THE LAND OF NOD

I never realized that lack of sleep in old age becomes a problem hard to overcome. A study suggests that it can easily turn you into a grumpy social leper who shuns human contact. Luckily I haven’t reached that stage as yet, when sleep deprivation activates brain areas that make you find other people threatening, according to a recent finding. It also dampens down brain regions that promote being sociable. Sleep-deprived people not only feel worse but induce feelings of loneliness in other people looking at them; but just getting one good night’s sleep made people in the experiment feel outgoing and confident again.

A study by the University of California, Berkeley, enrolled 18 healthy adults to a sleep laboratory and prevented them getting any sleep on one night. Psychological tests showed that the sleep deprived wanted to avoid close human contact. When asked how they felt afterwards, participants rated themselves as feeling significantly more lonely. Not only did the volunteers feel more sociable, they made other people looking at them more lonely and socially unattractive.

Study author Mathew Walker said: ‘We humans are a social species yet sleep-deprivation can turn us into social lepers.’ He added: ‘The less sleep you get the less you want to socially interact. In turn, other people perceive you are more socially repulsive, further increasing the grave social isolation impact of sleep loss. That vicious cycle may be a significant contribution factor to the public health crisis that is loneliness.’

Humans are often found to want to help or nurture other vulnerable members of their group. But the authors say this response does not kick in when we are tired. To test how sociable the sleep-deprived volunteers felt, they viewed video clips of individuals with neutral expressions walking towards them. When the person on the video got too close, they pushed a button to stop the playback, recording how close they allowed the person to get.
Sleep-deprived participants kept the approaching person at a significantly greater distance away – between 18% and 60% further back – than when they had been well rested.

Volunteers also had their brain scanned as they watched the video clips. In exhausted brains, researchers found heightened activity in a circuit called the near-space network. This is activated when the brain perceives human threats. In contrast, another circuit that encourages social interaction was shut down by sleep-deprivation, worsening the problem.

The researchers also looked at whether just one night of good or bad sleep could influence one’s sense of loneliness the next day. They found that the amount of sleep a person gets on any given night accurately predicted how lonely and unsociable they could feel. But Dr Walker stressed: ‘On a positive note, just one night of good sleep makes you feel outgoing…’

How very true! I personally feel exhausted and unsociable when I’ve had a bad night. Sleep-deprivation is certainly a curse that makes one’s life turn into a hellish struggle, hard to cope with.

TAKE THE MEDICINE…

Flu jabs currently in use were ineffective for the vast majority of patients, officials have admitted. Only 15 per cent who were given this year’s vaccine were fully protected against the virus. For over-65s – the group most at risk from flu – the figures were worse, with just 10 per cent protected. But Public Health England (PHE) urged patients to get this winter’s flu jab as it is still the best defence against the illness.

This year’s flu outbreak was the worst in seven years and A & E departments and GP surgeries were inundated with patients. At the height of the crisis in January, NHS bosses cancelled all not urgent procedures for four weeks to free up hospital beds. The reason the jab failed to work was because it was developed in March 2017 – eight months before the flu season begins in November. Scientists have to predict which strains of the flu virus will be in circulation in the Northern Hemisphere countries the following winter, based on what’s happening in the Southern Hemisphere. But they don’t always get it right. And a supposed flu strain emerged known as B Yamagata, and became one of the most dominant. Most of the vaccines provided by the NHS for 2017/18 offered no protection against this strain. On top of this, the other strain which scientists correctly predict would be in circulation and was liable to mutate. This means the virus’s characteristics were different and it didn’t respond to the vaccine.

To improve protection rates the NHS will be giving patients a stronger vaccine this autumn. Dr Paul Cosford, Director for Health Protection and Medical Director at PHE, said: ‘Vaccine effectiveness varies year on year and the flu virus changes and it is difficult to predict. This upcoming season we are recommending that all those under 65 have the quadrivalent flu vaccine which protects against most of the main B strains and the two main flu A subtypes. We are also making a new booster vaccine available for all adults aged 65 and over in order to improve the immune response. Vaccines are the best defence we have against the flu and not only protect people who have received the vaccine but also those around them. We encourage everyone eligible to take up the offer of the vaccine this winter. The 2017/18 vaccine was far less effective than the 2016/17 jab which still only protected against 40 per cent of patients. Despite the variability, health officials strongly encourage all at risk patients to get the jab each autumn. People who are eligible include the over 65s, pregnant women, children aged 4 and under and anyone with a long term health condition.’

It is always worth taking the flu jab despite its limited effectiveness. The aged in particular need the immunity the jab provides, notwithstanding anything else.

DAVID BOWIE WAS RIGHT!

Is it possible that a liquid lake found on Mars suggests alien life is there right now? With red sands blanketing its surface, Mars looks as dry as the Sahara. But it seems the Red planet has some blue after all.

