Post Of The week – Sunday 28th December 2014

1) A calorie is not just a calorie

A friend of ours came round to visit just before Christmas. She is a student nurse. She is particularly interested in the impact of nutrition on health. She had a couple of interesting things to say about some of the content we cover in the A2 Eating Behaviour topic. Firstly, the ideas about the effect of insulin on weight are now being taught as part of her course. Insulin spikes caused by consumption of sugars and refined carbohydrates lead the body to store energy it cannot process as fat and to insulin resistance which is the precursor to diabetes. My friend has tried to cut sugar from her diet and persuaded her dad to do the same. Secondly, there is a strange dissonance between what she is taught in her lectures and the nutritional practice she finds on a hospital ward. There, a calorie is still a calorie. People who are recovering from operations are given high calorie food. No thought is given to the type of food or its long term effect on their well-being. This is in stark contrast to what current research is telling us about the effects of particular foods on our bodies. If you want to find out about this research, the best place to go continues to be here.

2) Diverse Autism Mutations Lead to Different Disease Outcomes

It is becoming increasingly clear that autism is not just one thing but an umbrella term for a number of different conditions. The trick now is to work out what those conditions are and what causes them.

This article explains that autism derives from the mutation of hundreds of genes. Which genes mutate determines what symptoms the person with autism experiences. This becomes important because if you can tell which genes have mutated, you can plan more effective interventions. It also explains why people with autism and high IQs experience autism differently and why females differ from males in their experience of autism.

3) Addressing Stigma

Christmas is a difficult time of year for many people. This year, this thought has been shared more prominently than before on social media. Here is the BBC just before Christmas.

Here is a news story from Australia. It reminds us what great work is being done by the Black Dog Institute and other organisations in Australia to raise awareness of mental health and how the culture is changing.

Here is a video from Big White Wall with a timely reminder of what they can do.

Social media has undoubtedly played a significant role in the campaign against stigma. It does however need to be used appropriately. Here is an article from the New York Times about what can go wrong.

4) Mapping The Brain

Quite rightly, people in the world of neuroscience are getting very excited about the progress which is being made in mapping the brain. Progress has been astonishing and rapid. There is however a question about how much this knowledge will actually help us which is explored by Philip Ball in this article here.

There are two stand out problems. One is the relationship with the human genome project. It is about 15 years since the human genome was fully mapped but knowing where each gene is does not tell us how those genes relate to particular traits: the relationship between genotype and phenotype. Secondly, it is assumed that it will be possible to produce a sort of wiring diagram for the brain in the same way as for a sophisticated piece of electronics. This harks back to a longstanding idea in Psychology that we can describe the brain as a sophisticated computer. This article makes the point that our mental lives are much messier than that. Our brains are part of our bodies and our bodies are, well, messy.

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