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for September, 2010.
Welcome to The Deep science and technology column where we cover topics from the deep sea to deep space and beyond.
It’s been a while and the medical file is bulging so off we go into another look at what ails us. And this week it’s all about the bad stuff and how you can take charge of your life and make yourself healthier.
We all know that diabetes is epidemic on Guam and our first story concerns something you might want to discuss with your doctor if you have diabetes. We’re all aware that in recent years the old saw “An apple a day keeps the doctor away” has been changed to “An aspirin a day keeps the doctor away”. Well, in certain instances, maybe not.
A CHANGE IN THINKING
Experts are now recommending that low-dose aspirin therapy to prevent heart attacks not be used for men younger than 50 and women younger than 60, who have diabetes but no other major risk factors.
The new recommendations are based on an analysis of nine studies that found that the risks of side effects like stomach bleeding, and to a lesser extent, bleeding strokes, have to be better balanced against the potential benefits of using aspirin.
The experts said that the use of low-dose aspirin to prevent heart attacks in people who haven’t had one is probably not as successful as was formerly thought. With any medication, you have to balance the benefits against the possible side effects. Even a baby aspirin has some degree of risk, even though it’s very low. In the case of young adults with diabetes but no other significant risk factors, it’s not clear that the benefits outweigh the risks.
Diabetics face higher risk of heart disease as they age, and it had been recommended by many doctors that diabetics use low-dose aspirin therapy along with their other medications. The newest recommendations suggest that aspirin be used only by diabetics who have other risk factors and are older — men older than 50 and women older than 60. A recent update to the U.S. Preventive Services Task Force is still recommending aspirin use for older adults who are not diabetics — ages 45-79 for men, 55-79 for women — and who have other risk factors.
Part of the problem is that widespread use of drugs to control blood pressure and reduce cholesterol has lessened the additional benefits of aspirin. There’s also no evidence that aspirin dosages higher than 75-162 milligrams per day have any added value in preventing heart attacks. An adequate level of protection is generally achieved with what’s considered a ‘baby aspirin’ sold in the U.S. as a pill of 81 milligrams, or one-fourth the strength of a typical 325 milligram single aspirin pill. The report concluded that additional studies in patients with diabetes be done to see exactly who would best benefit from aspirin therapy.
They put me on a regular aspirin a day several years ago and I began to bleed excessively. Minor cuts that would ordinarily stop bleeding in minutes took hours. I complained and they reduced it to a baby aspirin a day. I still had long bleeding times and asked if it could be reduced to every other day. There was some hemming and hawing, but when I mentioned that my options had been reduced to a choice between a heart attack and a bleeding stroke, they switched me to a baby aspirin every other day. Talk to your doctor when you see them; it’s important!
We all know that one of the biggest risk factors for diabetes is obesity or diabesity, the new word that’s kicking around the internet. Weight loss is extremely important in the control and maintenance of diabetes. You also need to reduce your blood pressure. Now, we may have a new way to do that.
GIVE THE KING THE BOOT
So, how do you get the sugar in your diet that makes you fat? Candy? Cookies? Too much cake at the fiesta? Nope. Most of you get it from your soft drinks and beer. Coke. Bud. King Car.
New research recently published in the journal of the American Heart Association says that drinking fewer sugar-sweetened beverages may lower blood pressure. Increased consumption of sugared soft drinks has been associated with an elevated risk of obesity, metabolic syndrome, and type 2 diabetes, according to previous research. However, the effect of all that sugar on blood pressure has been uncertain until this recent study.
The research findings state that lowering your systolic reading (that’s the first number given in a blood pressure reading) by three points reduces your chances of stroke by 8 percent and your chances of dying of a heart attack by 5 percent. So here’s the kicker. If you cut just TWO sugar-laced drinks from your daily consumption, you’ll do just that!
