14th February 06:12
Benefits of risky living (cardiovascular)
Having unprotected ***
It's never easy getting scientists to harp on about the benefits of
having unprotected ***, but a few have stuck their necks out. Gordon
Gallup at the State University of New York asked nearly a thousand
women about their *** lives and used standard psychological tests to
assess how happy they were.
He found that women whose partners didn't wear condoms consistently
came out as happier than those whose partners did. Having ruled out
other factors, Gallup says he is convinced ***** is the reason. "It
suggests there's something in ***** that can alter mood," he says. "If
you could isolate what it is in ***** that appears to be doing this,
you might be able to use it as an alternative way of treating
Gallup's latest results pander less to those smelling a male
conspiracy: he found that women who don't use condoms tend to be more
gutted when their relationships break down, yet get into new ***ual
relationships more quickly than those that do. "They experience
rebound more. It's as if they find ***** addictive," says Gallup.
He isn't the only one to endorse the virtues of *****. Scientists at
the University of Adelaide have found evidence that exposure to a
man's ***** makes for a less problematic pregnancy. The team suspect
that the ***** conditions the woman's immune system, so it is less
likely to attack the growing foetus. Male conspiracy theorists take
note: the scientists found the positive effects of ***** to be
strongest if swallowed. Gulp.
Our reaction to stress reveals what a lumbering beast evolution really
is. Stress makes our nervous system pump out a chemical called
noradrenaline, which kicks our heart rate up and breaks down body
tissue to give us more energy. "That's great if you're trying to run
away from a mammoth," says Ashley Grossman, an endocrinologist at St
Bartholomew's Hospital, London. "But it's not much use if someone's
screaming at you in an office and you can't do Anything but sit there
Fortunately our archaic response to stress does have some modern-day
benefit. After an hour or so of being stressed, blood levels of the
hormone cortisol rise. "Small amounts of cortisol make you process
information faster. If you're very stressed in an exam and you're
completely lost, your brain will work faster and better," says
Grossman. But it's only useful on occasion. "Get stressed day in day
out and you'll literally burn that part of your brain out," he adds.
Using mobile phones
Though demonstrably lethal when stuck to the ear of someone driving
through a city during rush hour, the only other confirmed threat a
mobile has to health is the kicking you get when the local
14-year-olds mug you for it on your way home.
But there's good evidence that mobile phones can be good for you too.
Alan Preece, who studies the biological effects of mobile-phone
radiation at the Bristol Oncology Center, found that people exposed to
mobile-phone radiation were 4% faster at certain mental tasks than
others. "It has the effect of making you about 20 years younger," he
says. Preece believes the effect is solely due to the phone heating a
region of the brain called the cortex. Radiation from phones has also
been shown to increase blood flow in certain regions of the brain.
Watching a great deal of TV
Yes, you'll be labelled a couch potato, but rest assured it could be
worse. According to researchers at Vandebilt University in Nashville,
you'll use up 20% more energy watching television than lying in bed.
At a burn rate of around 100kcals for an hour's viewing, television is
about as exhausting as reading a book or writing a shopping list.
Listening to loud, repetitive music
Of course it'll hamper your hearing by causing a permanent ring, or
deafen you completely, but since you're going to do it anyway, you
might as well know why it feels so good. "What happens when you listen
to loud music is it activates a primitive acoustic sense in the ear
which is inherited from our swampy ancestors," says Neil Todd of the
University of Manchester. Todd reckons our ancestors' mating displays
involved lots of noise and prancing about. Loud bass notes trigger the
same response in our vestibular system, he says, so loud repetitive
bass music stimulates the same areas of our brains that makes us think
we might be about to get some. "It's the pulsing, loud bass
frequencies that are particularly effective," he says. But does the
fact that it gives you the horn mean it's good for you? "Anything
which gives you pleasure is good. It keeps you free from stress, it
keeps you happy and that's clearly healthy," he says.
Talk to physicians and they'll tell you there are few things you can
put in your mouth that are worse for you than a cigarette. But it's
not all doom and gloom. Smokers are at least doing their bit to slow
down the runaway obesity epidemic that is sweeping through the western
world. "In many studies, you often find smokers are slimmer. We've
certainly seen it in our studies," says Jodi Flaws at the University
of Maryland school of medicine. "Some people think it's due to certain
chemicals in cigarettes somehow making them burn more calories, but
others believe it suppresses appetite. It may well be both."
Drastically upping your chances of cancer and heart disease might not
be the best way to avoid obesity, but it's certainly easier than
running round the block.
