World Notes

Your energy drink is not a revolution

11/17/2010

569px-TNT_LIquid_Dynamite Red Bull…Energy Star…Starbucks Shots…o yes and in a bind--don’t forget Five Hour Energy. Welcome to American Society. Do more, with less and do it better! It seems plausible that in the near future, some pharmaceutical company or corporation will find a way to give caffeine by IV ... FDA approved, of course!

There’s one hitch:  recently the food gurus in the Food and Drug Administration are clipping the wings of energy drinks that combine alcohol and caffeine.  This is none too soon.

While promoted for their beneficial aspects, many such energy drinks are said to cause severe health concerns, including sudden death (yikes!), unexpected illness, and conditions that mirror heart attacks. Medical officials have spoken out about the dangerous effects of the drink saying that the caffeine masks the effects of the alcohol, keeping the consumer from adequately gauging their blood alcohol level while providing increased energy to continue alcohol consumption. Additionally, no studies have yet adequately measured what amounts of these drinks should be considered safe or dangerous.

The New York Times suggests that after a year of study the FDA is likely to decide the fate of such energy/alcohol drinks in the coming week, perhaps as early as Wednesday. If the FDA finds the drinks are dangerous, expect a challenge.  The most popular alcoholic energy drink, Four Loko, has reported sales of over $144 million each year. 

Is this really all about energy and focused attention, or is it about mood enhancement? 

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WARNING: daydreaming may be hazardous to your (mental) health

11/16/2010

Uel_de_Cervantes_-_Don_Quixote_-_Part_1_-_Chapter_1_-_Plate_1_%22A_world_of_disorderly_notions%2C_picked_out_of_his_books%2C_crowded_into_his_imagination%22 Do you suddenly find yourself thinking about that argument you had last night or dreaming about leaving your job to live in Belize?

We think of daydreaming as a pleasant pastime, but research suggests that letting your mind wander may actually be a downer.  According to Harvard researchers Matthew Killingsworth and Daniel Gilbert, bringing your mind back to the present moment will make you happier. 

Killingsworth and Gilbert’s research method was novel:  they reached out to participants via a digital application that was accessible online at www.trackyourhappiness.org and an Iphone app, getting about 5,000 research subjects involved. Participants ranged in age from 18 to 88 years and represented diverse income and occupational backgrounds. About 70 percent of the participants were Americans.

The project was simple but revealing. At random times during the day the app would chime in and ask three questions:

  • How do you feel right now? Participants could then respond on a scale ranging from very bad to very good.
  • What are you doing? Participants could select from a list of 22 different activities, such as exercising, making love, sleeping etc.
  • Are you thinking about something other than what you are doing at the moment? They could answer either no or yes and if what they were thinking about was pleasant, neutral or unpleasant.

Overall 46.9 percent respondents reported they were basically daydreaming! 

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Sometimes the annoying hipster parents are right

11/15/2010

Baby in sling White picket fences….suburban windy roads…..and two Pamper smelling Gerber babies;  add two parents and you have a family of four. Mom stays at home, practices attachment parenting and Dad leaves at eight each morning in his suit and returns promptly at five. Welcome to the modern idealized family:  a figment of the imagination.

An estimated six-percent of families in the United States come from two parent single income households.  Yet this is held as the gold standard for raising healthy, competent, and successful children. If, God forbid, a child struggles during his teenage years, poor mom’s “choice” to work is blamed.

A recent Wall Street Journal article highlighted the illusions inherent in the idealized version of the modern family. Poignantly coining the term Motherphillia, the article speaks to the delusion of motherhood and family life displayed on television, in the tabloids, and in society’s psyche. For all we think family life should be like a 21st century version of Ozzie and Harriet, the demands on mothers and fathers only seem to be growing, with the latest hip expectations of cloth diapers, homemade baby foods, and – the newest fad – attachment parenting.

Actually, though, that last one may not be so bad.  Attachment parenting is new, but its roots go deep into efective, and humanistic, approaches to parenting.    

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Global summits don't have to be so useless

11/12/2010

G20 summit The leaders of nineteen of the world’s most powerful nations are meeting this week in North Korea at the G-20 summit. They’re negotiating about international financial stability, trade, currency, and shared responsibilities.

With the worst economic situation in decades tensions are high and risks are enormous, and the United States comes to the table after making new regulatory moves that have many nations concerned.

In the midst of international and domestic upheaval, great changes are undeniably warranted. The scary part is:  summits like this are notorious for not accomplishing much. This morning, Time, released a report entitled “Pessimism pervades at the G-20 summit.” Scary, right? At a time like this, as a nation and a world we cannot afford “cat fights” between our most powerful leaders.

We should be able to do better, and there are ways we can – if we can admit that the old approaches to international cooperation are often ineffective and commit to a new approach. 

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There's a right way, and a lot of wrong ways, to heal a veteran

11/11/2010

Veteran November 11th 2010 is Veteran’s Day in the United States – but despite the call to honor our soldiers, most people will be talking about recession and the recent elections. 