Scientists have discovered a giant lake beneath Mars’s frozen surface – the first evidence that there is liquid water there now, and not just billions of years ago. The lake, which is up to 12 miles wide, also raises the probability there really is life on Mars right now. While the planet is minus 60 degrees centigrade on its surface, salts may have lowered the freezing point of the water to the point it can flow. The glacial lake discovered by using radar on the Mars Express spacecraft creates the same conditions by which single-celled organisms live on Earth.

Professor Robert Orosei, who led the discovery from the University of Bologna, said: ‘This is the place on Mars where you have something that most resembles a habitat, a place where life could subsist. This is not a place where fish would swim but there are terrestrial organisms that can survive and thrive in fact, in similar environments. Experts said the lake would be a key target for future human Mars’ missions.’ Dr Matt Balme of the Open University, said: ‘Maybe this could even be the trigger for an ambitious new Mars mission to drill into this buried water pocket.’

It’s more than 30 years since scientists suggested there could be water beneath Mars’s polar ice caps but while vast channels on Mars are thought to have been carved by water, clear evidence that liquid water still exists was confined to a few droplets on the Phoenix Lander. It took three years for an international team to find the lake, thought to be twelve miles wide and a minimum of three feet deep. Water, just under a mile below the surface, was located in the Southern icecap.

While the lake’s temperature is likely to be minus 10c to minus 70c, the radar shows up dissolved salts likely to have lowered its freezing point to allow it to flow. Billions of years ago, Mars is thought to have had oceans and rivers. Primitive life may have evolved only to be destroyed when Mars lost most of its atmosphere and became a frozen desert.

The findings in Journal Science suggest life could still exist, with scientists hoping that in future a robot will prove it by drilling through the ice.

What an amazing discovery that would be. It will prove that our knowledge of the entire universe is still minimal but hopefully will in time unravel mysteries currently unimaginable by the human mind.

WE ARE WHAT WE EAT

In the last three years I seem to have deserted meat in favour of fish, but even then I eat much less than ever before. A very small breakfast and a reasonable lunch are all I can take. In the evening at 6pm, perhaps a boiled egg occasionally and some fruit or alternatively an avocado pear with one slice of dark bread.
Researchers now say that eating a high-protein diet containing a lot of meat has been linked with an increased risk of heart failure in middle-aged men. Exact reasons are not known, but the scientists suggested that eating greater amounts of protein can result in high blood pressure. Men with high-protein diets such as body-builders are at the most risk, they said.

Only proteins from fish and eggs were not associated with the problem. Lead author Jyrki Virtanen, of the University of Eastern Finland, said: ‘As many people seem to take the health benefits of high-protein diets for granted it is important to make clear the possible risks and benefits of these diets. Earlier studies had linked diets high in protein – especially from animal sources – with increased risk of type-2 diabetes and even death.’

Heart failure is a serious long term condition with no cure. It means the heart is unable to pump blood around the body properly, causing breathlessness and chronic fatigue. The failure is often caused by fats clogging up arteries, high blood pressure and conditions affecting heart muscles known as cardiomyopathy.

The study – in the AmericanHeart Association Journal, Circulation: Heart Failure – followed 2,441 men aged 42 to 60, for 22 years. Researchers recorded their daily protein intake and 334 heart failure diagnoses. Around 70 per cent of the protein consumed was from animal sources and 27.7 per cent from plant sources and any other higher intakes of protein from most dietary sources were associated with slightly higher risks.

The scientists compared men who ate the most protein with those who ate the least. They found risk of heart failure was 33 per cent higher for all sources of protein, 43 per cent for animal protein, 49 per cent for diary protein and 17 per cent higher for plant protein.

Study author Heli Virtanen said: ‘Despite the popularity of high protein diets there is little research about how they might impact men’s heart failure risks. As this is one of the first studies reporting of the association between dietary protein and heart failure rates, more research is needed before we know whether moderating protein intakes may be beneficial in the prevention of heart failure.’

The researchers said with no cure preventing heart failure through diet, however, lifestyle is vital. The American Heart Association recommends one that includes a variety of fruit and vegetables, wholegrains, low fat diary, poultry, fish, beans, non-tropical vegetable oils and nuts – and limited sweets, sugar, sweetened drinks and red meat.

In the absence of further studies, I would naturally deduce that eating in moderation and a variety of healthy foods was perhaps the safest bet so far.

HAS VIAGRA LOST ITS SPARKLE?

It may be designed to solve problems in the bedroom – but Viagra is the worst thing that has happened to women in years, according to fashion designer Diane Von Furstenberg, the 71-year-old credited with inventing the wrap dress, who said it is unfair that men now have a drug to turn to when they are struggling to perform sexually, while women have nothing.

The American designer, whose net worth is more than 200 million pounds sterling last year, said: ‘The worst thing that has happened to women in the last fifteen years is Viagra. For men, it used to be all about getting it up. Did it? Can it? There was a certain amount of fairness. A woman couldn’t have a child after 40, right? Though even that doesn’t exist anymore, but the man could have a child until 65, but sexually, after a while….’

