Courtesy merrick brown via Flickr About fourteen years ago, I began noticing pops and crackles in my left ear. When I went to the doctor, I was given an audiology exam and was told those odd noises were typical of what is heard as auditory nerves die. Later, I began hearing them in my right ear. Those initial noises eventually did go away, but it was obvious that my hearing wasn't as sharp as it used to be. I learned to accept the loss as just one of the inevitable effects of getting older. My dad, too, suffered from age-related hearing loss, so it wasn't totally unexpected. But what I wasn't expecting was tinnitus. It's bad enough when your hearing begins to fade, but for some unfortunate people - like myself - tinnitus means it's not going to go away quietly.
Tinnitus is sometimes referred to as "ringing in the ear". But ringing isn't it's only manifestation. You can have popping, crackling, zinging, or any of the 50 different sounds that have been noted. or as in my case, hissing. And you'd think it originates in the ears because that's where the annoying sound is, but you'd be wrong.
"Tinnitus is a sound that is actually being generated in the brain,’ said Ross McKeown, president of the Tinnitus Association of Victoria in Australia. ‘We thought for a long time it was being generated in the ear, we now know that's not the case."
The brain, it seems, is over-compensating, trying hard to detect sound with fewer auditory nerves, which means with less amplification. So it's the old gray matter cranking the level up to 11 in hopes of compensating for that loss that causes all the extraneous noise.
This is the price I now pay for not taking care of myself in my younger years. I can pinpoint three events in my life that probably affected my hearing: working at a steel mill for a year, listening to a friend's band play in a tight, closed space at an ear-piercing volume, and shooting photos of a Harrier jet getting ready to take-off at a local air show. In each case I wasn't wearing ear protections. I was too cool for that.
Back then, like many people, I thought myself invincible. I was strong and alert and felt like my body could do no wrong. I put little thought into the future nor could I imagine my body or senses ever changing. But unfortunately, as we age, our bodies - like any other machine - starts to wear out and just doesn't respond or operate the same way it used to. As if almost on schedule, I noticed some distinct changes right around my 40th birthday, when suddenly my eyesight seemed poorer, my hearing duller, and for a two week stretch the skin on my face felt tingly and strangely wet but wasn't.
Eventually, you learn to accept these unwanted alterations - mostly because your generational peers are experiencing the same things you are - and you adapt to them as best you can. You begin buying drugstore eyeglasses so you can read the newspaper, you use sunscreen to keep skin cancer at bay, you consider buying hearing aids (or downloading smartphone apps) so you can understand what your friends are babbling about when you're all dining together in a crowded restaurant. It sucks.
The trick to living with tinnitus is to ignore it. Easy for me to say since my tinnitus is fairly moderate and unnerving compared to the level from which others suffer. The hissing at this point in my life is intermittent. Sometimes I wake up with it, sometimes it fades in during the day (or night), and sometimes I don't have it at all. Any of these can last days at a time. I haven't been able to figure out exactly what (if anything) triggers it. I know I'm more susceptible to it from lack of sleep, or if I'm feeling down. Sometimes I think too much coffee or taking pain relievers (ibuprofen in my case) may exacerbate it, but whatever the catalyst, it's just not fair. But I shouldn't complain - for some poor devils, the annoying noise can be constant and excruciating, and even induce suicidal thoughts.
Tinnitus affects about 6 percent of the general public. Not surprisingly, with professional musicians it's more like 50 percent. In that faction, I share the affliction with Beethoven, Bob Dylan, Barbara Streisand, Phil Collins and Chris Martin of Coldplay. Other notable sufferers include Charles Darwin, Vincent Van Gogh, presidents Bill Clinton and Ronald Reagan, Steve Martin, Howard Hughes, and the pointy-eared Mr. Spock (Leonard Nimoy).
Although I've never personally tried any, there are plenty of "treatments" for tinnitus on the market but not much scientific evidence backing up their claims. None are cure-alls for the ailment, and it's hard to tell if any of them really do anything other than create a 'placebo' effect for sufferers. According to my doctor it's just something you have to learn to live with (same with the floaters in my eyes, and my lousy skin). In my case I've learned to simply ignore it and not obsess over it. If I get lost in thought about something else, it just disappears into the background. I also try to get enough sleep, keep my spirits up, and avoid subjecting my ears to loud noises.
McKeown suggests four key steps to help deal with the nuisance of tinnitus: First thing, don't worry about it. Secondly, change your perception of the noise from something dangerous to simply background noise. Third, don't think about it. And fourth, live your normal life. Sitting home fretting about may only make it worse.
