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Conversation with a 95-year old

Lillian Marion
Lillian Marion

This weekend, I met Lillian Marion, a lady who recently retired at age 95 from her business as an interior designer for very famous people. She would have continued working, but her son, who is a plastic surgeon, told her that she should retire because he was afraid that she could fall and break a hip.

So what does Lillian do now? She travels from New York to Las Vegas and to Atlantic City. She spends time at the casinos, stays up all night playing the slot machines and has a great time even though she has not won any big jackpots.

I told her that I belonged to the Calorie Restriction Society whose members starve themselves because research shows that eating less increases lifespan, and that the members are also interested in finding out about the lifestyle of older people to find out whether it takes more than genetics to live a long life.

When I asked to what she attributed her longevity, she said that every day she walked six or seven blocks and ate some ice cream. What else does she eat? "I don't eat anything that I don't like", she said. I observed what she took from the buffet. She selected pan-grilled scallops on a bed of rice, a small tuna salad sandwich, and some smoked lox that she left on the plate. She drank some tea with cream, and had a puff pastry topped with glazed fresh fruits on top, but she gave away the fruit because she does not like fruits.

Lillian walks with a cane, some of the joints in her hands have been slightly deformed by arthritis, but she is vivacious and her mind is clear. She takes pride in dressing very well, as you can tell from her designer glasses and exquisite brooch and rings. If you get her talking about politics, watch out! She has some strong opinions.

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Alzheimer's disease may be caused by a virus

Cold sore caused by herpes simplex virus
Herpes simplex virus type 1 causes cold sores
and maybe Alzheimer's disease

A team of researchers headed by Professor Ruth Itzhaki from the Faculty of Life Sciences at the University of Manchester, UK has found localization of herpes simplex virus type 1 (HSV1) DNA within the amyloid plaques present in the brains of Alzheimer's disease patients.[1] In Alzheimer's disease brains, 90% of the plaques contained the viral DNA and 72% of the DNA was associated with plaques; in aged normal brains, which contain amyloid plaques at a lower frequency, 80% of plaques contained herpes simplex virus type 1 DNA but only 24% of the viral DNA was plaque-associated.

The researchers think that the strong association of herpes simplex virus type 1 DNA within the amyloid plaques makes the virus a very likely causative agent of Alzheimer's disease, particularly because most people harbor the virus. Other experiments using antiviral agents such as acyclovir for treating Alzheimer's disease have shown a reduction of amyloid plaque deposition. Professor Itzhaki said:

Professor Ruth Itzhaki
We suggest that HSV1 enters the brain in the elderly as their immune systems decline and then establishes a dormant infection from which it is repeatedly activated by events such as stress, immunosuppression, and various infections. The ensuing active HSV1 infection causes severe damage in brain cells, most of which die and then disintegrate, thereby releasing amyloid aggregates which develop into amyloid plaques after other components of dying cells are deposited on them.

The researchers hope that clinical trials will be set up to test the effect of antiviral agents on Alzheimer's disease patients.
Learn more about viruses

[1] Wozniak M, Mee A, Itzhaki R., Herpes simplex virus type 1 DNA is located within Alzheimer's disease amyloid plaques, J Pathol. 2008 Sep 18. PMID: 18973185

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Christmas Carols

Christmas carols were introduced in the 12th century in church services as a way to celebrate the Nativity of Jesus. During the Victorian era, religious Christmas carols grew in popularity, and the legend of Santa Claus, also known as Saint Nicholas, Father Christmas, or Kris Kringle has been an inspiration for many Christmas carols and Christmas songs. These are some of the most popular:

Download Music Samples

Learn about the History of Christmas

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Overeating during the holidays and weight loss scams

Weight loss fake pictures

Are you feeling fat after eating so much over the Thanksgiving holiday? If so, you may be tempted to try some of the impressive weight loss diets advertised on the internet.

The advertisement above shows some pictures of a woman's remarkable transformation after losing 44 pounds. In your eagerness to click on the advertisement, you may overlook the fact that the picture is a fake. Here are some ways to tell that the claims are fake:

1) The advertisement claims a 44 pound loss. For every loss of weight of 6 or 7 pounds there is a waist size reduction of about 1 inch. A person could only lose about 6 or 7 inches at the waist by losing 44 pounds. With the pants folded in half, the slack would be only three or four inches. But look at the picture. There are about 6 inches of slack or about 12 inches in circumference. That would correspond to a weight loss of around 80 pounds.

