The Null Device
Posts matching tags 'health'
A study of remains and literature from ancient Greece and Egypt suggests that cancer is a modern, man-made disease, one which was extremely rare in the ancient world. Which suggests that the fact that people these days can expect to get cancer if they live long enough is not due to an inherent cancer-proneness in human biology but rather due to other factors such as pervasive environmental carcinogens.
Finding only one case of the disease in the investigation of hundreds of Egyptian mummies, with few references to cancer in literary evidence, proves that cancer was extremely rare in antiquity. The disease rate has risen massively since the Industrial Revolution, in particular childhood cancer – proving that the rise is not simply due to people living longer.
Professor Rosalie David, at the Faculty of Life Sciences, said: “In industrialised societies, cancer is second only to cardiovascular disease as a cause of death. But in ancient times, it was extremely rare. There is nothing in the natural environment that can cause cancer. So it has to be a man-made disease, down to pollution and changes to our diet and lifestyle.”
According to new research, we have at most ten more years of use of antibiotics before the world is overrun with completely antibiotic-resistant diseases, and life, once again, becomes nasty, brutish and short:
Transplant surgery becomes virtually impossible. Organ recipients have to take immune-suppressing drugs for life to stop rejection of a new heart or kidney. Their immune systems cannot fight off life-threatening infections without antibiotics.
Removing a burst appendix becomes a dangerous operation once again. Patients are routinely given antibiotics after surgery to prevent the wound becoming infected by bacteria. If bacteria get into the bloodstream, they can cause life-threatening septicaemia.At least then we don't need to worry about dying of cancer, because, chances are, pneumonia, TB or cholera (or, indeed, complications from childbirth or sporting accidents or other things people don't worry about these days) will have picked most of us off before then.
Of course, unlike in the pre-antibiotic era, we have technological advancements such as bioinformatics, which opens the possibility of new treatments being developed. However, no such deus ex machina appears on the horizon yet, and the clock is ticking.
If former Microsoft executive Nathan Myrhvold (now involved in malaria-eradication programmes funded by Bill Gates) has his way, we may soon have miniature mosquito-killing laser turrets:
Now the fun stuff: Shoot mosquitoes out of the sky with lasers. ("A pinkie-suck idea.") It can be built with consumer electronics -- a Blu-ray player has a blue laser, a laser printer has fast-moving mirror. You can use them around clinics. The shoot 100% organic photons. You can measure wingbeat frequency and size the of flying insect and decide whether it is worth killing. Moore's law makes technology so cheap we can decide whether or not to kill a bug.
They have one here, built from parts purchased on eBay. They are using a green laser pointer instead of a killing laser, for safety reasons. We see a box of skeeters being tracked and zapped. We hear the mosquito wingbeat.There are also ultra-slow-motion videos of mosquitoes being zapped with a live laser here. Isn't technology awesome?
(via Boing Boing)
A pub in Barnsley is using a trick borrowed from the Japanese whaling fleet to flout England's indoor smoking ban. The Cutting Edge has set up a "smoking research centre" in a room at the pub, and requires punters wishing to smoke in this room to fill in a survey.
Recently, the media (and not only the tabloids, but the Guardian, the BBC and Reuters, to name a few) was full of headlines suggesting that consuming even small amounts of alcohol would significantly increase one's risk of cancer. Now, Charlie Stross tears that report apart, revealing that the paper in question actually said the opposite, even if its abstract, for some unfathomable reason, didn't:
... there was no dose response between the number of drinks the women consumed and their risk for all cancers. Women drinking no alcohol at all had higher incidences for all cancers than 95% of the drinking women.
The actual incidents of all cancers was 5.7% among the nondrinkers. The cancer incidents were lower among the women drinking up to 15 drinks a week: 5.2% among those consuming ≤2 drinks/week; 5.2% of those drinking 3-6 drinks/week; and 5.3% among those drinking 7-14 drinks a week. [Table 1.]Of course, this leads to the question arises of why the abstract of the report contradicted its actual content, instead presenting a message at odds with it. Charlie suggests that it's not a mistake, but rather the result of Bush-era ideology, in which science receiving federal funding had to echo the official ideological line:
"Alcohol is evil. We know this because it is True. And it's especially bad for women because, well, women shouldn't drink. If you run a study to confirm this belief and the facts don't back you up, the facts are wrong. So tell the public the Truth (alcohol is always evil) and bury the facts; the press won't be able to tell the difference because they're (a) lazy (or overworked, take your pick) and (b) statistically innumerate."
