Science and Medicine Briefs

CasperMOOD AND HORMONES  Hormonal changes exert powerful effects on women's moods, but information on those effects can be hard to find and interest on the subject among researchers is scarce. At the Women's Wellness Clinic, Dr. Regina Casper, professor of psychiatry and behavioral sciences, and Dr. Ellie Williams, a postdoctoral fellow in psychiatry, offer women counseling and therapy and also conduct research to try to fill the gap. Ninety percent of all women experience some premenstrual distress with physical and emotional symptoms that can interfere with their ability to work, particularly in tasks that require a lot of concentration. “This is not trivial. Counted over a woman's lifetime, it can add up to years of distress,” Casper says. Symptoms include anxiety, tension, irritability, depression, memory and concentration disturbances, water retention, breast tenderness and headaches. A change in diet (fewer refined carbohydrates, less coffee and other stimulants, no alcohol, and more fruits and vegetables), increase in activity level, and multivitamins with the recommended allowance of B vitamins can help. “For women who are not helped by lifestyle changes, medication may be appropriate,” Casper said.

THAT GOOEY-GREEN SCUM  A glut of nitrogen is wreaking biological havoc worldwide ­ threatening human health, killing plants and damaging fisheries. In the last decade humans have doubled the rate of nitrogen gas that is “fixed” ­ literally tied to another molecule such as oxygen, so that plants and animals can use it ­ according to a report by a panel of ecologists led by Peter Vitousek, the Clifford G. Morrison Professor of Population and Resources Studies at Stanford. “Fixed nitrogen is essential for all life, but the added nitrogen is too much of a good thing,” he said. Draining into waterways from overfertilized fields and getting into the air through industrial emissions, the usable nitrogen is becoming a curse ­ leaching soils of other nutrients, contaminating the air and clogging the coastal ocean with nitrogen-loving algae. “Especially in estuaries where rivers meet the sea, it

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