SOCIAL STUDIES
A DAILY MISCELLANY OF INFORMATION BY MICHAEL KESTERTON

March 20th; March 21st.

Wednesday, March 20, 2002  Print Edition, Page A24
World o' diabetes
Some notes:
Brushing and flossing may help stave off diabetes, according to U.S. studies released this month. Gum disease may be even more important than obesity or age as a factor in the onset of diabetes in adults, says Sara Grossi, clinical assistant professor of oral biology at the University of Buffalo in New York. One study, presented to the International Association of Dental Research, measured the glucose control of 75 Pueblo Indians who had type 2 diabetes and gum disease. Results showed blood sugar levels could be reduced and kept at a lower level most effectively with a single dose of oral antibiotic and repeated application of a topical antibiotic to the gums. The effects were equal to and independent of those induced by diabetes medication.
Source: Reuters.

Globally, the problems of undernourishment are quickly being replaced by the diseases that accompany obesity, says Barry Popkin, a professor of nutrition at the University of North Carolina. He told The Chronicle of Higher Education that "a very fine line" separates a diverse, healthy diet and one that provides too many calories and too much fat and that leads to disease. Already, the number of new cases of diabetes in India and China annually outpaces the rest of the world put together.

Curries and Alzheimer's
A nice curry now and then might be just what you need to ward off Alzheimer's, reports The Boston Globe. "Sally Frautschy of the University of California, Los Angeles, has shown that curcumin, a substance in turmeric, can inhibit the formation of beta-amyloid protein deposits in the brains of rats. Such deposits are characteristic of Alzheimer's disease, and the work may shed light on the fact that India, where turmeric is commonly used, has the lowest incidence of the disease."

Frontotemporal dementia
"Helen Comstock suspected for more than a year that something about her husband had changed," writes Faye Flam in The Philadelphia Inquirer. "Once outgoing, Craig Comstock had become withdrawn and apathetic. She didn't realize how serious the problem was until someone found the Harvard-trained mathematics professor, wearing a suit and tie, clambering into a dumpster looking for aluminum cans. The initial diagnosis was Alzheimer's disease. Eventually, though, Comstock learned her husband suffered from a different disease, one that robbed him not of his memory but of his inhibitions. He had frontotemporal dementia. Though not well understood, FTD is fairly common, afflicting 300,000 to 500,000 Americans, representing about 10 per cent of all dementia cases in the United States. FTD is always fatal, usually killing its victims within a few years of diagnosis.

Sarcopenia
"Once most adults pass the physical prime of their 20s, they lose an average of 10 ounces of lean body mass a year, mostly in the form of muscle tissue," reports the Tacoma News Tribune. "It's a process more insidious and crippling than osteoporosis, but one few people notice until they realize it's getting difficult to climb the stairs or heft themselves off the sofa. Unchecked, the gradual erosion of muscle strength is the major reason elderly Americans are forced to move into nursing homes." Several years ago, medical experts named the phenomenon sarcopenia (from the Greek words for vanishing flesh). They also contend it can be reversed or slowed significantly by strength-training exercises. Studies show it's never too late to regain some muscle strength.

Skin that matches
"A dead giveaway that a person has 'had something done' to his or her face is if the skin on the backs of the hands or the chest doesn't match the face," reports the Los Angeles Times. "When the body skin is sun-damaged and wrinkled, while the texture and colour of the face are fresh and clear as a teenager's, chances are a laser or chemical peel has been applied to the face. Now, more people are having these resurfacing procedures done to their bodies, bringing hands, arms, chest and faces in sync."

Thought du jour
"If you are flattering a woman, it pays to be a little more subtle. You don't have to bother with men, they believe any compliment automatically."
-- Alan Ayckbourn.

