DNA – Not Just For Lab Coat Wearing Nerds Anymore!

September 11, 2008

Our DNA keeps telling us more and more about ourselves

In the 1983 movie Trading Places starring Eddie Murphy and Dan Akroyd, there’s a great scene in which the characters played by Ralph Bellamy and Don Ameche get into a discussion about the age old question of what influences an individual more: heredity or environment. The two men decide to conduct an experiment using Murphy’s and Akroyd’s characters and the plot is set.

Even though this film was made only a quarter century ago, the contention of the debate seems a bit archaic in light of the exponential understanding we now have in regards to genetics. There was a time when suggestions that a person acted the way that they did because of their ancestry would be laughed at as “old wives’ tales”. Yet now we know better. Researchers keep isolating genes regulating all sorts of things from our health to our intelligence to our psychological state on an almost weekly basis. Our genes seem to be our lives as an open book.

Our genetic makeup is now even being marketed for our love lives. A company called GenePartner wants to match potential couples together according to how complementary their genetic makeup is with one another. This Swiss firm wants to:

evaluate singles and couples according to the potential union of their HLA genes, which help regulate immune response.

People may naturally be attracted to mates with HLA profiles different from their own, ostensibly guaranteeing the hybrid vigor of their offspring’s immune systems — and also providing a spark that will last through good times and bad.

“Proper age, similar life goals and ideas, education levels — all of these things have to fit. And on top of that, you need to be biologically compatible,” said Tamara Brown, managing director of GenePartner.

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Does Sushi Pose a Health Risk?

September 6, 2008

Definitely not sushi à la carte

One of the joys of living in a large city with a sizable Asian population is the variety of sushi and sashimi restaurants that one encounters. The joy in eating sushi is as much about watching the process of it being prepared as it is about the texture of the fish itself (which usually, but not always, trumps the taste). Does anyone forget that first time eating sushi when all you can think about was the fact that the fish was raw? No food gets a greater warning for first timers than sushi, but the joy in tasting it makes for an excellent payoff.

Now, what about sushi being raw fish? Doesn’t it mean that we gamble with our health every time we go down to the local sushi joint? According to LiveScience.com we shouldn’t worry at all:

Sushi eaters don’t typically have to worry because sushi restaurants take certain steps in handling and preparing their fish. A required step involves freezing fish at temperatures of -4 degrees Fahrenheit (-20 degrees Celsius) for seven days, or frozen at -31 degrees Fahrenheit (-35 degrees Celsius) for 15 hours, which kills any parasites.

“As far as sushi goes, the rules are in place because people were getting sick,” said Keith Schneider, a microbiologist and food safety expert at the University of Florida. “The parasites are why we do the freezing on the raw fish.”

The cases of sushi-related illness fall far below the number of people sickened by contaminated produce such jalapeno peppers. Even in those rare cases, the rice in sushi is more often the culprit than the fish.

However, there is a dangerous side that few venture to:

Many sushi lovers feast contentedly on albacore or eel, but a few people aim for a more dangerous culinary experience by eating the raw flesh of a poisonous puffer fish called fugu.

Master fugu chefs sometimes include some of the poison in their prepared dish, which creates a tingly feeling on the lips when eaten. However, improperly prepared fugu can kill due to the fish’s potent neurotoxin.

“I consider it more of a dare than a delicacy,” Schneider said. “There are people who kill themselves every year trying to make fugu, and it gives sushi a bad name.”

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The Fountain of Youth May Have Just Been Discovered

September 3, 2008

dna sequence
The key to a longer life can be down to one simple gene

The Human Genome is unlocking all sorts of age-old mysteries and throwing up surprises on a very fast basis as scientists untangle the intricate strands of DNA contained in our bodies.

One of the most popular research forays has been into that of human longevity. Last month we learned that scientists halted the aging process in mice livers by stopping the buildup of harmful proteins in the organ’s cell. In even bigger news today, we learn that scientists have found the longevity gene. Two excerpts from the article:

FOR the first time researchers have identified a human gene firmly linked to ageing and longevity. People with a specific form of a gene are likely to live longer, healthier lives than those without it.

“What this article really emphasizes is what we all know anyway – if you want to live a long and healthy life, choose your parents carefully,” commented medical geneticist Bob Williamson, dean of Melbourne University’s Faculty of Medicine.


Insulin is a hormone that regulates blood sugar levels, so is directly linked to a range of biological conditions such as carbohydrate metabolic which are indirectly associated with health and, thus, ageing.

Their findings – reported overnight in the US journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences – help explain the “Winston Churchill paradox”.

That is, that some people live long, healthy lives despite smoking, drinking and other behaviours known to cause life-threatening – and shortening – disorders like cancer and Alzheimer’s disease.

