Monthly Archives: October 2018

IT’S ALL IN THE GUT

A tempestuous relationship has never been good for one’s health. Scientists have now discovered that having a row, even with your spouse over the in-laws or money, can quite literally make you sick to your stomach. The impact of stress from heated discussions can cause stomach contents to leak from the gut into the blood stream. This can lead to inflammation raising the risk of significant illnesses.

Researchers recruited 43 healthy married couples, asked them about their relationships, and then encouraged them to discuss and try to resolve an issue likely to provoke strong disagreements. The emotive subjects discussed included finances and in-laws. Their blood was tested for a marker chemical known as LBP which indicates the presence of bacteria. Couples who had the nastiest rows measured by aggressive language and gestures, harsh criticism of a partner, and dramatic eye-rolls, had the highest level of LBP.

Dr Janice Kielcolt-Glaser, a psychiatric professor at Ohio State University, who led the research, said: ‘We think this everyday marital distress – at least for some people – is causing changes in the gut that lead to inflammation and potentially, illness. Hostility is a hallmark of bad marriages, the kind that lead to adverse psychological changes,’ she added.

The participants ranged in age from 24 to 61 and had been married at least three years. The researchers compared blood taken before the argument to that taken afterwards. Michael Bailey, co-author of the study said: ‘With leaky gut, the structures that are usually really good at keeping the gunk in our gut – the partially digested food, bacteria and other products – degrade and that barrier becomes less effective.’ Earlier research has found marital discord can slow wound healing and drive up for inflammation – related diseases, including heart disease and diabetes.

Although this research relates in principle to marital discord I find that the same symptoms happen to me whenever I have significant rows, be it at work or with a close relation or even in a heated political argument.

THE BLESSED LAND OF NOD

Missing out on sleep could apparently cause men who stay up late at night to end up with lower testosterone. A study found that for every hour of sleep lost below the average of 6.9 hours, leads to a 1.5% fall in levels of the hormone.

Researchers, led by the University of Miami, looked at the average sleep of almost 2,300 men, which ranged from two to twelve hours a night. Despite the recorded falls, testosterone levels stayed within the normal range. The study also found a higher body mass and alcohol consumption drove down readings. Sleep may cut testosterone by disrupting brain signals that control the sex hormone. The study, presented at a meeting in Denver, states that sleep quality should be taken into account when studying falling levels, which can lead to a loss of sex drive, depression and fatigue.

Professor Darren Griffin, President of the International Chromosome & Genome Society, said: ‘This perhaps should come as no surprise. Sleep deprivation has a number of adverse health effects and we all know how badly we function when we’ve not had a good night’s sleep.’

I could not agree more. Deprivation of sleep, which I often suffer from, leaves me in a terrible state of fatigue and can easily lead to depression. We must not let this happen to any of us.

GOODNESS GRACIOUS ME…

Jeremy Bending is an internationally recognised authority on diabetes and its treatment. Having published more than 50 scientific papers in academic journals on the subject and founded an award-winning diabetes team and centre in Eastbourne, he was a consultant physician in diabetes and endocrinology there for 27 years, retiring eventually in 2014.

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What is unusual about Jeremy is that whenever he was asked at a party what exactly does a physician do, he would simply reply: ‘I don’t cut anything out, or stick anything in for I am basically a listening doctor.’

When he came to see me with a view to publishing A LISTENING DOCTOR, I found myself unhesitatingly inclined to publish his new offering, for the man’s honesty and lack of pomposity were his most appealing characteristics. I was right, and the book is attracting rather splendid reviews.

Here is the latest review which I hope will convince our readers to acquire a copy of his splendid autobiography.

“Autobiographies by surgeons are quite common. In the last few years they have included a distinguished retired neurosurgeon, a young gynaecologist and a best seller, written by a young man who, disillusioned, gave up early in his career.

Physicians seem to be more reticent, so this interesting and well-written volume, by a recently retired physician who set up the diabetic unit at Eastbourne, is welcomed.

