How competitive is your nose?

September 25, 2009 by  
Filed under Medical Research & Studies, Strange But True


How competitive is your nose? Did you know, and do you care, that when the nose encounters two different scents simultaneously, the brain processes them separately through each nostril in an alternating fashion? This means your nostrils are competitive and act almost as rivals in tracking down different odours. We are indebted to those find fellows at Rice University in Houston for looking at this as part of a psychology study.

They took 12 volunteers and got them to sample smells from two bottles; one contained phenyl ethyl alcohol, which smells like a rose, and the other had n-butanol, which smells like a marker pen. The bottles were fitted with nosepieces so that volunteers could sample both scents simultaneously, one through each nostril. During 20 rounds of sampling, all 12 participants experienced switches between smelling predominantly the rose scent and smelling predominantly the marker scent. In the laboratory setting in which each nostril simultaneously received a different smell, the participants experienced an ‘olfactory illusion,’ so that instead of perceiving a constant mixture of the two smells, they perceive one of the smells, followed by the other, in an alternating fashion. It is as if the nostrils were competing with one another, and although both smells are equally present, the brain attends to predominantly one of them at a time.

This sort of rivalry is not new apparently as our eyes do the same thing. When they simultaneously view two different images, one for each eye, they are seen alternately one at a time. The same goes for your hearing as when alternating tones an octave apart are played out of phase to each ear, most people experience a single tone that goes back and forth.

This research is aimed long term at contributing to the assessment and cure of olfactory disorders in patients and, in particular, the elderly.

Dogs are as intelligent as a 2 year old

September 10, 2009 by  
Filed under Strange But True


I have never met a pet owner yet who isn’t convinced of the intelligence of their own particular love object, whether it’s an Akita or an armadillo, but science has come down on the side of the dog.

Stanley Coren is the canine researcher at the University of British Columbia and presented his findings on “How Dogs Think” at the American Psychological Association’s 117th Annual Convention this month.

Apparently they can also understand more than 150 words (though heel doesn’t seem to be universally obeyed) and can be manipulative enough to intentionally deceive other dogs and people to get treats. Has this man never watched a dog sitting gazing soulfully at its owner during dinner? Did he really need a research project to tell him that?

He is the author of more than a half-dozen popular books on dogs and their behaviour, and his reviews of numerous studies led him to conclude that dogs have the ability to solve complex problems and are more like humans than previously thought.

According to several behavioural measures, Coren says dogs’ mental abilities are close to a child age 2 to 2.5 years. In my experience they are also as stubborn, as the ‘terrible two’s’ but he doesn’t go into that.

Before you enrol Fido in play school, it seems the intelligence of various types of dogs does differ according to breed. It seems there are three types of dog intelligence: instinctive (what the dog is bred to do), adaptive (how well the dog learns from its environment to solve problems) and working and obedience (the equivalent of ‘school learning’).

Who is top dog?

In order of intelligence they are:

** Border collies

** Poodles

** German shepherds

** Golden retrievers

** Dobermans

** Shetland sheepdogs

** Labrador retrievers

Although the average dog can learn 165 words, including signals, the best dogs (those in the top 20 percent of dog intelligence) can learn 250 words. They can also count up to four or five and have a basic understanding of arithmetic and will notice errors in simple computations, such as 1+1=1 or 1+1=3. So no trying to cheat on the dog biscuit allowance or they will report you to Carol Vorderman.

Four studies he examined looked how dogs model the behaviour of humans or other dogs to learn the location of treats or toys, route mapping to find the fastest way to a favourite chair, how to operate mechanisms (which is how they can open the back door) and the meaning of words and symbolic concepts like fetch although ‘no’ doesn’t seem to register too often.

The most amazing characteristic to me is that during play, dogs are capable of deliberately trying to deceive other dogs and people in order to get rewards. Not only capable, but are nearly as successful in deceiving humans as humans are in deceiving dogs.

Remember, it always pays to tell the truth to people, and your pets.

Oh really? Cocaine and heroin can harm the placenta

Prepare, as ever, to be astounded. Apparently cocaine and heroin can harm the placenta as they increase its permeability and so allow it to be passed through to the foetus. Well really, as it’s already well known that babies are born ‘addicted’ from their mothers who have a drug habit I wonder why anyone thought this needed proving? It seems that Antoine Malek from Zurich University Hospital’s Department of Obstetrics, felt the need to prove the obvious – and guess what, he managed it. Let’s be clear here, all drugs potentially could pass into the placenta which is why doctors are careful about what they prescribe to pregnant women and anyone who is a habitual drug user is usually aware of the risks, even if they ignore them or aren’t able to come off the drugs during the pregnancy. Often the solution is to go on methadone as a substitute, but users need to be aware that too much of it can also harm the foetus, and particularly if it is combined with any other drugs.

Losing your job makes you stressed? – Oh really?!

May 21, 2009 by  
Filed under Strange But True

Good old Harvard, just goes to show that even the brightest and best seem to lack common sense. Would you have guessed that losing your job could affect your health? Think I will send them a copy of my ‘How To Cope Successfully With Stress’ book so they can see in black and white the relationship between stress and health.

This particularly researcher has ‘discovered’ that if you lose a job through no fault of your own then you are twice as likely to report developing a new ailment like high blood pressure, diabetes or heart disease over the next year and a half, compared to people who were continuously employed. More interesting to me, is the fact that these US statistics indicated that the risk was just as high for those who found new jobs quickly as it was for those who remained unemployed, leading me to believe their stress levels are just as high perhaps through uncertainty as to whether this job will last or not.

