Monday, February 04, 2008

Now the beach is bad for you!

Perhaps we should all just hop into our coffins immediately! I suppose it would be churlish of me to say that this research proves only that Miami beaches are polluted. The "study" does not seem to have reached journal publication so I cannot look at the almost certainly weak methodology

BEACHGOERS should take notice: sitting on the wet sand or swimming in the sea for too long may increase the risk of catching an unpleasant stomach bug, a new study found. The University of Florida study found that the more time spent on the wet sand or in the water, the greater the chance of suffering from gastroenteritis. While water pollution monitoring is a standard part of "quality control" in many tourism-dependent cities, the same cannot be said of the sand.

"Our objective was to understand whether beach sand could pose a health risk to beachgoers," said Tonya Bonilla, a reseacher at the University of Florida's College of Veterinary Medicine's department of infectious diseases and pathology. "What we found was that there was no increased health risk due to exposure to sand on the upper beach," she said. But "the longer the period of time people spent in the water and in the wet sand, the higher the probability they would experience some gastrointestinal illness," she said.

Beach sand often has some degree of contamination from seabird waste, or other fecal waste. Microbes concentrate naturally around the waterline, in the water and also are tracked around on bathers' feet, researchers found.

They looked at three beaches north of Miami: Hobie Beach, Hollywood and Fort Lauderdale. "There is an increase risk of acquiring gastroenteritis the longer a bather either sits in the wet sand or stays in the water," said Jay Fleisher, professor College of Osteopathic Medicine-Nova Southeastern University. "The probability that an individual will become sick increases over expected non-exposure rates from six out of 1,000 people for 10 minutes exposure to aprox. Twelve out of 100 people for a two hours stay in the wet sand," he said. "For exposure to water, these rates increase from seven out of 1000 people affected over expected non-exposure rates for a 10 minutes stay to aproximately seven out of 100 people exposed for a 70-minute stay."


But stilettos are good for you!

At least the researcher admits that the conclusion was reached before any evidence was gathered. She's no scientist

WOMEN who simply can't resist a new pair of stilettos can walk a little taller. Scientists have discovered that high-heeled shoes - blamed for stress fractures and joint pain - can have some health benefits. A new study has found that wearing a pair of moderately high heels can tone the body, condition muscles and even improve a woman's sex life without the need for onerous exercise sessions.

Maria Cerruto, a urologist at the University of Verona who led the study, said she conducted her tests because she wished to tackle "bizarre" nonscientific theories blaming high heels for a range of ills, including schizophrenia. "As a woman who loves heeled shoes, I tried to find something healthy in them. In the end I achieved my goal. Heels affect pelvic floor activity, reducing pain and improving your health. We now hope to prove that wearing heels during daily activity may reduce the need for pelvic exercises."

High heels have been a fashion item since the 1600s but over the past 50 years they have been blamed for a variety of health problems ranging from bunions, stress fractures and knee pain to an increased risk of arthritis.

Manolo Blahnik, whose high-heeled shoes were fetishised by Carrie Bradshaw, played by Sarah Jessica Parker in the American television series Sex and the City, welcomed the research. "This is wonderful news," he said. "I've been hounded for years about how bad it is for posture, but I always thought it was contradictory. "Until my mummy was 87 she was wearing 5in heels and she looked wonderful. She is my living example that heels are good for you. "When you put on a high heel it makes life more exciting. In the 1980s it was all about power, but today it's shifted; it's about elegance. If you're a woman, it's a way to appeal to the male species, it's a way to attract. And it works. I have men who tell me that heels have saved their marriage. "I think there's a limit, though. Anything over 11.5cm [4«in] is just too much. You can't walk properly; it's no longer elegant."

The research, to be reported in the journal European Urology, involved measuring electrical activity in the pelvic muscles of women when they held their feet at different angles. Cerruto studied 66 volunteers aged under 50. She discovered that women who held their feet at a 15-degree angle to the ground, the equivalent of a 7cm [2€in] heel, showed up to 15% less electrical activity in their pelvic muscles. The results suggest the muscles are more relaxed when women wear higher heels, increasing their strength and ability to contract. "Women often find it difficult to complete their exercises. This may prove a solution," Cerruto said. "Like many women, I like high-heeled shoes, and although they are sometimes uncomfortable I continue to wear them in an effort to appear more slender and taller. It's good to know they have potential health benefits."