The researchers used data gather from 810 adults, ages 25 to 79, with prehypertension (between 120/80 and 139/89 mm Hg) and stage I hypertension (between 140/90 and 159/99 mm Hg ) who participated in the PREMIER study, an 18-month behavioral intervention study that focused on weight loss, exercise, and a healthy diet as a means to prevent and control high blood pressure.
After controlling for known risk factors of blood pressure, the analysis found that one less sugared soft drink a day was associated with a 1.8 millimeters of mercury (mm Hg) drop in systolic pressure and a 1.1 mm Hg decline in diastolic pressure over 18 months. Researchers noted that this association was partially because of weight loss, but even after controlling for weight loss, the change in blood pressure was statistically significant.
The researchers noted that the average American adult consumes an average of 2.3 servings (28 ounces) of sugar-sweetened beverages per day. In this study, sugar-sweetened beverages were defined as drinks sweetened with sugar or high-fructose corn syrup including regular soft drinks, fruit drinks, lemonade and fruit punch.
The study has important public health implications, because even small reductions in blood pressure have substantial health benefits on a population level. The study concluded: “Although this study was conducted among mostly overweight adults and many with hypertension, we believe that others will benefit by reducing the consumption of sugar-sweetened beverages”.
So, how many soft drinks will you drink today? How many beers? And remember that one of those big bottles of King Car isn’t 1 serving. It’s SIX servings!! Try switching to water. It’s better for you.
So, your doctor has told you that if you don’t lose weight, it’s going to kill you sooner rather than later. And that old saw about “Eating less and exercising more” just doesn’t hack it for someone as busy and cool as you are. So . . . what to do. Well, on TV the other night, they said that all you had to do was take these pills or drink this drink and the pounds will just melt away no matter how much you eat or how much of a couch potato you are. No problemo!! Well, chum, I’m afraid I’ve got some bad news!
New research that evaluated the effectiveness of a whole bunch of popular slimming supplements sold in pharmacies and health food shops has found no evidence that any of them facilitate weight loss beyond the placebo effect. Two studies presented at the International Congress on Obesity in Stockholm, Sweden, have found they were no more effective than the fake supplements they were compared with.
There are tons of diet supplements out there that claim weight-loss effects through all kinds of weird mechanisms. We’ve got fat magnets, mobilizers and dissolvers, as well as appetite tamers, metabolism boosters, carb blockers and a whole host of other ‘cures’. The market for these is huge, but unlike regulated drugs, the makers of these ‘supplements’ don’t have to prove they work before they’re sold. These supplements don’t get submitted for clinical trials and once enough people realize that the “Fat Blaster” isn’t working, these rip-off artists just stop selling it and start marketing the “Weight-Loss Wonder”.
The current researchers tested nine popular supplements against placebo pills in a randomized controlled trial. The supplements tested included L-Carnitine, polyglucosamine, cabbage powder, guarana seed powder, bean extract, Konjac extract, fiber pills, sodium alginate formulations and selected plant extracts.
The researchers bought the supplements from German pharmacies, changed the packaging and product names to make them look neutral and rewrote the information leaflet inserts to eliminate the product name from the text. Then they gave 189 obese or overweight middle-aged consumers packages of either fake pills or of one of the nine supplements, each week for eight weeks, in the doses recommended by the manufacturers. Some of the products came with dietary advice, while others didn’t, so the researchers provided exactly the same advice as that written in the original product leaflets.
Average weight loss was between 1 kg and 2 kg across seven of the products, depending on the supplement, and was 1.2 kg in the group getting the placebo pills. No statistically significant difference in weight loss was found for any of those products when compared with the placebo.
A second study looked at nine different popular slimming supplements, including chromium picolinate, Ephedra, bitter orange, conjugated linoleic acid (CLA), calcium, guar gum, glucomannan, chitosan and green tea. They found exactly the same negative results as the other researchers.
