Vol.45 May 15, 2011 Surprising Medical Fun Facts

May 15, 2011

“Scientists constantly change their minds.
Science is not about immutable laws but provisional
explanationsthat get revised when a better one comes along.
Scientists’ readiness to change their beliefs to align with data
is a source of great strength, not weakness.”
– Daniel Willingham, Prof. of Psychology, Univ. of Virginia
in Scientific American May 2011

Does cranberry juice prevent bladder infections?
 according to a study of 155 healthy college women in Michigan (the state that produces the most cranberries) who drank two glasses a day of cranberry juice for 6 months after having a bladder infection. The cranberry juice swillers had a recurrence rate of 19% which was lower than the expected recurrence rate of 30%, BUT the control group that drank two glasses a day of a cranberry-like placebo also had a lower than expected recurrence rate at 15%. (1) The study was done to find out if proanthocyanidin, the suspected preventative ingredient in cranberry juice, really worked. The problem is that “tiny little berry that continues to defy science” contains over 200 active substances and several organic acids.Proanthocyanide apparently is not THE one.

Walk fast and carry a big stick .
A study of 35,000 community-dwelling adults with a mean age of 74 showed that life expectancy increased about 12% for each 4 inches per second faster one could walk. A threshold for “higher risk of early mortality” is suggested as “being unable to walk 20 feet in 10 seconds”. (2) In a separate study of 2900 community-dwelling Australian men, 40% of those who were 70-74 years old  reported being sexually active.  43% of those reported having sex less than desired. (3)

The umpires refused to be tested.
Dr. Daniel Laby, a Harvard Professor of Ophthalmology and eye doctor to the Red Sox, reports that the average baseball player’s vision is 20-12. That means they can see at 20 feet what we can’t see until its 12 feet away. The normal standard is 20-20, of course, and the very best a human eye can see is 20-8. He states that seeing the seams on the moving ball is one of the key factors in successful hitting. Dr. Laby offered Major League Baseball the same service for the umpires.  MLB did not respond. (4)

Are they sleeping on the job?
31% of employed Americans take a nap every day, but 39% of UNemployed Americans do too. (5)

Is drinking during pregnancy bad for the baby?
Children born to light drinkers (1-2 drinks a week) were less likely than children born to abstainers to have behavioral problems at 5 years of age and more likely to have higher vocabulary and picture similarity scores. (6)

What about drinking if you are diabetic?
According to “Healthy Eating for Type 2 Diabetes” published by Harvard Medical School, drinking alcohol reduces the risk of diabetes by up to 43%.  It also states that drinking coffee reduces the risk of diabetes by 42%. It does NOT endorse the newly popular Red Bull and vodka cocktails. (7) It does go on to say that losing 10% of your weight is really the best way to reduce your risk of diabetes.

Fishing is more dangerous than being a fireman or policeman.
The U.S. Department of Labor 2009 statistics of fatal occupational injuries per 100,000 full-time workers showed a rate of 200 for “fishers and related fishing workers” and a rate of 13.1 for police and 4.4 for firemen. Non-fatal injuries or illnesses per 10,000 civilian workers that resulted in lost days of work averaged about 117. The police rate of 676 and the firemen’s rate of 512 were soundly topped by the bus driver’s rate of 892. (8)

What’s the cure for the common cold?
Echinacea ain’t it. (9)  Zinc might be. Use of zinc lozenges within the first 24 hours of symptoms reduced the duration of cold symptoms from 7 to 4 days and reduced coughing from 5 to 2 days. (10) BUT, different zinc remedies contain different dosages and different forms of zinc, and too much zinc by nasal inhaler can blunt your taste sense. 200 mg or more of Vitamin C daily will reduce cold symptoms in smokers or seniors, but it won’t prevent colds. (11)

My two favorite cold cures are:
The British cure – Take a cold shower, immediately go outside while still wet, and run around the house without any clothes on. You will probably get pneumonia and “any damn fool doctor can cure pneumonia.”
The Scottish cure – You need a four poster bed, a hat, and a bottle of scotch. Put the hat on the Southeast  corner post of the bed, sit on the bed, and sip scotch until you see two hats. Even if you are not cured, you won’t care.

