Chinese doctors remove dandelion growing inside baby-girl’s ear.


Doctors in Beijing were left shocked after discovering a blossoming dandelion inside the ear canal of a 16-month-old girl, after she was brought to hospital by worried parents.

AFP Photo / Ed Jones

The flower, which had grown about 2cm long, was successfully removed from Ranran’s ear and the girl is currently recovering from surgery, Chinese media reported.

The parents of the toddler, who live in the Tongzhou District in Beijing, said that a seed fell into her left ear about four months ago. However, they only decided it was time to take action when their daughter started crying and scratching her ear, the Shanghai Daily wrote.

Ranran’s mother had a look and saw something inside the girl’s ear, but after failing to take it out, she took the baby to the Capital Institute of Pediatrics.

Image from 22808.net

Stunned medics found that a fully-formed dandelion had grown in Ranran’s ear, completely filling the canal wall. If not treated, it could have caused serious health problems for her.

It took Gu Qinglong, the chief physician in the otolaryngology department, and several assistants about 10 minutes to remove the dandelion. The doctors said it was not an easy task since the flower was rather tenacious.

Even the slightest bit of pressure put her at risk of internal bleeding so it had to come out,” Qinglong said, as quoted by the Beijing Evening News. It is likely that the warmth and humidity inside the ear canal encouraged the growth of the dandelion, the doctor observed.

This latest episode is far from being the first time that unusual things have been discovered in patients’ ears.

In July this year, a British woman, who started suffering from headaches after a holiday Peru, went to hospital to be told that her ear was filled with flesh-eating worms, reported the Daily Mail.  After maggots removed from the ear canal were sent to a lab for analysis, it was discovered that a New World Army Screw Worm had laid eggs in Rochelle Harris’ ear.

Last year, a spider was reportedly taken out of a Chinese woman’s ear. The sneaky arachnid crawled inside while she was sleeping and resided there for about five days.

World Aids Day 2013: The war on the epidemic is being won, but discrimination … – The Independent


The battle against Aids is being won, with deaths down, record numbers of people being treated, and new cases among children down by more than half.

Deaths are down, however battling the stigma is the main obstacle to beating HIV once and for all

But ongoing discrimination against sufferers is the biggest obstacle to winning the war, according to the head of the United Nations Joint Programme on HIV/Aids (UNAIDS).

Speaking to The Independent on Sunday on the eve of World Aids Day, UNAIDS executive director Michel Sidibé said: “We are winning against this epidemic, we are seeing a decline in new infections, an increase in people treated… we have broken the conspiracy of silence.”

For the first time, he said, authorities can see “an end to an epidemic that has wrought such staggering devastation around the world”.

He added: “People living with HIV can live long and healthy lives, can now protect their partners from becoming infected, and can keep their children free from HIV.”

But Mr Sidibé also warned: “We have not been able to change completely the perception of people against the most-at-risk populations. The stigma, discrimination and criminalisation of those people – sex workers, people who inject drugs, men who have sex with men – all those groups are mainly at risk of continuing to be completely forgotten.”

There are more than 70 countries with “homophobic laws” – something which demonstrates “we still have a long way to go”.

Discrimination remains a major obstacle in many parts of the world. One in seven people living with HIV has been denied access to healthcare and more than one in 10 has been refused employment. And while the global picture is good, austerity-stricken Europe is at risk of repeated outbreaks of HIV, warned the World Health Organization last night.

In a bid to end the persecution of people with HIV/Aids, UNAIDS is launching a “zero discrimination” campaign, backed by Nobel Peace Prize Winner Daw Aung San Suu Kyi, to mark World Aids Day.

Speaking at today’s launch of the campaign to launch a Zero Discrimination Day on 1 March 2014, she said: “We can all make a difference by reaching out and letting people lead a life of dignity, irrespective of who they are.”

North America and Caribbean

Aids-related deaths in the Caribbean dropped 50 per cent between 2001 and 2012 (falling from 24,000 to 11,000), but in Jamaica 37 per cent of gay men are HIV positive. Mexico has an HIV rate among gay men of 17 per cent; Guyana 19 per cent. Meanwhile, 17 per cent of Guyanese sex workers are HIV positive, against 1 per cent in Mexico.

South America

Across Latin America there was a 37 per cent drop in Aids deaths between 2001 and 2012 – from 82,000 to 52,000. With its high deprivation and population density, Brazil’s HIV rate is among the highest; 10 per cent of gay men, and 5 per cent of sex workers, are HIV positive. In Peru, where less than 0.4 per cent of the population is HIV positive, 12 per cent of gay men are infected.

