Wednesday, December 20, 2006

Possible Answer to the Asthma Mystery?

A couple days back, I posted on the mysterious Asthma epidemic. As I was reading through my sources today, I noticed an interesting study that may shed light on one of the causes. (I'd bet that there are a number of different reasons that Asthma is on the rise.)

This is a bit complex, but bear with me. A new
Australian study reported by EurekAlert is looking into the connection between fat intake and how well your immune system works.

Here's how fat may affect the immune system. Some white blood cells, the ones that trigger immune response (they're called dendritic cells), rely on a fat binding molecule called "aP2" to do their job. If aP2 is over-activated -- say, by a high-fat diet -- your immune system gets thrown out of whack.

"Over-activation of dendritic cells can trigger inflammatory diseases," reports EurekAlert. Inflammatory diseases include asthma, atherosclerosis and rheumatoid arthritis.

As our intake of fats has changed in the past few decades, "there has been in an increase in inflammatory diseases."

Once again, the study is just looking into this connection. Conclusive evidence of a link between fat intake and the functioning of your immune system has yet to be found.

Tuesday, December 19, 2006

The Mysterious Asthma Epidemic

According to a recent column at the New York Times, asthma rates are up 60 percent among children since 1980, and no one seems to know why. In children under the age of 5, asthma rates have soared 160 percent between 1980 and 1994. In total, 20 million Americans suffer from asthma.

Why the spike? No one seems to know. According to the Times…
  • It's not genetics. The rise in rates has occurred too fast.
  • It's not cigarette smoke. Parents smoke less these days.
  • It's not air pollution. Air pollution is down in the U.S. since 1980.
  • It's not obesity. Studies have failed to find a link.
  • It's probably not the changing diet of expecting mothers. Studies have also failed to find a link there.

Two other interesting theories, that have not yet been proven, are hyper-hygiene and antibiotics. Regarding hygiene, it could be that homes are so clean these days, kids immune systems are not developing properly. As far as antibiotics, maybe increased use in recent decades is changing body chemistry for the worse. This reminds me of earlier concerns that antibacterial soap may cause super-germs to develop.

Whatever it is, it could be years before scientists figure out what's going on. One suggestion for researchers: when in doubt,
blame TV.

Monday, December 18, 2006

ANOTHER Outbreak of Food Poisoning

Remember how I wrote that food poisoning is the big story of the year in health? Well, leave it to the Olive Garden to put an exclamation point on it. In Indianapolis, at least 370 diners at the Italian food chain have reportedly fallen ill with a nasty norovirus, reports MSNBC.

While no one has died from the illness, which causes nausea, vomiting, diarrhea and fever (
according to a CNN report), twice as many people have been sickened than the spinach / E. coli outbreak in the Fall.

After
a quick trip to Wikipedia, I learned that noroviruses are transmitted via the “fecal-oral route.” And this usually occurs when food service workers don’t wash their hands. From there, the virus may get to either food or liquids. For waterborn outbreaks, the “often overlooked culprit” is ice machines, reports Wikipedia.

Does anybody recall that story from February, where a middle school kid’s science experiment found that, “70 percent of the time, ice from fast food restaurants was dirtier than toilet water?” Read
the full story at ABC News, and next time you eat out, do think twice about how bad you want your beverage to be cold.

Thursday, December 14, 2006

"Stunning" Drop in Breast Cancer Reported

Research by the MD Anderson Cancer center reveals breast cancer rates dropped 15 percent between August 2002 and December 2003, reports the New York Times. Around that same time, hormone therapy for menopause was found to increase risk for cardiovascular disease, so many women stopped the treatment. And scientist doubt this is merely a coincidence.

"Scientists know that hormones can fuel the growth of estrogen positive tumors, which carry receptors for estrogen on their cell surfaces," reported the Times. And estrogen-positive tumors make up 70 percent of all breast cancer cases.

“Everyone kept saying, What is it [that's causing breast cancer]? What’s in the environment?” one researcher told the Times. “The best explanation is hormone therapy.”

Wednesday, December 13, 2006

Cut Protein, Lower Cancer Risk?

Researchers from Washington University (St. Louis) found people with low protein intake had lower levels of hormones linked to cancer risk. The study included three groups: distance runners, vegetarians and "sedentary adults who ate a typical American diet," reported Scientific American. Surprise, surprise, the vegetarians came out ahead in this study.

While the runners also had low levels of hormones lined to cancer, the vegetarians had a lower level of a particularly risky hormone, IGF-1, which encourages cell growth and division. According to the SciAm report, "high IGF-1 levels in the blood have been linked to breast, prostate and colon cancers."

Before you put down the pork chops and pick up some kale, understand the Washington University study was a very, very small. It only included 63 people. One researcher told SciAm that the results are just a "first step" towards a better understanding of the relationship between protein and cancer.

Tuesday, December 12, 2006

A Possible Link Between the BBQ and Cancer

Okay, I know it's not barbecue season, but this story is relevant anyway. It has to do with how you cook your food and your risk for developing cancer.

First of all, this is nothing new. However, I have found that every time I try and explain this to people, they roll their eyes and tell me I'm an idiot. I may be that. But it's true: the higher the temperature you cook your food at, the worse it can be for you.

That means cooking over an open flame is as risky as it gets. And people hate to hear that, because people love barbecue anything.

So here's the latest bad news, barbecue lovers. According to a study reported by Reuters, "women who favor flame-broiled foods may be at much higher risk for developing breast cancer than women who do not." Worse yet, it doesn't take much. Women who had barbecued food more than twice a month were 74 percent more likely to develop brest cancer.

"Cooking meat at high temperatures in direct heat over an open flame can lead to the production of cancer-causing chemicals known as heterocyclic amines, or HCAs," one researcher told Reuters.

But it's not just the open flame. In general, meat consumption had a negative health effect. Women consuming more than 64 grams per day had a 43 percent higher risk of breast cancer.

Now there is some good news. And it's called aspirin. That's right. Just take a pill with your next flame-broiled feast and you'll be fine. According to the Reuters report, "aspirin completely attenuated the increased risk of breast cancer [from flame-broiled food]."

I can see it now, right there on a bottle of A1 Sauce at the store, a big yellow sticker that says in bold, red writing, "NOW WITH ASPRIN!"

Monday, December 11, 2006

Story of the year: food poisoning?

Food poisoning is back. This time it's green onions in Mexican fast food restaurants. In Iowa, 14 are hospitalized after eating at Taco Johns. Across four other states, 47 people were sickened after eating at Taco Bell. In all cases, green onions are suspected of transferring E Coli to unsuspecting diners.

If you recall, 3 people and 200 people got sick after eating tainted spinach during the summer. Taken together, these outbreaks have stolen national headlines. So this year seems to be shaping up as the year of food poisoning. And that comes as something as a surprise to me, considering it's the 100 year anniversary of Upton Sinclair's "The Jungle."

