Archive for the ‘Science’ Category

We all

I cannot strongly enough recommend that you watch this two and a half minute video. If you do nothing else this year to improve yourself as a person, do this. You will change your life, and make a hugely positive to the lives of those around you. Personally, we are going to watch it again and again.

In this beautifully animated RSA Short, Dr Brené Brown reminds us that we can only create a genuine empathic connection if we are brave enough to really get in touch with our own fragilities. It has reached nearly three million views on YouTube. I frankly wish it could be seen by everyone on the planet. What a change it would make in our societies. Perhaps you could share this blogpost, on your Facebook page, your own blog, or wherever, and help that happen?

Brené Brown, Ph.D., LMSW is a research professor at the University of Houston Graduate College of Social Work. She has spent the past decade studying vulnerability, courage, worthiness, and shame.

Her 2010 TEDx Houston talk on the power of vulnerability is one of the most watched talks on TED.com, with over 15 million views. She gave the closing talk, Listening to Shame,  at the 2012 TED Conference in Long Beach.

Brené is the 2012 author of the #1 New York Times Bestseller Daring Greatly: How the Courage to Be Vulnerable Transforms the Way We Live, Love, Parent, and Lead. She is also the author of the #1 New York Times Bestseller The Gifts of Imperfection (2010), and I Thought It Was Just Me (2007).

Brené is also the founder and CEO of The Daring Way – a teaching and certification program for helping professionals who want to facilitate her work on vulnerability, courage, shame, and worthiness.

Brené lives in Houston, Texas with her husband, Steve, and their two children. You can find out more about her at http://brenebrown.com/

Look at her. Bright, beautiful, intelligent, her whole life ahead of her. And dead.

Georgina Bartter, 19, was found unconscious and convulsing at the Harbourlife festival at Mrs Macquarie’s Chair this Saturday.

Friends reported the teenager, one of 5200 people at the festival, took one and a half pills, before she died of organ failure.A “beautiful, outgoing girl”, Georgina would not have taken drugs knowingly, her family told 7News.

Superintendent Mark Walton says a report is being prepared for the coroner. “(A post-mortem) is a matter for the coroner and the family and that will be determined next week,” he said.

An autopsy would find what was in the pill that contributed to her death.

The teen from Longueville on Sydney’s north shore was taken to St Vincent’s Hospital just before 5pm, but suffered multiple organ failure and died.

Police arrested 78 people at the waterfront dance party for drug offences.

Superintendent Mark Walton said he’s concerned large electronic dance parties are closely associated with illicit psychoactive drugs. “It does not matter what location they are held in, there is no doubt the nature of the entertainment is intrinsically linked to that drug use.

“She fell to the ground more or less and then people started waving down the security and paramedics,” witness Andrew Demetriou told 7News. “Quite simply, you do not know what you’re taking.”

In a statement, Harbourlife organisers said their thoughts were with the teenager’s family.

“We can hardly imagine the pain and heartbreak they must be feeling and they have our deepest sympathy,” a statement on Facebook said.

Organisers said a paramedic was with the girl just one minute after she collapsed. A first-aid tent at the festival included paramedics and an emergency doctor.

Police are asking anyone with knowledge about synthetic substance sellers to come forward.

The Bartter family has told 7News Georgina would never have taken the drugs knowingly althugh they later apparently said it was “very out of character”. But whether or not she did, she certainly didn’t expect to die.

Ms Bartter was the eldest of three children and graduated from Wenona private school last year, where she was a top student.

Simon Bartter with his daughter Georgina at her 18th birthday / Picture: Instagram

Simon Bartter with his daughter Georgina at her 18th birthday / Picture: Instagram

Schoolgirl Anna Wood died after taking ecstasy in 1995

She had only just returned from a dream holiday to Europe during a study break from university.

Her close friends said they were “completely shocked” by Ms Bartter’s death and were receiving counselling last night.

“She was really lovely to everyone at school. She was the life of the party,” one friend said.

“Everyone’s in shock. She had so much potential and it was way too early.”

Schoolgirl Anna Wood died after taking ecstasy in 1995

Schoolgirl Anna Wood died after taking ecstasy in 1995

Ironically and sadly, Ms Bartter was born in 1995, the same year Anna Wood, 15, who became the face of the anti-drug war after she died from popping an ecstasy tablet at a rave party.

We have a message for the young of our country and all countries.

When you take illicitly supplied drugs you have no idea what is in them. The people who create these drugs and profit from them have no quality control, and no care for what damage they may or may not do. They simply want your money. Cocaine, for example, is regularly cut with poisons and other drugs (such as veterinary) that are not intended for human consumption. Psycho-active drugs can be a cocktail of whatever the drug maker has at hand.

You have no idea how your body will react to any illegal drug you ingest. Worse: just because you had no bad reaction last time does not mean the same will be true next time, because different drug batches contain different substances and mixtures.

We are not wowsers, by any means. We’re not talking here about the occasional puff on a joint. We are talking about the vast range of party drugs that have swept the world in recent years. You simply can’t know what’s inside what you are taking. And they can kill. Anyone. Suddenly, and without warning.

You pick which one will kill you. We can't.

You pick which one will kill you. We can’t.

We have long argued that proper quality control is the strongest reason why illicit drugs should be legalised and regulated.

The other advantages of this approach would be a generalised harm minimisation regime, fewer casualties, more immediate access to advice for drug users, better and more freely available drug information, an inflow of tax dollars to fund better prevention and care provisions, and above all draining the criminal underworld of their vast financial wealth generated from illegal sales.

Prohibition has failed, and has little or no effect on the quantity of drugs illegally entering our society. Whole countries, like Mexico, are now in thrall to the trade, with over 100,000 deaths in that country directly attributable to it in recent years.

Many leading police officers and politicians around the world agree with us that a new way must be found, and fast.

Alex Wodak is a physician and the director of the Alcohol and Drug Service, at St Vincent's Hospital, in Sydney, Australia. Wodak is a notable advocate of drug reform laws.

Alex Wodak is a physician and the director of the Alcohol and Drug Service, at St Vincent’s Hospital, in Sydney, Australia. Wodak is a notable advocate of drug reform laws.

Meanwhile the president of the Australian Drug Law Reform Foundation, Alex Wodak, said the tragedy highlighted the need for a shift away from a “criminal- ­justice ­approach” to illicit drug use.

“Instead of relying heavily on law-enforcement measures like ­sniffer dogs we should be doing what they are in Europe and be providing pill testing,” Mr Wodak told The Australian.

“You can get the pills tested at these sorts of events and they will tell you what is in them – it turns it into a less dangerous practice.”

The widespread use of sniffer dogs could be counterproductive and encourage risk-taking behaviour, Mr Wodak said. “People who are carrying substances they have bought off the streets illegally might swallow ­excessive quantities in order to get rid of the evidence quickly and sometimes this has led to death.”

We say: Until drugs are legal and quality-controlled, or until someone can tell you everything that is in a pill and you can make an informed decision about what you are putting in your body, avoid them. Unless you think seeking a good time buzz is worth risking dying for.

Rest in peace, Georgina. Our deepest sympathies to you and all who knew you.

abbottdutton

Australian Prime Minister Tony Abbott (L), and Australian Health Minister Peter Dutton (R) during a press conference in Sydney, Australia, 5 November 2014.

 

As we have pointed out before, Australia has been slow and mealy-mouthed in sending aid/health workers to try and control the Ebola outbreak at source.

Yet even now some small move has been made, as PM Abbott and Health Minister Dutton have been dragged kicking and screaming to the table, people around the world, and indeed at home, could be forgiven for being a little confused about Australia’s response to the Ebola crisis.

The government has been sending out somewhat mixed signals over what help it can offer, as is now pointed out for the world to read on the front page of the BBC website in the UK. Nice.

First, the Abbott government refused to send any official medical or military personnel to West Africa, a decision for which he was widely criticised on this blog, inside Australia, and overseas, at the same time as President Barack Obama was saying the US should be encouraging health workers to volunteer to go to the frontline.

Mr Abbott has now bowed to pressure and announced Australia will be contributing A$20m (£11m; $17m) to help fund a British Ebola response clinic being set up in Sierra Leone. However, the prime minister has been vague about who will be staffing it.

The Australian side of the operation has been contracted out to the private health provider Aspen Medical and Abbott suggested most of the staff would be recruited locally, but contradictorily health officials in Sierra Leone have said the principal thing they are lacking is qualified local doctors.

Meanwhile, the managing director of Aspen Medical, Glenn Keys, has said around 350 Australians have registered with the company to go and help.

What is clear is that the prime minister is sticking by his line that no government medical teams or military personnel will be dispatched.

Mr Abbott said the decision to contract in Aspen had been reached after Britain agreed to treat any Australians who become infected while in West Africa, something the Australian leader had said was his principal concern.

It’s now emerged though, that the European Union had already made a similar offer to treat Australian staff that Mr Abbott had rejected.

 

How many innocent lives could Australian workers have saved in the last few weeks? We will never know.

How many innocent lives could Australian workers have saved in the last few weeks? We will never know.

 

Yet the media in Australia have been perfectly silent in asking him “Why?”, and still are. Especially as the end result is Australia’s response has looked very tardy and been delayed by crucial weeks. Meanwhile the poor of West Africa continue to face death rates from Ebola of up to 90% of all those infected.

Add to that the strong criticism Australia has faced after it became the first developed country to ban the issuing of visas to anyone from Sierra Leone, Guinea and Liberia. The Sierra Leonean government called the move “discriminatory” and “counter-productive” suggesting it created a climate of panic.

As the BBC say, anyone who’s visited Australia will know they take a tough line on bio-security. There are strict rules about bringing in food products due to fears of bringing in disease.

But given that only a handful of people have been tested for suspected Ebola in Australia and all have tested negative, the government here risks being accused of showing a lack of compassion in the eyes of many around the world.

What is more important is that if this outbreak is not stopped AT SOURCE, and somehow transmits itself into other poor areas of the world with bad sanitation and inadequate health services – the rest of Africa, India, Pakistan, Central and Southern America, great swathes of South East Asia, even China – then we would be looking at an Armageddon scenario. In the face of which, Abbott and Dutton looked nothing more nor less like rabbits stuck in the headlights. So much for “strong leadership”, eh?

obama in churchMeanwhile, the political and media beat up worldwide on the outbreak has continued, with near hysteria levels, in the USA in particular.

A couple of weeks back we predicted that there wouldn’t be another Ebola case in the USA in the next seven days. It’s now 14 and counting.

But has the fever of commentary died down? Hardly. And why is so annoyingly obvious. The Republicans knew that by making Obama look “weak” on Ebola, by terrifying the population, in simple terms, then they would hurt the Democrats. And so they did, as seen in their “wave” of wins in the mid-terms on Tuesday just gone.

In fact, as is widely acknowledged, Obama’s response has been a small miracle of intelligent healthcare policy.

