Healthcare, medicine & pharmaceuticals

Sadness is Healthy

It may be depressing to read that 7% of Americans are on anti-depressants, and far more have tried them. Outpatient treatment for depression tripled from 1987-1997 but whether the rise in prescriptions is a sign that people are becoming unhappier is a matter for debate. It is more likely because of our legal drug culture, which normalises the taking of drugs even for life’s normal ups and downs.Depression was redefined in 1980 so that, if someone has five symptoms for two weeks, they are considered clinically depressed. This ensures that truly ill people are not left untreated but it also means that healthy individuals are treated as if they are sick rather than sad or melancholic. For example, it is surely normal for someone to feel very sad if their relationship comes to an end. But if they also experience weight gain, insomnia, fatigue, or indecisiveness for two weeks, these are considered symptoms of depression.This modern attitude to sadness overlooks the value of being sad, for example, attracting social support, protecting us from aggressors, or even helping to change unhelpful behaviours that led to the break-up of that relationship. Drugs that remove emotional pain interfere with these natural processes and enable someone to carry on at work without help, or thwart the ability to learn lessons that come from pain. Unfortunately, our legal drug culture fails to recognise that sadness can be healthy.
Ref: Time, 27 August 2007, ‘When sadness is a good thing’. John Cloud.
Search words: Sadness, depression, antidepressants, drugs, healthy, unhealthy.
Trend tags: Happiness
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Reading, Writing, ‘Rithmetic, and Ritalin

In the old days, students used to drink a lot of coffee to help them stay alert. Today, many of them are turning to prescription drugs like Ritalin (nicknamed “vitamin R”) and Modafinil and, if the doctor won’t prescribe them, then many websites will. In a survey of 1,025 students at a northeastern US university, one in six said they had taken one of these drugs illicitly to improve their concentration and performance. There are several studies to suggest they do work, moreover, they have few side effects and little risk of addiction. On the other hand, doctors do not know the long-term effects of taking these drugs.Ritalin is commonly used to treat attention deficit disorder in children, which may enhance its perceived safety for adults. Modafinil has already been tested by both the British and American army as a possible substitute for the caffeine and amphetamine pills used for nighttime operations. It seems the taking of prescription drugs to improve performance is another example of the legal drug culture and, perhaps, our obsession with performance itself. If these drugs are perceived to improve results then, as in sport, it becomes increasingly difficult for others to refuse them.
Ref: The Guardian Weekly (UK), 14 December 2007, ‘A little pill to make you think better’. Katharine Hibbert.
Search words: Sadness, depression, antidepressants, drugs, healthy, unhealthy.
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A New Job for the Nose

Many people are put off vaccines because they don’t like needles, but they might be much more amenable to a nasal spray. A new spray developed at the Michigan Nanotechnology Institute not only makes the disease-causing microbe harmless, but starts a strong immune response in the membranes. Early animal studies suggest it works for flu, smallpox and HIV. As many diseases enter the body via the nose, this is an exciting breakthrough.Yale researchers have found another method of fighting disease, which is more efficient than costly cell harvesting. They have produced artificial cells using the same material as biodegradable medical sutures, which boost immune response in the antigen-specific T-cell. They are hopeful that this method will soon be used in clinics.
Ref: The Times (UK), 1 March 2008, ‘Win by a nose’. Simon Crompton and Kate Wighton.
Search words: Vaccines, nasal, immunity, autoimmune, cancer.
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Longlife humans on a Longlife Planet

The pace of technological change in the next 50 years mean we are likely to progress 30 times faster. Progress, that is, with personalised medicine, longer healthier lives, and more sustainable ways of living. A team of scientists, entrepreneurs and thinkers in the US got together to identify which problems could, if solved, change the world. They identified four areas for attention: sustainability, health/aging, vulnerability to disease/terrorism/natural disasters, and joy of living.They were particularly excited about the potential of the sun, which gives more energy per hour than the earth’s population consumes in a year. Using nano-engineered solar panels and fuel cells, we could capture one part in 10,000 of the sunlight to meet 100% of our energy needs. Another challenge is the ability to stop and reverse disease and aging, using genetic technology that can switch off certain strands of DNA and modify the behaviour of genes. However, none of this is possible, they say, without ‘economic and political will’. Perhaps this is another way of saying that scientists still receive insufficient funding from governments, or that the public continues to be unnecessarily alarmed by scientific discoveries that look like playing god.
Ref: The Guardian Weekly (UK), 29 February 2008, ‘Live longer, live better’. Alok Jha.
Search words: sustainability, health, vulnerability, long life, genome, disease, aging.
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Join the Bugs, Don’t Beat Them

There seems to be a prevailing attitude in our society that we must continually fight bacteria to stay healthy and alive. This is shortsighted, because it fails to recognise when bacteria are good for us. Some people do limit use of antibiotics and take probiotic supplements that restore gut bacteria but most of us are ‘microbe exterminators’ rather than ‘microbe farmers’. Microbe farmers would encourage bacteria to do the work we want them to do, rather than trying to eliminate the ones that make us ill.It is already possible to put the DNA instructions for, say, a new protein-based drug, into E.coli and the bacteria will willingly replicate the drug. However, the fact that bacteria are so malleable, able to replicate quickly, and change their DNA, gives this process dangerous potential. This is why attempts to harness it have met with considerable caution from authorities in America. Researchers have had to ensure that changing the genetic code to make bacteria behave as we want does not create a superbug that careers out of control. So far, there have been successful experiments with fighting tooth decay, Crohn’s disease, and cancer.In the future, 99% pure will not mean germ-free, but a perfect balance of healthy microbes. We will create laundry detergents or shoe inserts made with bacteria mixtures to fight body odour, shampoos will use bacteria to make the hair shine, and farm animals will be inoculated with growth-promoting microbes rather than battered with antibiotics. This attitude of joining bugs, don’t beat them, does mean a change of mindset. Ads, for example, will have to stop showing smiling housewives wiping, scrubbing, and washing everything white.
Ref: Popular Science (US), February 2008, ‘This germ could save your life’. Jessica Snyder Sachs.
Search words: germs, disease, technology, bacteria, DNA, bugs, probiotic.
Trend tags: Genetics
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