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Posts tagged ‘allotrope’

22 health lessons from “Trust me, I’m a Doctor”

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The BBC ran an excellent second series of three episodes of “Trust Me, I’m a Doctor”. You can dig into all their conclusions here. Here are the take away lessons from it:

1. Moderate amount of exercise every day is better than few intense gym sessions a week. Anything outdoors from walking to gardening is good enough to be considered moderate. Most exercises only have beneficial effects that last for 12-24 hours after exercise.

2. Coffee helps caffeine addicts to keep working at normal levels. This conclusion is a bit simplified because there may be a genetic component in the equation, which might mean the some people need it to keep working at normal levels not just because they are used to it.

3. Fatty foods are probably not going to cause acne or make it worse. Chocolate, or similar sweet things, might do. The science is scant.

4. E-cigarettes seem to be definitely better than cigarettes. But beyond the obvious harm of nicotine addiction, the jury is still out if they are harmless.

5. Less salt may not lower blood pressure, but it wouldn’t be harmful to eat less of it. What you should eat more, however, is potassium—found in broccoli, spinach, apricot and bananas.

6. Most claims about the benefits of omega-3 aren’t that strong. Eating fish, though, is beneficial to reducing heart attacks. But replacing fish with pills as a source of omega-3 does not have the same effect. This might be the case because it is a combination of nutrients in fish that provide the real benefits.

7. Best painkiller to start with is paracetamol, which can be taken in combination with caffeine, ibuprofen, codeine, or all together.

8. Instead of caffeine, chewing gum can increase alertness and sage pills can give a cognitive boost. Both of those might be beneficial without the downsides associated with caffeine (see point 2).

9. Cold pasta changes the structure of starch such that some of the carbs are converted into dietary fibre. It means you don’t get the high-carb load in the blood normally associated with pasta. Reheated pasta is even better than cold pasta, and it is tastier too.

10. Acupuncture may actually have a pain-relief effect. We don’t know how but studies are showing positive results!

11. UV-A, which we can get from the sun, lowers blood pressure and has a lasting effect. The decrease is only 2mm Hg, which is not much but still lowers chance of stroke by 10% and heart attack by 7%. For people with red hair, or if you burn instead of tan, or if you have a family history of melanoma, the sun may not be a solution for you. But for the rest (that is, most of us), the sun is beneficial.

12. It’s impossible to avoid BPA in plastics (bisphenol-A). There is little evidence that the concentration we consume it in is harmful.

13. Saturated fats in certain foods such as nuts or milk might be good. But jury is still out.

14. Vitamin C may not help fight a cold, but zinc supplements taken within first 24 hours can help (beware of side-effects though).

15. Vitamin D supplements work, so does fish and of course sun. But use supplements only when at risk of deficiency.

16. Energy drinks don’t have any more caffeine than normal coffee drinks that millions consume every day. Those with palpitation problems should avoid both.

17. Cold packs are for use on sudden injuries and can help reduce inflammation. Hot packs are for use to treat ongoing pains, such as neck or back pain, to relieve symptoms.

18. Meats after the use-by date should be thrown, but other foods could potentially be consumed. Remove the mouldy bits on breads, cheese and fruit, and you’re good to go. Consuming slimy food items, on the other hand, including those found on vegetables, are a bad idea. The slime tends to be of harmful bacterial origin, not benign fungal origin.

19. Two squares of dark chocolate every day is enough to get the benefits from flavonoids. You can rightly feel guilty if you eat more.

20. When it comes to added sugar in our diet, it is clear that it should be treated as a luxury item. Cutting down sugary drinks will go a long way to help, so would noticing hidden sugar in food items such as chocolate bars and cereal.

21. Waxing pulls the hair out from the follicles, which is why when they grow back it feels as if they are thinner. Shaving only cuts the hair, which makes them appear thicker and harder. However, if one leg is waxed and the other is shaved, you will find no difference between them 12 weeks on.

22. Garlic, beetroot and green leafy vegetables are quite good at reducing blood pressure.

Here are links to lessons I learnt from the 2013 series and the 2015 series of “Trust Me, I’m a Doctor”.

Image by grasper. Published under a CC-BY-NC-ND license.

I love gadgets but here’s why I’m immune to the temptations of new devices

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Despite my love for new technology, I’ve become averse to adopting it right away. This may be a reflection of having conservative parents who worked as retailers in the tech industry. Even though my dad had access to the latest gadgets, he hardly ever switched to using them everyday. When advising clients, he made it clear which devices actually offered value for money. Most of the time the newest device wasn’t on that list.

Even when I had enough money of my own to spend, my aversion for new tech remained. It was clear to me that future-generation devices are always much better than the first-generation ones. After removing the inevitable kinks and adding the much-needed features that the first device missed, the second device does the job significantly better.

