118 years of trust

Wednesday, September 9, 1998


Treating stress-related disorders
By H. S. Wasir
Some of the non-cardiac effects of stress are: (a) stomach ulcers, (b) ulcerative colitis, (c) irritable bowel syndrome, (d) eczema, (e) asthma, (f) diabetes, (g) insomnia, and (h) addiction to alcohol and drugs.

What does your hair say about you?
By Dr Joan Smith
SOME women are born blonde, some achieve blondeness and some have blondeness thrust upon them. If this seems far-fetched, bear in mind that blonde is far more than a hair colour; outside Scandinavia, so few women are naturally blonde that becoming one is virtually a career choice.

And now comes an exercise-stimulating pill!
By Roger Dobson
WE’VE been told for decades that fitness can only be achieved through hours of mind-dumbing, body-numbing exercises that make the heart pump faster and the breath come in ever shorter and more painful gasps.

Helping terminally ill children
By Dr Mousumi Dasgupta
Bereft of education and a congenial play environment, terminally ill children who spend solitary hours in dreary hospital rooms have received a whiff of fresh air through a unique psychotherapy programme.



Flight, fright, fight-II
Treating stress-related disorders
By H. S. Wasir, MD, DM

Some of the non-cardiac effects of stress are: (a) stomach ulcers, (b) ulcerative colitis, (c) irritable bowel syndrome, (d) eczema, (e) asthma, (f) diabetes, (g) insomnia, and (h) addiction to alcohol and drugs.

Treatment of stress-related disorders: As stress is the manifestation of one’s disturbed state of the mind, its cure lies in providing equilibrium or relaxation of the mind. With training, the mind can learn how to tackle the many stressful situations in daily life, both at work and at home.

A trained mind helps the individual to augment his capability to successfully meet the environmental demands without being under undue stress.A trained mind accepts the stressful situation in a positive way and avoids transforming it into distress.

A certain amount of stress is, in fact, essential to win the necessary drive to push ahead in life. The training of the mind should be such that it trains the individual to meet the challenges of stress throughout the day in a productive and useful way by modifying his reactions to these situations in a positive way and not by flight (running away) fright or fight.

How is such a training of the mind to be achieved? The various ways in which one may attain mental relaxation include:(i) meditation by intermittent or continuous recitation of mantras in a quiet environment;(ii) study of the scriptures — not merely their recitation but their study in depth and putting into practice the guidelines laid down in these into our daily life during our interaction with others;(iii) regular physical exercise brings mental relaxation.

Physical exercise serves a dual purpose — it keeps the physical form of the body in good shape by avoiding obesity, preventing hypertension, diabetes and osteoarthrits, and it brings with it mental relaxation through a complex mechanism, including raising the levels of endorphines in the body;(iv) practice of yoga; yoga actually means union of self (atman) with the Supreme (Parmatman), this being the highest aspect of yoga.

The postures of the asanas are but the media through which one achieves this aim. There are several asanas, but the two very useful in attaining physical and mental relaxation are Padmasana and Shavasana — the latter is particularly recommended for the control and prevention of high blood pressure;(v) yoganidra: Often one finds oneself in a stressful situation during working hours or in situations from which it is difficult to escape to a few relaxed moments or even to think of meditation.

Examples of such situations are many — like facing a hostile discussion, waiting for the chief guest who is late, listening to a lecture which is boring! Under such circumstances, instead of cursing or getting angry, one should practise what is called yoganidra or Ganeshasana.

One may actually fall asleep while doing yoganidra, an eventuality that is quite acceptable, as the purpose of mental (and physical) relaxation is achieved. Short bouts of yoganidra, even for a few minutes during a busy day, bring freshness and rejuvenation;(vi) positive emotions: as negative emotions — greed, anger, undue attachment etc. — are the factors that cause or aggravate stress and tension, the reverse — i.e. positive emotions — can help in prevention or relief of stress.

These positive emotions are: (a) unselfish love, (b) selfless service, (c) giving with no expectations as preached in the Bhagawadgita, and (d) politeness and civil behaviour. These positive emotions give peace, tranquillity and equilibrium of the mind and thus help the individual to remain free from tension and stress.Stress management: Mental relaxation, as achieved through meditation, music, yoga, physical exercise or Yoganidra, has a major role in human well-being.

It helps in the prevention of many stress-related disorders like blood pressure, angina, pulse irregularities, palpitation, stomach ulcers, irritable bowel syndrome and insomnia.As part of a holistic approach to health-care, stress management course should be introduced in the school and college curricula, especially medical and nursing courses.

For further information, read the doctor’s book, “Traditional Wisdom for Heart-Care” (Vikas). Dr Wasir is the Chief Cardiologist and Medical Director of the Batra Hospital and Medical Research Centre, New Delhi.


