My World of “Ought to Be”
by Timothy Wilken, MD

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Wednesday, March 31, 2004

Liquorice Good for the Brain

BBC Health -- Carbenoxolone is derived from liquorice root. It used to be prescribed by doctors to treat stomach ulcers. However, it has since been replaced by more effective drugs. ... A drug once used to treat stomach ulcers may help to boost brainpower in old age, a study suggests. Researchers at the University of Edinburgh carried out tests on 22 men between the ages of 52 and 75. Some of the men were given a drug called carbenoxolone and others were given a dummy drug. Writing in the Proceedings of National Academy of Sciences, they said those on carbenoxolone had better memory and verbal skills after just six weeks. ... Studies have suggested that this chemical is involved in the production of a key hormone - glucocorticoids - in the brain, which has been linked to brainpower. Professor Jonathan Seckl and colleagues carried out tests to see if blocking this chemical could boost memory and verbal skills. They enrolled 10 healthy men and 12 men with type 2 diabetes in their study. People with diabetes are more likely to suffer poor memory or dementia. The men were given either carbenoxolone or a dummy drug three times a day. Tests carried out after four weeks showed that verbal skills had improved in those who had taken carbenoxolone. After six weeks, the researchers found that verbal memory had also improved in those men with type 2 diabetes. Those on carbenoxolone did not appear to suffer any side-effects. The researchers said studies should be carried out to see if carbenoxolone could be used to help people suffering from dementia and other similar conditions. "The findings are very encouraging," Professor Seckl told BBC News Online. (03/31/04)


Dust & Sand Storms Threaten Asia

Dust over Korea, SeaStar/SeaWiFs/Nasa BBC Environment -- Scientists say they believe the dust and sand storms that for centuries have blanketed north-east Asia are becoming more dangerous to people's health. They think the storms are now combining with airborne pollutants emitted by human activities, and are adding to the region's severe air quality problems. Similar dust storms from the Sahara have been blamed for spreading illness and destroying Caribbean coral reefs. The concern has been raised with the United Nations Environment Programme. ...  Records of severe storms here go back at least to the 16th Century: one account from the Korean capital, Seoul, in 1550 spoke of "a fog that looked like smoke creeping into every corner in all directions". There is evidence that the storms are governed by a natural cycle. Youngsin Chun, of the Korea Meteorological Administration, said they affected Korea on 41 days a year in the mid-1940s, but on fewer than 15 in the 1950s. She told BBC News Online: "The rate does vary, and we think the storms tend to be more frequent in warmer winters." The trend in the last few decades has been upwards, with Korea registering 25 storm-affected days in 2002. In April that year dust levels in Seoul reached 2,070 micrograms per cubic metre, twice the level judged dangerous to health. The World Health Organization estimates there are more than 500,000 premature deaths a year in Asia from outdoor air pollution. The storms have other effects, too, grounding aircraft, closing businesses and schools, and damaging livestock and crops. They originate in the desert regions of China and Mongolia and blow south over the Korean peninsula and Japan. What scientists believe is happening now is that the intensity of the damage caused by the storms is increasing, and that they are combining with pollutants like soot and microscopic particles given off in vehicle exhausts and by power plants. Researchers funded by the US space agency Nasa have found bacteria and fungi are transported in plumes of dust from the Sahara across the Atlantic. They say a fungus isolated in the dust from Africa, Aspergillus sydowii, has been shown to cause sea fan disease in coral reefs throughout the Caribbean. (03/31/04)


Say Goodbye to our Cousins

BBC Nature -- Numbers of the eastern lowland gorilla have plummeted by more than 70% over the past decade, scientists say. The researchers have estimated that fewer than 5,000 of the endangered great apes remain in their habitat. That represents an astonishing drop of 12,000 gorillas since 1994, says the group Conservation International. War, over-hunting, mining and the spread of humans into the apes' former habitat have placed the species under serious threat it is claimed. "This decline is massive. But these are also extraordinary circumstances. This is an area that was ravaged by war," Juan Carlos Bonilla, senior director for Central Africa at Conservation International, told BBC News Online. ... if the gorilla's decline continues at the present pace, conservationists agree that it might not be long before it is driven to extinction. "Gorillas are slow reproducers. This has to be a long-term focus," Dr Patrick Mehlman, director of Africa programmes for Dian Fossey Gorilla Fund International, told BBC News Online. The eastern lowland gorilla is found almost exclusively in the eastern Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC). Civil war and mining of the mineral coltan, which is used to make pinhead capacitors in mobile phones and laptops, has brought an influx of people into areas where the apes live. With this often comes a thriving bushmeat trade. "There's all sorts of things being done, but it's logistically a very difficult place to work," said David Jay, project co-ordinator at the Born Free Foundation.  (03/31/04)


6:00:05 AM    

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