Category Archives: Myths & Legends

The Case for Drinking as Much Coffee as You Like

By Lindsay Abrams

coffeecase-1

“What I tell patients is, if you like coffee, go ahead and drink as much as you want and can,” says Dr. Peter Martin, director of the Institute for Coffee Studies at Vanderbilt University. He’s even developed a metric for monitoring your dosage: If you are having trouble sleeping, cut back on your last cup of the day. From there, he says, “If you drink that much, it’s not going to do you any harm, and it might actually help you. A lot.”

Officially, the American Medical Association recommends conservatively that “moderate tea or coffee drinking likely has no negative effect on health, as long as you live an otherwise healthy lifestyle.” That is a lackluster endorsement in light of so much recent glowing research. Not only have most of coffee’s purported ill effects been disproven — the most recent review fails to link it the development of hypertension — but we have so, so much information about its benefits. We believe they extend from preventing Alzheimer’s disease to protecting the liver. What we know goes beyond small-scale studies or limited observations. The past couple of years have seen findings, that, taken together, suggest that we should embrace coffee for reasons beyond the benefits of caffeine, and that we might go so far as to consider it a nutrient.

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The most recent findings that support coffee as a panacea will make their premiere this December in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition. Coffee, researchers found, appears to reduce the risk of type 2 diabetes.

“There have been many metabolic studies that have shown that caffeine, in the short term, increases your blood glucose levels and increases insulin resistance,” Shilpa Bhupathiraju, a research fellow at the Harvard School of Public Health’s Department of Nutrition and the study’s lead author, told me. But “those findings really didn’t translate into an increased risk for diabetes long-term.” During the over 20 years of follow-up, and controlling for all major lifestyle and dietary risk factors, coffee consumption, regardless of caffeine content, was associated with an 8 percent decrease in the risk of type 2 diabetes in women. In men, the reduction was 4 percent for regular coffee and 7 percent for decaf.

coffeecase-2The findings were arrived at rigorously, relying on data from the Nurses’ Health Study and the Health Professionals Follow-Up Study, two prospective studies that followed almost 80,000 women and over 40,000 men from the 1980s through 2008. Although self-reported, the data is believed to be extremely reliable because it comes from individuals who know more about health and disease than the average American (the downside, of course, is that results won’t always apply to the general population — but in this case, Bhupathuraju explained that there’s no reason to believe that the biological effects seen in health professionals wouldn’t be seen in everyone else).

That there were no major differences in risk reduction between regular and decaf coffee suggests there’s something in it, aside from its caffeine content, that could be contributing to these observed benefits. It also demonstrates that caffeine was in no way mitigating coffee’s therapeutic effects. Of course, what we choose to add to coffee can just as easily negate the benefits — various sugar-sweetened beverages were all significantly associated with an increased risk of diabetes. A learned taste for cream and sugar (made all the more enticing when they’re designed to smell like seasonal celebrations) is likely one of the reasons why we associate coffee more with decadence than prudence.

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“Coffee and caffeine have been inexorably intertwined in our thinking, but truth is coffee contains a whole lot of other stuff with biological benefits,” said Martin. And most concerns about caffeine’s negative effects on the heart have been dispelled. In June, a meta-analysis of ten years of research went so far as to find an inverse association between habitual, moderate consumption and risk of heart failure. The association peaked at four cups per day, and coffee didn’t stop being beneficial until subjects had increased their daily consumption to beyond ten cups.

Caffeine might also function as a pain reliever. A study from September suggested as much when its authors stumbled across caffeinated coffee as a possible confounding variable in its study of the back, neck, and shoulder pains plaguing office drones: Those who reported drinking coffee before the experiment experienced less intense pain.

The data is even more intriguing — and more convincing — for caffeine’s effects as a salve against more existential pains. While a small study this month found that concentrated amounts of caffeine can increase positivity in the moment, last September the nurses’ cohort demonstrated a neat reduction in depression rates among women that became stronger with increased consumption of caffeinated coffee.

But that caffeine is only mechanism behind coffee’s health effects is supported by a small study of 554 Japanese adults from October that looked at coffee and green tea drinking habits in relation to the bundle of risk factors for coronary artery disease, stroke, and type 2 diabetes known together as metabolic syndrome. Only coffee — not tea — was associated with reduced risk, mostly because of dramatic reductions observed in serum triglyceride levels.

