The scents of heaven: Frankincense and myrrh

Frankincense and myrrh have long links to the sacred. Why has Christianity viewed them with both fascination and suspicion? In the traditional Christmas narrative, wise men from the East brought gifts of frankincense, myrrh and gold for the infant Christ. Many explanations exist for the choice of these three items. Most centre on the idea that frankincense was for the birth of a divinity, myrrh was for his embalmment after death, and gold was a recognition of his status as king. I find the plant extracts - frankincense and myrrh - to be particularly interesting. How is it that they existed as both medicinal and ritual substances, and endured as such despite the profound shifts in culture and science over the ensuing centuries? What is it about frankincense and myrrh that caught the imagination of early Christians, and how have...

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BEST OF THE WEB: ‘Bad advice’: Group of doctors in Canada lobby to change Food Guide, calling for more meat and fat in diet and less carbs and sugar

Allen Bradshaw, a pathologist from Abbotsford, B.C., is part of a group of doctors from across the country who have been on a crusade to change the way Canadians are told to eat. For the past two years, she and her colleague Dr. Carol Loffelmann, an anesthesiologist in Toronto, have spent much of their free time travelling the country, urging colleagues and regular Canadians alike to eat fewer carbohydrates than what's recommended by the government and indulge in fat from sources such as steak and cheese - even if that flies in the face of conventional wisdom. It's all they can do as they wait to see whether Health Canada will heed the message from their grassroots campaign. Since 2016, the women, who founded Canadian Clinicians for Therapeutic Nutrition, a national non-profit, have lobbied the government, with letters, an Ottawa...

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Plant hallucinogen Ayahuasca shows promise for diabetes treatment

For centuries, some indigenous groups in South America have relied on a brew made from the parts of a local vine and a shrub. The effects of this drink, called ayahuasca, would begin with severe vomiting and diarrhea, but the real reason for drinking the tea was the hallucinating that followed. These visions were thought to uncover the secrets of the drinker's poor health and point the way to a cure. Modern techniques have revealed that one of the compounds underlying these mystic experiences is the psychoactive drug harmine. What these first users of ayahuasca couldn't have known was that, one day, this ingredient in their enlightening brew would be positioned as a key to treating diabetes. Such a cure is a long way off, but researchers took another step toward it when they combined naturally occurring harmine with a...

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Only the tip of the iceberg: How toxins cause disease

Although the word toxin sounds scary, most people don't grasp precisely how toxins interact with human physiology and how long this has been a problem for humans. Doctors noticed almost two hundred years ago that toxins like mercury were causing "mad hatter disease." It was also known that toxicity from leaded water pipes was a major cause of the decline of the Roman Empire. But in the past, these toxins were largely limited to occupational exposure. Only people who performed certain specific tasks- coal miners, who inhale coal dust, for example-were known to be casualties. Doctors didn't consider the rest of the population to be at risk. But with the explosion of industrial activity and products, that has changed. Following more research, scientists and perceptive clinicians now better understand that toxicity affects most-if not all-of the population. The more research...

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Clean your room! The problem with completing household chores in a timely manner

Chores are the worst. I'm trying to construct an alternative theory of myself in which I'm a tidy person. It's not going well. Walking my recycling from my apartment to the trash room down the hall takes me anywhere from two minutes to a month. I hate looking at broken-down boxes and empty LaCroix cans in my apartment, but studies say humans are bad at prioritizing long-term goals over instant gratification, and I apparently find doing anything else much more gratifying. It doesn't take a scientist to explain why I might put off other things, such as doing my dishes. Those are annoying and kind of gross, and the primary reward is just being able to use them in the future. Still, at a certain point, the anxiety of not having done these tasks surpasses the annoyance of doing them...

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