Courtesy Patricia L. CorcoranGeologists have always considered rocks to be plastic because they are often reformed, remelted, and reshaped by tectonic forces such as heat and pressure. But now, earth scientists have declared a new type of rock they're calling plastiglomerates. It's a composition of volcanic rock and actual plastic, or a clump of rock, sand, coral and seashells all held together by a mass of melted plastic derived from human debris.
Considering we humans have been generating heaps of plastic waste since the middle of the last century (and enough to wrap up our entire planet in plastic) it's no wonder some of it has managed to find its way into the rock cycle. It's only surprising that it took us this long to notice it.
Chunks of plastiglomerate were found recently at a beach in Hawaii. Patricia Corcoran, a geologist from the University of Western Ontario, and Charles Moore, captain of the research vessel Alguita discovered plastiglomerates at 21 different sites they surveyed on Kamilo Beach located on the southern tip of the Big Island of Hawaii. Their study appears in the latest issue of GSA Today.
Courtesy NASAKamilo Beach is an isolated location that, due to ocean currents and trade winds, and its location, has long been a magnet for plastic and other trash floating on the Pacific. In the distant past, native Hawaiians collected wood from Kamilo that had floated in from the Pacific Northwest to make dugout canoes. There's no easy access to the beach - it's usually void of beach-goers and takes a two hour four-wheel drive over a jagged lava field just to reach it. But each year, 15 to 20 tons of all sorts of floating plastic - from toothbrushes to water bottles to toy green army men - pile up on the rocks and sand of Kamilo. It's not the only place of course, plastic debris has been found in different areas of ocean bottom around the world. It's not surprising that some of it ends up joined with other elements to form the new rock.
Plastiglomerates are thought to have formed probably from plastic melted in beach campfires or in lava flows, which aren't unusual on the Big Island. In the distant future, as plastic gets further buried under layers of future sedimentation or lava flows, it will likely become even more incorporated, melting and re-melting under extreme heat or pressure and filling in cracks and crevasses in the country rock much like minerals such as quartz and pyrite have done in the past. Tens or hundreds of thousands of years from now, future geologists will no doubt be able to use these traces as markers for the Anthropocene era, the name gradually gaining acceptance to describe humanity's post-agricultural or industrial time on the planet.
Jean-Michel Claverie and Chantal Abergel of Aix-Marseille University in France and their colleagues cut up pieces of permafrost samples - supplied by scientists from the Russian Academy of Science - and added them to petri dishes of amoebae only to see the one-celled animals ripped apart by unknown viruses. They isolated the attacking, larger-than-usual virus and named it Pithovirus sibericum, because of its resemblance to an earthenware jar. The permafrost samples had been collected from a frozen riverbank in Siberia in 2000.
The discovery brings the total number of known "giant viruses" to three. The extra-large viruses are about 25 percent larger than normal, genetically more complex, and composed of hardier stock.
"Among known viruses, the giant viruses tend to be very tough, almost impossible to break open," said Claverie and Abergel. "Special environments such as deep ocean sediments and permafrost are very good preservers of microbes because they are cold, anoxic and in the dark."
Two other giant viruses Mimivirus and Pandoravirus were also discovered by Claverle and Abergel in the last decade. The latter, in my opinion, is a disturbingly great name for this type of thing. But so far only the pithovirus has been observed in the laboratory infecting contemporary life forms. Luckily, none of them pose a threat to humans, but that's not to say future giant viruses thawed out of frozen environments or released by retreating ice caps won't be.
"I don't see why they wouldn't be able to survive under the same conditions," said Claverie.
Results of the research appear in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.
Courtesy Clover_1Last Christmas, my son's girlfriend introduced me to honey-flavored yogurt, a delicious concoction of creamy sweetness. I've never been a fan of yogurt, but I immediately fell in love with this stuff, and try to keep a container of it on-hand in the fridge at all times. I can't seem to get enough of it.
One of the reasons it's so tasty is because it's made with whole milk which makes it high in fat, and therefore will make anyone who ingests it high in fat, too. Right? Maybe not.
Two new studies seem to point to just the opposite. Several middle-aged men who participated in a Swedish study and consumed high-fat dairy products, were tracked over a 12 year period and showed much less propensity of becoming obese when compared to men who followed a low or no high-fat diet in the same study. The research appeared in the journal Scandinavian Journal of Primary Health Care.
In the second study involving the meta-analysis of 16 empirical studies showed that - despite working under the hypothesis that a diet of high-fat foods leads to higher heart disease risk and contributes to obesity - no evidence supporting the claim was found. Actually, according to the study which appeared in the European Journal of Nutrition, consumption of high-fat dairy products were instead associated with a lower obesity risk.
Non-fat and low-fat yogurts still command a larger portion of the market but on the organic side of the things products with higher saturated fat content is, surprisingly, on the upswing. It's unclear why that is. A previous study involving children also showed that a low-fat diet was more likely to lead to obesity.
