Saturday, April 18, 2009

Laughter, heart medicine for diabetics

Hearty laughter is an effective medicine in diabetes sufferers as it can help reduce their risk of developing possible heart attacks.

Compared to their non-diabetic counterparts, diabetics are two- to fourfold more vulnerable to developing cardiovascular diseases. A new study however considers laughter as a cost-free medication for preventing heart disease in this group.

According to a study presented at the annual meeting of the American Physiological Society, laughter improves cholesterol levels in diabetics and subsequently lowers their heart attack risk. Laughing is associated with a 26 percent increase in the HDL (good cholesterol) levels; it also helps reduce C-reactive proteins -- a marker of the inflammatory diseases -- by 66 percent.

Some physicians believe laughter and humor can also help lower the increase in blood glucose that occurs after each meal. Scientists urge diabetics to adopt a healthy diet, exercise, watch their blood sugar, and add a little humor to their life.

Saturday, April 4, 2009

Quietly, Worried Villagers Debate Dam Impact

VIENTIANE, April 2009 (IPS) - On the banks of a remote section of the Mekong River in southern Laos, an area known as Siphandone, villagers quietly debate the question, which is more important to Laos: fisheries or building dams?

The debate has been going on ever since a proposal by the Lao government to construct a hydropower dam on this section of the Mekong mainstream, which could have serious impacts on fish stocks that have fed local families for centuries.

It is part of a larger debate underway in the countries through which the Mekong River flows by, about the wisdom of building dams in the mainstream stretches of the river, which flows for 4,880 kilometres from its headwaters in Tibet, then through Myanmar, Laos, Thailand, Cambodia and Vietnam.

The location of the proposed dam is known as Khone Falls, Siphandone in Champasak province where the Mekong River forms a complex network of narrow channels, or ‘hoo' in Lao, at the point at which it flows into Cambodia.

The proposed dam will block Hoo Sahong, the deepest channel on that section of the river and where only few migratory fish can easily pass through at the peak of the dry season, April to May, when the water level of the Mekong is at its lowest.In truth, local people did not intend to offend the government or be misunderstood as being against the construction of the dam, said a fisherman from the Done Sadam village near the proposed dam site, who asked to be called Khampao.

But they fear the impacts it might have on the fisheries sector.The villagers living in the area where the dam will be constructed wonder how it will change their fortunes, particularly if the project blocks traditional fish migration routes.

According to the local authorities in southern Laos, nearly 2,500 people from four villages earn their living directly from fishing in the Hoo Sahong channel.”Our people are not aggressive and we have a tradition of not being against the government's development policies,” said Khamphao. ”We are not against the construction of the dam, but we want the government to study its impacts on our fish stocks. Otherwise the project will only make our lives poorer.”

Another fisherman from the area said fish were very important for the survival of his family and that without fish he would find it difficult to support his household.Khamphao said the money he used to build his house came from selling fish. ”Last year, I earned about 30,000 million kip by selling two tones of fish caught in the Hoo Sahong channel,” he said.Local people say the number of fish in local waters had been declining over the past decade due to the growing population and an increase in commercial fishing.

The Lao government signed an agreement in March 2006 granting the Malaysian engineering firm Mega First Corp. Berhad the exclusive mandate to carry out a feasibility study of the Don Sahong project.In February 2008, the company signed a project development agreement with Vientiane to push ahead with the scheme on a build-own-operate basis.

In a statement to the Malaysian stock exchange, the company said the dam, located in Champasak two kilometers from the Lao border with Cambodia, would be a ”run-of-river” facility with the capacity to generate between 240 and 360 megawatts of electricity to be used within Laos as well as being sold to neighbouring countries.

Villagers believe the problems relating to the dam have occurred as a result of a flawed decision-making process on the part of the government in which public consultation standards were not met.Public opinion has had no place in the decision-making process to this point and most decisions about the dam have been made by a small group of senior leaders in Champasak province and Vientiane.

Community consultation has been rushed, leaving the people of Siphandone feeling ignored by the dam construction company.Despite reports earlier this year that the Lao government had put the project on hold, the Don Sahong dam project appears to be going forward.

This is despite protests from technical officials who have said the project would severely impact the fishery sector, not only in Siphadone, but also upstream in the Lao provinces of Champasak and Savannakhet.

The project, potentially be the first dam on the mainstream of the Mekong River, has generated major concern internationally as well as in Laos' neighbour, Cambodia.Non-government organisations in Cambodia have requested the Lao government abandon the project due to fears of its adverse impact on fishery sector, including on the dwindling numbers of freshwater Irrawaddy dolphins, for which the Siphandone area is a major feeding ground.