Another cause of autism?
Researchers in California studied more than 300 preschool children with autism and found that their mothers were much more likely to live near a freeway, and just freeways not other major roads, when pregnant than 260 preschool children without autism. (12) The California real estate market has been hit hard enough without implicating every house within 300 meters of a freeway.

You’re not still worried about bad effects from H1N1 flu shots are you?
A study of nearly 90 MILLION doses of H1N1 vaccine given in China in 2009-2010 were associated with 11 cases of Guillain-Barre Syndrome (GBS, ascending nerve paralysis). That is a rate of 0.1 per million doses which is lower than the normally occurring or “background rate” in China. (13)

Kids getting dirty may reduce later asthma and eczema.
Two studies in Europe showed that kids living on farms developed less asthma and had less eczema than kids living in a city. The kids on the farms were exposed to more bacteria and fungus and to many more types of those two “germs” than the city kids, and that exposure could explain the difference in the asthma rates. (14)

Unintended consequences of the “hot stuff”.
In a study of a 2008 epidemic of food-borne illnesses involving 1500 people in 14 states, 30 out of 35 restaurants (86%) of the associated restaurants were Mexican restaurants. Common ingredients included jalapeno peppers, serrano peppers, and raw tomatoes. Believe it or not, the CDC researchers were able to trace back the peppers through Texas distributors  to just two farms in Mexico. (15)

Some cars are greener than people.
Researchers in physiology at the University of Milan, Italy found that four men jogging produced MORE carbon dioxide emissions than a hybrid car driving them the same distance. (16)

1. Clin Infect Dis 2011 Jan 1; 52:23
2.JAMA 2011  Jan 5;305:50
3. Jour Watch Gen Med vol. 31 Feb. 1, 2011 p. 26
4. Boston Globe Jan. 22, 2010
5.Harpers Index September 2009 p. 13
6. J Epidemiol Community Health 2010 Oct 5
7. AARP Bulletin Nov. 2009 p.14
8. http://www.marketwatch.com, Ruth Mantell, Feb 2011
9. Ann Intern Med 2010 Dec 21;153:769
10. Jour Inf Dis March 2008, Meenu Singh, MD
11. Consumer Reports on Health March 2011 p.4
12. Environ Health Perspect 2010 Dec 13
13. NEJM 364;7 Feb 17, 2011
14. NEJM 364;8 Feb 24, 2011
15. NEJM 364;10 Mar. 10,2011
16. Scientific American May 2011 p.18

Vol 15 February 15, 2010 The Science of Love

February 15, 2010

– Ed Howe

In honor of Valentine’s Day this post is dedicated to the science of love. To be scientific means to measure things. Spurred by a recent newspaper article on http://www.scientificmatch.com, an online dating service that matches DNA samples, I fired up the ” ole Google machine”. Here is a summary with comments on my findings about “measuring love”.

An analysis of the speed dating process demonstrated that during a three-minute encounter a person’s BMI (Body Mass Index) and facial symmetry were the most important elements of “attractiveness”. (1)

  • “It is all symmetry” says Prof. Randy (I did not make this name up) Thornhill of Univ. of New Mexico, who must be convinced since he has spent 15 years studying it.

Percentage of impact on “attractiveness” during the first 90 seconds to 4 minutes of an encounter: 55% body language, 38%  speed and tone of voice, 7% speech content. (2)

Waist to hips ratio (WHR) of women considered most attractive by men:  0.67 to 1.18 (3)
WHR of Playboy models: 0.7 or LESS
WHR in men that women find attractive: 0.8 to 1.0 (though “broad shoulders” can trump the WHR)

Amount of money a 5 foot man has to make to equal the success of a 6 foot man in online dating: $325,000 ( a study of 20,000 online dates) (4)

Per cent of male drivers that stop to pick up a female hitchhiker with blonde, brunette, or black hair respectively: 18% / 14% / 13% (5)
Female drivers show no measurable preference for the hair color of the hitchhiker.
Male drivers also picked up more female hitchhiker with C cup bras then with A cups.
No preference shown by female drivers.

“Men fall in love faster than women. Most of it is visual. Hence, the porn industry is built around men.” (2)

  • Who are making all those 1-900 phone calls then?