Dr Jeremy Bending qualified in medicine at the old Westminster Medical School (now part of Imperial College,
London) in 1974. He mentions that I was his Professor of Surgery at that time, but refrains from saying whether this was related to his choosing medicine rather than surgery for his future career. He received valuable experience working as a medical student in Accra, Ghana and later as a physician to isolated fishing communities in Newfoundland.

As a research fellow at Guy’s Hospital, London, he was involved in the early development of the insulin pump. In 1987 he was appointed consultant physician at Eastbourne with the remit to set up a specialized diabetic and endocrine service, retiring in 2014.

Dr Bending ranges over the changes, sadly not all for the better, that he has seen in the NHS, where the administration seems increasingly to impede rather than to catalyse the effective management of patients in the name of ‘ efficiency’. Nicely written and full of medical anecdotes, he stresses, in these days of high technology, the value of the physician being a ‘listening doctor’.
Harold Ellis, Guy’s and St Thomas’ Hospital, London”

KEEP YOUR PECKER UP!

Who says size does not matter? It seems that, contrary to public perception, size really does matter, especially when it comes to fertility, as a new study suggests. Men who are infertile are also less well endowed. Having a shorter appendage was more common in men who were struggling to conceive, than in those with other genital health problems. The research, to be presented at the American Society for Reproductive Medicine Conference in Colorado, is the first to link penile length with fertility.

It found that on average, men who were infertile were around one centimeter shorter than their fertile counterparts. Those without reproductive issues had an average length of 13.4 centimeters, while those in the infertile group were 12.5 centimeters.

Dr Austen Slade, from the University of Utah, Salt Lake City, who led the study, said healthy men should not begin to fret over their size and their chance of becoming a father. He said underlying conditions that caused infertility, such as hormonal issues or problems in the testes, may also lead to a shorter penile length. ‘This is the first study to identify an association between shorter penile length and male infertility,’ he said. ‘It’s possibly a manifestation of congenital or genetic factors that predispose one to infertility. For now, men with shorter penises don’t need to worry about their fertility.

The study looked at data on 815 men visiting a health clinic between 2014 and 2017. There were 219 men seeking help for infertility, and 596 seeking help for other conditions such as erectile dysfunction and testicular pain. The men were all measured using a standard test called ‘stretched penile length’ which estimates the length of a penis when erect.

When they took into account weight, race and age, those being treated for infertility were just below one centimeter shorter than those who were fertile. ‘One centimeter may not be a striking difference but there was a clear statistical difference. It remains to be determined if there is a different penile- length-cut-off that would predict more severe infertility,’ Dr Slade added.

Previous research has shown that physical problems with male genitals can affect fertility. Men with a condition called Cryptorchidism – where the testes do not descend properly – have poorer sperm production. This is because the testes are located too close to the body, allowing the sperm to become too hot. Men with small testes have also been found to produce less sperm.

Professor Sheena Lewis, an expert in reproduction from Queen’s University Belfast, said the study raised more questions than it answered. ‘Doctors would not want to measure this in clinic, so as a study the findings are not really clinically usable. This is a very novel idea but the study does not tell us what a normal penile length is. It does not say if the shorter penis found in the study is abnormal. More research is needed.’

But take heart men with short penises, as more research can perhaps prove that the whole caboodle could  turn out to be a false alarm.

BEWARE THE IDES OF OCTOBER

Astronomy is a fascinating subject that never fails to astound, especially to those who seek to know more about what goes on far beyond our ability to bridge the vast distances that separate the Earth from the vast number of objects we perceive in the sky. The Astronomer Royal has warned that Earth could be reduced to a dense mass measuring just 330 feet across if particle accelerators set off a catastrophic chain of events.

In his latest book, On the Future Prospects for Humanity, Professor Lord Martin Rees outlines the existential threats facing the planet which include climate change, nuclear war and artificial intelligence. In a chapter addressing whether mankind is doomed, he argues that scientists carrying out experiments that smash atoms together into quarks could theoretically destroy humanity.

