jump to navigation

Abuse Of Anabolic Steroids May Cause Kindey Damage November 4, 2009

Posted by Matt Brown in Chemical.
Tags: ,
1 comment so far

As a general rule I think there is far too much scare-mongering going on when it comes to anabolic steroids.  In the public’s imagination steroids occupy a space somewhere between pedophiles and Nazi’s on the list of things we love to hate.  This is especially true in regards to sports and is fueled in part by the sports media as in their opinion it taints the so-called purity of their sport (and you know what I think of that.)  When it comes to the actual science however, steroids are really nothing to get too worked up over.  Don’t get me wrong, they are drugs and like any drug they can have some serious side effects but in comparison to some of the harder substances their side effects are moderate and almost always temporary (i.e. they stop when you stop taking them.)  So when I saw this story about steroids contributing to kidney disease I was naturally a little skeptical.

The study followed ten bodybuilders, all steroid users, and looked for signs of renal damage.  All ten of them had elevated levels of creatinine and proteinuria as well as glomerular and tubulointerstitial scarring.  When a follow up was conducted, one had died of  kidney failure, another was well on his way and the rest had discontinued steroid use, lessened their amount of exercise and were in much better health.

Seems pretty straight forward, right?  Well, no.  The study actually admits a very important point right in the article; bodybuilders typically have signs of kidney damage.  A large amount of lean muscle naturally leads to larger amounts of creatinine in the urine and the high protein diet and exercise regimen of most bodybuilders can also strain the kidney’s.  As such, it’s not clear if the kidney damage results from the steroid use or from the lean muscle mass it produces.

What ever the case may be it does seem clear that steroid users, for whatever reason, are at a higher risk for kidney damage than the rest of us. You have been warned.

Advertisements

Magnets May Enhance Learning November 2, 2009

Posted by Matt Brown in Cognition, Human Enhancement.
add a comment

Yeah I know, I’ve heard all that magnet therapy crap before too and most of it is indeed crap.  But this story comes from a group at the University of British Columbia, not exactly a fringe group.  A study conducted by researchers there found that a magnetic pulse delivered to the premotor cortex improved the ability of the brain to learn a task and remember it.  Scientists are suggesting that this could be a step toward a “thinking cap.”

 

http://www.telegraph.co.uk/science/science-news/5760078/Thinking-cap-that-can-help-the-brain-learn-moves-a-step-closer.html

Mechanism Found For Controlling Nerve Regeneration October 25, 2009

Posted by Matt Brown in Human Enhancement.
Tags: , ,
add a comment

A new study may have found the master regulator for controlling the regeneration of nerve fibers, both peripheral and central, in animals.  Published in Natural Neuroscience, the study found that an enzyme called Mst3b appears to be essential for the regeneration process, to the point that when Mst3b is absent regeneration will not occur even in the presence of other factors shown to facilitate growth.  The researchers noted that they hope to use this as the basis of a treatment for stroke, spinal cord injury and brain trauma.

The most important thing to realize here is that while the peripheral nervous system is able to regenerate neurons when damaged, the central nervous system (brain and spinal cord) normally cannot.  A person who injures the nerves in the arm can, potentially, regain use of the arm; but a person with a brain or spinal injury currently has no way to repair the damage.  If this enzyme can be turned into a treatment those people will finally have a recourse.

http://www.physorg.com/news175702600.html

Another Use For Resveratrol October 22, 2009

Posted by Matt Brown in Chemical.
Tags: , , ,
add a comment

Apparently, resveratrol has potential uses other than increasing human longevity.  Davies Agyekum, a second-year Ph.D. student in the MCG School of Graduate Studies, has found a potential new use for the compound in the treatment of sickle-cell anemia, where resveratrol induces production of fetal hemoglobin and decreases the sickling of red blood cells.
The more observant among you may be thinking, “Hey, if resveratrol increases the amount of hemoglobin, the protein in RBC’s that carries oxygen, shouldn’t it act as a performance enhancer in endurance exercise?”  The answer to that seems to be yes but as far as I could find it doesn’t seem to be related to production of hemoglobin but rather production of new mitochondria, as shown in a 2006 study of mice.  Whatever the mechanism, resveratrol is looking more and more promising.

Alcohol’s Benefits Have Their Limits October 14, 2009

Posted by Matt Brown in Longevity.
Tags: ,
add a comment

The benefits of consuming a low to moderate amount of alcohol are still controversial.  While there seems to be a great deal of correlation between moderate alcohol drinkers and lower levels of age related diseases there is very little in the way of causation.  About the only thing that alcohol has been shown to reduce is rates of heart disease and according to a new study that may indeed be the only thing.

