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Health

At the cider vinegar farm

Wednesday, 20 February, 2019

Ballyhoura Apple Farm’s orchard is located on the outskirts of Kilfinane in Limerick.

Ballyhoura Apple Farm


Time to hit the gym?

Wednesday, 6 February, 2019

From Natural Causes: An Epidemic of Wellness, the Certainty of Dying, and Killing Ourselves to Live Longer by Barbara Ehrenreich:

“And why should the mind want to subdue the body systematically, repeatedly, day after day? Many gym-goers will tell you cheerfully that it makes them feel better, at least when the workout is over. But there’s a darker, more menacing side to the preoccupation with fitness, and this is the widespread suspicion that if you can’t control your own body, you’re not fit, in any sense, to control anyone else, and in their work lives that is a large part of what typical gym-goers do. We are talking here about a relative elite of people who are more likely to give orders than to take them — managers and professionals. In this class, there are steep penalties for being overweight or in any other way apparently unhealthy. Flabby people are less likely to be hired or promoted; they may even be reprimanded and obliged to undergo the company’s ‘wellness’ program, probably consisting of exercise (on- or off-site), nutritional counseling to promote weight loss, and, if indicated, lessons in smoking cessation.”

Natural Causes


Cancer: The Emperor of All Maladies

Monday, 4 February, 2019

Today is World Cancer Day. A good day, then, to delve into The Emperor of All Maladies, the great “biography” of cancer by Siddhartha Mukherjee. Snippets:

“That this seemingly simple mechanism — cell growth without barriers — can lie at the heart of this grotesque and multifaceted illness is a testament to the unfathomable power of cell growth. Cell division allows us as organisms to grow, to adapt, to recover, to repair — to live. And distorted and unleashed, it allows cancer cells to grow, to flourish, to adapt, to recover, and to repair — to live at the cost of our living. Cancer cells can grow faster, adapt better. They are more perfect versions of ourselves.”

The Emperor of All Maladies

“It lives desperately, inventively, fiercely, territorially, cannily, and defensively — at times, as if teaching us how to survive. To confront cancer is to encounter a parallel species, one perhaps more adapted to survival than even we are.”


He caught the fever that reaped a harvest

Saturday, 2 February, 2019

Poetry provides visions and so does fever. The great C.P. Cavafy combines the two here.

Kleitos’s Illness

Kleitos, a likeable young man,
about twenty-three years old—
with an excellent upbringing, a rare knowledge of Greek—
is seriously ill. He caught the fever
that reaped a harvest this year in Alexandria.

The fever found him already worn out morally
by the pain of knowing that his friend, a young actor,
had stopped loving and wanting him.

He’s seriously ill, and his parents are terribly worried.

An old servant who brought him up
is also full of fear for Kleitos’ life;
and in her terrible anxiety
she remembers an idol she used to worship
when she was young, before she came there as a maid,
to the house of distinguished Christians, and turned Christian herself.
She secretly brings some votive cake, some wine and honey,
and places them before the idol. She chants whatever phrases
she remembers from old prayers: odds and ends. The fool
doesn’t realize that the black demon couldn’t care less
whether a Christian gets well or not.

C.P. Cavafy (29 April 1863 – 29 April 1933)

*Translated from Greek by Edmund Keeley and Philip Sherrard


Wheezles and Sneezles

Wednesday, 30 January, 2019

“Christopher Robin had wheezles and sneezles,
they bundled him into his bed.
They gave him what goes with a cold in the nose,
and some more for a cold in the head.”

A.A.Milne

Christopher Robin


The madness and eclipse of King Lear

Sunday, 20 January, 2019

Tonight, the moon will noticeably, progressively get darker as the sun, the Earth and the moon converge in an instance of perfect cosmic alignment to create a lunar eclipse. This only total lunar eclipse of 2019 will be visible in North America, South America, Western Europe and North-western Africa.

There were many superstitions in the Elizabethan period, one being that an eclipse was an omen of evil. Shakespeare may have witnessed the partial lunar eclipse of 27 September 1605 and the total solar eclipse of 12 October that year, and both may have influenced his King Lear, which was first staged on St. Stephen’s day 1606. “Nothing will come of nothing,” goes Lear’s warning. The raging monarch has endured so many indignities — doomed by his vanity, deceived by sycophants, abandoned to madness… The Bard’s tragedy is a bleak depiction of family and state breakdown.

“These late eclipses in the sun and moon portend
no good to us: though the wisdom of nature can
reason it thus and thus, yet nature finds itself
scourged by the sequent effects: love cools,
friendship falls off, brothers divide: in
cities, mutinies; in countries, discord; in
palaces, treason; and the bond cracked ‘twixt son
and father. This villain of mine comes under the
prediction; there’s son against father: the king
falls from bias of nature; there’s father against
child. We have seen the best of our time:
machinations, hollowness, treachery, and all
ruinous disorders, follow us disquietly to our
graves. Find out this villain, Edmund; it shall
lose thee nothing; do it carefully.”

