Tuesday, September 15, 2009

The good, the bad, and the ugly

"The helpful microorganisms overwhelmingly outnumber the harmful ones," says Jack Brown, PhD, a professor of molecular biosciences at the University of Kansas at Lawrence. "Removing a large proportion of the good bacteria gives the bad germs a chance to increase and potentially become harmful."
So what do you need to worry about?

Dirty Door Handles
The bathroom-door handle on the public restroom is the germiest place.

Unclean Office Objects
Claim: Your office desk is way dirtier than a toilet bowl.

Filthy Floors
You can get plantar warts and athlete's foot from walking barefoot on the gym floor.

Scuzzy Sponges
Washing a sponge in the dishwasher removes germs.

Unsanitary Kitchen Sinks
You need to clean the kitchen sink every day with bleach

Bunking with Bacteria
If you've had the same pillow for years, you're bunking with billions of bacteria

Bedbug Elimination
You must wash your sheets every week in hot water or you'll get bedbugs

Toothbrush Trouble
Every time you flush the toilet, your toothbrush gets sprayed with bacteria

Bathroom Bacteria Buildup
Wash your shower curtain, tiles, and tub once a week to prevent an overgrowth of bacteria.

Laundry Mildew
Letting wet clothes sit in the washer allows mildew to form

Contaminated Makeup
Your makeup is a breeding ground for bacteria.

Dirty Money
Money is by far the germiest stuff around.

Should You Use Antibacterial Products?
Not unless someone in the house is sick. A recent study found no difference in infectious disease rates in 228 households that used antibacterial items (hand-washing soaps, cleaners, laundry detergent) versus those that used regular products. Plus, there's a potential drawback: A number of studies have suggested that triclosan, an ingredient used in many antibacterial items, may actually foster resistance to many germs. The researchers concluded they're useful only if someone in your home is ill or has a skin or gastrointestinal ailment. Otherwise, Larson says, alcohol- and bleach-based products work best at killing germs without promoting the growth of dangerous "super bugs."

Thursday, June 4, 2009

No more Blinds thanks to stem cells

Here's something that people with poor or no vision will be excited about: three patients had their sight restored in less than a month by contact lenses cultured with stem cells.

All three patients were blind in one eye. The researchers extracted stem cells from their working eyes, cultured them in contact lenses for 10 days, and gave them to the patients. Within 10 to 14 days of use, the stem cells began recolonizing and repairing the cornea.

Of the three patients, two were legally blind but can now read the big letters on an eye chart, while the third, who could previously read the top few rows of the chart, is now able to pass the vision test for a driver's license. The research team isn't getting over excited, still remaining unsure as to whether the correction will remain stable, but the fact that the three test patients have been enjoying restored sight for the last 18 months is definitely encouraging. The simplicity and low cost of the technique also means that it could be carried out in poorer countries.


Thursday, April 16, 2009

About video games addiction

If asked to define "video game addict," most of us would reply that a video game addict is someone who likes to play a lot of video games. But that definition is as close to the truth as the definition "someone who likes to inject a lot of heroin" is an accurate portrayal of a heroin addict.

Addiction is a psychological disorder that affects the way the brain functions by impacting chemical processes related to motivation, decision making, learning, inhibitory control, and pleasure seeking. Behavioural addictions like gambling and sex are forms of psychological dependence; addictions to substances like drugs and alcohol are forms of both psychological and physical dependence.

Video game addiction is still a newcomer to the field of psychology and is not yet medically recognised as a proper addiction due to the lack of research conducted into its causes and effects. So, while it's common for clinics to specialise in the treatment of drug, alcohol, gambling, sex, and other addictions, it is not common for clinics to specialise in the treatment of video game addiction.

The cases most often cited include a South Korean man who collapsed in an Internet cafe after playing Starcraft for 50 hours; a man in China who died after playing online games for 15 days consecutively; a 13-year-old boy from Vietnam who strangled an elderly lady with a piece of rope because he wanted money to buy games; and a number of cases in the United States involving angry teenagers murdering family members over games and consoles. The fact that the latter cases have more to do with displays of deep mental instabilities rather than addiction was not mentioned in the reports, an omission that no doubt has contributed to the public's widespread confusion about what video game addiction really is.

The last five years have seen a progress in the recognition of video game addiction as a real addiction, with more research dedicated to studying its scope, causes, and effects.
There is currently insufficient research to definitely label video game overuse as an addiction. However, the report's authors used several case studies and surveys to find evidence of video game addiction, arguing that symptoms of time usage and social dysfunction/disruption present in video game overuse also appear in other addictive disorders, and, despite its reluctance to name video game addiction as a definitive mental disorder, the CSAPH recommended that the AMA strongly encourage the inclusion of video game addiction as a formal diagnostic disorder in the upcoming revision of the American Psychiatric Association's (APA) Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM).


Thursday, March 5, 2009

How could we get a better sleep?