This is pernicious fallout from the way the 2000-2008 Bush administration did business. Their contempt for science was so manifest that distortion and suppression of results that undermined a desired political objective became a routine reflex. If the science doesn't back you up, lie about it or suppress it. That administration may have been shown the door (and replaced by one that so far seems to have a pragmatic respect for facts), but the disease has spread internationally, becoming endemic wherever ideologically motivated politicians who hold their electorate in contempt find themselves seeking a stick to beat the public with.
The first ever case has been reported of someone sending emails in their sleep. The emails were reported as being haphazardly formatted, in a mixture of upper and lower case, and written in strange language, though more or less comprehensible:
The 44-year-old woman, whose case is reported by researchers from the University of Toledo in the latest edition of medical journal Sleep Medicine, had gone to bed at around 10pm, but got up two hours later and walked to the next room.
She then turned on the computer, connected to the internet, and logged on by typing her username and password to her email account. She then composed and sent three emails.
One read: "Come tomorrow and sort this hell hole out. Dinner and drinks, 4.pm,. Bring wine and caviar only." Another said simply, "What the……."
Analysis of street cocaine found in Britain has shown that your typical sample is about 10% pure, with the rest being made up, essentially, of anything white and powdery, including some rather nasty chemicals:
Much of the seized cocaine is found to have been cut with phenacetin - a pharmaceutical drug banned some years ago in Britain and most other nations for causing kidney failure and cancer.
Other drugs used for cutting or "bashing" cocaine include lignocaine (a dental painkiller), tetramisole (used for de-worming pets) and boric acid (used to kill cockroaches).Not that such revelations are likely to dampen demand for what is essentially Britain's national drug. After all, the risk of an agonising death from cancer hasn't put many people off bacon, and cocaine feeds into the celebrity-obsessed, superficially success-oriented bling culture of Blatcherite Britain; and even if people know that the £2.50 line of coke they do is unlikely to be like anything their footballer/WAG/indie-star idols touch, suspension of disbelief is a powerful thing.
The problem, of course, is that cocaine is, by definition, sold by criminals, and there is no incentive for anything remotely like fair dealing. One answer, of course, would be to legalise cocaine and regulate it as stringently as alcohol and tobacco are. As soon as that happened, coke dealers would go the way of bathtub gin merchants and the quality and reliability would go up; Waitrose would carry organic, fair-trade cocaine from day one, and for those on a budget, £3.79 would get you a line of Tesco Value coke (3% purity, but cut with thoroughly innocuous substances). Lidl would undoubtedly come to the party with a janky-looking faux-authentic store brand; "Medellin Hills", perhaps, or "Mr. Montana's"?
Of course, legalising drugs is the sort of thing only somebody with an excess of common sense would advocate, and there is no way that it would ever happen in the real world. Thankfully, there are other, more politically viable, possibilities. Given that the majority of the active ingredient in street cocaine is not actually cocaine but various tranquillisers (hence the feeling of numbness which many naïve cokeheads assume as proof of the drug's authenticity), the next logical step would be to do away with the illegal substance altogether and sell perfectly legal pseudococaine. It'd have the right colour, texture and consistency for doing a social line at a party, would function excellently as a prop for one's fantasies of celebrity glamour, and would even give one a mild buzz, though would contain nothing more dangerous (or illegal) than a few stimulants and tranquillisers, heavily diluted.
A nursing home in Düsseldolf has come up with a novel way of dealing with stray Alzheimer's patients; they set up a fake bus stop outside the home:
“It sounds funny,” said Old Lions Chairman Franz-Josef Goebel, “but it helps. Our members are 84 years-old on average. Their short-term memory hardly works at all, but the long-term memory is still active. They know the green and yellow bus sign and remember that waiting there means they will go home.” The result is that errant patients now wait for their trip home at the bus stop, before quickly forgetting why they were there in the first place.
(via Boing Boing)
Wii Fit, Nintendo's fitness-training system for the Wii, has recently been released, selling out rapidly. Now the first reports of it in action are coming in, and they're a mixed bag. Engadget's tester has found annoying design flaws with it and generally found it disappointing, and this guy describes it as "absolutely wretched". This guy, however, has used it for seven weeks (thanks to having a Japanese version), and has gotten good results—having, it must be said, put in the hard yards (about 35 hours in total).
Research is showing that a compound found in cannabis has antipsychotic effects. The compound, cannabidiol, naturally occurs in cannabis, though it is perhaps no surprise that high-potency varieties of "skunk" now on the market, which have been bred for maximum THC (the psychoactive compound in cannabis, which has been linked to psychosis) have less cannabidiol than older varieties.