Because of the complex role of insulin, the finding may also be the link between the ageing affects of cell and DNA-damaging “free radicals”, by-products of normal metabolism, and alow calorie diet which lowers the metabolic rate.

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Europe’s Fatties

August 12, 2008

fast food nation

The convenience of fast food is having negative effects on the health of Southern Europeans

While North Americans are applauding the bans on trans-fats and the limiting of fast food access thanks to government initiatives, not all are spurring its convenience. The rise in affluence in the Mediterranean (along with the corresponding longer work hours) has seen the proliferation of fast food franchises throughout the region, along with corresponding obesity.

The USA has traditionally been seen as the “land of fat”, but Europeans might not be that far behind. Peter Popham explains in fast food invasion hits Mediterranean:

The Mediterranean diet’s guarantee of lightness, flavour and health has gained devotees all over the world because it is low in animal fat and high in fruit, vegetables and olive and sunflower oils. But a report by the UN’s Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO) reveals that the people of Mediterranean countries increasingly spurn it.

Increased affluence and the arrival of supermarkets and fast foods in countries such as Greece, Italy, Spain and Portugal have also led to a massive increase in obesity, the report finds.

The most dramatic example is Greece. Today, 56 per cent of the population of the European Union are overweight, with 15 per cent obese – but the problem in Greece is far worse, where three quarters are overweight and more than 25 per cent obese – the highest proportion in the EU. And the other Mediterranean countries are not far behind.

The Med diet was originally the diet of the poor, who typically did hard physical work but did not earn enough to eat much meat. Rising affluence has changed that though, making the former working classes as sedentary as those of northern Europe by increasing discretionary income while reducing the time available for people to cook.

Popham then goes on to tell us about the benefits of the Mediterranean diet: Read the rest of this entry »

What Happens To Your Body When You Drink a Coca-Cola?

July 29, 2008


An American institution still going strong worldwide

Ever wonder what happens to your body when you drink a Coca-Cola? Well, here’s what:

• In The First 10 minutes: 10 teaspoons of sugar hit your system. (100% of your recommended daily intake.) You don’t immediately vomit from the overwhelming sweetness because phosphoric acid cuts the flavor allowing you to keep it down.

• 20 minutes: Your blood sugar spikes, causing an insulin burst. Your liver responds to this by turning any sugar it can get its hands on into fat. (There’s plenty of that at this particular moment)

• 40 minutes: Caffeine absorption is complete. Your pupils dilate, your blood pressure rises, as a response your livers dumps more sugar into your bloodstream. The adenosine receptors in your brain are now blocked preventing drowsiness.

• 45 minutes: Your body ups your dopamine production stimulating the pleasure centers of your brain. This is physically the same way heroin works, by the way.

• >60 minutes: The phosphoric acid binds calcium, magnesium and zinc in your lower intestine, providing a further boost in metabolism. This is compounded by high doses of sugar and artificial sweeteners also increasing the urinary excretion of calcium.

• >60 Minutes: The caffeine’s diuretic properties come into play. (It makes you have to pee.) It is now assured that you’ll evacuate the bonded calcium, magnesium and zinc that was headed to your bones as well as sodium, electrolyte and water.

• >60 minutes: As the rave inside of you dies down you’ll start to have a sugar crash. You may become irritable and/or sluggish. You’ve also now, literally, pissed away all the water that was in the Coke. But not before infusing it with valuable nutrients your body could have used for things like even having the ability to hydrate your system or build strong bones and teeth.

This will all be followed by a caffeine crash in the next few hours. (As little as two if you’re a smoker.) But, hey, have another Coke, it’ll make you feel better.

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Salmon, walnuts, and kiwi make you smart….but hold off on the fried chicken

July 18, 2008

Brain Food

Eating salmon will keep your cognitive abilities up and stave off mental illness

It’s a cold Sunday night in Toronto in deep February. The weather is lousy, it’s dark, and you feel miserable. Nothing to better cheer you up than some pasta aka “comfort food”. We all know that certain foods do certain things to our mood, but what about to our brains? Brain Food can enhance our cognitive abilities, protect our brain from damage, and counteract the effects of aging as well as preserve our mental health. Read which foods make us smart and why in Food for Thought from The Economist.

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Your brain starts aging at 20, but your gut at 55

July 17, 2008

old and young

“We once looked the same…..”

When does our body start aging? Like nothing in life, the answer isn’t easy….different parts of our body age at different times. For instance, I know of a couple who were both nearsighted for their first 40 years, then had perfect vision, and then were farsighted after the age of 60. Our brain starts aging at 20 but our stomach waits until we’re about in retirement. Read to learn about your other parts: Old Before Your Time: when your body really begins to go downhill