Wednesday, June 27, 2007

Wait, Echinacea DOES Help Colds?

Last year I mentioned in a post how echinacea probably doesn't do anything for colds. This backedup research from 2005 that found echinacea didn't work any better than a placebo in fighting colds. But according to the latest research, "echinacea may not only help reduce the symptoms of a cold but may help prevent infection with some cold viruses," according to a CNN report.

What are we supposed to believe?

According to the University of Connecticut's Dr. Craig Coleman, who worked on the latest study, previous research only studied one type of cold virus. That's a problem since there are around 200 differnt viruses that cause a cold. Also, the 2005 research I cited earlier was done on a much smaller group than the U Conn study.

Results from the latest research show echinacea cuts cold risk by 58 percent. Take it with vitamin C and your risk goes down 86 percent. That's a pretty big impact.

For the conspiracy nuts out there, consider this: "drug companies cannot patent such a widely used herbal product," according to the CNN report. Am I suggesting that drug companies, a government influenced by the drug lobby, or schools influenced by withheld funding have tampered with, or controled previous echinacea research? Maybe not in a positve way. It could be that the wrong research (stuff that focuses on one kind of cold virus and small sample sizes) has gotten all the funding. How crazy does that sound next to another of today's headlines: "CIA
Turned to Mobsters in an Effort to Kill Fidel Castro."

Tuesday, June 26, 2007

200 Extrasolar Planets And Counting...

A while back I blogged about my fascination with the solar system's moons. Not is there brilliant activity on these things, there are lots of them: 172. But before reading this post's headline, did you know that humankind has discovered even more planets outside of our solar system? According to a recent article at Space.com, such discoveries are "so common that more and more don't even get reported outside scientific circles."

The reason for all the discoveries, of course, is technological advancement. "Astronomers have more tools than ever, and technology is so advanced that planet discovery has become almost mundane," reported Space.com. Some important extrasolar planetary facts, milestones:

Monday, June 25, 2007

Phantom Galaxy Baffles Astronomers

Scientists are puzzled by a galaxy-sized cloud of hydrogen that appears to be a still-born galaxy, according to a report at New Scientist. The latest research, "bolsters the idea that the gas cloud is the only known example of a 'dark galaxy' that never kick-started star birth."

One of the mysteries sparked by this discovery is it's surprising mass. According to astronomers, the ratio of baryonic (normal) to dark matter, "inferred by studying the rotation speed of the cloud," is unheard of at 100:1 to 500:1. "The well of material rotates too quickly to be explained by the observed amount of gas. Something else must serve as gravitational glue,"
explained a Space.com article on this discovery last year.

Some scientist theorize dark matter was the catalyst that created stars and galaxies. In one theory, dark matter in the early universe "condensed like water droplets on a spider web," and then attracted baryonic matter like hydrogen. Once the concentration of baryonic matter reached critical mass, a star was born.

Dark matter makes up about a quarter of the matter-energy in the universe. Baryonic accounts for just four percent. The rest is
dark energy (the stuff thought to explain why the Universe is expanding).

Tuesday, June 19, 2007

Check Out How Miserable the US Diet Is

By way of Digg, I found a piece called “Ten Surprising Nutrition Facts,” which is actually pretty surprising. I’m not sure about the site, “DrWeil.com”, but this fella’ Dr. Weil looks like a regular on Oprah, so I’m sure this info is legit (besides, the citations there are pretty thorough).

On the list are some bad surprises and good surprises. But the bad are a lot more fun. For example, we Americans have a diet based on three varieties of plant foods: corn, soy and wheat.

In contrast, Australian “hunter-gatherers” today live on 800 (surprise #1). Variety in diet, of course, is a key to good health.

Not only are we down to three plant foods, many of us can’t seem to get enough junk food. A third of Americans get almost half of their calories from Doritos, Coke, Snickers and other junk food (surprise #2). No wonder Americans are eating 300 more calories per day than they did 20 years ago (surprise #3).

