Archive for the ‘Medicine’ Category

Bilingual people less likely to develop Alzheimer’s’

February 26, 2011

Talk about the power of words—speaking at least two languages may slow dementia in the aging brain, new research shows. Bilingual people do better in mental challenges and are more skilled at multi-tasking than those who have just one tongue. They also develop symptoms of dementia and Alzheimer’s an average of four or five years later.

Even if you don’t learn a second language until after middle age, it can still help stave off dementia. Being bilingual is one way to keep your brain active—it’s part of the cognitive-reserve approach to brain fitness. And when it comes to exercising the brain by learning another language, the more the better—and every little bit helps. Read more here or here.


It may also sound obvious but – DON’T DO DRUGS !

January 20, 2011

On the back of this post about another reason not to smoke cigarettes, here are a few reasons not to use marijuana (cannabis).

For starters some of the dangers associated with use of marijuana include:

  • Impaired perception
  • Diminished short-term memory
  • Loss of concentration and coordination
  • Impaired judgement
  • Increased risk of accidents
  • Loss of motivation
  • Diminished inhibitions
  • Increased heart rate
  • Anxiety, panic attacks, and paranoia
  • Hallucinations
  • Damage to the respiratory, reproductive, and immune systems
  • Increased risk of cancer
  • Psychological dependency
  • Significant behavioural problems
  • Marijuana can also inhibit maturity

Although dangers exist for marijuana users of all ages, risk is greatest for the young. This is largely due to the fact that an adolescent brain is still very much developing. For them, the impact of marijuana on learning is critical, and it often proves pivotal in the failure to master vital interpersonal skills (the skills that a person uses to interact with other people). Decreased interpersonal skills would also inhibit one’s ability to form relationships with, for example, the opposite sex.

A number of studies have shown an association between marijuana use and increased rates of anxiety, depression, and schizophrenia. Some of these studies have shown age at first use to be an important risk factor, where early use is a marker of increased vulnerability to later problems.

Also, animal studies have shown marijuana-induced structural damage to portions of the brain essential to memory and learning indicating that marijuana use can cause irreversible loss of intellectual capacity.

There’s a myth that teen brains will bounce back, that they are really resilient, but in fact they may not be. It appears that they may be more vulnerable to drug use. Read more here, here, here or here.

Basically, do not do drugs, particularly if you are a young person !!!

Fake pills can help you feel better

December 31, 2010

The placebo effect is a beneficial effect, produced by a harmless drug or treatment, that cannot be attributed to the properties of the placebo itself, and must therefore be due to the patient’s belief in that treatment.

There is little doubt that the placebo effect is real, but it has always been argued that a person feels better because they think the pill is the real deal. But what if it works even when you know it’s a fake?

According to scientists at least one medical condition can be calmed by a placebo, even when everyone knows it’s just an inert pill. This raises a thorny question: should we start offering sugar pills for ailments without a treatment?

In the latest study, scientists tested the effect of placebo versus no treatment in 80 people with irritable bowel syndrome. Twice a day, 37 people swallowed an inert pill could not be absorbed by the body. The researchers told participants that it could improve symptoms through the placebo effect.

While 35 per cent of the patients who had not received any treatment reported an improvement, 59 per cent of the placebo group felt better. The placebo was almost twice as effective as the control! That would be a great result if it was seen in a normal clinical trial of a drug.

Read more here or here.

Malaria is bad

November 21, 2010

Malaria is an infectious disease caused by a parasite (a parasite is an organism that lives off another organism causing it harm) called Plasmodium. People catch malaria when the parasite enters the blood. This usually happens when they are bitten by a mosquito, as the parasite lives in mosquitoes saliva.

Malaria has always been one of humanity’s biggest killers, but it may be far bigger than we realised. An unprecedented survey of the disease suggests that it kills between 125,000 and 277,000 people per year in India alone. In contrast, the World Health Organization (WHO) puts India’s toll at just 16,000.

Other countries may also be underestimating deaths from malaria. That means it could be killing many more than the WHO’s official estimate of nearly 1 million people a year worldwide, suggesting more money should be spent to fight it. Read more here.

First person treated in stem cell trial

October 20, 2010

So what is a stem cell?

Well, at conception (when the sperm meets the egg) a human is a single cell, and from this single cell, hundreds of different cell types arise. Basically, this means that that one cell (called a stem cell) has the potential to become all the different types of cells that will eventually form a living human.