Africa

In sub-Saharan countries the number of new cases of HIV was 40 per cent less last year than in 2001 – almost a million fewer cases. But with some 1.6 million people infected last year, the continent’s struggle with Aids and HIV continues. In Swaziland, one in four adults (26 per cent) is HIV positive. Across the continent there were 1.2 million Aids-related deaths last year. The majority of those infected with HIV were sex workers and gay men. In Ivory Coast half of “men who sleep with men” are HIV positive. By contrast, in developed Middle East and North Africa, numbers acquiring HIV rose by more than 50 per cent, but still remained at just 32,000 people in 2012.

Europe and Central Asia

HIV infections have increased by 13 per cent, or 100,000 people, since 2006. The majority of people diagnosed with HIV were those who inject drugs, and gay men. Across the continent, less than 1 per cent of the population was HIV positive. The Ukraine, Belarus and Spain had the highest HIV rates among needle users, with 21, 17 and 16 per cent respectively. The number of Aids-related deaths in the region has increased from 36,000 in 2001 to 91,000 people last year. New infections among drug users in Greece have risen, despite a general decline elsewhere in Europe, with authorities blaming funding cuts in treatment centres.

East and South-east Asia

Aids deaths were on the rise in East Asia last year, increasing from 18,000 in 2001 to 41,000. A fifth of Thailand’s gay men and needle users were HIV positive, compared with 0.6 per cent of the general population. In the Philippines only 1 per cent of gay men had been infected, but 14 per cent of drug users were positive. In Indonesia 9 per cent of sex workers were HIV positive.

How GMO Farming and Food Is Making Our Gut Flora UNFRIENDLY.


Two studies published in the past six months reveal a disturbing finding: glyphosate-based herbicides such as Roundup® appear to suppress the growth of beneficial gut bacteria, leading to the overgrowth of extremely pathogenic bacteria.

Late last year, in an article titled Roundup Herbicide Linked to Overgrowth of Deadly Bacteria, we reported on new research indicating that glyphosate-based herbicides such as Roundup® may be contributing to the overgrowth of harmful bacteria, both in GM-produced food and our own bodies.  By suppressing the growth of beneficial bacteria and encouraging the growth of pathogenic ones, including deadly botulism-associated Clostridum botulinum, GM agriculture may be contributing to the alarming increase, wordwide, in infectious diseases that are resistant to conventional antibiotics, such as Methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus (MRSA) and Carbapenem-resistant Enterobacteriaceae (CRE), which the CDC’s director recently termed a ‘nightmare bacteria.’

How GMO Farming and Food Is Making Our Gut Flora UNFRIENDLY

GMO Herbicides May Lead To The Overgrowth of Harmful Bacteria, Including Deadly Clostridum Botulinum

Now a new study published in the journal Anaerobe titled, “Glyphosate suppresses the antagonistic effect of Enterococcus spp. On Clostridum botulinum,” confirms this herbicide’s ability to adversely affect gut bacteria populations (i.e. generate dysbios).[i]  In an attempt to explain why Clostridum botulinum associated diseases in cattle have increased during the last 10-15 years in German cattle, researchers theorized that since normal intestinal flora is a critical factor in preventing Clostridum botulinum colonization in conditions such as infantile botulism perhaps the ingestion of strong biocides such as glyphosate found in GM cattle feed could reduce their natural, lactic acid bacteria dependent immune defenses as pathogenic microbes.

They reported on the toxicity of glyphosate to Enteroccocus, the most prevalent lactic acid bacteria species in the gastrointestinal tract of cattle, and concluded “Ingestion of this herbicide could be a significant predisposing factor that is associated with the increase in C. botulinum mediated diseases in cattle.”

Of course, the implications of this finding extend beyond the health of cattle or poultry. The majority of American consumers who don’t even have the legal right to know through truthful labeling if they are eating GMOs, are consuming non-organic, Roundup Ready soy, canola, cottonseed or soy on a daily basis, and therefore are being exposed to glyphosate residues year round; additionally, animals fed Roundup sprayed GMO plants will bioaccumulate glyphosate and/or glyphosate metabolites, adding to the consumer’s bodily burden of these gut flora-altering, highly toxic chemicals.