2) Notice the width of the pant legs in both pictures. The legs of the pants on the right are much wider than the legs of the pants on the left. Do you seriously think that the model in the picture would be able to put her hips and both legs into one pant leg? Since the face is not shown, we have to ask: is it the same girl in both pictures?

Avoid weight loss scams. The only way that you can lose weight is by avoiding junk food and cutting calories.
Learn How to Lose Weight and Keep It Off

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Thanksgiving Resolution - Yearly health check up

Antonio Zamora - Age 66
Antonio Zamora - Age 66

Once a year, it is good to have a physical check up. The purpose of the check up is to determine if something is not quite right, and if so, to take steps to correct it. The most common thing that people find out from a yearly checkup is that their weight has increased.

Gaining a few pounds each year may not seem like a big deal, but over time it can lead to obesity. An increased amount of fat tissue starts releasing hormones that change the metabolism, and obesity is associated with high blood pressure, diabetes, and cardiovascular diseases.

Over the last year I gained two pounds. Two pounds may sound trivial, but an increase of two pounds per year over 10 years would be 20 pounds. By reducing my food by 100 Calories per day, I should be able to lose those two pounds in about two months while maintaining my current level of activity. Life is full of choices. Should I give up my daily slice of home-made bread with raw honey or the dark chocolate square? Maybe I will just cut my portions in half.

We always have to sacrifice for what we want. In the past, I have been overweight, but I feel healthier when I am lean. I have to seek the right balance between asceticism and hedonism. In any case, by next year I expect to be at my normal weight. That's my Thanksgiving Resolution.
Learn about Weight Control

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Effect of SIRT1 genes on neurodegenerative diseases and cancer

Dr. Leonard Guarente
Dr. Leonard Guarente

Today, I attended a lecture at the National Institutes of Health by Dr. Leonard Guarente of MIT. Dr. Guarente has dedicated his career to the study of the molecular mechanisms that affect life span and the development of the diseases associated with aging. One of his particular interests is the study of mammalian SIRT genes that are involved in changes in stress resistance and metabolism known to be associated with Calorie Restriction (CR). The CR diet not only extends life span in rodents, but also protects against many diseases of aging, including diabetes, cardiovascular disease, neurodegenerative disease, cancer and osteoporosis.

Dr. Guarente described recent findings in his laboratory regarding SIRT1 function in specific mammalian tissues and in specific disease models. Dr. Guarente's lab has recently shown that genetic interventions that enhance the activity of the mammalian sirtuin SIRT1 can mitigate major diseases of aging in mice, such as neurodegenerative diseases and cancer. Increased expression of the SIRT1 gene in experimental animals was able to decrease cancer, decrease the formation of beta amyloid plaque in the brain, and decrease osteoporosis, but overexpression of the gene was fatal. It seems that there is an optimum amount of gene expression which promotes health, and that too much is actually worse.

Dr. Guarente posed with me for this photograph. When I told him that I was a member of the Calorie Restriction Society, he said: "You don't look too thin." I answered that I was not an extreme dieter, and that I only restricted about 10 percent.
Antonio Zamora and Dr. Leonard Guarente

Learn more about Calorie Restriction

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Fraunhofer diffraction - Bending light rays with your ears

Fraunhofer Diffraction

In optics, Fraunhofer diffraction is a type of wave diffraction which occurs when field waves are passed through an aperture or slit, causing the size of an observed aperture image to change due to the far-field location of observation and the increasingly planar nature of outgoing diffracted waves passing through the aperture.

In the image above, the vertical blinds in a window form slits which bend the rays of the sun and influence the shapes of the shadows projected on the wall. The vertical blind acts like a diffraction grating with a set of parallel slits. As the ears approach the shadows of the vertical blinds, the shadow of the ears stretches toward the shadow of the vertical blind to produce elongated ear shadows.