So aside from caffeine, just what are you getting in a cup, or two, or six? Thousands of mostly understudied chemicals that contribute to flavor and aroma, including plant phenols, chlorogenic acids, and quinides, all of which function as antioxidants. Diterpenoids in unfiltered coffee may raise good cholesterol and lower bad cholesterol. And, okay, there’s also ash which, to be fair, is no more healthful than you would think — though it certainly isn’t bad for you.

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Some of the chemicals in coffee are known carcinogens, though as far as we know that’s only been seen in rodents, not in the small levels we encounter in everyday consumption. Findings, on the other hand, have been supporting that coffee can protect against some cancers. When the Harvard School of Public Health visited the Health Professionals Follow-Up cohort in May 2011, it found that coffee’s protective effects extend only to some types of prostate cancer (the most aggressive types, actually). In a separate study of the same population from this past July, they also found a reduced risk of basal cell carcinoma with increased caffeine intake.

The association was strongest for those who drank six or more cups per day.

That same high dosage is also effective in fighting against colorectal cancer, according to a prospective study from June of almost 500,000  adults conducted by the American Society for Nutrition. While the association was greatest for caffeinated varieties, decaf made a small but significant showing. A meta-analysis of 16 independent studies this past January added endometrial cancer to the group of cancers whose relative risk decreases with increased “dosage” of coffee. And in 2011, a large population of post-menopausal women in Sweden saw a “modest” reduction in breast cancer risk with immoderate consumption of 5 or more daily cups.

coffeecase-3Taking the benefits of coffee any further requires being patient-specific, but findings apply to a broad range of populations and conditions:

If you have fatty liver disease, a study from last December found that unspecified amounts can reduce your risk of fibrosis.

If you’re on a road trip, you may respond like the 24 volunteers for an experiment from February who were subjected to two hours of simulated “monotonous highway driving,” given a short break, then sent back out for two more hours. Those given a cup of coffee during the break weaved less, and showed reductions in driving speed, mental effort, and subjective sleepiness. If you’re on a weight-training regimen, it can provide a mild (and legal) doping effect.

If you’re trying to enhance your workout, the results of one experiment from October found that drinks containing caffeine enhances performance. And then another one from Dr. Martin in 2008: He coauthored a study of people enrolled in Alcoholics Anonymous in which there appeared to be an association between upping coffee intake and staying sober.

Nothing can be all good, and there is still information working against coffee — in October, The Atlantic reported on a study from the health professionals cohort that suggested a link between excessive coffee consumption and glaucoma. “The current recommendation is that if somebody’s not drinking coffee, you don’t tell them to start,” said Bhupathiraju.

But she agrees that drinking coffee, and more of it, does appear to be beneficial. The evidence remains overwhelmingly in coffee’s favor. Yes, it was observational, but the study published in May in the New England Journal of Medicine looked at hundreds of thousands of men and women and found this bottom line result: people who drank coffee lived longer than those who didn’t.

And the more they drank, the longer they lived. If you’re into that sort of thing.

Source: theatlantic.com

Where did it go? Scientists ‘undiscover’ Pacific island

By Nicky Phillips

Most explorers dream of discovering uncharted territory, but a team of Australian scientists have done the exact opposite.

They have found an island that doesn’t exist.

Even onboard the ship, the weather maps the captain had showed an island in this location. -Dr Maria Seton, University of Sydney

The island, named Sandy Island on Google Earth, also exists on marine charts and world maps and allegedly sits between Australia and New Caledonia in the south Pacific.

The island that isn’t … how it is highlighted on a map

But when the voyage’s chief scientist, Maria Seton, and her crew sailed past where the island should be, they found nothing but blue ocean.

“We became suspicious when the navigation charts used by the ship showed a depth of 1400 metres in an area where our scientific maps and Google Earth showed the existence of a large island,” Dr Maria Seton, a geologist from the University of Sydney, said.

“Somehow this error has propagated through to the world coastline database from which a lot of maps are made.”

The missing island has regularly appeared in scientific publications since at least 2000.

Chief scientist Dr Maria Seton on board the RV Southern Surveyor.

“Even onboard the ship, the weather maps the captain had showed an island in this location,” Dr Seton said.

Neither the French government – the invisible island would sit within French territorial waters if it existed – nor the ship’s nautical charts, which are based on depth measurements, had the island marked on their maps.

Dr Seton had no idea how the island came to be on so many maps, but she is determined to get to the bottom of the mystery.

Steven Micklethwaite from the University of Western Australia said, “We all had a good giggle at Google as we sailed through the island, then we started compiling information about the seafloor, which we will send to the relevant authorities so that we can change the world map.”