While Sinclair focused on the horrors of the meat packing industry, it appears as though produce is the big monster this year. Produce? Fresh, innocent, leafy greens? Yup. In fact, I heard on the radio this weekend that most food poisoning comes from produce. And the type of E. coli that hit diners at Taco Bell last week actually can not be removed by simply washing the green onions. They need to be cooked.

Wednesday, November 29, 2006

The Latest Good News About Red Wine

By now, you've certainly heard the buzz over resveratrol, the substance in red wine that's been proven to significantly extend the lives of lab mice. The initial question was, could this explain the French paradox?

Of course, the
French paradox is where French people eat a diet rich in saturated fats, but manage to have low rates of coronary disease.

But resveratrol probably isn't the catalyst for the Paradox, because you would have to drink dozens of glasses of wine per day to get the results. And I'm sure that would turn your liver to Swiss cheese, so what's the point? There must be another answer.

One possible solution is a substance in red wine called "procyanidins,"
reports the Washington Post. "Procyanidins appeared to have the most potent beneficial effect on the cells that enable arteries to power the heart," read the Post article.

Interestingly enough, people who live in the region where wines highest in procyanidins are made, southwest France, tend to live the longest.

The Post points out that procyanidins also turn up in dark chocolate, apples and cranberries.

Tuesday, November 28, 2006

The Connection Between Fat and Cancer Risk

A couple of recent studies shed light on a link between excess weight and cancer. However, each study comes to a different basis for that connection.

At Rutgers University,
scientists experimenting with mice found that, "fatty tissue may decrease the body's ability to kill off cancer." This may occur because fat cells produce a substance that "short-circuits" a body process, apoptosis, which fights cancer. Apoptosis is a kind of cellular suicide that occurs when cells become damaged (for example, by overexposure to the sun). If apoptosis occurs properly, damaged cells do not grow into tumors.

In
another study, carried out at Cedars-Sinai, researchers found that obese women develop more aggressive forms of ovarian cancer. According to the research team, "it's possible that fat tissue may be secreting factors or hormones that accelerate tumor growth."

Taken together, these studies suggest that A) you're more likely to get cancer if you're overweight and B) once you get it, it's going to be more aggressive than in lean people.

Monday, November 27, 2006

Some People Can Literally Taste Words

It sounds absurd, but it's true. People know as "lexical-gustatory synaesthetes" experience tastes when they hear or see certain words, reported the NY Times. For example, one person tastes tuna fish when the word "castanets" is uttered, and another tastes gravy when the word "civil" comes up.

Less strange, but bizarre still, are synaesthetes that experience music, letters or numbers as colors. For example, when you hear a specific note, you "see" a color. Such rare neurological disorders are extremely rare and run in families.

While I could personally live with hearing notes and seeing colors, the hearing words and tasting flavors would be tough. Imagine, friends, family and colleagues would need to have a list of words they can not say (yes, some words may trigger pleasant flavors, but others may set off disgusting ones).

But what happens when you're out in public, or driving your car? Accordgin to the Times, one synaesthete "hates driving because road signs flood his mouth with the flavors of things like pistachio ice cream and earwax."

Thursday, November 16, 2006

Supposedly, Happy People are Healthier

Over at Carnegie Mellon University, it looks like somebody scored a grant to test who gets sicker: happy people or angry ones. Surprise, surprise: the happy people seem healthier, reports CNN.

In the experiment, volunteers were collected, parsed into emotional groups (happy and angry), given nose drops carrying cold or flu bugs, then asked to report on their condition. As you might expect, the people with a "positive emotional style," appeared to resist colds better.

"People with a positive emotional style may have different immune responses to the virus," one scientist told CNN. Hm… interesting theory.

Is it just me, or does this sound like new age, pseudo-science nonsense? How do you determine a "positive emotional style," or, for that matter, a negative one? Since I'm so critical of this study, do I fall under the negative banner? I rarely get sick. And, come to think of it, the liveliest people in my office take the most sick days. Are they really sick, or does their zest for life just lead them to fake being sick so they can take more days off to frolic in the sun, maybe walk their dogs or help old ladies across the street?

The CNN report was vague on the research method used to measure both emotional state and illness in the Carnegie Mellon study.

"Researchers had 193 healthy adults complete standard measures of personality traits, self-perceived health and emotional "style," read the CNN article. But what does all that mean? Sounds like weak science to me. How can you repeat this experiment using such a broad range of vague tests? Furthermore, how can you repeat it for another culture?

Another questionable part of the study is this: researchers measured sickness by asking subjects how they felt, and collecting "objective data, like daily mucus production." On the first point, of course positive people will tell you they feel better than they actually are, that's why they're positive people. And this business of measuring snot. Seriously. Is this the basis of good, hard science?

I expect to see this kind of feel good story on the local TV news, but not at CNN online. I'm a tad angry. And you know what? I feel healthier than ever.

Wednesday, November 15, 2006

Red Meat Harms, Soy Helps, Vitamins Do Nothing

CNN is reporting on a couple of Harvard Medical School studies suggest vitamins have no affect on heart disease and red meat ups breast cancer risk in women. On the flip side, Reuters reports a new University of Hawaii study showing women raised on soy are 58 percent less likely to develop breast cancer.

In the University of Hawaii study, "The women who ate the most soy-based foods such as tofu and miso when aged 5 to 11 reduced their risk of developing breast cancer," reported Reuters.

Now, if you didn't eat a lot of soy as a kid, try cutting back on red meat later in life to reduce your risk of developing breast cancer. For women that ate the most red meat later in life (age 26 to 46), the University of Harvard found an increased risk of breast cancer.

"Meat consumption was linked to a risk of developing tumors whose growth was fueled by estrogen or progesterone -- the most common type," reported CNN.

Also from the University of Harvard, we learned this week that vitamin supplements "will do little if anything to protect her heart." This doesn't mean that vitamin supplements are completely useless, just for heart disease, it seems.

In the heart study, 8,000 women were randomly assigned various combinations of vitamin C, E, B, beta carotene and folic acid for seven to ten years. After sifting through the results, scientists concluded that, "there was minimal evidence of any cardiovascular benefit of any of these antioxidants."

However, researchers did find that vitamin C was found to reduce the risk of stroke by 42 percent.

Healthlines: November 15, 2006

It doesn't look like the vaccine itself helps. Instead, it appears that flu triggers heart troubles, so if you can stay healthy, your heart is happy…
Flu vaccine helps cut heart attacks, deaths: study (Reuters)

Another loose connection… the migraine doesn't trigger heart disease, but it's a "marker" for risk…
Migraines Linked to Heart Risk in Men (Washington Post)

It turns out that obese patients with clogged arteries have lower death rates than lean patients with clogged arteries. Unbelievable? Well, obese patients tend to get more immediate attention and they're younger…
Study explains "obesity paradox" in heart treatment (Reuters)

Tuesday, November 14, 2006

"Sweet Discovery" for Chocoholics, BUT…

A Johns Hopkins University study (reported by Reuters) found that chocolate contains chemicals which help keep the platelets in your blood from clumping, which can form deadly clots.

