Science writer smiles

Moody freelance science writer, 雷竞技官网 (aka sciencebase) famed for his depressive social media avatar and miserable lack of photogenicity, cracked the lens today when his daughter snapped a few photos of him pensively and pointlessly propped up against the headstock of his Fender Telecaster Guitar. In one of 27 headshots, Bradley is actually seen to be smiling at the camera. The photograph has now been quickly uploaded to the Gravatar servers, and used to replace his Twitter avatar and his Facebook profile photo before his mood changes. There were three seconds of absolute stunned silence across the whole of social media and in science laboratories the world over as a mark of respect. Frontpages have been held…


Venus and beers

Once you’ve had yer fill…it’s time to head for the chippy but snapping, en route, the crescent Moon and Venus watching dispassionately from the Heavens over the annual Cambridge Beer Festival on Jesus Green. Just out of shot was also the planet Jupiter, all three first lights of the night sky as far as my eyes could make out after ales from Wold Top Brewery and others on the evening of 21st May 2015.


How not to have a middle age stroke

The number of middle-aged men and women suffering a cerebral stroke has apparently risen significantly in the last decade or so. It seems that the press release from the Stroke Association making this pronouncement which has been widely reported almost verbatim by the media is based on NHS hospital admission statistics, which could have all kinds of biases and errors.

I couldn’t find an actual peer-reviewed research paper to support the numbers and neither could Adam Jacobs the stats guy. It may well be just scaremongering by the media and it’s sure to boost charitable donations and raise awareness, but it’s also scary for anyone in middle age, scary enough to get you worrying and raise your blood pressure. That said, there are certain lifestyle choices that medical research suggests increase the risk of stroke, whether this latest media frenzy is based on published science or not, and so some advice on reducing one’s risk might be useful.

Thankfully, The Guardian has a nice howto on lowering your risk of suffering this often life-changing and sometimes lethal cardiovascular event.

Basically, it boils down to this:

  • Stop smoking
  • Exercise, but don’t overdo it, avoid straining
  • Cut your calorie intake, eat smaller portions (obesity and diabetes increase risk)
  • Eat a lot less salt, avoid shop-bought bread, for instance
  • If you drink alcohol, spread it over the week rather than binging
  • Don’t use illicit recreational drugs, including so-called “legal” highs like ecstasy, flakka and cat
  • De-stress, seek help for depression
  • Monitor your own blood pressure at home and see your doc if it’s consistently higher than about 140/85

I’d add another piece of advice…don’t ignore a “mini-stroke” (transient ischaemic attack (TIA)), temporary blackouts and such, if you have weird symptoms (dropping your coffee cup, slurred speech, confusion, disorientation that passes after a moment and isn’t due to alcohol use, see your doc urgently)

Flakka and bath salts

Alpha-PVP (α-pyrrolidinopentiophenone, alpha-PVP) is a synthetic stimulant of the cathinone class; the street drug – commonly known as flakka – is chemically similar to the illegal high MDPV (bath salts), but lacks the 3,4-methylenedioxy motif; the same difference that distinguishes methamphetamine (meth) from MDMA (ecstasy). Hype in the media have alluded to flakk leading to extreme violence, paranoid psychoses, compulsive nudity and “zombie-like” behaviour and worse. Now, researchers at The Scripps Research Institute in California have demonstrated that alpha-PVP appears to be as potent a stimulant, and therefore as addictive, as MDPV. (News source)

“There have been assertions that flakka is somehow worse than MDPV, but this study shows that the two are very similar,” explains Scripps’ Michael Taffe. “That doesn’t mean that flakka use is ‘safe’. Our data show that flakka is as potent as MDPV, making it a very good stimulant, arguably with worse addiction liability than methamphetamine.”

Research Blogging IconAarde, Shawn M., et al. “In vivo potency and efficacy of the novel cathinone α-pyrrolidinopentiophenone and 3, 4-methylenedioxypyrovalerone: self-administration and locomotor stimulation in male rats.” Psychopharmacology (2015): 1-11.

Three reasons diets don’t work

Interesting interview in The Washington Post that corroborates what I’ve thought about all these special weightloss diet scams and con tricks made to sell books and supplements. Here are the salient points:

  • When you are dieting, you actually become more likely to notice food…and it actually begins to look more appetizing and tempting and harder to resist.
  • As you lose body fat, hormone levels changes, in particular concentrations of the hormones that help you feel full decrease, while hunger hormones increase.
  • As you diet, your metabolism slows down so as to get the most out of the food you are eating and this means storing excess calories as fat.

Who knew? Well, lots of people knew, including many of those scammers with a diet book to sell.

Healthy green coffee

Last month I reported on research into “green” coffee for SpectroscopyNOW. From a quick glance at the reader statistics it looks like it was one of my most popular articles in recent months. What is it about coffee? We’re fascinated…


Anyway, the story discussed how unroasted, green, coffee beans have become a popular alternative to regular coffee because of supposed health benefits, but there was little solid evidence of mineral availability or antioxidants from a green coffee drink that might support the claims.

Now, a team at Wroclaw University of Technology, in Poland, have used a sophisticated analytical technique* to measure how much calcium, copper, iron, magnesium and manganese ions are released into an infusion depending on whether or not the drink is made “in the cup”, using a drip filter or the Turkish coffee method. They found that calcium and magnesium are released (and so can be ingested) better than the other mineral ions but only if drip filtering or Turkish brewing was used rather than making it in the cup**. Tests on antioxidant activity also correlated with those brews from which the most calcium was leached.

*High-resolution-continuum source flame atomic absorption spectrometry
**My photo of a frothy fern in my coffee, not green coffee, unfortunately, roasted