That he has not received the credit for acting smartly, promptly and effectively – not just in the USA, but in West Africa – is truly sickening.

clown

 

There is a curious and well-known phobia where otherwise sane, rational people are scared of clowns.

The phenomenon is relatively recent, as the white-faced red-nosed version of clowns that some people find so alarming is a construction of the 20th century. Before that people with anxiety found something else to fixate on.

Now it seems there’s good reason to be worried. At least in Europe and the USA.

Clowns attack passers by

Freakish aggressive clowns, some allegedly armed with knives, pistols, and bats are driving French towns crazy, chasing down and attacking people.

In the southern port town of Agde, about 15 ‘clowns’ were arrested in a high school car park for ‘laughing manically’ while chasing people. In nearby Marseillan, a clown was detained for damaging a car.

In Montpellier: a ‘clown’ beat a man 30 times with an iron bar and then stole his wallet. Three motorists in the area also complained of “scary clowns.”

The French freak-clown wave began in the north a couple of weeks ago, in suburban Douai. In Bethune, a fake clown got a six-month suspended jail term for threatening passers-by.

A French police statement blames the web. “Since mid-October, a rumor inspired by videos published on the Internet has created the presence of threatening and aggressive clowns in France. Symptomatic of the impact of the Internet, this phenomenon can lead to damaging individual acts and disturbances to public order”.

The ‘clown craze’ is thought to have been triggered by a viral YouTube video and a recent episode of American Horror Story featuring a killer named Twisty.

Clown attack cases didn’t begin in France though: London’s Metropolitan Police dealt with 117 clown-related incidents in 2013.

In Portsmouth, UK, a masked figure began stroking passers-by in the city streets with a single red-gloved finger. As we come from Southampton, we’d believe anything of people in that particular locale.

US police have also made dozens of clown-related arrests, most prevalent in California.

Fear of clowns? It’s understandable.

But why be scared of the very look of a clown?

Coulrophobia – fear of clowns – is difficult to understand. They straddle a cultural nexus between fear and entertainment, but are generally intended to be affectionate, especially towards children.

The phobia may grow from the fascinating concept of “the uncanny valley”. The uncanny valley is a hypothesis in the field of human aesthetics which holds that when human features look and move almost, but not exactly, like natural human beings, it causes a response of revulsion among some human observers.

The “valley” refers to the dip in a graph of the comfort level of humans as something moves toward a healthy, natural human likeness but does not become entirely indistinguishable from a human. Examples of the effect can be found in the fields of robotics and 3D computer animation, among others. Unless the simalcrum is perfect, some people find it disturbing – and some find it so in the extreme.

The term was coined by the robotics professor Masahiro Mori as Bukimi no Tani Genshō (不気味の谷現象) in 1970. The hypothesis has been linked to Ernst Jentsch’s concept of the “uncanny” identified in a 1906 essay “On the Psychology of the Uncanny”. Jentsch’s conception was then elaborated by Sigmund Freud in a 1919 essay entitled “The Uncanny” (“Das Unheimliche”).

Mori’s original hypothesis states that as the appearance of a robot is made more human, some human observers’ emotional response to the robot will become increasingly positive and empathic, until a point is reached beyond which the response quickly becomes that of strong revulsion. However, as the robot’s appearance continues to become less distinguishable from that of a human being, the emotional response becomes positive once again and approaches human-to-human empathy levels.

This area of repulsive response aroused by a robot with appearance and motion between a “barely human” and “fully human” entity is called the uncanny valley. The name captures the idea that an almost human-looking robot will seem overly “strange” to some human beings, will produce a feeling of uncanniness, and will thus fail to evoke the empathic response required for productive human-robot interaction.

For robot, read clown. But why would humans react this way to something which is “almost” human, but slightly different, like a clown? The science is fascinating.

 

"What do you mean you don't want to have sex with me my pretty?"

“What do you mean you don’t want to have sex with me my pretty?”

 

A number of theories have been proposed to explain the cognitive mechanism underlying the uncanny valley phenomenon:

  • Mate selection. Automatic, stimulus-driven appraisals of uncanny stimuli elicit aversion by activating an evolved cognitive mechanism for the avoidance of selecting mates with low fertility, poor hormonal health, or ineffective immune systems based on visible features of the face and body that are predictive of those traits. Put simply, we avoid mating with weird looking people.
  • Mortality salience. Viewing an “uncanny” person elicits an innate fear of death and culturally-supported defences for coping with death’s inevitability.
  • We don’t want to get sick. Uncanny stimuli may activate a cognitive mechanism that originally evolved to motivate the avoidance of potential sources of pathogens by eliciting a disgust response. The more human someone looks, the stronger the aversion to its obvious defects, because (1) defects indicate disease, (2) more human-looking organisms are more closely related to human beings genetically, and (3) the probability of contracting disease-causing bacteria, viruses, and other parasites increases with genetic similarity. To some people, clowns look sick. We don’t want to catch whatever they’ve got.
  • They mess with our brains. Thanks to a concept called “Sorites paradoxes”, when we see a character with both human and nonhuman traits it undermines our sense of human identity by linking qualitatively different categories. That’s why quasi-human monsters like vampires are simultaneously attractive and scary. And why some Halloween costumes scare the bejeesus out of some people.
  • They just don’t measure up to our expectations. There is a concept of “violation of human norms” which says that if someone looks “almost” human, they elicit our model of a another human being and we have detailed normative expectations of how they will behave. Their non-human characteristics will be more noticeable than if they were trying to be something totally non-human, giving the human viewer a sense of strangeness. In other words, a clown stuck inside the uncanny valley is no longer being judged by the standards of a clown doing a passable job at pretending to be human, but is instead being judged by the standards of a human doing a terrible job at acting like a normal person.

So there you have it. If you’re frightened of clowns, you may have deep biological reasons to be so. Although frankly, we think having your new iPhone nicked by a hoodlum is the best reason to view with alarm someone approaching you in the street looking like a refugee from Billy Smart’s circus.

Thanks to Mix FM for gathering together people’s photos of the monstrous electrical storm that hit Melbourne in the wee small hours of Monday morning and to Colin for alerting us to them.

It was a real doozey, and the traffic and train chaos from power outages and flooding the next morning was astonishing. It is only a matter of time, of course, before some religious nut blames it all on God being angry over homosexuality, abortion, or the Australian cricket team. Actually, looking at the result against Pakistan, I think the cricket team were to blame.

The Wellthisiswhatithink household was certainly bleerily woken up, with candles lit in advance of the expected blackout which for some reason didn’t occur, unplugging computers from the wall etc. We’re only sorry we couldn’t take our own photos, but the new camera hasn’t arrived yet … of that, more soon!

 

lightning melb 1

 

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lightning melb 3

 

 

Ebola in Liberia

Watching the world go into collective meltdown over the Ebola outbreak in West Africa is highly instructive for anyone who is interested in how the media works, how politics works, and how groupthink works.

The media are rubbing their collective hands with glee. Suddenly they have a new and potentially terrifying threat to wax lyrical about: ISIS terrorism is so last week, right?

Now a “deadly” virus that most people have never heard of, that’s escaped from the nasty, mucky, dark continent of Africa, and threatens us nice white people in our impeccably clean western societies, offers the media a chance for wall-to-wall coverage, most of it hysterical and uninformed.

Politicians now fall neatly into two camps. Those who give a shit about tackling the outbreak, and those who simply give a shit about blaming someone else, and always on the other side of the aisle.

And groupthink has merely descended into group terror. You can’t blame people for being scared, but the level of fear has reached ridiculously high proportions astonishingly quickly.

So here’s a few facts.

ebolavirusEbola can be and is deadly, (with morbidity rates as high as 70% in some of the countries currently under attack), but the vast majority of people infected (perhaps upwards of 90%) will survive IF they receive proper medical care, such as simple matters including rehydration.

This is actually higher than some other much more common severe illnesses.

The huge death numbers in West Africa are because the sanitation, medical and social systems there are completely inadequate to deal with the illness.

The strain of Ebola affecting Sierra Leone, Nigeria and Liberia is not airborne. You HAVE to have an exchange of bodily fluids to catch it. The rapid transition rate in West Africa is because poor people are caring for sick relatives in their own homes, and avoiding contact with saliva, blood and bodily wastes (or surfaces contaminated with them) is extraordinarily difficult in those circumstances.

In reality, as you can see here, the spread rate of Ebola against other serious illnesses is very slow. This is partly, tragically, because in poor countries the sick don’t live long enough to pass the virus on to very many people. Ebola is actually a very inefficient virus. It kills its victims too quickly.

The solution to the Ebola crisis is very simple. By all means isolate the very few cases that will occur in advanced countries, and treat those people with all due care for the treating staff as well. The majority of infected people will recover, especially if they are treated early. Impose travel bans if you wish, though it would be much more sensible to implement heat screening of in-bound passengers, such as was used during the SARS crisis in China.

There is also evidence from previous outbreaks that educating the local community about how to handle patients and reduce infection-risk is an effective way to slow or end outbreaks. This is another area of activity that should be ramped up.

In the meantime, though, whatever else we do, we must DRAMATICALLY increase aid to West Africa. We should be FLOODING the area with capacity to deal with the crisis, AND to deal there with any aid workers from advanced countries who become infected, keeping them there instead of repatriating them to their home country. Although conditions in these countries are extremely difficult, it is not beyond the wit and wisdom of mankind to isolate and treat the virus there. What IS needed is willpower and decisive action and plenty of fast money.

If this was a war, an immediate and resolute response would be found.

Well, this is a war. A war to save potentially hundreds of thousands of poor victims worldwide. This is not a war to protect the West. It was and is and will be a war to protect countries in Africa (and possibly elsewhere) from being set back 25 years in their development, through the avoidable death of countless innocent people.

Rabbit caught in headlights? Pretty much.

Rabbit caught in headlights? Pretty much.

In this regard, the failure of the Australian government to yet send staff to the area is staggeringly weak and vacillating.

Health Minister Peter Dutton waffles on about not knowing where to treat any staff who contract the virus.

Well, here’s a question to answer, Mr Dutton. If Ebola gets into the slums of the poorer countries of Asia (such as especially the Philippines and Thailand) or the favelas of South America, it will then GENUINELY be too late to stop a worldwide humanitarian disaster. What will you do then?

If you are genuinely concerned about the safety of our aid workers or troops, (and not simply trying to save money and hope someone else does the heavy lifting) then explain the situation simply and clearly, and ask for volunteers.

Action, this day. Nothing else is acceptable.

PS Don’t expect to see the commonsense in this article reported in mainstream media, so feel free to share it.

 

sleepy pilotWhen we first arrived in Australia some 25 plus years ago, our first experience of flying inside the country was from a small airport in Cairns, when we were heading to the very pretty Dunk Island for a few days unashamed luxury.

