Research helps shed new light on circadian clocks

Can your liver sense when you're staring at a television screen or cellphone late at night? Apparently so, and when such activity is detected, the organ can throw your circadian rhythms out of whack, leaving you more susceptible to health problems. That's one of the takeaways from two new studies by University of California, Irvine scientists working in collaboration with the Institute for Research in Biomedicine in Barcelona, Spain. The studies, published today in the journal Cell, used specially bred mice to analyze the network of internal clocks that regulate metabolism. Although researchers had suspected that the body's various circadian clocks could operate independently from the central clock in the hypothalamus of the brain, there was previously no way to test the theory, said Paolo Sassone-Corsi, director of UCI's Center for Epigenetics and Metabolism and senior author of one of...

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Can science tell us how much alcohol you can drink safely?

Humans have been drinking fermented concoctions since the beginning of recorded time. But despite that long relationship with alcohol, we still don't know what exactly the molecule does to our brains to create a feeling of intoxication. Likewise, though the health harms of heavy drinking are fairly obvious, scientists have struggled to identify what negative impacts lesser volumes may lead to. Last September, the prestigious peer-reviewed British medical journal The Lancet published a study that is thought to be the most comprehensive global analysis of the risks of alcohol consumption. Its conclusion, which the media widely reported, sounded unequivocal: "The safest level of drinking is none." Sorting through the latest research on how to optimize your well-being is a constant and confounding feature of modern life. A scientific study becomes a press release becomes a news alert, shedding context at...

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Is there a proper way to shower?

Taking a daily shower is a fairly recent development for Americans. Just 100 years ago, many thought getting their whole body wet at once (instead of taking the sponge baths that were common then) would invite diseases like pneumonia and someone would "catch their death." Nowadays, a long, hot shower is a daily ritual for Many Americans. Most soaps and personal care products have surfactants that, when combined with water, bind to oil and remove the beneficial fats called sebum that naturally protect your skin.1 Generally speaking, the more a product bubbles or lathers, the more surfactants it contains. Many people spend money to buy expensive lotions to restore or replenish the natural skin oils they remove when they shower. The irony is that most of the skin lotions people buy to use after they shower are far inferior to...

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The Healing Power of Gardens: Oliver Sacks on the Psychological and Physiological Consolations of Nature

"In forty years of medical practice, I have found only two types of non-pharmaceutical 'therapy' to be vitally important for patients with chronic neurological diseases: music and gardens." "I work like a gardener," the great painter Joan Miró wrote in his meditation on the proper pace for creative work. It is hardly a coincidence that Virginia Woolf had her electrifying epiphany about what it means to be an artist while walking amid the flower beds in the garden at St. Ives. Indeed, to garden - even merely to be in a garden - is nothing less than a triumph of resistance against the merciless race of modern life, so compulsively focused on productivity at the cost of creativity, of lucidity, of sanity; a reminder that we are creatures enmeshed with the great web of being, in which, as the great...

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What does it mean to suffer consciously?

Nobody wants to suffer. In fact, I think the goal of many people's lives is to stay as far away from suffering as possible. Pain is no fun, because you know...it's pain. When we are in pain we spend most of our energy trying to figure out how to get out of pain. You put your hand in a fire, it burns, the hand moves. That's lesson two in the "Life 101" handbook (unless you like that type of thing then burn on my friend.) Nonetheless, for most of us if we are suffering, or more appropriately, if we are "in suffering" (because we cannot be suffering) it can be a peaceful to practice "conscious suffering". Most of the time when we are suffering it's because we believe we shouldn't be having the experience we are having. "I shouldn't have...

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SOTT FOCUS: MindMatters: Transformation or Degradation? The Many Faces of Suffering

It appears that every sentient creature experiences pain in one form or another, serving as it does to provide an immediate signal to potentially life-threatening events. As humans we may experience qualitatively different dimensions of pain, from physical illness all the way to moral and spiritual anguish. However, in modern society, whether it's seen as an injustice imposed by the 'elite' or the 'patriarchy', or as the deficiency of one drug or another, all forms of suffering are heaped together and judged as problems that must be remedied. And, more often than not, the remedy is worse than the disease. Numerous teachings speak of the importance of consciously accepting our suffering, transforming it and ourselves in the process of everyday life. However, this leads us to the question - what are the means at our disposal to accomplish such a...

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Illeism: New research finds this ancient rhetorical trick leads to wiser reasoning

Socrates famously declared that "the unexamined life is not worth living" and that "knowing thyself" was the path to true wisdom. But is there a right and a wrong way to go about such self-reflection? Simple rumination - the process of churning your concerns around in your head - isn't the answer. It's likely to cause you to become stuck in the rut of your own thoughts and immersed in the emotions that might be leading you astray. Certainly, research has shown that people who are prone to rumination also often suffer from impaired decision-making under pressure and are at substantially increased risk of depression. Instead, the scientific research suggests that you should adopt an ancient rhetorical method favoured by the likes of Julius Caesar and known as "illeism" - or speaking about yourself in the third person (the term...

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British woman wakes up from coma speaking fluent French

It was May 2006, and I had just been swimming. I was on my way from my home in Hastings to work as a revenue executive for HMRC. It was raining hard, and the visibility was terrible. I was crossing the road when a white van drove into me and I fell, hit the side of my head, and rolled under a parked car. I have no memory of it. In fact I didn't remember anything from a year before the accident until four years afterwards; I began to work out what had happened to me from what other people told me. I was in an induced coma for three weeks in the neurological unit attached to Haywards Heath hospital. The medical staff tried to bring me out of the coma after about 10 days, but it was too early....

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Research reveals majority of atheists believe in a supernatural phenomenon or entity despite their trust in science

Belief in the supernatural is still alive and kicking, even among people who don't believe in a god. Research on atheists and agnostics around the world has revealed that almost nobody can claim to completely reject irrational beliefs such as life after death, astrology, and the existence of a universal life-force. The UK-based Understanding Unbelief project interviewed thousands of self-identified atheists and agnostics from six countries - Brazil, China, Denmark, Japan, US and UK. It found that despite their godlessness, a majority believe in at least one supernatural phenomenon or entity. Among atheists in the UK, for example, about 12 per cent believe in reincarnation and nearly 20 per cent life after death. All told, 71 per cent of atheists hold one or more such beliefs; for agnostics the figure is 92 per cent. Atheists and agnostics comprise about 37...

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Misology: The hatred of reason and argument deprives us of truth and knowledge

In Plato's Phaedo, the great philosopher Socrates has been sentenced to death for "corrupting" the youth of Athens. As he awaits his execution, he begins to discuss the afterlife with his students: Socrates believes the soul is immortal, while his students are sceptical. Arguments fly backwards and forwards, and it soon seems like they will never reach an agreement, when Socrates offers a warning. "What we must beware of," he said, "is becoming 'misologists', hating arguments in the way 'misanthropists' hate their fellow men. He goes on to argue that a hatred of people, and a hatred of reason, arise much the same way. Misanthropy creeps in as a result of placing too much trust in someone without having the knowledge required: we suppose the person to be completely genuine, sound and trustworth, only to find a bit later that...

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