Stories tagged health

Jun
30
2010

The machine can actually see through purple rectangles: I put those there for your own safety.
The machine can actually see through purple rectangles: I put those there for your own safety.Courtesy TSA
That headline would likely have been true for most of us anyway, but the new security measures at some airports practically guarantee it.

Y’all remember the new airport scanners that would allow airport security staff to see through our clothes and hair… to the pale, doughy bodies beneath? Organs that we had worked so hard to conceal from the world would be on display for everyone to see. (Not “everyone,” exactly. More like a single security agent.)

We were assured, though, that despite the unveiling of our hidden third, fourth, and fifth nipples, the process was perfectly safe, and would save us from the pat-downs that could subject our vestigial tails and webbed armpits to crude manhandling.

However, it seems that some doctors aren’t so sure that the process is as safe as has been claimed.

The machines work by bathing your body in high frequency radio waves, which penetrate your clothes, but not your body. Depending on your outlook, y’all might be thinking, “Oh, radio waves. Like… for the radio. A little AM/FM never hurt no one.” And, not counting your grammar, you’d be correct. But another equally correct person might think, “Oh, radio waves. Like… in my microwave. If I lived in a microwave oven, I’d probably die.”

These waves shouldn’t do anything to you. Mostly they’re happy just bouncing around, maybe heating things up a little, maybe carrying some talk radio, maybe doing both. The more dangerous electromagnetic radiation (remember, radio waves are a type of electromagnetic radiation) are further up the scale—gamma rays and x-rays are higher energy and have a shorter wavelength, and they can pass through you just fine, and mess things up on their way through.

However, some scientists think that these radio waves are concentrated on and in the skin, especially where clothes do not protect it. (I’m not certain why this is. Maybe because it can penetrate a little bit, so instead of totally bouncing off the body, or being distributed throughout the tissue, it’s all ending up in the skin? I wouldn’t write that on a test, though.) The upshot is that, according to some doctors at least, the dose of radiation received from these machines could be as much as 20 times higher than the official estimates.

What’s more, some research has shown that this type of radiation may, in fact, be harmful. The reason things like x-rays are potentially dangerous is that they have enough energy that they can sort of knock apart some of the molecules in your body. That’s not a big deal, unless one of the molecules that gets changed is in your DNA. When DNA is altered or damaged, there’s a chance that it could start producing cancer cells. That kind of radiation is said to be “ionizing.” The radiation used by the scanners is supposed to be non-ionizing, but, nonetheless, there are models showing how they could “rip apart DNA.” The effect hasn’t been demonstrated experimentally, but, if it’s true, it might mean that the scanners could contribute to skin cancer risk.

There are a lot of “may”s and “potentially”s in the story, so it’s probably not something to lose a lot of sleep over. (Despite the guarantee I put in the first sentence of this post.) Unless you do lots of traveling through airports that use these devices (which, I should stress, are not the same as the metal detectors we all walk through at the airport), your greater concern should probably be imaging technology that makes you look like a surprised, naked ghost.

Perennial grain
Perennial grainCourtesy RaeA
In a paper titled Increased Food and Ecosystem Security via Perennial Grains scientist state that perennial grains could be available in two decades and urge that research into perennial grains be accelerated by putting more personnel, land, and technology into breeding programs.

Perennial grains have roots that reach 10 feet or deeper, reduce erosion, build soil, need less herbicide, and best of all, survive over winter so there is no need to plow, cultivate, or replant.

Babies are dying

"Whooping cough is now an epidemic in California," said Dr. Mark Horton, director of the California Department of Public Health, in a statement. "Children should be vaccinated against the disease and parents, family members and caregivers of infants need a booster shot." ABCnews

Click here to watch whooping cough video on You Tube.

Jun
11
2010

Life with Asperger Syndrome: I just read this book, loaned to me by the mother of another Asperger syndrome boy I cared for.
Life with Asperger Syndrome: I just read this book, loaned to me by the mother of another Asperger syndrome boy I cared for.Courtesy Jesse Saperstein
When my nephew was an infant, he would not crawl, and he would flap his arms like a bird. I ended up doing daycare for him (and his brother) until they started school. I also noticed they would often say things twice, the second time softer to themselves. Years later I learned about Asperger Syndrome (AS). Asperger syndrome is a mild form of autism, or autism spectrum disorder (ASD)

Diagnosing autism is not simple

Symptoms of autism spectrum disorders vary and require trained professionals to diagnose. You can listen to Dr. Susan Levy for an explanation.

New research may lead to a simple urine test for autism diagnosis

According to research published in Journal of Proteome Research, children with autism have a different chemical fingerprint in their urine than non-autistic children.

The researchers reached their conclusions by using H NMR Spectroscopy to analyse the urine of three groups of children aged between 3 and 9: 39 children who had previously been diagnosed with autism, 28 non-autistic siblings of children with autism, and 34 children who did not have autism who did not have an autistic sibling.
They found that each of the three groups had a distinct chemical fingerprint. Non-autistic children with autistic siblings had a different chemical fingerprint than those without any autistic siblings, and autistic children had a different chemical fingerprint than the other two groups. ScienceDigest

Early detection of autism can change lives

According to AutismSociety.org the advantages of early detection and intervention cannot be overemphasized. Children who receive intensive therapy can make tremendous strides in their overall functioning and go on to lead productive lives.