So, with all the kids starving in Africa, how much money do fat people waste on these worthless supplements? According to the second report: "Annual global sales of dietary supplements are well over $13 billion. In Western Europe, sales of weight-loss products, excluding prescription medications, topped $1.4 billion in 2009. Americans spend over $1.6 billion a year on weight-loss supplements. People think these supplements are a short cut to weight loss and may spend huge sums of money on them, but they may end up disappointed, frustrated and depressed if their weight expectations are not met in the long term."
So . . . what’s the answer? Eat less, exercise more and stop drinking so many sugared soft drinks and beer. Tough, huh?
I thought we’d delve into the technology file today. Of course, in today’s world, ‘technology’ has almost become synonymous with ‘computer technology’, but there’s plenty of the other kind around and new stuff is being discovered all the time.
We have our share of earthquakes here on Guam, but they typically don’t cause the destruction found in other places because we also have typhoons here and we build with concrete.
But concrete is a lot more vulnerable to earthquakes than it is to typhoons and some of you may remember that I featured an item several years ago about ‘self-healing concrete’; concrete that basically fixes its own cracks. I thought it was a wonderful idea, but in the ensuing years, no ‘self-healing concrete’ has made its appearance. But that could be subject to change.
HEAL IT UP
Apparently, the problem with the old ‘smart materials’ (another buzz word for the genre) is that they were difficult to commercialize. After all, somebody has to make money from any new technological invention in order for it to spread rapidly. But a new self-healing concrete has been developed and tested by a graduate student at the University of Rhode Island that may be cost-effective.
Michelle Pelletier, a URI master’s degree candidate, embedded a microencapsulated sodium silicate healing agent directly into a concrete matrix. When tiny stress cracks begin to form in the concrete, the capsules rupture and release the healing agent into the adjacent areas.
The sodium silicate reacts with the calcium hydroxide naturally present in the concrete to form a calcium-silica-hydrate product that heals the cracks and blocks the pores in the concrete. The chemical reaction creates a gel-like material that hardens in about a week.
They conducted stress tests by comparing a standard concrete mix with one containing just two percent of Ms. Pelletier’s ‘healing’ agent. The mix containing the sodium silicate recovered 26 percent of its original strength compared to just 10 percent recovery by the standard mix. The testers believe that increasing the quantity of the sodium silicate would probably improve the recovered strength of the concrete.
The self-healing concrete concept (try saying THAT three times fast!) has the potential to be a lucrative one. In previous attempts, researchers have laced concrete with bacteria spores that secrete calcium carbonate to fill the cracks and pores, while others have embedded glass capillaries with a healing agent, but the process of filling the capillaries with the agent is long and tedious.
And the next step for Ms. Pelletier is one that could have REAL importance for us here in the damp tropics. She intends to conduct a study to see if her sodium silicate healing agent also acts as a corrosion inhibitor. Here in the Marianas, we know from rusty rebar.
Ms. Pelletier thinks that her sodium silicate could act as a rust preventative by two mechanisms. First, the sodium silicate fills in the pores thus helping prevent water from reaching the rebar through the concrete itself and also deposits a film on the outside of the concrete which could help reduce the rebar corrosion rate.
One additional advantage to the use of self-healing concrete is that it could reduce the significant CO2 emissions that result from concrete production. Concrete production is very energy intensive. When all aspects of the industry are included like mining, transportation and concrete plants are considered, the industry is responsible for about 10 percent of all CO2 emissions in the United States.
If Ms Pelletier’s self-healing concrete can lengthen the life of the concrete and reduce maintenance and repairs, it will ultimately reduce the production of excess amounts of concrete and result in a decrease in CO2 emissions. And that is a concrete idea!!
STICK IT UP
Although those carefully controlled tests and experiments do produce good science, there is a nagging feeling that most real scientific progress happens, not in those carefully controlled experiments but when someone says “Hmmm, that’s funny. I wonder what caused THAT to happen”
Now, an accidental discovery in a wood products lab at Oregon State University has produced a new pressure-sensitive adhesive that may revolutionize the tape industry. It’s an environmentally benign product that works very well and costs much less than existing adhesives based on petrochemicals.