An official guide to better sex, provided by NHS Direct, advises women to become more aware of their "pleasure muscles" - pelvic floor muscles - and advises them how to exercise them to aid sexual arousal. The NHS recommends that women, particularly before and after pregnancy, should do pelvic floor exercises up to five times a day.

But the study prompted a mixed response from fitness instructors. Zoe McNulty runs a class for women with high heels in London called "Sweat and Stilettos". The session is designed to improve their comfort and strength while wearing heels on the dance floor. McNulty believes heels can improve muscle tone in women's legs, thighs and buttocks. "As soon as you put yourself on your toes you are throwing your sense of gravity out of line. And you've got to compensate elsewhere, which means you work muscles that you wouldn't normally use. You do get more toned," she said. "Just walking around in heels can make people fitter, but the danger is whether they can hold their postures properly. That's where my class comes in."

Matt Roberts, a personal trainer whose clients have included Madonna, Naomi Campbell, Natalie Imbruglia, Mel C and John Galliano, was more cautious. "A woman wearing high heels will hold the muscles tight to compensate," Roberts said. "When you are standing on tiptoes you have to clench the buttocks, the inner thighs and the pelvic floor muscles. It would potentially give them a short-term tension and toning. But the negative effects can outweigh the positive. "The knees and metatarsals are put under strain, the hips are out of position. It can lead to long-term health risks."


Scientists discover way to reverse loss of memory

Sounds interesting but early days yet, of course

Scientists performing experimental brain surgery on a man aged 50 have stumbled across a mechanism that could unlock how memory works. The accidental breakthrough came during an experiment originally intended to suppress the obese man's appetite, using the increasingly successful technique of deep-brain stimulation. Electrodes were pushed into the man's brain and stimulated with an electric current. Instead of losing appetite, the patient instead had an intense experience of d,j. vu. He recalled, in intricate detail, a scene from 30 years earlier. More tests showed his ability to learn was dramatically improved when the current was switched on and his brain stimulated.

Scientists are now applying the technique in the first trial of the treatment in patients with Alzheimer's disease. If successful, it could offer hope to sufferers from the degenerative condition, which affects 450,000 people in Britain alone, by providing a "pacemaker" for the brain. Three patients have been treated and initial results are promising, according to Andres Lozano, a professor of neurosurgery at the Toronto Western Hospital, Ontario, who is leading the research.

Professor Lozano said: "This is the first time that anyone has had electrodes implanted in the brain which have been shown to improve memory. We are driving the activity of the brain by increasing its sensitivity - turning up the volume of the memory circuits. Any event that involves the memory circuits is more likely to be stored and retained."

The discovery had caught him and his team "completely by surprise", Professor Lozano said. They had been operating on the man, who weighed 190kg (30st), to treat his obesity by locating the point in his brain that controls appetite. All other attempts to curb his eating had failed and brain surgery was the last resort. The treatment for obesity was unsuccessful. But, while the researchers were identifying potential appetite suppressant points in the hypothalamus, the part of the brain associated with hunger, the man suddenly began to say that memory was flooding back.

"He reported the experience of being in a park with friends from when he was around 20 years old and, as the intensity of stimulation increased, the details became more vivid. He recognised his girlfriend [from the time] ... The scene was in colour. People were wearing identifiable clothes and were talking, but he could not decipher what they were saying," the researchers write in Annals of Neurology, published today.

The man, who has not been identified, was also tested on his ability to learn lists of paired objects. After three weeks of continuous hypothalamic stimulation, his performance on two learning tests was significantly improved. He was also much more likely to remember a list of unrelated paired objects with the electrodes turned on than when turned off.

Speaking to The Independent yesterday, Professor Lozano said: "His performance improved dramatically. As we turned the current up, we first drove his memory circuits and improved his learning. As we increased the intensity of the current, we got spontaneous memories of discrete events. At a certain intensity, he would slash to the scene [in the park]. When the intensity was increased further, he got more detail but, when the current was turned off, it rapidly decayed."