GMO Herbicides Kill More Than ‘Weeds,’ Are Broad-Spectrum Biocides

Glyphosate is a broad-spectrum biocide. It does not discriminate by killing only the “weeds” that compete with the genetically modified plants resistant to it. In fact, it has been found to be toxic to human DNA at concentrations 450-fold lower than presently used in agricultural applications.[ii] When combined with adjuvants and other so-called ‘inactive’ ingredients, the glyphosate-formulations are far more toxic than their component ingredients taken in isolation.[iii] Nor are the toxic effects limited to plants. A 2012 study published in the journal Environmental Monitoring and Assessment found that Roundup herbicide has DNA-damaging effects to fish after short-term, environmentally low concentration exposures (6.67 μg/L, or, 6.67 micrograms per Liter).[iv]  For a comprehensive list of the toxic effects of Roundup and glyphosate visit our research page on the topic: Glyphosate formulations.

One of the most concerning adverse effects of glyphosate most relevant to the topic of this article is its destructive effects on the fertility of soil itself. In an earlier expose titled, Un-Earthed: Is Monsanto’s Glyphosate Destroying the Soil?, concerning findings published in the journal Current Microbiology were discussed showing that Roundup® herbicide is having a negative impact on the microbiodiversity of the soil, including microorganisms of food interest, and specifically those found in raw and fermented foods.[v]

One of the key implications of this finding is that since many of the beneficial bacteria that make up the 100 trillion bacteria in our gut necessary for health come from our food, and these bacteria-rich foods nourish and help maintain the flora in our gut, the removal of key beneficial microorganisms from the  soil will likely result in profoundly disrupting the bacteria-mediated infrastructure of our health.

We Must Reject GMO Farming Practices Or Face Dire Consequences

We must, of course, consider carefully the origin of our food. Conventionally produced produce and animal products are often grown or fed from farming practices that involve the use of factory-farmed manure and raw human sewage. Animal and human excreta today is exceedingly toxic, and contains a wide range of chemicals, pharmaceuticals, hormones and antibiotic resistant bacteria and related pathogens that.  contaminate our food and our bodies if we choose to eat it. It also causes us to employ ‘food security’ technologies like nuclear waste-based food irradiation and bacteriophage sprays try to disinfect inherently toxic food, only generating different and sometimes far more dangerous compounds as a result.

Instead of succumbing to the intellectually unsophisticated concept that disease is primarily caused by germs ‘out there,’ rather than viewing our risk of infection as primarily determined by immune susceptibility ‘in here,’ we must shift our understanding radically if we are to survive the wholesale destruction of our biosphere, also entirely refraining from supporting, buying, consuming food produced through GM-based farming practices.  Our body is literally woven from the  molecular fabric of the body of the Earth. And so, when we poison or genetically modify our environment, and we poison and genetically modify ourselves.


Resources

The clock ticks faster.


The signs of physical and functional decline may take a few years to show
AP The signs of physical and functional decline may take a few years to show
TOPICS

Early puberty, hypertension and diabetes in children, early menopause… The alarming issue of premature ageing points inescapably to our way of living, finds out Sudha Umashanker

Girls as young as seven or eight coming of age, young children being diagnosed with hypertension and diabetes, women with plummeting ovarian reserves in their late 20s or early 30s — the ageing clock seems to be ticking differently these days.

Kousalya Nathan, lifestyle and age management consultant, Nova Specialty Surgery, Chennai, points out, “More than ageing and its associated degenerative disorders, the alarming problem is premature ageing, which implies significant functional decline in various organs due to unmanaged lifestyle disorders.”

As the International Journal of Diabetes Care (1999) states, “Although Type 2 Diabetes Mellitus has historically been characterized as an adult onset of diabetes, it has been shown to be on the rise in young people in recent years, comprising some alarming 30 per cent of new cases of diabetes in the second decade of life. The mean age at diagnosis of Type 2 Diabetes in young people is 12-14 years.” (Incidentally, Indian ethnicity is at higher risk.)

Listing out the factors suggestive of the prevalence of premature ageing, Dr. Nathan notes, “Early puberty is a pointer. We also live in an environment that favours unhealthy weight gain in children and adolescents. This has reached epidemic proportions in India, with consequences ranging from inability to play or climb stairs, to hypertension, dyslipidemia, back pain and psychosocial problems. Even greying and loss of skin tone, which are signs of middle age, are seen in 10- to 12-year-olds. In the worst-case scenario, deaths due to non-communicable diseases in those in their 30s and 40s are also happening.”

