For Tim Peake it’s T minus 600 hours until launch. Come 15th December, the 43 year old father of two will be strapped atop 150 tonnes of rocket fuel looking skyward. He will be spending six months aboard the International Space Station, during which time he will be floating around, admiring the view, and playing with test tubes. The life of the astronaut – boldly going where no one has gone before. It’s every schoolboy’s (and girl’s?) dream job. Except that it isn’t. If they knew what being an astronaut was really like, that is.
Earlier this year I interviewed Tim while he was undergoing final preparations in Houston, Texas. I asked him about what life would be like in space and, with my doctor’s hat on, wanted to know what medical research he would be doing when in space. I learnt that going into space isn’t like in the movies. Within moments of Tim entering orbit, his body’s internal workings will be tipped upside down. As soon as he enters zero gravity, blood will rush to his head, causing his heart and kidneys to go haywire. When not nursing a killer headache, he would be emptying his bladder in the space khazi as his body fluid levels rapidly adjust. In the days and weeks that follow, his bones will rapidly leech out their calcium, his muscles will shrink and his heart get weaker. He will grow a couple of inches taller which, while not a problem in space, will give him terrible back ache when gets back onto terra firma. Continue reading
Jamie Oliver has been stirring the pot again and getting all het up. In the run-up to a recent Channel 4 documentary Jamie’s Sugar Rush, the outspoken TV chef launched a campaign against sugary drinks and the ‘hidden’ sugars in our food. He said that a ban on sugary food ads before 9pm, rules to prevent the sale of overly-sweetened processed foods, and a 20p per litre ‘sugar tax’ on soft drinks would make us all healthier and happier.
Those of you who listened to Mr Oliver’s rantings will know that sugar is making us fatter, is putting us at increased risk of diabetes, and is costing the NHS £30 million a year in pulling out kid’s sugar-rotten teeth. His claims leave a bitter taste in the mouth but he is mostly right (with the exception of the slightly exaggerated dental health claim). Science has repeatedly shown us that eating too much sugar will ultimately cause a raft of health problems. Most of us are eat far too much of the stuff and kids are the ones most at risk. Continue reading
The last time I heard Motörhead play my ears were ringing for two days. Known for their 1980 hit ‘Ace Of Spades’, the three-piece metal band say they are ‘The World’s Loudest Band’ and their concerts have been recorded at 130 decibels – louder than a military jet at 100 feet. I was lucky that the ringing in my ears gradually faded, but for tinnitus sufferers the ringing never stops.
Described as hearing a sound when there is no sound, tinnitus affects people of all ages and walks of life. Statistics say that one in seven people experience tinnitus, and it can be experienced as high-pitched ringing, buzzing, hissing, whistling or even a humming sound. Most of us will experience tinnitus from time to time after a loud bang but it becomes a problem when it doesn’t stop. If you hear tinnitus after listening to music or being near noisy machinery, it’s the body’s way of telling you that your ears can’t cope and are being damaged. When tinnitus persists it is notorious for keeping people awake at night and can interfere with work and cause depression. Continue reading
‘The witch’ first started speaking evil thoughts into my mind when I was working in a hospital in Gambia, West Africa. To everyone else she was a concerned-looking 50-something woman crouching over a feverish relative. My supernatural sensitivities told me otherwise. Utterly oblivious, I was suffering the horrifying symptoms of schizophrenia and was utterly convinced these hallucinations were real.
It was several weeks later, after returning to the UK, that reality slowly returned and I stopped hearing voices*. It took me years to gain the courage to tell anyone about my experiences – and even longer to write about it. For this is the nature of mental health illnesses: few people want to talk about them, it is shameful to suffer them and – even in 2015 – those affected are often branded ‘mad’ or ‘weak’.
Happy Birthday Mario! The large-nosed plumber, famous as Nintendo video game character who jumps down pipes and collects mushrooms, has just turned just turned thirty*. And he now the iconic video game star has a real reason to jump for joy. Research is increasingly showing us that video games could be good for us, which means all of us could benefit from a bit of Mario-time every once in a while.
Originally a tiny 130 pixel graphic, the mustachioed 1985 superhero went on to spawn a franchise worth over $10 million and in 1993 inspired the first Hollywood movie to feature a video game. (Called Mario Bros. it stared Bob Hoskins, but was awful.) Today’s photorealistic games are a far cry from these early days and are no longer the preserve of closeted teenage boys. People of all ages play computer games in their front rooms, often together. This hasn’t stopped parents and doctors being concerned, however, and photorealistic action games tend to cause the most controversy. Continue reading
“You are only as old as you feel,” or so the saying goes. This adage is great for cheering yourself up when the grey hairs start to take root, but science has recently revealed that the time-honoured expression is alive and kicking – the younger you feel, the younger you actually are.
