Watching the World

The Mind Affects the Heart

Mental stress increases the risk of a second heart attack, notes Tufts University Health & Nutrition Letter, yet “there’s growing evidence that the mind plays a role in the development of heart disease, too.” Recent studies show that “anger-prone people have a nearly threefold higher risk than others of suffering a heart attack or dying from heart disease” and that “the effects of hostility appear to take hold relatively early in life.” Stress damages the heart muscle and the blood vessels that feed and surround the heart. Depression can increase the risk of a heart attack or other heart disease by over 70 percent. But when a person has a high level of social support—family and friends—the effects of depression can be reduced, the researchers say.

A Controversial Choice

In September 2000, Pope John Paul II proceeded with the beatification of Pius IX (pope, 1846-78). In the Catholic daily La Croix, French historian René Rémond mentioned that Pius IX made “decisions that shock an evangelical mind—such as allowing the execution of Italian patriots sentenced to death for questioning his power as head of State.” Calling him the “last European absolute monarch,” the newspaper Le Monde noted the intolerance of this pope-king and especially his fight against “freedom of conscience, human rights, and the emancipation of the Jews.” The paper added that Pius IX “condemned democracy, freedom of religion, and separation of Church and State” as well as “freedom of the press, thought, and association.” It was Pius IX who in 1869 opened the first Vatican council where the doctrine of papal infallibility in matters of faith and morals was defined.

Industrious Diggers

Chilean farmers have to cope with the coruro, a little black, furry rodent that digs tunnels in the topsoil that are as much as 2,000 feet [600 meters] long. Recently, a thorough study of their widely branching tunnel system was made. Two zoologists, one from the University of Essen, Germany, and her Chilean colleague, completely unearthed the home of a colony of 26 animals. In the food chambers, they found 5,000 plant bulbs, stored for the dry period. The tunnel system also included nest chambers lined with grass and plastic bags. However, as cute and impressive as the little black fellows with their prominent incisors might be, they are viewed by farmers as a nuisance. Cattle often end up with a broken leg when they step on a tunnel and it gives way.

That Amazing Weed—The Dandelion

Dandelions “are reviled as Public Enemy No. One by golf course superintendents and fastidious lawn owners everywhere” and as “the weed that won’t go away,” states The News of Mexico City. Yet, the dandelion “is one of the world’s most healthful plants” and can contribute much to your health and diet. Rich in Vitamin A and potassium, the dandelion is more nutritious than broccoli or spinach. All its parts are useful. The young leaves can be used as greens in salads or in almost any recipe calling for spinach; the dried, roasted roots, for a coffeelike beverage; and the blossoms, for wine. Historically dandelion has been used as a liver tonic and cleanser, as a blood purifier and builder, and as a mild diuretic. The dandelion is “one of the top six herbs in the Chinese medicine chest,” declares The News. And for people who have a lawn or access to a pasture, dandelions are free.

Andean Thaw

In the past 67 years, some glaciers in the Andes Mountains of Peru have receded by 2,800 to 5,000 feet [850 to 1,500 meters], reports El Comercio newspaper of Lima. According to studies by French glaciologist Antoine Erout, in just over 20 years, the ice melt has created more than 70 new lakes—a number of which will  likely overflow and break their natural dams. The loss of the glacial ice and snow means a reduction in the fresh water utilized by farms, irrigation projects, and hydroelectric power plants. These water supplies are also the chief source of drinking water for three Latin-American capitals: Lima, Peru; Quito, Ecuador; and La Paz, Bolivia. “Can you imagine what would happen if those snow and ice deposits disappeared?” asks El Comercio. Erout suggests that among the main causes of this problem are the climatic changes associated with the phenomenon El Niño.

“Sudden Wealth Syndrome”

“The number of millionaires in the United States and Canada has risen almost 40% since 1997 to 2.5 million,” says Canada’s National Post newspaper. The paper also noted that the high-tech world is making many young people very rich. According to psychologist Dr. Stephen Goldbart, though, some cannot handle their sudden wealth. “It can ruin their lives, rip their families apart and lead them on a path of destructive behaviour. Money does not always bring peace and fulfilment,” Goldbart said. According to some psychologists, the high-tech world has created “a new illness—sudden wealth syndrome,” which manifests itself in severe depression, panic attacks, and insomnia. As mentioned in the Post, “some newly rich feel guilty about having so much money and feel they are not entitled to it, or that they do not deserve it.” Others become paranoid and fear that they will be exploited. Dr. Goldbart recommends that the unhappy rich get involved in the community and not just write checks to charities.

Overuse of Antibiotics

“Repeated warnings by health officials about the over-use of antibiotics are falling on deaf ears,” notes New Scientist magazine. “A survey of 10 000 people in nine states in the US revealed that 32 per cent still believe antibiotics can cure a cold, 27 per cent think taking antibiotics during a cold will prevent more serious illness, and 48 per cent expect a prescription for antibiotics if they see a doctor for cold symptoms.” However, antibiotics do not work against viral infections, such as colds. They work only against bacterial infections. Overuse of antibiotics is considered to be a major cause of drug-resistant diseases. (See Awake! of December 22, 1998, page 28.) Says Brian Spratt of Oxford University: “We need to find a better way of getting across the correct message.”

The Extraordinary Ice Bug

“One of the first pictures to be published of a rare and elusive ‘ice bug’ that inhabits the Rockies and parts of Russia is to appear in the newly compiled Handbook of Insects,” reports The Sunday Telegraph of London. This northern rock crawler survives at high altitudes on a diet of dead prey or insect parts blown about in the air. The bug is pale brown and yellow, with long antennae but no wings, and its young bear some similarity to an immature earwig. Measuring up to 1.2 inches [3 cm] in length, it is part of an insect order discovered less than 100 years ago. “It is so well adapted to its chilly environment that it will die of heatstroke if held in the palm of a human hand,” explains the newspaper. Dr. George McGavin of Oxford University’s Museum of Natural History, the author of the handbook, observes that barely a fifth of the world’s insects have so far been identified.

Why Is Caffeine in Soft Drinks?

“If caffeine doesn’t improve the flavour of soft drinks, what’s it for?” asks New Scientist magazine. “Scientists at Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore found that only 2 out of 25 adult cola drinkers could distinguish between the taste of caffeinated and caffeine-free varieties.” Yet, 70 percent of the 15 billion cans of carbonated drinks consumed by Americans in 1998 contained caffeine. In an earlier study, psychopharmacologist Roland Griffiths and his colleagues “found evidence of withdrawal symptoms in children denied their usual supply of caffeinated soft drinks.” Claims Griffiths: “They’re adding a mildly addictive drug, one which surely accounts for the fact that people drink far more sodas with caffeine than without.”