Nandita Palshetkar, infertility specialist, Lilavati Hospitals Mumbai and Fortis Bloom IVF Centres, says, “Nowadays, more and more girls are attaining early puberty. Earlier, puberty which was seen at age 12 is now seen at the age of seven to eight years, in approximately 15 per cent of the girls. There are several reasons for this — such as unhealthy weight gain, stress, estrogens-like hormones such as bisphenol A found in hard plastics, certain metals that act as metalloestrogens, (eg. tin, cadmium, mercury, lead and aluminium, copper), situations in which the father is absent or the child is living with the step-father, Vitamin D deficiency, early exposure to sex-related messages in the media etc. Higher body mass index is associated most often with lifestyle changes that have occurred in the last couple of decades in our society. Early puberty, in turn, is associated with repercussions such as increased risk of heart problem, osteoporosis and early menopause.”

Rapid depletion of ovarian reserves, and therefore early ovarian ageing in young women, is yet another cause of concern. While it could be due to polycystic ovaries, in several cases, the cause is unknown. “Measures must be taken to reduce contamination by Endocrine Disrupting Compounds (EDCs) if we want to take steps to decrease reproductive disorders in women of the next generation,” stresses Dr. Palshetkar. EDCs that affect the functioning of the thyroid and ovary are found in pesticides, dioxins (produced when plastic is burnt, certain industrial processes and from improper incineration of waste), bisphenols (found in hard plastics, some baby bottles, water bottles and the insides of some food and beverage cans.) Corroborating the incidence of diabetes in overweight young children, Vijay Viswanathan, head and chief diabetologist, M.V. Hospital for Diabetes, Chennai, says that a recent survey in Chennai done by his institution showed that “many children who were overweight had raised blood pressure levels. These children showed aspects of insulin resistance, which makes them prone to hypertension and also diabetes.”

Asked if this can be considered a form of ageing, Dr. Viswanathan affirms, “Yes, this is a type of ageing, since the blood vessels develop stiffness and lose their elasticity even by the age of 10 or 15 in children who are insulin-resistant. These early blood vessel changes make these children prone to developing hypertension at an early stage, and may also lead to heart blocks by the time they get into their 20s or 30s.”

What are the signs that should alert us before visible changes of ageing happen?

Weight gain, skin discoloration in underarms, inner thighs, nape of the neck, frequent infections, tiredness, irregular periods in girls, rough skin, overeating and eating disorders, stress and sleeping difficulties in children,” should put us on the alert, says Dr. Nathan.

While there are molecular-level changes of ageing in children, to see the physical and functional decline, it might take a few years. “It is a complex and multi-factorial process. Lifestyle accelerates loss of genetic materials, causing premature ageing,” Dr. Nathan concludes.

Preventive steps

Lifestyle modification is top priority.

– Opt for an anti-ageing diet — 60 per cent complex carbohydrates (legumes, cereals and vegetables), 20 per cent protein (white meat, dal, paneer, tofu, soy protein), 20 per cent fats (nuts, olives, sesame seeds, pumpkin seeds)

– Undertake regular physical activity

– Avoid exposure to estrogens-like compounds and environmental toxins

– Consume organically-grown vegetables

– Teach children to bust emotional stress by taking up creative pursuits

NASA Maps Dangerous Asteroids That May Threaten Earth.


If you’ve seen films like “Armageddon,” you know the potential threat asteroids can be for Earth. To meet that threat, NASA has built a map like no other: a plot of every dangerous asteroid that could potentially endanger our planet … at least the ones we know about.

f you’ve seen films like “Armageddon,” you know the potential threat asteroids can be for Earth. To meet that threat, NASA has built a map like no other: a plot of every dangerous asteroid that could potentially endanger our planet … at least the ones we know about.

NASA released the new map of “potentially hazardous asteroids” on Aug. 2 in a post to its online Planetary Photojournal overseen by the agency’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, Calif. The map shows the orbital paths of more than 1,400 asteroids known creep too close to Earth for comfort. None of the asteroids mapped pose an impact threat to Earth within the next 100 years, agency officials said.

“These are the asteroids considered hazardous because they are fairly large (at least 460 feet or 140 meters in size), and because they follow orbits that pass close to the Earth’s orbit (within 4.7 million miles or 7.5 million kilometers),” NASA officials explained in the image description. [See photos of potentially dangerous asteroids seen by NASA]

The asteroid map shows a dizzying swarm of overlapping blue ellipses (the asteroid orbits) surrounding the sun. The orbits of Earth, Venus, Mercury, Mars and Jupiter are also visible to put the asteroid orbits in perspective on a solar system-wide scale.