Ground-breaking new research has shown what happens when you follow the lives of 1,000 twenty-somethings over a period of ten years. A team of American and New Zealand scientists monitored each volunteer’s ‘biological of age’ over this period, measuring their ‘true age’ through tests for cholesterol, heart and lung health, immune system function and DNA damage (among other things). Incredibly, they found that each person’s body aged at a different rate. Continue reading
Magic 8 Ball toys are great fun when you’re a kid. The fortune-telling plastic spheres have been entertaining children since the 1950s and are delightfully simple – you ask the black ball a question, give it a shake, and an answer ‘magically’ emerges out of the inky darkness. “Will I be popular at school?” The ball says: “It is decidedly so.” “Should I ask Debbie to out to the disco?“ The ball replies: “Signs point to yes”. “Will I be a millionaire someday”? “Don’t count on it,” replies the ball. All is not lost, however, for those who aspire after the high life: you can keep shaking until you get the answer you want. Continue reading
Milk prices are sinking fast and UK dairy farmers are fighting to stay afloat. The ‘milk trolley challenge’ and supermarket protests have helped raise the profile of their plight but our appetite for the white stuff has never been lower. Twenty years ago we drank three times as much whole milk as we do today; sunflower oil spreads have all but killed the butter market, and even sales of cheddar are starting to crumble.
For the past decade, nutrition ‘gurus’ have drip-fed us the idea that all dairy is bad for and milk-free diets are healthy. Science has shown us that milk may not be the elixir of life we thought it was fifty years ago, but it is packed with nutrients that can benefit us in all stages of life. In childhood, this is especially true. Very few foods contain as much calcium as milk does and research shows that kids who drink milk end up significantly taller than their schoolmates who don’t. Bones get stronger and thicker until early adulthood, thereafter they gradually weaken. A daily dose of milk in childhood helps to ensure a lifetime of strong bones and reduces the chances of developing osteoporosis (brittle bone disease) in old age. Continue reading
Lady Macbeth kept scrubbing but she couldn’t get the marks out. Shakespeare’s character was so wracked with guilt that imaginary blood stains appeared on her hands and, try as she may, she couldn’t get herself clean. It’s not just fiction: research shows that all of us have a powerful urge to wash, bathe, shower, or purge whenever we feel we may have wronged. In the 21st Century, however, we are more likely to feel guilty about a weekend of overindulgences than we are for religious transgressions; but instead of washing our hands we go for a dietary ‘detox’ – the modern day body cleansing craze. In fact, detoxing has now become so widely believed that it is difficult to convince most people that it is utter hocus-pocus – even though the British Dietetic Association, NHS and British Nutrition Foundation all agree that it is just marketing mythology. Continue reading
Monkshood. Also known as wolf’s bane or aconite, monkshood has tall ‘hooded’ flowers that come in a variety of colours. It looks elegant but is one of Britain’s most deadly plants, containing a paralysing toxin that attacks nerves and stops the heart beating. Monkshood has killed countless people throughout history; Cleopatra used it dispatch her brother and our early ancestors made poison arrows with it. Make sure you know what it looks like because monkshood poison can be absorbed through the skin and so should never be touched with bare hands. Continue reading
If you ever doubted humankind’s ability to do great things for our planet, just look at the sky. Or rather, look toward the ozone layer high in the stratosphere. If you cast your mind back, you will remember that there was a lot of talk of the ‘hole in the ozone layer’ brought on by CFCs in the eighties and early nineties. Today, no one seems to mention it anymore, even though climate change is still a very hot potato. This fragile ozone layer is the Earth’s way of blocking out the worst of the sun’s harmful UV rays and without it everyone would die of cancer. But ever since all the world’s nations outlawed all CFC-releasing chemicals in 1987 – such as those in fridges and aerosol cans – ozone layer damage has stopped. Better than that, the ozone layer is now actually repairing itself and the ‘hole’ is shrinking. Continue reading
Today I offer you an exclusive preview of a forthcoming late summer blockbuster. Due for premiere later this year, it will be a medical drama billed to be more engaging than Terminator: Genisys and more disturbing than Paranormal Activity: The Ghost Dimension. Directed and produced by an internationally respected team from America, Canada and the UK, the drama will be called ‘Choosing Wisely’ and the star of the show will be… you. ‘Choosing Wisely’ isn’t a movie but it is a health campaign that promises to reveal all about an ongoing medical scandal – and a scandal in which you may unwittingly be a part of. Continue reading
I have some bad news to tell you – are you sitting down? Well, I’m sorry to break it to you, but your office chair could be killing you. I know it looks harmless, with its ergonomic arm rests and comfy sponge seat, but each hour you spend sitting in it could be causing your arteries to harden. That chair could also be making you fatter and even increasing your chances of diabetes. Continue reading