"There may be bio-active substances in the milk fat that may be altering our metabolism in a way that helps us utilize the fat and burn it for energy, rather than storing it in our bodies," said Greg Miller, of the National Dairy Council.
Besides the newly associated weight benefits, whole organic milk also contains higher levels of omega-3 fatty acids which help reduce the risk of cardiovascular diseases. It's also speculated that consumption of higher fat content may lead to a greater and faster feeling of being satisfied and full, and lead to a sooner cessation of the urge to eat.
For purely scientific reasons I'll be heading for the refrigerator in a moment to see if that's the case.
Courtesy Andreas-photographyBob Dylan first sang about it in the chorus of his 1964 song "My Back Pages" when he wrote ""Ah, but I was so much older then/I'm younger than that now"." He reinforced the notion ten years later when he released "Forever Young" in 1974.
It's all about staying young and not growing old - not ageism mind you - but anti-aging.
In a study appearing in a recent issue of the journal Cell, researchers have successfully reversed the aging process by turning a 2 year-old into one that resembles one that's a mere 6 months old. In human terms this would be equivalent to turning a 60 year-old back into a 20 year-old.
Dr. David Sinclair, professor of genetics at Harvard Medical School, and his team of researchers injected aging mice for a week with a compound known as nicotinamide adenine dinucleotide (NAD+), a natural chemical made from young cells. As mammalian cells age, NAD+ production drops by half causing mitochondrial dysfunction, and the processing of oxygen to fall off. Cells then become vulnerable to the various ailments that aging attracts. But in the treated older mice the cells began to take on the vitality and appearance of young mice.
Sinclair will next try administering NAD+via the drinking water used by lab mice to see how things go . If it has the same effect on the mice's cells, someone call Ponce de Leon because we could be talking about an actual Fountain of Youth!
Since NAD+ is a naturally produced compound, the concern for harmful after-effects is slight. Human trials could begin as early as next year - but it's not going to be cheap - somewhere in the neighborhood of $50,000 a day!
If I win the lottery in the next few months, I'll be first in line to become 20 years-old again, but only if I can retain my experience and any wisdom I may have acquired along the way. But if not, I guess I'll just start humming Dylan's "Knocking on Heaven's Door."
Courtesy Mark RyanA new and troubling paper from the Committee on Understanding and Monitoring Abrupt Climate Change and its Impacts predicts possible and somewhat grim outcomes for some of Earth's natural systems from climate change that could rival the extinction event of the non-avian dinosaurs at the end of the Cretaceous Period 65 million years ago.
The abrupt impact could be coming faster than previously expected and would negatively affect human and physical climate systems as well. The document warns that the abruptness of the changes could be unanticipated and could find us unprepared to deal with them
Records of past climate preserved in tree rings, ice cores, and ocean sediments show that the atmosphere contains higher levels of carbon dioxide than it has in a very long time. Carbon emissions from human activity continue to add to this rising concentration. Other activities including deforestation and resource extraction place additional environmental pressures on our climate and other natural systems.
At the end of the Cretaceous, all species of non-avian dinosaurs, along with the megafauna of flying and swimming reptiles were wiped off the face of the Earth. Many dinosaur species showed signs of decline even before the Chicxlub asteroid delivered the final kibosh on their existence.
Dr. James W.C. White, a professor of Geological Sciences and of Environmental Studies at the University of Colorado at Boulder chaired the committee which included more than a dozen earth scientists and ocean researchers from universities in both Canada and the United States, and from the National Academy of Science.
A prepublication copy of the entire 201-page paper is available to read without charge on the National Academies Press page. You can also download it for free although it was a little tricky getting it to my computer.
Courtesy Majail0711Hey, it's Halloween. Do you have a seance to go to tonight after you finish your trick and treating?
And what's a good seance without a Ouija board? You know it's the quickest way to connect with the dead and find out those mysterious secrets that aren't accessible any other way.
It's been quite a while since I last touched a Ouija board. But I do remember being amazed how that little pad just skimmed across the board to give us answers to our questions. It's fun and mystical. And (SPOILER ALERT) it's all based on science.
The current issue of Smithsonian delves into the history and science behind the board. You can get all the details right here. Since the board's beginnings, the creators had insights into the ideometer effect. That's a fancy term for the automatic muscular movements that take place in our bodies without our conscious will or volition. It's like what happens to us when we cry during the sad part of a movie or flick away an annoying bug pestering us. People using a Ouija board are subtly moving the pointer around the board without realizing they are doing so.
Research conducted a couple years ago quantified what was happening. People were asked random fact-based questions that were challenging. Just hearing the questions and answering without a Ouija board, participants got about 50 percent correct, which was what researchers expected. But when participants were asked similar questions while seated at the Ouija board, that correct response rate jumped up to 65 percent.
