"It is true, and thus the question of whether it is sad or happy has no meaning whatever."
Bernhard Schlink

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Monday, January 15, 2007

Blind, Clumsy, and Forgetful 

Kinda like a really old dog. All of these are symptoms of aging which, except for the second one, could be prevented by applications of today's research. The research on clumsiness is less compelling.

It appears that kids with lower IQs grow up to be more accident-prone, or at least more likely to suffer accidental injury. While it appears that the authors would like to conclude that lower IQ causes injury, I would argue that it sounds more like low IQ contributes to an environment in which injury is more likely: people with lower IQs tend to have more dangerous jobs, live in less safe home environments, and may, in places like Atlanta where sidewalks are rare, have to walk to work. An interesting finding, but it appears confounded all over the place.

As we get older, many of our bits deteriorate: our memory tends to get less reliable, we can't see as well, we develop cardiovascular disease, et cetera. But there may be things we can do to help ourselves delay those effects!

Drinking tea has for some time been known to have multiple beneficial effects, especially on the cardiovascular system. A puzzling side note, however, has been that English tea drinkers do not see the benefits that Asian ones do: and research suggests that this may be because the Brits put milk in their tea. In both rat experiments and a small human trial, it appears that the caseins in milk interfere with the beneficial catechins in the tea. So, drink your tea straight kids!

While protecting your heart with tea, your eyes may start to go. Don't fret, as Missouri researchers are working on retinal implants that could someday be used to stop or reverse the blindness caused by retinitis pigmentosa. This is really cool technology, I hope it works!

Meanwhile, you don't want to go losing your mind. Researchers also suggest a way to delay dementia: be bilingual! A Canadian study found that bilingual subjects, who used both languages every day, had a significantly later onset of dementia than did monoglots. The effect is likely to stem from increased cerebral blood flow associated with all that extra language processing; the protection could be similar to that offered by daily mental exercises like doing the crosswords.

But how does memory work, in the first place? Long-term potentiation (LTP), essentially a process by which neural connections become permanently 'stronger,' is thought to be the key. Now researchers have identified a molecule - TrkB - which is key to seeing LTP happen in vivo, as opposed to just in cultured cells. Cool!

Exercise is another great way to stave off the effects of aging. Unfortunately, some people are put off by the pain associated with said gain. To thier rescue may come by best friend, caffeine! A small study of female non-caffeine-users suggests that pre-workout caffeine may reduce post-workout pain better than many painkillers. Of course, this effect may be harder to see in sane people who don't abstain from coffee!

And finally, in order to be bothered by any of these troubles, you have to survive into old age. Having HIV is not a good way to do that, at least not until we find a cure. Princeton researchers have not done that, but they may have found a hint at a way to reduce HIV's effects on infected persons. They have identified a protein cascade which seems to dictate when the virus goes into hiding, or deactivates itself. If a drug therapy could induce hibernation in HIV, its symptoms would largely disappear, which would be great.

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