Fraunhofer diffraction is named after the German physicist Joseph von Fraunhofer (1787-1826), the inventor of the diffraction grating. Fraunhofer started the field of stellar spectroscopy and transformed it into a quantitative science by measuring the wavelength of light accurately. He discovered the absorption lines in the optical spectrum of the Sun which are named after him. The Fraunhofer absorption lines can be used to determine the chemical composition in the upper layers of the Sun and the stars because each chemical element absorbs light at specific frequencies.
Optical Illusions and Visual Paradoxes

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Watered down milk in the dairy section

watered down milk watered down milk ingredients

Last weekend I visited a friend who had unwittingly bought a carton of what he thought was 2% Reduced Fat Milk. When I poured some of the product on my cereal, I noticed that the liquid did not have the smooth texture of milk. It appeared to have small lumps like milk that is starting to curdle from spoilage. Since he had just bought it, I looked at the label more closely. It was not milk. It was a "dairy beverage".

The first ingredient in the Ingredient List of the label was water, followed by ultrafiltered fat free milk, cream, inorganic calcium and phosphorus salts, and emulsifiers (mono- and diglycerides), thickeners (carrageenan, locust bean gum), and artificial sweeteners (sucralose and acesulfame potassium). Food labels are required to list the ingredients in decreasing order of concentration. Since water is listed before the fat free milk, this means that the product contains more water than milk.

What scared me about this product was that the label said that a one-cup serving had 8 grams of protein -- the same as skim milk. If the product is half water and half skim milk, I would expect it to have half the protein. Where is the extra protein coming from? The ingredient list did not say. This made me think about the recent scandal in China where watered down milk was adulterated with melamine to fool the standard tests for protein.

The discrepancy between the ingredient list and the nutrition facts indicates that something is wrong with this product. Unfortunately, the FDA does not have enough resources to track down all labeling violations.
Learn about nutrition labels and Fake Foods

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Cleaning up the Environment

Richard F. Yates
Richard F. Yates

If you live in Bethesda or if you take the Friendship Heights Metro, you are likely to see the lanky Richard F. Yates carrying a plastic bag in his right hand and picking litter with his gloved left hand. He moves at a furious pace along miles and miles of streets as he picks up pieces of paper, discarded cups, candy wrappers, and many types of litter that people have carelessly discarded.

I saw Mr. Yates a few days ago as he came by my street and I stopped him to ask what motivates him. Basically, Richard F. Yates is waging a one-man crusade to improve the environment, although he would like more people to join him. He would like people to stop throwing trash in the streets and to care more about our neighborhoods. He has talked to corporations to enlist their help by cleaning up the trash on their own grounds, and he has talked to the Montogmery County Police department to try to get better enforcement of anti-littering laws.

Mr. Yates talks about how the pollution of our streets ends up being washed into the Chesapeake basin and the negative impact that this has on the aquatic life in the Chesapeake Bay. He would like to encourage people to care enough and volunteer to keep our neighborhoods free of litter and trash.

Be a good citizen. Put trash its place. Don't pollute.

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Presidential Fashion - Michelle Obama's Black Widow Dress

Black widow spider Michelle Obama's Black Widow Dress

The United States is headed in a new direction with the election of Barack Obama as the 44th president of the United States. During the campaign, Obama was able to unify voters with his aspirations for an America where everybody works to help each other. Obama's multiracial background, his foreign education, his Harvard education, and his great oratorical skills provided something with which everyone could identify. The campaign was notable for its length, its aggressiveness, and the gracious concession speech by John McCain in support of the new president-elect.

One of the missteps of the McCain campaign was the expenditure of $150,000 by the Republican National Committee for a wardrobe from high-end department stores for GOP Vice Presidential nominee Sarah Palin. The luxurious dresses looked fabulous on the former beauty queen, but her appearance did not help middle-class voters identify with the Republicans at a time when the economy had been taking such a serious downturn.

Michelle Obama, by contrast, dressed elegantly and modestly during the campaign, but her choice of dress for Obama's acceptance speech was a stunning black dress with a bright red design on the ventral portion. My first thought was "black widow" because some types of black widow spiders have a red hourglass design in their abdomen. I was not the only one to notice this similarity. There are already many internet discussions about Michelle Obama's Black Widow Dress, its ominous portent, and Barack Obama's repeated references to Abraham Lincoln.

Where is the Fashion Police when you need it?
Read more about Fashion

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