What's really interesting about this finding is how researchers came across the results. In a test on aspirin's affect on heart disease, patients were asked to abstain from wine, chocolate, grapefruit and other foods suspected in maintaining cardiovascular health. But that's a tall order for your typical chocoholic.

How widespread is chocolate addiction? Well, in the study of 1,200 people, 139 people could not stay away from the stuff. That's about 12 percent of the population. But instead of telling the addicts to get lost, Johns Hopkins researchers tested their blood anyway, and discovered that their blood was slower to clot than people who had not eaten chocolate.

However, if you're a chocolate fan, don't start celebrating just yet. The affect of chocolate on blood clotting was small. "[Chocolate] does not have anywhere near the magnitude of the effects of a single baby aspirin a day," one scientist told Reuters. Furthermore, "the high sugar and fat content of most chocolate candy might cancel out some of the benefits."

Monday, November 13, 2006

Vegetarian Diet Better for Losing Weight

If you're trying to loose weight, or keep weight off, a vegetarian diet may be the best way to go. In a weight loss study by the University of Pittsburgh (reported by WebMD), participants on a meatless diet not only lost more weight, they stuck with the diet longer and had lower levels of LDL "bad" cholesterol.

Of course, people on the vegetarian diet consumed less calories. In my opinion, there are two possible reasons. One, a higher fiber diet makes you feel fuller, longer and control the insulin crashes that can make you hungry. Two, when you're cutting meat from your diet, you're forced to concentrate more closely on what you're eating.

An interesting footnote to the study is how most participants pretty abandoned their diets after the study ended. "People on a structured diet plan need regular follow-up with a nutritionist, nurse practitioner or other health care professional," one researcher told WebMD. If that's what it takes to keep people slim, then I think health insurance companies should cover it. The short term costs (of the counseling) could lead to big long term savings (from obesity-related health problems).

Thursday, November 09, 2006

Is Obesity Caused by Your Neighborhood?

Those crazy economists are at it again, stirring up the medical community with a challenging new study. Last time, it was a link between TV and autism. This time, it's a link between the neighborhood you live in and your waistline.

Previous medical studies had shown, "overwhelmingly," that neighborhood and weight are linked, one expert told the LA Times in a
report on the new issue. It's suspected that sprawling neighborhoods, where businesses are beyond walking distance from residences, contribute to obesity. However, the news study by University of Toronto economist Matthew Turner found otherwise.

In Truner's study, reported by the LA Times, it was found that fat people who moved from sprawling neighborhoods to dense neighborhoods, stayed fat.

From the report, it was unclear whether or not people moving from dense environments to sprawling ones gained weight. But there were other criticisms. Doctors cited that the study was small, brief and poorly calculated sprawl.

Wednesday, November 08, 2006

A Happy Ending for Three Blind Mice

Actually, I'm sure it was more than three, but scientists have restored sight to mice blinded by a condition similar to macular degeneration, reports Reuters.

To restore vision in mice, scientists successfully transplanted new photoreceptor cells to replace damaged ones in the back of the eye. Photoreceptors are critical for sight, and the loss of them is among "the more common causes of blindness" in people, a scientist told Reuters. The new experiment, carried out by the Institute of Ophthalmology and the Institute of Child Health in London and the University of Michigan Medical School in the United States, may lead to the transplant of photoreceptors in humans.

In the past, scientists had used stem cells to replace damaged photoreceptors. The experiments failed. The latest experiment succeeded using more mature cells.

This is particularly surprising news. According to Reuters, "researchers had thought that the mature retina, the part of the eye that senses light and forms images, did not have the capacity for repair."

Tuesday, November 07, 2006

Which Drinks Cause the Worst Hangovers?

Many of us have suspected for years that certain drinks caused worse hangovers than others, but where was the science to back it up? According to a new column at the New York Times, a British study looked into the affects of different alcohols, and found that there are differences in the intensity of hangovers.

In order of most extreme to less extreme: brandy, red wine, rum, whiskey, white wine, gin and vodka.

A good rule of thumb: the darker the drink, the more extreme your hangover will be.

Why different alcohols cause different hangovers is due to many factors. But "among the most important," reports the Times, "is the amount of congeners -- complex organic molecules, like methanol -- in a particular drink."

Healthlines: November 7, 2006

It's not? I didn't know it was? I missed this in my book of 1001 Home Remedies…
Duct tape no magical cure for warts, study finds (CNN)

Who'd have thunk it, people speaking in tongues are legitimately out-of-their minds…
A Neuroscientific Look at Speaking in Tongues (NY Times)

When I was a kid, I used to wonder why there were no seatbelts on school buses. And when I asked, adults always told me that bus drivers were the safest drivers and they never got into accidents, well…
17,000 Kids Hurt on School Bus Each Year (WA Post)

Monday, November 06, 2006

Can Jet-Lag Lead to an Early Grave?

Mice are once again the subject of unusual torture, this time to show the affects of jet-lag and unusual sleep patterns. Listen up if you're a frequent international traveler, or you work the graveyard shift.

In a University of Virginia study,
reported by Reuters, "old mice forced to live on a confusing schedules of light and darkness, simulating rotating shifts or international travel, died sooner than those on gentler schedules."

Survival rates were cut in half by the confusing schedule.

I'd like everyone reading this post to take a moment and thank the poor mice that gave their lives in this study. How many creatures would you guess die from a "confusing" light schedule? Very few, I hope. But with any luck, this study will lead to advancements that save the lives of thousands.

So what killed the mice? Researchers aren't sure, but it probably wasn't stress. During the study, "their daily levels of a stress hormone called corticosterone did not increase."

It could be the hormones that adjust ones sleeping schedule, like melatonin. In previous studies, these hormones were found to "affect aging and immune system processes," Reported Reuters.

Wednesday, November 01, 2006

More on the Longevity Drug

Yesterday I concluded my blog post with a quote from the very popular New York Times article, "One for the Ages: A Prescription That May Extend Life," that I was covering.

If you're too lazy to scroll down, here it is again: "a pill mimicking the effects of calorie restriction might increase human life span to about 112 healthy years, with the occasional senior living until 140."

This pill is based on a super-antioxidant found in red wine called "resveratrol."

I still think it sounds too good (or, easy) to be true, but Newsweek
posted a "web exclusive" today on the resveratrol that caught my eye. At Newsweek, they report that resveratrol "may help reverse some of the complications of obesity and even extend life." This according to a study where resveratrol was given to mice on a high-fat diet (60 percent of their daily calories came from fat). Despite the unhealthy diet, mice on the drug had a 31 percent lower death rate than those that were not on the drug.

The study, conducted by the Harvard Medical School, found that mice on reserveratrol showed the same physiological changes as animals that either A) exercised a lot, or B) were on a reduced-calorie diet. According to scientists, reserveratrol activates the Sir2 family of genes, which act as a natural defense against aging.

