child is conceived in either the sperm or egg.

It’s long been believed that autism is genetic, but a lack of large studies and advanced genomic sequencing has precluded any sort of consensus about what genes might be at play. But in the last couple years, scientists have been able to look at the genetic mutations in hundreds of people with autism and identify genes that likely factor into a child’s development of the disorder. In the two new studies, scientists were able to expand their work and look at thousands of people.

In one of the studies, several institutions used data from the Simons Simplex Collection (SSC), which is a collection of DNA samples from 3,000 families. In each of the families, one individual had autism. The researchers compared the gene sequences of the individual with autism to their unaffected family members. After analysis, they estimated that de novo mutations contribute to autism in at least 27% of families, where only one member has the disorder.

The other study, by researchers at 37 different institutions as part of the Autism Sequencing Consortium, looked at 14,000 DNA samples of parents with affected children. It found 33 genes the researchers say definitely increase risk for autism, should there be a mutation.

Even though there may be hundreds or even thousands of genes that contribute to a child’s risk of developing autism, the researchers on both studies found that the mutations appear to converge on a much smaller number of biological functions, like nerve-cell communication or proteins known to cause inherited disability. “In my view, the real importance of these studies is not diagnosis, and it’s not figuring out exactly what percentage of people have de novo mutations, it’s about laying the foundation to transform the understanding of the biological mechanisms of autism,” says Dr. Matthew State, chair of the psychiatry department at University of California, San Francisco and a co-leader of the SSC study, as well as a senior participant on the other study.

State doesn’t believe that the findings will mean that families will one day get their genomes sequenced to spot hundreds of possible mutations. Instead, they could lay the groundwork for discovering how autism develops, and what potential treatments, or even drugs, could help fight it.

TIME ebola

U.S. Health System Is Not Ready for Ebola, Report Says

"Many health systems are already overwhelmed"

The United States health care system is vastly unprepared to handle Ebola should the virus spread, according to a new report.

An investigation of emergency preparedness by the Associated Press reveals the country is not ready to handle the disease even on a smaller scale, nor is it equipped to handle the spread of other infectious diseases that are airborne, like a new flu strain or SARS.

“Even though there have been only a couple cases, many health systems are already overwhelmed,” Dr. Kenrad Nelson, a professor at Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health, told the AP.

Experts say it’s unlikely that Ebola will spread widely in the U.S.

Read more at the Associated Press

TIME Heart Disease

A Gut Bacteria Compound Is Linked To Heart Failure

Most Americans know that diet and heart health are connected, but a new study in the Journal of the American College of Cardiology looks at a surprising reason as to why.

When your food gets to your stomach, your gut bacteria get to work. And when those bacteria digest carnitine, which is almost exclusively found in red meat, and choline, found in high-fat dairy products and egg yolks, they produce a metabolite called trimethylamine N-oxide, or TMAO. That’s bad news for your heart, because earlier animal research found that TMAO helps transport cholesterol to the arteries, where it forms dangerous plaques that can lead to heart disease.

Stanley Hazen, MD, PhD, department chair of Cellular and Molecular Medicine at Cleveland Clinic’s Lerner Research Institute, and his team measured the blood levels of TMAO in 720 stable patients with heart failure and followed them over five years, wondering if TMAO would help predict who would be in better shape—and who would be still alive.

It did. TMAO levels predicted mortality rates “very strikingly” over the five-year period: More TMAO in the blood meant a 3.4-fold increased risk of mortality—even after adjusting for all the traditional risk factors, Hazen says.

“It suggests that we’ve now learned a new link in the cause [of heart failure],” Hazen says. “It suggests that the impact of dietary manipulation and changes in gut microbe composition may be a way to impact the development and the adverse prognosis in heart failure.”

TMAO research is still fairly new. Just last year in a study of 2,595 people, Hazen’s team found that meat eaters had higher levels of carnitine and greater risk of heart disease, stroke and heart attack than their vegan and vegetarian peers.