In an interview with The Times, Miss Von Furstenberg, who is married to US businessman Barry Diller, 76, said she has embraced her age. ‘Age means you have lived. But I should be 140, I have lived so full,’ she said. The designer, who launched her Eponymous label in 1972, added that she ‘finds today’s attitudes to ageing humiliating… even young girls doing things to their faces. Not wanting to say how old they are when they are 32. Age is … you should embrace it.’

Viagra was developed in 1985 and this year, the Medicine and Health Care Products Regulatory Agency allowed a formulation, named Viagra Connect, to be sold in pharmacies without prescription. Over 18s can buy unlimited number of pills subject to a pharmacist’s consultation.

Quite frankly, I can’t understand why Viagra is in her opinion the worst thing to happen to women in fifteen years. I should have thought the opposite is true. Men who are unable to get it up to please women should be welcomed rather than deplored. If anyone can explain why Miss Von Furstenberg is complaining, it will certainly add to my general knowledge.

IT ISN’T JUST MAKE BELIEVE…

The Moon continues to enthrall us. Scientists now believe that it may have supported simple lifeforms twice in its existence. The arid, cold and cratered surface was potentially habitable 3.5 billion years ago. This was because water from lunar volcanoes was trapped under the Moon’s surface. It could have been there for up to 70 million years, shielded by an atmosphere which has also now disappeared. So early forms of bacteria could have survived.

These would have arrived in clouds of debris caused when huge meteorites smashed into Earth. While now they would be blitzed immediately by deadly solar winds and cosmic radiation, at that time, the churning volcanic magma is thought to have created a protecting magnetic field on the lunar surface. With the presence of water, carbon and a thin atmosphere, the main building blocks for life were in place, according to Professor Dirk Schulze-Makuch, from the Technical University in Berlin. The astrologist, who has worked with Professor Ian Crawford from Birkbeck University, London, to analyse data from recent probes and rock samples, said: ‘If liquid water and a significant atmosphere were present on the early Moon for long periods of time, we think the lunar surface would have been at least transiently habitable.’

The study, published in journal Astrobiology, suggests the water came as amounts of hydrogen and carbon dioxide were released in a molten magma similar to what happened during volcanic lunar eruptions. So for life to exist, it only needed a meteor strike to transfer bacteria from Earth, which 3.5 billion years ago was much closer to the Moon.

The authors identify a second – less likely – time life could have survived, shortly after the Moon formed 4 million years ago. Until a decade ago most experts thought the Moon had always been dry – possibly because any channels formed by water, as seen today on Mars, were eroded by solar winds. Experts now say it may once have been home to vast lakes.

New theories such as these will probably lead to further expeditions to the Moon to unravel more discoveries, which will give more credence to their suppositions so far.

If I Chance to Talk a Little Wild

Last evening we celebrated the launch of a remarkable book ” If I Chance to Talk a Little Wild” by Jane Haynes at The October Gallery, 24 Old Gloucester Street, London, WC1N 3AL.

9780704374546.jpg

Here is the short address I made to an illustrious crowd which came to pay tribute to Jane who deserved all their attention.

Ladies & Gentlemen,

We are here this evening to mark the publication of a remarkable book: If I Chance to Talk a Little Wild: A Memoir of Self & Other by Jane Haynes.

My first encounter with Jane was in 2015 when Quartet had the great privilege of publishing Jane’s Doctors Dissected co-authored with Martin Scurr. The book was a great success, summarised by Hilary Mantel’s endorsement: ‘Is medicine a job or a vocation? Does healing sometimes run in the family? What happens when doctors fall sick? How does the intimacy of the doctor/patient bond survive when medicine becomes the state’s business? Doctors speak in their own words in this fascinating book and the result is a provocative insight into bodies and souls.’

A paper edition followed and the book has now established itself as a classic to be reckoned with. Earlier this year, I received a synopsis of her next book in its very early stages, for my reaction. As I read what was written I was mesmerised. It was bold, controversial and the best manuscript I had come across in a  very  long while. My response was immediate. I encouraged her to speed ahead in the same vein and undertook to publish it as soon as possible.

Here is a fragment of what she has to say in this outstanding memoir:

‘If I could be granted some more foolish wishes, I would choose to have reincarnation as a vodka-swigging, sun-worshipping, gender-bending courtesan who could sing in tune. Such wishes will not be well received by my family but I cannot eradicate them. I feel some regret that I have over-compensated for the ravages of childhood by trying to take control of my life in a doomed devotion to Apollonian symmetry, beauty and discipline. There have been earlier times in my life when I experienced and celebrated Dionysus’s subversive revels, albeit in modest form, and when even if my limbs were not flayed, others were.’

This gem of a book is a masterly work, whose every word will no doubt trigger off deep thought, controversy and admiration all at the same time. This gathering should now endorse it big time by buying multiple copies of the book and spreading the good word throughout the nation so that it will top the bestseller lists this Christmas.

In the meantime, please let us see the colour of your money, particularly the ones of high denomination. This will start the ball rolling and will certainly give comfort to Jane as well as her publisher, given the current climate is full of gloom and doom.