Tag: Health

Here’s How Much Chocolate Can Kill You

From the dawn of humanity we’ve been figuring out how to avoid poisons that can make short work of our internal organs, such as mercury and polonium, can wipe out 50 million people with just 1 vaporized gram.

But we’re not so good at knowing at what point some harmless substances can become deadly.

For example, if you had six cups of coffee an hour over a 12-hour period, uh oh, you’re dead, because 70 cups contain enough caffeine to give just about anyone cardiac arrest, says the latest episode of AsapSCIENCE.




We all know alcohol is a poison in its own right, but did you know that 13 consecutive shots could easily kill you?

That’s because alcohol is a depressant, and enough of it will start to shut down the basic functions that keep you alive, like your breathing and heart rate.

Even something as innocuous as water can kill you, but you’re gonna have to try really hard, because you need about 6 liters of the stuff to cause your brain cells to swell so much you’ll get headaches, seizures, and yep, even death, in extreme cases.

On the other hand, if you forego liquids and just load up on too much salt, you’ll end up shrinking your cells down and suffering from a condition known as hypernatremia.

Forty-eight teaspoons of your favorite seasoning at once is enough to trigger this reaction, also leading to seizures, coma, or even death,” says AsapSCIENCE.

If, like some, you’re weird enough to swallow cherry seeds rather than spitting them out (because come on, that’s even more gross), keep doing what you’re doing – just don’t accidentally bite down on one.

Doing so with one or two pits will release enough cyanide to kill you in a particularly horrible way: your cells won’t be able to process oxygen, so you’ll basically choke to death internally.

So long, and thanks for not leaving your disgusting cherry pits around, I guess.

Unfortunately, what we consume isn’t the only thing that can kill us if we don’t get the dosage right – being too tall is also a dangerous fate, as AsapSCIENCE explains.

No, nothing is safe in ridiculous quantities, but did you know that chocolate is bad for us in the same way that it is for dogs?

I won’t spoil how many bars you’d need to guzzle to achieve actual ‘death by chocolate’, but let’s just say you’re gonna need a whole lot of milk to help get it all down.

Oh, and enough of that will probably kill you too. Sorry.

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Pass it on: Popular Science

Blind Fish In Dark Caves Shed Light On The Evolution Of Sleep

Out of the approximately 3 billion letters of DNA that make up your genome, there are about a 100 letters that neither of your parents possess.

These are your own personal mutations. The machinery that copies DNA into new cells is very reliable, but it is not perfect. It makes errors at a rate equivalent to making a single typo for every 100 books filled with text.

The sperm and egg cells that fused to form you carried a few such mutations, and therefore so do you.

Changes to DNA are more likely to be disruptive than beneficial, simply because it is easier for changes to mess things up than to improve them.

This mutational burden is something that all life forms have to bear. In the long run, individuals that carry harmful mutations will, on average, produce fewer offspring than their peers.




Over many generations, this means that the mutation will dwindle in frequency. This is how natural selection is constantly ‘weeding out’ disruptive mutations from our genomes.

There is a flip side to this argument, and it is the story of the blind cave fish. If a mutation disrupts a gene that is not being used, natural selection will have no restoring effect.

This is why fish that adapt to a lifestyle of darkness in a cave tend to lose their eyes. There is no longer any advantage to having eyes, and so the deleterious mutations that creep in are no longer being weeded out.

Think of it as the ‘use it or lose it’ school of evolution.

A world without light is quite an alien place. There are many examples of fish that live in completely dark caves.

Remarkably, if you compare these fish to their relatives that live in rivers or in the ocean, you find that the cavefish often undergo a similar set of changes. Their eyes do not fully develop, rendering them essentially blind.

They lose pigmentation in their skin, and their jaws and teeth tend to develop in particular ways.

This is an example of what is known as convergent evolution, where different organisms faced with similar ecological challenges also stumble upon similar evolutionary solutions.

The changes mentioned above are all about appearance, but what about changes in behavior? In particular, when animals sleep, they generally line up with the day and night cycle.

In the absence of any daylight, how do their sleep patterns evolve?

A recent paper by Erik Duboué and colleagues addressed this question by comparing 4 groups of fish of the same species Astyanax mexicanus.

Three of the populations (the Pachón, Tinaja, and Molino) were blind cavefish that inhabited different dark caves, whereas the fourth was a surface-dwelling fish.

The authors defined sleep for their fish to be a period of a minute or more when the fish were not moving. They checked that this definition met the usual criteria.

