Fat people are jollier
Ever since Falstaff, fatness has been associated with jollity. According to psychologists at Lakehead University in Canada, the “jolly fat” hypothesis might actually be true, at least among women. Not only have they found a link, they suggest a mechanism, too: estrogen.
They put forward the idea that body fat protects women again negative moods. In other words, the fatter a woman is, the less depressed she gets.
In the two-part research, the team looked at Body Mass Index (BMI), a measure that takes into account both weight and height, and compared it with mood in a group of young women. They found that the higher the BMI and body size, the lower the number of symptoms of depression, anxiety and negative mood. In fact, the most depressed were all thin, while the largest were the least miserable.
For explanations, the psychologists turned to biochemical research that suggested the possibility of a link between oestrogen and mood, and the brain chemical, serotonin, the target of widely used antidepressant drugs. They say very potent oestrogens are primarily found in fatty tissues, suggesting that women with higher body weight may have higher levels.
Love could be cured
Is there a cure for love sickness? Researchers at the University of Alabama and Tabriz Medical University in Iran found that melatonin and vasotocin might just do the trick.
Intense romantic love is associated with specific physiological, psychological and behavioural changes, including euphoria, obsessiveness, and a craving for closeness with the target.
Some researchers believe such love is a specific emotion, separate from physical sex drive, which works through parts of the brain associated with the reward system, and that the brain chemical dopamine is heavily involved.
The key is the pea-sized pineal gland, which produces melatonin. This hormone plays a key role in the circadian cycle. It has also shown anti-dopamine activities in part of the brain, while a second hormone, arginine-vasotocin, also has a key role in romantic love. The researchers suggest that giving the two hormones may be a cure for non-returned romantic love.
Showers are bad for the brain
Manganese is a metallic element that gets into water after contact with rocks and minerals in the ground. It’s a natural compound and is also found in low levels in foods such as green vegetables, tea and cereals.
The levels in the UK have been investigated a number of times, but in most research the levels found in drinking water have been judged to be too small to have an effect on public health.
When high levels of manganese are breathed in rather than drunk, however, it can have a disastrous effect. Occupational health researchers have found that when miners and battery workers inhale manganese, it can lead to manganism, a condition similar to Parkinson’s disease. Symptoms of this condition can include lethargy, tremors, mental disturbances, and even death.
Researchers at Wake Forest University School of Medicine say that while agencies have worked out safe regulatory levels for eating, drinking and inhaling manganese, no one has looked at the effects on the central nervous system from inhaling aerosols while showering with manganese-contaminated water.
“At first glance, this may seem to be a trivial delivery vector,” they say. “Nonetheless, extrapolating animal data suggests that it may actually be a serious public health consideration.”
They say that compared to eating and drinking, inhaling is far more effective at delivering manganese to the brain. The report says that any manganese that does get through to the brain may have a cumulative effect, and it’s suggested that some groups, including the elderly, pregnant women and people with mineral deficiencies such as anaemia are at increased risk from absorbed manganese.
Dogs give women breast cancer
Analysis of breast cancer cases by researchers at the University of Munich showed that patients with cancer of the breast were significantly more likely to have kept a dog than a cat. In fact, 79.7 per cent of all breast-cancer patients had regular contact with dogs before they were diagnosed. Only 4.4 per cent of the patients did not have pets at any time, compared to 57.3 per cent of a healthy control group. This, according to the researchers, shows a 29-fold increased risk for pet owners.
The researchers also point to another study in Norway, which reported a very high level – 53.3 per cent – of breast cancers in 14,401 dogs. The team then tried to isolate a virus that could be common to both dogs and humans.
The one they homed in on is the mouse mammary tumour virus or MMTV, which triggers breast cancer in mice, and has been investigated for possible links to human breast cancer. The theory is that dogs, and possibly other pets, harbour and transmit MMTV or MMTV-like viruses that can induce human breast cancer.
According to the researchers, the theory may help to explain why women from the Far East are at greater risk of breast cancer when they move to Western nations, because Asian or Oriental women seldom keep dogs as pets.
Nuts cure toothache
In the honourable tradition of self-experimentation, Charles Weber from North Carolina put his oral health on the line when he tried cashew nuts as a cure for a tooth abscess. He based this on research showing that gram-positive bacteria, which cause tooth decay, acne, tuberculosis and leprosy, are killed by chemicals in cashew apples, cashew shell oil, and probably cashew nuts.