One reason for our terrible diet could be the price of fresh fruits and vegetables. Produce prices are up 40 percent in the last 20 years while soft drink prices have fallen 23 percent (surprise #5).

Another thing, “Vitamin D deficiency is widespread,” according to the piece. Don’t even get me started on that…

D is the iPhone of the Vitamin World
“Astounding Bombshell” About Vitamin D
Vitamin D Supplement is the Latest “Wonder Pill”

Monday, June 18, 2007

Another Slap in the Face for Pluto

Last year, Pluto was “unceremoniously stripped of its status as a planet” by the International Astronomical Union (IAU). It was reduced to the status of “dwarf planet.” But at least it was the biggest dwarf planet. Until this week when new calculations showed rival dwarf, Eris, is 27 percent bigger than Pluto (check out coverage at Scientific American).

Like Pluto, Eris has an elliptical orbit around the sun, true planets on the other hand have circular orbits. Another thing Eris and Pluto have in common is their (likely) composition of ice and rock. One scientist referred to Eris as “covered in an almost perfectly uniform white frost… like a white billiard ball out there."

Eris’ irregular orbit takes it 3.5 to 10 billion miles from Earth. Interestingly enough, Pluto’s orbit stretches as far from the Earth as 5 billion miles, so Eris comes closer to us than Pluto for periods of its 560-year solar orbit. In contrast, Pluto takes 250 years to circle the sun.

With a diameter of 1,500 miles, Eris is roughly half the size of Earth’s moon. As far as diameter, Pluto is a mere 1,400 miles across.

There is one thing that Pluto will always have on Eris and the estimated 50 other dwarf planets in our solar system, Pluto was the first. And so far, it’s the only one with a Disney character named after it. But since we’re running out of Greek and Roman gods to name the planets in our system, and throughout the Galaxy, I’d bet Disney Characters and ancient politicians are next.

By the way, here are the
requirements for planet status, as agreed upon by the IAU:

Thursday, June 14, 2007

Do Whales Live for 200 Years?

Run a quick Google search for “whale lifespan” and you’ll find answers ranging from 20 to 90 years old. But evidence from a widely reported incident in Alaska suggests whales may live well into the 100s.

According to the BBC report on this, scientists pulled a “bomb” fragment from a recently deceased bowhead whale carcass. The crazy part? The “bomb” has not been manufactured since 1885. And since whalers probably did not hunt young whales, the bowhead may have been close to 130 years old. Scientists figure the whale had this fragment in its shoulder since 1890. Said one expert, “having the weapon lodged in its shoulder might have been uncomfortable for the whale, but it must have got used to it.” It must have.
So how long can a whale live for? “Scientists say it is rare to find a whale over 100 years old but believe some may reach 200,” reports the BBC.

A couple of interesting side notes. First, having weapon fragments lodged in the body for long periods of time is not unique to whales. Recently, a 77-year-old Chinese woman had a bullet removed from her head that had been lodged there since World War Two, reported Reuters. Apparently, she lost consciousness after being shot and didn’t realize a bullet remained despite regular headaches, foaming at the mouth and talking “nonsense” like “she had gone mad” for the rest of her life according to reports.

The second side note has to do with maximum recorded animal lifespans. Check out this list from “The Book of Lists.” The oldest recorded animal lifespan was that of a tortoise. The creature lived to be 188 years old. Second on the list was a Lake Sturgeon at 152 and rounding out the top three is a human that lived for 122 years.

Sleep In On Weekends & Risk Monday ‘Jetlag’

Just this past week, I couldn’t figure out why I was so wiped out on Monday. I got tons and tons of sleep on Friday and Saturday night. In fact, I slept about four hours longer than I usually do each morning last weekend. And it seems that was the problem.

According to results from a Brown University study (reported by Reuters), “staying up late and sleeping in over the weekend resets the body's internal clock to a later time.” This leaves one “foggy” and “less attentive” on Monday morning.

