Wednesday, August 26, 2009

Some Science: A Plastic Brain

Image courtesy of

Background: Brain plasticity (also referred to as neuroplasticity, cortical plasticity or cortical re-mapping) is the changing of our brain cells (neurons) and their organization. Our brains ability to be altered in this way by environmental stimulation is at its strongest during infancy. Prior to the 20th century, it was thought that most areas of the adult brain were fixed and incapable of change.

How: In the 1990's researchers from the University of Kansas demonstrated that spider monkeys, who had suffered a stroke (and resultant death of a cluster of brain cells and partial loss of body function) could be made to repeatedly extract food from a small container using their non-functioning hand. This showed that even adult brains were capable of re-wiring themselves. In other words healthy brain cells could bypass the dead cells and make new connections with other healthy neurons. That is, brain plasticity, which could be physically proven by brain dissection after death of the animal.

More info: Proving this same level of brain plasticity in humans has been difficult as you can't exactly dissect a living human. However, recent advances in brain imaging has meant that there is mounting evidence for human brain plasticity. Intensive, repetitive exercise to the non-functioning body part is accompanied by brain re-mapping.

In a recent study seven patients, blind in part of their visual field as a result of stroke, were asked to guess the direction in which a small dot was moving with an accompanying chime if they guessed correctly. The patients guessed that they had seen the dot all the while convinced that they indeed did not see it. Initially they guessed correctly 50% of the time but after weeks of training this increased to 80-90%. The signals reaching the brain are possibly bypassing the damaged brain cells and taking visual information to higher visual centres in the brain. Intensive training would be aimed at expanding and stimulating the re-routing of brain pathways.

This is such exciting news considering how devastating stroke is on the sufferer and their families. Let us hope that this research continues so that all stroke patients can have a chance of recovery.

Science 1996; 272:1791-94.
Journal of Neuroscience 2009; 29:3981-91.

Friday, August 21, 2009

My Mr Almost-16 is now 16!

Our darling eldest son is now officially 16. Sixteen. And 16 years ago like many other expectant mothers in my situation, I imagined what the end of my pregnancy and labour would be like.

I had visions of my water breaking. I had images of my husband rushing because I was getting one contraction after the other and delivery would be imminent. I would then be whisked off into the delivery room, and a couple (maybe three, at most) pushes later, there my baby would be, clean, smooth-skinned, bright eyed and cooing, with maybe a squeal of delight to meet his dad and I.

But no. At 42 weeks and counting, it felt like I was going to be pregnant for a whole year, or even forever. You see three months out from my delivery date (which, by 42 weeks had been and gone as quickly as a Ferrari on a racing track, ruffling my hair as it went by!) I had decided that I wanted a 'natural' deliver. Minimal drugs, homely surroundings and an absolutely spontaneous labour, no medical intervention whatsoever.

But at 42 weeks and one day my baby was still sitting snuggly inside. He even decided (in the last week no less!) that he was going to be breech. No amount of cajoling (ie resting on my shoulders while my legs were up against a wall...hang on a minute please while I wipe a tear or two of regret and loss as I consider that I was more flexible whilst heavily pregnant at the age of 22 than now, non-pregnant and 38!). My hubby and I tried everything to kick-start those contractions (and I mean everything), but to no avail. And on he held while I told people who asked how far along I was, that I was getting onto 43 weeks of pregnancy, and how their response was that this really suited the gestation period of an elephant. Ha ha.

On Friday 13th August at 1am, I woke up from a dream where I was screaming in pain in a way depicted in labour scenes in 1970's Egyptian Soap Operas. Just to give you an idea, the labouring woman would be on her bed (head on a flat pillow!) holding onto the bed rails, screaming in agony, head moving left to right and back again repeatedly, whilst supporting women (everyone from her sister and mother-in-law to the neighbour down the street) would be there looking on in her 'delivery room' (aka her bedroom) drinking thick, heavily brewed coffee, gossiping, singing and belly-dancing awaiting the child-in-utero to appear...

With a nasty jolt, I woke up to an empty room (my hubby was watching cricket in the lounge room). I soon realised that my two contractions had been 15 minutes apart. I yelled out to hubby who (not realising what the fuss was about...he had obviously become quite used to me being pregnant) casually helped me out of bed and called the midwife at our hospital's birthing centre. The third contraction came 20 minutes later. No none of that rushing, whisking, edge-of-your-seat stuff! Oh how unbaby-like, how undramatic! We casually walked out of our second floor unit. As I loudly contemplated my overly swollen being finally coming to an end, my darling hubby looked at me and said that because he didn't remember what I looked like before pregnancy it didn't matter what I look like after and anyway "it'll be smaller than this" gesticulating with his hands almost one metre apart. My only thought, through gritted teeth and sharp eyes, was: I love you too darling!

After a calm labour (except for the odd comment or two to my hubby whilst I was in close to delivery which equals maximum pain!) and on all fours, I delivered our eldest son. He was born at 4:40 pm and was 4.4 kilograms (9.7 lbs) and 56 cm (22.4 in) long. He was wrinkly, dry-skinned, puffy-eyed and his fingernails were so overgrown they curved down the tips of his fingers. He was perfect.

Happy Birthday our sweet (and he really is sweet) 16.
Postscript: Darling hubby and I are still married!

Tuesday, August 11, 2009

I don't want you anymore

We had a passion like no other,
You were my first
And could have been my last,
But alas, that was not to be.

Your scent once sent me wild with desire
Now off-putting, nay revolting even
Your sweet tenderness overflowed from your oh so soft heart,
Now all I feel is gut-wrenching pain, misery

Early on in our relationship,
I needed from you only the very basic and simple
Pure white sweet nourishment, love
Oh you gave that to me, more.

As the years went on
Our love progressed
To something so sophisticated
So deep, rich.

To think that you were there
So early and for so long
I would not admit the pain you caused
I could not deny myself the pleasure, of you.

But now after years,
I know and accept
I cannot let myself be tortured
I release myself of all the hurt, deception.

I can live without you,
I have moved on
There are others although not you,
Valid replacements, acceptable, they will have to do.

You have just read about my love and loss with all things containing lactose: milk and every single variety of cheese and their by-products.
Forgive me, dear friend, if I led you to believe otherwise... ;)

Wednesday, August 5, 2009

Some Science: Lycopene

Background: I was recently asked to write an article about lycopene. I knew lycopene was found in tomatoes but that was pretty much the extent of my knowledge on it. My search for the topic has taught me that lycopene can be found in any red fruit (watermelon, beetroot, even apricots, peaches and guava). However, lycopene is at its highest concentration in tomatoes (the riper the tomato the higher its lycopene content).

Why: General scientific belief is that lycopene (directly ingested as opposed to taken as a supplement) has anti-cancer properties particularly against prostate cancer.

More info please: Lycopenes are the strongest known ingestible anti-oxidants with a superior 0xygen-binding capability. This means that the DNA in our cells is protected from oxygen damage and possibly cancerous changes. Processed tomatoes (such as canned tomatoes, tomato juice, tomato purees even tomato sauce/ketchup) have the greatest concentration of lycopenes. The effect of lycopene is enhanced with heating and is more easily absorbed when a fat is ingested with it (e.g. olive oil).

Now, I think lasagne, pizza or even a hearty vegetable bake might be on the menu tonight!

NB: If 'Some Science' is an interesting segment to you, please let me know and I will make it regular.


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