‘Maybe a Black Hole could form and then suck in everything around it,’ he writes. ‘The second scary possibility is that the quarks would reassemble themselves into compressed objects called strangelets. That in itself would be harmless. However, under some hypothesis a strangelet could convert anything else it encounters into a new form of matter, transforming the entire Earth into a hyperdense sphere about 100 meters across.

Professor Rees said: ‘The third risk from particle accelerators such as the Large Hadron Collider at Cern, was from a catastrophe that engulfs space itself. Some have speculated that the concentrated energy created when particles clash together could trigger a phase transition that ripped the fabric of space. This would be a cosmic calamity, not just a terrestrial one. Many of us are inclined to dismiss these risks as science fiction, but given the stakes they should not be ignored, even if deemed highly improbable.’

On the Future Prospects for Humanity will be published by Princeton University Press on October 24. I might be tempted to buy a copy, although I fear reading it may impinge on my sleep, which is already subject to unwanted disturbances.

MEN GET IT QUICKER?

Do men react faster than women? Apparently they do although their wives and partners may well say they spend so much time playing online games or sport on TV. Experiments have shown that men have faster reaction times than women. The results were surprising as men and women usually perform equally well in the battle of the sexes lab tests of mental ability.

Researchers say they had not expected to find a difference in the time needed to say whether black or white bars on a screen were moving to the left or to the right. While both sexes were good, requiring a tenth of a second or less, women took between 25 to 75 per cent longer than men to respond to usual signals.

Until now the only differences had been that women perform better in verbal ability tests, while men were usually stronger at spatial awareness tasks. However, the US researchers say that the faster perception of motion by males may not necessarily reflect better visual processing. They say similar performance enhancements in the tasks have been observed in people who have been diagnosed with autism spectrum disorder (ASD) or depression, and in older individuals.

They believe processes in the brain that down-regulate neural activity are disruptive in these conditions and may also be weaker in males. Study co-author Professor Scott Murray of the University of Washington said: ‘We were very surprised. There is very little evidence for sex differences in low-level visual processing, especially differences as large as these we found in our studies.’

In their findings, published in the journal Current Biology, researchers say they hope further studies will help them discover the underlying differences in the brain that may help explain the discrepancy between the sexes.

Interesting so far, but not conclusive… We must wait for further studies to get to the bottom of a noticeable discrepancy before we come to any final judgement.

KEEP ON TRUCKING….

Exercise is a necessity we are told if we seek to maintain a healthy body, but now apparently all we have to do is just two minutes of high intensity workout, which is as good at improving health as half-an-hour of less strenuous exercise, a study suggests.

Scientists found short bursts of activity had greater benefits for the body’s energy-producing cells, which help keep conditions including obesity at bay and stave off ageing. The researchers studied a group of eight young adults as they did exercise bike sessions of varying intensity.

In the first session, they did 30 minutes of continuous exercise at 50.5% of their peak effort. A second session, consisted of five 4-minute bursts at 75% peak effort, each separated by a minute’s rest. Finally, they did four bursts of 30 seconds at maximum effort, each separated by 4.5 minutes of recovery.

The researchers looked then at the effects on the mitochondria – the energy producing powerhouses of the cells – in the high muscles of the participants. They found the four quick bursts of 30 second’s activity – totalling just 2 minutes of intense effort – produced the best results.

Study leader Mark Trewin of Victoria University in Australia, said: ‘This suggests exercise may be prescribed according to individual preferences while still conferring beneficial metabolic adaptations. There are important implications for improving our understanding of how exercise can be used to enhance metabolic health in the general population.’

The results echo those of an earlier study which found 10 minutes of intense cycling was as good for heart health as 45 minutes of moderate pedalling. Current NHS guidelines advise adults to do at least 150 minutes a week of moderate aerobic activity or, alternatively, 75 minutes of vigorous activity in addition to strength exercises.

This study gives hope to those of us who find excessive exercises hard to implement.