Archive | The Body Electric

Which Came First?

The depression, or the chocolate?

People who eat more chocolate are more likely to be depressed than people who eat less chocolate, a new study has found.

What isn’t clear, though, is whether people who were more likely to be depressed ate more chocolate in the study—or whether chocolate itself is linked to depression.

“It’s possible chocolate has antidepressant effects and that’s why they are eating chocolate,” said Beatrice Golomb, one of the study’s researchers and an associate professor of medicine at the University of California, San Diego. “I think many of us believe chocolate consumption, at least in the short term, makes us feel better.”

Some research has suggested that chocolate, made from the beans of cocoa trees, has health benefits such as lowering blood pressure. But there has been little research involving mood.

Dr. Golomb and her colleagues looked at 931 adults who weren’t taking antidepressants and didn’t have known cardiovascular disease or diabetes. (The same group of patients was being screened as part of separate research involving cholesterol-lowering drugs.) The results appear in this week’s Archives of Internal Medicine.

Participants were asked about how many servings of chocolate they ate per week and then were screened for depression, using a questionnaire about mood, sleep and eating habits that doctors use to determine if a person might be depressed.

A depression-rating scale indicates whether a person should be referred to a psychiatrist for additional evaluation and possible treatment. Patients who score higher than a 16 on the scale are considered possibly depressed; those who score above 22 are considered likely to be depressed. People whose scores are 16 or less aren’t considered depressed.

The study found that “possibly depressed” individuals, who scored above 16, ate 8.4 servings of chocolate per month. People who weren’t depressed, scoring at or below 16, ate 5.4 servings of chocolate per month. Patients with scores higher than 22—or those most likely to be depressed—ate the most chocolate, with 11.8 servings a month.


This can’t be good:

More than 80% of the male bass fish in Washington’s major river are now exhibiting female traits such as egg production because of a “toxic stew” of pollutants, scientists and campaigners reported yesterday.

Intersex fish probably result from drugs, such as the contraceptive pill, and other chemicals being flushed into the water and have been found right across the US.

The Potomac Conservancy, which focuses on Washington DC’s river, called for new research to determine what was causing male smallmouth bass to carry immature eggs in their testes. “We have not been able to identify one particular chemical or one particular source,” said Vicki Blazer, a fish biologist with the US geological survey. “We are still trying to get a handle on what chemicals are important.”

But she said early evidence pointed to a mix of chemicals – commonly used at home as well as those used in large-scale farming operations – causing the deformities. The suspect chemicals mimic natural hormones and disrupt the endocrine system, with young fish being particularly susceptible.

The chemicals could include birth control pills and other drugs, toiletries especially those with fragrances, products such as tissues treated with antibacterial agents, or goods treated with flame retardants that find their way into waste water. However, Blazer also pointed to runoff from fertilisers and pesticides from agricultural areas.

About 5 million people live in the greater Washington area, and 90% of them get their drinking water from the Potomac.

There is evidence that the anomaly is not confined to the Potomac, one of the largest rivers on America’s Atlantic coast.

Sorry Seems To Be The Hardest Word

But say it anyway!

Women who are starved of an apology for rude or hurtful behaviour suffer an increase in blood pressure which can raise the risk of a heart attack or stroke, a study found.

But those who hear a well-timed “sorry” calm down more quickly, with their blood pressure returning to normal 20 per cent faster, the research showed.

Conversely, a man’s blood pressure takes 20 per cent longer to recover after an apology – suggesting men become more worked up after hearing an admission of guilt.

Scientists at the University of Massachusetts Medical School in Worcester, US, measured the diastolic blood pressure of 29 men and 59 women throughout the experiment.

Turn On, Tune In

Maybe they’re ready to take a look at all the potential benefits:

As a retired clinical psychologist, Clark Martin was well acquainted with traditional treatments for depression, but his own case seemed untreatable as he struggled through chemotherapy and other grueling regimens for kidney cancer. Counseling seemed futile to him. So did the antidepressant pills he tried.

Nothing had any lasting effect until, at the age of 65, he had his first psychedelic experience. He left his home in Vancouver, Wash., to take part in an experiment at Johns Hopkins medical school involving psilocybin, the psychoactive ingredient found in certain mushrooms.

Scientists are taking a new look at hallucinogens, which became taboo among regulators after enthusiasts like Timothy Leary promoted them in the 1960s with the slogan “Turn on, tune in, drop out.” Now, using rigorous protocols and safeguards, scientists have won permission to study once again the drugs’ potential for treating mental problems and illuminating the nature of consciousness.

After taking the hallucinogen, Dr. Martin put on an eye mask and headphones, and lay on a couch listening to classical music as he contemplated the universe.

“All of a sudden, everything familiar started evaporating,” he recalled. “Imagine you fall off a boat out in the open ocean, and you turn around, and the boat is gone. And then the water’s gone. And then you’re gone.”

Today, more than a year later, Dr. Martin credits that six-hour experience with helping him overcome his depression and profoundly transforming his relationships with his daughter and friends. He ranks it among the most meaningful events of his life, which makes him a fairly typical member of a growing club of experimental subjects.

Researchers from around the world are gathering this week in San Jose, Calif., for the largest conference on psychedelic science held in the United States in four decades. They plan to discuss studies of psilocybin and other psychedelics for treating depression in cancer patients, obsessive-compulsive disorder, end-of-life anxiety, post-traumatic stress disorder and addiction to drugs or alcohol.

Pollen Hell

As long as I can remember, they tell us the pollen is hitting “record highs” this year. All I know is, I’ve been sneezing all week:

ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. — Pollen: It’s on your car, in the air and especially in your sinuses.