If you’re worried about a rogue asteroid or comet obliterating life as we know it this week, don’t panic just yet. Just because the asteroids in the new NASA map are classified as “potentially hazardous” — scientists call them PHAs in NASA-speak — that doesn’t mean they are an imminent threat to the Earth, NASA said.

According to NASA, “being classified as a PHA does not mean that an asteroid will impact the Earth: None of these PHAs is a worrisome threat over the next 100 years. By continuing to observe and track these asteroids, their orbits can be refined and more precise predictions made of their future close approaches and impact probabilities.”

NASA scientists and astronomers around the world are constantly searching for asteroids that may pose an impact threat to Earth. NASA has said that roughly 95 percent of the largest asteroids that could endanger Earth — space rocks at least 0.6 miles (1 km) wide — have been identified through these surveys.

At the Jet Propulsion Laboratory, NASA’s Asteroid Watch project scientists work to share the latest asteroid discoveries and potential threats with the public. The Asteroid Watch is part of NASA’s Near-Earth Object Program that studies asteroids and comets, as well as their potential impact threats to the Earth and other planets.

NASA released the new map of “potentially hazardous asteroids” on Aug. 2 in a post to its online Planetary Photojournal overseen by the agency’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, Calif. The map shows the orbital paths of more than 1,400 asteroids known creep too close to Earth for comfort. None of the asteroids mapped pose an impact threat to Earth within the next 100 years, agency officials said.

“These are the asteroids considered hazardous because they are fairly large (at least 460 feet or 140 meters in size), and because they follow orbits that pass close to the Earth’s orbit (within 4.7 million miles or 7.5 million kilometers),” NASA officials explained in the image description. [See photos of potentially dangerous asteroids seen by NASA]

The asteroid map shows a dizzying swarm of overlapping blue ellipses (the asteroid orbits) surrounding the sun. The orbits of Earth, Venus, Mercury, Mars and Jupiter are also visible to put the asteroid orbits in perspective on a solar system-wide scale.

If you’re worried about a rogue asteroid or comet obliterating life as we know it this week, don’t panic just yet. Just because the asteroids in the new NASA map are classified as “potentially hazardous” — scientists call them PHAs in NASA-speak — that doesn’t mean they are an imminent threat to the Earth, NASA said.

Potentially Hazardous Asteroids Graphic
This graphic shows the orbits of all the known Potentially Hazardous Asteroids (PHAs), numbering over 1,400 as of early 2013.

According to NASA, “being classified as a PHA does not mean that an asteroid will impact the Earth: None of these PHAs is a worrisome threat over the next 100 years. By continuing to observe and track these asteroids, their orbits can be refined and more precise predictions made of their future close approaches and impact probabilities.”

NASA scientists and astronomers around the world are constantly searching for asteroids that may pose an impact threat to Earth. NASA has said that roughly 95 percent of the largest asteroids that could endanger Earth — space rocks at least 0.6 miles (1 km) wide — have been identified through these surveys.

At the Jet Propulsion Laboratory, NASA’s Asteroid Watch project scientists work to share the latest asteroid discoveries and potential threats with the public. The Asteroid Watch is part of NASA’s Near-Earth Object Program that studies asteroids and comets, as well as their potential impact threats to the Earth and other planets.

Why are more women having mastectomies?


 

In May, Angelina Jolie announced that she was having a double mastectomy even though she was healthy. Since then, according to one British clinic, the number of women requesting a similar operation has risen fourfold. Are women too readily taking on the risk of breast removal?

When Angelina Jolie announced earlier this year that she had undergone a double mastectomy to avoid the risk of breast cancer, she was not alone. The pop singer Michelle Heaton had a similar operation last year – the details of which she shared with viewers of the Lorraine show. And Sharon Osbourne has done it recently, too. When she found out she had a genetic mutation which increased her risk of cancer, she said: “I decided to just take everything off. I didn’t want to live under that cloud.”

It’s a trend, if that’s the right word, that has been rumbling for a while, but it was Jolie’s disclosure which sent shockwaves through the world of cancer care. After her announcement in May, doctors reported that the number of women requesting mastectomies rose steeply.

“The number of women requesting breast-removal surgery rose fourfold [after Jolie’s statement] and the number requesting genetic tests to detect susceptibility was up 67 per cent,” says Professor Kefah Mokbel, of the London Breast Institute at Princess Grace Hospital. “It concerns me that some women will be over-treated.”