Sleeping fish were harder to wake up, and fish that were deprived of sleep compensated by sleeping more over the next 12 hours (these are both situations that any college student is familiar with).

The researchers also tracked the speeds of all the fish, and found that, while they were awake, the cavefish moved faster or just as fast as the surface fish.

This means that it’s not that the cavefish are constantly sleep deprived and in a lethargic, sleepy state. They are just as wakeful as the surface fish (if not more so), and genuinely need less sleep.

These three cavefish populations all evolved independently, and yet they have converged on remarkably similar sleep patterns.

To study the genetics of this phenomenon, the researchers cross-bred the surface fish with the cavefish. The cave dwellers and surface fish all belong to the same species, which means that they can have viable offspring.

They found that the mixed offspring (Pachón x surface and Tinaja x surface) had a reduced need for sleep that was indistinguishable from that of their cave-dwelling parent.

Thus sleep reduction is clearly a genetic trait, and it is a dominant trait (Dominant traits are present in the offspring if they are inherited from just one parent. A recessive trait, on the other hand, will only be present if it is inherited from both parents.)

Unlocking the secrets of sleep is inherently cool science, and it also has the potential to help people suffering from sleep disorders.

Who knows, it may even lead to the superpower of doing away with sleep altogether.

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Pass it on: Popular Science

Superbugs And Antibiotic Resistance

For the last century, medical professionals and microbiologists have waged a war against germs of every type and with the breakthrough of antibiotics, changed the world in which we live.

It also changed the world for our symbionts, the 4 to 6 pounds of bacteria, fungi and viruses who have hung on to our species through thick and thin for eons of time; to them we are their movable feast.

It was indeed a war that we appeared to be winning.  We thought we were firmly living in the ‘Antibiotic-Age’ and it was here to stay for all time.

However, while we were basking in its potency, unfortunately we were also rapidly and inexplicably sowing the seeds of its demise.

In a recent landmark report, US health policy makers warn that, with mounting evidence of superbugs overcoming our antibiotics,  that our situation is extremely serious.

The report gives a glimpse of the world to come, as even now there are a dozen different drug resistant microbial species that have totally overcome our existing antibiotics.

These resistant strains are now responsible for causing 2 million infections and 23,000 deaths each year in the US alone.




According to the WHO, the rapid emergence of multi-drug resistant (MDR) strains calls for a comprehensive and coordinated response to prevent a global catastrophe.

The WHO warns that, “...many infectious diseases are rapidly becoming untreatable and uncontrollable.”

CDC director Tom Frieden says that we must take urgent action to “change the way antibiotics are used” by cutting unneeded use in humans and animals and take basic steps to prevent infections in the first place.

The tools we have at our disposal, besides tracking resistant infections, are vaccines, safe food & patient infection control practices, paired with effective and enlightened hand hygiene.

Human populations weathered numerous plagues before antibiotics were discovered. It is edifying that geneticists have found that the human genome is littered with the remnants of our past battles with pathogens.

The difference is that today we know how to effectively apply all of the preventive measures that are at our disposal.

We should keep in mind that the advent of infectious disease adapted to humans is a relatively recent phenomenon.

The ‘Post-Antibiotic Age’, if it comes, represents the ongoing evolution between a microbe and its human host, with hand & surface hygiene reigning supreme as the most effective means of preventing infection.

These elements, along with water sanitation and hygienic treatment of human waste, have formed the basis for the hygiene revolution over the last hundred years.

Within this, the discovery and development of antibiotics is perhaps the short lived apex or crowning glory of the revolution.

To rise to the challenge, we need to recognize that our bodies are complex ecological systems and the maintenance of our barrier function is critical to preventing skin infection and keeping out invading pathogens.

This is no more than an extension and further development of the original hygiene revolution, where we see the true relations between living organisms and the many elements of the environment.

Skin health is critical to maintaining hand hygiene compliance.  Hand hygiene is certainly capable of rising to the challenge, but not if skin is damaged.

In the ‘Post-Antibiotic Age’, maintaining healthy skin will be essential to preventing a wide range of infections caused by strains we helped to create.

Healthy hands are safe hands, but hand hygiene does not have to go it alone if there is a “sea-change” with respect to how agri-food producers and healthcare professionals utilize antibiotics.

CDC Director Frieden stated that, “It’s not too late,” but that there is a list of urgent and life-threatening infections that must be addressed via a more effective collaboration; they include carbapenem-resistant Enterobacteriaceae (CRE), drug resistant gonorrhea and C. difficile.