Which, IMHO, is an argument for legalisation and regulation of cannabis. Alcohol is regulated; relatively safe varieties are easily available, and those selling liquor with ingredients considered unsafe (from poisonous ethanol to excessive amounts of thujone) face prosecution. With cannabis-induced psychosis looming as a public health issue, perhaps a law restricting the ratio of THC to cannabidiol would ameliorate the crisis?
The other solution, and one infinitely more culturally appropriate for the Anglo-Saxon world, is the familiar zero-tolerance Reaganite war-on-drugs approach. Perhaps if we build more prisons, jail more users and dealers (and perhaps execute a few particularly bad apples for good measure to put the fear of God into potheads), and institute a regime of mass surveillance and appropriate abridgements to civil liberties to catch offenders, then maybe, just maybe,
the damned horse can fly we'll eventually achieve a drug-free society.
(via Mind Hacks)
Studies have found that our water supplies are full of pharmaceutical substances, from antibiotics to antidepressants to birth control drugs. Not to worry, though; the heady pharmaceutical cocktail is far too dilute to have any immediate effects.
Of the 28 major metropolitan areas where tests were performed on drinking water supplies, only Albuquerque; Austin, Texas; and Virginia Beach, Va.; said tests were negative. The drinking water in Dallas has been tested, but officials are awaiting results. Arlington, Texas, acknowledged that traces of a pharmaceutical were detected in its drinking water but cited post-9/11 security concerns in refusing to identify the drug.
Contamination is not confined to the United States. More than 100 different pharmaceuticals have been detected in lakes, rivers, reservoirs and streams throughout the world. Studies have detected pharmaceuticals in waters throughout Asia, Australia, Canada and Europe - even in Swiss lakes and the North Sea.Meanwhile, tht beefburger you're eating may well be full of delicious steroid goodness:
Cattle, for example, are given ear implants that provide a slow release of trenbolone, an anabolic steroid used by some bodybuilders, which causes cattle to bulk up. But not all the trenbolone circulating in a steer is metabolized. A German study showed 10 percent of the steroid passed right through the animals.There you have it: it's a scientific fact that eating beef makes you more masculine.
Scientists have developed a vaccine against cocaine, which permanently reconfigures the immune system to attack and destroy cocaine molecules before they can reach the brain:
The developers of the new cocaine vaccine, known as 'TA-CD', are doing essentially the same thing by cleverly combining a deactivated cocaine molecule with a deactivated cholera toxin molecule. The deactivated cholera toxin is enough to trigger the immune system, which finds and adapts to the new invader.
If effective, you can see that some parents might want to vaccinate their non-addicted, perfectly healthy children, so they are 'immune' to cocaine. The difference here, is that once given, the 'immunity' may be permanent. In other words, you would make the decision that your child will never be able to experience the effects of cocaine for the rest of their life.Another option (and one with a whiff of authoritarianism about it, though perhaps not much more than the militarised, prison-filling War On Drugs) would be a compulsory mass vaccination programme, perhaps of all school-aged children. Implemented on a large enough scale, this could be the only way of killing off the cocaine cartels other than legalising the stuff (politically unpalatable) or rendering coca extinct by biological means (an ecological non-starter).
A vaccine against heroin may also be possible, though one wouldn't want to ever be in need of strong painkillers if one has had one of those.
(via Mind Hacks)
In recent health-related news: a cure may have been discovered for the debilitating condition of unrequited love. Researchers in Alabama and Iran have found that a combination of the hormones of melatonin and vasotocin may alleviate the condition:
Intense romantic love is associated with specific physiological, psychological and behavioural changes, including euphoria, obsessiveness, and a craving for closeness with the target.
The key is the pea-sized pineal gland, which produces melatonin. This hormone plays a key role in the circadian cycle. It has also shown anti-dopamine activities in part of the brain, while a second hormone, arginine-vasotocin, also has a key role in romantic love. The researchers suggest that giving the two hormones may be a cure for non-returned romantic love.(Alabama and Iran? I wonder whether there's any deeper significance to two places known for religiously-based social conservatism being at the forefront of research to control a powerful and sometimes disruptive phenomenon. Is it heartening or disturbing that, even as talk of a US/Iranian war grows louder, US and Iranian scientists can join forces in the War On Unrequited Love?)
Also in the same article: taking showers may cause a neurodegenerative condition associated with inhalation of manganese, keeping dogs may cause breast cancer and sunlight may increase violent impulses.
A British woman has been denied permanent residency in Australia because she is too skinny.