The idea is that the active chemicals in the nuts are anacardic acids, which appear to be active against Streptococcus mutans, the tooth decay bug, in test-tube experiments.
According to Weber, the acid can be lethal to bacteria in 15 minutes: “I have made raw cashew nuts the main part of my diet for 24 hours on four occasions, and have eliminated an abscessed tooth each time. There were no obvious side effects. A fifth time required several days. It is possible that just eating a couple of ounces each day for a week or so would also work, and might avoid any intolerance or allergy to cashew nuts.”
Sunny days make men violent
Beware of testosterone-fuelled leaders and violent men in the summer. Watch out especially in August, the peak time of the year for starting wars and invasions, as well as for individual acts of aggression, from assault and rape to aggravated burglaries.
In the research, a team from Ben-Gurion University in Israel analysed data on violent and non-violent crimes from four continents, and historical records for the starting dates of more than 3,000 wars or acts of hostility.
Results for individual violent offences did show a pronounced annual rhythm. In the Northern Hemisphere, violent crime peaked in July and August, and was at its lowest from December to February. In the Southern Hemisphere, the reverse was true, with a peak in December-January and a low point in June and July.
The researchers found that violent crimes happened two to three times more frequently during high summer in both hemispheres. In contrast, non-violent offences were distributed evenly throughout the year and showed no seasonal rhythm or link with the amount of daylight hours.
Next, the team turned to the timing of the outbreaks of wars, and a similar pattern was found. North of the Equator, there was a peak in August and a nadir in December and January.
The brain-chemical mechanism that could be at work in these instances is not known, but the prime suspect is serotonin. Aggressive soldiers tend to have lower levels of the neurotransmitter, as do murderers and people who commit suicide.
Short-sighted people are more intelligent
Myopia is partly down to genes. But if so, how has it survived evolutionary pressures? Any hunter-gather with poor vision would not have survived long in the hostile Palaeolithic age.
Researchers at Queen Mary Hospital and the University of Hong Kong found that the genes involved in myopia survived because they have a role in intelligence. The idea is that intelligence and myopia go together because the growth of both the brain and the eyes has a common genetic base. Crucially, the genes responsible for myopia have to be turned on by an environmental trigger. In the distant past, that trigger was not around, so our ancestors benefited from superior intelligence, but did not have the handicap of being short-sighted .
And the environmental trigger? Well, hunter-gathers never read; it may be reading, especially when young, may be the trigger.
Jet lag triggers mental illness
Researchers at the Hebrew University, and Hadassah Medical School in Israel, say the possibility of a connection between jet lag and psychiatric disorders has been underestimated, and suggest it could trigger existing or new cases of affective disorders such as depression, anxiety disorder or panic attacks.
Just how jet lag could trigger new episodes of mental illness is not clear, but, again, the hormone melatonin could be the villain. Because it is a key player in the regulation of the circadian cycle, changes of circadian rhythm and melatonin secretion abnormalities have been linked to a number of mental disorders. The researchers cite studies suggesting that abnormal melatonin metabolism may be directly related to schizophrenia. It’s also suggested that sleep deprivation affects melatonin production and may be linked to manic episodes.
An allergy to beef causes gulf war syndrome
For years, doctors and scientists have been puzzling over the cause of the wide range of symptoms found in soldiers returning from the first Gulf War.
Chemical warfare agents, particularly nerve gas, as well as post-traumatic stress disorder, smoke from oil well fires, pesticides, depleted uranium weapons, and exposure to solvents and corrosive liquids, have all been investigated, but no convincing links were found.
So what else could be responsible for Gulf War syndrome? According to researchers at Johns Hopkins University, an allergy to beef is to blame. It’s suggested that when soldiers were immunised against various bugs and toxins before and during the conflict, they may have accidentally acquired an allergy to burgers and steaks. Beef products used in the preparation of the vaccines may have sensitised the troops to beef protein.
So, when they went back home and were again exposed to burgers, steaks and other beef products, they developed the classic symptoms of Gulf War syndrome: fatigue, rashes, muscle and joint pains, headache, loss of memory, shortness of breath, and stomach and breathing problems.
Gulf War syndrome is a significant health problem. At least 12 per cent of Gulf War veterans are now receiving some form of disability compensation.
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