Still, Hazen doesn’t think it’s necessary for everyone to stop eating meat altogether. “What we are now trying to do is come up with a therapy that will prevent formation of TMAO, and hopefully prevent the development of cardiac disease…and the development of heart failure in its adverse prognosis,” Hazen says.

“I like kind of joking around, I’m hoping to come up with the pill that allows me to keep eating steak.”

TIME Diet/Nutrition

Milk Might Not Save Your Bones, Study Says

Glass of milk
Getty Images

Sugars in milk may lead to aging

The bone-strengthening powers of milk have been claimed over and over again in advertisements, pop culture and around the dinner table. But a new study published in the BMJ suggests that the truism may not be true. High milk intake, the study found, doesn’t appear to protect against bone fracture and in fact may lead to increased mortality.

Researchers looked at questionnaires from more than 100,000 people in Sweden on their dairy consumption habits. The study, which followed up with many of the participants after 11 to 20 years, found that high milk intake was associated with higher mortality in both men and women, as well as higher bone fracture in women.

“Our results may question the validity of recommendations to consume high amounts of milk to prevent fragility fractures,” the study says. However, the authors stress that the study is merely observational and not meant to draw causal conclusions.

One possible explanation the authors give for the results is that high levels of the sugars lactose and galactose in milk may cause bones to undergo changes—like inflammation—that resemble aging, leading to the fractures. In animals, supplementing with galactose has been shown to increase aging processes like inflammation and oxidative stress. Data from the study showing a correlation between reduced fractures and low-lactose milk consumption further supports this claim.

More research is needed, of course. “As milk features in many dietary guidelines and both hip fractures and cardiovascular disease are relatively common among older people, improving the evidence base for dietary recommendations could have substantial benefits for everyone,” wrote Mary Schooling, PhD, a professor at the City University of New York, in an accompanying BMJ editorial.

TIME ebola

Scientists Explore 10,000 Compounds for an Ebola Drug

Emory Hospital To Receive American Ebola Patients From Liberia
Dr. Bruce Ribner an epidemiologist and professor in the School of Medicine's Infectious Diseases Division, confirms that Emory University Hospital will be receiving and treating two American patients diagnosed with Ebola virus during a press conference at Emory University Hospital on Aug. 1, 2014 in Atlanta. Jessica McGowan—Getty Images

"Scientists are the only ones who can initiate solving this problem"

Emory University is becoming a one-stop shop for tackling Ebola. The hospital’s infectious disease team has already treated four patients with Ebola, and now a team of biochemists known for their work on HIV wants to take on Ebola.

Scientists at Emory’s Children’s Center for Drug Discovery have extensively studied the development of drugs for HIV that stop the replication of the virus in the body. The center provided breakthroughs for HIV drug development and, more recently, the development of a drug for Hepatitis C. The viruses, though different, have similar replicating mechanisms (viral RNA replication), and now they think they can do it for Ebola.

The team, led by director Baek Kim, is fast-tracking a program to screen a library of over 10,000 chemical compounds that can treat viruses at the molecular level to see if one or more of them may show promise with Ebola. “We need to start screening many, many compounds,” says Kim, anywhere from 500 to 10,000 of them—each of which will be evaluated one by one. Emory chemist Raymond F. Schinazi, who discovered compounds used in multiple very successful anti-HIV drugs, will be working with five to 10 virologists, chemists and biochemists to get the job done.

And if a compound that can treat Ebola is identified and tested on a live virus in a lab, the next step would be to get that compound into a drug of some kind, and then test it in a clinical trial in West Africa.

And while there are ongoing trials in the works for an Ebola vaccine and industry and scientists are racing to find drugs that can treat the virus, Kim’s team and several other research groups nationwide have been eyeing emerging and re-emerging diseases for years. “It’s good to recognize that scientists are the only ones who can initiate solving this problem,” says Kim. “Other pathogens will emerge and re-emerge one day or another, and this is a good exercise in how academics, government and industry can work together toward a single target when we need a fast response.”