The WHO has called for the agri-food industry to take the threat of MDRs seriously and curb over use of antibiotics, particularly as it is estimated that there is at least a 1000-fold greater use of antibiotics compared to humans.

In hospitals we must embrace best antibiotic and hygiene practices to make a turn from what the Center for Global Development has called “a decade of neglect“.

We need to “Get  Smart” and set targets for reducing antibiotic use in healthcare facilities.

Let’s all appreciate the good microbial flora and fauna that exist on and in us, as without these little creatures life as we know it would not exist.

We should also recognize that the more bad bugs encounter antibiotics, the more likely they are to adapt. As Health Canada puts it, “Do bugs need drugs?“.

While antibiotics have allowed us to temporarily gain the upper hand, nothing lasts forever;  but with a holistic view of hand hygiene there is no reason why we can’t continue to improve our control of infections.

But for this to happen, there can be no excuses or compromises for effective hand hygiene practices.

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Pass it on: New Scientist

 

To Get Humans To Mars, Making Space Food With Space Poop Is What We Need

 

Astronauts aboard the ISS drink recycled pee for a reason: we can only bring so much food and water to to space. Imagine how much more we need to take for that year-long journey to Mars.

Since bringing more resources means higher costs — the heavier a spacecraft is, the more fuel it needs, after all — scientists are looking to find ways to make self-sustaining vehicles.

A team of researchers from Penn State University, for instance, have developed a method to make space food with astronaut poop.

Disgusting? Well, the team’s technique doesn’t exactly turn the feces itself into food.




Instead, it uses microbes to break down solid and liquid human waste with anaerobic digestion, a process that doesn’t consume precious oxygen, similar to what happens inside our stomach when we eat.

During digestion, the fecal material produces methane, which is then fed to bacteria (Methylococcus capsulatus) naturally found in soil and already used to make animal pellets using a microbial reactor.

When the researchers tested their technique using artificial poop, the end result was biomass that’s 52 percent protein and 36 percent fats.

That’s what future spacefarers would eat — and what Mark Watney probably would’ve used as dip for his potatoes if he just had the equipment.

Team leader and Penn State professor Christopher House admits that “it’s a little strange,” but it’s like “Marmite or Vegemite where you’re eating a smear of ‘microbial goo.‘” We’ll bet space-poop goo is also an acquired taste.

In addition to being packed with nutrients, the goo is also relatively fast to make: researchers said they managed to remove 49 to 59 percent of the solids in the waste material within 13 hours during their tests.

That’s much faster than current waste management treatment methods, and as House said, it’s “faster than growing tomatoes or potatoes.

The researchers also found potential food sources other than Methylococcus capsulatus during their tests.

When they tried growing microbes in either an alkaline or a high-heat environment to prevent the growth of pathogens, they discovered that a bacterium called Halomonas desiderata (15 percent protein and 7 percent fats) can thrive in the harsh conditions.

Another species of bacteria called Thermus aquaticus can live in environments reaching 158 degrees Fahrenheit, as well.

With a nutritional value that’s 61 percent protein and 16 percent fats, it’s yet another possible source of microbial goo grub for future astronauts.

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Pass it on: Popular Science

How High Is Air Pollution In Your City And How Does It Compare To The Most Polluted Cities In The World?

Pollution is a greater global threat than Ebola and HIV, according to warnings by the World Health Organisation.

According to its recent report, one in four deaths among children aged under five are now due to environmental hazards such as air pollution and contaminated water.

Previously this year, air pollution levels in London were worse than those in Beijing for a brief period – with the UK capital’s pollutants frequently breaking UK limits.

Now, the UK Government plans to tackle such dangers by banning diesel and petrol cars by 2040.

But how bad is air pollution in other areas of the UK?




How does the UK compare to the world?

According to the World Health Organisation (WHO), London is just a mid-table city when it comes to the international league table of polluted places.

London only ranked 1,389th out of the nearly  3,000 cities and towns around the world monitored in the WHO’s database of annual air pollution readings.

WHO guidelines state that cities should aim to have an annual average of no more than 10 micrograms of PM2.5 (very fine particulate matter) for every cubic metre of air. London had an annual PM2.5 average of 15 μg/min 2013, far lower than Beijing’s average of 85.2 μg/m3.