The World Fish Centre, an international non-government organisation based in Phnom Penh that carries out fisheries related research, has reported the dam could effectively block dry-season fish movement between the lower Mekong plains and the upstream Mekong Basin.

The head of the environmental and social impact assessment division of the Lao Water Resource and Environment Authority, Bounkham Vorachit, said they had received the results of the feasibility study of the dam conducted by the company, but had yet to issue a final approval of the study.

She said the Don Sahong dam would not cause large-scale flooding, as it would be a run-of-river project.According to the Lao government, about 14 families, 80 people in total, will need to be relocated if the dam is built.Vorachit said she found many parts of the feasibility study to be quite clear, and that only the information related to the potential impact on fisheries was unclear. ”We have told the developers to study in more detail the migration of fish and what types of fish migrate to this area.”She said dam building had both negative and positive impacts.

But the important thing was to mitigate these impacts, so the construction of the dam will affect poor people's livelihoods as little as possible, she explained. ”These people rely on fish to feed their families,” Vorachit said.”If we believe the dam has more negative impacts than positive ones, our division will not approve it,” she assured.

In a recent interview with the Lao media, the deputy director of the energy department of the Lao Ministry of Mines and Energy, Khamchan Phalayok said progress on the Don Sahong project had been slow in recent months due to the global financial downturn.

Khamchan said that Thailand, as the main export market of the electricity produced in Lao dams, had yet to make any decision to buy electricity generated by the Don Sahong project. He added that banks were reluctant to offer loans for the project as well.

Laos has long desired to become the ‘battery' of South-east Asia by exporting electricity to the region, but its goal may be an unreachable dream as its neighbours are also rapidly developing their electricity production capacity.Since early 2006, the Lao government has granted permission to Thai, Malaysian and Chinese companies to conduct feasibility studies for several hydropower dams on the mainstream of the lower Mekong, including the Don Sahong project.

Drinking tea can reduce strokes

A new study in the United States has found out that drinking three or more cups of tea per day can reduce the risk of stroke. "By drinking three cups of tea a day, the risk of a stroke was reduced 21%," said Lenore Arab, professor of medicine at the David Geffen School of Medicine.

The professor also said that the more you drink, the better your odds of staving off a stroke. Drinking three more cups can drop another 21%.

The effect was found in tea made from the plant Camellia sinensis, not herbs, Arab said.

Researchers speculate that the anti-oxidant epigallocatechin gallate or the amino acid Theanine in tea may be what helps.

Some studies show anti-oxidants help prevent coronary artery disease, daily news reported Friday. "If we can find a way to prevent the stroke, or prevent the damage, that is simple and not toxic, that would be a great advance," Arab said.

Vegetarian diet cuts cancer risk

Compared to meat-eaters, individuals following a vegetarian diet are reported to be less likely to suffer from various cancers.

According to a study published in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, vegetarians and fish-eaters are less likely to develop cancer. The study shows eating less meat lowers the overall risk of suffering from cancer.

While previous studies had linked red meat to higher colorectal cancer risk, the new study reported this type of cancer to be more frequent among the vegans.

Scientists concluded that diet and different lifestyle factors play a critical role in determining an individual's risk of suffering from cancer.

They therefore urged individuals to eat five portions of fruit and vegetables a day, adding that adopting a vegetarian diet with the aim of lowering the risk of cancer needs more research.

Bitter English apple extends life span

Scientists say certain compounds found in the bitter English apple can help improve one's general health and extend the life span.

According to a recent study, the high epicatechin polyphenol content of bitter apple boosts heart health and circulation, leading to longer life.

This compound can tackle arterial stiffness (atherosclerosis) and high blood pressure, and therefore lowers the risk of suffering cardiovascular events.

The study showed that epicatechin helps maintain blood circulation by relaxing the arteries and increasing the blood flow.

Findings revealed that adding epicatechin to the regular diet is associated with a 17-year reduction in an individual's vascular age.

Based on the findings of the present study, scientists have developed a red-fleshed apple called Evesse which is believed to be rich in epicatechin.

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Intelligent people live longer?

Having a lower IQ is reported to be strongly associated with a higher risk of death from accidents, coronary heart disease and suicide.

According to a Wellcome Trust study conducted in the MRC Social and Public Health Sciences Unit in Glasgow, cognitive ability determines an individual's risk of death.

Individuals who score higher on IQ tests are believed to exhibit healthier behaviors, smoke or drink less, adopt a healthier diet and exercise more; they therefore are less likely to die.

Preschool education programs and better nourishment were linked to higher IQ scores.

Education was considered as the sole factor influencing the relationship between IQ and death.

Scientists concluded that any attempts to improve educational opportunities may also have health benefits, leading to an increased lifespan.