What does your hair say about you?
By Dr Joan Smith

SOME women are born blonde, some achieve blondeness and some have blondeness thrust upon them. If this seems far-fetched, bear in mind that blonde is far more than a hair colour; outside Scandinavia, so few women are naturally blonde that becoming one is virtually a career choice.Think of Norma Jean Mortenson, posing for the camera under a mop of springy brown curls.

Think of young Diana Spencer, one eye hidden under a lock of lank brown hair. Would the two most famous women of the century have achieved stardom if they had stuck with their original hair colour?

Blonde is sexy, primal, exciting — and nearly always dyed.When I first visited the Middle East, I was puzzled by the frank stares of other women as I undressed in the hamam, until a Lebanese friend explained that they were waiting to see if I was a “real” blonde — a question answered by the colour of some of my normally unnoticed hair.

Blondes have more fun, we’re told, which is presumably why so many women aspire to white or yellow hair. It makes men lose their heads, as Raymond Chandler noted in Farewell My Lovely: “It was a blonde. A blonde to make a Bishop kick a hole in a stained-glass window.” Blonde Dynamite, Blonde Fever, Blonde Crazy, Blonde Venus it’s the only hair colour with a list of film titles to its credit, long before Anita Loos made her announcement about gentlemen preferring them (but marrying brunettes, the rider so often forgotten).

Before movies were invented, as far back as the early 15th century, their reputation for trouble was already well established. In Masolino’s celebrated fresco in the Brancacci chapel in Florence, depicting the temptation of Adam and Eve, the serpent has a woman’s head and — you’ve guessed it — she’s a platinum blonde. Blonde says: “Look at me.” It’s the colour of show-offs. An early starter, Paula Yates has revealed that she dyed her hair for the first time when she was 12 and “a raging cauldron of repressed sexuality” turning herself into “a Tennessee Williams heroine”.

She is right in interpreting the decision to go blonde as a statement, a commitment to artifice and the first step to becoming a different kind of girl or woman. What kind? The type that men can’t resist, even if they should know better, even if the infatuation doesn’t last. As often as not it doesn’t, because the disadvantages of being blonde are legion.

Blonde equals blank, in the sense of offering a screen for fantasy, as Marilyn Monroe recognised in her autobiography.“People had a habit of looking at me as if I were some kind of mirror instead of a person,” she admitted ruefully.

And the nature of those fantasies was revealed in Norman Mailer’s drooling, posthumous assessment of the star, when he wrote that “she was not the dark contract of those passionate brunette depths. Marilyn suggested sex might be difficult and dangerous with others, but ice-cream with her.”Another problem with blonde is that it’s interchangeable.

“Like so many substantial Americans, he had married young and kept on marrying, springing from blonde to blonde like the chamois of the Alps leaping from crag to crag,” PG Woodehouse is supposed to have remarked of a wealthy acquaintance. Blondes are a status symbol, the perfect companion for princes, playwrights and pop stars. Some men — Rod Stewart, himself a bottle blond-like them so much that they just keep on recycling them.

This suggests that all blondes are, at an unconscious level ,the blonde, a powerful stereotype signalling seductiveness, superficiality, discardability. Blonde is not just a hair colour but a personality — and, in spite of my hair colour, I don’t have it. There are men who home in on fair-haired women at parties, an expression on their faces that says: “Here is the blonde who is going to admire me this evening” and they don’t like it a bit when the woman in question fails to hang on their every word.

Brassy, sassy broads like Mae West are still the exception in a century dominated by doomed blondes, in which biographies of Marilyn, Princess Grace and Princess Diana are sure-fire bestsellers.Perhaps it’s time all those boxes of hair dye, nestling in innocent rows, carried a government health warning. Blondes are not allowed to have brains — or happy endings.


And now comes an exercise-stimulating pill!
By Roger Dobson, MD

WE’VE been told for decades that fitness can only be achieved through hours of mind-dumbing, body-numbing exercises that make the heart pump faster and the breath come in ever shorter and more painful gasps.

But soon, it seems, all this gym stuff will be history with the arrival of the fitness pill, a wonder preparation that will trick muscles into thinking they’ve been for a workout. And more new research suggests we can also make ourselves fitter by simply thinking about an exercise or watching someone else working out.

Ever since the pivotal study in 1953, which suggested that London bus conductors were far less likely to have heart disease than bus drivers, it has been accepted that exercise is healthy for both body and mind. According to Prof Greg McLatchie, consultant surgeon at the Hartlepool General Hospital and author of “Essentials of Sports Medicine”, physical activity has dramatic effects on body function at any age.

“Trained muscle is more biochemically efficient and it adapts by increasing strength and size and by being able to extract more oxygen from the blood — changes which reduce fatigue and discomfort because less lactic acid is generated,” he says.Regular vigorous exercise also improves blood flow, lowers the pulse rate, reduces the risk of diabetes and helps prevent and manage osteoporosis and vascular disease.