Paper "dipstick" test can tell blood type in seconds

Blood transfusions save millions of lives every year. Getting the wrong type of blood can be deadly, though.
While the expensive equipment required to differentiate blood type is not available in many poor areas, now a strip of paper costing pennies can be used instead. Learn more about the "dipstick blood test" in ScienceDaily.

Jun
07
2010

Let's form a transient cage-like entity around an ethanol molecule: I mean... a person. I think.
Let's form a transient cage-like entity around an ethanol molecule: I mean... a person. I think.Courtesy Urban Mixer
That's right, vodka is 103%. According. To. Me.

And today, on the birthday of Paul Gauguin, the inventor of vodka*, we learn that that extra 3% is composed largely of science. Possibly.

See, vodka is supposed to be a neutral spirit—pretty much just a tasteless 40% ethyl alcohol, 60% water solution. (Tasteless except for the taste of alcohol, which is very strong.) And yet, when you get to the age where going to a bar is an appropriate thing to do, you will see and hear gentlemen saying things like, "Grey Goose on the rocks!" And then they give the bartender an amount of money they probably worked half an hour or more to earn.

Why?

Three reasons:

1) Something about filtering. Whatever.

2) Some people are ridiculous. If you ever say something like, "Grey Goose on the rocks!" you're one of them. But that's ok, because it takes all kinds, you know?

3) Apparently there may be some science to their seemingly arbitrary brand loyalty, even though they may not be conscious of it.

In the 40/60 alcohol/water solution we call vodka, groups of molecules called "hydrates" form. Hydrates in vodka consist of a molecule of alcohol sequestered by a bunch of water molecules, bonded together with hydrogen. If the bottle of vodka were a club, say, the alcohol would be like an attractive individual, surrounded by damp gentlemen united by their taste for premium vodka. (Don't think about it too much—it's a dangerously recursive metaphor.)

Scientists carefully analyzed several different popular brands of vodka, and found that the concentration of hydrates differed in each. So a good vodka might be like a happening club, with lots of attractive people surrounded by fellas. Or maybe it'd be like a very exclusive club, with just a few foxy people being ground into sweaty embarrassment on a relatively lonely dance floor.

The scientists didn't go so far as to say what concentration of hydrates was best, only that different concentrations might lend to an individual's brand preference. Instead of actually tasting the difference, though, drinkers might "perceive" the concentration of hydrates through other qualities, like how "watery" the vodka feels (even though all the brands tested had the same concentration of water.)

So there may be something to the practice of ordering specific expensive brands of vodka, and then drinking them straight. That doesn’t mean you should do it, though.

*Not true. Paul Gauguin never invented vodka. He did die of syphilis, though. Happy birthday, Paul!

May
30
2010

Allergic to peanuts?
Allergic to peanuts?Courtesy texnic

What is food allergy?

Food allergy is an abnormal response to a food triggered by the body’s immune system. Symptoms include itching, a rash, vomiting, difficult breathing, and lowered blood pressure.

While almost 30% of Americans think they have food allergies, the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases (NIAID) found that

food allergy occurs in 6 to 8 percent of children 4 years of age or under, and in 3.7 percent of adults.

Better testing for food allergies needed

Diagnosing food allergies is described on the Mayo Clinic website. The procedures take time and money and, according to many, yield unreliable results.
"MIT chemical engineer Christopher Love believes he has a better way to diagnose such allergies. His new technology, described in the June 7 issue of the journal Lab on a Chip, can analyze individual immune cells taken from patients, allowing for precise measurement of the cells’ response to allergens such as milk and peanuts.

To perform the test, blood must be drawn from the patient, and white blood cells (which include T cells) are isolated from the sample.

The cells are exposed to a potential allergen and then placed into about 100,000 individual wells arranged in a lattice pattern on a soft rubber surface. Using a technique known as microengraving, the researchers make “prints” of the cytokines produced by each cell onto the surface of a glass slide. The amount of cytokine secreted by each individual cell can be precisely measured. MITnews

It's the feel-good movie of the year.

Kinda puts a new spin on this poll question.

You can learn more about cochlear implants here.

You can see similar movies from your home computer by searching You Tube.

Contours of atoms in space
Contours of atoms in spaceCourtesy BBC
Dorothy Hodgkin had a unique sense of how atoms were structured to form some of the most important molecules of her day. This audio slideshow from the BBC--on the occasion of the 100th anniversary of her birth--highlights how she discovered the structure of Vitamin B12, Penicillin, and Insulin. It's fascinating to see the connection between her childhood drawings of flowers and church mosaics and the complex orientation of the blobs of atoms in these miniscule molecules.

A 30-hour day?

by Gene on Apr. 25th, 2010

Who wouldn't like to have more hours in a day? Well, now you can -- sort of. A study by Duke University researchers has found that over the last 170 years, life expectancy in advanced countries has increased at a rate of 2.5 years per decade -- or an average of 6 hours a day! Just think -- since you sang Auld Lang Syne last New Year's Eve, medical advances have increased your life expectancy by 29 days. What are you going to do with all that spare time?