Does this mean there's a pill on the way that gives you the benefits of exercising and a low-cal diet without ever setting foot on a treadmill or passing on seconds? I don't know, but I stick with what I said yesterday: Too easy… I'm skeptical.

Tuesday, October 31, 2006

Could You Live to 140? It Could be a Matter of Starvation

It sounds simple enough, and that's why I like the theory: eat less, live longer. Plus, it's something that's really hard to do. So I like it more. When diets get complex (like Weight Watchers) or include indulgences like bacon (think Atkins), I'm pretty skeptical. These are fad diets. But calorie restriction, it has a nice, hard-ass ring to it that makes me think it could do something.

According to a
recent article at the New York Times, the benefits of a calorie-restrictive diet are mounting. People on a calorie-restricted diet have low cholesterol, "virtually no arterial blockage," "remarkably low blood pressure," low insulin levels, and less chromosomal damage. A diet with "30 percent fewer calories than normal," is considered "restrictive."

A calorie-restrictive diet may work by scaring cells straight. "Limited access to energy alarms the body… activating a cascade of biochemical signals that tell each cell to direct energy away from reproductive functions, toward repair and maintenance," reports the Times.

Monkeys on a calorie-restrictive diet retain youthful vitality well into their golden years. Mice live 40 percent longer. But evidence on human life expectancy is lacking.

Critics of calorie-restrictive diets point to a recent study that found thin people do not live longer than larger ones. In fact, people who were exceptionally thin had a higher risk of death. My first question: did the study adjust for smoking? The Times didn't say. But other research suggests calorie restriction may only increase life expectancy by two to seven percent. And is that worth switching spinach for mashed potatoes or soy beans for steak? Probably not.

However, even skeptics concede there are "benefits." And some supporters maintain that the idea isn't simply to live longer, but to feel like you're 50 when you're actually 80. I like that idea. Let's not live longer, but healthier.

Of course, living longer isn't out of the question. The Times reports, "a pill mimicking the effects of calorie restriction might increase human life span to about 112 healthy years, with the occasional senior living until 140."

A pill? Too easy. That I'm skeptical of.

HealthLines: October 31, 2006

"Pumpkin offers a good source of beta carotene, an antioxidant that may help prevent heart disease and certain types of cancer; fiber, which aids in digestion and helps lower cholesterol; and potassium, which helps keep blood pressure in check…"
This fall, harness the nutritional power of pumpkin (CNN)

Alcohol a carcinogen? It depends on your genetic makeup…
New Evidence On Why Alcohol Consumption Is A Risk Factor For Cancer (ScienceDaily)

More good news for those of us that exercise, even a moderate amount…
Active life may help elderly keep their eyesight (Reuters)

Monday, October 30, 2006

To Shake US Oil Dependency, Lose Weight

An extra $2.2 billion is spent on gas each year in this country because of, "America's weight problem," according to a widely reported study by the University of Illinois (read it here at the Washington Post).

This is one of those stories that, when I tell people, they call me a crackpot. It's like a Bigfoot story. Too incredible to be true. And I'm pretty skeptical about these stories myself, but here are the facts.

Today, Americans weigh 24 pounds more than they did in 1960. To move this extra weight around, cars burn an extra 1 billion gallons of gas. Multiply that by the average price of gas right now, and you've got your $2.2 billion figure. But it's probably higher, if you think about it. Gas is cheaper now than it's been all year. In fact, it's been above $3 per gallon for a while.

So now there's more than your health that you have to think about while you're packing on the pounds. There are "socioeconomic" and national security implications as well.

Said an industrial engineer interviews by the Washington Post, "If people decide as a nation to get healthier and lose weight… we're actually going to reduce our dependence on foreign oil."

HealthLines: October 30, 2006

Are you one of those people that like to put on those freaky-looking contact lenses as part of your Halloween costume? You know, the ones that make it look like you have a cat's eye or something? Well, the FDA has a new warning for you…
Scary Eyes Just Got Scarier (ABC News)

This sounds like an urban legend, but unfortunately it's not… Remember you read it here first…
not at Snopes
Teen Loses Breast to Infection (ABC News)

Finally, fried chicken is healthy! No need to waste your time eating leafy greens, fresh fruits and whole grains…
KFC to Fry Chicken Without Trans Fats (WebMD)

Thursday, October 26, 2006

A link between the TV and Autism?

By now you've probably heard this. You can read the story at TIME if you haven't. Basically, three economists have looked at some numbers that suggest autism may be caused by watching TV when you're a kid. Yes, the TIME article actually uses the word "cause."

What the economists did is look at cable subscription data and rainfall patterns (because kids watch more TV when it rains). Surprisingly, they found that in places where cable subscriptions grew fastest and precipitation was highest, the autism rates were abnormal. According to their research, 17 percent of "growth in autism" in California and Pennsylvania is "due to the growth of cable." Another 40 percent of autism cases, they believe, is caused by "television watching due to precipitation."

Am I the only one that finds this totally ridiculous? Wasn't autism something you're born with? Or is it really like a disease that you can catch by, say, watching TV? I'm not sure, but one doctor explained to TIME, "[the economists] ignore the reasonable body of evidence that suggest that the pathologic process behind autism probably starts in utero."

Others are skeptical for different reasons. One geneticist told TIME, "How do you know, for instance, that it's not mold or mildew in the counties that have a lot of rain?" TIME also points out that it could be the air quality indoor, or that there are more pediatricians scanning for autism in communities where cable has grown the fastest.

How big of a problem is autism? Back in 1970, about one in 2,500 kids were diagnosed with the disorder. Today, one in 170 are diagnosed.

Healthlines: October 26, 2006

To prevent colds, forget the Echinacea, try going for a run…
Want to prevent colds? Start exercising (Reuters)

Need help adjusting to the time change this weekend? "Within five minutes of waking up, spend 30 minutes outside or in bright light" and "Avoid bright light during the two or three hours before you go to bed…"
Fall Back--Into Bed (Forbes)


An interesting piece about how one hospital got doctors to start following their own advice with regard to hand washing… it's a peculiar scared-straight story…
What Do Washing Your Hands and Voting Have in Common? (ABC News)

Wednesday, October 25, 2006

More Great News for Rich People

It's not fair. Most of the world is poor, but rich people get all the benefits. And I'm not talking about Mercedes Benzes, mansions and marriages to movie stars. It's the little gems in life they get too. Yes, rich people live longer, they are less stressed, and they sleep better, according to research from the University of Chicago (reported by MSNBC & Reuters).

The study of 669 Chicagoans found that men sleep less than women, blacks sleep less than whites and the more money you have, the more sleep you get. "There was an expectation that people with very demanding jobs in terms of high status, high income, would be getting less sleep, and that was not true," said one of the study experts.

I think that these expectations come from us poor people telling each other such nonsense to feel better about being poor.