After two or three decades of successful health messages like these, which have persuaded millions to take up jogging, cycling, swimming or aerobics, it was perhaps inevitable that scientists would one day come up with a short cut to getting fit. Dr Sanders Williams, chief of cardiology at the Southwestern Medical Centre, University of Texas, has done just that with the discovery of the genetic switch that tells muscles how to behave.

“We believe this determines the type of fibre we get in skeletal muscle,” he says.“By stimulating this pathway, we can switch on genes that are normally only switched on by exercise.

We can, therefore, artificially create effects which simulate exercise. Muscles are, in effect, persuaded to believe that exercise is taking place,” he adds.His team achieved that by modifying genes to remove the normal restraints that control their activity.

One gene, for example, had its control mechanism for calcium production removed so it generates it all the time. That is important because when we are active the concentration of calcium in muscle cells increases.Aerobic and endurance exercises generate what are known as slow fibre muscles Dr Williams says his discovery makes it possible to restore this kind of muscle tissue to people unable, or unwilling, to exercise.

“We believe it explains the important effects of aerobic exercise in increasing physical endurance and reducing risk of heart disease. Our goal now is a drug to produce the same effects we have achieved with gene modification and simulate some of the effects of exercise in people who cannot.

”Psychologists at Manchester Metropolitan University, meanwhile, have shown just mentally practising exercises can increase strength. David Smith and a team of researchers compared the effects of physical practice, mental practice and no practice on the finger strength of male students.

One group carried out 20 specific finger movements over a four-week period, and a second simply imagined themselves doing the exercises. A third group did nothing. Those who did the exercises increased their strength by 33.1 per cent, while the thinkers had boosted their ability by 16.25 per cent. The third group had not changed.

One theory about how this mental jogging works is that as we imagine doing an exercise our brain is primed for action. Because we aren’t actually going to do it, the brain stops the motor system from getting things moving, but some of the signals leak out and are picked up by the muscles which respond.Back in Texas, researchers are working on transgenic mice to try to get a better understanding of what is happening in the muscles. They have also reversed the process and been able to mimic the effects of inactivity in animals that are exercising normally.

But while the work of scientists may result in a fitness pill, would it be as good as the real thing? Can anything replace the pain and suffering of exercise? Well, probably not, say sports psychologists.

Sophisticated effects come with exercise that may be beyond the scope of a pill. “People who exercise regularly appear to suffer less from depression or tension than those who do not. In fact, mildly anxious or depressed people may note a marked change in mood after an exercise regime which is now increasingly being incorporated into psychotherapy,” says Professor McLatchie.

Exercise is also known to trigger changes in the body’s biochemistry which produce the euphoria known as runner’s high or jogger’s joy. It improves self-image and lifestyle, particularly when done as part of a group activity.

Professor McLatchie also found that exercise elevates mood, lessens absenteeism, and reduces drinking and smoking.Only time will tell if a fitness pill could achieve all of that. Meanwhile, the message for all those who want to be healthy is to keep taking the punishment.

—By arrangement with The Guardian, London.Top


Helping terminally ill children
By Dr Mousumi Dasgupta

Bereft of education and a congenial play environment, terminally ill children who spend solitary hours in dreary hospital rooms have received a whiff of fresh air through a unique psychotherapy programme.

Devised to deal with the special needs of suffering children, the schools-in-hospital programme brings all benefits of school education and accompanying fun and games within the hospital environment. The programme has been initiated by volunteers of Vikramshila, a Calcutta-based education research society which visits cancer hospitals regularly and tries to make life a more meaningful and enriching experience for the sick child.

“The schools-in-hospitals programme is basically a relief programme. It is based on our credo that every child has a right to education. The child who is sick and ailing is equally interested to know about the world around him,” says Mr Shubra Chatterji, director of the Vikramshila Educational Research Society.

“We plan our visits around definite themes like plants, animals, clothes, homes and our teachers prepare a variety of interesting teaching aids. But care is taken to see that the themes do not become too obvious. The fun element is always highlighted”, says Mr Chatterji.

Social workers visit the hospital daily and give some time to the children. The kids are asked to draw, recite, given some handwork materials and also taught basic arithmetic, social studies, customs and languages. Cancer specialists feel that this kind of treatment, especially in the case of little children has a therapeutic effect. Cancer among children is curable, if detected early.

But it is generally a long-drawn treatment during which the patient is required to be given specialised institutional care.“We may not be able to alleviate his physical suffering at the onset, but if we can keep him happy, we may be able to reduce his hardship,’’ says Dr Gupta, a renowned cancer specialist and the head of the cancer centre, adding “and we need not remind a healthy mind leads to a healthy body”.