Being unemployed is stressful, and can cause serious physical and emotional responses which all affect health. Good habits like a healthy diet and regular exercise are often abandoned and comfort eating and increased alcohol and tobacco consumption are often evident. Though the research points up the obvious, if it can be leveraged so there is some more focus on the effect of the economic downturn on people’s health as well as the financial aspects then maybe it will be worthwhile.

The coldest remedy for Asthma?

May 8, 2009 by  
Filed under Strange But True


Asthma sufferers usually have a variety of remedies available to them to help cope with their condition, but this week I read of one that is so simple, and a trifle bizarre, that I had to share it with you. A sufferer wrote in a forum that when they were having a really bad day and their eyes were really sore, they would open their freezer, put their head in, and take in a few big deep breath. That cold air really seemed to help them – let me know if it works for you too.

How to have a holistic dog diet

May 1, 2009 by  
Filed under At Home, Strange But True


Another winner at the Natural and Organic Shows was the ALLDOG Bakery and their holistic biscuits. These healthy dog biscuits are Certified Holistic by BAHNM (British Association Holistic Nutrition and Medicine) and they consult with leading veterinary surgeons for suggestions and guidance while developing their products. Naturally they contain no genetically modified elements, artificial flavours, salts, sugars or flavour enhancers. They only contain sodium and sweeteners that occur naturally in the ingredients.

You can give your dog a variety of treats from Salmon Snacks to Holistic Herbs for vegetarian dogs – if you know whether your dog’s preferences this could make you his best friend. As dogs can’t eat chocolate without danger to their health, they have also come up something called Carob Crunch which gives them all the taste, but none of the risk – and it is has 60% fewer calories than chocolate. More information on their whole range at

Blow on your cup of tea!


If you have an asbestos mouth, it is not something to boast about as a new report on the British Medical Journal website has found that drinking very hot tea (70°C or more) can almost double the risk of cancer of the oesophagus.

Scientists are also willing to give us the facts, and apparently the optimum period to wait is 4 minutes so get out the egg timer and then count to 60. The study was carried out in northern Iran, where large amounts of very hot tea are drunk every day, but in Britain we apparently prefer our tea at 56-60°C – so only pay heed if you are one of the ‘scalding’ variety of tea drinkers!

Oh really?


You know me, I love a good – really useless – piece of research that anyone with a brain cell could have deduced in a nanosecond. In this case, you will be astounded to learn that if you give very young children swimming lessons it will apparently not increase their risk of drowning. I would have thought it would actually be helpful, but truly I could not make this up, and am indebted to the researchers at the National Institutes of Health in the USA for this truly revelatory information.

The research came about because apparently health professionals in the US are concerned that giving swimming lessons to children under 4 might indirectly increase drowning risk by making parents and caregivers less vigilant when the kids are in the water. While acknowledging that even good swimmers can drown, they want to reassure parents that teaching kids to swim won’t increase their risk.

So glad to have cleared that up for you, and if you know of any research grants available for studying the effects on blood pressure of lying on a couch reading Georgette Heyer novels do let me know, I could make medical history.

Organic weed control

March 17, 2009 by  
Filed under At Home, Strange But True


I know it’s not yet officially spring and weeds are something you are only dreaming about in the long hot summer to come – yes, I can dream too – but it’s best to be prepared. Healthy eating is dependent on healthy food and using organic methods to keep the garden under control is easier now than ever. Scientists at the US Agricultural Research Service have a new one way for you, they are suggesting you use white mustard seed.

It contains a compound called sinalbin; that’s the one that gives the mustard its bite and they think it could be just the thing for killing off or suppressing particular weedy grasses and annual broadleaf weeds

The scientists turned the mustard seed into a sort of mulchy meal (no I’m not a gardener but that’s what it looks like to me) and spread it thickly over a trial area and found that two weeks after application it reduced common weeds by up to 90 per cent. However, don’t apply it round your vegetables, particularly onions until they are past the two leaf stage as they didn’t seem to do too well. If you don’t fancy mulching the plants why not just plant some around the bed as it ought to at least have a deterrent effect and the strong aroma will certainly keep the neighbourhood cats away

The only thing you need to know about losing weight


There are a million diets out there, but if you want to lose weight the only thing you need to focus on is eating less. Obvious but true, and now Dr. Frank Sacks, a professor at the Harvard School of Public Health, has published a study in the New England Journal of Medicine that confirms what – if you have any sense – you already know. No one diet is better than any other, just find one you like and take in fewer calories than you are currently consuming. You just need to get the ratio right between the calories you burn up, and the calories you take in and the ideal diet plan would be to have 750 fewer calories each day than you are expending.

The Professor tested out various heart-healthy diets and asked the participants to also exercise 90 minutes a week. They all lost on average around 13 lbs.after six months of dieting, or about 7% of their starting weight, regardless of which diet plan they followed. As ever I am astounded that anyone would pay good money to prove something we all know – and may not like, but that’s another issue – but the US National Heart, Lung and Blood Institute handed over the funds for the study and they were delighted with the findings. However, most of the participants couldn’t sustain that 750 calorie mark and most by the end of the trial consuming only 225 calories less than they expended.

The researchers concluded that this target was too high, and a gradual reduction is better, and I entirely agree with them. A small reduction in calorie intake that is gradual and sustained will see the best results and a weight loss of just 5 percent can make a substantial difference to your health. So whatever diet you choose just eat less, and exercise more = boring, but effective.

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