The discovery surprised the scientists as the hypothalamus has not usually been identified as a seat of memory. The contacts that most readily produced the memories were located close to a structure called the fornix, an arched bundle of fibres that carries signals within the limbic system, which is involved in memory and emotions and is situated next to the hypothalamus.

Professor Lozano is a world authority on deep-brain stimulation who has undertaken 400 operations on Parkinson's disease sufferers and is developing the technique as a treatment for depression, for which he has performed 28 operations. He said the discovery of its role in stimulating memory had wide implications. "It gives us insight into which brain structures are involved in memory. It gives us a means of intervening in the way we have already done in Parkinson's and for mood disorders such as depression, and it may have therapeutic benefit in people with memory problems," he said.

The researchers are testing the approach in six Alzheimer's patients in a Phase 1 safety study. Three have so far had electrodes surgically implanted. The electrodes are attached via a cable that runs below the skull and down the neck to a battery pack stitched under the skin of the chest. The "pacemaker" delivers a constant low-level current that stimulates the brain but cannot be perceived by the patient.

Professor Lozano said: "It is the same device as is used for Parkinson's disease. We have placed the electrodes in exactly the same area of the hypothalamus because we want to see if we can reproduce the findings in the earlier experiment. We believe the memory circuits we are stimulating are close by, physically touching the hypothalamus. "It is a very effective treatment for the motor problems associated with Parkinson's disease and it has been used on 40,000 people. We are in the early stages of using it with Alzheimer's patients and we don't know if it will work. We want to assess if we can reach the memory circuits and drive improvement. It is a novel approach to dealing with this problem."

British researchers welcomed the discovery. Andrea Malizia, a senior lecturer in psychopharmacology at the University of Bristol who is studying deep-brain stimulation as a treatment for depression, said: "If they had said let's stick an electrode in the hypothalamus to modify Alzheimer's disease, I would have said 'Why start there?' But, if they have had a serendipitous finding, then that is as good. Serendipitous findings are how a lot of discoveries in science have been made." Ayesha Khan, a scientific liaison officer at the Alzheimer's Disease Society, said: "This is very cutting-edge research. It is exciting, but the initial result is in one person. It will need much further investigation."



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? And what about butter and margarine? They are just about pure fat. Surely they should be treated as contraband in kids' lunchboxes! [/sarcasm].

9). And how odd it is that we never hear of the huge American study which showed that women who eat lots of veggies have an INCREASED risk of stomach cancer? So the official recommendation to eat five lots of veggies every day might just be creating lots of cancer for the future! It's as plausible (i.e. not very) as all the other dietary "wisdom" we read about fat etc.

10). And will "this generation of Western children be the first in history to lead shorter lives than their parents did"? This is another anti-fat scare that emanates from a much-cited editorial in a prominent medical journal that said so. Yet this editorial offered no statistical basis for its opinion -- an opinion that flies directly in the face of the available evidence.

Even statistical correlations far stronger than anything found in medical research may disappear if more data is used. A remarkable example from Sociology:
"The modern literature on hate crimes began with a remarkable 1933 book by Arthur Raper titled The Tragedy of Lynching. Raper assembled data on the number of lynchings each year in the South and on the price of an acre's yield of cotton. He calculated the correlation coefficient between the two series at -0.532. In other words, when the economy was doing well, the number of lynchings was lower.... In 2001, Donald Green, Laurence McFalls, and Jennifer Smith published a paper that demolished the alleged connection between economic conditions and lynchings in Raper's data. Raper had the misfortune of stopping his analysis in 1929. After the Great Depression hit, the price of cotton plummeted and economic conditions deteriorated, yet lynchings continued to fall. The correlation disappeared altogether when more years of data were added."
So we must be sure to base our conclusions on ALL the data. But in medical research, data selectivity and the "overlooking" of discordant research findings is epidemic.

"What we should be doing is monitoring children from birth so we can detect any deviations from the norm at an early stage and action can be taken". Who said that? Joe Stalin? Adolf Hitler? Orwell's "Big Brother"? The Spanish Inquisition? Generalissimo Francisco Franco Bahamonde? None of those. It was Dr Colin Waine, chairman of Britain's National Obesity Forum. What a fine fellow!


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