So to avoid a dreaded Case of the Mondays, “get up at the roughly the same time every morning, even if [you] stay up late on Friday and Saturday night.”

Wednesday, June 13, 2007

Gargantuan "Chicken-Like Dinosaur" Fossil Found

The remains of a 26-foot-long, 3,100 pound "chicken-like dinosaur" were unearthed recently in China, according to a Discovery News report. The "biggest bird-like dinosaur" was the size of a T-Rex and to add terror to madness, this thing was a meat eater.

Check out the pic here. This thing was ugly, and resembles a chimera of sorts (a cross between a dog, snake and chicken, I'd say).

Dubbed "Gigantoraptor erlianensis," the creature lived about 85 million years ago and outweighs similar known species by 35 times. ""If you saw a mouse as big as a pig you would be very surprised," said Chinese Academy of Sciences researcher Xing Xu, who discovered Gigantoraptor in Mongolia.

What's particularly interesting about this find is that it may rewrite the book on dinosaur evolution. "The find may contradict an evolutionary theory that as carnivorous dinosaurs got smaller they became more bird like," according to the Discovery piece.

Do Hair, Finger Nails Keep Growing After Death?

I remember hearing this a while back and thinking, wow that’s creepy. But according to a blog at New Scientist, it’s just a myth. Too bad, I kind of liked the idea for some reason.

Anyway, according to the blog, what’s really happening is surrounding tissue is “drying out and shrinking away” giving the appearance that hair and hails are still growing.

To minimize this effect, funeral parlors often apply moisturizer to corpses.

Tuesday, June 12, 2007

A Growing Case Against Biofuels?

Okay so "going green" and recycling are all the rage these days. You know that. You also hear a lot of people talking about corn-based ethanol and other biofuels. And you probably shrug your shoulders and say, sure why not? Brazil is making biofuel work, right? Yes. But Brazil is not the United States. Did you know that? Really?

Did you know that Brazil has more fertile soil (think higher crop yields), a better climate for agriculture than the States, its people drive less than Americans and population density there is lower? These factors add up to a model that we can't reproduce here in the United States,
I learned via a recent feature at New Scientist. According to a Worldwatch Institute study, it takes 3 percent of Brazil's agriculture land to serve 10 percent of its oil consumption. The U.S. on the other hand would require 30 percent of its farmland to meet this level.

Of course, all the pesticides and fertilizer required to grow the crops that would be converted into biofuel carry a steep environmental cost. And think of all the fuel used to create and distribute this stuff. Think of all the fuel required to run the machinery that cultivates and harvests fuel crops, then consider the machinery used to convert the plants into fuel. Actually, don't worry about it. David Pimentel of Cornell University already has. His conclusion: "corn ethanol creates more greenhouse gases than burning fossil fuels."

Fear not biofuel supporters, all is not lost. There are some adventurous companies out there trying to come up with more efficient biofeuel creation processes. For example, Canada's logen is working on a process to create biofuel using a tropical fungus that can simplify the process (cutting out steps that cause pollution).

D is the iPhone of the Vitamin World

The health world can't stop buzzing about the growing body of evidence supporting vitamin D's cancer-fighting properties.

The latest report by the University of California San Diego is being called "the most rigorous study yet,"
by Time. And it shows a 60 percent lower risk for cancer among women who are on vitamin D supplements. What's new about this study is that blood levels of vitamin D were monitored. Also, the study shows it's not just any D that will do, but D3. This type is common in stand-alone vitamin D supplements, but not as common in multivitamins where D2 is typically used.

So where did the recent focus on D begin? According to Time, it was a study showing cancer rates were higher in northern latitudes than southern ones. Since sunlight hits southern latitudes more intensely, researchers suspected a connection. Sunlight of course is used by your body to create vitamin D. And to tie this post together, the type of vitamin D that your body synthesizes from sunlight is D3 or "cholecalciferol."


