Archive for June, 2009

Six Future Mods For Our Minds And Bodies

Here’s some more future hotness in the pipeline for those of you that love this kind of stuff. These are ideas are actively being researched and will be part of our reality in the not too distant future.

  1. Injection molded custom organs
  2. Breed super rice to feed the world
  3. Replace suture kits with lasers
  4. Mind-meld with machines
  5. Stop blood loss with ultrasound
  6. Deploy tiny robo-docs

Go check out the article to see all the juicy details.

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Can You Get Fit in Six Minutes a Week?

The six minutes refers to the actual exercise time, not warming up, cooling down, or waiting in between sets. Also, be prepared to stray way out of your comfort zone, since we’re talking about pushing yourself to the “hard enough to vomit” level of all out action. This is based on research from the Department of Kinesiology at McMaster University in Ontario, Canada.

In one of the group’s recent studies, Gibala and his colleagues had a group of college students, who were healthy but not athletes, ride a stationary bike at a sustainable pace for between 90 and 120 minutes. Another set of students grunted through a series of short, strenuous intervals: 20 to 30 seconds of cycling at the highest intensity the riders could stand. After resting for four minutes, the students pedaled hard again for another 20 to 30 seconds, repeating the cycle four to six times (depending on how much each person could stand), “for a total of two to three minutes of very intense exercise per training session,” Gibala says.

They went through two training sessions a week. The results were surprising.

After two weeks, both groups showed almost identical increases in their endurance (as measured in a stationary bicycle time trial), even though the one group had exercised for six to nine minutes per week, and the other about five hours. Additionally, molecular changes that signal increased fitness were evident equally in both groups. “The number and size of the mitochondria within the muscles” of the students had increased significantly, Gibala says, a change that, before this work, had been associated almost exclusively with prolonged endurance training. Since mitochondria enable muscle cells to use oxygen to create energy, “changes in the volume of the mitochondria can have a big impact on endurance performance.”

Some of you are shaking your heads and thinking, “Silly monkey, long bouts of endurance exercises help me lose weight, which I can’t possibly do in only six minutes a week”.

The short, intense workouts aided in weight loss, too, although Gibala hadn’t been studying that effect. “The rate of energy expenditure remains higher longer into recovery” after brief, high-intensity exercise than after longer, easier workouts, Gibala says. Other researchers have found that similar, intense, brief sessions of exercise improve cardiac health, even among people with heart disease.

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The “Family Smoking Prevention and Tobacco Control Act” gives the Food and Drug Administration authority to regulate tobacco, and was signed by President Obama on Monday.

Obama said in signing the bill, “despite the best efforts and good progress made by so many leaders and advocates with us today, the tobacco industry and its special interest lobbying have generally won the day up on the Hill. … Fifteen years later, their campaign has finally failed. … Today, change has come to Washington.”

We have a sneaking suspicion that something isn’t kosher about this whole deal, especially since the biggest tobacco company in the United States (Altria, aka Philip Morris) supports the bill.

One health expert told Slate this bill was “a dream come true for Philip Morris,” in part because the company “protect[s its] domination of the market and make[s] it impossible for potentially competitive products to enter the market.” For one thing, effectively banning advertising won’t hurt Marlboro much, but it will crush smaller brands. And adding government control benefits those companies with the best lobbyists.

Regarding that “special interest lobbying” Obama claimed to be battling, Philip Morris is the unrivaled industry king. Since 2003, the tobacco lobby has spent $155 million. Altria spent a majority of that — $83 million. Although the rest of the industry was lobbying against this bill, most of the lobbying money was on the pro-regulation side.

Ah, it all makes sense now. Kill off the competition and the existing mega corporation continues to pay tribute to their political masters. For a candidate who campaigned on “hope and change”, particularly against lobbyists, this is deeply disappointing.

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Is there really such a thing as unconditional maternal love? A recent study says “no”.

Women are more likely than men to reject unattractive-looking babies, according to a study by researchers at Harvard-affiliated McLean Hospital, possibly reflecting an evolutionary-derived need for diverting limited resources towards the nurturing of healthy offspring. The findings also challenge the idea of unconditional maternal love.

“Our study shows how beauty can affect parental attitudes,” said Igor Elman, senior author of the research, director of the Clinical Psychopathology Laboratory at McLean Hospital, and associate professor of psychiatry at Harvard Medical School. “It shows women are more invested in raising healthy babies and that they are more prone to reject unattractive kids.”

The full study is available online at PLoS ONE if you would like to get involved in the full detailed methodology.

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The federal government is offering incentives ($19 billion worth) for doctors and hospitals to go electronic with their records. Given that other major industries such as the stock market and airlines have gone paperless in an effort to become more efficient and save money, we have to wonder what is really holding back the medical field.