They refused to grant—you have to clear certain things and part of it is health and they said that my BMI was too low and so they basically said that unless I put on near on 10 kilos that they were going to deport me.
The ever-useful Boing Boing brings us more handy advice; this time, what to do if your eyeball pops out of its socket.
The next trend in lifestyle-enhancing medication could be oxytocin inhalers. The hormone enhances trust, confidence and sociability and can be nasally delivered, making it an instant treatment for the symptoms of everything from autism to anxiety disorders.
Of course, since oxytocin makes people more trusting, it could also be used surreptitiously to obtain compliance from unwitting parties, for anything from sex to salesmanship to outright robbery.
Michael Chorost, born partially deaf, completely lost his hearing in his mid-30s, depriving him of the pleasure of listening to his favourite piece of music (Ravel's Boléro; one of the few pieces which his condition allowed him to appreciate). He was fitted with a "bionic ear", an implant that processes sound and converts it into neural impulses, at a resolution just good enough to understand speech, though nowhere near enough to appreciate music. So he studied up on neurology, music and psychoacoustics, liaised with experts around the world and hacked the implant's firmware to let him enjoy music again:
When the device was turned on a month after surgery, the first sentence I heard sounded like "Zzzzzz szz szvizzz ur brfzzzzzz?" My brain gradually learned how to interpret the alien signal. Before long, "Zzzzzz szz szvizzz ur brfzzzzzz?" became "What did you have for breakfast?" After months of practice, I could use the telephone again, even converse in loud bars and cafeterias. In many ways, my hearing was better than it had ever been. Except when I listened to music.
About a year after I received the implant, I asked one implant engineer how much of the device's hardware capacity was being used. "Five percent, maybe." He shrugged. "Ten, tops." I was determined to use that other 90 percent. I set out on a crusade to explore the edges of auditory science. For two years tugging on the sleeves of scientists and engineers around the country, offering myself as a guinea pig for their experiments. I wanted to hear Boléro again.
I suggested rebooting and sampling Boléro through a microphone. But the postdoc told me he couldn't do that in time for my plane. A later flight wasn't an option; I had to be back in the Bay Area. I was crushed. I walked out of the building with my shoulders slumped. Scientifically, the visit was a great success. But for me, it was a failure. On the flight home, I plugged myself into my laptop and listened sadly to Boléro with Hi-Res. It was like eating cardboard.
Hold on. Don't jump to conclusions. I backtrack to 5:59 and switch to Hi-Res. That heart-stopping leap has become an asthmatic whine. I backtrack again and switch to the new software. And there it is again, that exultant ascent. I can hear Boléro's force, its intensity and passion. My chin starts to tremble. I open my eyes, blinking back tears. "Congratulations," I say to Emadi. "You have done it." And I reach across the desk with absurd formality and shake his hand.But being able to hear Boléro again wasn't the end of it; with his new hearing, Chorost started getting into the music that he hadn't been able to hear before, and he's confident that it will improve further:
In his studio, Rettig plays me Ravel's String Quartet in F Major and Philip Glass' String Quartet no. 5. I listen carefully, switching between the old software and the new. Both compositions sound enormously better on 121 channels. But when Rettig plays music with vocals, I discover that having 121 channels hasn't solved all my problems. While the crescendos in Dulce Pontes' Cançào do Mar sound louder and clearer, I hear only white noise when her voice comes in. Rettig figures that relatively simple instrumentals are my best bet - pieces where the instruments don't overlap too much - and that flutes and clarinets work well for me. Cavalcades of brass tend to overwhelm me and confuse my ear.
And some music just leaves me cold: I can't even get through Kraftwerk's Tour de France. I wave impatiently to Rettig to move on. (Later, a friend tells me it's not the software - Kraftwerk is just dull. It makes me think that for the first time in my life I might be developing a taste in music.)Amazing stuff.
(via bOING bOING)
A BBC TV programme is using computer-based photo-aging technology to model the effects of decades eating junk food:
I wonder what algorithm chose the grey sweatshirt/polo shirt in the aged images.
It looks like Australia may be facing another tightening of its already notorious censorship laws, this time governing TV nudity; Australia's equivalent of the Janet Jackson nipple outrage is reality-TV-show contestants getting it on in a hot-tub, which has made it into Federal parliamentary debates:
"What we basically have is pornography and full frontal nudity on television at a time when children are watching. These people have an aspiration to be porn stars," Draper told Reuters.It's hard to believe that this is the country that, only five years earlier, was considering introducing a "non-violent erotica" film classification.
