health

Sticks and stones may break my bones

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Thirty years after the Chernobyl disaster, it has become clear that radioactivity might be less harmful than originally thought. Some researchers even believe it may be beneficial in small doses. […]

After Chernobyl, horrific victim projections made the rounds. A very small risk, multiplied by 600 million Europeans, resulted in hundreds of thousands additional cancer cases — a completely fictitious number. It could be that there wasn’t even a single case. We simply do not know. […]

The catastrophe began with the explosion of Unit 4 on April 26, 1986. Firefighters tried to extinguish the flames and to cover the open reactor core. Many of the helpers were exposed to extremely high doses of radiation and, by 1998, 39 of them had died as a result.

Whether there was an increase in cancer cases in the area after the accident is an open question, however. The statistics have not proven such a thing: Higher cancer rates in the population have thus far not been determined. […] There is however one exception: Over 6,000 children contracted thyroid cancer after the accident and 15 of them died. A large number of the cases can be tied to the radioactive iodine that the wind carried into the region in the first days. This tumor is, if identified early enough, easily treated.

An increase in thyroid cancer has also been observed in the area surrounding Fukushima’s destroyed nuclear reactor. Last year around 300,000 people who were 18 or younger at the time of the disaster were examined. Researchers found 137 cases. […]

Those who travel to Chernobyl today will feel like they are entering a nature paradise. In the area surrounding the reactor that was the epicenter of the disaster, there are once again wolves and Przewalski horses — and even European bison and lynx have now infiltrated the uninhabited forests. There are probably more animals living in the area than before the disaster. The still-elevated radiation seems to be less damaging to nature than humans are.

{ Der Spiegel | Continue reading }

ink on paper { Keith Haring, Untitled, 1983 }

See the sun turn green

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Sally Ride’s tampons might be the most-discussed tampons in the world. Before Ride became the first American woman in space, scientists pondered her tampons, weighed them, and NASA’s professional sniffer smelled them—better to take deodorized or non-deodorized?—to make sure they wouldn’t smell too strongly in a confined space capsule. Engineers considered exactly how many she might need for a week in space. (Is 100 the right number?, they famously asked her. No, Ride said. That is not the right number.)

The engineers were trying to be thoughtful, though; reportedly they packed the tampons with their strings connected so that they wouldn’t float away. […]

Before women went into space, there were not only the sadly typical concerns that women would become weepy or unable to function during their periods, but also that the menstrual cycle might somehow break in space. Would the blood come out without gravity to pull it from the womb? Maybe it would all pool up in there, or even flow backward through the fallopian tubes into the abdomen—a frightening condition called retrograde menstruation.

In the end, someone just had to try it and see what happened. And what happened was … nothing much. The uterus is pretty good at expelling its lining sans gravity, it turns out.

{ Phenomena | Continue reading | More: The Conversation }

related { Early Menarche is Associated With Preference for Masculine Male Faces and Younger Preferred Age to Have a First Child }

photo { Eri Morita }

Where would an investigator look for control hairs in a missing person’s case?

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Piper Jaffray analyst Stan Meyers said animated films generally cost about $100 million to make, as well as an additional $150 million to promote.

An executive producer who wants to drastically cut costs traditionally has two choices: water and hair. Those are the most expensive things to replicate accurately via animation. It’s no mistake that the characters in Minions, the most profitable movie ever made by Universal, are virtually bald and don’t seem to spend much time in the ocean.

{ Bloomberg | Continue reading }

Disorderly houses. Lord knows where they are gone.

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The war against cocaine rests on a simple idea: If you restrict its supply, you force up its price, and fewer people will buy it. Andean governments have thus deployed their armies to uproot the coca bushes that provide cocaine’s raw ingredient. Each year, they eradicate coca plants covering an area 14 times the size of Manhattan, depriving the cartels of about half their harvest. But despite the slashing and burning, the price of cocaine in the U.S. has hardly budged, bobbing between $150 and $200 per pure gram for most of the past 20 years. How have the cartels done it?