These particles are very small in diameter and are classed as carcinogenic by leading health organisations. Thousands of deaths a year are attributable to air pollution in the UK.

Which cities have the highest air pollution levels worldwide?

According to the WHO, the most polluted city in the world is Zabol in Iran.

Zabol’s PM2.5 measurements were found to average a massive 217 μg/m3 for the latest available year – more than 20 times higher than the recommended level.

The next two entries on the list are both located in India (Gwalior and Allahabad) while the first non-Asian city on the list is Bamenda in Cameroon which came in eighth place.

Tetovo in Macedonia was the most polluted European city in the database, followed by Tuzla in  Bosnia and Herzegovina.

The most polluted city in the UK isn’t actually London. Glasgow topped that list, followed by Scunthorpe and Leeds with London in sixth place.

However, given that these rankings are based on figures taken in 2013, the situation may have changed since. London may also experience greater peaks in air pollution but these figures are all annual averages.

Asian cities tend to be more polluted

The WHO’s database is by no means a comprehensive list of every city in the world – many places will simply not be able to provide air pollution figures of sufficient quality to be included.

However, from the figures available, Asian cities were the likeliest to exceed the 10 μg/m3 guideline for PM2.5.

Just four of the 632 Asian locations included in the data were found to be below this level, meaning that the equivalent of 99.4 per cent of Asian cities exceeded it.

African cities were the next most likely to annually exceed their recommended levels of air pollution while towns and cities in Oceania were the least likely.

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Passit on: Popular Science

Hug Hormone Oxytocin Boosts Bonding By Releasing Cannabis-Like Molecules

Whichever persona you prefer – the love molecule, cuddle chemical or hug hormone – oxytocin plays a big role in bonding.

Spraying monkeys with the stuff, for example, has been found to positively affect their social behavior, making them more communicative and promoting interaction with others.

Among many other things, weed also exerts similar effects on human behavior, but how exactly it does this has been hazy.

Now, a new study is offering us clues, and a link between these two very different substances.

It turns out that oxytocin might make social interactions more rewarding and pleasurable by stimulating our own cannabinoid system.

According to the research, it does this by triggering the release of another wonderfully nicknamed chemical, the “bliss molecule” anandamide, coined as such due to the fact that the brain receptors it activates lead to increased motivation and happiness.




This is the first time that this marijuana-like neurotransmitter has been shown to contribute to the reward of being social, and also offers us further insight into how oxytocin acts on the brain.

Importantly, these findings could help us understand the mechanisms underlying certain social impairments, for example in those with autism, suggesting a possible avenue to explore for treatment.

Rewinding a little bit, endocannabinoids, like anandamide, are molecules our own body produces that act on the same system that cannabis does, binding to receptors on various cells throughout the body called the cannabinoid receptors.

Previous work has found that the endocannabinoid system is involved in regulating neuronal signaling from the nucleus accumbens (NAc), a brain region shown to be critical for the effects of oxytocin on social reward.

To scrutinize these links further, scientists from the University of California, Irvine looked at the brains of juvenile mice reared in groups that had been isolated from their peers for 24 hours, then either returned to the group or kept in isolation for a further three hours.

They found that social contact increased the release of anandamide in the NAc, whereas isolation had the opposite effect. The resulting cannabinoid receptor activation, they found, reinforced the rewards of social interaction.

Taking this one step further, the team wanted to see how oxytocin, known to reinforce both parental and social bonding, fits into this emerging story.

After stimulating oxytocin-producing cells in the brain, they noticed a subsequent boost in the mobilization of anandamide in the NAc.

But when they blocked oxytocin receptors with drugs, the same response was not observed.

Tying the results together, the team found that boosting anandamide levels by blocking its degradation with a drug promoted social reward, causing mice to spend more time interacting with others when compared to those given a placebo, which could have implications for those with social deficits, for example in autism.

We think that there is a disruption in cooperative oxytocin-anandamide signaling in autism,” lead researcher Daniele Piomelli told IFLScience. “

Animal models of autism have multiple disruptions in endocannabinoid signaling.

In these models, Piomelli said, increasing anandamide levels in the same way as before corrected social reward deficits.

This raises the possibility that similar effects could be achieved in humans, helping those with autism socialize more.

The study has been published in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

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Pass it on: New Scientist

Mich Ultra’s Super Bowl Ad Is Heavy On Sweat, Light On Beer

Is it an ad for your local health club … or a beer? Michelob Ultra will continue its fitness-themed campaign in the Super Bowl with a spot that includes a lot more cycling and running than drinking.