Eleven-year-old Vinay Kumar who is being administered multi-vitamin infusion (MVI) at the Thakurpukur Cancer Centre and Welfare Home always has a smile on his face when he spots workers of Vikramshila approaching the children’s’ ward with educational toys, crayons and a drawing book.

Vinay, who is suffering from lymphoma is a frequent visitor to the cancer centre since 1994. He had to be taken out of school for his long-term treatment and “we work to bring short spells of relief in the lives of children like him who cannot have a normal childhood”, says senior instructor Krishna Banerjee. “The children look forward to our visit.

They come up to us and literally demand new assignments once they finish sketching or colouring. But it is not a continuous process. A child who is radiating enthusiasm today may not be able to get up for days when he is undergoing chemotherapy,’’ Mr Banerjee says.But the NGO has not confined itself to cancer patients only and has also gone to the doorsteps of three other centres dealing with children in the metropolis — Ramkrishna Mission Seva Pratisthan, the Institute of Child Health and the Rehabilitation Centre for Children.

But it is the children suffering from cancer with “whom we develop the maximum interpersonal bond. Maybe, it is due to the nature of the illness or the long confinement that is required for chemotherapy’’, Mr Banerjee says.But dealing with suffering children also needs a special skill and the NGO has to be very selective about choosing volunteers for working with children suffering from cancer.

“We demand strong personality types to deal with such children. Many times it so happens that a social worker opts out of a particular centre when confronted with the death of a child for whom she had developed an attachment, he says.It is not only the children but their mothers who also look forward to their visit. Abha Roy, whose 10-year-old daughter Mousumi is suffering from Ewing’s sarcoma and is admitted here since early April, says “she is excited when the social workers come for she can get back to her good old days.

Mousumi was sad when she had to leave school because of her illness. But when they teach her rhymes, tables, spellings and tell her how to prepare a doll, she is excited’’.“It is only during those brief spells that I start feeling that my daughter is the same happy, normal child that she was before,” she says.

Although the programme has gained popularity among sick children, their parents and hospital staff, yet the paucity of funds has made it difficult for the NGO to continue their work on a regular basis.The programme, which was initially started at the behest of a woman whose child died of cancer and who wanted the NGO to help them with toys and books has continued on the funds provided by add (UKSS) and the Child Relief and you (CRY).

But now the shortage of funds has impaired the work of Vikramshila.Vikramshila, which has included hospitals in its scheme of work since 1991, has reached out to 250 sick children so far.“Currently, some of the Vikramshila staff are trying to continue the programme by donating their spare time.

But as we do not have staff dedicated exclusively for the object, the frequency of our visits has decreased.“But what makes us sad is when our teachers go to the hospitals they have to constantly answer the questions from children and we do not have an answer,” says Ms Chatterji. Top


New role for an epilepsy drug

Scientists have claimed that an epilepsy drug could be helpful in treating cocaine addiction, according to ANI.A research conducted on 500 rats and 20 primates has shown that administering the drug vigabatrin reduces cocaine effects biochemically and also eliminates drug-seeking and self-administration behaviour.Scientists from the US Department of Energy’s BNL St. John’s University in New York, the Albert Einstein College of Medicine and Boston University said vigabatrin could also be effective in combating other addictions such as tobacco.The drug is not addictive and does not have side-effects, unlike other pharmaceutical treatments for drug addiction, they said.The drug appeared to prevent the “high” and other effects of cocaine in a similar way it prevents an epileptic seizure by altering the way brain cells communicate with each other, scientists said.Vigabatrin is used to treat epilepsy because it improves communication between brain cells and moderates the effects of uncontrolled neuro-transmitter releases that cause epileptic seizures.The drug stops production of the brain’s “feel good” chemical mainly responsible for addiction to drugs.

Cold under pressure?

MEDICAL researchers have spent years trying to discover why some people catch cold frequently, while others rarely get it. They studied nearly 400 men and women before concluding that psychological stress is an important factor in colds, according to ANF.They showed that the higher a person’s stress score on a test, the more the person was likely to catch a cold when exposed to a cold virus. Other researchers have found that having many different kinds of social relationships helps to protect people against stress and therefore from disease.A new study has found that managers ran double the usual risk of a heart attack the week after they give someone the axe. Some studies have suggested that chronic work stress contributes to heart disease.

Chocolates and pimples

REPEATED studies have failed to find any link between eating chocolates and teenage pimples. In a study of young men suffering from pimples, four weeks of eating at least three bars of chocolate daily had no effect on their skin, reports ANF.Some researchers suggest that an individual who observes break out of pimples after eating certain foods should avoid those foods, but doctors specialising in allergy say chocolate is rarely ever a factor in food allergies.Top

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