TIME Military

Hagel Orders 21-Day Ebola Quarantine for Returning U.S. Troops

A health worker takes the temperature of U.S. Marines arriving to take part in Operation United Assistance on Oct. 9, 2014 near Monrovia, Liberia.
A health worker takes the temperature of U.S. Marines arriving to take part in Operation United Assistance on Oct. 9, 2014 near Monrovia, Liberia. John Moore—Getty Images

Military commanders had recommended that Hagel implement a quarantine

U.S. troops who are returning from Ebola missions in West Africa will be kept in supervised isolation for 21 days upon their return home, Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel said Wednesday.

Military leaders recommended the 21-day quarantine, which goes beyond precautions advised by the Obama Administration for civilians, the Associated Press reports. President Obama has said that the military’s situation is different, however, partly because the troops are not in West Africa by choice.

“The secretary believes these initial steps are prudent given the large number of military personnel transiting from their home base and West Africa and the unique logistical demands and impact this deployment has on the force,” the Defense Department said in a statement.

Hagel said his order was in response to a recommendation sent to him Tuesday by Army Gen. Martin Dempsey, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff. The policy will be up for review in 45 days.

About 1,000 U.S. troops are in Liberia and Senegal supporting efforts to combat and contain the virus. Some returning soldiers were put on a 21-day quarantine earlier this week.

TIME ebola

Hagel Approves 21-Day Ebola Quarantine for Troops

(WASHINGTON) — Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel on Wednesday approved a recommendation by military leaders that all U.S. troops returning from Ebola response missions in West Africa be kept in supervised isolation for 21 days.

The move goes beyond precautions recommended by the Obama administration for civilians, although President Barack Obama has made clear he feels the military’s situation is different from that of civilians, in part because troops are not in West Africa by choice.

Hagel said he acted in response to a recommendation sent to him Tuesday by Army Gen. Martin Dempsey, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, on behalf of the heads of each of the military services. They cited numerous factors, including concerns among military families and the communities from which troops are deploying for the Ebola response mission.

Just over 1,000 U.S. troops are in Liberia and Senegal supporting efforts to combat the virus.

Hagel also directed the Joint Chiefs to provide him within 15 days a detailed implementation plan for how the supervised isolation of troops will be applied.

He also ordered the chiefs to conduct with 45 days a review of this new regimen, which Hagel called “controlled monitoring.”

“This review will offer a recommendation on whether or not such controlled monitoring should continue based on what we learn and observe from the initial waves of personnel returning from Operation United Assistance,” Hagel’s spokesman, Rear Adm. John Kirby, said in a written statement, using the official name of the military mission against Ebola in Africa.

“The secretary believes these initial steps are prudent given the large number of military personnel transiting from their home base and West Africa and the unique logistical demands and impact this deployment has on the force,” Kirby added. “The secretary’s highest priority is the safety and security of our men and women in uniform and their families.”

The Army, acting on its own, put a small number of returning soldiers on a 21-day quarantine in Italy earlier this week.

TIME Mental Health/Psychology

You Asked: Is Scaring Myself Healthy?

Illustration by Peter Oumanski for TIME

A little boo is good for you

For most people, a scare provides more treats than tricks.

When Michael Myers pops up behind Jamie Lee Curtis, your heart beats faster, your pupils dilate and your muscles tense in preparation for action, says Dr. Margee Kerr, a sociologist who studies fear and the ways it haunts our bodies and minds. This happens because fear floods your brain with “a powerful chemical punch” of fight-or-flight hormones and neurotransmitters, she says. Those include endorphins and dopamine—feel-good chemicals that dull pain, excite your mood and create an incredible natural high similar to falling in love (or doing some illicit drugs).

“Even though you knew you were never really in danger, you still feel a sense of euphoria after making it through a frightening event,” says Kerr, who also works with the design team of a haunted house in Pittsburgh called ScareHouse.