So how much are people sleeping? Here's the breakdown:
  • White women: 6.7 hours per night
  • White men: 6.1 hours per night
  • Black women: 5.9 hours per night
  • Black men: 5.1 hours per night

Healthlines: October 25, 2006

Drinking caffeinated coffee was found to reduce the risk of developing type 2 diabetes by as much as 60% in a newly published study…
Coffee May Protect Against Diabetes (WebMD)

Who'd have thunk it, drinking causes brain damage… specifically, the part of your brain that deals with learning and memory…
Heavy, Chronic Drinking Can Cause Significant Hippocampal Tissue Loss (ScienceDaily)

Study shows a CT scan can detect lung cancer early enough to guarantee an 88 percent survival rate over 10 years…
To Catch a Killer (Newsweek)

Tuesday, October 24, 2006

What's the Deal With Detox Diets?

A recent feature at the LA Times tackles the controversial issue of detox diets. Do these things really do anything? Is this the new Atkins? While some people swear by them and pay thousands for detox retreats in the desert, there's not a lot of scientific evidence that these things work.

A detox diet (which can last a week) replaces most solid food with exotic herbal supplements, strange fiber-rich stuff (I hesitate to call it food) like "psyllium husks," and lots of fluids, for example vegetable juice, water and special, cleansing tea.

The idea is to cleanse the body of toxins absorbed through the food we eat and the air we breath, like "pesticides, mercury, dioxins, polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs)," reports the Times.

Whether they work or not, detox diets are catching fire. According to the LA Times report, "cleansing and organ supplements (largely consisting of herbal-based cleanse and detox kits) make up the fastest growing segment within the herbal formulas category." According to one market watcher, growth in the category doubled last year.

However, doctors aren't convinced detox diets do any good. There is one example given by the LA Times, a small study, that shows promise for detox diets. But medical professionals maintain, "there's no evidence that these diets do any good."

One USC nutritional biochemist told the LA Times, "The idea that foods are poisonous, or that we need detoxification, or a cleansing regimen to improve our health is without scientific merit… We have wonderful organs, great enzymes, a great system for eliminating toxins naturally."

HealthLines: October 24, 2006

Looking at heart attacks, "an analysis found that the lowest risk was in the two-drink group, the authors said, and the highest risk among the nondrinkers…"
Two drinks daily help men avoid heart attack: study (Reuters)

Six percent of college students gain15 pounds or more their freshman year, but on average…
'Freshman 15' really 5 or 7, but the gains don't stop (CNN)

Warning: this article may bend your brain into a pretzel. Just read it through a couple of times… it's fascinating. Basically, "seeking out the most attractive mate may be unhealthy for any offspring…"
'Fruit fly dating game' provides clues to our reproductive prowess (EurekAlert)

Monday, October 23, 2006

Decaf Coffee Isn't Caffeine Free

If you thought that decaf coffee you bought at Starbucks didn't have any caffeine in it, think again. According to a University of Florida study reported by Reuters, decaf coffee may contain enough caffeine to "cause physical dependence."

A cup of decaf contains between 8.6 and 13.9 mg of caffeine, according to the study. By contrast, "specialty coffees" have an average of 188 mg per cup. Non-specialty coffees, like Maxwell House has 110 mg per cup, according to a handy caffeine calculator at the Nutrition Action Health Letter website. Atop the calculator is a grande (16 oz) starbucks coffee which clocks in at 550 mg.

HealthLines: October 23, 2006

"One in 4 will develop chronic lung disease…" One in 4? That's it? Am I the only one that thought smoking was more deadly than that?
A darker cloud over smokers (LA Times)

Still want to smoke? You think it looks cool? Fine, just make sure you take your statins… "Until now, no medication has shown to slow smoking-induced lung damage…"
Statin drugs may protect smokers' lungs -study (Reuters)

Looking at mental function, "yearly slowdown was 40 percent slower for people who ate the most vegetables…"
Vegetables May Help Save Brain's Vigor (WebMD)

Thursday, October 19, 2006

Demystifying food myths.

Over at AskMen.com, they've got the fourth installment of their series on food myths. Here are the highlights (myths are in bold)…

Raw food is better than cooked food: It turns out that some raw foods can actually be worse for you. For example, raw eggplants and beans have toxins that can be harmful to your digestive tract.

Plastic cutting boards are more hygienic: According to a 1993 study, bacteria died after three days on a wood cutting board, but "multiplied out of control" on plastic ones. If you use plastic cutting boards, AskMen suggests washing it with a "mild solution of bleach and water" every week or so.

Coffee raises your blood pressure: Previous studies suggest this, but when you adjust the study for smoking, diet and alcohol intake, "the correlation between hypertension and coffee nearly disappeared."

You should eat three meals a day: Why? It's not natural, points out AskMen. "There is absolutely no scientific evidence that animals in the wild eat three regular meals a day," explains the men's journal. They suggest eating when you're hungry, but only enough to feel satisfied.

Artificial food coloring makes kids hyper: Bad research in the '70s started this myth, but it was later "ripped to shreds" by real scientists.

Healthlines: October 19, 2006

According to one expert, "increasing evidence that shortened sleeping times result in metabolic changes that may contribute to obesity, insulin resistance, diabetes and heart disease…"
Obesity may be linked to sleeping times (Reuters)

Illegal drug show promise for psychotherapy, including treatment of Parkinson's…
'Ecstasy' Linked To Survival Of Key Movement-related Cells In Brain (ScienceDaily)

File this under, "If it's too good to be true, it is"… another fountain of you escapes the human race, and another diet supplement doesn't appear to do anything, studies show…
Antiaging Hormone a Bust, Study Shows (WebMD)

Wednesday, October 18, 2006

Study: Benefits Outweigh Risks of Fish

Once again, fish is grabbing health headlines from the ABC World News to The Washington Post and everything in between.

What sparked the recent interest are two studies: one showing the health benefits of fish outweigh the risks to eating it and another that shows fish lowers death rates associated to heart disease by 36 percent. The studies were released by the Institute of Medicine (IOM) and Harvard School of Public Health, respectively.

While the news is good, experts suggest limiting fish consumption to two servings per week, and mixing up the type of fish your eating. Fish that eat other fish (like swordfish, tuna and shark) should be eaten least frequently. Besides, two servings of fatty fish (like salmon or mackerel) per week are enough to get the health benefits.

Fatty fish, of course, is high in omega-3 fatty acids which promote heart health heart and other health benefits. Unfortunately, fish absorb pollutants from the water like mercury and PCBs.

Remarkably, the IOM study concluded that the risks of toxic exposure are countered by the benefits of omega-3s even in pregnant women.