A small bunch of us sat and sat, and sat, and sat some more, until in the end they actually paged the flight crew. They duly wandered out of the bar. As one of our fellow passengers commented, “Well, they might have been drinking orange juice.” He didn’t look convinced, though.

It was a very small plane. Our communal confidence was not increased when the co-pilot (who was flying) asked the pilot which way to go. The pilot scrabbled through his maps for a minute, before admitting he’d left the maps behind. “Look out of the window, follow the road” was his advice to the co-pilot. Which is exactly what the co-pilot did: opened the window and stuck his head out. As you do.

Anyhow, an ex airline pilot wrote an interesting article on Yahoo about the stuff that goes on in the cockpit that passengers really don’t want to know about. This segment of article jumped out at us, especially the last bit (in bold). Seems like good advice to us:

Prior to 1978, each airline worked out schedules with its pilots to accommodate the routes the airline flew while protecting the pilots from undue fatigue. But after 1978’s deregulation, all that changed. Competition between airlines became so fierce that pilots were forced to fly more hours with less rest. Fatigue led to accidents. At the beginning of this year, new rules established by the FAA and supposedly based on scientific study, went into effect which gave pilots a reasonable amount of uninterrupted rest between days of flying, but increased the number of hours a two-pilot crew could fly per day from eight to nine hours!

Under these new pseudoscientific rules, a pilot who reports for duty at 7am can be on duty for 14 hours. That may sound reasonable until you consider that being at work at 7am may mean getting up at 3am, leaving home at 4am, and driving two hours to the airport. That allows only 20 minutes for traffic and 40 minutes to catch the bus from crew parking to the terminal. Your pilot can be forced to work until 9pm, 18 hours after waking up — if lucky — from five to six hours of sleep.

According to research done in Australia, a person who has driven more than eight hours has the same ability to function as a person with a blood-alcohol level of .05. The research also showed a person who has been awake for 18 hours function like a person with a blood alcohol of .05. What does that say about your pilot who is landing the plane after flying nine hours or being up 18 hours?

Pilots are stuck with the new rules, and no matter how fatigued a pilot may be, refusing to fly means big trouble. As a pilot, you don’t fly fatigued, you can’t keep your job. Don’t expect things to get better.

So, if you want a pilot who is fully awake after a full night’s sleep, don’t fly earlier than 10am.

If you want to be sure your pilot’s performance is better than a drunk driver, steer clear of short flights after 7pm.

Longer domestic flights and international flights that depart after 7pm are not a problem in this regard because on such flights pilots are usually beginning their work day.

We are, in general, wary of politically-active actors or musicians. Too often the luvvies are just promoting themselves via the causes they’ve latched onto, and achieving some spurious cachet while doing so. There are honourable exceptions of course: George Clooney on Somalia, Angelina Jolie on breast cancer and poverty, and Bob Geldof, Midge Ure and Bono on poverty. There will be others.

And now we have Leonardo Di Caprio on climate change. And he nailed it.

This short and poignant speech should be played to every politician and climate change denier on the planet. Please share this post widely and share the speech.

We absolutely need a worldwide carbon trading scheme with an agreed price on carbon, and we need to stop supporting polluting industries (especially coal and oil) with taxpayers’ funds, so people pay the real price for using these products. And we need a massive investment in effective new technologies, accepting that they may not pay their way immediately as they are perfected.*

Nothing else – nothing else – is acceptable. We cannot and must bequeath this crisis to our children.

Well done Leo. Wot he said. With a wrecked ecology we will have no economy worth speaking of. While the world agonises over IS and other terror threats, THIS is a real, immediate existentialist crisis.

*Australia’s Liberal-National Government (read: Conservative) have just scrapped the carbon emissions trading scheme and reduced investment in “green” technologies.

A woman suffering from Alzheimer's disease holds the hand of a relativeAccording to a report emanating from Paris (carried by AFP) long-term use of drugs commonly prescribed for anxiety and sleeplessness is linked to a greater risk of Alzheimer’s, a study said on Wednesday. Whether chronic use of benzodiazepines actually causes the brain disease is unknown, but the link is so glaring that the question should be probed, its authors said.

Dementia affects about 36 million people worldwide, a tally that is expected to double every 20 years as life expectancy lengthens and the “baby boom” demographic bulge reaches late age.

Researchers in France and Canada, using a health insurance database in Quebec, identified 1,796 people with Alzheimer’s whose health had been monitored for at least six years before the disease was diagnosed.

They compared each individual against three times as many healthy counterparts, matched for age and gender, to see if anything unusual emerged.

They found that patients who had extensively used benzodiazepines for at least three months in the past, were up to 51 percent more likely to be diagnosed with Alzheimer’s. The risk rose the longer the patient had used the drug.

But the investigators admitted the picture was foggy.

Benzodiazepines are used to treat sleeplessness and anxiety – symptoms that are also common among people just before an Alzheimer’s diagnosis. In other words, rather than causing Alzheimer’s, the drugs were being used to ease its early symptoms, which could explain the statistical association, they said.

“Our findings are of major importance for public health,” and warranted further investigation, said the team.

“(…) A risk increase by 43-51 percent in users would generate a huge number of excess cases, even in countries where the prevalence of use of these drugs is not high.”
The paper, published by the British Medical Journal (BMJ), is led by Sophie Billioti de Gage at the University of Bordeaux, southwestern France.

In a comment, Eric Karran, head of research at Alzheimer’s Research UK, said the study gathered data over a five-year period only, whereas Alzheimer’s symptoms often appear a decade or more before diagnosis.

“It is difficult to tease out cause and effect in studies such as this,” he said. “We need more long-term research to understand this proposed link and what the underlying reasons behind it may be.”

If you are concerned

Your first step, of course, is to ask your GP or health professional. Benzodiazepines are a class of drug commonly known as tranquillisers and sleeping pills. Benzodiazepines are available on prescription only in Australia, and are mainly used for problems relating to anxiety and sleep.

Approximately 10 million scripts are written annually in Australia. Apart from a fall in prescribing in the early 1990s, prescribing rates have remained fairly constant, with a slight increase in the last few years.

It is estimated that one in 50 Australians are currently taking a benzodiazepine and have been taking the drug for longer than 6 months.

Women are prescribed benzodiazepines at twice the rate as for men, and older people (over 65) receive most of the benzodiazepine scripts for sleeping problems.

The most common benzodiazepines prescribed in Australia are Temazepam, Diazepam, Alprazolam and Oxazepam.

The following is a list of oral benzodiazepines available in Australia. Benzodiazepines are often produced by different drug companies and there may be different trade names for the same drug.

Long Acting
Generic Name Trade Name
Diazepam Valium
Ducene
Antenex
Diazepam Elixir
Diazepam –DP
GENRX Diazepam
Valpam
Clonazepam Rivotril
Flunitrazepam Hypnodorm
Rohypnol
Nitrazepam Mogadon
Alodorm
Clobazam Frisium
Short Acting
Generic Name Trade Name
Alprazolam Xanax
Kalma
Alprax
Alprazolam
Alprazolam –DP
GENRX
Zamhexal
Temazepam Normison
Temaze
Temtabs
Oxazepam Serepax
Murelax
Alepam
Lorazepam Ativan
Bromazepam Lexotan
Triazolam Halcion

More information about benzodiazepines, their uses, and their brand names can be found here.

We stress we do not intend this article to cause alarm, or to encourage anyone to stop taking drugs they have been prescribed. Articles of that kind abound on the internet, and to the contrary we are of the belief that one of the reasons these drugs are prescribed so often is because they are inexpensive and effective. If you have any concerns, speak to your health professional.

However we do agree with the report’s writers that any possible causal link between them and Alzheimer’s needs to be investigated if only for it to be dismissed.

Dealing with sleeplessness

Chronic use of any drug is likely to have uncertain effects. Where benzodiazepines are prescribed for assistance with sleeplessness, we would opine that other ways to address the problem should be tried as well.

These include ensuring you have adequate physical exertion during the day (as people age they tend to become more sedentary), avoiding TV and other stimulants like smartphones and computers for at least 30 minutes before sleep, seeking to calm anxiety about whether you will go to sleep with positive awareness of your overall wellness, employing relaxation exercises, (simple deep breathing can make a huge difference), meditation, and keeping the bedroom at a mild temperature, neither too hot nor too cool. It is unwise to eat a large meal to close to bed-time. Better to eat a snack that is large enough to satisfy your hunger and then enjoy a more substantial breakfast. Reading a book is a classic and successful way to calm down before sleep, but be aware that reading a book on a Kindle or iPad can have the opposite effect – the bright light confuses your brain into thinking you want to still be awake. Similarly, lighting for reading books should be bright enough to let you see, but not too bright.

A positive decision not to worry about life issues overnight is a wise move to combat sleeplessness as well. Write down a list of everything you feel is unresolved in your life, and make a determination to tackle it the next day. Nothing can be done while you lie in bed anxiously awake anyway. This simple act of intention can result in better sleep.

It is a sad fact that sleeplessness creates a vicious circle in our lives – tiredness creates anxiety and sense of worry about our achievement and problem solving ability – the anxiety thus created keeps us awake – we get more tired and more anxious – and so it goes on … For some people it can be a devastating cycle, resulting in deep depressive episodes during which their life can be at risk, and in our observation benzodiazepines are often employed by health professionals to break the cycle. But the natural state of the human body is to sleep, and it appears that we need to find natural ways to encourage it to do so instead of simply popping a pill.

 

 

So, if you’ve going to Germany to experience Oktoberfest for beer and sausages this European autumn, chances are you might want to stay away from the wild boar while you’re there: sausages and stews made from which are a delicacy in the forested areas of Europe.

A new study from the German government, reported by The Telegraph, shows that more than one in three wild boar killed by hunters in the region are too radioactive to be safe for humans to eat.

Since 2012, hunters in the Saxony region of Germany have had to get any wild boar they kill tested for radiation. In one year, the state reports that 297 of 752 boar tested contained more than the safe limit of 600 becquerels of radioactive material caesium-137 per kilogram for human consumption. Some boar tested had radiation levels dozens of times higher than the safe limit.

Saxony is 700 miles from Chernobyl, where a 1986 explosion at a nuclear plant sent radioactive material into the atmosphere.Subsquent rain and wind carried the radioactive material far and wide across Europe.

It’s thought that boar are more susceptible to radiation contamination because their diet consists of mushrooms and truffles that are buried in the ground and hold radiation longer than other vegetation. As a result of the contaminated meat, the German government has paid out thousands of euros in compensation to hunters, which have to destroy anything that tests as unsafe and cannot sell it for profit.

Even though it has been 28 years since the Chernobyl disaster – we remember it like it was yesterday – The Telegraph points out that experts say the radiation could be around in unsafe levels for another 50 years. Yummy.