William Shakespeare, King Lear, Act I, Scene 2

King Lear


How “checkpoint therapy” changes cancer treatment

Tuesday, 11 December, 2018

This year’s Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine was awarded to James P. Allison and Tasuku Honjo for their work on cancer therapy “by the inhibition of negative immune regulation.” Their discoveries mark a milestone in our understanding of cancer because they reveal that the immune system can be recruited to fight malignant tumours.

Cancer is one of humanity’s greatest health challenges. It kills millions every year and casts a huge shadow over the lives of their families and friends. But relief is on the horizon. By stimulating our immune system to attack tumour cells, Allison and Honjo have established an entirely new therapy principle.

Allison studied a protein that acts as a brake on the immune system and realized the potential of releasing the brake and thereby freeing immune cells to attack tumours. He has developed this concept into a new approach for treating victims. Meanwhile, Honjo discovered a protein in immune cells and demonstrated that it also operates as a brake. Therapies based on his discovery have proved impressively effective. The new “checkpoint therapy” based on work of Allison and Honjo promises to change fundamentally the way cancer is managed.

Here, James P. Allison from Alice, Texas, cancer scientist and part-time harmonica player with Willie Nelson’s touring group, the Family, delivers his Nobel Lecture at the Aula Medica, Karolinska Institutet in Stockholm.


Porridge with pomegranate seeds

Friday, 12 October, 2018

The list of benefits from starting the day with porridge is legendary. This simple mix of oats and water contains protein, zinc, iron, magnesium, vitamin B, vitamin E and phytochemicals, while the high fibre content in porridge is said to improve digestion, reduce high blood cholesterol and help prevent heart disease. In other words, the package of nutrients that is porridge will fill your tummy at breakfast and help boost your immune system throughout the day.

The pomegranate (Punica granatum) is a beautiful fruit filled with red “jewels” or arils that contain juicy nectar. Pomegranate seeds are rich in vitamin C and potassium and they contain a high number of antioxidants, which help protect the body against inflammation and free radical damage. Formula: porridge + pomegranate = goodness.

Porridge with pomegranate seeds


Bluetooth brush

Saturday, 22 September, 2018

“Download the Oral-B app on your smartphone and connect with Bluetooth technology to get real-time feedback on your brushing habits.” That’s what it says on the box.

Oral B


Depressed? Put on this headset, please

Monday, 29 January, 2018 0 Comments

David Foster Wallace: “The cruel thing with depression is that it’s such a self-centered illness. Dostoevsky shows that pretty good in his Notes from Underground. The depression is painful, you’re sapped/consumed by yourself; the worse the depression, the more you just think about yourself and the stranger and repellent you appear to others.”

Could a brain stimulation headset offer humane treatment for the disease that led David Foster Wallace to kill himself? Might it, at least, be an alternative to the dreaded opioid medication? Flow Neuroscience from Sweden claims its headset can stimulate and change the brain’s neuronal activity using tDCS (transcranial direct current stimulation), and a related app that advises the user on eating, sleeping and exercising routines will provide holistic backup.

With 21 million people in Europe suffering from major depressive disorder, the EU’s Horizon 2020 programme is on board and Flow Neuroscience recently announced a funding round of $1.1 million from Khosla Ventures, SOSV and Daniel Andersson.

If the depression epidemic can be addressed with a solution that’s safe, effective, medication-free and designed for use at home, great benefits might flow to sufferers, who would experience a huge quality-of-life improvement as a result. And great benefits might flow, too, to those VCs who have placed their bets on Flow Neuroscience.

Flow

Sylvia Plath: “It seemed silly to wash one day when I would only have to wash again the next. It made me tired just to think of it.”


The loneliness of the connected

Wednesday, 24 January, 2018 0 Comments

Last week, British Prime Minister Theresa May appointed Tracey Crouch as her “minister of loneliness.” A diversion from the Brexit grind? Perhaps, but experts who study the health effects of chronic loneliness have applauded the move because they say that isolation makes people sick and can cause fatal harm. Simply put: Loneliness kills. What’s called “social isolation” is right up there with heart disease and cancer in the hierarchy of modern malaises, but because it’s easier to fight smoking and drinking, which offer more visible targets, loneliness gets less attention and funding.

The British government’s Jo Cox Commission on Loneliness produced a report last year citing the statistic that nine million British adults (some 14 percent of the population) are “often or always lonely”, while 3.6 million people aged 65 and older say television is their main form of company. And the loneliness plague that’s now stalking “always on” teenagers is also affecting workers. In her new book, Fully Connected, Julia Hobsbawm looks at the world of what she calls “marzipan mangers,” who are “stuck below the leadership icing, stuck behind a wall of email, a mountain of paper, jammed somewhere in the middle as if between floors of a skyscraper.” Snippet:

“This group might begin to feel not just stuck but cheated. They have worked hard to get their first and maybe second degrees. The have certainly been questioned in detail in umpteen interviews before they even landed their job. So now, and sooner rather than later, they face a peculiar isolation. They know a lot about their company but not in relation to anyone or anywhere else. The bigger the company or the larger the network, the more technically connected we are, and the higher the risk of being personally more alone.”

Many of the “connected” are living lives of quiet desperation because we humans are social animals, not social media animals. We haven’t evolved enough to deal with chronic isolation. We’re not made to be alone with our devices.