When you’re freaked out, your body also starts pumping out a bonding chemical called oxytocin—the same hormone that mothers produce during childbirth. This can make a frightful experience a fantastic way to solidify friendships and other social relationships. “Watch people walking out of a haunted house, and you’ll see lots of smiles and high fives,” Kerr says. Strong social connections have been linked to dozens of health benefits, including a longer life. And friends who are scared together, stay together, she adds. (Lovers, too, so pick the scary movie for a great date.)

There’s even some evidence that experiencing fear can bolster your ability to handle high-stress situations. Whether you’re watching a freaky flick or speaking in public, managing a knee-knocking ordeal builds self-assurance and acclimates your body to high-arousal states. “You become more comfortable with the physical experience of fear, and so you’re better able to work through it during tense situations,” she explains.

In fact, Kerr and colleagues at the University of Pittsburgh are hopeful that exposure to minor sources of fear—like seeing a horror film—could help those suffering from post traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) re-learn how to manage their fear responses in healthy ways. It’s just a hypothesis right now, but if a PTSD sufferer can engage with benign scary experiences and stay in control, he or she may become more comfortable with the deeper sources of their anxieties, she says.

But it’s important to note that not all people respond to freaky situations in healthy ways. “Everyone has a different tolerance level when it comes to fear,” Kerr says. What might be energizing or thrilling to one person might be debilitating to another. “Some people just shut down or are traumatized by their fear,” she adds. This can lead to nightmares, a prolonged inability to sleep, or unhealthy levels of anxiety.

“I worry when I see people being dragged into haunted houses or scary movies,” Kerr says. “They go along because of social pressure, but the type of fear they might experience can create some of these very negative consequences.”

Kerr also says children don’t respond to frightening situations in the healthy ways many adults do. “Kids who are younger than six or seven can’t separate real from make-believe, and seeing something frightening can be really traumatizing,” she explains.

But for many adults, a little scare now and then is a good, healthy way to experience some excitement. It’s just not for everyone. “People know what they enjoy and what they don’t when it comes to fear,” Kerr says. “What you find fun or thrilling, someone else may think is too much.”

TIME ebola

Ebola Nurse Kaci Hickox Plans to Defy Quarantine in Maine

Will challenge her home state's quarantine policy in court if it isn't lifted

The Ebola health worker who was the first person forcibly quarantined under New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie’s controversial health order said Wednesday that she would defy the voluntary quarantine policy of her home state of Maine now that she’s returned there.

In a live interview Wednesday with NBC’s Today, Kaci Hickox said she believes the strict quarantine policy instituted in New York, New Jersey and other states “is not scientifically nor constitutionally just.” Hickox, who helped treat Ebola patients in Sierra Leone, said she will go to court Thursday morning to challenge her quarantine in Maine.

“I am not going to sit around and be bullied by politicians and forced to stay in my home when I am not a risk to the American public,” Hickox said. “I do understand that [Ebola] has created a lot of fear, but we still have to make policies based on evidence.”

Maine Gov. Paul R. LePage, who is in a tight race to seek reelection next week, issued a statement Wednesday saying that his office is seeking “legal authority to enforce the quarantine” on Hickox.

“We are very concerned about her safety and health and that of the community,”said LePage. “We are exploring all of our options for protecting the health and well-being of the healthcare worker, anyone who comes in contact with her, the Fort Kent community and all of Maine.”

LePage said that Maine state police are monitoring the residence where Hickox is staying in Fort Kent “for both her protection and the health of the community.” Reporters confirmed police were parked outside on Wednesday.

Christie and New York Gov. Cuomo hastily announced a plan on Friday night to quarantine all health workers returning from West Africa who, like Hickox, had dealt with Ebola patients. Other states, including Maine, have introduced similar, though less stringent measures.

