By Steve Elliott our Science and Health correspondent
This week: looking at foods that can keep the ticker ticking; reading people’s thoughts by computer; Jupiter – 2 new moons discovered
HEART – increasing risk of a heart attack
DIET DRINKS (artificial sweeteners)
One can of diet soft drink with artificial sweeteners a day can significantly increase the risk of heart attacks and strokes, according to results published in the Journal of General Internal Medicine.
US researchers analysed medical records of more than 2,500 people to see if there was a link between soft drinks and dangerous cardiovascular events.
The study revealed that people who drank diet soft drinks every day were 43% more likely to have suffered a vascular event than others who drank none.
People who drank sugar-sweetened soft drinks instead were at no greater risk of suffering from the same illnesses.
Scientists warn that the long-term impact on health of artificial sweeteners is still unknown, but this research indicating diet drinks could be responsible for significantly increasing the risk of deadly heart attacks and strokes is already cause for concern.
HEART – lowering risk of a heart attack
CHOCOLATE (dark chocolate)
Researchers in a study is in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition have concluded, eating a few squares of cocoa-rich chocolate dark chocolate could help stave off heart disease in some people because it is naturally high in antioxidants.
Researchers combined the results of 42 clinical rather than observational trials and found that, on average, chocolate lovers had lower blood pressure.
Previous research has shown that dark chocolate inhibits an enzyme that raises blood pressure – high-quality dark chocolate is made with between 64 and 85 per cent cocoa solids, which retain the flavonoids also found in nuts, soy, tea and wine which are believed to protect the heart.
Victoria Taylor, at the British Heart Foundation, warned: “The paper suggests that there may be heart health benefits from consumption of cocoa or dark chocolate – what remains unanswered is whether these benefits outweigh the negative aspects of chocolate on our health from the saturated fat and calories that will also come with it.”
POULTRY (dark meat is good for women)
Research published in the European Journal of Nutrition suggests women with high cholesterol could cut their risk of heart disease by eating the dark meat of turkey and chicken which contains a nutrient called taurine
The paper used data from a previous study of 14,000 women at New York University and revealed that women with high cholesterol who have high levels of taurine are 60 per cent less likely to develop heart problems.
Dr Yu Chen of the university’s School of Medicine said: “Taurine, at least in its natural form, does seem to have a significant protective effect in women.”
FISH (oily omega-3 rich)
Older adults who had the highest blood levels of omega-3 fatty acids, most commonly found in oily fish, were 30% less likely to later develop an irregular heartbeat (atrial fibrillation) than peers with the lowest blood levels of omega-3s, according to a new U.S. study.
Up to 9% of U.S. residents will develop atrial fibrillation by the time they reach their 80s – the heart rhythm abnormality can lead to stroke and heart failure. Blood-thinning drugs are largely a doctor’s principal treatment option – fluidifying the blood to prevent strokes and allowing the patient’s heart to work less hard.
However, a new study reveals that the omega-3 fatty acids found in fish seem to stabilize the excitability of heart muscle cells.
Any given fish species can vary in its omega-3s by ten-fold, so to get a more accurate measurement of how much fish oil people in the study actually ingested, researchers sampled blood from more than 3,300 adults over age 65 and tracked the participants’ health over the next 14 years.
A 30% reduction in atrial fibrillation risk was measured in those people who had a diet rich in oily fish – result, only about 17 of every 100 people eating an omega-3 rich fish diet developed the condition as opposed to 25 out of every 100 people developing an irregular heartbeat in those eating a diet low in omega-3 rich fish.
These results support long held views that oily fish in the diet improves cardiovascular function, leading to increased life span.
Electronic telepathy – first steps to reading peoples thoughts
A first step has been taken towards hearing imagined speech using a form of electronic telepathy according to research reported in the online journal Public Library of Science Biology.
US researchers from the University of California at Berkeley reconstructed heard words from brain wave patterns using a computer program to analyse a subject’s brain activity and deduce the spoken word the subject’s brain had heard during experiments.
The study involved the use of electrodes inserted through the skull on to the brains of epileptic patients with the aim of identifying which areas of their brain may have been potentially damaged by seizures.
Patients then heard a single word and computational models were used to predict what it was based on previous studies.
The programme reproduced a synthesised sound realistic enough for the scientists to guess the original word.
British expert Professor Jan Schnupp, from Oxford University, said: “This study by Pasley and others is really quite remarkable. Neuroscientists have of course long believed that the brain essentially works by translating aspects of the external world, such as spoken words, into patterns of electrical activity. But proving that this is true by showing that it is possible to translate these activity patterns back into the original sound, or at least a fair approximation of it, is nevertheless a great step forward, and it paves the way to rapid progress toward biomedical applications.
However, those concerned that the sanctity of one’s private thoughts will be invaded, need not worry for the immediate future – a non-invasive technology casually able to read our thoughts is a very long way off indeed – a large array of invasive electrodes had to be placed directly on the surface of the brain in these experiments and that isn’t quite the same as pointing a mind reading device at someone and listening in.
Two new moons have been found orbiting Jupiter, bringing the Jovian moon count to 66 natural satellites.
Called S/2011 J1 and S/2011 J2, the 2 new moons are among the smallest moons yet discovered in the solar system – about 1 kilometre (0.62 of a mile) wide.
Jupiter’s four large Galilean moons are visible from Earth with even small telescopes but both new moons are dim and distant from Jupiter, taking about 580 and 726 days to complete their orbits.
Astronomers previously discovered new Jovian satellites in 2010, and they think there may be many more.
Like most of Jupiter’s other retrograde satellites, S/2011 J1 and J2 are also classified as irregular moons, because they have highly eccentric and inclined orbits and orbit far from the planet.
Due to their unusual orbits, the moons are thought to be asteroid or comet pieces that were long ago captured by Jupiter’s gravity rather than developing in orbit during the formation of Jupiter itself.
QUOTE(S) FROM A BRILLIANT MIND
“A man should look for what is and not for what he thinks should be.”
“A table, a chair, a bowl of fruit and a violin; what else does a man need to be happy?”
“Any man who can drive safely while kissing a pretty girl is simply not giving the kiss the attention it deserves.”
“Anyone who doesn’t take truth seriously in small matters cannot be trusted in large ones either.”
“Anyone who has never made a mistake has never tried anything new.”