At least Howard/Hillsong Australia c.2005 isn't quite as bad as Iran, where the government is microwaving its own population to save them from satellite-TV-borne "westoxication". The huge volumes of microwaves being pumped into population centres as Iran's elections approach are claimed to cause everything from migraines to birth defects or worse; though what are a few brain tumours compared to eternal salvation?
The taller one is, a common belief goes, the better one's career and romantic prospects are. (There is some truth to this; studies (in America, I believe) have quantified the expected increase in income per inch of height to be in the order of thousands of dollars a year.) In China, this belief has reached its logical conclusion, with height-anxious Chinese investing in torture-rack-style stretching machines and Gattaca-style height-enhancement surgery.
If you're pop royalty in need of medical treatment, your celebrity can buy you a lot; such as, for example, a hospital ward to yourself:
Reports today suggested elderly heart patients at the Cabrini Hospital were moved from their beds to vacate an entire ward for [Kylie Minogue].
The night before Minogue arrived, patients were moved from their beds to give her a wing to herself with a security guard at the end of the corridor, the report said. Visitors to the hospital were made to enter through the intensive care unit, escorted by a nurse each time.
"Several people were severely inconvenienced. I was very surprised that eight beds were given to one patient with a non-cardiac condition."
"One of the (security) chaps that had a British accent said to me, 'You can't go there', and I said, 'Yes I can, I've visited my mother here for a week, I'm certainly going to see her tonight. "These guys escorted me back like a criminal.''
More claims of the impending age of immortality, this time from the head of BT's futurology unit.
'If you draw the timelines, realistically by 2050 we would expect to be able to download your mind into a machine, so when you die it's not a major career problem,' Pearson told The Observer. 'If you're rich enough then by 2050 it's feasible. If you're poor you'll probably have to wait until 2075 or 2080 when it's routine. We are very serious about it. That's how fast this technology is moving: 45 years is a hell of a long time in IT.'
That may be too late for many people alive today, unless Aubrey de Grey is right and the whole growing-old-and-dying problem is solved within a decade. If he's only slightly right, they may solve it well enough that the nonagenerians of the late 21st century have minds still sufficiently undecrepit to be worth uploading. It would suck to die a few years short of becoming immortal.
New Scientist has a survey of ways of optimising the functioning of one's brain, covering everything from the effects of diet, sleep and various kinds of mental and physical exercise to the possibilities of smart drugs and technological augmentations:
According to research published in 2003, kids breakfasting on fizzy drinks and sugary snacks performed at the level of an average 70-year-old in tests of memory and attention. Beans on toast is a far better combination, as Barbara Stewart from the University of Ulster, UK, discovered. Toast alone boosted children's scores on a variety of cognitive tests, but when the tests got tougher, the breakfast with the high-protein beans worked best.
Say you're trying to master a new video game. Instead of grinding away into the small hours, you would be better off playing for a couple of hours, then going to bed. While you are asleep your brain will reactivate the circuits it was using as you learned the game, rehearse them, and then shunt the new memories into long-term storage. When you wake up, hey presto! You will be a better player. The same applies to other skills such as playing the piano, driving a car and, some researchers claim, memorising facts and figures. Even taking a nap after training can help, says Carlyle Smith of Trent University in Peterborough, Ontario.
Neurofeedback grew out of biofeedback therapy, popular in the 1960s. It works by showing people a real-time measure of some seemingly uncontrollable aspect of their physiology - heart rate, say - and encouraging them to try and change it. Astonishingly, many patients found that they could, though only rarely could they describe how they did it.
Some good news for Tube commuters: the air on the London Underground may be equivalent to smoking a cigarette every 20 minutes, but it's still healthier than the air up top. I'm not sure whether that's reassuring or worrying.
You've probably read about the scientific studies proving that praying or being prayed for is beneficial to one's health. According to skeptic Michael Shermer, these studies are deeply flawed, suffering from faults such as failure to eliminate other factors (such as socioeconomic status, lifestyle differences, and people in poor health being less likely to attend church). There's also the small matter of one of the authors of one study being a fraudster. (via FmH)
A study in the Netherlands has found that the air in churches is a health hazard. Due to poor ventilation and the use of candles and incense, church air has 12 to 20 times the European allowed average concentration of carcinogenic particles. The study also found various types of free radicals in the air, including previously undocumented ones.
It'd be interesting to see whether cancer rates among frequent churchgoers are above the average, and if not, whether that is attributable to much-vaunted psychosomatic effects of religious faith (or, for the red-staters out there, the Almighty's miraculous protection of His flock).
Loud music can do more than damage your hearing; it can make your lungs collapse:
One man was driving when he experienced a pneumothorax, characterised by breathlessness and chest pain. Doctors linked it to a 1,000 watt "bass box" fitted to his car to boost the power of his stereo.