If insomnia is derailing your sleep, a prescription sleeping pill may not be the best cure. Here are some options to explore:

Practice good "sleep hygiene." This does not mean making sure your bedding is clean! It means following good sleep habits, especially ensuring the bedroom environment is conducive to sleep. Among experts' recommendations: Use the bedroom only for sleep and sex; keep regular sleep and wake times; eliminate afternoon caffeine; banish pets (and snoring partners) from the bedroom; ensure the bedroom is a dark, cool, quiet place; and get computers and TVs out of the sleep environment, because they stimulate the brain and their light tells the body "it's daytime," disrupting the internal clock.

Break the rules when necessary. While experts' common-sense recommendations about sleep hygiene should be the first line of defense against insomnia, selectively breaking them can sometimes help, too. TV isn't recommended, for example, but a DVD or show (make it a boring one) may put some people to sleep. "Listen to experts' rules; don't throw them out," says Gayle Greene, 65, a lifelong insomniac who has learned to cope. But "bend them, make them work for you."

Develop a pre-bed relaxation ritual. "Adults need these rituals, too," says Meir Kryger, director of sleep research and education at Gaylord Hospital in Wallingford, Conn. "You'd be amazed at how helpful they can actually be." To develop a nonstimulating evening ritual, you might recall what your parents did when you were young to get you in sleep mode. Or try taking a hot bath or sipping a warm cup of chamomile tea; either will raise your core body temperature, which leads to a drowsy feeling as you cool down, says Lisa Shives, medical director of Northshore Sleep Medicine in Evanston, Ill.

Try not to self-medicate. "I personally don't recommend that people just go out and treat themselves with over-the-counter medications," says Kryger. "They never solve the problem; they'll just help you get through." Pharmacies certainly offer lots of sleep remedies. There are antihistamines, like Benadryl, which have a sedative side effect. (The ingredient that causes drowsiness is also found in products like Tylenol PM and Advil PM.) But those medications can induce next-day grogginess—what some patients call "sleep hangovers"—and they can actually have an alerting or a disorienting effect on the elderly, says Shives. Other OTC options include melatonin supplements and valerian extracts, although evidence of the effectiveness of either is slim, a National Institutes of Health insomnia consensus panel concluded in 2005. And, as Shives says of melatonin, valerian, and similar substances, "Nobody's regulating this stuff."

Don't drink to sleep. Sure, sloshing down a little Pinot Noir will put you to sleep, but as the alcohol is metabolized by the body, it fragments sleep, which tends to cause nighttime awakenings and next-day tiredness. "People have the misconception that alcohol helps," says Ralph Downey III, chief of sleep medicine at the Loma Linda University Medical Center in California. "It doesn't."

Create a barrier between work and sleep. You want to have some sort of break from the day's stress before sleep, advises Lawrence Epstein, medical director of Sleep HealthCenters in Boston and coauthor of The Harvard Medical School Guide to a Good Night's Sleep. If you know you're going to bed at 10:30, stop your day at 10:15, or sooner if you can. Shortchanging that break can be a recipe for insomnia. Write down all the things you need to worry about on a piece of paper, and do your best to leave them behind. Whether asleep or awake, there's likely nothing you can do about them until tomorrow, anyway.

Don't "catastrophize." People who can't sleep tend to compound the problem by fretting about the consequences of their sleeplessness, like the possibility that they'll do a bad job at work and get fired. Catastrophizing a sleep problem, however, tends to further engrain it, says Shives. "I try to get [people] to calm down," she says. "But that's kind of like telling a depressed person to perk up."

Retreat to a "safe room." Don't stew in bed. Create a "safe room" to retreat to when sleep escapes you, Downey advises. If awake for more than 20 minutes after your head hits the pillow, get out of bed and go to that room. Don't turn on a light, don't go on the Internet, don't read a book; just relax, he says, for 20 minutes, or until sleepy. Repeat as necessary, all night long. This process is called conditioning. You want to prevent your bedroom from becoming associated with frustration. If you live in a dorm or a studio apartment, Downey says, use a screen to carve out a sitting nook away from the bed.

Exercise. While experts advise against vigorous exercise too close to bedtime, a morning or evening workout can be beneficial. "We know that it promotes the slowest waves of sleep," says Mary Susan Esther, president of the American Academy of Sleep Medicine.

Not working? Talk to your doctor. Everybody may have episodes of sleep trouble. But if insomnia persists for several weeks, especially if it's disrupting your daytime activities, discuss it with a doctor or ask to be referred to a sleep specialist. (A survey released this week by the National Sleep Foundation found that only 32 percent of Americans who have sleep problems discuss them with their doctors.) Some people may be physiologically susceptible to chronic insomnia, says Epstein, while others may bring it on by developing bad coping habits. If an underlying psychiatric condition isn't to blame, says Downey, untreated insomnia could end up contributing to one. "Jump on [insomnia] within six months or you [may] end up treating depression, anxiety, and [other psychiatric] disorders" later, he says. Prescription medications may be explored but are usually a last resort, says Kryger. Cognitive behavioral therapy, which helps people unlearn bad behaviors, is another possibility.