Our viral history is contained in every drop of our blood

Friday, 12 June, 2015

I know that our immune system can sometimes mount a resistance to certain diseases we’ve had before, such as measles, but I didn’t realise that a record, as it were, of these disorders is stored in every drop of our blood.

Nor did I know that finding out what we have been afflicted with in the past, and may have forgotten about, is a relatively straightforward process.

You’ll probably remember the last time you had the flu, but what about that time you had measles – or was it chicken pox? Your blood knows: it keeps a record of every virus you’ve ever been infected with. A tiny drop of the stuff can now be tested to reveal a person’s viral history.

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Only at a health insurance office… stairs that you want to climb

Wednesday, 10 June, 2015

Image by HASSELL

A health insurance company that encourages people to use the stairs when moving from one level of a building to another, rather than the elevator? That’s what we like to see. And with a stair and ramp network as seen in the above image, wouldn’t you rather move that way also?

This is the sight you’ll see at Medibank’s Melbourne office, as designed by HASSELL, a design practice located in the same city. And it wasn’t just the stairs that were the focus of attention during the design process either… in fact I could almost be tempted to go and work there.

Medibank employees have real freedom to choose how and where they work. With laptops and mobile phones in hand, Medibank’s people can now select from more than 26 types of work settings, ranging from indoor quiet spaces and collaborative hubs to wifi-enabled balconies and places to stand and work. Circadian lighting in certain areas of the workspace mimics natural daylight patterns supporting people’s biorhythms.

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A chocolate bar a day won’t help you lose weight, unless it’s small?

Friday, 5 June, 2015

I’m not sure how this escaped my attention last September… a claim that eating a chocolate bar a day actually helped one to lose weight, rather than gain it. Now comes word that it was all a hoax. If it seems too good to be true, it probably is, then?

Other than those fibs, the study was 100 percent authentic. My colleagues and I recruited actual human subjects in Germany. We ran an actual clinical trial, with subjects randomly assigned to different diet regimes. And the statistically significant benefits of chocolate that we reported are based on the actual data. It was, in fact, a fairly typical study for the field of diet research. Which is to say: It was terrible science. The results are meaningless, and the health claims that the media blasted out to millions of people around the world are utterly unfounded.

But wait, not so fast. Given the rising cost of cocoa, the prime ingredient of the chocolate making process, some chocolate bar manufacturers are reducing the size of their products. It seems logical then, if this trend continues, that chocolate bars will become so small, there will eventually be no risk at all of gaining weight.

Makes sense, doesn’t it?

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Would an instruction manual make better sleepers of us all?

Monday, 25 May, 2015

Instructions for falling asleep, because sometimes I think we all need a refresher on the topic. So, no smartphones or tablets after lights out, that’s one step for ensuring a good night’s sleep.

Not a big problem for me though. What I really need is to shut off the flow of thoughts and ideas that churn through my mind. But moving on.

Here’s one for people who feel they fall into the insomnia category, don’t sweat the potential loss of sleep, just lie back, relax, and let sleep happen. Probably easier to say than do, but perhaps there’s something in it:

But sleeping better is not just about those presleep moments, the “falling” part. It requires a certain degree of daylong mental and physical discipline. Above all, beware the psychology of insomnia, which Winter describes as a self-¬≠perception problem of this sort: “Ed from accounting is the tall guy, Joanne is the cute girl, and I’m the one who does not sleep.” Sleep is not a bus stop; if your 10 p.m. bedtime passes by and you’re still awake, don’t fret. Trust that sleep – an innate physiological need, like hunger and thirst – will come. No one, especially children, should be given the impression that they are “bad sleepers,” Winter says.

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Beer has medicinal uses, but we all knew that already, right?

Thursday, 14 May, 2015

With all the beer microbreweries that can be found the world over, there’s bound to be one or two crafting a beer actually intended to aid in the treatment of a particular ailment. Otherwise a trip to the off-licence these days is unlikely to yield a medicinal ale.