The reason lies neither with cost nor with inadequate technology. Rather, the health-care industry’s reluctance to digitize its records is rooted in a desire to keep medicine’s lucrative business model hidden. Dangling $19 billion in front of a $2.4 trillion industry is not nearly enough to get it to reveal the financial secrets that electronic health records are likely to uncover–and upon which its huge profits depend. In those medical records lie the ugly truth about the business of medicine: sickness is profitable. The greater the number of treatments, procedures, and hospital stays, the larger the profit. There is little incentive for doctors and hospitals to identify or reduce wasteful spending in medicine.

There is not much incentive for people to adopt healthy lifestyles with the system as it currently is implemented.

An even bigger threat to the sickness industry’s business model is that by allowing automated tracking of patients over time, electronic health records would set the stage for early detection and preventive medicine. Currently, the entire industry is organized around treating sickness, rather than keeping people healthy in the first place.

It would be a step in the right direction, however, it would be ineffective unless the data gained from such a system is used to reward/punish individuals based on choices. So, you’ve got high blood pressure and refuse to take your meds – pay more. Enjoy smoking and refuse to quit – pay more. Etc., etc. One area likely to see a huge benefit is cancer screening, since earlier detection equals a better, and cheaper outcome.

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Get Smarter

For a period of 2 million years, ending with the last ice age around 10,000 B.C., the Earth experienced a series of convulsive glacial events. This rapid-fire climate change meant that humans couldn’t rely on consistent patterns to know which animals to hunt, which plants to gather, or even which predators might be waiting around the corner. How did we cope? By getting smarter. The neuro­physi­ol­ogist William Calvin argues persuasively that modern human cognition—including sophisticated language and the capacity to plan ahead—evolved in response to the demands of this long age of turbulence.

On the scale of time used in evolution, the advancement of human intelligence happened at a breakneck pace. Sophisticated language is a uniquely human trait which no other creature on Earth possesses.

There are all sorts of doomsday scenarios for the coming century. Humanity survived until this point by being clever and we are likely so succeed in the future by using the same technique. The only difference is that we don’t need to rely on natural evolutionary processes to evolve greater intelligence. We use the tools we’ve created, such as the internet, to augment our intelligence to the next level.

There is concern that the nature of the internet has given people a sort of ADD, and that people are losing their skill to read long and in depth pieces of information.

With every technological step forward, though, has come anxiety about the possibility that technology harms our natural ability to think. These anxieties were given eloquent expression in these pages by Nicholas Carr, whose essay “Is Google Making Us Stupid?” (July/August 2008 Atlantic) argued that the information-dense, hyperlink-rich, spastically churning Internet medium is effectively rewiring our brains, making it harder for us to engage in deep, relaxed contemplation.

Carr’s fears about the impact of wall-to-wall connectivity on the human intellect echo cyber-theorist Linda Stone’s description of “continuous partial attention,” the modern phenomenon of having multiple activities and connections under way simultaneously. We’re becoming so accustomed to interruption that we’re starting to find focusing difficult, even when we’ve achieved a bit of quiet. It’s an induced form of ADD—a “continuous partial attention-deficit disorder,” if you will.

Not everyone agrees with that assessment.

Scientists describe these skills as our “fluid intelligence”—the ability to find meaning in confusion and to solve new problems, independent of acquired knowledge. Fluid intelligence doesn’t look much like the capacity to memorize and recite facts, the skills that people have traditionally associated with brainpower. But building it up may improve the capacity to think deeply that Carr and others fear we’re losing for good.

Read the whole thing, since there’s a lot more where that came from.

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The Mediterranean diet gets a lot of praise from nutritional experts as being particularly healthy. Here, some of the popular aspects of this dietary style get examined.

  1. Olive oil – rich in monounsaturated fat, meaning, it’s heart healthy. However, olive oil has just as many calories per gram as other less healthy fats. So while it may not clog your arteries, it could have an unfortunate impact on your waistline.
  2. Fruits and vegetables – we shouldn’t be forced to explain why including plenty of fruits and veggies in your diet is a good and healthy thing.
  3. Fish and seafood – healthier than other types of meat, and rich in omega 3 fatty acids. Try to avoid deep frying it.
  4. Nuts – a good source of unsaturated fatty acids, which is heart healthy. Avoid overly sweetened and salted varieties.
  5. Beans – lots of protein, fiber, iron and other nutrients. Comes in many different varieties. Flatulence included at no extra charge.
  6. Alcohol – a moderate amount of certain types, such as red wine, seem to have beneficial effects. The key word here is moderation.
  7. Cereals – the good whole grain types, not the overly sugary breakfast treats often confused with real cereal.
  8. Cutting back on dairy – very controversial, because it is wrong if most of the dairy intake is low fat. Reducing full fat dairy products makes sense, but abandoning dairy entirely has consequences such as a higher risk for osteoporosis, hip fractures, etc. due to insufficient calcium intake.

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