January 28, 2008

Menstruation Can Be Good For You

Filed under: Evolution and You — Sharon Moalem @ 12:26 pm

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A study published in the January 17, 2008 New England Journal of Medicine has found what I’ve been saying all along, that complications from hemochromatosis mutations, especially the C282Y variant, are much more common than was first suspected. An important caveat about this study when trying to draw conclusions for the American population is that the specific genetic variant (C282Y) that results in the highest iron loading or absorption from the diet is much more common in those of north and western European descent.

What this means in practical terms is that for historical reasons this specific gene is more likely to be common in Australia than in America today. The study also found that men were more likely to have other conditions associated with having this gene that can result in excess iron. Not a big surprise since men don’t menstruate or bear children and typically don’t lose blood unless they are frequent blood donors or have other medical conditions.

So if you can, just another reason to donate* your blood.

*I have no affiliations with any blood donation center except for a love of their cookies and juice.

January 24, 2008

The Healing Power of Touch

Filed under: Evolution and You — Sharon Moalem @ 9:08 pm

Student Doctor

It’s been really great to keep getting so many emails from people around the world. When I starting working on the Survival of the Sickest I really hoped that some of the excitement that I get from making discoveries would come across. Like learning a new magic trick or testing new ideas for treatments to fight superbug infections, I think the real reward and what fuels discovery for me is that a-ha moment. That brief flash where you move into a new understanding, even though at times fleeting, makes the entire endeavour worthwhile.

Sometimes I run into people who seem to have lost whatever sparked them at some point in their lives. You all know people like this. This may even be you at times. These people (or parts of ourselves that we’re in the process of recognizing) are stuck and in some sense separated from what initially brought them pleasure. So here’s my suggestion, give them a hug (if it’s culturally appropriate of course) or send them some type of encouragement. Remind them that they are not alone and there are others who may be going through similar issues.

For one thing touch has been found to have beneficial health results. When I first started medical school I never understood why physicians measure someone’s blood pressure manually when we have the technology and machines that can do it probably more accurately.

Having practiced the art of measuring someone’s blood pressure for only a few short years now I’m beginning to understand why. I think that this simple procedure goes far in creating a sense of caring towards another, in this case a patient, that no machine can as of yet replicate (this can go the other way as well with some patients getting “white coat syndrome“). So although there is much talk of medicine moving towards the “telemedicine” direction, which of course is very useful in situations where it might be difficult to get medical care because of geography, ultimately for most of us to feel cared for we need a reassuring touch.

January 22, 2008

Photograph of the Week

Filed under: Evolution and You — Sharon Moalem @ 11:04 am

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January 17, 2008

Frozen Frogs

Filed under: Evolution and You — Sharon Moalem @ 2:17 pm

There’s a whole chapter in my book devoted to how animals (including humans) and plants use incredible strategies to survive the cold. In the case of the wood frog (Rana sylvatica) it has the special ability to freeze solid and turn itself into a frozen frogsicle and survive hidden all winter long. Then come spring, when the temperature starts to go up, the wood frog reanimates itself and hops away looking for a mate. It is spring after all. For more on the wood frog and other amphibians and reptiles adaptations to the cold, have a look at my friend Ken Storey’s (one of the world’s experts on Rana sylvatica) website. The wood frog is not alone, we humans employ a few tricks of our own to deal with dropping temperatures. The one that most people may be familiar with, but not aware of why, is having to pee when we’re cold. Evolution never ceases to amaze me.

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