As the organism ages, the stem cells split and “differentiate” into cells that are more specific (for example muscle cells, brain cells, skin cells or blood cells).

Recently the first person ever received treatment with stem cells in the hope of fixing spinal injuries.

Surgeons injected millions of special cells grown from human embryonic stem cells (hESCs) into the injury site through a fine needle, hoping the cells would stimulate re-growth of the spinal cord and undo damage caused by the injury. Injured rats treated with the cells recovered some mobility about a month after being treated.

The hope is that these special cells will help the patient overcome paralysis resulting from the injury, although the primary objective of the trial is to make sure the treatment is safe. Read more here.

People are more fertile in spring too

October 5, 2010

IVF (in vitro fertilization) is the most common form of ART (Assisted Reproductive Technology).

In a nutshell, IVF involves an egg being removed from the woman’s ovary and fertilised by the man’s sperm in a glass jar. The process usually begins with the woman taking fertility drugs to boost the production of eggs which are then surgically removed and stored. This then follows with a further course of drugs to prepare the body for pregnancy whilst the eggs are being fertilised in a laboratory. Two or three select embryos will then be implanted back into the woman’s uterus where hopefully, a baby will grow.

Plants burst into life in spring and that might be true for people, too. So says a study on seasonal success rates of IVF. Scientists found that levels of oestradiol – which is vital for reproduction – were significantly higher in the spring, and correlated with a 45 per cent higher fertilisation rate during this season. Read more here.

Also, the 2010 Nobel Prize in physiology or medicine went to a British researcher Robert Edwards for pioneering IVF. The process has led to roughly 4 million births since it was first successfully done in 1978. Read more here.

Making blind mice see

September 24, 2010

The retina is the back part of the eye that contains the cells that respond to light. These specialized cells are called photoreceptors. There are 2 types of photoreceptors in the retina: rods and cones.

The rods are most sensitive to light and dark changes, shape and movement and contain only one type of light-sensitive pigment. Rods are not good for colour vision. In a dim room, however, we use mainly our rods, but we are “colour blind.”

Cones are most sensitive to one of three different colours (green, red or blue). Signals from the cones are sent to the brain which then translates these messages into the perception of colour. Cones, however, work only in bright light. That’s why you cannot see colour very well in dark places. So, the cones are used for colour vision.

Interestingly, the retinal cone cells vital for colour vision have been successfully transplanted into blind mice. This is very exciting work and it would be a huge medical breakthrough to be able to restore lost photoreceptors in patients who are blind. Read more here.

Cockroach brains could be rich stores of new antibiotics

September 13, 2010

Cockroaches could be more of a health benefit than a health hazard according to scientists.

Experts have discovered powerful antibiotic properties in the brains of cockroaches and locusts which could lead to novel treatments for multi-drug resistant bacterial infections. They found that the tissues of the brain and nervous system of the insects were able to kill more than 90 per cent of MRSA and pathogenic Escherichia coli, without harming human cells.

Nine molecules appear to be responsible for the antimicrobial activity in locust tissue, although they have yet to be identified. The team is also still working out the details of the cockroach compounds. Read more here, here or here.

Orthodontics at work

July 8, 2010

Orthodontics is the branch of dentistry that corrects teeth and jaws that are positioned improperly. Crooked teeth and teeth that do not fit together correctly are harder to keep clean and are at risk of being lost early due to tooth decay and disease. They also cause extra stress on the chewing muscles that can lead to headaches. Teeth that are crooked or not in the right place can also detract from one’s appearance.

The benefits of orthodontic treatment include a healthier mouth, a more pleasing appearance, and teeth that are more likely to last a lifetime.

A specialist in this field is called an orthodontist. Here is an example of their work:

Chew in moderation

July 7, 2010

Did you know that that chewing too much “sugar-free” gum can lead to severe weight loss and bowel problems like diarrhoea. Many “sugar-free” products such as chewing gum and sweets contain a sweetener called sorbitol. The substance can have laxative effects if taken in large enough amounts – a fact that many people are unaware of because potential side-effects are usually listed in small print on the packaging.


Some chewing gum contains about 1.25g of sorbitol per piece. Only relatively small amounts of sorbitol (5 to 20g) are needed to cause gastrointestinal symptoms such as stomach cramps, bloating and gas. Higher doses (20-50g) are linked to malabsorption of nutrients, malnutrition, and substantial weight loss.

So … chew in moderation!