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Close bonds lead to long lives in baboons

A study conducted by Penn and University of California Los Angeles researchers found that close social bonds between female baboons, especially those between female family members, are associated with longer life expectancies in offspring.

The study provides the first direct evidence that personal relationships between female baboons have fitness benefits.

According to study authors Biology professor Dorothy Cheney and Psychology professor Robert Seyfarth, a possible explanation for the increased longevity could be that female adult baboons that socialize with a small number of female partners tend to have lower levels of hormones called glucocorticoids, which decrease activity in the immune system.

The research team found that these low glucocorticoid levels allowed the females to better cope with psychological stressers.

According to Cheney, a similar correlation between social relationships and health exists among humans.

"There is increasing evidence that people, especially women, with strong support networks have lower stress levels and better general health," explained Cheney.

The findings arose out of time spent by researchers over 15 years observing a group of free-ranging chacma baboons dwelling in the Moremi Game Reserve in Botswana.

Treatment found for clinical frailty

A recent study conducted by researchers in the School of Medicine may have uncovered the first effective medical treatment for clinical frailty.

Senior author and Penn professor Anne Cappola and her team administered ghrelin- - an appetite-inducing hormone - to older women diagnosed with clinical frailty, with positive results.

According to the study, the caloric intake of frail women who received ghrelin infusions measured 51 percent higher than the caloric intake of those who did not. Subjects given the hormone also demonstrated higher growth hormone levels throughout the infusion.

Approximately seven percent of the population aged 65 or above is afflicted by clinical frailty.

"Frail individuals are the most vulnerable subset of older people," Cappola said, citing their significantly higher hospitalization and mortality rates compared to those of their healthier counterparts. Individuals afflicted with clinical frailty also frequently experience a "functional decline" characterized by weakness, fatigue and weight loss.

The results of the study appear promising in light of the fact that there have been no successful medical treatments for either frailty or unintentional weight loss. However, Cappola speculated that "while [ghrelin] holds promise for treating frailty, it will take many years for sufficient data to be obtained to meet standards for FDA approval."

In the meantime, Cappola said that she and fellow researchers at Penn Medicine intend to undertake "larger and more definitive studies [which] look at weight, strength and functional changes with ghrelin administration."

Late night TV hurts sleep quality

According to Penn Medicine research, people should turn off the television and go to bed,

Psychiatry professors Mathias Basner and David Dinges surveyed the nighttime habits of more than 21,000 participants over three years. Their research found that television viewing accounted for nearly 50 percent of the activities that the participants undertook in the two hours before going to bed.

In their report, "Trading Sleep for Leno and Letterman," Dinges and Basner argue that the timing of people's favorite television shows are determining the time when they go to bed, rather than biological signs such as fatigue or the hours of darkness past sunset.

The vicious cycle of staying up too late and waking up unnaturally adds to Americans' 'sleep debt,' a chronic sleep deprivation that can impair alertness and potentially lead to obesity, illness and death.

The two authors cited an interventional study that attempted to test voluntary restriction of TV viewing time in the evening, which showed that "restricting television time to only 30 minutes per day advanced bed time and increased total sleep time significantly in university students."

"According to our results, watching less television in the evening and postponing work start time in the morning appear to be the candidate behavioral changes for achieving additional sleep and reducing chronic sleep debt," Basner said in a recent press release.

Dinges added that "advancing television prime time by 1 hour (in the US) could increase sleep time for many adults."

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