In part, with a tactic that resembles Wal-Mart’s. The world’s biggest retailer has sometimes seemed similarly immune to the laws of supply and demand, keeping prices low regardless of shortages and surpluses. Wal-Mart’s critics say that it can do this in some markets because its vast size makes it a “monopsony,” or a monopoly buyer. Just as a monopolist can dictate prices to its consumers, who have no one else to buy from, a monopsonist can dictate prices to its suppliers, who have no one else to sell to. If a harvest fails, the argument goes, the cost is borne by the farmers, not Wal-Mart or its customers. […]

The raw leaf needed to make one kilogram of cocaine powder costs about $400 in Colombia; in the U.S., that kilogram retails for around $150,000, once divided into one-gram portions. So even if governments doubled the price of coca leaf, from $400 to $800, cocaine’s retail price would at most rise from $150,000 to $150,400 per kilogram. The price of a $150 gram would go up by 40 cents—not much of a return on the billions invested in destroying crops. Consider trying to raise the price of art by driving up the cost of paint. […]

A dollar spent on drug education in U.S. schools cuts cocaine consumption by twice as much as spending that dollar on reducing supply in South America; spending it on treatment for addicts reduces it by 10 times as much.

{ Wall Street Journal | Continue reading }

photo { Robert Frank, Bar, New York City, 1955-56 }

(The freckled face of Sweny, the druggist, appeals in the disc of the soapsun.)

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Marijuana is one of the most commonly used drugs in the United States, and use during adolescence — when the brain is still developing — has been proposed as a cause of poorer neurocognitive outcome. Nonetheless, research on this topic is scarce and often shows conflicting results, with some studies showing detrimental effects of marijuana use on cognitive functioning and others showing no significant long-term effects.

The purpose of the present study was to examine the associations of marijuana use with changes in intellectual performance in two longitudinal studies of adolescent twins (n = 789 and n = 2,277). We used a quasiexperimental approach to adjust for participants’ family background characteristics and genetic propensities, helping us to assess the causal nature of any potential associations. Standardized measures of intelligence were administered at ages 9–12 y, before marijuana involvement, and again at ages 17–20 y. Marijuana use was self-reported at the time of each cognitive assessment as well as during the intervening period.

Marijuana users had lower test scores relative to nonusers and showed a significant decline in crystallized intelligence between preadolescence and late adolescence. However, there was no evidence of a dose–response relationship between frequency of use and intelligence quotient (IQ) change. Furthermore, marijuana-using twins failed to show significantly greater IQ decline relative to their abstinent siblings.

Evidence from these two samples suggests that observed declines in measured IQ may not be a direct result of marijuana exposure but rather attributable to familial factors that underlie both marijuana initiation and low intellectual attainment.

{ Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences }

photo { Julia Margaret Cameron, Paul and Virginia, 1864 }

What part of NO don’t you understand?

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Facial hair, like many masculine secondary sexual traits, plays a significant role in perceptions of an array of sociosexual traits in men.

While there is consensus that beards enhance perceptions of masculinity, age, social dominance, and aggressiveness, the perceived attractiveness of facial hair varies greatly across women.

Given the ease with which facial hair can be groomed and removed entirely, why should some men retain beards and others choose to remove them?

We hypothesized that men with relatively sexist attitudes would be more likely to allow their facial hair to grow than men with less sexist attitudes. […] Men from the USA (n = 223) and India (n = 309) […] Men with facial hair were significantly higher in hostile sexism than clean-shaven men; hostile sexism was a significant predictor of facial hair status.

{ Archives of Sexual Behavior | Continue reading }

Orpheus with his lute made trees

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News of the successful use of ether anesthesia on October 16, 1846, spread rapidly through the world. […] Incredibly, this option was not accepted by all, and opposition to the use of anesthesia persisted among some sections of society decades after its introduction.

We examine the social and medical factors underlying this resistance. […] Complications of anesthesia, including death, were reported in the press, and many avoided anesthesia to minimize the considerable risk associated with surgery. Modesty prevented female patients from seeking unconsciousness during surgery, where many men would be present. Biblical passages stating that women would bear children in pain were used to discourage them from seeking analgesia during labor. […] In certain geographical areas, notably Philadelphia, physicians resisted this Boston-based medical advance, citing unprofessional behavior and profit seeking.

{ Journal of Anesthesia History | Continue reading }

photo { Peter Martin, Greenwich Village Nudes, Figure #1, 1951 }

Article IV. La liberté consiste à pouvoir faire tout ce qui ne nuit pas à autrui.

