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Health

October 09, 2014

"Cancer-Detecting Yogurt Could Replace Colonoscopies"

Bring it on!

A spoonful of yogurt could soon offer a cheap and simple way to screen for colorectal cancer.

Sangeeta Bhatia, a professor at MIT, is working to replace costly and uncomfortable colonoscopies and MRIs with a helping of yogurt followed by a urine test—a cheap method that could improve the early diagnosis of colorectal cancer.

Bhatia is developing synthetic molecules that can be introduced into the body via yogurt, and will interact with cancer in a way that produces telltale biomarkers. These molecules can then be detected easily when passed in urine.

October 07, 2014

"What Happens When We All Live to 100?"

"As recently as a generation ago, it would have seemed totally crazy to suppose that aging could be “cured.” Now curing aging seems, well, only somewhat crazy."

October 06, 2014

"When the Biomedical Industry Ignores Diseases, Private Money Saves Lives"

Private actors and actions are enormously powerful:

Fortunately, when the market doesn’t provide the right incentives, philanthropic groups have a unique opportunity to spur advances in treating diseases that affect millions but might otherwise be ignored. 

See also "Peter Thiel: the billionaire tech entrepreneur on a mission to cheat death".

Thiel believes there will be a cure for cancer in the next 20 years, and that a cure for Alzheimer’s is within reach. Immortality, he allows, may take a little longer. . . .

‘There are many arguments against life extension, and they all strike me as extraordinarily bad: it’s not natural; there will be too many people; you will be bored. But I don’t think it would be boring at all.’ He pauses. ‘People always say you should live your life as if it were your last day. I think you should live your life as though it will go on for ever; that every day is so good that you don’t want it to end.’

Related: the story of Rex Sinquefield, single-handedly trying to revive interest in the U.S. in chess.

October 01, 2014

"Wonder drug to fight cancer and Alzheimer's disease within 10 years"

Needless to say, bring it on!

Imperial College has discovered how to turn off an enzyme which is driving many incurable diseases.

The NMT enzyme makes irreversible changes to proteins which stop damaged cells from dying and, instead, speeds up their replication, causing cancer.

"We Used To Sleep In Two Segments Every Night Until Electricity Was Invented"

A comfort in my old age.

Roger Ekrich noticed many old books, including Chaucer's "The Canterbury Tales", referenced two periods of sleep being the norm in their era.

September 28, 2014

"Ask Well: Plantar Fasciitis Relief"

A year and a half ago I had some medium intensity pain in my left foot that caused me to limp for a couple of weeks. I was surprised how many of my colleagues either had had, or knew somebody who had had, plantar fasciitis. (It shouldn't have surprised me; Hammacher Schlemmer sends me mail-order catalogs and every other page there's something for plantar fasciitis sufferers.)

It turned out I didn't have plantar fasciitis, but I'm keeping this article for future reference.

September 22, 2014

"Don’t Take Your Vitamins"

Economist Emily Oster argues that because randomized studies don't reproduce the results of observational studies, for the vast majority of people vitamin supplements probably aren't beneficial.

In these trials, participants were randomly assigned to take supplements. Because the assignment was random — and the trials were big — the demographic and health characteristics of the supplement group and the non-supplement group were similar before the study started. When researchers looked at participants’ health over the long term, they could therefore be confident that any differences they saw across groups were due to the supplements, and not some other factor.

When the results of these studies came out, they largely refuted the idea that these supplements offered benefits.

Which conclusion would be fine if we were confident of the randomized studies' results. I can, offhand, think of two potential problems.

1. Were the vitamin dosages in the treated groups sufficient? In a metastudy that Ms. Oster links to the treated groups were given, apparently, an average of 2000 IU of vitamin D per day. That dosage, at least for some people, may well not be enough. The right amount depends on maintaining a high enough blood level, a level which depends on a number of characteristics, including age and weight. 

2. Another potential problem is whether the range of the data is large enough. For instance, Ms. Oster cites the Physician's Health Study, a study of "14,000 male physicians". What if physicians were really healthy? (I've seen my share of doctors and I've seen only one that might have been overweight, and he wasn't seriously so.) The marginal effect of treating one group might be very hard to detect.

An example of this problem from education: some people argue that SAT scores don't predict college grades very well. They cite studies of Ivy League students. And yes, the difference between 1400 and 1450 (on the old 1600 scale) might have little correlation with college grades. But the difference between 900--those folks should be relatively rare at Ivy League schools--and 1400 can, and seemingly does, matter a lot. 

A final point: maybe supplements are a waste of money for most people, most of the time. But so are all forms of insurance. 

September 18, 2014

"Why You Should Meditate — And How To Do It"

I find it difficult to believe meditation would have the benefit described, or even if it did, would it be better than a good nap? But given the low cost it might be worth a try. 

September 17, 2014

"Forget the Mediterranean diet . . . go Nordic!"

The Nordic diet is the new hotness.

More information here

September 11, 2014

"Why you should really take a nap this afternoon, according to science"

I'm down. One reason among several:

NASA found that naps made you smarter — even in the absence of a good night's sleep.

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