It is thought the intense pulses of low-frequency, high-energy sound causes the lung to rupture because air and tissue respond differently to sound. The usual risk factors for collapsed lungs are smoking, illness that has weakened the patient, chronic obstructive lung disease or use of drugs that depress alertness or consciousness, such as sedatives, barbiturates, tranquilizers, or alcohol.
Scientists have finally monetised the formerly un-monetisable, the benefits of a happy sexual relationship. According to a paper published by the National Bureau of Economic Research, a healthy sex life is worth A$71,500 a year; or at least that's how much happier couples who have sex at least four times a month are than than those poor unfortunates who only get to do so once a month. Meanwhile, if you're a man, the more educated and intelligent you are, the less sex you have.
Intestinal worms may prevent bowel cancer; as such, a health drink containing whipworm eggs to replenish your body's supply of the
parasites symbionts may soon go on the market in Europe. The worms will be the pig variety, which doesn't survive long in humans, and is less likely to cause complications. (via FmH)
I wonder how long until we all have personalised populations of genetically engineered ex-parasites, modified to eliminate potential health problems long before any symptoms would arise, in our bowels, bloodstreams and elsewhere.
An article on how to reprogram your body clock, changing from being a night- to a morning-person or vice versa, for career purposes, romantic compatibility, or just to join a different time-zone tribe:
The body tells time with a master clock in the brain, a pinhead-sized cluster of neurons in the hypothalamus that takes cues from optic nerves that signal sunlight. By sticking people in isolation chambers, scientists discovered that most people's internal clocks run a bit longer about a half-hour on average than the sun's 24-hour cycle. That's why, for most people, it's easier to stay up later and compensate by sleeping in than to force yourself to sleep early and wake early, explains Dr. Eliza Sutton, an acting assistant professor of medicine at the University of Washington. Morning larks are those rarer birds whose body clock is shorter than 24 hours, so they wake up raring to go.
If you're a night owl with sunrise envy, sleep doctors say you can reset your body clock by following these steps:
- Find out how much sleep you really need
- As soon as you wake up, get sunlight exposure for at least 15 to 30 minutes.
- Go to bed earlier (or later) each night
- Stick to your schedule
Tikka masala, Britain's national curry dish, has been found to contain carcinogenic dyes, often at illegal levels. The additives, tartrazine (E102), Ponceau 4R (E124) and the appropriately sinister-sounding Sunset Yellow (E110), add nothing to the flavour, but give the dish its distinctive yellow colour, without which many customers wouldn't eat it. (I wonder whether the tikka masala pastes/sauces you can buy in supermarkets are similarly carcinogenic.)
Documentary film maker Morgan Spurlock set out to eat three meals a day at McDonalds for 30 days and document the effects of this diet on film. Within a few days, he was vomiting out of the window of his car, and doctors were horrified at how rapidly his body deteriorated:
"None of us imagined he could deteriorate this badly - he looked terrible. The liver test was the most shocking thing - it became very, very abnormal."
Spurlock, who says he ate at McDonald's only sporadically before his total immersion in the Mickey D's menu, says he even began craving fat and sugar fixes between meals. "I got desperately ill," he says. "My face was splotchy and I had this huge gut, which I've never had in my life. My knees started to hurt from the extra weight coming on so quickly. It was amazing - and really frightening."
Spurlock's documentary, Super Size Me, has been screened at the Sundance film festival; its website is here. (via jwz)
Canadian researchers have claimed that nursery rhymes put childrens' health at risk by not conveying the consequences of characters (such as Humpty Dumpty or Jack and Jill) suffering major injuries without receiving proper treatment:
The team from Dalhousie University ridiculed the idea that all the king's horses and all the king's men should even try to put Humpty Dumpty together again. "What sort of EMS (emergency medical service) training and equipment did these first responders have?"
The paper proposes a medically correct nursery rhyme:
Little Johnny rode his bike,
No helmet on his head.
He took a fall and split his skull,
His mother feared him dead. She rushed him to the ER,
Where they checked his neuro signs.
They noted a blown pupil
And inserted IV lines. They called the neurosurgeon,
Who came in and drilled a burr.
Now Johnny's fine; he rides his bike,
But he's helmeted, for sure.