Another reason for not wanting to upgrade to a new device is the result of a wider trend, and it has only become more obvious to me in recent years. The new devices on offer won’t make my life that much easier. My first smartphone was a touchscreen Pocket PC device, and it was tonnes better than any Nokia phone on offer at the time. I could look at full-sized images, browse the internet on Wi-Fi, manage a planner and use Google Sync.

Then I bought a Blackberry 8320, which seemed like a step in the past. But it wasn’t. Although I missed the touchscreen, the ease of using a full keyboard was quite something. Finally came the iPhone 4S, which changed my life in more ways than any phone had.

Now we have the iPhone 6 and iPhone 6 Plus. Sadly, they are nothing but the same old iPhone with a bigger screen. Apart from tiny upgrades in the operating system, which is available on older devices, there is nothing about the new iPhones that is attractive to those not part of the cult. There are Android phones which offer a lot more, but none of those features are enough to change my mind.

The Apple Watch may be gorgeous, but I won’t be buying a first generation device. Mostly, though, a smartwatch seems to be nothing more than an additional layer of distraction right now. This is true of Google Glass, too.

There is hardly a profession where reading and replying to every text message, email, Facebook or Twitter notification as soon as you can is important. Most things can wait, and they must if we are to do anything productive in life. The suggestion here is not to become a Luddite, but, when a screen is only a wrist-flick away or in your eye, the temptation is too high.

The only reason I may end up buying a new internet-enabled device is if I am forced to. This could happen either because the device stops working, gets destroyed or doesn’t perform as I need it to. My nearly three-year-old iPhone 4S runs iOS7 and I have no complaints whatsoever (I won’t be upgrading to iOS8, because that would be suicide. Reviews suggest that the user experience becomes choppier.) My nearly four-year-old iPad2 runs iOS7 and works perfectly well. My four-year-old MacBook Pro 17″ runs Mac OSX Mavericks and runs like a leopard. My four-year-old Kindle 3G does everything I need it to.

I love you, gadget-makers, but to get me to actually buy something new you will have to do a lot more.

To become an elite sportsperson, you need to win the genetic lottery

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A review of The Sports Gene by David Epstein


Winners, it is said, are not born but made. That, however, is not the whole truth, as David Epstein, an investigative reporter with Pro Publica, shows in his book The Sports Gene.

In recent decades, the role of genes in causing diseases has been elucidated time and again. So it should not be surprising that they must also play a role in creating gifted individuals. And, yet, the science to support the latter hypothesis is limited and more recent. The reason for this disparity is not because we don’t have the tools to find evidence for that hypothesis, but because the message it supports is not one that society is ready for.

Epstein make his case through many examples. These are not just of rare individuals with extraordinary achievements. He also looks at physiological characteristics of all players at the international level across various sports. Consider, for instance, the average male basketball player. Had he lived at the time, he would not have made a good candidate for Leonardo da Vinci’s Vitruvian Man. That is because a professional basketball player won’t fit in da Vinci’s circle—the length of the player’s outspread arms is greater than his height. Those two measures were considered to be equal in an “ideal human”. But Epstein’s calculations show that if you want to be an internationally successful basketball player, you need to be an exception—you need to be tall and have longer arms still.

This phenomenon is true of other sports. Be it sprinting, where those endowed with the ability to draw more oxygen from the air than the average are more likely to win. Or be it high jump, where rare jumpers with excessively long Achilles tendon end up succeeding. Or be it marathons, where most winners come from within a single tribe in western Kenya. The story is clear—to sculpt an elite athlete, the roll of nature’s dice must be played in their favour.

Teasing apart the role of genes on complex human traits is no simple task. But recent studies have identified a handful genes that can make or break an athlete. Take the EPOR gene, for instance. Those who have the gene, also tend to have exceptionally high haemoglobin levels in the blood. This improves the efficiency with which oxygen is consumed, creating some remarkable athletes if they choose that path. Or take the HCM1 gene. It causes one of the chambers of the heart to grow in size without any apparent symptoms. This puts an athlete with HCM1 at the risk of falling dead on a track without a warning. On average one such athlete dies every other week in the US.

In general, however, the interaction of genes that creates such remarkable athletes is too complex to breakdown. For instance, hundreds of genes are involved in determining someone’s height. So, even if genetic engineering is available today, a designer baby can’t be created to make an “ideal athlete”. But, to be sure, neither can the natural bounty of genes alone ensure great athletic feats. And, yet, there is no doubt that Epstein’s thorough analysis raises uncomfortable questions for the long-held view—recently made famous by Malcolm Gladwell’s 10,000 hours rule—that talent is nothing and practice is everything.

The nature vs nurture debate is not new, but genetics is providing the tools to take the debate forward. The evidence, as Epstein puts it, appears to be that the contribution of both is equally important.

Nurture alone is not going to turn a Pygmy into an NBA player, and that is not a fact that we must shy away from. If anything, genes could help people find which sports would be a good fit for them. Society must not fear these inherent differences. Rather, such inequalities make human life interesting and worth living.

Image credit: piers_nye, CC-BY-NC