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Mental decline begins in late 20s: Study

Contrary to common belief that memory loss begins in old age, a new study finds that brainpower and mental ability decline in the late 20s.

According to the study published in Neurobiology of Aging, the peak mental agility and top mental performance occurs at the age of 22. In the late 20s, reasoning, spatial visualization and speed of thought begin to decline; memory however has been reported to remain intact until the age of 37.

The individual's performance on vocabulary or general information tests are reported to increase until the age of 60, indicating that only certain aspects of age-related cognitive decline begin in healthy adults in their 20s and 30s.

Scientists concluded that strategies adopted to keep mental decline at bay and inhibit Alzheimer's disease should be pursued much earlier.

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Energy drinks could be troublesome

Energy drinks are reported to be associated with potential health risks in individuals with heart diseases and high blood pressure.

According to a study published in the Annals of Pharmacotherapy, drinking two cans of popular energy drink increases the blood pressure as well as the heart rate.

Healthy individuals can tolerate the extra pressure imposed to their heart; the condition, however, may be life-threatening in those suffering from underlying heart-related problems.

Caffeine and taurine have direct impact on cardiac function; the high levels of these two non-essential amino acids are believed to be responsible for the increases in blood pressure and heart rate following the consumption of energy drinks.

Scientists therefore urge individuals with hypertension or heart disease to avoid drinking energy drinks

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Night owls more prone to heart disease

A new study finds that the risk of developing cardiovascular diseases significantly increases in men who go to bed after midnight.

Previous studies had linked chronic sleep loss to heart disease, diabetes, obesity and several health concerns. Some studies laid great emphasis on the role of a good night's sleep in maintaining an individual's heart health.

The fewer hours an individual sleeps each night, the higher the body mass index (BMI), blood pressure and triglyceride levels become.

A new study however has reported that going to bed late affects heart health regardless of sleep duration. According to the study presented at the 58th annual meeting of the American College of Cardiology, men who go to bed after midnight are more vulnerable to arterial stiffening -- an early stage of atherosclerosis and heart disease --, even if they sleep for at least seven hours.

Unhealthy late-night habits such as drinking more coffee to stay awake are believed to be responsible for the increased risk of cardiovascular problems in these individuals.

Feeling tired and exhausted increases the stress level - a significant risk factor for heart disease - and adversely effects cardiovascular health.

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G20 summit members decide to dance to US tune and agree to waste 5 trillion dollars

A compromise, the American style, became the main result of the G20 summit in London. The world’s leading countries decided to boost the world economy with the help of grand investments, which goes along the US model of the anti-crisis struggle. Such an approach may result in the loss of control over the situation, economists say. The United States and Great Britain solve their own problems first and foremost.

The leading countries of the world achieved “almost a historic compromise” as a result of the G20 summit, as German Chancellor Angela Merkel put it. The twenty countries, which make up to 80 percent of the global GDP, gathered in the British capital to solve the future of the world financial system.

Many analysts said that they were not expecting any landmark decisions to be made because of the considerable differences between the participants of the summit. US President Barack Obama and British Prime Minister Gordon Brown insisted that only considerable investments in the international economy could save it from decline.

France and Germany did not support the idea. The two countries believe that the solution of the problem lies in the reforms and tough regulations of the whole international financial market. Yet, the USA and Britain were not willing to give more market-regulating powers to financial structures.

In addition, France stood up for sanctions against offshore zones, where taxation can be avoidable. French President Nicolas Sarkozy even threatened to leave the summit if it was not going to bring any certain results.

China and Russia suggested the creation of new reserve currencies to avoid the US dollar peg, although the countries were not persistent in their proposals.
As a result, the summit members agreed to spend $5 trillion on the solution of current economic problems before 2010. British Prime Minister Gordon Brown said that the funds should help the economy grow by four percent.

"Today's decisions, of course, will not immediately solve the crisis. But we have begun the process by which it will be solved," Brown said.

It was originally reported that the amount of financial assistance would make up only $1 trillion, though. The world has thus made a choice in favor of the US strategy.
“America is the world’s leading country, which makes it impossible not to listen to what they say,” Aleksei Belyanin, an expert with the International Institute for Economy and Finance told

No one knows which decisions would be absolutely correct under the conditions of the current crisis. The world does not have an experience, which it could use in overcoming the crisis conditions. The world has no other way out.

The G20 also decided to make the list of ‘tax haven’ countries to struggle against offshore zones in which billions of dollars are kept out of reach. The members also agreed not to make bonus payments to top managers who resorted to governmental assistance over their critical financial condition of their companis.

As for the idea to create new reserve currencies, there were no decisions made on the matter. The issue, which Russia proposed, was not even listed on the agenda of the summit. The G20 only promised to give it another consideration some time later.