Healthlines: October 18, 2006

The end of intrusive colonoscopies? A new method, which provides doctors with a "3-D fly-through" of your colon without inserting a scope, shows promise…
Virtual colonoscopy effective in preventing colorectal cancer (Eurek Alert)

Time to turn down your iPod, one researcher reminds us that, as we get older, our hearing "is only going to get worse," so the sooner you damage your ears, the longer you have to live with crappy hearing…
More than 90 mins plugged-in music harmful: study (Reuters)

Abuse? A THREE YEAR study in Illinois found just 250 "cases of medical complications" due to "abusing caffeine pills" among 21 year olds. Is this what passes as a problem these days? 250 cases in a month sure, but over three years?
Study finds caffeine abuse among young Americans (CNN)

Tuesday, October 17, 2006

Do Microwaved Foods Have Less Vitamins?

The answer is yes and no. According to a short column at the NY Times, all cooking methods vaporize some of the vitamins in food. What matters is how long you cook the food, how hot and how much water is used. The more water, the higher the heat and the longer you cook, the more vitamins you lose.

"Microwave ovens often use less heat than conventional methods and involve shorter cooking times," reports the Times. Thus, microwaves, "generally do not destroy nutrients in food," concluded the piece.

Other interesting points from the piece:
  • The most heat-sensitive nutrients are folic acid, vitamin B and C.
  • Spinach cooked over a stove loses 77 percent of its folate, but none when it's microwaved.
  • Bacon cooked in a microwave has lower levels of "nitrosamines," which cause cancer.
  • Healthlines: October 17, 2006

    From the same state fair that brought us the Corn Dog, it's FRIED COCA-COLA… yes, you read that right…
    Newest Fair Food: Deep-Fried Coca-Cola (WFTV 9, Florida)

    Think that walking is just as healthy as jogging? Didn't I just read a story that said it was? Well…
    Aerobic exercise beats gentler 10,000 steps in health study (CNN)

    Why is Disney news so irresistible? Isn't it? Or am I the only one? At any rate, here's the latest: The company is cutting sugar content to 10 percent of calories and fat to 30 percent of calories in kids meals served at theme parks…
    Disney aiming to sell healthier food to kids (Reuters)

    Monday, October 16, 2006

    Coke Stole My Idea, Launches Calorie-Burning Bev

    There's a new soft drink hitting the stands in January of 2007 which claims to burn 50 to 100 calories per 12 ounce serving, reports the Independent (UK).

    Does this mean that if I drink 20 cans of this stuff per day (which should burn up to 2000 calories), I can eat all the onion rings and ice cream I want without fear of gaining weight? At least 2000 calories worth of this stuff on top of everything else I drink in a day? Please?

    The drink is called "Enviga" and, according to the Independent (UK), it will contain "caffeine, calcium and a green tea extract called epigallocatechin gallate." This mix should boost the metabolism and in turn, help you torch extra calories.

    As it turns out, the 12 ounce serving burns 100 calories "over the course of a day." So the answer is no, this doesn't open the door to guilt-free junk food binges.

    Last summer, I predicted this. I swear. After passing a billboard for "Pepsi One" and "Coke Zero," I asked a co-worker of mine, "when will Pepsi come out with -10?" Looks like Coke beat them to the punch.

    Enviga joins other "negative calorie" drinks like EliteFX's "Celsius,"
    which has been on store shelves since last year.

    Healthlines: October 16, 2006

    Check out this stunning ad, a part of Dove's Real-Beauty campaign…
    Dove Evolution (by way of Diet-Blog)

    More good news about vitamin D. Women with low levels of the "sunshine vitamin" progressed more quickly to "advanced states" of breast cancer…
    Vitamin D may help slow breast cancer -study (Reuters)

    A study on a group of blind people found that their facial expressions were similar to their family member's expressions…
    Family Heirloom: Facial Expressions (WebMD)

    Thursday, October 12, 2006

    Got Veggies? The Surprising Link…

    Women with higher fruit and vegetable intake tend to have denser, healthier bones according to a study by England's MRC Human Nutrition Research. The study, reported by WebMD, performed bone density scans and had participants keep a food diary over the course of a week.

    Yes, the study included just one test and a week's worth of food consumption data. It's not much, so don't quit drinking milk yet. However, the research suggests there's more to eating your veggies than just a healthy heart and lower blood pressure.

    The study also found that women get better about eating vegetables as they get older. Just 25 percent of adolescents ate five servings of fruits and vegetables, while 38 percent of young women and 50 percent of adults hit the mark.

    Healthlines: October 12, 2006

    Using the scales to inform "constructive changes in their eating and exercise habits," women in a new study who weighed themselves each day, were "82 percent less likely to regain lost weight compared to those who did not weigh themselves daily."
    Daily weighing key to keeping lost pounds off (Reuters)

    A drop in the number of men going to the emergency room during sports broadcasts on TV is followed by a surge afterward… a doctor "would not speculate on the possibility of post-game fights as a reason for the spike in cases."
    Study: Men delay medical care when the game's on (CNN)

    Australian killer fungus, which has already killed four in Canada, turns up in animals Stateside. How did it get here? Global warming, or the bottom of some traveler's shoe?
    Porpoises, Cat Dead from Australian Fungus (ABC News)

    Tuesday, October 10, 2006

    Fighting Disease with Canned Tomatoes

    Back in the 80s, scientist figured out that lycopene, a red substance found in tomatoes, is a potent antioxidant. Since then, the health benefits of lycopene have been piling up with a series of studies from around the globe, reports CNN.

    Lycopene can reduce the risk of prostate cancer in men by 34 percent, the risk of breast cancer in women by up to 50 percent and it's believed that the antioxidant fights heart disease, macular degeneration and
    atherosclerosis (hardening of the arteries). The red stuff is also suspected of lowering blood pressure and "bad" LDL cholesterol.

    To get the health benefits of lycopene, you'll need about 30 milligrams a day, or 1 1/2 cups of tomato juice.

    Interestingly enough, the best way to get lycopene isn't from farm fresh tomatoes, it's from the canned stuff. According to the CNN report, "Cooking tomatoes weakens the fruits' cell walls, which makes it easier for your body to absorb the lycopene." As it turns out, a half cup of spaghetti sauce has the lycopene of five raw tomatoes.

    So, instead of hitting the produce aisle, reach for a jar of Prego.

    Healthlines: October 11, 2006

    Maybe, but there's just something about cutting my eyeballs with a laser, call me old fashioned…
    LASIK Surgery: Safer Than Contacts? (WebMD)

    Does this have anything to do with that science experiment where you
    leave a penny in a glass of cola and it dissolves completely after a few days?
    Cola consumption linked to weaker bones in women (Reuters)

    Could a nationwide ban on trans fats prevent 228,000 heart attacks per year?
    A Dangerous Fat and Its Risky Alternatives (NY Times)

    Do Exercise, High Metabolism Lead to Early Death?

    Previous research suggests exercise can lead to cell damage, but recent findings show this does not necessarily lead to an early grave.

    It sounds crazy, but research has shown a link between seemingly healthy things, like exercise and a high metabolism, and an early death.

