HEALTH & FITNESS

The mysteries of sleep
Jeremy Laurance

Why do we sleep? More than 80 years after the world's first sleep laboratory opened in Los Angeles, and in spite of intensive investigations of the sleeping brain, we still do not know the answer. Sleeping and dreaming remain among the greatest mysteries of the human organism — essential to life, yet inexplicable and frustratingly unproductive.

Eating broccoli may keep genetic skin disorder at bay
Washington:
Eating broccoli is a very good idea for people suffering from a devastating genetic skin disorder, say researchers at the Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine in Baltimore, who found that a natural compound present in the green vegetable could help treat the disorder.

Chemical in fried food may double cancer risk in women
London:
A new study at the University of Maastricht has found that a common chemical called acrylamide caused by frying, roasting or grilling a food substance can double the risk of cancer in women.

EYESIGHT
DIABETES: main cause of blindness among adults
Dr Mahipal S. Sachdev
Diabetes mellitus and obesity were the diseases common in developed countries. However, with lifestyle deterioration, these problems are on the rise even in developing countries!

Ayurveda & You
Memory problems: correct diet, lifestyle changes can help
Dr R. Vatsyayan
Many of us on reaching a certain age get a little nervous when we misplace our keys or glasses or forget a phone number we have dialled many times. Slowing of mental responses and some lapses of memory are considered normal signs of ageing.

Health Notes
Here’s how mums can get their babies to like fruits and vegies
Washington:
Getting babies to eat their fruits and vegetables can be an uphill task for parents. Now, researchers from the Monell Chemical Senses Center in Philadelphia have found how parents can help their babies like healthy foods.

  • Naps keep young adults awake more effectively than coffee

  • Anti-smoking drug Chantix linked to suicidal, violent behaviour

 

 

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The mysteries of sleep
Jeremy Laurance

Why do we sleep? More than 80 years after the world's first sleep laboratory opened in Los Angeles, and in spite of intensive investigations of the sleeping brain, we still do not know the answer. Sleeping and dreaming remain among the greatest mysteries of the human organism — essential to life, yet inexplicable and frustratingly unproductive.

We spend one-third of our lives asleep. Imagine the possibilities if we could do without it. It would be the equivalent of adding 25 or 30 years to the average life-span - an enormous gain, at the expense of nothing more than the loss of slumber.

The idea exerts a strong fascination for scientists and lay people alike, and it is investigated in a new exhibition, Sleeping and Dreaming, at the Wellcome Collection, London.

Presented in a dark and dramatically lit space, more than 200 exhibits chart the scientific exploration of sleep, and the social and cultural areas of our lives to which it is linked. They include art works by Goya, Henry Fuseli and Catherine Yass.

While sleep is essential to life, most of Britons feel they do not get enough of it — even those with homes and beds to go to. They are a nation of insomniacs, with two-thirds of the population complaining they cannot sleep. Insomnia is so common that doctors say the preoccupation with it is now itself a medical problem. The greatest enemy of sleep is worry about not getting enough of it. Most people who lose sleep will be able to recover it the next night, and will be able to cope in the meantime.

Prolonged sleeplessness, however, is crippling. Anyone who has gone for two nights without sleep will know what this means - the siren call of slumber beckons irresistibly. Peter Tripp, a New York disc jockey, was among the first to discover its cost - and he did so in public. He took part in a "wakeathon" in January 1959 to raise funds for polio research, during which he went 201 hours without sleep while continuing to broadcast from a glass booth in Times Square. As the hours passed he became aggressive, started hallucinating and began to suspect his support group of a conspiracy against him. Yet he managed to broadcast for three hours a day throughout, though not without the help of (unidentified) stimulants.

He survived the experiment, and his symptoms of irritation and paranoia became recognised as classically linked to extreme sleep deprivation. But he suffered from personal and professional problems later in his life that would always be blamed on his record-breaking stunt.

Shortly after his "wakeathon", Tripp was indicted in the infamous Payola scandal and found guilty of accepting bribes from record companies for playing their records. He was disgraced, and his career never recovered. He was married and divorced four times and died, aged 73, in 2000. His first wife said he was never the same after the stunt.

