December In A Nutshell

Bagged salad... danger?

Salad bags are often kept moist to maintain the freshness of its contents. However, vitamins and minerals from the leaves can diffuse out into the water. The trapped water becomes a good source for bacterial growth. In fact, a study published in Applied and Environmental Microbiology showed that the population of Salmonella bacteria on a salad bag grew tenfold within 5 days.

There are suggestions that the bacteria in the salad will gain mutations and become more contagious. In 2011, contaminated bean sprouts affected around 2000 people across Europe.

Salmonella grows well in spinach while E. coli thrive in rocket leaves.

Some advice include:

  1. Check the due date
  2. Avoid inflated bags
  3. Eat salad on the day it is bought
  4. Wash the salad before eating

A 7-day GP Service

Health Secretary Jeremy Hunt is advocating the idea of a 7-day GP service for the public. The Department of Health has pledged to recruit an additional 5000 doctors for this post. Some promises are set out as encouragement and these include an easier return to the medical profession for those who took leave off, allowing part-time work as well as financial incentives to sub-specialise in areas of shortages.

In 2009, there were 32111 GPs in England and the figure rose by about 500 to 32628 after 5 years. However, with the increase in population being factored in, the number of GPs per 100000 people actually dropped from 62.4 to 60.6. Therefore, this explains the need to have more GPs in the future.

The waiting time for an appointment can also be an indicator of potential GP shortages, but there is no official data to keep track of it. Hence, the only way is by counting the number of GPs.

Nevertheless, it is not easy to achieve a 7-day service. Apart from the need to fill current GP vacancies, an expanding GP service also translates into the need for more supporting workforce like nurses and receptionists.

Read more at the BBC website.


Parkinson's and gut bacteria

Animal experiments conducted by a group of researches in California suggest that Parkinson’s disease may originate from gut bacteria.

Scientists used mice which were genetically programmed to produce a high level of α-synuclein, a protein linked to damage in the brains of Parkinson’s patients. The mice were then separated into 2 groups; those who have gut bacteria and those who do not. Results showed that the former developed Parkinsonian symptoms but the symptoms not significant in the latter. It was thought that the bacteria release chemical messengers which activate microglia (the brain’s immune cells) that leads to brain damage.

Currently, patients diagnosed with Parkinson’s are given medication which slows down the disease progression. If the experiments are replicable in human subjects, it could revolutionalise the way Parkinson's diease is treated. One way is to introduce drugs which eliminate gut bacteria. However, these commensal bacteria bring many health benefits to the body as well.

This avenue is definitely promising but much work still needs to be done to further understand the root cause of Parkinson’s disease.


Smoking misconceptions

As smoking is addictive, it takes a lot of effort to quit. Here are some common beliefs that hinder its cessation:

  1. Quitting requires willpower
    • Quitting is a question of sincerity and motivation. One should be aspired to quit smoking via his/her own desire instead of using an external inspirational source like pleasing someone or saving money as a reason.
  2. Quitting smoking means gaining weight
    • Nicotine suppresses our appetite. Without nicotine, appetite increases and hence, there will be weight gain. Among quitters, on average, females gain 2.8kg; while men gain 3.2kg. However, not all quitters put on weight. Therefore, smokers are advised to develop a plan to stop smoking gradually so that any frustration about weight gain can be addressed properly.
  3. Quitting smoking disrupts mood
    • It does leads to irritability but it is short term so perseverance is the key
  4. Smoking calms the nerves and reduces stress
    • Nicotine is a mental stimulant. It is similar to cocaine but milder. Nicotine keeps one alert and awake but it is not a psychoactive drug. Additionally, smoking has vasoconstrictive properties worse than that of alcohol.
  5. Smoking 20 cigarettes is twice as bad as smoking 10
    • Instead of the number of cigarettes, the biggest factor is the duration of smoking exposure. Nicotine replacement products help to reduce this exposure time.

Ultimately, a successful cessation requires psychological, behavioural and pharmaceutical interventions. For more information, visit The Star's website.


Ecstasy - potential a treatment for PTSD

A clinical trial on the efficacy of ecstasy in treating post traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) has entered into its third and final stage before it is submitted for approval as a prescription drug in the US.

Most of the subjects in the second trial phase were army veterans. Many experienced dramatic improvement after taking ecstasy together with three eight-hour sessions of psychotherapy.

MDMA, the active component in ecstasy, is short for methylenedioxmethamphetamine. MDMA causes a large release of serotonin in the brain, a hormone that regulates sleep, mood and appetite.

The third stage will involve at least 230 patients, with the trial funded by the non-profit Multidisciplinary Association of Psychedelic Studies which has been advocating the use of illegal drugs in medicine since 1985.


In a nutshell, what we once thought was benign, like gut bacteria, may end up causing serious problems like Parkison's disease, while commonly abused drugs might be used therapeutically instead, such as using ecstasy in PTSD patients. Also apparently bags of salads are unhealthy now? This goes on to show how research can challenge common preconceptions. However, there is still evidence that smoking is harmful and should be stopped, albeit carefully to avoid negative effects. If in doubt, consult your local GP.

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