    Here's how that works. When you exercise, or your body metabolizes food, oxygen molecules (O2) can split into single oxygen atoms (O), otherwise known as free radicals. By itself, a single oxygen atom is not a threat, However, should it join up with hydrogen atoms, something called a reactive oxygen species (ROS) will form.
    As explained by Wikipedia, ROS can damage proteins in your body. Damaged proteins lead to decreased cell function. Decreased cell function leads to decreased organ function, and eventually the complete organism ceases to function.

    Because of free radical theory, you might expect active organisms die sooner than inactive organisms. But that's not necessarily the case. According to a Dutch study presented at this year's American Physiological Society conference, it's probable that "antioxidants help prolong life by limiting the damage that oxidative stress can cause to cells,"
    reports ScienceDaily.

    The study tracked three groups of mice. Two were active (runners) and one was inactive. One of the active groups were caged with running wheels (so they could exercise), but the other was not. As previous research predicated, the active groups had shorter life expectancies. However, the group caged with running wheels (the ones that exercised) lived longer. One possibility is that, "tissues in other areas of the body generated additional antioxidants to help cope with the increased oxidative stress brought on with increased activity and metabolic rate," one researcher explained.

    Healthlines: October 10, 2006

    The catch? Two years on a waiting list and a $4,000 price tag…
    Cat Lovers Lining Up for No-Sneeze Kitties (NY Times)

    According to a SF State University Study, the more media a young man consumes, the worse they feel about themselves…
    Body-image worries hit men too (CNN)

    Lung cancer is not just linked to smoking. It can be inherited too. The problem is greatest among women and nonsmokers…
    Nonsmokers Can Inherit Lung Cancer (WebMD)

    Monday, October 09, 2006

    Three, no, FOUR Cheers for the Mediterranean Diet

    A collection of studies reported by WebMD and Reuters shed light on the connections between a Mediterranean diet and problems like Alzheimer's and bad cholesterol.

    If you're concerned about Alzheimer's, your path to prevention may start with a Mediterranean diet, according to a Columbia University study (
    reported by WebMD). The fabled Mediterranean diet is high in fruits, vegetables, grains and nuts, but low in red meat. Most of the fat comes from olive oil and fatty fish. People on this diet had a 40 to 65 percent lower risk of getting Alzheimer's.

    Also reported by WebMD, Spanish researchers found walnuts protect arteries from the harmful affects of a high-fat meal. When you eat a rich meal, arteries are temporarily stiffened, or less able to expand in response to exercise. However, a handful of walnuts can keep your arteries flexible.

    Another study, by Sweden's Karolinska Institute and Uppsala University Hospital found that omega-3 supplements slowed the mental decline of patients with Alzheimer's. Omega-3 fatty acids are common in olive oil and fish.

    From our friends at Reuters,
    we also learned today that a Mediterranean diet lowers "bad" LDL cholesterol levels (even in people who are already on statin medications which lower LDL). Apparently, plant stanols, which the Mediterranean diet is rich in, helps "prevent the body from absorbing cholesterol from food," reported Reuters.

    The Reuter's report was based on a Dutch study which appears in the October, 2006 edition of The Journal of the American Diabetic Association.

    Healthlines for October 9, 2006

    Could there actually be some basis in truth for the term "egg head?"
    Head growth in infancy tied to later intelligence (Reuters)

    A short piece looks at airline safety… when accidents usually occur, which planes are safest and just how safe you are at the back of the plane…
    Is a Plane’s Back Row the Safest Place to Sit? (NY Times)

    Are you sure about your sources for health information? Beware of thinly veiled ads…
    A Mixed Buffet of Food Info (Washington Post)

    Thursday, October 05, 2006

    Scared of Fish? Don't Be

    When it comes to the decision to buy fish, most of us are pretty confused. It's rich in omega-3 fatty acids, but doesn't it have mercury and other toxins from our increasingly polluted oceans?

    Over at Washingtonpost.com,
    a column asks the experts about the risks and benefits of eating fish.

    A Harvard professor told the Post that the benefits are "100-fold greater" than the potential harm that fish can bring. One researcher argues that the type of mercury in fish (methylmercury, which I'll explain below), is not toxic to humans.

    However, it's not just mercury that you have to worry about in fish. Polychorinated biphenyls (PCBs) may also be found in fish. This stuff causes a whole host of problems for you skin, reproduction, liver and brain.

    The good news is that just two servings of fish per week can bring health benefits. And there are many benefits. "Rich in omega-3 fatty acids, a healthy kind of fat, seafood is known to help protect the heart, the brain and the joints," reports the Post. The article also points out that fish can help protect against strokes and mental disorders.

    Alas, mixed messages persist. One part of the government (The Department of Health) recommends two servings of fish per week while another (The Food and Drug Administration) recommends that young children and pregnant women limit some types of fish and avoid others all together, according to the Post.

    So how does fish get contaminated in the first place? Mercury, which is naturally present in nature and produced by industrial emissions, goes into the atmosphere, then settles into bodies of water. Next, bacteria convert it to a toxic chemical called "methylmercury." This stuff is absorbed by fish.

    Of course, the higher up the food chain you eat, the more mercury you get. So fish like tuna and swordfish is especially high in toxins.

    More interesting takeaways from the article…
    • "Any potential problems of mercury contamination appear to be limited to children and to women of childbearing age."
    • Many Japanese have methlymercury levels higher than the EPA's limits, but there is not a mental health crisis in that country.
    • "No matter what kind of seafood you choose, skip anything deep-fried… [it] has few or no omega-3 fatty acids."

    Healthlines: October 5, 2006

    Okay, I'm not sure why this type of coverage comes to us from Forbes, but it's a fun read nonetheless. Of particular entertainment value are the "Exercise Equivelant" calculations. For example, to work of Foie Gras, you'll need about 5.5 hours of Yoga.
    Fall's Most Fattening Foods (Forbes)

    You'd never believe the things they're doing with eggs these days… wine-poached eggs anyone?
    Eggs Take Their Place at the Dinner Table (NY Times)

    Wednesday, October 04, 2006

    Green Tea: The Benefits Keep Piling Up

    The latest column by Newsweek's Dean Ornish is bursting at the seems with benefits you can get from tea. It's almost too good to be true, but the benefits of tea span from your skeletal and cardiovascular system to your immune and digestive systems. Tea is linked to lower risks of cancer, too. But does all this mean people that drink tea live longer? According to a recent study, yes.

    In his column, Ornish describes a study in the Journal of the American Medical Association that, if you drink five or more cups of green tea per day, you have a 26 percent lower risk of premature death than someone who drinks less than one.

    Another study, published in the American Journal of Epidemiology in 1996, found people who drank two or more cups of tea per day were, "32 percent less likely to have cancers throughout their digestive tract." More than four cups lowered the risk by 63 percent.

