Sunday, October 22, 2006

How ice kills your brain

Yet doctors and schools hand out similar drugs to kids willy-nilly

A shocking look inside an ice user's head has revealed the frightening brain-shrinking effect of the drug which, experts say, is making people behave like animals. Vast red patches on a scan of an ice addict's brain have revealed sections controlling memory and decision-making shrink by up to five per cent. Researchers are blaming the terrible stress an ice high causes, which has been likened to a brain marathon and at worst can cause psychosis.

Psychopharmacy Professor Iain McGregor from Sydney University said addicts' behaviour begins to resemble that of animals as brain neurons, which transmit signals around the brain, are lost. "You show problems with decision making, long term planning, more aggression and act more like an animal more than a human,'' Prof McGregor said yesterday.

Ice also causes havoc with levels of the brain chemical dopamine, which motivates people to get out of bed in the morning. Prof McGregor likened use of ice to asking the brain to run a marathon with neurons in heavy users eventually dying. He said the loss of neurons is what causes the brain to shrink but Prof McGregor said the changes had only been noted in heavy users.

The two crucial areas affected are the frontal cortex, which controls decision making and long term planning, and the hippocampus, which is key for memory. "Basically when you take methamphetamine you're making neurons take marathons, for the users the world seems more interesting and exciting because the brain is working so hard,'' he said. "In the long term the neurons become exhausted, they drop dead.'' It can lead to addicts becoming depressed and rob them of all motivation and enjoyment of life.

Prof McGregor said in animal studies the changes to the brain appeared permanent but human studies are yet to to determine whether the brain can recover. CEO of Life Education Jay Bacik said he first saw the images of ice affected brains at a conference in Edinburgh. He said Life Education, which teaches children everything from road safety to warning them about drugs, was ready to deal with queries from students. "We are fully able to deal with the issue,'' he said. "At a private school in Sydney that issue came up recently because everyone is talking about it.''

Paul Dillon from the national drug and alcohol research centre at the University of NSW said ice use needed to be looked at in context. "Ice is a unique drug with unique qualities but we need to remember no one really uses drugs in isolation,'' he said. "We tend to get stuck on the drug instead of a lifestyle. Most ice users also drink, many also use heroin.'


Fat chance of solving obesity

As a species, you know you are riding high when the biggest threat to your health comes from some informed overindulgence. You also know you're more selfish than smart when you blame others for voluntary and informed mistakes that you choose to make. Welcome to Australia 2006.

It is time that as a community we stopped whingeing about the obesity epidemic and started accepting a few home-cooked truths about ourselves. We should be rejoicing in the fact that our insatiable appetite for fast food is becoming the biggest heath epidemic of our time. It could be a tad worse. As we are piling on the kilos, more than 30,000 people are dying of starvation or readily preventable illness each day in Africa. This is despite the fact that there is enough grain alone produced to make every person in the world fat. Better our way than theirs.

Despite this, hardly a week goes by when medical, social science or economic gurus don't roll out some alarmist statistic about how fat we are getting. The most recent anti-contribution to the "crisis'' came this week from Access Economics, which said the health costs of obesity last year were $3.8 billion and the costs associated with lost productivity and wellbeing were a further $17.2 billion.

Good for us - that's what we've chosen. The obesity epidemic has been big news for over a decade now. Diet books have dominated the bestseller list and the weight loss industry has grown exponentially during this time. During the same period we have continued to get progressively fatter. We're gluttons. We prefer short-term pleasures to long-term health benefits. We prefer to a live a slightly shorter, indulgent lifestyle than a robotic, disciplined constant grind.

This is a perspective that is lost on the do-gooder, paternalistic, self-proclaimed lifestyle gurus who keep trying to stuff obesity statistics down our throats. The expanding nature of our waistline is one health problem that we don't need to be constantly lectured about. One difference between obesity ill-health and other forms of self-indulgent health problems is that it is a problem for which we assume almost total responsibility.

So does this mean no interventions are appropriate in response to our fat binge? Not quite, but they should be measured. There are certain foods that are significantly richer in calories than others. This is not always self-evident. The appropriate regulatory response is to require fast-food companies to provide nutritional information on their products. Once reforms like this are introduced, we have ourselves to blame if our waistlines continue to bulge.



Just some problems with the "Obesity" war:

1). It tries to impose behavior change on everybody -- when most of those targeted are not obese and hence have no reason to change their behaviour. It is a form of punishing the innocent and the guilty alike. (It is also typical of Leftist thinking: Scorning the individual and capable of dealing with large groups only).

2). The longevity research all leads to the conclusion that it is people of MIDDLING weight who live longest -- not slim people. So the "epidemic" of obesity is in fact largely an "epidemic" of living longer.

3). It is total calorie intake that makes you fat -- not where you get your calories. Policies that attack only the source of the calories (e.g. "junk food") without addressing total calorie intake are hence pissing into the wind. People involuntarily deprived of their preferred calorie intake from one source are highly likely to seek and find their calories elsewhere.

4). So-called junk food is perfectly nutritious. A big Mac meal comprises meat, bread, salad and potatoes -- which is a mainstream Western diet. If that is bad then we are all in big trouble.

5). Food warriors demonize salt and fat. But we need a daily salt intake to counter salt-loss through perspiration and the research shows that people on salt-restricted diets die SOONER. And Eskimos eat huge amounts of fat with no apparent ill-effects. And the average home-cooked roast dinner has LOTS of fat. Will we ban roast dinners?

6). The foods restricted are often no more calorific than those permitted -- such as milk and fruit-juice drinks.

7). Tendency to weight is mostly genetic and is therefore not readily susceptible to voluntary behaviour change.

8). And when are we going to ban cheese? Cheese is a concentrated calorie bomb and has lots of that wicked animal fat in it too. Wouldn't we all be better off without it? [/sarcasm].


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