From Florida to Texas to Colorado, 2010 is shaping up to be a monster of an allergy season. The words “pollen” and “allergy” are among the top 10 trending topics on Twitter in several U.S. cities. Everywhere, it seems, is covered in a fine yellow dust that irritates our lives. Experts say it’s the worst they’ve seen in years in many areas.

“It’s wicked bad this year,” said Dr. Mona Mangat, an allergy specialist in St. Petersburg, Fla., who can’t recall a worse year in the six she’s worked there. “We’re just overwhelmed with patients right now. We’re double- and triple-booked with new patients, trying to work people in because we know how much people are suffering.”

This year is especially bad in the Southeast, weather experts say, likely due to winter’s unseasonably cold weather.

“That may have helped delay some of the plants from blooming as early as they may have wanted to,” said John Feerick, senior meteorologist at AccuWeather. “It’s the fact that everything is coming out all at once.”

High winds in some areas also spread the misery.

“We had a perfect storm this year,” said Dr. William Storms, professor at University of Colorado and a clinician. “It’s the worst I’ve seen in 10 years.”


Great idea:

Scientists from Yale University have developed a “biological bypass” around a life-threatening blocked artery. The research could reduce or even eliminate the need for invasive surgery while preventing heart attacks before they become an issue.

“Instead of doing a surgical bypass or stenting, you could induce the growth of new arteries with a biological bypass,” said Michael Simons, a doctor at Yale University and co-author of a recent paper in the Journal of Clinical Investigation. “This would be a major step in how we treat cardiovascular disease.”

Clogged arteries can kill a person through heart attacks, strokes and other medical emergencies. For years doctors have cleaned clogged blood vessels by inserting a balloon into an artery and expanding it. The balloon compresses fatty deposits that build up on the walls of arteries, and opens blood vessels. If the vessel is plugged beyond repair, doctors remove the offending artery and replace it with another blood vessel, usually one from the patients leg — an invasive and costly procedure.

Sanitized for Your Protection

It’s about time. This stuff is just not good for you:

The Food and Drug Administration said recent research raises “valid concerns” about the possible health effects of triclosan, an antibacterial chemical found in a growing number of liquid soaps, hand sanitizers, dishwashing liquids, shaving gels and even socks, workout clothes and toys.

The FDA and the Environmental Protection Agency say they are taking a fresh look at triclosan, which is so ubiquitous that is found in the urine of 75 percent of the population, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. The reassessment is the latest signal that the Obama administration is willing to reevaluate the possible health impacts of chemicals that have been in widespread use.

In a letter to a congressman that was obtained by The Washington Post, the FDA said that recent scientific studies raise questions about whether triclosan disrupts the body’s endocrine system and whether it helps to create bacteria that are resistant to antibiotics. An advisory panel to the FDA said in 2005 that there was no evidence the antibacterial soaps work better than regular soap and water.

Good For What Ails You

I’m not a big chocolate freak, but I do find that a piece of dark chocolate takes the edge off my sweet tooth:

LONDON (AP) — The Easter Bunny might lower your chances of having a heart problem. According to a new study, small doses of chocolate every day could decrease your risk of having a heart attack or stroke by nearly 40 percent.

German researchers followed nearly 20,000 people over eight years, sending them several questionnaires about their diet and exercise habits.

They found people who had an average of six grams of chocolate per day — or about one square of a chocolate bar — had a 39 percent lower risk of either a heart attack or stroke. The study is scheduled to be published Wednesday in the European Heart Journal.

Previous studies have suggested dark chocolate in small amounts could be good for you, but this is the first study to track its effects over such a long period of time. Experts think the flavonols contained in chocolate are responsible. Flavonols, also found in vegetables and red wine, help the muscles in blood vessels widen, which leads to a drop in blood pressure.

“It’s a bit too early to come up with recommendations that people should eat more chocolate, but if people replace sugar or high-fat snacks with a little piece of dark chocolate, that might help,” said Brian Buijsse, a nutritional epidemiologist at the German Institute of Human Nutrition in Nuthetal, Germany, the study’s lead author.

Junk Food Junkies

I’ve been saying this for years: It’s a lot harder to quit sugar than drugs. And yet, as expensive as it is to treat diabetes and obesity-related conditions, why don’t insurance companies send people away for dietary rehab?

The findings in a study of animals cannot be directly applied to human obesity, but may help in understanding the condition and in developing therapies to treat it, researchers wrote in the journal “Nature Neuroscience.”

The study, involving rats, found that overconsumption of high-calorie food can trigger addiction-like responses in the brain and that high-calorie food can turn rats into compulsive eaters in a laboratory setting, the article said.

The scientists also found decreased levels of a specific dopamine receptor — a brain chemical that allows a feeling of reward — in overweight rats, as has been reported in humans addicted to drugs, the article said.

“Obesity may be a form of compulsive eating. Other treatments in development for other forms of compulsion, for example drug addiction, may be very useful for the treatment of obesity,” researcher Paul Kenny of The Scripps Research Institute in Florida said in a telephone interview.

And Speaking of Sugar

Last night I ate a small piece of candy, an Easter egg with a cream filling. I had an immediate and scary reaction: my throat felt weird, it started to hurt and I began coughing and didn’t stop for the next three hours.

The ingredients don’t seem to have anything that should make me wary. The label lists milk chocolate made with sugar, whole milk, cocoa butter and soy lecithin; vanillan (artificial flavor), sugar, corn syrup, egg albumen, salt, vanilla, invertase (an enzyme), and sodium hydroxide. Made on machines used with peanuts, tree nuts and wheat.

As far as I know, I’m not allergic to any of that stuff. But I have to tell you, the experience scared the crap out of me.

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