The study, published in the Journal of the American Geriatrics Society, studied over 3000 adults aged 70-79 and found that when adjusted for things like education, body weight and physical activity moderate alcohol consumption produced a negligible effect on functional decline.  The study noted that moderate drinkers did have a lower incidence of mobility limitation and disability but this was more likely due to lifestyle factors rather than there alcohol consumption.

http://www.physorg.com/news174736691.html

New Longevity Enhancer Found October 1, 2009

Posted by Matt Brown in Longevity, Nutrition.
Tags: , , , ,
add a comment

It seems like a new longevity enhancement is popping up every week these days so here’s another one to add to the list.  Researchers at the Institute of Healthy Ageing at University College London have managed to extend the life of by up to 20% while reducing the number of age related diseases they experienced.  The method they used to achieve this is gene therapy, specifically altering the mice to block production of the S6 Kinase protein, which plays a role in protein synthesis, cell proliferation and how the body responds to food intake.  This therapy produces an effect similar to caloric restriction.

Now if you’ll allow me to digress slightly, those of you who have been paying attention may have noticed a pattern in regards to all the new longevity enhancers currently being tested.  Rapamycin inhibits the mTOR protein, which regulates cell growth, cell proliferation, transcription and protein synthesis and is stimulated by insulin (among other things.)  Metformin, a drug that may have some life extension capabilities, is more commonly used to treat type-II diabetes, which as you surely know is caused by the body having a resistance and often over-abundance of insulin. Caloric restriction probably has numerous factors which give it it’s effects but one notable thing it does is lower insulin levels in the body (less calories mean less blood sugar, which means less insulin.)  Now we have S6 Kinase which as I said above plays a part in how the body responds to food.  What does the body release to take sugar out of the bloodstream after you eat a meal?  You guessed it, insulin.

Now it would be irresponsible and stupid of me to suggest that insulin holds the key to eternal life.  Ageing is a complex process that involves many different factors.  That being said it does seem like most of the promising longevity treatments involve reducing insulin activity.  Perhaps we have a better understanding of insulin’s role in ageing than we do other factors.  Perhaps insulin is simply easier to study and work with.  Perhaps I’m completely wrong and talking out of my ass.  It’s possible, but I doubt it.  It’s well established that an excess of insulin in the body can lead to disastrous effects (see diabetes) and better thinker than I have seen a link between insulin and poor health (Ray Kurzweil in Fantastic Voyage.)  Fact of the matter is, I would put money on the next big longevity enhancers following the same tract as the others: reducing insulin activity.

New HIV Vaccine Shows Promise September 27, 2009

Posted by Matt Brown in Human Enhancement.
Tags: , ,
add a comment

The title says it all.  A new study of an experimental HIV vaccine has been shown to have a moderate effect in preventing HIV infection.  The study, conducted on over 16,000 residents of Thailand, found that the vaccine was well tolerated by participants and was 31% effective in preventing HIV.  There’s really not much more for me to say since I’m fairly sure the gravity of this news is felt by everyone.  This is the first vaccine to show even the smallest ability to stop HIV infection.  Like all drugs it will probably be a few years before all the kinks get worked out but considering how long we’ve been waiting for this it’s amazing it’s almost here.

http://hplusmagazine.com/articles/news/hiv-vaccine-regimen-demonstrates-modest-preventive-effect-thailand-clinical-study

Centenarians and the American Health Care Debate September 12, 2009

Posted by Matt Brown in Fitness, Longevity.
Tags: , , ,
1 comment so far

It’s official.  If you want to live 100 years you have to move to Okinawa.  Okay I made that up but it is true that Okinawa has the highest percentage of centenarians in the world at about 52 in 100,000.  That’s one of the many things you will learn by reading the article linked below which is in fact a pretty interesting article.

You can read the article yourself for the full story but what I want to talk about is something different.  I want to talk about how centenarians tie into the current health care debate going on in America.  Amongst all the fear mongering of a government take over of the health system and communist infiltrators destroying the country there is a legitimate debate going on over how to reduce costs, which considering the escalating costs of health care is something that needs to take place.   Both the Democrats, led by Obama, and the Republicans have plans out for how they would reform the heath care system.  Obama’s plan to reduce costs involves the creation of a public insurance plan for private companies to compete with, cutting waste in the Medicare system and emphasizing preventive care to catch diseases before they advance.  The Republican plan seems to chiefly revolve around tort reform.

