Healthcare, medicine & pharmaceuticals

Is Wi-Fi dangerous?

In 2015, the French government banned the use of Wi-Fi in nursery schools and constrained use in primary schools. The German government has also recommended avoiding the use of Wi-Fi at home and at work where possible.

Most people around the world appear to be unaware of the potential harm caused by radiation from Wi-Fi and connected mobile devices. Some schools have banned use of mobiles on school premises, but children under 16 using iPads can be more dangerous.

The risks may reduce as devices are better designed to emit less radiation, but there could be a paradigm shift in the way we view these devices and especially possible harm caused by ubiquitous Wi-Fi coverage.

The signs are there already. A World Heath Organisation (WHO) study found a 500 per cent increase in the risk of glioma – a type of brain cancer – in people who use mobile phones from an early age (under 20). One UK insurance underwriter has refused to cover schools for claims relating to damage caused by electromagnetic fields, electromagnetic radiation or radio waves, which may cover Wi-Fi and mobile phones. There's also the thought that mobile devices could be impacting our sleep patterns. Time to read books in bed instead?

Ref: Weekend Telegraph (UK) 9 May 2015, ‘Is Wi-Fi making your child ill?’ by F. Waters.
Search words: Wi-Fi, mobiles, iPads, risk
Trend tags: global connectivity

Sleep science

Children aged 6 to 9 years who sleep for less than 10 hours per night are 250 per cent more likely to be obese. For adults less than six hours of sleep is linked to a 50 per cent increase in the risk of obesity. Research has also shown a link between sleep restriction and the development of type-2 diabetes.

Almost 40 years ago, Allan Rechtschaffen, one of the world’s leading sleep researchers, commented: “If sleep does not serve an absolutely vital function, then it is the biggest mistake the evolutionary process has ever made.”

Recent research has confirmed that sleep is vital, but its function may be more varied and complex that we ever imagined. Sleep links to optimal functionality of the immune system, but also hormonal balance, emotional and psychiatric health, learning, memory and the removal of toxins from the brain. However, while historical studies have demonstrated that animals, such as rats, die without sleep, researchers still cannot say precisely why.

Sleep is perhaps the single most important way to stay healthy and links to regulation of appetite, reducing depression and minimising forgetfulness. One of the most interesting ideas of all, though, is that memory stabilisation that occurs due to sleep may be vital in an foreseen way.

Daniel Schacter, Harvard University, suggests memory is about the future, not the past. Memory has evolved so we can use prior experience to minimise future risks and to enhance future performance.

If this is the case, then minimising sleep to spend more time at work could be the opposite of what people should do. If you want to be successful, it appears you might need to sleep your way to the top.

Ref: Scientific American (US), October 2015, ‘Sleep on it’ by R. Stickgold.
Search words: Sleep, obesity, risks
Trend tags: sleep

Rising morbidity for white folks

Researchers in the US claim sharply rising death rates among white middle aged Americans could surpass deaths caused by Aids. The trend, especially among 45-54 year-old males, does not appear to affect other socio-demographic groups in the US, and nor is it seen outside the US. Although the trend is not yet fully understood, it is believed to result from suicide due to misuse of drugs, alcohol and prescription painkillers, although a lack of secure work may play a part too.

The trend also reverses decades of improving healthcare and longevity rates among this and other associated groups.

Between 1978 and 1998, the mortality rate for US whites aged 45 to 54 fell by 2 per cent a year but since 1998, death rates of US whites have bucked the trend in other nations. While other countries saw their mortality rates continue to decline, the US witnessed a rise among middle-aged, white non-Hispanic Americans by 0.5 per cent a year.

The rise in death rates among middle-aged white Americans means 500,000 more people died in the US since 1998 than if the historical trend had continued. The death toll is comparable to the 650,000 Americans who lost their lives during the Aids epidemic from 1981 to the middle of 2015.

Death rates from drugs, alcohol and suicides increased for middle-aged white men and women across all educational backgrounds. But the less educated have suffered the most: for those with a high school degree or low level of education, deaths from drugs and alcohol abuse rose by 400 per cent, suicides by 81 per cent, and deaths from liver disease and cirrhosis by 50 per cent.

Ref: The Guardian (UK), 2 November 2015, ‘Rising deaths among white middle-aged Americans could exceed Aids toll in US’ by I. Sample.
Search words: Suicide, depression, death
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And finally a real head turner

What’s the world’s most dangerous idea? Our money would be on physically immortality - can you imagine 7 to 10 billion people who never die? But if you want to make your head really spin, the Italian neurosurgeon Sergio Canavero thinks that, as early as next year perhaps, he will have conducted the world’s first human head transplant.

The problem here, of course, is identity. If you get a new head – or a new body for that matter – who are you? If you go on to have children, especially using a body that once belonged to someone else, whose children are they? Science fiction writers please form an orderly queue for a heads up.

Ref: The Week (UK), 7 November 29015, The Last Word, ‘How to transplant a head’, by T. Lamont.
Search words: immortality, head transplant
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