Life Wellbeing From werewolves to fat loss success: Our favourite health and wellbeing stories from 2021
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From werewolves to fat loss success: Our favourite health and wellbeing stories from 2021

From the werewolf effect to hatching babies, TND reveals its favourite health and wellbeing stories of 2021. Photo: TND
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Was COVID-19 cooked up in a lab and accidentally let loose upon the world?

Could COVID-19 infect semen and kill off humanity by nobbling our breeding abilities?

Could giant rats be a way for poor countries to hunt down COVID-19?

COVID, COVID, COVID. It dominated the news, our lives, and gave birth to all manner of crazy behaviour.

But this is Christmas.

Let’s talk about some other health and wellbeing stories from the year gone by.

The curse of the werewolf is real, sort of

January: According to legend, those under the curse of the werewolf tend to get restless and have trouble sleeping in the nights leading up to the full moon.

University of Washington scientists found we’re all prone to this behaviour – going to sleep later in the night and sleeping for shorter periods of time as the Moon gets fuller and brighter.

And while the full moon won’t trigger a murderous rampage in most of us – as seen in the movies – the researchers suggested that this full-moon restlessness dates back to early human-hood when we hunted on the plains.

The idea is that early humans would generally hunker down to sleep when the sun went down.

But with the full moon, they could hunt for longer – and to facilitate this, their circadian rhythms were governed by the lunar cycle, and not only by the sun. Read more here.

Obesity drug: 20 per cent of body weight gone

February: US researchers trumpeted a new drug as a “game changer” in managing obesity – and for once, a large, gold-standard clinical trial backed up the hype.

A single weekly injection of the drug semaglutide, for 68 weeks, led to an average loss of 15 per cent body weight in trial participants.

Those given a placebo, in tandem with a diet and exercise program, lost 2.4 per cent of their body weight.

More than a third of the participants who took the drug lost more than 20 per cent of their weight.

This prompted the ordinarily sober New York Times, citing the researchers, to write: “For the first time, a drug has been shown so effective against obesity that patients may dodge many of its worst consequences, including diabetes.”

Read more here.

Could we be hatched, not born?

March: Scientists managed to grow the embryo of a mammal in a mechanical uterus outside of the womb for the first time.

This potentially paved the way for babies to be hatched from artificial ‘mothers’ – eliminating the need for all that pushing and screaming.

But that’s years down the track.

Big breakthrough in the quest to grow mammals outside the womb. Photo: Getty

In the shorter term, the Israeli researchers – who spent seven years developing their mechanical womb – are blowing their own minds, having created an unprecedented first-hand view of embryonic development.

The embryos, a thousand of them grown so far, float about in elaborate glass jars.

This allows the scientists to see “how a tiny ball of identical cells … develops into nervous system, heart, stomach and limbs”.

Read more here.

Big questions about paracetamol

April: One of the authors of a review into the effectiveness of paracetamol told The New Daily the widely used painkiller would not be approved if brought to market today.

Paracetamol is Australia’s go-to drug for pain relief and is routinely prescribed for many childhood ailments and post-operative pain – but the University of Sydney review found there is no good evidence that the drug is actually effective against many ailments.

Professor Chris Maher, the report’s senior author, told TND there was no evidence that paracetamol worked any better than a placebo for treating most ailments, even a sore throat.

Professor Maher said the evidence of the drug’s efficacy in most applications was so poor that it wouldn’t be approved by the Therapeutic Goods Administration “if it came on the market today”.

Paracetamol has been available in Australia since 1956.

“It came into use before the current regulatory framework,” he said.

Read more here.

Patting a dog boosts planning skills

May: Isn’t there a short cut to easing stress and sharpening your focus when studying for exams?

Scientists say yes there is: Pat a dog.

A therapist dog calms down an anxious student, steadying her mind. Photo: Getty

US researchers demonstrated that patting a dog was more effective than traditional stress-management programs.

Stressed students showed greater improvement in thinking and planning skills when dog patting was the exclusive treatment.

Read more here.

New laws to protect our dreams

June: When watching TV, people will often try to dodge the commercials by running to the bathroom.

But what if there was no escape? What if advertising could follow you everywhere – even into your dreams?

In a dire warning in an opinion piece, 40 brain scientists from around the world, including Australia, said “new protective policies are urgently needed to keep advertisers from manipulating one of the last refuges of our already beleaguered conscious and unconscious minds: Our dreams”.