    Other interesting tea findings reported by Ornish:
    • May help reduce the risk of diabetes by helping to regulate blood sugar
    • Can crank up your metabolism, lower fat absorption and trigger enzymes that reduce appetite
    • Boosts production of nitric oxide, a substance that dilates arteries; when arteries dilate, blood pressure drops
    • Reduces the formation of blood clots
    • Consumption of green tea is linked to increased bone density
    Green Tea is also shown to have anti-bacterial, anti-viral and anti-fungal benefits. This helps your body fight infection, and curiously, it helps fight cavities. Tea has fluoride, too, which is also good for teeth.

    According to the Ornish column, some of tea's benefits may come from antioxidants in the form of polyphenols like flavonoids and catechins. These substances, explains Ornish, "are scavengers for free radicals that otherwise could damage your cells."

    But not all teas are created equally. "Total concentration of the protective catechins in the blood after drinking green tea is three times higher than after drinking black tea," wrote Ornish.

    For the record:
    • People on planet earth drink more tea than anything except water.
    • 6.6 billion pounds of tea are produced each year.

    Check out these other posts:
    Green Tea May be Protecting Smokers
    Green Tea: Not so Hot

    Healthlines: October 4, 2006

    Just how hungry are you? Slow down and find out…
    How to Soothe the Hungry Brain (WebMD)

    They may live longer, but…
    Women's skin ages faster than men's: study (Reuters)

    New research contradicts conventional wisdom, but other benefits persist…
    Breastfed Babies Aren't Smarter (WebMD)

    Tuesday, October 03, 2006

    Sleep's Affect on Your Metabolism & Mood

    Recent studies show a lack of sleep has broader affects on health than you may have thought, reports CNN. If you're not getting enough sleep, you're more at risk for weight gain, diabetes and depression.

    The state of sleep in America
    Americans get an average of seven hours of sleep per night. That's one to two hours less than they got 40 years ago.

    The amount of sleep that we need varies. In general, we need seven to eight hours, but one doctor told CNN, "The target should be to get an adequate amount of sleep to feel rested during the day."

    One way to tell if you're getting enough sleep is how fast you fall asleep. A person who is getting enough rest should take 15 minutes to fall asleep. "If you're falling asleep in one or two minutes, you're probably sleep deprived," another doctor explained to CNN.

    Sleep and metabolism
    A 2004 University of Chicago study found men with just four hours of sleep per night had an 18 percent dip in leptin (the hormone that tells your brain that you're full) and a 28 percent increase in ghrelin (the hormone that triggers hunger).

    Sleep also affects the way your body deals with insulin. An insulin resistance can lead to weight gain and diabetes. People who aren't getting much sleep (less than 6.5 hours) need 30 to 40 percent more insulin do clear glucose out of their systems. That's according to another Chicago University study.

    Another University of Chicago study shows people who aren't getting enough sleep have unstable moods and higher levels of cistrol (a stress hormone). Also, "positive moods are lower in people with sleep loss," a University of Chicago researcher told CNN. She also noted that these changes are "typical of clinical depression."

    Healthlines: October 3, 2006

    Discovery of a way to turn off genes may revolutionize treatment of AIDS, cancer, heart disease and other maladies…
    2 Americans Win Nobel Prize in Medicine (ABC News)

    Aspirin not just for aching joints or preventing a second heart attack anymore, the wonder drug seems a bit more wonderful today…
    Anti-cancer effect of aspirin clarified (Reuters)

    "The compound in pill form could be used to treat human metastatic cancer…"
    Super Chow, Laced With Semi-synthetic Vitamin E Derivative, Inhibited Spread Of Cancer In Mice (ScienceDaily)

    Monday, October 02, 2006

    A Scientific Explanation for Out-of-Body Experiences

    Out of body experiences, sensing ghosts and other seemingly supernatural phenomena can be explained by misfiring nerves in the brain, reports the NY Times. I'm sorry, but the world, it seems, is a little less mystical today.

    The Times is reporting on some of the latest neuroscience experiments where the application of "mild electric current" to certain parts of the brain causes subjects to feel as though they're leaving their body or being shadowed by a ghost.

    In two different experiments, women who received stimulation to a part of the brain called the angular gyrus were either spooked by feelings of a ghostly presence or looking down at their body from the ceiling.

    How could this be? Basically, the electric stimulus was interfering with the brain's perception of self. This perception is a construct of many stimuli; from the temperature that your fingers feel to the signals your knee sends about its position relative to your chest. Once the perception of these stimuli is interrupted, strange experiences occur.

    Strange, but not supernatural; out-of-body experiences and ghostly sensations seem to be the cause of your brain misinterpreting reality. But it's easy to see how people mistake these misinterpretations for mystical experiences.

    "The felt sensation of the body is so seamless, so familiar, that people do not realize it is a creation of the brain, even when something goes wrong and the brain is perturbed," reported the Times.

    One expert told the Times, "While it may be tempting to invoke the supernatural when this body sense goes awry… the true explanation is a very natural one: the brain’s attempt to make sense of conflicting information."

    Healthlines: October 2, 2006

    Mom's voice vs. a smoke alarm? Millions of years of evolution win!
    Study: Kids who slept through fire alarm tone awoke to mom's voice (CNN)

    "Obese people's desire to eat triggers the same brain action as addicts' desire for drugs…"
    'Emotional Eating' Like Drug Craving (WebMD)

    Asprin or fish oil? Americans like the latter, Europeans apparently favor the former…
    In Europe It’s Fish Oil After Heart Attacks, but Not in U.S. (NY Times)

    Thursday, September 28, 2006

    What Your Finger Length Says About You

    Women with ring fingers longer than their index fingers tend to be better at sports, according to a British study (reported by Reuters). At first, this sounded to me like a kind of phrenology (the crackpot science, popularized in the 19th century, which purported to determine one's personality based on the shape of their head). However, after doing a bit of digging, it turns out that there may be a scientific basis for the finding. And it turns out that finger length can tell more than whether or not little sally will turn out to be a tennis star.

    According to a study by the University of Bath (
    reported by EurekAlert) on the finger length of academics, "the length of fingers is genetically linked to the sex hormones." Short index fingers mean more testosterone. Long index fingers mean more estrogen.

    The Bath study found that math and science academics tend to have long index fingers, academics in the humanities tended to have long ring fingers.

    The difference in length between ring and index finger is important as well. A small study at Bath showed the smaller the difference between index and ting finger, the higher a person's test scores.

    Finger length can indicate other things as well. For example, another article at EurekAlert explains how short ring fingers suggest men will be more "physically aggressive." Index-to-ring finger ratio may indicate sexuality as well. According to a UC Berkley study (
    reported by the BBC), "lesbian women have a greater difference in length between their ring finger and index finger than straight women do… the same pattern was also found in homosexual men."

    Pound360 Archive

    About Me

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    I started pound360 to channel my obsession with vitamins, running and the five senses. Eventually, I got bored focusing on all that stuff, so I came back from a one month hiatus in May of 2007 (one year after launching Pound360) and broadened my mumblings here to include all science.