The new adhesive can be produced from a range of vegetable oils, and may find applications for duct tape, packaging tape, stick-on notes, labels, even postage stamps, in fact almost any type of product requiring a pressure-sensitive adhesive.
The discovery was made by accident while OSU scientists were looking for an adhesive that would be solid at room temperature and melt at elevated temperatures. The vegetable oil-based adhesive they were testing was a spectacular failure
Then one of the students noticed that at a certain stage in the process, the compound they were testing became a very sticky resin. They stopped, put some on a piece of paper and it stuck to everything. It was a very strong adhesive, and it peeled right off. The bell went ding and the two researchers then worked to develop a pressure-sensitive adhesive, the type used on many forms of tape, labels, and notepads.
It’s an amazing compound. It’s incredibly simple to make, doesn’t use any organic solvents or toxic chemicals, and is based on vegetable oils, not petrochemicals. You can make it at about half the cost of existing technologies and it appears to work just as well."
There have been previous attempts to make pressure-sensitive adhesives from vegetable oils, but they used the same type of polymerization chemistry as the acrylate-based petrochemicals now used to make tape. There wasn’t much cost reduction and they didn’t work very well.
The new method uses a different type of polymerization and produces pressure-sensitive adhesives adaptable for a wide range of uses, that work well, cost much less, and are made from renewable crops such as soy beans, corn or canola oil, instead of petroleum-based polymers. OSU has applied for a patent on the technology, and they’re looking for a commercial partner.
So . . . green concrete and green sticky. Of course, we’ve been building for a very long time and although the Romans invented concrete, we’ve always had a need to stick stuff together. A while back, I became curious about the pyramids in Egypt. If the Romans invented concrete and mortar, what holds them together? Luckily, I know an Egyptologist and I asked her. She said that the Egyptians did have mortar, but that mainly what holds the pyramids together is good old-fashioned gravity.
The ancient Chinese had mortar too, but it may not be the kind you’re thinking of. Read on!
BEAT IT, EAT IT, STICK IT ON THE WALL
So . . . you have these stone blocks and you want to build a house. Your house isn’t pyramid-shaped and when you stack them up, they fall over. So . . . what do you use to make them stick together? If you lived in ancient China, the answer apparently was: dinner.
Scientists have recently discovered the secret behind an ancient Chinese super-strong mortar. It’s made from sticky rice, the delicious "sweet rice" that’s a mainstay in virtually all Asian dishes. They’ve also concluded that the mortar remains the best available material for restoring ancient buildings.
The researchers noted that construction workers in ancient China developed sticky rice mortar about 1,500 years ago by mixing sticky rice soup with slaked lime. Slaked lime is limestone that’s been calcined; heated to a high temperature, and then exposed to water. Sticky rice mortar probably was the world’s first composite mortar, made with both organic and inorganic materials.
The mortar was stronger and more resistant to water than pure lime mortar; it was one of the greatest technological innovations of its time. Builders used it to construct buildings like tombs, pagodas, and city walls, some of which still exist today. Some of these structures have survived modern bulldozers and powerful earthquakes.
The research identified amylopectin, a type of polysaccharide, or complex carbohydrate, found in rice and other starchy foods, as the "secret ingredient" responsible for the mortar’s legendary strength.
The study shows that the ancient mortar is an organic-inorganic composite material. The inorganic component is calcium carbonate, and the organic component is amylopectin, which comes from the sticky rice soup added to the mortar. The amylopectin in the mortar acted as an inhibitor. The growth of the calcium carbonate crystal was controlled, and a compact microstructure was produced, that is the basis for the mortar’s incredible performance.
To determine if sticky rice can aid in building repair, the scientists prepared lime mortars with varying amounts of sticky rice and tested their performance compared to traditional lime mortar. The test results showed that sticky rice-lime mortar has more stable physical properties, has greater mechanical strength, and is more compatible with the existing mortar, making it a suitable restoration mortar for ancient masonry.
