HEALTH BITES

Botany

Health bites

PUBLISHED : Tuesday, 21 August, 2012, 12:00am
UPDATED : Tuesday, 21 August, 2012, 10:36am

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Vocal support

Vocal cords lose flexibility with age and disease, leading to voice loss, but a new lab-made material could help people speak and sing again. At an American Chemical Society meeting in Philadelphia recently, lead scientist Robert Langer, a Massachusetts Institute of Technology professor, revealed that the artificial vocal cord material was made using a gel that is a starting material for polymers currently used in personal care creams, medical devices and drugs. The gel is "just like the real thing", says Langer, with flexibility and pliability. It would be injected into a patient's vocal cords. Formulations are individualised: a singer, for example, would probably get a formulation that is more loosely stitched together, which is more flexible, to allow them to hit high notes. The gel degrades over time, so two to five injections per year are needed. Tests in animals suggest that the material is safe, and human trials will hopefully begin next year.

Current favourites

Looking for a way to increase your intake of antioxidants? Try electrocuting sweet potatoes. Researchers from the University of the Ryukyus in Okinawa, Japan, have found that running an electric current through them increases the content of beneficial polyphenols, or antioxidants, by 60 per cent. Polyphenols are a family of chemical compounds found naturally in fruits and vegetables that may help protect people from diseases and the effects of ageing. The research team had previously put white potatoes through the same process - dunking them into a salt solution that conducts electricity, and then passing various amounts of electric current through the water and the potatoes for five minutes. Untreated sweet potatoes, however, already have seven times more polyphenols than other potatoes. The researchers note that the electrical zapping seems to have no effect on the flavour, and that steaming is the best method of cooking to retain the most antioxidants.

They haven't quite cracked it

Athletes who engage in strenuous exercise should consume the much-hyped coconut water with a pinch of salt - literally - says a research team that yesterday revealed a new scientific analysis of the natural beverage. Indiana University Southeast scientists say coconut water fails as a good sports drink for heavy sweaters because it has a lower sodium content than traditional ones - about 40 milligrams per litre compared to 600 for Gatorade and Powerade. However coconut water does have 1,500mg per litre of potassium, five times more than traditional sports drinks, which helps to rid muscle cramps. It's also high in healthful antioxidants. "[Coconut water] is a healthy drink that replenishes the nutrients that your body has lost during a moderate workout," says lead researcher Chhandashri Bhattacharya.

Fake three times a day

It could take just 10 minutes to find out if the medicine you bought is counterfeit. Researchers from Saint Mary's College in Notre Dame, Indiana, have developed a simple and inexpensive paper-test strip that can be used by consumers, medical practitioners and authorities. To check for counterfeit ingredients, a person simply swipes the pill over the business card-sized paper and dips the paper in water. Colour changes on the paper indicate suspicious ingredients. The test was validated on 570 Panadol pills, including many with fake ingredients added by researchers. The World Health Organisation estimates that at least 10 per cent of the drug supply in developing countries consists of counterfeit medicines, causing thousands of deaths every year.