{ Mike Flemming, Hair Flip (The End of Authentic Gestures), 2014 }

But joys all want eternity — Eleven!

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Lucid dreams are when you know you’re dreaming and you can consciously control events as they unfold: it’s like being the director and star of your own Hollywood movie. It’s estimated that about 20 per cent of people get to enjoy them fairly regularly (at least once a month). For the rest of us, a new study in the journal Dreaming suggests a really simple way to increase your odds of having lucid dreams – just start making more frequent use of the snooze function on your alarm clock.

{ BPS | Continue reading }

Why bodybuilders are a poor source of pharmaceutical advice

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“Can I ask you why you’re buying fat-free half-and-half?” I said.

“Because it’s fat-free?” she responded.

“Do you know what they replace the fat with?” I asked.

“Hmm,” she said, then lifted the carton and read the second ingredient on the label after skim milk: “Corn syrup.” […]

The woman apparently hadn’t even thought to ask herself that question but had instead accepted the common belief that fat, an essential part of our diet, should be avoided whenever possible.

Then again, why should she question it, given that we allow food companies, advertisers and food researchers to do our thinking for us? In the 1970s, no one questioned whether eggs really were the heart-attack risk nutritionists warned us about. Now, of course, eggs have become such a cherished food that many people raise their own laying hens. Such examples of food confusion and misinformation abound. […]

Our beloved kale salads are not “healthy.” And we are confusing ourselves by believing that they are. They are not healthy; they are nutritious. […] If all you ate was kale, you would become sick.

{ Washington Post | Continue reading }

I’m not that genie in a bottle, I’m in a bag

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As Stewart Brand acutely says, most of the things that dominate the news are not really new: love, scandal, crime, and war come round again and again. Only science and invention deliver truly new stuff, like double helixes and search engines. In this respect, the new news from recent science that most intrigues me is that we may have a way to explain why certain diseases are getting worse as we get richer. We are defeating infectious diseases, slowing or managing many diseases of ageing like heart disease and cancer, but we are faced with a growing epidemic of allergy, auto-immunity, and things like autism. Some of it is due to more diagnosis, some of it is no doubt hypochondria, but there does seem to be a real increase in these kinds of problems.

Take hay fever. It is plainly a modern disease, far more common in urban, middle-class people than it used to be in peasants in the past, or still is in subsistence farmers in Africa today. There’s really good timeline data on this, chronicling the appearance of allergies as civilization advances, province by province or village by village. And there’s really good evidence that what causes this is the suppression of parasites. You can see this happen in eastern Europe and in Africa in real time: get rid of worms and a few years later children start getting hay fever. […]

But how many of our modern diseases are caused by this problem—an impoverished ecology not just of parasites but of commensal and symbiotic micro-organisms too? Do kids today in the rich world have unbalanced gut flora after an upbringing of obsessive hygiene? Probably. How many diseases and disorders are the consequence of this? More than we think, I suspect—multiple sclerosis, obesity, anorexia, perhaps autism even.

[I]f you take the gut flora from an obese person and introduce it into a mouse with no gut flora, the mouse puts on weight faster than does another mouse with gut flora introduced from the obese person’s non-obese twin.

{ Edge | Continue reading }

Her long slender bare legs were delicate as a crane’s and pure save where an emerald trail of seaweed had fashioned itself as a sign upon the flesh

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Many people are keen on getting a skin tan despite being aware of warnings of health hazards. The present study investigates differences between women regularly using sunbeds and a control group of non-users in the areas of self-concept, narcissistic regulatory modalities, social assertiveness and generalized self-efficacy.

Thirty women users of suntan salons and 34 women who never used one were investigated with standardized psychological questionnaires. In addition, their knowledge about the hazards of using sunbeds and attitudes to tanning were recorded.

Statistical evaluation shows that sunbed users demonstrate more object devaluation: that is, other persons are devalued so that they are not even considered worthy of affection. Furthermore, they also display greater anxiety in their feelings and relationships with others. The results of this pilot study support the hypothesis that a tanned skin, by helping sunbed users to achieve their ideal of beauty, enables them to devalue other people and thus possibly to protect themselves from close relationships.

{ British Journal of Dermatology | Continue reading }