Whether we talk about them or not, however, there are still many men and women who are overseas, entrenched in one of the most life altering events that we humans can put ourselves through – war. Life altering may be a slightly pacifying way to say traumatizing, and the experience in being in a war forever shapes an individual, their families and their futures.

While we’ve mostly put the troops in the field out of our minds, there have been more stories recently about returning troops: stories that reflect the potential struggles that loved ones, children, schools, businesses and entire communities must deal with when a soldier comes home. Today we as a nation seem far more conscious oandr aware of the psychological and social aftermath of combat. Their trauma is set to echo for generations as it did for the families and children of the previous U.S. wars.

Stories about soldiers who have committed suicide have been getting far more attention than they ever did in previous wars.

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Meditate - for life!

11/10/2010

Abbot_of_Watkungtaphao_in_Tat_Hong_Waterfall We know that meditating can improve your quality of life;  what we didn’t know is that it can also help you live longer. 

Researchers at the University of California, Davis and the University of California San Francisco have found a link between meditation practice and the long-term health – and the results are positive. The study “Intensive meditation training, immune cell telomerase activity, and psychological mediators” was published in the November 2010 issue of Psychoneuroendocrinology.

Meditation has been shown to reduce stress and an individuals’ ability to cope with stress. In the practice of meditation, we can gain greater insight into ourselves. We can see our anger, stress and pain alongside our joy and happiness. Thich Nhat Hanh (Thây) speaks about the practice of meditation as being a pathway to becoming more aware of who we are and who we are in relation to others and the world around us.Knowing who we are can lead us to understanding the presence of stress, anger and pain in our lives…and we can begin to move through it all with greater ease as the meditation practice continues. This leads back to the research.

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We can't drug our way to a healthy America

11/09/2010

Pharmacy How badly does the U.S. need to revamp its health care system?  This badly:  according to a recent report by the Commonwealth Fund, the United States was second to last in providing health care for its communities.

The rising numbers in obesity, heart attacks, strokes, and diabetes also make the case.

The report titled Mirror, Mirror On the Wall: How the Performance of the U.S. Health Care System Compares Internationally compared the health care systems of the United States and six other countries – Australia, Canada, Germany, the Netherlands, New Zealand and the U.K.

The rating system looked at five key areas of care, Quality, Access, Efficiency, Equity, Healthy lives. The U.S. health system ranked last in all but one area of the report; that was in the area of Quality. We were only slightly above Canada in this area.

The U.S. certainly spends money on health care:  but spending may not be the answer.

A research study recently published in the New England Journal of Medicine found that spending on prescription drugs does not always lead to better health.

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Has environmentalism reached The Tipping Point?

11/08/2010

Usstamp-save-our Environmentalists:  stand up and take a bow.  The surest sign that a green revolution is catching on is that, love it or hate it, everybody knows what a “carbon footprint” is. 

But now that a green revolution has started, what does it take for it to come to fruition?

Some excellent suggestions have been made for ways to help businesses adjust to environmental programs;  to use local action as a springboard for global change;  to green our supply chains;  and how to talk about sustainability to non-environmentalists.  New models of leadership have been proposed.  These are practical and helpful:  but so far, we’re all still “raising awareness,” not changing society’s paradigm.  How do we take the green revolution from making people aware of their carbon footprint to getting them to take it as seriously as they do their gas mileage?

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Is depression really chemical? Your mind may vary

11/05/2010

SSRI Are you going crazy?  Chances are there’s an expert who says “Yes!”

Statistically the odds are staggering: In the United States today, one in every five Americans is affected by mental illness. It is estimated that nearly half of the American population will be diagnosed with some psychiatric disorder in the course of their lifetime. According to the World Health Organization, mental illness is the second leading disease that affects people in working market economies around the world.

We are, without a doubt, the craziest culture in world history.  At least if you go by the psychiatrists.  With the increasing stress and pressures of the twenty-first century, the demands on our fragile human nature continue to increase. And so, the question becomes, as a society are we “mentally ill” or are we simply buckling under the pressures of everyday living?

The answer, according to psychiatrists and the pharmaceutical companies, is that half of us are suffering from chemical imbalances in the brain (that’s according to the classifications in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual, or DSM-IV).  Thus, psychiatric medications – with their debilitating effects – attempt to “fix” the chemical imbalances that result in psychiatric conditions. 

Interesting, right? Plausible, not so much.

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Wisdom and age go together

11/04/2010

It turns out we have something to look forward to:  life does get better as we age. Old_Mennonite_Couple_Pennsylvania_1942

This is something that qualitative study has taught many people.  Here’s a wonderful quote from a Facebook post by Psychologist Irving D. Yalom, (Yes, he has a Facebook page, you’re never too old to have one)

“On being seventy-nine. We dread the limitations and losses of old age. But an encouraging word about the positive aspects of aging: this may sound odd but the last decade has been the best one of my life. Gone are many of the anxieties of my earlier days and I’ve been able to bask in the sheer pleasure of being alive in the company of those I love.”

 

This lovely sentiment is now backed up by recent research. 

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