OCD-AlphaOrderOnce upon a time, as we have described before, we went down with a bad dose of OCD. That’s the illness caused by f***** up brain chemicals that makes people do things over and over again … tap their feet a certain number of times, never say the letter P, or, most commonly, check that they’ve turned the gas cooker off thirty times or wash their hands repeatedly in very hot water with lots of soap.

We got the germy version. Big time. So we will confess to being 100% more aware of hygiene issues than  the average poor sap, even if that is about 10,000 times less aware of it than we used to be, as we are largely recovered from the illness, thank the Lord.

But being a bit germ aware does actually make some sense in today’s very busy and rushed world. We often take shortcuts with personal hygiene nowadays, or lay ourselves open to risk simply by being unaware, and there are some really nasty bugs around. Anti-biotic resistant staph we know about, and the world is positively swimming in E.coli (literally, often) which can make us very unwell, not to mention salmonella, which can hospitalise or kill you. (We have had members of our family go down with it – mythology it ain’t.)

Er, no thanks,

Er, no thanks,

So here’s today’s list of ten things you really need to think about. Even if you haven’t got OCD.

Unless you/re eating in this toilet-themed restaurant in China you wouldn’t eat off your toilet. But you might be surprised at the items that are dirtier in your world.

So 1. Your cell phone.

Your cellphone is disgusting. Trust me. It is an absolute holiday resort for germs.

If you don’t believe me, go here, where you can actually find out how many germs are living on your trusted companion right now.

germs on cell phoneWe are actually quite careful about our phone’s hygiene level, and we got the result that currently, there are 674,100 germs living on our cell phone: that’s the equivalent of 135 toilet seats!

Not that we’re paranoid, or nuffink. But seriously, who washes their hands after using their cell phone?

No 2. Your BBQ grill

Now we know you would never glance at the BBQ and say “I’ll clean it after”, right? Not even once.

You will always rigorously clean your grill immediately after cooking on it, even if you’re sitting down by the pool with a belly full of Vic Bitter and sausages with the biggest food coma of all time on the horizon.

dirty bbqOr even if you did leave it till next time, just that once, you would never hope for the best and stick a steak on top of the charred leavings of last time, on the basis that all the new fire you’re about to crank up is bound to clean up anything that’s grown there since last time? Eh?

Yeah, We hear you.

Just be aware that any food left on your grill immediately becomes a five star Michelin restaurant for nasty bugs of all kinds just floating around merrily in the sunshine.

Cooking on an unclean grill is seriously risking a tummy upset for you and the crowd, at the very least.

3. Your “clean” laundry

clean laundryNot to put too fine a point on it, crap clings to your underwear, whether you can see it or not. When you throw your undies in tub, you transfer about 500 million E. coli bacteria to the machine.

On top of that, water tends to settle in the bottom of front-loading machines, making it a breeding ground for germs. Then you wash your clothes in that mess.

To make sure your clean clothes come out actually clean, do a load of whites first so you can use chlorine bleach to sanitise the machine.

Or dedicate a cycle to underwear and use the hottest water the undies will bear without shrinking with a color-safe bleach substitute.

Also, run an empty cycle with bleach once every month to keep your washer free of bacteria. Easey-peasey.

4. Your toothbrush

Careful. They bite back.

Careful. They bite back.

When you flush your toilet, it can spray aerosolised droplets over six metres, says Dr Philip Tierno Jr, director of microbiology and immunology at NYU’s Langone Medical Center and the author of The Secret Life of Germs. It’s called a “plume”. Such a pretty name for such a horrid thought.

One option is to put the lid of the loo down before flushing. But it’s only a partial solution because it usually isn’t a perfect seal.

So if you leave your toothbrush out on the bathroom sink, it will almost certainly be showered with tiny drops of whatever you just flushed.

Stowing your toothbrush in a cabinet away from the flying faeces might be a good idea. Running it through the dishwasher will also eliminate germs, according to a 2011 study in the American Journal of Dentistry.

As a minimum, run it under a hot tap before using, or an even easier option would be to soak your toothbrush in a mouthwash that contains cetylpyridinium chloride, like Listerine, for 20 minutes.

5. Your kitchen sponge

Your dish or surface sponge is probably the nastiest thing in your kitchen. It’s just out to get you, we tells ya’allkeep-kitchen-sponges-clean-1!

It’s damp and constantly in contact with bacteria, making it a prime place for germs to proliferate.

Rather terrifyingly, there’s a one in three chance your kitchen sponge has staph just sitting on it, according to a Simmons College study. (That’s twice the contamination rate of your toilet.) And it could be harbouring up 10 million bacteria per square inch.

What can you do? Watch it in very hot soapy water or even in a light solution of disinfectant before using. If that seems a step too far, then vinegar is a natural disinfectant, so try dousing it in that, rinse it out with clean hot water, then do the dishes. Throw old sponges and cloths away more often, and use new ones.

6. The buttons in an elevator

5Going up? That elevator button could be crawling with more bacteria than a toilet, a new study from the University of Toronto found. Up to 40 times more.

And another large study from Saudi Arabia found that 97 per cent of elevator buttons in offices and residential buildings are contaminated. One in 10 had germs that could cause food poisoning or sinus infections.

Using an alcohol-based hand sanitiser after you press the “up” button should kill any bacteria you picked up, the researchers say. And for elevator button read … door handles, stair handrails … etc.

Sure, it’s not healthy to be constantly using hand sanitiser all day long, but before you touch food that you’re going to put in your mouth? That’s actually a smart idea.

7. Your computer

keyboardHow often do you chow down a sandwich at your desk while tapping away at your computer? Those keys, and now your hands, are swarming in potentially harmful bugs. Especially if more than one person use the computer.

Your hands, the keyboard. Your hands, the sandwich. The sandwich, your mouth. Your mouth, your gut. You get the picture.

But it’s not just your keyboard. It’s other people’s keyboards. And their mice. And other people’s tablets. It’s all because too many people don’t wash their hands thoroughly after visiting the loo despite health experts warning that rushed or ignored hand washing can lead to diarrhoea,vomiting, food poisoning, flu and the spread of MRSA.

Stop it already!

Stop it already!

There’s a new problem looming. British media regulator Ofcom suggest that consumers are so addicted to smartphones and tablet computers that over one in ten – 11%, in fact – now view video content on a device such as the iPad in the bathroom. It’s estimated that around 20% of 18-24 year-olds do so on a regular basis.

And if they’re not washing their hands, you can be damn sure they’re not washing their bloody iPhones and iPads.

8. Your ATM

atm-germsSwab tests recently conducted of public surfaces in six major cities revealed that ATMs are among the worst carriers of illness-causing germs. Starting to get the picture? Anything that is touched regularly by lots of people is a potential source of infection. The problem is very simple – bank staff don’t head outside to clean the keypads on their ATM with anti-bacterial or disinfectant wipes.

The tests showed that 41% of automated teller machine keypads carry germs that can cause colds and the flu.

Washing your hands afterwards or a hand sanitiser after using an ATM will help you in only picking up cold hard cash, and not a cold along with it.

9. The petrol pump.

everything bathroomYour hands could actually be germier after washing them than they were before.

That’s no exaggeration: one 2011 study from the University of Arizona found that one in four refillable soap dispensers in public bathrooms was contaminated and pumped out bacteria.

Another study tested whether those potentially disease-causing germs could be left on your hands after washing.

The short answer: yup.

Hot air dryers can also blow up to 45 per cent more bacteria onto your hands, according to a study in the Journal of Applied Microbiology.

If you have a choice, use soap dispensers that have bags of soap in them that are replaced, rather than those that are refilled by pouring more soap into them.

It might sound nuts, but you can wash the taps (faucet) before you use them, and after washing your hands, use paper towels to dry off, and then use them to turn off the taps and open the door as you leave.

Better momentary embarrassment because someone looks at you strangely than a handful of gut-wrenching oooby-goobries.

So, feel better now? Yeah, us too. Remember these simple rules to drastically reduce the risk to yourself and others.

  • Always wash your hands thoroughly with soap and hot water after going to the toilet.
  • Always wash your hands before eating.

It’s a warzone. Good luck out there.

sunshine

Older adults who are severely deficient in vitamin D may be more than twice as likely to develop dementia or Alzheimer’s disease than those who don’t have a deficiency, according to the largest study of its kind, published Wednesday in the journal Neurology.

“We expected to find an association between low Vitamin D levels and the risk of dementia and Alzheimer’s disease, but the results were surprising — we actually found that the association was twice as strong as we anticipated,” noted lead researcher David Llewellyn of the University of Exeter Medical School in a news release.

Llewellyn looked at several years worth of data on 1,658 Americans ages 65 and older who had taken part in the National Heart, Blood and Lung Institute’s Cardiovascular Health Study. He and his team found that adults who were just moderately deficient in vitamin D had a 53 percent increased risk of developing dementia — the general term for any severe decline in mental ability — while the risk jumped to 125 percent for those who had a severe deficiency. Similarly, for Alzheimer’s disease — the most common type of dementia — the moderately deficient adults were 69 percent more likely to develop it, while the severely deficient had a 122 percent increased risk.

“Clinical trials are now needed to establish whether eating foods such as oily fish or taking vitamin D supplements can delay or even prevent the onset of Alzheimer’s disease and dementia,” Llewellyn said. “We need to be cautious at this early stage, and our latest results do not demonstrate that low vitamin D levels cause dementia. That said, our findings are very encouraging, and even if a small number of people could benefit, this would have enormous public health implications given the devastating and costly nature of dementia.”

Currently, more than five million Americans are living with Alzheimer’s disease, which is the sixth leading cause of death in the USA, according to the Chicago-based Alzheimer’s Association. One in three seniors dies with Alzheimer’s or another form of dementia. “We think this study is important,” Keith Fargo, director of scientific programs and outreach with the Alzheimer’s Association (a major funder of Llewellyn’s research), told Yahoo Health in response to the findings. “It’s a relatively large study, and it looks like it does show a pretty substantial link.… It just doesn’t show us why there is a link.” One hypothesis, Fargo noted, is that the brain — including the hippocampus, which is one of the first areas to break down with Alzheimer’s — is full of vitamin D receptors.

There has been a growing body of research on the disease’s connection with vitamin D — the main sources of which are sunshine and supplements, with minor sources including egg yolks and oily fish like salmon and sardines. Earlier this year, a study out of Denmark, for example, also showed a link between Alzheimer’s disease prevalence and low levels of vitamin D, while earlier studies conducted in Australia and France found tenuous connections between taking doses of vitamin D and having an improved memory. The vitamin has also been linked, in various studies, to preventing asthma, diabetes, and cancer.

“People tend to not believe vitamin D news, because it seems too good to be true,” John Cannell, MD, executive director of the California-based nonprofit Vitamin D Council, told Yahoo Health. “But vitamin D has a profound mechanism of action, as it’s really a steroid hormone that turns genes on and off, and no other vitamin works that way. There are at least 1,000 different genes directly influenced by vitamin D.” The council recommends a combination of cautious sun exposure combined with supplements in winter months.