Welcome to The Deep science and technology column where we cover topics from the deep sea to deep space and beyond.
Since I am typing this on a holiday, this column will be a little different. First of all, it’s going to be shorter than it usually is because that means I don’t have to take enormous chunks of my holiday to write it, AND it is only going to feature good news, mostly about something that makes my life worthwhile. What is this magic elixir that makes us all smile??? CHOCOLATE!
Many of you older readers (and many of you that aren’t so old) wrestle with high blood pressure. I take medicine for it and many of you do too. Our high junk food diets and sedentary lifestyles make high blood pressure almost a given. I’m one of the lucky ones. I take a very low dosage pill and my blood pressure is always exactly where it should be. Now researchers have discovered something that makes ME smile.
A NEW MEDICINE?
Australian researchers have made a wonderful discovery. They combined the results of 15 different studies that looked at the effects of flavanols on blood pressure. Flavanols dilate the blood vessels.
And where do we find flavanols? Dark chocolate. For people with hypertension (high blood pressure), eating dark chocolate can significantly reduce blood pressure.
Dr Karin Ried worked with a team of researchers from the University of Adelaide, Australia, to conduct the analysis. She said, "Flavanols have been shown to increase the formation of endothelial nitric oxide, which promotes vasodilation and consequently may lower blood pressure. There have, however, been conflicting results as to the real-life effects of eating chocolate. We’ve found that consumption can significantly, albeit modestly, reduce blood pressure for people with high blood pressure but not for people with normal blood pressure."
The pressure reduction seen in the combined results for people with hypertension, 5mm Hg systolic, may be clinically relevant; it’s comparable to the known effects of a daily regimen of 30 minutes of physical activity (4-9mm Hg) and could theoretically reduce the risk of a cardiovascular event by about 20% over five years.
The researchers are cautious, however, "The practicability of chocolate or cocoa drinks as long-term treatment is questionable," said Dr Ried.
Well honey, it may be questionable for you, but I choose to personally believe that the reason I don’t have high blood pressure is because I eat five or six pieces of bite-sized dark chocolate candy every day. Eating those mini Dove bars is also a whole lot more fun that taking the morning pills!
And speaking of ‘a whole lot more fun’ there’s more new research about our favorite brown food.
I FEEL BETTER NOW
Researchers from the University of California, San Diego School of Medicine have found that women and men eat more chocolate as depressive symptoms increase, suggesting an association between mood and chocolate.
Results of this paper, co-authored by Beatrice Golomb, MD, PhD, associate professor of medicine at UCSD School of Medicine, appears in the April 26 issue of Archives of Internal Medicine.
"Our study confirms long-held suspicions that eating chocolate is something that people do when they are feeling down," said Dr. Golomb. "Because it was a cross sectional study, meaning a slice in time, it did not tell us whether the chocolate decreased or intensified the depression."
Golomb and her colleagues examined the relationship of chocolate consumption to mood in an adult study sample of about 1,000 subjects who weren’t on antidepressant medications and didn’t have any known cardiovascular disease or diabetes. Participants were asked how many servings of chocolate they ate in a week, and were screened using the Center for Epidemiologic Studies Depression Scale (CES-D) to measure mood.
The researchers found that both men and women who had higher depression scores consumed almost 12 servings of chocolate per month, those with lesser depression scores ate about eight servings of chocolate per month, and those with no depression had five servings per month. No differentiation was made between dark and milk chocolate; a medium serving of chocolate was one ounce, which is slightly less than an average chocolate candy bar.
"The findings did not appear to be explained by a general increase in caffeine, fat, carbohydrate or energy intake, suggesting that our findings are specific to chocolate," said Golomb. There was also no difference in the consumption of other antioxidant-rich foods, such as fish, coffee, fruits and vegetables between those with depression and those without. Golomb added that future studies will be required to determine the basis of this association, as well as the role of chocolate in depression, as cause or cure.
