Friday, 23 December 2005

Health, food and diet, people: tidbits

Gleaned mostly from the last few months' issues of my favourite offline read, New Scientist (yes I'm behind in my reading!). Some of this isn't new, but it was new to me... and of course it's not medical advice as I'm no medical expert, just passing on interesting and useful stuff I've read about.

Food and Diet

Bird flu

Chickens with bird flu have been cured by kimchi (spicy fermented Korean cabbage) and also sauerkraut. The active ingredient apparently is the lactobacilli bacteria which create the tangy sourness and preserve the pickle, and which are also found in other foods like properly fermented buttermilk and Kosher garlic dills.


A 50 / 50 mix of cranberry and oregano extract plus a dash of lactic acid seems the best mix to kill vibrio parahaemolyticus, a bacterium which causes stomach cramps,vomiting and diarrhoea, in experiments with infected cod and shrimp


Eating chillis has been found to deepen sleep (though apparently it also postpones bedtimes and shortens sleep time) and make the eaters feel more alert and physically active the next day; while men who ate high GI meals fell asleep faster than those eating lower GI meals (plus, GSM cellphone transmissions exposure for half an hour before bed caused more alpha wave activity in early non REM sleep and REM sleep to start later, than in people not exposed to mobile phones before bed).

Diet and genes

What you eat, even in adulthood, can change your genes (and personality) permanently - even well-adjusted rats started behaving like poorly raised rats on receiving L-methionine, a common amino acid and food supplement available online or in health food stores (and if rats don't get enough attention from their mothers - grooming etc - their DNA changes so that these poorly-raised rats produce more stress hormones and are less confident with new environments, for life). Hopefully the reverse should be possible with a chemical called TSA. Hmm, given what's been found about children's behaviour when they eat a lot of junk food, I wonder how much methionine there is in junk food compared with fresh food with lots of vegetables and fruit?


Is there no end to the goodness of aspirin? It may even protect against some types of skin cancer though this was noted only in the case of those studied who took at least 2 tablets weekly for 5 years (15 year Australian study).

Weight loss methods

Losing weight by eating less sheds lean tissue as well as fat tissue, and unfortunately the lower the lean mass as a proportion of total mass, the greater the risk of death; but losing weight through exercise helps preserve or increase lean mass, and there's some evidence that diets cutting out refined carbohydrates like white bread may reduce fat mass while retaining lean mass.


Dirt is good?

Too much cleanliness or hygiene, particularly in childhood, may be bad for us - ever purer drinking water without cryptosporidium (a diarrhoea-causing protozoan) may mean we don't get the chance to develop protective immunity to water-borne diseases. Plus the substances added to purify water may even increase the risk of some forms of cancer. (3 Dec. 46) This reminds me of an April 2005 New Scientist article that the rise of allergic diseases may at least in part be due to the lack of exposure these days to harmless microbes - "contact with the hordes of benign microbes encountered by the body on a daily basis - deemed largely irrelevant by immunologists in the past - may be an essential step on the infant immune system's road to healthy maturity.. the shift to a western lifestyle may have short-circuited this development by cutting off the body's contact with certain microbes… One focus of attention is the microbes that humans would have regularly encountered when they drank from streams and other untreated sources of water and came into regular contact with soil and animals. Indeed, studies in Europe, Australia and the US have consistently shown that children who grow up on a farm have a much smaller chance of developing allergies than kids growing up in a city, or even than those raised in a rural home that isn't a farm… Work is now focusing on why the risk of developing allergies seems to be particularly low among children fed unpasteurised milk and who were in frequent contact with cow sheds during their first year of life... Even harmless microscopic worms may be important.."

Premature babies

Premature babies benefit from Kangaroo Mother Care (KMC) i.e. continuous skin on skin contact with an adult, which helps regulate body temperature without incubators (until about 37 weeks after conception when babies can self-regulate that). KMC is associated (particularly in developing countries) with faster weight gain, improved breastfeeding rates, milder infection, and reduced stress in the infant.

Boring is bad

Boring environments make monkeys stupid for life, richer stimulating toy-filled environments produce more complex brain structures - and maybe that's true for human children too, obvious or what...

People and Society

Justice is innate?

Our sense of fair play and fear of loss may be built in - even monkeys have it.They are also loss averse (preferring to avoid the potential loss of what they already have in hand than to seek an equivalent potential gain), and care for justice not just their personal interests, feeling obligation or gratitude to those who help or cooperate with them, and resenting and wanting to punish unfair "cheats".

Risk taking, thrill seeking, the quest for the new - "the pleasure of maybe"

Experiments show that when rats anticipate a reward, the dopaminergic pathway in the frontal cortex is activated, and they get "the equivalent of a shot of cocaine straight to the brain". When the chance of getting that reward is not a sure thing but only a possibility, the activation happens twice, first in anticipation, then when the reward is due. And, interestingly, the greater the uncertainty, the greater the total amount of dopamine released. This may be the case in people too, which could explain lovelorn longing and chasing after someone you may never be able to have, why gambling is so addictive, and maybe also novelty-seeking, i.e. trying new stuff, the thrill of not knowing whether you'll like what you find.