A new book from the Disinformation troublemakers: 50 things you're not supposed to know, with "irrefutable evidence" of factoids like "Nearly all American milk-cows are infected with Bovine Leukemia Virus", "Pope Pius II wrote a best selling erotic novel", and "One of the heroes of 'Black Hawk Down' was a convicted child molester". (via bOING bOING)
Last year, scientific journal Science published a study which showed that just one dose of Ecstasy (MDMA) can cause irreversible brain damage and premature Parkinson's disease. The piece was picked up on to give impetus to laws prosecuting dance party organisers for not enforcing a drug-free environment. Now it emerges that the experiment was a sham; the substance injected into the hapless monkeys in the experiment was not MDMA but methamphetamine; the result of mislabelled test tubes. Oops! Though I bet that prohibitionist zealots and prison industry lobbyists will keep trotting this experiment out as "proof" that we need more draconian anti-drug laws, confident that the average voter isn't going to have a foolproof scorecard of just what has been discredited.
Scientists at Johns Hopkins University have found that assessing a community's cancer risk could be as simple as counting the number of trucks and cars that pass through the neighborhood. Another reason to encourage the development of public transport. Not that anybody's listening here, with the government falling over itself to spend billions of dollars on new freeways and spending only the most grudging pittance on public transport (which is next to useless outside of the inner city). (thanks, Toby)
A long and very interesting article on the class of sleep disorders known as parasomnias; a set of bizarre conditions which range from night terrors to sleepwalking, sleep-eating, sleep-sex and more (one man even almost strangled his wife in his sleep, thinking she was a deer).
She had been eating in her sleep since her late teens, finding clues like chocolate frosting on her pillow or cherry pits and porkchop bones in the sheets. ''I thought I was the only person in the world doing this. I would wake up in the morning wondering, What did you do last night?''
Fifty-three minutes after falling asleep, the teenager gets out of bed and begins crawling on the floor, growling, his hands folded into paws. He seizes a corner of the mattress with his teeth and shakes it. After six and a half minutes, perspiring heavily, he collapses and becomes ''clinically unresponsive.'' When technicians ask him, he reports that he has been dreaming what he always dreams -- he is a large cat following a female zookeeper with a bucket of raw meat. Here's the strangest thing of all: this parasomnia is not technically a sleep disorder. Throughout the episode Cat Boy's EEG reports that his brain is ''awake.''
A man with REM behavior disorder appeared on the monitor fighting phantoms over his bed. A case of a person acting out a dream? ''Either he's acting out a dream, or possibly dreaming out an act. It could be that the brain makes up something to explain the movement created by motor-pattern generators in the brain stem.''
An official investigation in Britain claims that commuting on trains is a health hazard, with the cumulative consequences of the stress of riding in overcrowded, unreliable trains resulting in high blood pressure, chronic anxiety and even fatal heart conditions for countless passengers. Britain's privatised trains are chronically overcrowded because it's cheaper for operators to pay overcrowding fines than to run longer trains.
Cary Cooper, professor of psychology and health at the University of Manchester Institute of Science and Technology, said: 'People develop a constant internal anger on crowded trains that they cannot easily displace.
'Then they hear that the train has stopped for 20 minutes for no apparent reason. If travel was cheap at least people could rationalise it.'
(Similar things could apply in Melbourne; especially with the new trams and trains which have fewer seats as to accommodate more standing passengers. Only here it's easier to drive everywhere, so everybody who can, does.)
Scare meme of the day: can MP3s damage your hearing? The issue is whether the "inaudible" frequencies removed in the MP3 encoding process are necessary for the ear to calibrate itself, and lossily-compressed sounds can cause damage to the listener's perception of timbre. The RIAA's much-vaunted watermarking plans could also be dangerous. (via Slashdot)
A new study at the Max Planck Institute for Psychiatry has found that mental illness precedes Ecstasy use; the study shows that 69% of Ecstasy users had a history of mental problems (as defined in DSM-IV; this includes things like depression and anxiety, not just schizophrenia, psychosis and such); and in 88% of cases, the problems preceded Ecstasy use. Does this mean you'd have to be nuts to be a raver?
(Then again, who isn't at least a little fucked up these days?) (via FmH)
Researchers in the Netherlands have isolated a new medical condition: leisure sickness. It afflicts about 3% of the population, who become ill if they stop working, commonly experiencing fatigue, muscular pains or nausea on weekends or flu-like symptoms during vacations.
"Relaxing can be very stressful for a lot of people. When they got off the treadmill of life their immune system collapses. Sometimes that is the only way they can relax. But leisure time can also be stressful because it means the day is unstructured, people have to re-establish relationships and spend time with their families."