Mike Prince, the director of charting services for the Australian Hydrographic Service, a department within the Navy that produces the country’s official nautical charts, said the world coastline database incorporated individual reports that were sometimes old or contained errors.

“We take anything off that database with a pinch of salt,” he said.

While some map makers intentionally include phantom streets to deter copyright infringements, that was not standard practice with nautical charts, said Mr Prince.

“[That would] reduce confidence in what is actually correct,” he said.

Nabil Naghdy, the product manager of Google Maps for Australia and New Zealand, said Google Earth consulted a variety of authoritative public and commercial data sources in building its maps.

“The world is a constantly changing place, and keeping on top of these changes is a never-ending endeavour,” Mr Naghdy said.

He encouraged users to alert Google to incorrect entires using the ‘Report a Problem’ tool, found at the bottom right corner of the map, which they would then confirm with other users or data providers.

The discovery took place onboard the RV Southern Surveyor, Australia’s Marine National Facility research vessel, during a 25-day research trip in the eastern Coral Sea.

Large fragments of eastern Australia split from the mainland as the Tasman Sea formed about 100 million years ago, when Australia split apart from the super continent Gondwana, which included Antarctica, India and Africa.

“This dispersed all the continental fragments in the area, which subsided and [went] below sea level,” Dr Seton, who docked in Brisbane on Monday, said.

“We went to find those fragments of our country,” she said.

The team collected 197 different rock samples, more than 6800 km of marine geophysical data and mapped over 14,000 square kilometres of the ocean floor.

They also recovered limestone, which forms from near surface coral reefs, from a depth of three kilometres.

“That means we’ve had this massive drowning of the area. That’s was a surprising discovery,” said Dr Seton.

Source: smh.com.au

World’s most unsolved mysteries

Few stories have the power to captivate us more than those that remain unresolved. Codes, puzzles and cryptic public art tease us with their intrigue: Why is their message coded? What great secrets might they hide? Despite the efforts of our most learned historians, cleverest cryptographers and most determined treasure hunters, history is replete with riddles that continue to confound us today. Fictional tales like those featured in “The Da Vinci Code” and the movie “National Treasure” have got nothing on these real-life puzzles. Here’s our list of 10 of the world’s most cryptic unsolved mysteries and codes.

Voynich Manuscript

Named after the Polish-American antiquarian bookseller Wilfrid M. Voynich, who acquired it in 1912, the Voynich Manuscript is a detailed 240-page book written in a language or script that is completely unknown. Its pages are also filled with colorful drawings of strange diagrams, odd events and plants that do not seem to match any known species, adding to the intrigue of the document and the difficulty of deciphering it. The original author of the manuscript remains unknown, but carbon dating has revealed that its pages were made sometime between 1404 and 1438. It has been called “the world’s most mysterious manuscript.”

Theories abound about the origin and nature of the manuscript. Some believe it was meant to be a pharmacopoeia, to address topics in medieval or early modern medicine. Many of the pictures of herbs and plants hint that it many have been some kind of textbook for an alchemist. The fact that many diagrams appear to be of astronomical origin, combined with the unidentifiable biological drawings, has even led some fanciful theorists to propose that the book may have an alien origin.

One thing most theorists agree on is that the book is unlikely to be a hoax, given the amount of time, money and detail that would have been required to make it.

Kryptos

Kryptos is a mysterious encrypted sculpture designed by artist Jim Sanborn which sits right outside the headquarters of the CIA in Langley, Va. It’s so mysterious, in fact, that not even the CIA has completely cracked the code.

The sculpture contains four inscriptions, and although three of them have been cracked, the fourth remains elusive (Read what the first three inscriptions say here). In 2006 Sanborn let slip that there are clues in the first inscriptions to the last one, and in 2010 he released another clue: the Letters 64-69 NYPVTT in part 4 encode the text BERLIN.

Think you have what it takes to solve it?

Beale Ciphers

The Beale Ciphers are a set of three ciphertexts that supposedly reveal the location of one of the grandest buried treasures in U.S. history: thousands of pounds of gold, silver and jewels. The treasure was originally obtained by a mysterious man named Thomas Jefferson Beale in 1818 while prospecting in Colorado.

Of the three ciphertexts, only the second one has been cracked. Interestingly, the U.S. Declaration of Independence turned out to be the key — a curious fact given that Beale shares his name with the author of the Declaration of Independence.

The cracked text does reveal the county where the treasure was buried: Bedford County, Va., but its exact location is likely encrypted in one of the other uncracked ciphers. To this day, treasure hunters scour the Bedford County hillsides digging (often illegally) for the loot.