And he didn't even keep the record. Five years later, Randy Gardner broke it with a stint of 11 days awake in January 1964. He also experienced hallucinations and became increasingly grumpy with those around him, though he reportedly did without the stimulants. Instead, his friends took him on walks at night and forced him to do press-ups when he showed signs of drowsiness. On completion of his feat, when asked at a press conference how he had done it, he replied: "It's just mind over matter." Then he curled up in bed and slept for 15 hours.

Gardner's record was authenticated by a sleep researcher and professor of psychiatry at the Stanford School of Medicine, on the basis of direct observations and electroencephalogram (EEG) recordings of Gardner's brain. The now-famous professor was named, aptly, William Dement. His letter is part of this display at the Wellcome Collection.

Dreaming, which occurs during REM sleep, is the one event during the hours of slumber that turns out to be more productive than it appears. Paul McCartney claimed to have woken from a dream with the theme for The Beatles' hit "Yesterday" in his head. Robert Louis Stevenson said the story of Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde came to him while asleep, and Dmitri Mendeleev reported that he "saw" a chart of all the elements ranged in front of him while dozing at his desk on 17 February 1869. Two weeks later, he published what has become the Periodic Table of the Elements.

Claims such as these allowed entrepreneurial firms in the 1960s to exploit a credulous public by selling the idea of learning in our sleep. Languages were popular - simply place the tape recorder by your bed and wake up speaking French.

Freud made the first serious attempt to penetrate the world of sleep with his most famous work, The Interpretation of Dreams, published in 1899. Among his best-known cases was that of the Wolf Man, a rich young Russian called Sergei Pankejeff who had a nervous breakdown at the age of 17 that left him incapable of leading a normal life. — The Independent

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Eating broccoli may keep genetic skin
disorder at bay

Washington: Eating broccoli is a very good idea for people suffering from a devastating genetic skin disorder, say researchers at the Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine in Baltimore, who found that a natural compound present in the green vegetable could help treat the disorder.

The disorder in question is called epidermolysis bullosa simplex (EBS), which results from mutations in the genes encoding keratin 5 or keratin 14. The mildest form of EBS leads to blistering of the hands and feet since these are most susceptible to frequent abrasion.

Researchers led by Pierre Coulombe found that the compound sulforaphane whose natural precursors are found at high levels in broccoli and other cruciferous vegetables can help treat this disorder.

Coulombe and colleagues turned to sulforaphane in their search for a chemical activator that would induce the production of missing keratins in basal
epidermis. — ANI

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Chemical in fried food may double cancer
risk in women

London: A new study at the University of Maastricht has found that a common chemical called acrylamide caused by frying, roasting or grilling a food substance can double the risk of cancer in women.

The study, which enrolled 120,000 people — half of whom were women — established a direct association between consumption of the chemical and the incidence of ovarian and womb cancer.

It also revealed that the chemical is found in cooked foods such as bread, breakfast cereals, coffee and also meat and potatoes which had been fried, baked, roasted, grilled or barbecued.

The Dutch study discovered that women who had more acrylamide were twice as likely to develop ovarian or womb cancer as those who ingested a smaller amount. The higher amount eaten by the women involved was the equivalent to a single packet of crisps, half a pack of biscuits, or a portion of chips a day. — ANI

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EYESIGHT
DIABETES: main cause of blindness among adults
Dr Mahipal S. Sachdev

Diabetes mellitus and obesity were the diseases common in developed countries. However, with lifestyle deterioration, these problems are on the rise even in developing countries!

A study reveals that India has an estimated 35 million diabetics. The incidence of diabetes in urban India has increased 20 times in the past 20 years. Another startling revelation is that over 50 per cent cases of diabetes in rural India and 30 per cent in urban areas go undiagnosed.

Diabetes leads to multiple problems like diabetic neuropathy, nephropathy and retinopathy. One of the most feared complications of diabetes is damage to the eye. This fear is justified, since nearly half of all people with diabetes will develop some degree of diabetic retinopathy during their lifetime.

