Saturday, November 21, 2009

Can You Be Hypnotized?

image by overant,

Turns Out, It Is In The Genes

When you are busily browsing through the merchandise in a store, can the salesgirl hypnotize you into buying that piece of chic fabric which had caught your fancy, but which you had consciously persuaded yourself not to buy? When you are out on your date, can the other party hypnotize you into doing things that you are going to later regret? Can a total stranger walk into your house and burgle it in broad daylight and in your presence, while you stand there, dumbfounded and mesmerized, only to wake up long after the deed has been done and the criminal has fled? Can somebody sitting next to you in a public transport hypnotize you to jump off the moving vehicle? In other words, can you be hypnotized? Are you susceptible to hypnotic suggestions?

image by saavem,

Ever since hypnosis came to be entrenched in science as a distinctive state of mind which can be induced into through specific suggestions, people have been at work trying to figure the distinctive characteristics of the populace that can be hypnotized. While some researchers came out with questionnaires which you are given to fill up, and whose responses supposedly give an indication of how susceptible you are, others have suggested that you be asked to roll your eyes upward, and the more your irises and corneas disappear into the sockets, the more gullible you would prove to be to hypnotic suggestions.

image by thomaskv,

A neuro-psycho-physiological model for hypnotic induction has been proposed that activates and inhibits different regions of the brain in stages. The first stage begins by focusing attention on the hypnotist's voice and filter out all ambient distracters. This means that, first and foremost, you need to be good at initially focusing at your attention. In the subsequent stages, interestingly, this capability of controlling one's focusing goes down because now the control is in the hands of the hypnotist's voice. Have your brain and genetics been wired so, to go through these stages with ease? Then, congratulations, you are susceptible to being hypnotized.

image by mayh3m,

Can we be more precise in measuring our susceptibility to suggestions from these trance-inducing magicians? The answer is yes, we are beginning to. A 2006 paper published in the Journal of Physiology reports that the answer lies in our genotype. Specifically, individuals who carry the valine/methionine Catechol-O-Methyltransferase (COMT) genotype are very highly gullible folks! In contrast, individuals with the valine/valine genotype and methionine / methionine genotype have been found to be relatively unaffected; all the words from the hypnotist might as well be the buzz of a pesky mosquito, to be shooed away by the dismissive wave of the hand. So, don't blame yourself if you find you get hypnotized by others' words very easily. It is all due to the genes.

image by saavem,

Before you click-open a new tab to locate an appropriate organization that offers genotyping bioassay  services where you can pay to find out your particular genotype --- know that this is still a nascent research field. Even the researchers are being cautious before they hail COMT as the "hypnotizability gene". Know also that when you use self-hypnosis techniques for your own self-growth and self-development, the auto-suggestions still seep down in the subconscious even when the brain is not able to reach the uber-groggy state of hypnosis. And finally and most importantly, know also that if you "make up" your mind and "decide" that you are not going to be hypnotized, then relax... you won't.

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[Associated with hypnosis is the ability to use the powers of the mind to perform tasks and functions that are normally considered outside the realm of the possible. There is so much brouhaha about it in fiction literature and fiction movies, that we often wonder, does a human being really have such powers? Or is it all just that: fiction to be entertained with in the present moment and forgotten afterward? Here is an article that takes a critical look at this question: "Do We Possess Psychic Powers That We Are Not Aware Of?"]

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Saturday, November 14, 2009

Males - Check The Flourides In Your Water

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Excess Fluorides Render The Sperms Impotent
It is well-known that fluorides are best to keep the teeth clean. They dissolve away the plaque, kill the bacteria and generally keep the teeth healthy. We also know that fluorides are best restricted to the buccal cavity - that is, within the precincts of the two sets of teeth. If the chemical is swallowed, and swallowed consistently, then it can cause medical conditions such as skeletal fluorosis.

image by szorstki,

New research has brought to light that fluorides can be harmful to male virility. To give an analogy of the damage that the chemical can cause: Fluoride is to the male spermatozoa what kryptonite is to Superman. Just as kryptonite can cripple Superman into an ordinary human being, excess fluoride in the body can render the male impotent. Here is more dope on the research.

image by nkzs,

The paper has been published in the August 2008 issue of "Toxicology and Applied Pharmacology". Male rats were fed with fluoride-laced water for two months. They were then euthanized and their viscera subjected to chemical investigation. It was found that excess fluoride leads to generation of superoxide anion and NOX5 in the spermatozoa. This generation is a precursor to a condition known as "oxidative stress" in the spermatozoa. In colloquial language, what this technical mumbo-jumbo means is that a) the capability of spermatozoa to swim in the viscous waters of the female tract is weakened, and b) the capability of the sperm's head to breach the walls of the ovum (the so-called "acrosome reaction") and push in its male payload is severely compromised. In other words, the male becomes infertile. And all because the male has been rather casual about the quality of plain water he has been drinking all these days.

image by katagaci,

When and where does fluoride enter the water system? Municipalities around the world add it to potable water in order to keep the teeth enamel of its citizenry sparkling clean. Fluoride is also naturally found in underground water worldwide. Certain regions around the world are endowed with more fluoride concentrations than required, so you might want to find out whether the place you normally live falls in one of them - or better still, get your usual source of water tested. [Here is a site where fluoride concentrations have been mapped.]