Those most afflicted by this syndrome are those with a heavy workload or a high sense of responsibility. Another reason to repent, quit your job and slack off? (via FmH)
Sleep researchers in Toronto turn brainwaves into "music", which, when listens to by the person whose brainwaves were used, induces sleep. They believe that they can use similar techniques to induce other states. It sounds like it works on a similar principle to "brainwave machines", only customised to the individual brainwaves of the user.
"Even the diseased brain has such enormous reserves that we can use the brain activity, even from a diseased brain, to heal it," he says. An anti-anxiety response, for example, can be produced even in someone who is seriously impaired by reproducing sounds that stimulate relaxation.
Another reason not to smoke: because it affects your cat's health. (via Unknown News)
Not only is it the future of journalism, but blogging is good for you. It has been found that keeping a blog wards of Alzheimer's disease, by virtue of exercising parts of the brain.
You've heard of the research unanimously pointing to ecstasy causing long-term brain damage? Well, apparently much of that is propaganda, with experiments being compromised to give politically useful results, and contradictory research being frozen out of journals.
According to a Department of Health and Human Services report released Monday, McDonald's meat from antibiotics-injected livestock is now the primary source of antibiotics for U.S. children, particularly for uninsured youths from low-income households.
"Every day, food scientists are discovering new antibiotics, growth hormones, and other chemically engineered substances to inject into the nation's beef supply," Lugar said. "And with Americans working longer and longer hours just to make ends meet, people can't afford to waste time sitting around some waiting room until their name is called. Unlike a doctor, our fast-food providers can deliver a full spectrum of antibiotics in minuteshot, fresh, and with a smile."
A nifty list of culture-bound syndromes, from exotic ones like Koro and ghost sickness to Western syndromes such as anorexia (both secular and religious). (via bOING bOING)
The latest eating disorder: orthorexia, or an excessive dedication to following increasingly strict diets:
Amid a cacophony of competing menus, Bratman quickly forged his own dietary regime, eating only vegetables just plucked from the ground and chewing each mouthful 50 times. "After a year or so of this self-imposed regime, I felt light, clear headed, energetic, strong and self-righteous," Bratman wrote in an account of his experience. "I regarded the wretched, debauched souls around me downing their chocolate chip cookies and fries as mere animals reduced to satisfying gustatory lusts."
(via bOING bOING)
Silicon Valley, an area with a high concentration of engineers, hackers and technical specialists, is seeing a dramatic increase in diagnoses of autism and Asperger's Syndrome. This suggests that the colloquial links between the conditions and technical pursuits may in fact be provable; and that in sufficient concentrations, those who may otherwise have been prevented from breeding by not getting mainstream society will find similar mates -- and their children may be more severely affected.
Says Bryna Siegel, author of The World of the Autistic Child and director of the PDD clinic at UCSF, "In another historical time, these men would have become monks, developing new ink for early printing presses. Suddenly they're making $150,000 a year with stock options. They're reproducing at a much higher rate."
"Autism gets to fundamental issues of how we view talents and disabilities," he says. "The flip side of dyslexia is enhanced abilities in math and architecture. There may be an aspect of this going on with autism and assortative mating in places like Silicon Valley. In the parents, who carry a few of the genes, they're a good thing. In the kids, who carry too many, it's very bad."
For all we know, the first tools on earth might have been developed by a loner sitting at the back of the cave, chipping at thousands of rocks to find the one that made the sharpest spear, while the neurotypicals chattered away in the firelight. Perhaps certain arcane systems of logic, mathematics, music, and stories - particularly remote and fantastic ones - have been passed down from phenotype to phenotype, in parallel with the DNA that helped shape minds which would know exactly what to do with these strange and elegant creations.
People get paid for that? Scientists in Edinburgh find proof that intelligent people live longer.
Alex Chiu responds to questions about his Eternal Life Rings and other things.
The street finds its own uses for things: A German company has released a CD-ROM "sickness simulator", with profiles of 15 medical complaints, and instructions on how to fake them to get time off work. Doctors are not amused.
Beyond caffeine: A drug developed for treating narcolepsy can be used to help the sleep-deprived stay alert. Wonder how long until it's advertised in banners on Slashdot... (via rebeccablood.net)
British MP calls for ban on piped music: (Reuters)
``The dangers of passive, or involuntary listening are only beginning to enter the realm of public awareness,'' opposition Conservative MP Robert Key said... Like other forms of noise pollution its symptoms included raised blood pressure and cholesterol levels, and increased muscle tension, he said.
Key said his bill would ban piped music in the public parts of hospitals, doctors surgeries, public swimming pools, bus and railway stations, airports and public highways.
That rules out playing Bing Crosby at railway stations to drive teenagers away... --acb