The problem is that, according to experts, neither plan seems like it would decrease health care costs all that much.  According to the Congressional Budget Office medical malpractice costs make up less than 2 percent of all health care spending so any reform in tort law is unlikely to produce the kind of savings everyone is looking for.   As for Obama: driving down costs with competition sounds great but there is no guarantee, the same goes for cutting waste in Medicare and while preventive care will certainly save lives studies show that it fails to save money, since many of the tests that would be used to catch diseases early would be given to people who would never have developed the disease.

The thing is, neither plan address were most of the spending in medicine takes place: the elderly.  Estimates for the amount spent on health care for those over 65 go as high as 60% of total costs and it’s no secret why.  The elderly are much more likely to suffer from a number of crippling degenerative diseases (Alzheimers, osteoporosis, diabetes) which rather than kill them quickly, which is horrible and cheap, kill them slowly, which is horrible and expensive.  The cost of keeping the elderly alive is where most health care costs come from and this is what makes centenarians so interesting.

According to this article and other research, centenarians avoid many of the degenerative disease that afflict those who die slightly younger and are able, in many cases, to live independently till the day they die.  The reason for this is simply that those who make it to the extremes of old age are the strongest and fittest, able to resist the damaging effects of aging better than there counterparts.  While lifestyle certainly plays a part in this (the article mentions diet, exercise, “psycho-spiritual” and social as contributing factors) centenarians also seem to possess a genetic advantage over the rest of us, as evidence by the fact that the various centenarian hot spots around the globe tend to be isolated island communities with a large amount of inbreeding.  Centenarians may indeed hold the secret to longevity and health in there DNA and that is where the focus of health care should be.

You want to cut costs in health care Mr. President, start funding anti-aging research.   Find every centenarian you can and turn their genetic code inside out, look at every substance that shows the slightest promise of halting aging, because if we can slow aging even the smallest bit the implications could be enormous.  Leaving aside the benefits people would experience by living longer and healthier lives (which I assume I don’t need to go into,) the savings in costs would be tremendous.  Every degenerative disease, which as I said are the ones that cost us the most money to treat, is either caused or is made worse by one thing: aging.  Cure that and you go a long way towards curing them all.

I will finish this by responding to a counter argument I’m sure some of you are making.  “Sure, all this sounds good but it won’t do anything to reduce costs now.”  You are right.  This will not in any way help to reduce costs in the immediate future and as such needs to be only one part, though a large part, of any plan to fix our health care system.  But if we think what we have now is bad, we haven’t seen anything yet.  The baby boomers are on the brink of retirement and with today’s medical technology stand to live even longer than the generation before them.  If we start this research now, we may just be ready for them when the time comes.

http://www.newscientist.com/article/mg20327241.300-secrets-of-the-centenarians-life-begins-at-100.html?page=1

(As a side note, though you may not be able to tell from the article I support a single payer universal health care system.)

Robotic Hand August 24, 2009

Posted by Matt Brown in Bionics.
Tags: ,
add a comment

More cool things from the world of robotics.   A high speed robot hand from Ishikawa Komuro Lab’s.  The part with the cell phone is particurally impressive.   It is important to point out that this is a robot hand, not a prosthetic one.  This hand is not designed to be used by a human but it is a step in that direction.


Running Robot August 10, 2009

Posted by Matt Brown in Bionics, Transhumanism.
Tags: , ,
add a comment

Now this is cool.  As far as I can tell this is the first demonstration of a robot actually running.  That’s even more impressive when you realize just how hard running as a movement actually is.  We take it for granted because most of us can do it fairly well but bipedal running is an incredibly complex movement.   To illustrate this think of two seemingly very different populations: young children and the elderly.  Both groups often suffer from a lack of strength, balance and coordination (though for very different reasons) and as such have similar running characteristics; they run more slowly, take shorter strides, often point there toes outward and generally have a much more inefficient running motion.  Compare this to a healthy adults running motion and it becomes apparent that a certain amount of physical ability is necessary for running to become a practical means of conveyance and the fact that these designers have accomplished that is impressive to say the least.

Now before we all start worrying about Terminators chasing us down it’s important to note that this robot is not at a human’s level when it comes to running.  The flight phase, the time when both feet are off the ground, is pathetically short by our standards and the designers don’t seemed to have solved the problem of counterbalance when the robot runs.  Notice how the torso has to turn side to side in order to keep the robot from falling whereas most humans can perform the same function using only the arms.  Still those are relatively minor problems when you realize how far the technology has already come.  I look forward to the first robot sprinter winning the 100m dash in the 2016 Olympics, or more seriously I look forward to this technology being used in improved prosthetic designs that allow amputees to live better lives.