That’s not to say such a brew was not prepared in the past though, it appears to be something that the Dutch were doing in the eighteenth century:

Another option was to add the herbs during the brewing process, either when boiling the malt, or just slightly heating them in the beer after the boiling has taken place. Van Lis mentioned over fifty kinds of herbs to prepare medicinal beer, ranging from ginger, lavender, cardamom, hyssop, cinnamon, aniseed, rosemary, nutmeg, gentian, juniper and lemon grass to plants such as absinth leaves, sweet flag, germander sage, and eye worth.

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Is plain old thinking a cancer risk? It might be…

Tuesday, 5 May, 2015

Surely thinking, as in what we all do everyday, shouldn’t come with a government health warning? Apparently though thinking, and other mental activities, may promote the growth of certain tumours, in some regions of the brain. What a truly alarming prospect…

That’s the conclusion of a paper in Cell published Thursday that showed how activity in the cerebral cortex affected high-grade gliomas, which represent about 80 percent of all malignant brain tumors in people. “This tumor is utilizing the core function of the brain, thinking, to promote its own growth,” says Michelle Monje, a researcher and neurologist at Stanford who is the paper’s senior author.

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A hangover cure, made from the leaves of the Alexandrian laurel

Friday, 1 May, 2015

Being Friday and all…

According to the Oxyrhynchus Papyri, a collection of manuscripts, some of which are nearly two thousand years old, the people of ancient Greece and Rome strung together leaves of a shrub called Danae racemosa, or Alexandrian laurel, to make a hangover curing necklace.

There seems to be doubt as to whether these leaves were actually effective of themselves, but possibly they had some placebo like quality that helped.

The key ingredient listed to treat the hangover – the slow growing evergreen Danae racemosa – wasn’t exactly known for its medical properties. The plant was used in Greek and Roman times to crown distinguished athletes, orators and poets. Whether stringing its leaves and wearing the strand around the neck had any effect to relieve headaches in alcohol victims isn’t known.

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A bloodcurdling history of blood transfusions

Thursday, 30 April, 2015

If you’ve ever needed a blood transfusion, then you ought to be especially thankful to a couple of dogs, living in England during the seventeenth century, who were involved, involuntarily I imagine, in the first known trials of the medical procedure.

The world’s first experiments with blood transfusion occurred in the mid-1660s in England. The procedure, which was first carried out between dogs, was gruesome: the dogs were tied down, the arteries and veins in their necks opened, and blood transferred from one to another through quills (most likely made from goose feathers) inserted into the blood vessels.

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A spoonful of wasabi may one day be the medicine going down

Friday, 17 April, 2015

Wasabi in dish, photo by Taku Kumabe

Wasabi is a condiment I love to hate. It must be consumed in just the right quantity to be appreciated. Despite the not-so-pleasant sensations it is capable of causing though, a recent in-depth analysis of its chemical structure may help in bringing about new medicines that will alleivate pain.

It’s not the onion’s fault you’re crying. The wasabi isn’t to blame for jolting your sinuses. And don’t curse the hipsters outside the bar for the burning cough you got walking through their cloud of cigarette smoke. Those things are actually all your fault. Or rather, those uncomfortable sensations all trace back to special proteins on neurons inside your body. Those wee tangles are why you cry, cough, sting, itch, swell up, or burn whenever you encounter something noxious.

(Photo by Taku Kumabe)

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Wealth and orange goggles, a better night’s sleep is guaranteed

Friday, 17 April, 2015

There are many ways to enjoy a good night’s sleep, but a couple of new thoughts have come to light. First up, if you’re rich, well off, and generally not short of a dollar, you’ll probably sleep well.

Or, if you wear orange tinted goggles for a couple of hours before turning in, especially if you watch movies on your laptop, or use your smartphone a lot later in the evening, then it seems you also will have a good night’s rest. Yes, that’s right, orange coloured glasses:

Most evenings, before watching late-night comedy or reading emails on his phone, Matt Nicoletti puts on a pair of orange-colored glasses that he bought for $8 off the Internet. “My girlfriend thinks I look ridiculous in them,” he said. But Mr. Nicoletti, a 30-year-old hospitality consultant in Denver, insists that the glasses, which can block certain wavelengths of light emitted by electronic screens, make it easier to sleep.

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