Our sense of right and wrong may have an inbuilt emotional component as well as being influenced by our culture/society, perhaps more so than by rational thought and logic. The instinctive reaction of disgust e.g. to rotting meat (bacteria-ridden, could kill you!) is an example, and may result in people making moral judgements from emotion rather than reflective thought, with feelings of disgust or other strong emotions becoming cross-wired with our sense of morality (so that a disgusting but essentially amoral act may be seen, inappropriately, as morally reprehensible). The article featured a "moral compass" test based on the Forsyth Ethics Position Questionnaire which you can also take via that link. (I'm apparently an exceptionist - low relativism, low idealism ("You use moral rules to guide your judgments but remain open to exceptions to these rules. You are interested in the wider circumstances surrounding a moral decision, including the risks associated with violating rules and the personal benefits to be gained), bordering on Subjectivist (basing judgements on personal values rather than universal moral principles, etc, and the least "moralistic" type).


Building side please!

Walking on the road side of the pavement (sidewalk, to the Americans), you inhale up to 10% more of harmful pollution fumes than if you walk closer to the buildings.


Modern synthetic pillows have more allergy-causing fungal spores that could aggravate astham and cause infection (maybe because they're less porous) than traditional cotton pillows, and the switch to synthetic pillows could be a factor in the general increase in the incidence of asthma.

Hand scrubbing

Washing your hands after you've been in a public place (like the Tube) before touching your eyes or face etc is one of the best ways to reduce the risk of catching flu (Radio 4 reporting on this being confirmed - so my mother was right!)


Depression is NOT necessarily caused by a chemical imbalance correctable by antidepressant drugs like Prozac or Celexa (in the context of a call to ban ads claiming that).

Dogs and human diseases

Dogs have been found capable of detecting, and alerting owners to, cancer in the areas of the owner's body they indicated, as well as warning owners of impending epileptic seizures, and blood sugar falls or impending hypoglycaemic attacks in diabetics - maybe because they can smell chemical compounds produced by tumours etc or sense electrical changes, who knows... (this from my other favourite offline read, Fortean Times. But quoting respectable sources, I assure you!)

Walking on the wobbly side

Walking on uneven wobbly surfaces, rather than flat surfaces, has been found to activate muscles in feet and legs, help pump blood to the heart, reduce stress on the cardiovascular system and reduce feelings of tiredness. In China people walk on cobblestone paths for their health and "barefoot parks" are taking off in Germany, Austria and Switzerland. There is now a US $35 cobblestone mat to replicate walking on cobblestones and in studies funded by the National Institute of Aging users improved in balance and mobility and even reduced their blood pressure. The Masai Barefoot Technology shoe (MBT shoe) also claims to replicate the effect of walking on natural uneven ground, exercising ankle muscles etc. I may well try those out, the mat is cheaper but I'm not sure you can get in the UK. Or else, as a friend points out, there's always those bracing walks in the countryside…

Chronic pain

People with e.g. fibromyalgia or neuropathic pain have been able to suppress chronic pain by learning to control brain activity through watching live scans of the rACC, a pain centre in the brain. They couldn't reduce the pain unless they could see the brain scan feedback, and of that particular region of the brain, no other.

Cognitive reserve, senility

People with more intelligence/literacy, education, complex or higher status occupations or socioeconomic status and more intellectually stimulating lives are somehow more protected from mental decline with old age (dementia, Alzheimer's, Parkinson's, even head injuries, alcohol intoxication, strokes); the higher this mental padding, the more damage can be sustained without visible signs of mental decline. Larger and better wired brains may be more able to cope with the loss of neurons. There's now evidence that mental activity really helps cushion people against age-related decline - even reading or crosswords (maybe just seeing friends or gardening) can maintain or boost cognitive reserve; physical exercise also helps but stress doesn't (neurotics decline faster and are at more risk of Alzheimer's), and a good diet high in mono and polyunsaturated fatty acids (fish and olive oil), vitamin E, polyphenols and antioxidants (citrus and darkskinned fruits/vegetables) may slow decline too, although saturated fat should be avoid. The article also mentioned not smoking or drinking alcohol or taking street drugs! All of which is interesting in the sense that it's scientific findings confirming what most people would say is common sense! But good to know nevertheless.

Mild myopia

A non-surgical treatment, computer-based NeuroVision exercises developed by a Singaporean company, claims to train the brain to improve contrast sensitivity and sharpen images for the shortsighted - alas it won't work for people with advanced myopia of over -1.5 Diopter (150 degrees) or astigmatism of over -0.75 Diopters (75 degrees) or who are below 9 or over 55 years old… so my eyesight is too bad to give that a try.


Both creativity and bipolar disorder (manic depression) may be linked to "artistic temperament" characteristics like irritability - so shaddap already, I'm trying to write here!

Hug me babeee

Hugging for 20 seconds reduces blood pressure, according to Google Blog!

Gerroff my keyboard!

Last but certainly not least, this from Microsoft Health & Fitness (via Pat Cadigan, told you I'm behind my reading): don't let anyone else lick your keyboard! So I'll be sure to wash mine thoroughly before I next lick it meself, then.

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Anonymous said...

don't let anyone else lick your keyboard!

But it's a lot more fun when someone else licks your keyboard. Just sitting around licking your own, well that gets boring.

Improbulus said...

Well erm I shall leave you to lick your own, then, shall I...? :D

Anonymous said...

This is interesting fact about what you eat, even in adulthood, can change your genes. I cannot believe it's true. Strange. How even it can be possible.