Thursday, March 21, 2002  Page A22

Looking after parents
Dr. Grace Nadolny, a Colorado psychiatrist, has coined "Son from California syndrome" to describe how Americans often deal with aging parents. Typically, she said, the adult female child will be a parent's caregiver. "The numbers supporting this are about three to one." Other siblings don't know precisely what's going on. "Day in and day out, the daughter watches Mom deteriorate" and become forgetful, lose her way home from the grocery store, stop cleaning her house. Then the son blows in from California, spends a few hours with his mother and determines his sister is exaggerating her illness. "He'll say, 'What are you talking about? Mom made us a terrific Thanksgiving dinner. She's just fine! " He is denying her -- and his own -- mortality.

Family toys
A husband in Wales has been told to choose between his wife and his ventriloquist's dummy, reports The Sunday Times of London. Ray Roberts lays a place for his dummy, Charlie Boy, at meals and takes him on trips to the supermarket. His wife, Maureen, said her husband even wanted the dummy to accompany the couple on a romantic meal. "Ray spends more time talking to that lump of wood than me," she added. "If I had my way, it'd be kindling." Mr. Roberts, 40, who rediscovered the childhood toy in his mother's attic, is sorry his wife doesn't like the dummy but says every man needs a hobby to keep marriage from being boring.

Last September, firefighters in Stamford, Conn., arrived at a home where there was a reported brush fire. They found Lucson Aladin, 32, burning a teddy bear. "He said he was burning this bear because it was possessed," police sergeant Kevin Goettel told The Associated Press. "He was performing a voodoo ritual to rid it of this evil spirit." Mr. Aladin was charged with reckless burning.

Broadminded robins
The North American Robin is one of the most widespread birds on the continent, writes George Harrison in Birder's World magazine; the thrush is found in every corner. Among the earliest of all songbirds to nest, robins begin building nests in Georgia and the Carolinas in mid-March. At the northern extreme, in Canada and Alaska, they are more likely to nest in mid-June. Strange stories, he adds, can be told about the robin's homelife:

A researcher at the Cornell Laboratory of Ornithology watched two female robins mate with the same male and build a nest together. They not only went about their work with little friction, they co-operated to the extent that one female stayed at the nest while the other gathered nesting material. Both females laid eggs and incubated them.

Near Cincinnati, birder Steve Maslowski photographed a nest that a robin shared with a northern cardinal. "Three young cardinals and four robins were all reared together," Mr. Maslowski said. "The four adults shared parental duties, though each species was apparently more inclined to take care of its own brood."

G-mail
Last month, the Japanese Postal Services Agency said 344 post offices had been giving preferential treatment to mail sent by and addressed to gangsters or crime-syndicate offices. Some gang members mail their correspondence with the kanji character for "violence" on the envelope. Gangster letters were sent express mail, even though they bore normal postage, and others were transferred in special station-to-station envelopes marked "Please open quickly and sort." The practice began several years ago when gangsters, angry about a postcard that had been soiled in transit, injured the postal worker who made the error. The agency told its post offices to stop the preferential treatment.
Sources: Ashai Shimbun, news services.

Brother and sister
In February, acting on a tip that a Florida family was keeping a child's casket in their living room, police discovered a 53-year-old man living on an isolated farm with his sister and their nine children and four grandchildren. Samuel Patrick was arrested and charged with incest; Debra Patrick was not charged. State investigators had looked into reports of incest between the couple four times since 1995, but couldn't verify the complaints. "They were living as husband and wife. They were actually brother and sister," Glade County Sheriff's chief deputy Kenneth Holley told Reuters. "You have to wonder. Didn't they know this wouldn't work out?" Deputy Holley added it was not certain who fathered the grandchildren. A police spokeswoman said "not all the kids look funny." Last week, a judge denied Debra Patrick's request to regain custody of three of her nine children.

Thought du jour
"Does history repeat itself, the first time as tragedy, the second time as farce? No, that's too grand, too considered a process. History just burps, and we taste again that raw-onion sandwich it swallowed centuries ago." -- Julian Barnes.

MKesterton@globeandmail.ca