Hmmm. Do you suppose the fact that I didn’t slip into major depression after some recent negative events in my life could be attributed to my chocolate intake? Long live dark chocolate!!!
A new study finds that women and men eat more chocolate as depressive symptoms increase, suggesting an association between mood and chocolate. (Credit: iStockphoto/Gustavo Andrade)
Yes indeed, I love my chocolate but something I don’t love is the idiot box. I don’t own a functional television which makes me very unusual indeed. I get my once a week TV fix by watching old Star Trek episodes with friends and I confess that I don’t miss TV at all. So, what do I do with my evenings? Well, I read, and I do crossword puzzles, logic problems and other word puzzles. And now new research says that that may be better for me than chocolate!
A PUZZLING RESULT
If you don’t have a college degree, you’re at greater risk of developing memory problems or even Alzheimer’s. Education plays a key role in lifelong memory performance and risk for dementia, and it’s well documented that those with a college degree possess a cognitive advantage over their less educated counterparts in middle and old age
Now, a large national study from Brandeis University published in the American Journal of Geriatric Psychiatry shows that those with less schooling can significantly compensate for less education by frequently engaging in mental exercises such as word games, puzzles, reading, and lectures.
"The lifelong benefits of higher education for memory in later life are quite impressive, but we do not clearly understand how and why these effects last so long," said lead author Margie Lachman, a psychologist. She suggested that higher education may spur lifelong interest in cognitive endeavors, while those with less education may not engage as frequently in mental exercises that help keep the memory agile.
But higher education apparently isn’t the the only route to maintain your memory and your brain function. The study found that intellectual activities undertaken regularly made a difference. Lachman said that people without a college education who did things like reading, writing, attending lectures, and doing word games or puzzles once a week or more had memory scores similar to people with more education.
The study, called Midlife in the United States, assessed 3,343 men and women between the ages of 32 and 84 with a mean age of 56 years. Almost 40 percent of the participants had at least a 4-year college degree. The researchers evaluated how the participants performed in two areas, verbal memory and in the brain processes involved in planning, abstract thinking and cognitive flexibility. Participants were given a battery of tests, including tests of verbal fluency, word recall, and backward counting.
As expected those with higher education said they engaged in cognitive activities more often and also did better on the memory tests, but some with less education also did well, explained Lachman.
She said "Although we can not rule out the possibility that those who have better memories are the ones who take on more activities, the evidence is consistent with cognitive plasticity, and suggests some degree of personal control over cognitive functioning in adulthood by adopting an intellectually active lifestyle."
So . . . what does this mean for you? Turn the TV off, pick up a book and read it. Buy yourself a puzzle book the next time you go to the grocery store. Attend one of the lectures at UOG. Heck, come to a Planetarium show. They’re this week, Thursday, Friday and Saturday at 6:30 and 7:00 p.m.
The 6:30 p.m. show is Autumn Skies where you learn all about Guam’s autumn skies! At 7:00 p.m., we’re either going to have the show Learning the Sky which takes you on a tour of Guam’s skies throughout the year or if it isn’t overcast we’ll have Quality Time with the Star Lady where I answer your questions until it gets dark enough to go out and look at the real sky and find three planets.
The Planetarium is located on the second floor of the Science Building of the main campus of the University of Guam and best of all Planetarium shows are always FREE!!
So turn the TV off, and crank up those cognitive skills this week. Your brain will thank you for it!
Jim is, above all, a passionate eco-humanitarian who has developed his own science talk-radio show to inform The DEEP’s listeners about such newsy topics as global warming, shark-finning and reef protection as well as to explore earth’s many underwater and space mysteries.
sailing 12,000 miles and visiting five countries Jim is back here, ready to explore the depths of the ocean to the deepest frontier, space MORE>>
Lady Pam Eastlick is an expert in both the stars
and seas as a graduate of the University of Guam Marine
Lab and the Director of the UOG Planetarium.