Monday, November 28, 2005

Porpoises, penises and Parkinson's—UPDATED

Goodby and thanks for all the antidepressants—Scientists at the University of Leicester in England, report in the British Medical Journal that having depressed patients swim with dolphins is a good thing. Swimming with dolphins is popular with the alternative medicine set and with people who happen to think very highly of the animals (Hi, Carol) and they are used for helping autistic kids, among others, although there is not a lot of evidence it works in the long-term. The British researchers used 15 depressed people in Honduras who swam with dolphins an hour a day over a two week period. Another 15 swam around but without the presence of dolphins. Both groups were off their meds. At the end, the researchers reported, the group that had the dolphins as swimming mates seemed to be in better shape than the ones that did not. They credit the aesthetic values of the animals plus the emotions raised by swimming with them. Perhaps it is just having an interaction that doesn’t involve other people. "As humans we are hard-wired to need touch and to be connected to others,” said Iain Ryrie, the lead researcher, "something that differentiates us from reptiles say, who don't have a limbic communication system and who are not suckled. So it's possible for humans to make loving relationships with many different mammals because of this biological/social similarity." Both Douglas Adams and Kurt Vonnegut may be right about the dolphins.

Adams wrote:
...Man had always assumed that he was more intelligent than dolphins because he had achieved so much... the wheel, New York, wars, and so on, whilst all the dolphins had ever done was muck about in the water having a good time. But conversely the dolphins believed themselves to be more intelligent than man for precisely the same reasons.
Whatever. The researchers said it seemed to help people with mild to moderate depression. I bet dogs work too.

Shortly after I wrote the above I found confirmation in the British journal. Pets are good for you. I will immediately stroke the chocolate lab, say nice things to the fish in the dining room and go praise the cat, if I can find her. The journal, incidentally, has a whole issue on human-animal relations

Snip, snip. You are on a mission from God so ignore Google—Researchers in South Africa, where HIV is rampant, found that men who were circumcised had half the cases of HIV than men who were not over a two year period. In the first random trial on the topic, involving 3,200. The uncircumcised, had 49 cases of HIV infection; the circumcised only 20. This is part of a long list of research projects showing that circumcised men have fewer sexually transmitted diseases. The research on HIV is in the newest Public Library of Science Medicine, the wonderfully free medical journal—which brings up an interesting point. If you search Google, you would not know that the preponderance of scientific evidence supports the health benefits of circumcision because the first pages in a Google search have been taken over by anti-circumcision groups, including the Circumcision Information and Resources Page (CIRP), which cherry-picks its data to tilt the balance against circumcision. Freud would probably have an excellent explanation. Circumcision is not politically correct these days and fewer baby boys in the U.S. are being circumcised. It’s one of the problems with Google—what you get is not what you are looking for always because it can be corrupted. If you use Google to decide what to do about your baby son, you have to work hard to get unbiased information. Use Google’s Advanced Scholar Search, which is less prone to being tilted, and you will get an entirely different, and far more accurate picture. The American Academy of Pediatrics calls it elective surgery. You don’t do it to your kid just just to prevent diseases, especially HIV, which is still relatively rare in the U.S., but there are known health benefits and few if any disadvantages. Unless, of course, your are Jewish, in which case it is a non-issue. We’ve been doing it before HIV and probably before most STD evolved.

Lousy living through chemistry— One theory of the origin of Parkinson’s disease is that it has an environmental antecedent. A good piece in the Los Angeles Times gives that theory considerable support. Parkinson’s may be the result of exposure to agricultural and industrial chemicals. The scientists involved don’t actually use the word “cause.” They fudge, mostly because you can’t prove cause and effect with statistics. “Scientists are "definitely there, beyond a doubt, in showing that environmental toxicants have to be involved" in some cases of Parkinson's disease, said Freya Kamel, an epidemiologist with the National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences who has documented a high rate of neurological problems in farmers who use pesticides. "It's not one nasty thing that is causing this disease. I think it's exposure to a combination of many environmental chemicals over a lifetime. We just don't know what those chemicals are yet, but we certainly have our suspicions." Think pesticides. The chemicals destroy the neurons that produce dopamine, a messenger that controls human motion. Of all the major diseases, Parkinson’s is the one most closely linked to environmental trauma. It is an exceedingly unpleasant way to live and die.

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