The letter was prompted by the Molson Coors beer company’s cheeky and surreal move to steal Super Bowl thunder from a rival company that had exclusive rights to the big game.

As the scientists described it, Coors planned to use ‘targeted dream incubation’ (TDI) – a bona fide area of neuroscience research – to “alter the dreams of the nearly 100 million Super Bowl viewers the night before the game”.

Read more here.

AI measures facelift success

July: Just about every week, a robot learns how to recognise a different kind of cancer or disease.

The latest development is especially brutal.

AI can now recognise, apparently with 100 per cent success, how old you are – and how much younger you look after having a facelift.

Before and after? Photo: Getty

This means, according to a new study, that a robot can honesty tell you, in years gained, how successful your plastic surgery has been.

“Our study shows that currently available AI algorithms can recognise the success of facelifting, and even put a number on the reduction in years of perceived age,” said senior author Dr James P. Bradley in a prepared statement.

Read more here.

Dancing combats side effects of ageing

August: We’re all getting older, but the Bee Gees were spot on when they suggested: “You should be dancing.”

In fact, science is on their side.

A study from Brazil (home of the saucy samba) found that dancing might “effectively lower cholesterol levels, improve fitness and body composition and in the process, improve self-esteem” – issues that are directly related to menopause.

Dancing improves health and self-esteem in menopausal women. Photo: Getty

Women after menopause are more likely to experience weight gain, with particular increases of central body fat.

They also undergo metabolic disturbances, such as increases in triglycerides and ‘bad’ cholesterol, and overall are faced with an increase in cardiovascular catastrophe, such as stroke or heart attack.

Throw in night sweats, some foggy thinking, a drop in libido, reduced physical activity, a heightened risk of falls and fractures and a compromised self-image, and life’s not feeling too great.

But dancing can do much to rectify these problems.

Read more here.

Obesity not caused by overeating

September: US scientists, responding to an obesity crisis that is out of control, have published a new model for weight management – one that overturns more than a century of dietary thinking.

The scientists claim that overeating isn’t the primary cause of obesity.

Instead, the problem is what we eat – with the biggest culprit being processed, rapidly digestible carbohydrates.

These foods cause “hormonal responses that fundamentally change our metabolism, driving fat storage, weight gain and obesity”.

The scientists want researchers in the field to essentially go back to the drawing board.

Read more here.

Professor caught with pants down

October: Here’s a simple test to see if you’re at risk of developing diabetes: Go and try on the jeans you were wearing at the age of 21.

This was the advice from Professor Roy Taylor, who caused a stir with his address at the European Association for the Study of Diabetes’ annual conference.

“As a rule of thumb, your waist size should be the same now as when you were 21,” he said.

“If you can’t get into the same-size trousers now, you are carrying too much fat and therefore at risk of developing type two diabetes, even if you aren’t overweight.”

Social media threw a fit, labelling the jeans prescription as stupid and harmful, notably for people with eating disorders.

Read more here.

Aspirin: Significant risk of heart failure

November: The controversy about the links between aspirin and heart health became more complicated.

A new study reported, for the first time, that consuming aspirin “is associated with a 26 per cent raised risk of heart failure in people with at least one predisposing factor for the condition”.

Predisposing factors included smoking, obesity, high blood pressure, high cholesterol, diabetes and cardiovascular disease.

“This is the first study to report that among individuals with at least one risk factor for heart failure, those taking aspirin were more likely to subsequently develop the condition than those not using the medication,” said study author Dr Blerim Mujaj of the University of Freiburg, Germany, in a prepared statement.

Although the findings required confirmation, “they do indicate that the potential link between aspirin and heart failure needs to be clarified”.

Read more here.

It’s true what they say about grandma

December: It’s a common complaint that our mothers are more understanding and forgiving of their grandchildren.

Scientists scanned grandmothers’ brains. Photo: Getty

In other words, our cute little ones get all the empathy while we get the colder eye of critical appraisal.

Are we just being paranoid and maybe a little jealous?

A fascinating study says no, it’s a real thing.

For the first time, scientists have scanned grandmothers’ brains while they’re viewing photos of their young grandchildren – providing evidence that little children, as a matter of course, have “evolved traits” to manipulate the grand maternal brain.

Read more here.

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