Cannell called the new study’s findings “pretty exciting,” mainly because of its size and structure. “It’s important because it’s the first cohort study of a large population — meaning that it’s forward-looking, having followed people over several years,” he said. “The next step is a randomised controlled trial, but this is as close as you can get without that.”

(Yahoo Health)

Of course, Aussies and others who enjoy frolicking in the sunshine need to be careful of the other effect of drinking up Vitamin D through their skin – which is skin cancer, of course. As we all make sure we get some sunshine, let’s also remember the advice that adequate Vitamin D levels can be achieved with just 20 minutes exposure to sunshine a day.

fear-of-death

We have come to the realisation, Dear Reader, that fear is a bloody miserable thing, and that we suffer from it.

When the treadmill of life slows down long enough for us to actually stop and think – read: reflect, brood, ponder, worry – it is easy for fear to creep in, especially if one is on one’s own, or the blood sugar is a tad low, or it’s just been a shitty day.

In the case of your indefatigable correspondent, the fears are often about the process of growing older, and death. And then, nigh-on simultaneously, the death of loved ones. And then the disastrous state of the world, and how it’s all going to pot.

But it is the first one that can utterly paralyse us. After all: death is the one unavoidable conclusion of all lives. It’s going to happen. And with it, bang goes the achievements, the fun, the striving, the connection with everyone, the adored family. Doesn’t it? Life. What was that all about, huh? Why bother, just to die and leave it all behind?

As we get older, our faculties also decline. This isn’t a pretend fear, it’s a real fear. No amount of positive thinking or even age-appropriate exercise will totally prevent it.

Joints get less flexible. (Puhlease don’t tell us about 80 year old gymnasts on YouTube – most of us don’t keep fit enough in the early years to make that happen – I am being realistic here – and by the time we realise the body is beginning to creak it’s too late to stop all the creaking. Some ageing can be overcome, but not all. Just tell my left shoulder that you’re thinking positively about it and listen to the laughter.)

The brain unquestionably slows, too. Which is a real bugger, if one has used one’s brain to make a living since, like, forever.  And it’s very noticeable. Undeniable. It becomes harder to bring words to mind instantly. Sentence construction is more laborious, too. And when one rushes in panic to the experts worrying about early-onset Alzheimers, they reassure you with the most annoying advice imaginable: “Don’t worry, you’re just getting older, it happens to everyone.”

Well, poo to that. And this isn’t even to touch on the myriad anxieties that afflict people about their social interactions, phobias, and 1001 other things.

There is even a specific phobia for those who fear death, called thanataphobia. We don’t think we would quite describe ourselves as phobic on the issue, merely mildly obsessed. OK, make that “aware” and “thoughtful”.

So what to do about fear, and specifically fear of death?

We are sure religious faith helps with the whole death thing, at least to a degree. We remember hearing someone say once, “We are mortal beings living immortal lives” and being charmed by its simplicity. Nice thought. If it’s true. Life becomes much more bearable – death becomes much more bearable – if it is just a prelude to a sort of eternal holiday-camp shared with those we love, or perhaps a chance to come back and do better next time. But doubt is at the core of all faith – that’s why they call it faith – and on days that the awareness of death and loss bears down on us, it often seems that the nagging demon of doubt does, too.

Cancer support groups often talk about working towards a “good death”, rather than hoping against hope (and logic) to try and endlessly prolong life. A good death is one where one is resigned to the inevitability of our dying, where we have made our peace with those around us and been able to spend quality time with them, and where our affairs are as much in order as possible. Where death does not dull our mind with terror, and we can maintain dignity, calm, and acceptance of our fate. We are reminded of a dear friend, Senator Sid Spindler, taken from us a couple of years ago with liver cancer, who was discussing an article in the local paper with his wife when quite clearly only a few days from death. An indefatigable campaigner, he murmured “Perhaps I should write a letter?” Those around him rolled their eyes in disbelief and amused admiration. But was he postponing the inevitable – clinging to one last vestige of relevance – or merely accepting his imminent death but refusing to be cowed by it? Or a bit of both? Only Sid could tell us, and he isn’t here any more.

In olden times, someone would have cheerily, at this point, said something like “Make the most out of every day!” as a response to the fact that one day the days will simply run out. Indeed, there are web pages dedicated to telling you exactly how many productive hours one has left in one’s life when one has removed sleep, showering, going to the loo, travelling, etc., to encourage everybody to “make the most” of life. Fair enough. Personally, we have stopped looking at them. It looks like we’ve got enough time left to make one more decent pot of bolognese sauce before we cark it.

We also ponder the fact that until relatively recently in human existence, within the last poofteenth of human time in reality, we would almost certainly already have been dead, and many people in today’s world still have a life expectancy below the amount we have already lived. And in the moments when we remind ourselves of this, we manage to be grateful and worried simultaneously.

allenNot for nothing is our favourite celebrity quotation from Woody Allen, a man so obsessed with these matters that he wrote two theatre plays, one called God and the other Death. The quote runs thusly: “I don’t want to become immortal through my work. I want to become immortal through not dying.” Hear hear.

The Wellthisiswhatithink collective is by no means alone in this angst-ridden introspection, of course.

Existential death anxiety is the basic knowledge and awareness that natural life must end and it has fascinated writers and philosophers since humankind climbed down from the trees. It is said that existential death anxiety directly correlates to language; that is, “language has created the basis for this type of death anxiety through communicative and behavioural changes.” Or in other words, over millenia we notice that we die, learn how to describe it, and then talk about it.

There is also “an awareness of the distinction between self and others, a full sense of personal identity, and the ability to anticipate the future, which includes the certainty of death. Humans defend against this type of death anxiety through denial, which is effected through a wide range of mental mechanisms and physical actions many of which also go unrecognised. While limited use of denial tends to be adaptive, its use is usually excessive and proves to be costly emotionally.”

Or to put it more simply, it’s better to face up to it.

As Wikipedia would have it, “Awareness of human mortality arose through some 150,000 years ago. In that extremely short span of evolutionary time, humans have fashioned but a single basic mechanism with which they deal with the existential death anxieties this awareness has evoked—denial in its many forms.

Fear of - and discussion of - dying goes back to Neanderthal times. Not that it gets any easier.

Fear of – and discussion of – dying goes back to Neanderthal times. Not that it gets any easier.

Thus denial is basic to such diverse actions as breaking rules and violating frames and boundaries, manic celebrations, violence directed against others, attempts to gain extraordinary wealth and/or power — and more. These pursuits often are activated by a death-related trauma and while they may lead to constructive actions, more often than not, they lead to actions that are, in the short and long run, damaging to self and others.”

Or as we call them in Wales, “wakes”.

This is before we even tackle the concept of Existentialism proper, (as opposed to Existential anxiety), and it’s various concerns that life is inherently meaningless anyway, not to mention Absurd. That’s a topic for another day. Or days. Or lifetimes.

Anyway, this latest in a series of ramblings on this topic is coming to no great or profound conclusion, Dear Reader. We merely report that at this point in time we have decided to focus on a couple of related issues.

Firstly, we have decided to stop worrying about the fact that one cannot control death, because in reality one can only control a few outcomes in one’s life, and death surely isn’t one of them. Believing we are in charge of everything is a uniquely human conceit, and it is clearly not true.

In the Wellthisiswhatithink household we call this the “A Plane Fell On My House” syndrome, recognising that random acts can and do disrupt our neatly ordered existence.

Accepting this as a fact is a vital step towards dealing with events that catch us unawares.

kindnessSecondly, we are trying to make more of an impact on our world by being more concerned about other people than ourselves, by being kinder, by being slower to anger or frustration, by trying to see things from the other person’s perspective, by celebrating the good we see around us and building up those responsible for it.

It was Aesop (he of Fables fame) who once said “No act of kindness, however small, is ever wasted”. There’s a big mouthful, right there. And yet more proof, if proof were needed, that things don’t change much as the centuries roll by.

Deep in the last Millenium we saw “making an impact on the world” as ending up as Prime Minister of somewhere (or at least a senior panjandrum of some description), becoming the world’s greatest writer of film scripts, the most creative businessman in town, the “next big thing” in poetry, and a bunch of other grandiloquent outcomes. It would be fair to say we have now changed our focus, and in doing so, we have become more content, and by many measurements, more successful.

We may yet do something “famous”. Or we may not.

We’re taking it all a day at a time. And that helps, too.

Tara MohrMeanwhile, Tara Sophia Mohr is a San Francisco-based women’s leadership personality. We found these comments on her website, and thank her for her thinking. There is some big “applied commonsense” here.

1. Create a character. Create a character that symbolises the voice of fear within you. Maybe she’s a frail recluse or an eight-year-old bully or a fire-breathing dragon. Maybe it’s the lion from “The Wizard of Oz” or the Wicked Witch or the Wizard himself. Pick a character that illustrates how the voice of fear feels in you, and name your character. When you hear the voice of fear, greet it: “Oh,Cruella, I see you’ve come to visit. Hello.”

Why does this work? Creating a character helps you separate the real you from the part of you that’s afraid. Your fears come from that instinctual part of the brain that seeks to avoid risk at any cost–not from your core self, your inner wisdom, or your dreams. Naming the voice of fear, visualising it as a character and observing it helps you get back in charge.

2. Follow the fear through to the end game. Fear holds us hostage, making threats that if you do X, a disastrous outcome will occur.

The remedy is to imagine how you’d handle that outcome, and evaluate just how bad it would really be.

This involves asking “so what?” again and again. If, for example, you’re afraid that your request for a raise will be turned down, ask yourself, “So if I was turned down, so what? Then what?”

You’ll probably hear yourself thinking something like, “Well, I’d be disappointed, and I’d think about whether that means I need to change jobs. I guess it wouldn’t be the end of the world.” You’ve just taken a great deal of power away from your fear.

Or, you might find this outcome still feels super scary, and your answer to the question is “I’d feel horribly embarrassed around my boss every time I saw her!” Then ask the question again: “So I’d feel embarrassed and awkward, then what?” Keep following the fear through to the endgame. You’ll find your resiliency and sense of perspective as you keep asking, “So what?”

(We heartily concur with this advice in a whole host of areas of business and life generally. “So what?” is an incredible powerful tool.)

3. Ask, “Is it true?” Whatever the little voice of fear is saying, it’s probably not true.

The fearful part of us is irrational and over-True or falseprotective. It might be saying you are likely to fall flat on your face if you take a risk, or that no one will like your ideas. It might be saying that moving to a new city could ruin your children, or choosing the wrong job could wreck havoc on your life. When you hear fear-based thoughts, ask yourself, “Is what this voice is saying true?” or, in Byron Katie’s approach, “Can I be absolutely sure that this thought is true?” The answer to these questions — especially the latter one — is most often “no.”