The low-calorie brew does not appear until the very end, when all the sweating is over.

The Anheuser-Busch InBev brand seeks to link social drinking and working out via the soundtrack: The theme song from the classic TV show “Cheers.”

The agency is FCB Chicago, which was behind a similar athletic-themed spot for the brand that aired in last year’s Super Bowl called “Breathe.”




This year’s ad is called “Our Bar.” An extended cut (above) will be trimmed to 30 seconds for the in-game airing.

The spot uses “real fitness enthusiasts — not actors — doing what they do day-in and day-out: going through a tough workout together and sharing cold beers afterwards to celebrate,” Ultra stated in a press release.

We recognized that the social lives and beer-drinking occasions of the Michelob Ultra consumer extend beyond gathering at the bar or at home with friends,” Azania Andrews, VP-Michelob Ultra, stated in the press release.

Communities forming around fitness activities represent a new type of socializing. ‘Our Bar’ emphasizes that beer is a part of this new world, grounded in celebrating accomplishments.”

With Friday morning’s release of the ad, AB InBev has now made public all four of its Super Bowl ads, including spots for Budweiser, Bud Light and Busch.

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Pass it on: Popular Science

Is Butter Really A Carb?

Turns out, one of the most famous lines from our favorite chick flick, Mean Girls, is wrong.

Regina George is trying to lose weight and cutting out carbs, and asks Cady (Lindsey Lohan’s character) if butter is a carb.




Cady famously replies with a condescending “yes”, but it turns out, butter is in actual fact not a carb. Okay, well it is, but it’s a very low carb. Low as in it contains only  0,1g of carbs.

Butter is used in low carb diets like banting. So technically, Regina could have – and should have – had that butter instead of the cheese fries she decided to get instead.

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Pass it on: Popular Science

 

Do You Always Check The Weather Before Going Out? You Should Check The Disease Map Too.

The field of medical geographic information systems (Medical GIS) has become extremely useful in understanding the bigger picture of public health.

The discipline holds a substantial capacity to understand not only differences, but also similarities in population health all over the world.

New diseases and epidemics spread through the world’s population every year.




The discipline of medical geographic information systems (GIS) provides a strong framework for our increasing ability to monitor these diseases and identify their causes.

The field of medical geography has a much longer history than most are aware of, dating back to the first known doctor, Hippocrates, and progressing through the 1900s until today.

The early history leads us to the examination of contemporary examples of GIS, influences on public health, space-time mapping components, and the future of this discipline supported by Big Data.

The evolution of medical GIS from early disease maps to digital maps is a journey long in the making, and continues to evolve.

These maps have enabled us to gain insight about diseases ranging from cholera to cancer, all while increasing the knowledge of worldwide health issues.

As modern technology continues to thrive, medical GIS will remain a lasting approach for understanding populations and the world we live in.

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Pass it on: New Scientist

London Reaches Legal Air Pollution Limit Just One Month Into The New Year

London has now reached its annual air pollution limit less than a month into the new year.

European Union rules – and UK law – state that monitoring stations are allowed to exceed hourly limits of 200 micro-grams of NO2 [nitrogen dioxide] per cubic meter of air just 18 times in a year.

Today, Brixton Road in Lambeth recorded its 18th breach marking the official limit for the entire year.

This is actually a significant improvement on previous years. Last year London broke the limit for the year in just five days while the capital as a whole has consistently broken its own limits on air quality for the last five years.




To try and tackle the air pollution crisis that’s currently facing the capital, London Mayor Sadiq Khan has introduced a number of tough new measures including the T-charge which charges the most polluting types of car that wish to drive through the city.

Other actions include introducing new greener buses on routes that are classed as particularly dangerous air pollution hotspots including Putney.

This has reportedly led to a 90% drop in the harmful emissions since their introduction. Throughout 2016 Putney high street broke the EU limit a shocking 1,600 times.

World Health Organisation figures from 2016 reveal that a staggering 92% of the world’s population are living in areas that exceed its own guidelines on air quality.

Environmental law firm ClientEarth took the UK government to the High Court last week for the third time over illegal air pollution in the country.

“But it’s still only a month into 2018 and London has breached limits for the whole year, which shows there’s much more to do. Londoners are still breathing filthy air on a daily basis.”

“Ministers have to get a grip and show they’re serious about protecting our health by committing to real action to tackle our toxic air.”

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Pass it on: New Scientist