A diabetic person is at the risk of getting the following eye problems: cataract, glaucoma and diabetic retinopathy.

A cataract is a clouding of the eye’s lens. studies show that a person with diabetes is twice as likely to get a cataract as someone who does not have the disease. Cataracts also develop at an earlier age in people with diabetes. Usually cataract surgery restores the vision of the patient.

Glaucoma may also become a problem for those with diabetes. Glaucoma starts with an increase in fluid pressure inside the eye that can lead to the optic nerve damage and loss of vision. A diabetic is nearly twice at the risk of getting glaucoma than other adults. The visual damage because of glaucoma is irreversible. Therefore, its detection in early stages is important. Glaucoma may be treated with medications, laser or other forms of surgery.

Diabetic retinopathy develops when the tiny blood vessels which provide oxygen to the retina become damaged. Retina damage happens slowly. The longer a person has diabetes, the more likely he or she will get diabetic retinopathy.

Often there are no symptoms in the early stages of the disease. Even in more advanced cases, the disease may progress a long way without symptoms. Without an eye check-up, most people are unaware that they have eye damage.

When signs occur they may include blurred or double vision, dark or floating spots, pain in one or both eyes, trouble seeing things out of the corners of the eyes, rings, flashing lights or blank spots. These usually happen with the advanced stage of the disease. Detecting diabetic retinopathy early is the best way to prevent vision loss. Do not wait for symptoms.

LASER treatment is advised at various stages of diabetic retinopathy. It reduces the risk of severe vision loss by 60 per cent. Laser, however, typically cannot restore vision that has already been lost.

Awareness about the diabetic eye problems and the need for routine eye exam- ination to detect them at an early stage are important. Keeping one’s blood glucose and blood pressure readings as close to normal as possible and getting regular eye check-ups done are the best defenses against diabetic eye diseases.

If you have diabetes, get a dilated eye examination at least once a year and more often, as per your eye specialist’s opinion, if you have diabetic retinopathy.

The writer is Chairman and Medical Director, Centre for Sight, New Delhi.

Email: msachdev@bol.net.in

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Ayurveda & You
Memory problems: correct diet, lifestyle
changes can help
Dr R. Vatsyayan

Many of us on reaching a certain age get a little nervous when we misplace our keys or glasses or forget a phone number we have dialled many times. Slowing of mental responses and some lapses of memory are considered normal signs of ageing.

But such problems can be frustrating and frightening if they become more serious resulting in impairing the ability of a person to function independently. Giving due importance to various mental faculties, ancient ayurvedic texts have described good intellect, sharp sense of discrimination and unfaltering memory a basic requisite of a healthy person and long life.

Memory is a complex cognitive process involving stages of acquisition, consolidation and retrieval of information. Forgetfulness can be understood in many ways as absent-mindedness, transient loss of memory and persistently failing to recollect something very usual and important. Frequent memory lapses are likely to be noticeable because they tend to adversely influence day-to-day life.

Dementia and Alzheimer’s disease are other serious but separate conditions which not only badly affect a person’s cognitive functions by the progressive degeneration of brain cells but also make him oblivious of his surroundings or even doing normal chores like handling personal hygiene.

Experts have found various reasons for memory loss. These include certain medicines like antihistamines, anti-anxiety medications and antidepressants, heavy use of alcohol, stress and emotional trauma and depression causing lack of attention and finding it difficult to remain focused.

Head injury, thyroid dysfunction, sleep deprivation, nutritional deficiencies, wasting diseases, serious systemic infections and, most importantly, the ageing process which are the foremost reasons for memory loss.

Ayurveda believes that except for a few serious conditions, general cases of memory loss can be treated by adopting certain lifestyle modifications. A diet which is helpful in lowering the cholesterol and controlling the hypertension can also slow down the rate of brain cell degeneration in elderly patients.

Researchers tell that the use of green leafy vegetables and food containing omega-3 fatty acids such as fish, and avoiding food high in saturated fat may ultimately improve the memory-boosting functions of the brain.

