Medi Watch

PUBLISHED : Monday, 24 July, 2006, 12:00am
UPDATED : Monday, 24 July, 2006, 12:00am

Mind over body

Two US studies have made significant advances towards enabling people with brain or spinal damage to speak and move objects - by imagining the actions. Both preliminary studies of so-called neuromotor prosthetics, whereby electrodes wired to the brain detect signals and transmit them to a computer, are reported in Nature magazine. In one case, a 25-year-old paralysed man was able to open e-mail, operate a television and make a fist with a prosthetic hand. The other study has found a way to speed data transmission so that paralysed people can communicate at up to 15 words a minute.

Solo risk of heart trouble

Older people who live alone are twice as likely to suffer serious heart problems as those living with a partner, according to a two-year Danish study of more than 138,000 people aged 30 to 69. Aarhus Sygehus University Hospital researchers say many of the women over 60 and men over 50 who live alone are smokers, obese, have high cholesterol, see a doctor less often, and have less social support. Those with the lowest risk typically live with a partner, are well educated and have a job, Web MD reports. Divorced women also have a lower risk. Meanwhile, a British study has found that having long legs may mean less risk of heart disease. Previous research has shown that leg length is linked to childhood factors such as breastfeeding, high-energy diets between the ages of two and four, and general affluence. The latest University of Bristol study of more than 12,250 people, reported in the American Journal of Epidemiology, found a direct link between longer legs and the thickness of blood vessel walls - a measurement used to detect early stages of hardening of the arteries, Reuters reports.

Stress induces snack attacks

Women who work long hours are more likely than men to develop unhealthy habits such as smoking and eating snacks, according to a British study of the effects of stress. University of Leeds researchers found that stress disrupts normal eating habits: women, in particular, typically respond by eating smaller main meals, but more high-fat, high-sugar snacks. Unexpectedly, both men and women under stress drink less alcohol, reports.

Volunteering pays dividends

Retired people who take up voluntary work in schools become far more active than their peers and burn up as much as 40 per cent more calories than when they started, according to a Johns Hopkins University study of more than 110 elderly people in Baltimore. 'They actually have more energy for their daily activities,' says team leader Erwin Tan. They do more household chores and gardening and watch less television. The volunteer work also offers them mental and social stimulation, Tan told Reuters.

Magic mushroom moments

People given the hallucinogenic extract from so-called magic mushrooms as part of a US government-funded study reported mystical experiences, and many were still unusually happy months later. The Johns Hopkins University study examined the effects of psilocybin and its therapeutic potential using 36 volunteers who had never taken it before. Most described their experience as 'among the most meaningful and spiritually significant of their lives', says team leader Roland Griffiths. They also said they became better, kinder and happier in the weeks after - effects that were corroborated by family and friends, reports. The researchers stress that it was a controlled study, and that the volunteers were carefully screened, but that some nonetheless reported periods of fear or anxiety.

Jason Sankey is a tennis professional