The researchers account of the difference by people tapping into their non-conscious knowledge and using the ideometer effect to guide the Ouija board pointer across the board. And people actually do better answering questions on topics that they don't think they know the answer to than topics that they do.
So, if you do happen to find yourself sitting around a Ouija board tonight, be careful what you ask it. You might just get the answer to something you've been burying away in your mind for a long time!!!
Happy Halloween and feel free to share your observations here with other Buzz readers on the science of Ouija boards.
Courtesy cyclonebillThe arrival of fall each year brings leaves changing colors, apples ready for the picking and a host of long-distance races contested in more temperate conditions. And with those marathons and other distance tests come the pre-race rituals of "carbo loading," the practice of eating a high carbohydrate meal of pasta to fill a body up with extra energy.
But several elite athletes are now shaking up that conventional wisdom. They're saying that they're feeling better and performing more efficiently by focusing their pre-performance meals on the right kind of carbohydrates: gluten-free carbs.
Tennis champion Novak Djokovic, New Orleans Saints quarterback Drew Brees and the entire Garmin cycling team are now crediting gluten-free diets as helping them feel and perform better. Djokovic went gluten free in 2010 and has now climbed to become the No. 1-ranked player in men's pro tennis and he credits his new diet with giving him better focus, more endurance and avoiding injury.
However, all these benefits so far are anecdotal. There have been no research studies done on the impact of a gluten-free diet on athletic performance. But some nutritionists point out that gluten, evolutionary speaking, is a pretty new entry into the human diet, having only been around 10,000 years. Our digestive systems don't know how to deal with it, so we get no nutritional benefit from it. For most of us, our immune system handles the gluten in our digestive track, just like stray microbes, and works it into our waste. About six percent of the population is gluten sensitive and has to avoid these types of foods entirely.
Does this new information change your thoughts about "carbo loading?" Do you avoid gluten foods even if you're not sensitive to them? Share your thoughts with other Science Buzz readers.
Courtesy James Gathany/CDCHarry Potter has his cloak of invisibility. Chemical researchers think they're on the brink of finding substances to make us humans invisible to mosquitoes.
At the recent meeting of the American Chemical Society, information was presented on new compounds that can block human smells, the key that mosquitoes use to find their next meal. Current mosquito repellents are losing their effectiveness and chemical researchers think the newly discovered compounds can be even more effective.
How do they work? The chemicals interfere with the skeeters' ability to smell. Hundreds of chemicals make up the smells that come from human bodies. Mixing in different combinations, they make some people more attractive to mosquitoes than others. What they've found with these new chemicals, including 1-methylpiperzine, was that an arm sprayed with the chemicals and put into a cage full of mosquitoes was completely ignored. Mosquitoes didn't even land on the skin.
It will take a few years of testing to develop products using these new compounds. But if they live up to the hype, they could be a key tool in helping stop the 600,000 annual deaths worldwide caused by malaria spread through mosquito bites.
So don't ditch that can of Off just yet. You'll have at least a couple more summers of slapping and spraying the old-fashioned way.
Courtesy Mark RyanThe new Science Museum of Minnesota exhibit, Maya: Hidden Worlds Revealed has just opened and is a must-see for anyone interested in the ancient and mysterious civilization that once flourished and ruled in Central America. This wide-ranging exploration of the social, political, spiritual and cultural world of the Maya includes artifacts, displays, and hands-on interaction for museum visitors. In conjunction with this very special Science Museum of Minnesota exhibit, the SMM is partnering with the Maya Society of Minnesota to present several lectures at Hamline University during the exhibit's run this summer and into the winter.
I attended the first lecture in the series last Friday night. Archaeologist Jaime Awe
Courtesy Mark Ryan gave a brief overview of the early Maya worldview then talked about his work investigating some impressively large caves in western Belize near where he was born and raised. Inside the caves he and his research team have discovered pottery, torch sticks, writings, and ritualistic artifacts along with human footsteps and unburied skeletal remains, many of children.
Awe hypothesizes that the caves were used by the Maya (from the Classic Period) to make desperate ritualistic pleas by way of human sacrifices to the Maya rain deity. And evidence seems to back him up. Using carbon dating techniques and core analysis of stalactites from the caves, the time-frame of these cave rituals correlate with a period of severe drought in that region of Belize.
The Maya culture is a truly fascinating one. There are several more lectures and workshops to catch each month through next December, and the Maya exhibit at the museum runs through January 5, 2014. By the way, the museum's Omnitheater is also presenting the film Mystery of the Maya. which presents a very nice overview of the early Maya exploration and discoveries. I recommend you view the film first before going through the Maya: Hidden Worlds Revealed exhibit.