“Don’t smoke or abuse alcohol” should be the mantra of persons who are prone to memory lapses. Smokers perform worse than non-smokers in the studies of memory and thinking skills. Similarly, heavy use of alcohol also impairs memory. Regular physical activity and exercise, and adopting techniques like yoga and pranayam help maintain the blood flow to the brain and reduce the stress.

Keeping oneself busy and focused whether it is the normal work, social interactions or recreational activities and challenging the brain with such activities as reading, writing and learning a new skill stimulates brain cells and lowers the risk of progressive memory loss.

Some higher medicines apart, Charaka has prescribed four herbal recipes to rejuvenate memory. These are the juice of mandukparni (Centella asiatica), powder of yashtimadhu (Glycyrrhiza glabra) mixed with milk, juice of gaduchi (Tinospora cordifolia) along with its roots and flowers and the paste of shankhpushpi (Convolvulus prostatus).

He further adds that these recipes increase longevity, cure diseases, promote strength and improve metabolism. Among these, shanskhpushpi is the best drug for boosting memory and intellect. Other herbs like amla, ashwagandha, brahmi and kushmand (hara petha of the Indian kitchen) are also proven brain tonics and memory-boosting agents.

The writer is a Ludhiana-based senior ayurvedic physician.

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Health Notes
Here’s how mums can get their babies to like
fruits and vegies

Washington: Getting babies to eat their fruits and vegetables can be an uphill task for parents. Now, researchers from the Monell Chemical Senses Center in Philadelphia have found how parents can help their babies like healthy foods.

The trick, they say, is for mums to start eating fruits and vegetables while breastfeeding.

What also helps is offering your tot plenty of opportunities to taste fruits and vegetables as she or he makes the transition to solid foods by giving repeated feeding exposures to these healthy foods — regardless of whether you’re breast-feeding or using formula.

As a part of the study, senior author Julie A. Mennella and co-author Catherine A. Forestell studied 45 infants, 20 of whom were breastfed. The infants, who were between the ages of four and eight months and unaccustomed to eating solids other than cereal, were randomly assigned to one of two groups. — ANI

Naps keep young adults awake more effectively than coffee

Washington: You may think that guzzling cups of coffee is the answer to staying awake, but as it turns out, taking those short power naps is a more effective way of not falling off to sleep, especially for young people.

The finding is based on a study conducted by Patricia Sagaspe of the Clinique du Sommeil at CHU Pellegrin in Bordeau, France, who studied 24 people, 12 young (between 20-25 years of age) and 12 middle-aged (between 40-50 years of age).

As a part of the study the volunteers first drove 125 highway miles in the daylight, between 6:00 and 7:30 p.m. Then, in a test of the effects of coffee and napping on night-time driving, participants drove another 125 miles between 2:00 and 3:30 a.m. after having a cup of coffee with 200 mg of caffeine, a placebo (a cup of decaffeinated coffee with 15 mg of caffeine) or a 30-minute nap.

Dr Sagaspe then kept a check for inappropriate line crossings, self-perceived fatigue and sleepiness and polysomnographic recordings.

Once analysed, the results showed that the number of inappropriate line crossings was significantly increased when driving in the evening. — ANI

Anti-smoking drug Chantix linked to suicidal, violent behaviour

London: Taking the drug Chantix may be an effective way to stop you from reaching for that pack of cigarettes, but it may end up making you violent.

The drug, which has been on the market in America for 18 months, is now being investigated by the US Food and Drug Administration after being linked to suicidal and violent behaviour.

This side of the drug came into focus after the case of Carter Albrecht of Dallas, Texas.

Mr Albrecht was shot dead while trying to break into a house. His family insists that he was in a fit of rage at the time, and are blaming it on his use of Chantix.

The anti-smoking drug is taken by smokers who have quit. In defence of the drug, it has been claimed that a reason why it turns people violent is because it may exacerbate any underlying psychiatric illness ensuing nicotine withdrawal
symptoms. — ANI

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