4. Connect to love. Here’s the very cool thing about our human consciousness.

We can’t be in a state of fear and one of love at the same time. They can’t co-exist. Each one blots out the other. When we are really connected to that mysterious energy that is love, we connect to a softness, a safety, a comfort, a healing. Fear vanishes.

So when you are stuck in fear, re-connect to love. Listening to a favourite song, doing something you love, focusing on a picture of a loved one, or connecting with nature are all good ways to do this.

Many people find that a short meditation on their own breathing or reaching out to a higher power in prayer reconnects them to love. Giving — time, money, a gift or a heartfelt compliment — to another person also connects us to love.

Use whatever process works for you. You’ll know you’ve re-connected to love when you feel that sense of harmony and comfort and softness returning.

If you aren’t sure what helps you easily and swiftly reconnect to love, start experimenting. All of us need a set of strategies for connecting to love when we get fearful, anxious, resentful or off-balance.

5. Let fear be your travelling companion. Much of the time we can soften or even entirely lift our fears using the tools above, but sometimes, fear persists.

Then it’s time for this tool: let fear be your travelling companion. Let it be there, but not in control. Let it be there, but don’t take direction from it or stop moving forward because of it.

This is a skill. It’s a skill to learn to act in the face of fear, to allow it to be present but not to interfere.

You know when you are driving on the highway, and right next to you, one lane over, there’s some guy hanging out the window, keeping pace along side of you? He’s not in your way but he’s in your field of vision?

Think of fear that way: as the guy in the lane next to you. You are in the driver’s seat, in your own lane, moving forward. He’s next to you, not blocking you but just there, somewhat irritating, palpably present. The ride would feel more enjoyable and free if he wasn’t there, but you are getting to your destination just fine anyway.

Learn to walk with fear this way — as if it’s your uninvited traveling companion — intrusive, but not in the way.

(This last one is one we are personally working on. It is impossible to banish all fear. And we shouldn’t want to, anyway. After all, fear serves a purpose, too. It stops us wandering blithely into the middle of a pride of lions while we’re picking daisies. The trick is not to let fear – or, indeed, any thought – dominate one’s life to the exclusion of others. And sometimes, to accept that we actually can’t control or change everything. Much of the “self help” advice coming out of the USA (in particular) likes to pretend that we can do anything, be anything, achieve anything, overcome anything, just with an act of will. That is simply nonsensical, and dangerous, because not being able to overcome something that is insurmountable is a sure way to become depressed. If someone dies, for example, no amount of willing them back will change the fact of their death. How we DEAL with our distress and fear about the future will determine how successful our life is thereafter. That’s why “Feel the fear and do it anyway” is sometimes – sometimes – very good advice.

After all, what’s the worst that could happen? So what?)

Lung cancer cell division

Lung cancer cell division

 

A couple of dear friends have recently been struck low by the Big C, one of them terminally, and Mrs Wellthisiswhatithink recently had a skin cancer removed (a near-universal affliction in Australia if you hang around here long enough), so having come across this information on the Web we thought we’d share it.

HYPOCHONDRIAC ALERT

Many of the symptoms listed here can be caused by a dozen other things, other than cancer. So the message we are sending out is “if you experience these symptoms, don’t soldier on, don’t go into denial, go and see a medical professional and get checked”. With the advances in treatment for almost all kinds of cancer, early diagnosis saves lives. Maybe yours, or a loved one’s.

There are too many medical terms and descriptions in these signs for us to explain all of them. Google is your friend here.

THE COMMON SYMPTOMS OF CANCER

1. Losing weight at a rapid rate (among people not being on a diet): gasses, discomfort, digestive disorders, anorexia, recurring diarrhoea, constipation are the symptoms occurring most frequently in case of lung, stomach, kidney and large intestine cancer. If accompanied by a feeling of weakness, it can be a sign of blood loss or lack of proper elements building it.

2. Pain of unknown cause long-lasting stomach-ache can be the symptom of large intestine cancer, lumbalgia can be the sign of kidney cancer, pain in the chest can result from lung cancer. Bone aches can be caused by metastasis.

3. Haemoptysis, long-lasting hoarseness (over 3 weeks), persistent cough or change of its character can be caused by lung or larynx cancer.

4. Change in colour of moles and warts, ulceration and itching, ulceration of open wounds, burns and scalds can be the signs of skin cancer.

5. Excessive production of urine, backlog of urine, painful urinating, slow, time-consuming flow of urine, lumbago as well as backache can be the signs of prostate cancer.

6. Pain, vertigo, nausea, sight distortions (oversensitized sight, astigmatism), hearing impediment, upset balance and mental disorders can result from brain cancer.

7. Swallowing difficulties can be a symptom of throat, larynx, oesophagus and stomach cancer.

8. Feeling of fullness in epigastrium, aches and digestive disorders may be due to stomach cancer and other kinds of alimentary canal cancer, sometimes ovary cancer.

9. Blood in feces, black feces, alternating diarrhoea and constipation, mucus in feces, narrow (pencil-like) feces  are the symptoms of alimentary canal cancer, especially of large intestine and rectum.

10. Blood in urine (without the symptoms of urinary tracks inflammation), dysuria (compulsive urination, difficulties in urination) can accompany the urinary tracks cancer.

11. Improper bleeding from the genital tracks, pink or dark-red vaginal discharges, hypogastrium and lower limbs ache can be the signs of vagina, uterine cervix and uterus cancer.

12. Marks on skin and mucosus membrane (lips, oral cavity, genitals): not healing ulceration, change in marks appearance, occurrence of new skin marks of some specific features (irregular distribution of pigment, vague line between the mark and healthy skin, quick growth of the marks, bleeding, dripping).

13. Breast tumour (by approximately 15% – 25% can be impalpable), ulceration, the retraction of nipple, asymmetrical nipples, change of size or the shape of a nipple, its swelling and the marks around it, enlargement of lymphatic glands in the armpit, extension of veins in the breast skin, ulceration of breast skin, shoulder swelling, flat efflorescene in case of the so called advanced inflammation nipple cancer are often the symptoms of breast cancer.

14. Fever, tiredness, bones and joints ache, inclination to temporary anaemia and bleeding, impalpable tumour of abdominal cavity, as a result of spleen enlargement, that can be detected in gastro-bowel test.

15. You start feeling exhausted and notice aches in weird places on your body.

Remember, far better to suffer the momentary embarrassment of hearing your quack say “you silly old thing, that’s nothing, take an aspirin and a day off” than to hear them say a few weeks or months later, “I’m terribly sorry, it’s cancer, and it’s advanced”.

FiscalCliffAvery2Here is a quick selection of some Cancer Charities you may wish to consider helping, listed by country (those countries that provide our largest readership. There are hundreds more, this is just to get you started if you would like to make a donation or need advice or help. You might like also to consider remembering them in your Will. Even small donations can make a real difference, or as our old Mum used to say, “Many a mickle makes a muckle.”

AUSTRALIA

www.canteen.org.au – helping youth suffering from cancer
www.kidswithcancer.org.au – supporting children with cancer and the hospitals treating them
acrf.com.au - peak cancer research body
www.nbcf.org.au – National Breast Cancer Foundation in Australia
http://canceraustralia.gov.au/affected-cancer/cancer-support-organisations – a government website pointing to hundreds of cancer charities and support organisations, with links to organisations in every state

AMERICA

https://donate.cancer.org/index – American Cancer Society, direct link to their donation page
http://cancerrecovery.org/ – Cancer Recovery, links a number of charities together, in the US and overseas
http://www.nationalbreastcancer.org/ – National Breast Cancer Foundation, probably the most respected organisation of its type

UK

http://www.cancerresearchuk.org/ – Cancer Research UK
http://www.braintumouruk.org.uk/ – Brain Tumour UK, specifically providing for research into brain cancer, and cash support for those suffering from the illness.
www.leukaemiacare.org.uk – provides financial assistance for those suffering from leukaemia and related blood disorders
http://www.breakthrough.org.uk/ - leading breast charity research and support group

WORLDWIDE

http://www.wcrf.org/ - worldwide research and advocacy group dedicated to cancer prevention.

Looks good. Doesn't necessarily do you good.

Looks good. Doesn’t necessarily do you good.

There are a vast number of online ads currently pushing the Garcinia Cambogia diet, claiming it to be a wonder for weight loss, because it contains HCA, a kind of citric acid, which is claimed in a million breathless online ads (and elsewhere) to produce weight loss.

Sadly, before you part with your $49.95, be aware that the brouhahaha is just that – a load of marketing froth and bubble.

And it could even harm you.

Here’s the relevant Wikipedia extracts:

Hydroxycitric acid (HCA) is a derivative of citric acid that is found in a variety of tropical plants including Garcinia cambogia and Hibiscus subdariffa.

Biological effects

Laboratory and animal studies of HCA have produced results that indicate a potential for modulation of lipid metabolism. However, a clinical study has demonstrated that HCA has no effect in terms of weight loss or reduction of fat mass. A 1998 randomised controlled trial looked at the effects of hydroxycitric acid, the purported active component in Garcinia gummi-gutta, as a potential anti-obesity agent in 135 people. The conclusion from this trial was that “Garcinia cambogia failed to produce significant weight loss and fat mass loss beyond that observed with placebo”.

And a meta-analysis published in 2010 revealed that gastrointestinal adverse effects were twice as likely for users of hydroxycitric acid.

One HCA product had to be withdrawn because of liver toxicity.

In a study in Zucker rats, which are genetically predisposed to obesity, Garcinia cambogia extract containing HCA showed that high doses led to significant suppression of epididymal fat accumulation, but also had high testicular toxicity. However, this study has been criticised because of possible contamination of the HCA used and various design flaws.

Like all things, peeps, there IS no short cut to weight loss. The solution? Walk more, eat less. Er, that’s it.

Read, mark learn and inwardly digest. Or don't, if you see what we mean.

Read, mark learn and inwardly digest. Or don’t, if you see what we mean.

 

Many, many moons ago, years ago now, the Wellthisiswhatithink household decided to stop eating margarine, especially polyunsaturated margarine, and to resume eating butter.

We stopped using soybean oil (like Canola) for cooking, and starting using fat-saturated coconut oil or monounsaturated olive oil instead.

In the case of the writer, Dear Reader, one’s cholesterol level and blood pressure fell. Our cholesterol level fell substantially, actually.

With the passion of the newly-converted we told everyone we knew that polyunsaturated oil turns into trans-fatty acids at body temperature – let alone when cooked -healing-miracles-coconut-oil-third-edition-bruce-fife-paperback-cover-art and that trans-fatty acids were deadly to humans.

We also told them repeatedly of the healing miracle that is coconut oil, which we discovered quite by chance when we were employed to write the marketing letter to get people to buy the book, which we devoured almost as enthusiastically as we did the product.

We recommend the book. A must read if you’d like to avoid a bunch of nasty modern illnesses.