image by neosiam,

If you are a male, the next time you are seized by the impulse to show off the power of your virility to the neighborhood, don't buy that flashy new car or that fancy pair of cuff-links or those expensive shoes. Don't do all that you normally do to show-off. Buy a good-quality water filter that can remove the fluoride ions, instead. Believe me, this one act will help you much better in that one department where showing-off ultimately matters the most to you.

image by bea29sm,

[The elaborate and intricate mechanisms constructed by Nature to propagate species are a marvel in themselves. There was a time, not very long ago, when children were led to believe that babies were brought to the mothers from some place faraway by birds. The stork was visualized carrying the baby in a sling cloth hanging either by its slender neck or held firmly in its sturdy beak. It was a strong symbol, and helped seniors ward off awkward questions from inquisitive and nosey kids. Has this symbol endured? Does this symbol still hold good? Read about it here: "The Symbolism Of The Stork".]

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Sunday, November 08, 2009

Aspartame And Health

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Has The Controversy Surrounding This Additive Been Resolved?

In the history of food additives, Aspartame stands out as the one that has weathered the most controversies, right from day one of its approval by the US FDA. Wonder whether the Ramazzini research that implicates the additive for cancer has made any impact at all?

image by miccala,

Aspartame, a food additive that is several times sweeter than sugar, is now found in almost every single food item that we consume: from mints to toffees to ice-creams to cold-drinks to... you name it and it is there. The US FDA catalogs Aspartame as NUTRS (nutritive sweetener), GMP (sufficient for purpose, quantity not greater than required), and REG (for which a petition has been filed and regulation issued). It is specifically slotted under Part 172 of Title 21 of its books as a "food additive permitted for direct addition to food for human consumption". With such clear-cut approval from the government, food processors have no reason to stop using Aspartame to enhance the taste of their stuff for consumers.

image by halifaxsxc,

Research literature too has submitted evidence of how the sweetener helps in indirectly reducing obesity, because after eating / drinking something laced with this additive, your appetite for consuming some more food is somehow reduced. (For example, here is one 1997 paper and here is another 2006 paper that describe how participants in their respective experiments experienced weight-loss after Aspartame diets.) Science too seems to have succumbed to the charms of this sweetener.

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And yet, the Ramazzini papers continue to niggle. Researchers from 'The European Foundation of Oncology and Environmental Sciences' "B. Ramazzini", an Italy-based research institute have taken a contrarian stand against Aspartame with a 2005/2006 paper published in the journal "Environmental Health Perspectives". This paper reported how 8-week-old rats were fed a daily diet containing varying concentrations of the additive, allowing them to live their full age, and how their viscera showed leukemias and lymphomas in both the genders, peripheral nerve schwannomas in males, and transitional cell carcinomas of the renal pelvis and ureter and dysplasias in females. These conditions they unequivocally linked to a lifetime spent consuming Aspartame. The difference between Ramazzini's and the other research papers I have quoted here is obviously that while the researchers in the other papers were focused on biomarkers for obesity, Ramazzini researchers were specifically looking for biomarkers pertaining to cancer. And for Ramazzini, letting carcinogenesis continue its full course till the natural death of the animal is very important.

Ramazzini Institute logo_*

* 'The European Foundation of Oncology and Environmental Sciences' "B. Ramazzini" logo.

No sooner was this report published, than the regulators swung into action. The European Food Safety Authority (EFSA) came out with a statement on May 3, 2006, followed a few days later by the US FDA (May 8, 2006), categorically trashing the research outcome. Confounding factors have biased the outcome, they said.

image by thoursie,

So did the controversy die down? Researchers of Ramazzini came out with yet another paper that was published in the September 2007 issue of the same journal. While in the earlier experiment, the researchers focused on post-natal lifetimes, in this experiment, the good doctors had begun feeding Aspartame diet to the fetuses while they were still in the wombs of their mothers (in-utero). After birth, the newborn rats were allowed to live their full lifetime. The viscera of the rats showed they were suffering from the very same conditions of cancer as in the post-natal case. Significantly, while the first paper drew instant criticism, including retort from vested interests, this particular paper did not experience any such reaction. (At least, I haven't come across any.)

image by ezran,

Is it because somebody somewhere is trying to replicate the experiments, which, given the entire lifetime of rats to be about 2.5 to 3 years, will take as much time before the results can come out? An important point made by Ramazzini is that chemical carcinogenesis bioassays ought to be conducted for longer durations - such as the lifetime of the rats - in order to be able to better calibrate the investigations.

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The point here is: has the last word been said about Aspartame vis-a-vis cancer? I don't wish to be alarmist. But there are people who pop a breath freshener before sitting in their car to drive to work. During the entire day they consume lots of food that has aspartame sprinkled on them. By the time they hit the sack, at least 100 mg equivalent of aspartame must be going into their body from all these sources combined. Every single day. This is definitely higher than the GMP tag put in for individual foods by FDA for aspartame consumption. So are we slowly going the way of the Ramazzini rats? Or is this all a storm in the proverbial tea-cup?

image by jadegordon,

[The way things are these days, sugar has become equated with conditions of diabetes and glycosuria. It is not that people back in the good ol' days didn't have a sweet tooth. They did, and yet, we never heard much about the diabetes condition from the old folks. It is our lifestyle that is the root cause. Here is a metaphysical take on this condition: "Diabetes - Silent Killer? Or Awakener?".]
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