Women and smoking

Smoking and being exposed to second-hand smoke during pregnancy are equally likely to cause permanent genetic mutations in the foetus, a new report concludes. Dr. Stephen G. Grant, University of Pittsburgh, found that babies born to active smokers, to women who were exposed to secondary smoke during pregnancy and to women who quit smoking when they found out they were pregnant, all had similar and significant increases in gene mutations. The mutations were found by examining umbilical cord blood.

A woman who quits smoking when she discovers she is pregnant, Grant said, is more likely to be exposed to second-hand smoke. "She is likely to continue to socialise with friends and family who smoke and to frequent places where others continue to smoke, thinking that exposure to other smokers is not such a big deal," he said, adding, "Our study should disabuse her of that notion."

If second-hand smoke does as much damage as smoking, then it may be essential to protect pregnant women and women who intend to become pregnant by banning smoking in the workplace and public spaces.

People should probably be barred from smoking anywhere in the presence of a pregnant woman. "If they actually quit smoking themselves, then pregnant women have tried very hard to do the right thing for their baby," Grant said.

Music and emotion

Why is it that when we listen to particularly beautiful or moving music, we get goose bumps and even cry? It is well known that areas of the brain that recognise and process music are linked with areas that handle emotions, and scientists are gradually mapping these areas in greater detail with brain-imaging technology.

Last year, a study by English researchers at the University of Newcastle, published in The Journal of Neurology, Neurosurgery and Psychiatry, drew important insights from a single case, a 52-year-old radio announcer who lost his emotional response to music after a stroke.

He was still able to recognise music that had given him particular pleasure, by Rachmaninoff, but he no longer experienced the intense emotional states that used to come from listening to it. Ordinarily, the researchers said, a stroke that causes loss of emotional response is accompanied by a loss of musical perception, called amusia. In this patient's case, however, they were able to separate musical perception from the emotional response and thus to identify a particular area of damage, called the left insula, as being involved in the emotional processing of music.

It is part of a widely distributed brain network recruited by other powerful emotional stimuli, producing arousal of the autonomic nervous system and leading to various physiological reactions.

(Courtesy: New York Times)

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