Anyhow, within the last few months, scientists have caught up. Suddenly researchers all over the world are on the bandwagon for butter.

Well, we hesitate to say we told you so, but, we told you so.

Ponder this:

Alternatively, use butter. The manufacturing process essentially amounts to "Milk cow, churn milk."

 

Alternatively, use butter. The manufacturing process essentially amounts to “Milk cow, churn milk.”

 

 

Devastating: John Courtney, 21, a talented footballer once tipped to to be the next Alan Shearer, lying dead and clutching the syringe of heroin that killed him.

Devastating: John Courtney, 21, a talented footballer once tipped to to be the next Alan Shearer, lying dead and clutching the syringe of heroin that killed him.

The inability of a drug user to know what has actually gone into the drug they are taking remains, to me, one of the strongest reasons to avoid using illicit drugs, and also, to protect those for whom two decades of “Just Say No” clearly hasn’t had any effect at all, the best reason for their decriminalisation, supply under controlled circumstances, not to mention taxing them.

Unlike smoking cannabis – where one can actually see the raw material, if not know its strength – taking a pill, powder or injecting a concoction is always a case of Russian roulette.

The popular party drug cocaine, for example, is nearly always supplied in an adulterated form. The most commonly used products to ‘cut’ cocaine are baking powder, lactose, mannitol, lidocaine or benzocaine. (That’s the stuff you put on sore teeth, with mimics cocaine’s nose-numbing effect, thus fooling the user into believing they’re getting a better quality dose of cocaine.) It can also be cut with other stimulants products like methamphetamine.

It is not unheard of for cocaine or heroin to be cut with a variety of products that it would be generally be considered unwise to put up y0ur nose or into your bloodstream.

These include any other whitish powder, which may have unexpected side effects, such as laxatives, for example, and in one famously awful incident, laundry-grade powdered nappy cleaner.

 

ear

 

Over the last couple of years warnings also went out that almost a third to a half of the cocaine circulating the US, Canada, (and maybe the world) was contaminated with a (potentially) poisonous veterinary de-worming agent called levamisole which had already killed several people and made many more people sick.

Levamisole causes a condition called agranulocytosis which means that it kills white blood cells which are a necessary part of your body’s immune system and prevent small things like a sore in the mouth from escalating into deadly infection.

In addition to temporarily AIDS-ifying your immune system, levamisole may also make cocaine more cardiotoxic and increase risk of seizures, meaning that it has three potential ways of killing you.

So if you’re a cocaine user and you experience thrush (especially of the mouth), sores that won’t heal or other skin infections, high fever, or flu-like/pneumonia symptoms you need to get to the quack fast – and quote this article.

On the other hand, you might not need to tell the doc about your problem in any detail, as another dead giveaway sign is that your nose and ears turn purple and drop off. The effect is so common that media outlets in the USA have christened it “flesh eating cocaine”.

Although pure, laboratory quality LSD has a wide margin of safety, street LSD may be laced with phencyclidine (PCP), commonly known as “angel dust,” “killer weed,” and “rocket fuel.”

PCP is a much more dangerous hallucinogen. As a result, tainted samples make street-sold LSD (as well as other drugs) especially unpredictable. Even with pure LSD, people can experience “bad trips,” with feelings of confusion, terror, anxiety, depression, and/or paranoia lasting up to several hours. In some cases, this extreme agitation has led to accidental death or suicide as people panic and attempt to flee from their hallucinations.

Anyhow, if that’s not enough to put you off, CNN now report that Dr. Karl Williams says he normally sees three or four deaths from drug overdoses in a typical week as the chief medical examiner in Pennsylvania’s Allegheny County, which includes Pittsburgh. But in the past week, he saw 15 – men and women, of various ethnicities, ranging in age from 22 to 53. All of them appear to have been heroin users who instead received a mix of heroin and fentanyl, a powerful narcotic used to treat cancer patients’ pain, Williams told CNN.”This is pretty clearly somebody manufacturing fentanyl and selling it as heroin.”

The deaths Williams has recorded are among nearly two dozen in western Pennsylvania linked to a heroin-fentanyl mix, state Attorney General Kathleen Kane said Monday. The “extremely dangerous and potentially lethal” combination has killed 22 people in six counties, Kane said in a written statement.

“We are working with the Allegheny County Police Department, the Pittsburgh Police, and their counterparts in the region to get this deadly mix of heroin off the streets of Western Pennsylvania, and to arrest and prosecute anyone caught selling, distributing, and producing these drugs,” her statement said.

Williams said fentanyl can be 10-100 times more potent than morphine, the base molecule in heroin, and it’s only distributed as a powder when someone is manufacturing it illegally. The drug is being distributed in bags marked “Income Tax,” “Bud Ice” and “Theraflu, Williams said.

“This is not accidental. Somebody is deliberately trying to make a big batch of fentanyl,” he said. “It is not an extraordinarily complex molecule to synthesize, and you can find instructions on the Internet. It does not take a sophisticated chemist to do this.”

It’s not the first time that fentanyl has turned up on the streets of Pittsburgh. In 1988, Williams said, 17 people died when a chemist distributed fentanyl as heroin.

And in 2006, in Philadelphia, 269 people were killed by fentanyl overdoses, the state Department of Drug and Alcohol Programs said. The agency raised new alarms about fentanyl in July, blaming it for 50 deaths in Pennsylvania by mid-2013.

People: be careful out there.

ImageMany mental illnesses are as bad for you as smoking, research has suggested.

Life expectancy for people with mental health problems is less than for heavy smokers, experts have found.

Serious mental illness can reduce a person’s life expectancy by 10 to 20 years, when the average reduction in life expectancy for heavy smokers is eight to 10 years, according to researchers from Oxford University.

But critically, mental health has not been the same public health priority as smoking, they said.

The study, published in the journal World Psychiatry, analysed previous research on mortality risk for a whole range of problems – mental health issues, drug and alcohol abuse, dementia, autistic spectrum disorders, learning disability and childhood behavioural disorders.

The authors examined 20 papers looking at 1.7 million people and over 250,000 deaths. They found that the average reduction in life expectancy for people with bipolar disorder was between nine and 20 years, it was 10 to 20 years for schizophrenia, between nine and 24 years for drug and alcohol abuse, and around seven to 11 years for recurrent depression.

The loss of years among heavy smokers was eight to 10 years.

“We found that many mental health diagnoses are associated with a drop in life expectancy as great as that associated with smoking 20 or more cigarettes a day,” Dr Seena Fazel of the Department of Psychiatry at Oxford University said.

“There are likely to be many reasons for this. High-risk behaviours are common in psychiatric patients, especially drug and alcohol abuse, and they are more likely to die by suicide.

The stigma surrounding mental health may mean people aren’t treated as well for physical health problems when they do see a doctor.

Many causes of mental health problems also have physical consequences and mental illness worsen the prognosis of a range of physical illnesses, especially heart disease, diabetes and cancer.

Smoking is recognised as a huge public health problem.

There are effective ways to target smoking, and with political will and funding, rates of smoking-related deaths have started to decline.

We now need a similar effort in mental health.”

Dr John Williams, head of neuroscience and mental health at the Wellcome Trust, which funded the study, added: “People with mental health problems are among the most vulnerable in society.

This work emphasises how crucial it is that they have access to appropriate healthcare and advice, which is not always the case.

We now have strong evidence that mental illness is just as threatening to life expectancy as other public health threats such as smoking.”

At the Wellthisiswhatithink desk, like most people, we have had a few run ins with mental illness in the family and friends coterie. Thankfully, the stigmas associated with mental illness is reducing – albeit achingly slowly. Especially as it is increasingly understood that mental illness does not betoken “weakness” or “badness” but rather chemical imbalances in the brain that are no more the sufferer’s “fault” than, say, diabetes.

We warmly welcome this research finding and trust it is widely studied at government level. A heap of misery can be lifted off the shoulders of sufferers and their families through early intervention, prompt care and adequate treatment with “talking therapy” and medication.

Assuming Government now longer feels itself morally bound to take action (it seems simple need is the least strong motivator for many Governments worldwide now, sadly, as you can see below) then what about this thought?

mental-illness-not-contagiousJust imagine the hurricane of productivity and wealth that would be released if mentally ill people became weller, faster, and more thoroughly well, and lived that way longer.

Yes, that’s something we’d like to see in our shiny new hard-headed neo-con austere world.

Meanwhile, here’s some additional reading on how Government in rich “advanced” countries consistently fails the mentally ill:

UK: http://www.independent.co.uk/life-style/health-and-families/health-news/cuts-send-rates-of-mental-health-disorders-among-young-soaring-9392996.html

UK: http://www.theguardian.com/society/2014/mar/12/risks-deep-cuts-mental-health

Australia: http://www.theage.com.au/victoria/mental-health-funding-cuts-spark-fears-of-social-mess-20140518-38hz9.html

Australia: http://www.businessinsider.com.au/these-two-budget-charts-show-how-much-money-joe-hockey-is-cutting-from-hospitals-and-schools-2014-5

USA (four stories): http://www.huffingtonpost.com/tag/mental-health-budget-cuts/

USA: http://www.forbes.com/sites/theapothecary/2013/10/10/mental-health-loses-funding-as-government-continues-shutdown/

workoutAs we work in a creative environment, we probably spend more time than most thinking about how to preserve and enhance the capacity of our brains. In the advertising industry, you’re often said to be “only as good as your last idea”. Which is why this research echoed with us. Anything we can use to keep our ideas fresh and flowing is good news!

But, a brain workout?

Yep, it’s a thing.

Fact: We are outliving our brains. Life expectancy in the developed world is now about 80 years old. And the trend towards longer living is speeding up. With better nutrition, shelter and medical care, girls have a one in three chance of living to 100, while boys have one in four.

And the problem?

Well, our cognitive brain performance actually peaks in our early 40s. That means mental functions like memory, speed of thinking, problem-solving, reasoning, and decision-making decline in the last 30 or 40 years of life. Ironically, as we accumulate “life wisdom”, we gradually lose the ability to access it and use it. And as our population ages, and we retire nearer 70 than 60, for example, this becomes critically important.

The truth is most people don’t consider their brain health until they’re faced with injury, disease, or simply getting old. But just as we’ve come to realise that we can improve our physical health through diet and exercise, we can improve our cognitive health too.  It’s simply a matter of engaging in the right mental workouts.

Science now strongly supports the fact that our brains are one of the most modifiable parts of our whole body. Our brains actually adapt from moment to moment, depending on how we use them; they either decline or improve, and which direction they go depends on us and the way we challenge them.

exercising brainA research team at the Center for Brain Health at The University of Texas at Dallas is working on how to improve brain performance at all ages, and their findings show that making our brains stronger, healthier, and more productive requires actually changing the way we use them every single day.  And that’s where daily changes come in.

Before we can really perform at peak levels with our brains, we all must first abandon toxic habits that are depleting brain resources, and also incorporate complex thinking into our daily routines.