The policy in New York and New Jersey, which went beyond the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s guidelines and was strongly criticized by the medical community and the Obama administration, was instituted after another health worker, Dr. Craig Spencer, developed Ebola symptoms in New York City after returning from west Africa.

Hickox, who has returned home to Ft. Kent, Maine after being quarantined briefly in New Jersey, said she does not plan on sticking to the guidelines for the full 21-day period, but will continue to monitor her own health.

“You know, I don’t plan on sticking to the guidelines,” she said on NBC. “I remain appalled by these home quarantine policies that have been forced upon me, even though I am in perfectly good health and feeling strong and have been this entire time completely symptom-free.”

Doctors Without Borders, the organization that employed Hickox, issued a strongly worded statement Wednesday condemning blanket quarantines for healthcare workers. “Such a measure is not based upon established medical science,” the organizaton said in a statement. Doctors Without Borders “respects Kaci’s right as a private citizen to challenge excessive restrictions being placed upon her.”

Read next: Why Christie’s Ebola Quarantine Gambit Backfired

TIME Diet/Nutrition

The Best Fat-Burning Breakfasts

blueberry oat pancakes
Jennifer Causey—Getty Images/Flickr RF

Nutrient-packed meals that'll keep you full until lunch

You know that eating breakfast jump-starts your metabolism. But did you realize that certain a.m. choices can crank up your fat-burning even more?

The key: eating a breakfast that’s high in Resistant Starch (RS). Found in foods like bananas and oats, RS actually signals your body to use fat for energy.

Start your day skinny with these fat-burning meals from Health’s book, The CarbLovers Diet.

Blueberry Oat Pancakes with Maple Yogurt

Resistant Starch: 4.6g
Ingredients: Old-fashioned rolled oats, low-fat cottage cheese, eggs, vanilla extract, blueberries, cooking spray, Greek-style low-fat yogurt, maple syrup
Calories: 410
Watch the video: Blueberry Oat Pancakes with Maple Yogurt
Try this recipe: Blueberry Oat Pancakes with Maple Yogurt

Banana and Almond Butter Toast

Resistant Starch: 5.6g
Ingredients: Almond butter, rye bread, banana
Calories: 280
Watch the video: Banana & Almond Butter Toast
Try this recipe: Banana and Almond Butter Toast

Breakfast Barley with Banana and Sunflower Seeds

Resistant Starch: 7.6g
Ingredients: Water, pearl barley, banana, sunflower seeds, honey
Calories: 410
Try this recipe: Breakfast Barley with Banana and Sunflower Seeds

In a Rush?

Reach for a Resistant Starch-packed banana and one of these on-the-go options—you’ll still get the healthy carbs and calories you need to start your day in slim-down mode!

Order to go!
• Panera Bread Strawberry and Granola Parfait: 310 calories
• Dunkin’ Donuts Ham, Egg White, and Cheese Sandwich on a Wheat English Muffin: 300 calories
• Jamba Juice Coldbuster Smoothie (16 ounces): 250 calories

Keep a stash in your kitchen:
• Aunt Millie’s Whole-Grain Blueberry Muffins: 170 calories
• Kashi TLC Pumpkin Spice Flax Crunchy Granola Bar: 170 calories
• Amy’s Kitchen Breakfast Burrito: 270 calories

Insider secret

Choose a banana that’s tinged with a little green for even more Resistant Starch. Once the fruit ripens, the starches in it turn to sugar, and the amount of Resistant Starch it contains drops.

An underripe banana has 12.5 grams of RS (enough to take care of the minimum 10 grams of RS daily that’s recommended in The CarbLovers Diet); a ripe one has 4.7 grams.

This article originally appeared on Health.com.

More from Health.com:

13 Comfort Foods That Burn Fat

The 20 Best Foods for Breakfast

11 Reasons Why You’re Not Losing Belly Fat

Your browser, Internet Explorer 8 or below, is out of date. It has known security flaws and may not display all features of this and other websites.

Learn how to update your browser