Phaistos Disc

The mystery of the Phaistos Disc is a story that sounds like something out of an Indiana Jones movie. Discovered by Italian archaeologist Luigi Pernier in 1908 in the Minoan palace-site of Phaistos, the disc is made of fired clay and contains mysterious symbols that may represent an unknown form of hieroglyphics. It is believed that it was designed sometime in the second millennium BC.

Some scholars believe that the hieroglyphs resemble symbols of Linear A and Linear B, scripts once used in ancient Crete. The only problem? Linear A also eludes decipherment.

Today the disc remains one of the most famous puzzles of archaeology.

Shugborough Inscription

Look from afar at the 18th-century Shepherd’s Monument in Staffordshire, England, and you might take it as nothing more than a sculpted re-creation of Nicolas Poussin’s famous painting, “Arcadian Shepherds.” Look closer, though, and you’ll notice a curious sequence of letters: DOUOSVAVVM — a code that has eluded decipherment for over 250 years.

Though the identity of the code carver remains a mystery, some have speculated that the code could be a clue left behind by the Knights of Templar about the whereabouts of the Holy Grail.

Many of the world’s greatest minds have tried to crack the code and failed, including Charles Dickens and Charles Darwin.

Tamam Shud Case

Considered to be one of Australia’s most profound mysteries, the Tamam Shud Case revolves around an unidentified man found dead in December 1948 on Somerton beach in Adelaide, Australia. Aside from the fact that the man could never be identified, the mystery deepened after a tiny piece of paper with the words “Tamam Shud” was found in a hidden pocket sewn within the dead man’s trousers. (It is also referred to as “Taman Shud.”)

The phrase translates as “ended” or “finished” and is a phrase used on the last page of a collection of poems called “The Rubaiyat” of Omar Khayyam. Adding to the mystery, a copy of Khayyam’s collection was later found that contained a scribbled code in it believed to have been left by the dead man himself.

Due to the content of the Khayyam poem, many have come to believe that the message may represent a suicide note of sorts, but it remains uncracked, as does the case.

The Wow! Signal

One summer night in 1977, Jerry Ehman, a volunteer for SETI, or the Search for Extraterrestrial Intelligence, may have become the first man ever to receive an intentional message from an alien world.  Ehman was scanning radio waves from deep space, hoping to randomly come across a signal that bore the hallmarks of one that might be sent by intelligent aliens, when he saw his measurements spike.

The signal lasted for 72 seconds, the longest period of time it could possibly be measured by the array that Ehman was using. It was loud and appeared to have been transmitted from a place no human has gone before: in the constellation Sagittarius near a star called Tau Sagittarii, 120 light-years away.

Ehman wrote the words “Wow!” on the original printout of the signal, thus its title as the “Wow! Signal.”

All attempts to locate the signal again have failed, leading to much controversy and mystery about its origins and its meaning.

Zodiac letters

The Zodiac letters are a series of four encrypted messages believed to have been written by the famous Zodiac Killer, a serial killer who terrorized residents of the San Francisco Bay Area in the late 1960s and early 1970s. The letters were likely written as a way to taunt journalists and police, and though one of the messages has been deciphered, the three others remain uncracked.

The identity of the Zodiac Killer also remains a mystery, though no Zodiac murders have been identified since 1970.

Georgia Guidestones

The Georgia Guidestones, sometimes referred to as the “American Stonehenge,” is a granite monument erected in Elbert County, Ga., in 1979. The stones are engraved in eight languages — English, Spanish, Swahili, Hindi, Hebrew, Arabic, Chinese and Russian — each relaying 10 “new” commandments for “an Age of Reason.” The stones also line up with certain astronomical features.

Though the monument contains no encrypted messages, its purpose and origin remain shrouded in mystery. They were commissioned by a man who has yet to be properly identified, who went by the pseudonym of R.C. Christian.

Of the 10 commandments, the first one is perhaps the most controversial: “Maintain humanity under 500,000,000 in perpetual balance with nature.” Many have taken it to be a license to cull the human population down to the specified number, and critics of the stones have called for them to be destroyed. Some conspiracy theorists even believe they may have been designed by a “Luciferian secret society” calling for a new world order.

Rongorongo

Rongorongo is a system of mysterious glyphs discovered written on various artifacts on Easter Island. Many believe they represent a lost system of writing or proto-writing and could be one of just three or four independent inventions of writing in human history.

The glyphs remain undecipherable, and their true messages — which some believe could offer hints about the perplexing collapse of the statue-building Easter Island civilization — may be lost forever.

Source: TeluuDailies