Scientists have also found evidence that smoking might, in some
cir***stances, help prevent the onset of various dementias. Many
dementias go hand-in-hand with a loss of chemical receptors in the
brain that just happen to be stimulated by nicotine. Smoking seems to
bolster these receptors, and smokers have more of them. The theory is
that smokers may then have more to lose before they start losing their
minds. "It does seem that nicotine has a preventative effect, but the
problem is that the other stuff in the cigarette tends to rot
everything else," says Roger Bullock, a specialist in dementia and
director of the Kingshill Research Centre in Swindon. So if your time
is nearly up anyway, and you have somehow managed to steer a course
past the Scylla and Charybdis of heart attacks and tumours, smoking
might just help you retain your marbles.
Riding fast motorbikes
There are fewer sure-fire ways of decimating your life expectancy than
buying a large motorbike you are clearly ill-equipped to control. But
spend five minutes with a biker and you'll soon hear how invigorating
it is to hare through the countryside startling the pheasants.
Although the thrill of speed is often called an adrenaline rush,
adrenaline has nothing to do with it. Instead, the rush comes from the
release of chemicals called endorphins in the brain that act to calm
your body down, essentially countering the effects of noradrenaline
that gets your heart thumping. Is thrill-seeking good for you?
"Endorphins are the good guys, they slow down your heart rate and make
you relaxed, so if they're being released frequently, it makes sense
to believe that's good for you, but we don't have any actual
evidence," says Grossman.
Flying economy class
Deep-vein thrombosis may be the curse of the economy-class majority,
but sometimes the cheap seats are the best place to be. In the
mid-90s, the Civil Aviation Authority carried out tests to see how
passengers sat in different parts of a plane faired during a typical,
survivable crash-landing. They found that those in economy class often
came out better because they were cushioned against some of the impact
by the chair in front.
"Your body doesn't get so stretched," says Russ Williams, ex-head of
flight operations policy at the CAA. "If you're in a first-class seat,
there's nothing in front to stop you." It doesn't help for all kinds
of crashes though. "Clearly if the wing falls off, you're going to
die. Simple as that." To really up your chances of getting out in one
piece, your best bet is to sit no further than three rows from an
Eating fatty food
Fatty food is a great supply of energy, but before you go
burger-hunting, you should know that too much (and few of us have too
little) will raise your cholesterol, which points you firmly in the
direction of heart disease. Regardless of how lame you may feel and
barring any eating disorders, it's unlikely you have too little fat to
survive. "Getting enough energy to stay alive isn't usually a problem
in a western industrialised society," says Ian Johnson at the
Institute of Food Research. "But there are some fats the body absolute
requires," he adds. Certain polyunsaturated fats are needed to help
cells work properly and are especially vital for nerve cells. "It's
important for pregnant women to have a certain intake as it's vital
for growing the infant's brain," he says.
We've all heard about the health-enhancing properties of the odd glass
of red wine, but what about the odd tequila slammer? Studies comparing
wine with beer and spirits often find wine comes out best, while
spirits have less of a beneficial effect. The bulk of the benefit
comes from ethanol which, according to Morton Gronbaek at the
Institute for Preventive Medicine in Copenhagen, reduces the tendency
of blockages to form in blood vessels.
Up to 21 drinks for men and 14 drinks for women tends to protect
against coronary heart disease. "The risk drops by 30-50% if you drink
a little alcohol," says Gronbaek. "By not drinking alcohol, you're
increasing your risk of heart disease the same amount as people who
either do no exercise or have high cholesterol," he says. Other
studies have proven alcohol to be a good all-rounder, helping protect
against dementia, increase bone mineral density in elderly women and
even lower blood pressure.
Eating salty food
Salt is great for raising your blood pressure, which sadly isn't great
for anything. But wipe salt out of your diet completely and not only
will your food take on an impressive blandness, you'll gradually drift
into a malaise of muscle cramps, nausea and dizziness. "Ultimately it
can be very serious," says Amanda Wynne at the British Dietetic
Association. Salt is necessary to ensure body fluids move in and out
of your body's cells only when they are supposed to. Salt is also
needed to send electrical pulses along your nerves. Few people get
close to suffering from salt deficiency though. "The average person
has around 20 times the minimum requirement in their diet," says
Becoming a boxer
It's no surprise that people who regularly get thumped very hard in
the head occasionally die from it or suffer terrible brain damage. You
can't train your brain to take that kind of abuse. But if you're good
enough to dodge the head shots, or bottle out of going in the ring,
boxing is only going to be good for you.
"Boxing is a marvellous form of exercise from the cardiovascular point
of view. It exercises the entire body, so it's better than running or
cycling," says Robert Cantu, chief medical officer at the National
Centre for Catastrophic Sport Injury Research in North Carolina. "The
only downside is it's not advantageous to take blows to the head." The
most damaging kind of punch, says Cantu, spins the head on the neck.
"Things like left hooks and right crosses are the ones to watch out
Medicine and health