So are you ready to make your brain smarter? Here are a few scientifically proven ways to do it.

Quiet Your Mind

“Don’t make rash decisions!” In a word, slow down. And give your mind a break, now and then.

Somewhere along the line, we’ve all been given that advice, and as part of our career has been “helping people to make better decisions more easily” with the business “decisions, decisions” we warmly applaud the idea. Unwonted speed in decision making is often a recipe for failure, and sometimes those failures can cascade disastrously through an organisation, when if a little time had been taken for reflection, and we had employed tried and tested decision-making tools, we would have made our chances for success much greater.

Why take a break? Well, the brain can often better solve complex problems when you step away to reflect on ideas and crucial decisions rather than acting without weighing choices.

Shhhhhhhhh.

Shhhhhhhhh.

A halt in constant thinking slows your mind’s rhythms, allowing it to refresh.

Put a knotty problem in your subconscious, be confident that a solution will occur to you – indeed, say, “my subconscious is going to solve this” out loud – and then forget about it for a while. More often than not, a solution will occur when you least expect it. Your subconscious mind will pop out an answer without you wearing yourself out worrying the problem to death.

As a simple rule to give your brain a chance to help you, employ a “Five by Five” principle where you take a break from whatever you’re doing five times a day for at least five minutes to reset your brain.

When we let our brain work behind the scenes, we have our best “a-ha!” moments. And don’t we all want more of those?

In the Wellthisiswhatithink dungeon we find ours occur in the shower. So often, in fact, that we sometimes take a long, hot, relaxing shower when we don’t really “need” one, because the insights seem to flow so easily!

Translate Your World

Move away from surface-level, uninspired thinking and eschew predictable thoughts by pushing past the obvious and really think.

There is so MUCH to think about. How do you decide what you MUST think about? Answer: synthesise.

There is so MUCH to think about. How do you decide what you MUST think about? Answer: synthesise.

For example, if you were asked what a movie was about, you, like most people, you would often give a play-by-play of events that occurred, full of detail.

But to boost brainpower, think instead of the major themes of the film and relate it to personal situations in your own life and how they apply.

As an exercise, think back on one of your favourite movies or books from the past year and generate five to eight different short take-home messages you can glean from it.

This consciously analytical or critical process, which is called “synthesised thinking”, strengthens the connections between different areas of our brains. Our brains actually become quickly jaded by routine – by driving through the treacle of vast amounts of information – since they were actually built to dynamically shift between details and the big picture. When you’re a cave man being chased by wolves, it becomes unimportant to be able to describe each wolf in fine detail, and very important to work our which one is closest to you and likely to catch you, and what to do about that. Get the idea?

Our brains also hate information downloading, so it helps to think like a reporter. What really matters in the story? Don’t get overwhelmed by information flow – in fact, demand that you are relieved from it.

When taking in large amounts of information, try to explain it in a few sentences. Kick off your meetings with provocative big ideas. Power important email messages with simple but thought-evoking subject lines.

Stop Multi-tasking. Really. STOP.

We have written before about how we are inundated with more and more tasks every day.

Nu-uh. Not going to happen.

Nu-uh. Not going to happen.

Relentless simultaneous input and output fatigues the brain and reduces productivity and efficiency. You may think that by doing two or three things at once – like participating in “corridor meeting” on your way to somewhere else while tapping out a couple of emails on your smart phone –  you are actually moving faster through your day. But nothing could be further from the truth.

Our to-do lists keep getting longer while performance and accuracy slip. So, when working on higher-order thinking tasks that matter, allow your focus to be completely uninterrupted for at least 15 minutes at a time and then gradually increase the length of those intervals.

And remember – you can never do everything. There will always be “something” on your list of things to do. Worrying about the length of the list is a sure-fire way to increase your stress, and stress reduces your ability to think clearly.

So prioritise your lists, and be comfortable with the fact that “everyone dies with something on their list”.

Move Your Feet

Recently published research shows that aerobic exercise stimulates positive brain change and memory gains faster than we previously thought possible.

Adding regular aerobic exercise that elevates your heart rate to your routine at least three times a week for an hour won’t just help with physical health, it will also increase brain blood flow to key memory centres in the brain and improve our memory for facts. When you combine complex thinking with aerobic exercise, brain health benefits are amplified. You don’t have to become a gym junkie – a brisk walk round the block or your local park is an excellent choice.

Works just as well in an office as it does on a 747.

Works just as well in an office as it does on a 747.

And here’s a thought: if you really can’t get away from your desk, what about doing some of those “sitting in your place” exercises that they now recommend to help prevent Deep Vein Thrombosis on aircraft?

Roll your neck, shrug your shoulders, shake your hands, waggle your feet, push them up and down.

Anything that improves circulation and muscle use will help your brain, too.

Action this day.

Until recently, we thought that cognitive decline was an inevitable part of getting old, but the good news is that’s officially not the case.

Toxic physical and mental habits and a life on autopilot are key culprits for unnecessary cognitive decline. Research has shown that healthy adults who use these strategies can regain lost cognitive performance, improve blood flow in the brain, speed up communication between its regions and expand its structural connections.

See results fast!

Just like all those ads for food supplements and gym memberships, you can actually evoke some of these positive changes in a matter of hours. Adopting this new, healthier way of thinking translates into immediate real-life benefits that support our ability to make decisions, think critically, reason and plan.

In other words, shaping your brain by engaging in the right kind of daily mental exercise has the power to reverse brain aging and actually make you smarter, more creative, and less stressed.

So boost your brainpower! You have nothing to lose, and much to gain.

This core of this article was originally written by Sandra Bond Chapman, PhD, author of “Make Your Brain Smarter,” who is founder and chief director of the Centre for Brain Health, and a Distinguished University Professor at The University of Texas at Dallas. Wellthisiswhatithink has added to it substantially.

sausage
An estimated 12 million people worldwide are infected by syphilis each year. Most (an estimated 90 per cent) are in the developing world. But since 2000, rates in developing countries have also been on the up. WTF?

Syphilis infections were in decline in the developed world until the 1980s and 1990s, due to widespread use of freely available antibiotics. But rates have been increasing in the US, UK, Australia and Europe – primarily among men who have sex with men. And antibiotic-resistant strains of the killer disease are spreading, too.

The bacterium that causes syphilis. Nasty little fucker.

The bacterium that causes syphilis. Nasty little fucker.

In 2004, 1,956 Syphilis cases were notified to the Australian Department of Health’s Disease Surveillance System. Between 2004 and 2010 this figure increased by 25 per cent, and last year (2013), 3,461 cases were clocked up. Most are in urban or suburban areas, and in men – and specifically, men who have sex with men.

Dr Kit Fairley has been the Director of the Melbourne Sexual Health Clinic since 2001. In that time, he’s seen the incidence of syphilis increase dramatically.

“In the past two decades, syphilis has increased all over the developed world. It was absent for about twenty years, then in the early 2000s we saw it come back with a vengeance,” he says.

“It took us a while to pick up on syphilis. What was probably happening was that firstly, doctors hadn’t seen it for 20 years and found it difficult to recognise. And secondly, we have a generation of gay men who had never seen or had to worry about syphilis before.”

A sexually transmitted infection (STI) caused by the Treponema pallidum bacteria, syphilis manifests in four progressive stages: primary, secondary, latent and late, or tertiary.

It’s been around since at least the fifteenth century, and while no one can quite agree where it came from, but it’s a dead cert that syphilis (“the great pox”) moves through four fetching stages. Painless sores and ulcers akin to an ingrown hair appear in the primary stage, and rashes, hair loss, fevers and general tiredness in the secondary stage. There are no symptoms in the stealthy latent stage, just detection by blood test. These stages of syphilis are all treatable; it’s the infamous tertiary or late stage that put paid to Napoleon, Oscar Wilde and Hitler, and is the one that will make you go slowly crazy then kill you. There are some wince-inducing, NSFW images of the various stages here, if you must. Then again, if you’re having unprotected sex, whether you are male or female, gay, bi, or straight … well, maybe you should go look.

Like its boner-killer cousins HPV (Human Papillo Virus, a.k.a. warts) and herpes, syphilis is passed from person to person by skin-to-skin contact. You can catch it through oral, vaginal or anal sex with a person who has primary or secondary syphilis; the secondary stage’s characteristic rash (back, hands, feet and chest alert) is particularly contagious. More rarely, it can be transmitted from mother to baby during pregnancy (congenital syphilis).

It’s tricky, says Dr Fairley, because it can be caught multiple times, and is very easy to catch – even when you’re practising sex that is safe, from an HIV perspective.

“Classically, syphilis is known as the great mimicker; the rash it gives is like any other rash from any other infection. But it’s very treatable, and once you’ve been treated, it’s gone. You don’t need ongoing treatment, as with HIV,” says the doc.

“Even if you’re using condoms for anal sex, it’s possible to catch syphilis through oral sex or even by masturbating someone, if the person you’re in contact with has a lesion.”

So do we have another sexual health epidemic on our hands?

No, says the doc, but there’s no doubt that syphilis is a serious STI.

“If you don’t treat it, it leads to substantial health consequences; problems with the heart and brain, hearing and eyesight. Here in Melbourne we’ve seen a few tertiary cases, where people are having trouble with their eyesight and hearing.”

Early recognition is key.

“If you’re a gay man having regular sex with different people, it’s important that you have regular checks, even if, from an HIV perspective, you’re practising safe sex. We recommend a full sexual health check up every six months.”

And there’s always room for improvement. Improved public health communications against at-risk target audiences would seem to be a no-brainer. In fact, public health boffins have yet to implement a highly effective control program for syphilis.

“We need to work harder on early symptom recognition and testing, and make it easier for people to have regular testing,” says Dr Fairley.

“We’re working on programs to make it easier for gay men to be tested, like home testing, and testing in clubs. Every time you test for HIV, ask to be tested for syphilis as well; it doesn’t mean any extra needles.”

“We’re also pushing to change the legislation around blood tests, so that when you see a doctor you can have five or six tests from a single referral slip, without having to return to your doctor every time you want to get tested.”

Treatment is simple – one or perhaps a series of penicillin injections. This sure as hell beats the mercury and arsenic treatments that were the go until well into the nineteenth century, and would often kill a sufferer long before the syphilis itself.

Ladies, you do not want this.

Ladies, you do not want this.

The spread of the disease from it’s current spike in the gay community to the broader sexually-active community is also, of course, a potential problem.

Many men who have gay sex also have sex with women.

Many women, especially since the HIV infection scare has dulled, and who are covered by oral contraception, have sex with gay-active bisexual men.

It is worth those women remembering that there are no fewer than 32 sexually transmitted diseases that having sex without a condom makes them much more vulnerable to.

Syphilis, as you can see, is just one of the most unpleasant.

(From the Vine, with additional reporting by Wellthisiswhatithink.)


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