More on D...
"Astounding Bombshell" About Vitamin D
Vitamin D Supplement is the Latest "Wonder Pill"

Scientists Store Data on Nerve Cells

Yes, this brings us closer to cybernetic enhancements that let us know things without learning them. Yes, this brings us closer to the apocalypse predicted in the Terminator movies. Yes, this is bad news for the memory supplement industry, too.

Over in Israel, scientists have managed to “taught new firing patterns to a network of neurons by targeting specific points of the network with a chemical called picrotoxin,”
reports New Scientist.

Now, the article doesn’t get into the danger of mankind being overthrown by an army of invincible cyborgs, but it does hint that the new technology may be “useful for monitoring biological systems like the brain and blood.”

Monday, June 11, 2007

Io Eruption Shoots Debris 200 Miles High

We'll tell you what, if Pound360 were run by any more nerds than it already is, we would keep a blog dedicated strictly to the moons of our solar system. Part of the reason is that there are so many of them (172 as of this posting... go ahead, you can admit you didn't think there were more than a couple dozen), and some of them moons are a lot more active than some of the planets in this system.

For example, I just came across a series of pictures that show a massive ash eruption on Jupiter's moon, Io. The series was snapped by the New Horizon's probe as it speeds out to Pluto and the rest of the
Kuiper Belt. Check out the awesome pictures of Io's Tvashtar volcano erupting here. According to the New Horizon's site, that flurry extents 200 miles into space. Look closely at that pic and you'll see two other volcanoes (Masubi and Zal) going off, too.

When's the last time you heard of a volcano going off on Mars? How about Mercury? There is truly more to this little corner of the galaxy than nine --
er, eight -- planets.

Landmark Autism Case Ignores Science

Five thousand families of autistic children are attempting to raid a fund held by the National Vaccine Injury Compensation Program. The only problem is, when it comes to a cause for autism, "numerous scientific studies have ruled out vaccines as being to blame," according to an AFP report.

Basically what's happening here is parents believe it's more than a coincidence that their children showed signs of autism after receiving certain vaccinations. I can see where they're coming from, but I think they're wrong. Consider this. The FDA forced vaccine manufacturers to remove a mercury-based preservative called thimerosal from their products in 1999. So autism rates should have crashed, right? Wrong. After thimerosal was removed, "autism rates continued to soar, with between 10 to 17 percent new cases a year," reported the AFP article.

Despite this, there's a good chance the families of autistic kids will win their suit. That's because "the court's ruling will depend not on the weight of scientific evidence but on a legal standard of plausibility." One lawyer representing an autistic child's family seemed particularly excited by this apparent flaw in the legal system. Said lawyer Kevin Conway, "There is a difference between scientific proof and legal proof. One is a 95 percent certainty and the other is ... 50 percent and a feather."

I'm all for finding an answer to the recent outbreak of autism, but you can't sue one up. There may be a ruling in favor of the families with autistic kids, but this won't give us a cure.

Water on Mars?

"New analysis of pictures taken by the exploration rover Opportunity reveals what appear to be small ponds of liquid water on the surface of Mars," reports New Scientist. Click on that link to check out the pic, too. I'll let you be the judge. All I'll say is that, from what I know, the pics are transmitted back to Earth in black-and-white, then they're given the color treatment by analysts (and the supposed water looks very, very blue... Disneyland pond blue).

The finding is being reported by an advanced image processing team at Lockheed Martin led by physicist Ron Levin.

Levin admits the images could show very clear ice. And that's more likely what it is (Mars is known to have water ice in
its polar ice caps). Many scientists believe Mars' atmosphere is too thin to support water. But if it's there, does this mean the chances of finding life on the Red Planet are increased? Of course. Such a finding "would significantly boost the odds that living organisms could survive on or near the surface of Mars," said Levin.

For the record,
NASA reported in December that "photographs have revealed bright new deposits seen in two gullies on Mars that suggest water carried sediment through them sometime during the past seven years."

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.