Number of biological chemicals that are the basis of our attraction and love: 7

  • Adrenaline, testosterone, and estrogen = LUST
    Men who had just crossed a swinging wooden bridge over a deep ravine were more apt to later call the phone number immediately given to them by a pretty woman then men who had not had that dangerous experience. (6)
  • Serotonin and dopamine = ATTRACTION
    Men self-described as “madly in love” for 6 months had serotonin levels equivalent to levels of some people with OCD. (7) Functional MRIs in 32 people showed activity in “dopamine-rich” areas of the brain when asked to think about their love of another. This area also shows a positive response with cocaine.  (2)     Hence, proof of the adage, “addicted to love.”
  • Oxytocin and vasopressin = ATTACHMENT
    Oxytocin’s  nickname is “the cuddle hormone”. The evidence for vasopressin is a little thinner since it is based on giving vasopressin-blocking drugs to male prairie voles.

Chance that a woman will be attracted to a man who makes her laugh: 100%
Chance that a man will be attracted to a woman who laughs at his jokes: 100% (8)

  • Two very different definitions of  “a sense of humor”.

Chance that a woman will find a man who has a dissimilar genetic code for histocompatibility more attractive than one that has a similar genetic code for the immune response:   increased

  • This (and the online matching service http://www.scientificmatch.com founded in 2007) is based on DNA analyses confirming a now-famous “2 sweaty T-shirts” experiment where women preferred the smell of men’s T-shirts that did NOT remind them of the smell of their brothers and fathers. (9)
    An unintended consequence of this finding might be a woman’s volunteering to do a man’s laundry WAY earlier than considered appropriate in the dating timeline.

Number of genes for olfactory sense (smell) and number of genes for eye photoreceptors (vision) respectively:  1,000 / 300   (10)

Number of pounds LIGHTER a woman wearing a spicy floral fragrance will appear to a man: 12 (8)

Number of odors shown to increase penile blood flow: 7 (11)

  • Pumpkin pie, licorice, doughnuts, cinnamon, lavender, oriental spice, and cola,
    but, be aware men, lavender reduces mathematical abilities. You run the risk of losing track of number of hours, which we know is important according to those ads.

Evidence that pheromones (odorless chemicals of attraction in plants, insect, and some vertebrates) causing “changes in non-conscious behavior” actually exist in humans: scant

  • The presence of the pheromone-sensing organ (tiny nostril pits in non-humans) have NOT been conclusively demonstrated in humans. (12)

BUT, amount of money made per hour by ovulating lap dancers compared to menstruating lap dancers respectively:  $70 / $35   (13)
Lap dancers on BCPs showed no variation in peak earnings.

  • Based on a study of 296 work shifts of 5,300 lap dancers initiated by the researcher who had noticed cycles of “daily takes” as a college student working in a strip joint.

What might happen if a six-foot, wide shouldered, licorice sucking man wearing a lavender sweater over a 2-day old T-shirt driving a Mercedes through busy city traffic picks up a hitchhiking, ovulating blonde with a very symmetrical face eating a doughnut above her C cup bra and carrying a bouquet of spicy flowers ?
…sounds like a movie…wait…they already made it….but, Julia Roberts was taller than Richard Gere!

  • If we did film such a scene I suspect we might need a sizable financial reserve for the legal defense against probable charges of public fornication.

1. R. Kurzban, Prof of Psychology, Univ. of Pennsylvania
2. “Why Him? Why Her?”, Helen Fisher, biological anthropologist, Rutgers Univ.
and “Why We Love, The Nature and Chemistry of Romantic Love”, and consultant to http://www.chemistry.com, an online matching service based on the predominant chemistries at work in the applicant revealed by a questionnaire.
3. D. Singh, Univ. of Texas
4. A.Hortacus, Univ. of Chicago and D. Arley, MIT
5. N. Gueguen, French psychologist, Perceptual and Motor Skills, 2009,109,3,1-8
6. Arthur Aron, Psychologist
7. Donotella Marazzi, Italian Psychologist
8. “Decoding Love”, Andrew Tress, PhD
9. Claus Wedekind, Univ. of Bern, R. Thornhill, Erich Holzle, and others.
10. http://www.livescience.com/health
11. The Smell Report, http://www.sirc.org
12. Douglas Fields, NIH
13. Gregory Miller, NY Times.com, 2007/12/09 Magazine

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