Currently about 18,000 mastectomies are performed on the NHS each year in England. That figure has risen by more than 50 percent in the past 10 years. While there is no official figure to show how many of these are preventative operations given to women without cancer, as was the case with Jolie, it is also thought to show a marked increase. Mokbel believes there are two reasons for this: “Fear and desperation.”

“The word cancer strikes such a level of fear that people want to do everything possible to stop it recurring – even if that means more invasive, unnecessary surgery,” he says. “And people such as Angelina Jolie have made it more acceptable. There used to be a stigma associated with the word mastectomy, but not any more.”

In some ways it’s astonishing that this is where we are with cancer treatment in the 21st century. How has something as crude as chopping off body parts become relatively normalised? Just because the medical profession can now carry out good breast implants, is this what we should be offering in terms of “treatment” – bearing in mind that a reconstructed breast has no sensation and is often without nipples? And have we become so risk-averse that removing our breasts is preferable to living with the possibility that one day we might develop cancer?

Mokbel is right about the fear factor. The majority of women interviewed for this piece speak of nothing but the enormous relief the moment they came round from the anaesthetic. “The fear lifted instantly,” says Helen Brown, who had a double mastectomy last year. “Just knowing I didn’t have to face the dread of annual check-ups was hugely liberating.”

Brown, who has breast cancer running in her family, remembers how mastectomies were done in the past. Her aunt, whose five older sisters all contracted breast cancer, had one 30 years ago. “In those days, it was all hushed tones, the big c-word, no one ever even mentioning your breasts,” she says. “There was no reconstruction. Women were savaged by surgeons who didn’t give a monkeys about their long-term care or looks. Stick a couple of pairs of socks in your bra and you’ll be fine, they said. My aunt went from being quite a big lady to having literally no boobs at all. It was quite mutilating.”

Nurse Helen Brown, 40,found a lump when I was 37: 'It was very weird; I had a dream that I'd found one and woke up and checked myself and there it was' (Anna Huix)

Nurse Helen Brown, 40,found a lump when I was 37: ‘It was very weird; I had a dream that I’d found one and woke up and checked myself and there it was’ (Anna Huix)
Dr Andrew Baildam, professor of breast surgery at Barts in London, was one of the first to carry out preventative mastectomies and reconstructions in the UK. “[Ten years ago] it was almost regarded as unethical,” he says. “These are women who don’t even have cancer. A lot of surgeons wouldn’t do it. But as techniques have become more refined, it has become much more routine.”

Baildam estimates that he carries out about 10 operations a year on women without cancer. The most frequent method is the one Jolie opted for, in which the breast tissue is removed and expanders are placed under the pectoral muscles. These little pockets are gradually filled with saline over a few weeks and once enough space is created, the liquid is drained off and implants are inserted. The other method is to take tissue from the stomach or back and use it in a reconstruction. The advantage of this is that, unlike implants, they don’t have to be replaced every 10 to 15 years – but it does leave nasty scars.

“There are technical challenges associated with the surgery,” says Dr Baildam. “These are women who haven’t had cancer and want to look as close as they can to how they did before.”

Which is why the increasing numbers of celebrities apparently cruising so easily through is problematic. Actress Kathy Bates took to Twitter to announce news of her double mastectomy. “I don’t miss my breasts as much as I miss Harry’s Law,” she tweeted cheerfully of the TV series she’d been starring in. The singer Beverley Craven, meanwhile, breezily told the Evening Standard of her three daughters, who have a 50 per cent risk, that, “Once they’ve had babies and breastfed them, they will undergo double mastectomies” – as if their boobs are disposable parts designed to be shed once used.

“We need to be vigilant,” says Mokbel. “We want to be sure women avoid over-estimating the benefits of having this procedure. Sometimes women develop nasty infections or have problems with the implants and end up with disfigurement of the breast. Also, because a reconstructed breast usually has no sensation, it can seriously affect psychosexual function.”

A new study published in the American medical journal Annals of Internal Medicine in September confirms Mokbel’s concerns. The research, carried out by Shoshana Rosenberg at the Dana-Farber Cancer Institute in Boston, discovered that increasing numbers of women with early-stage breast cancer are opting to remove not just the affected breast but the healthy one too. “It’s particularly concerning in young women. They have the highest rates and we are trying to work out why,” says Rosenberg. “Our study suggests the peace-of-mind factor is huge. Even though maybe they have only a very small chance of developing breast cancer in the healthy breast, for some women, any risk is too much.”

Bridgid Nzekwu opted for a double mastectomy after she was diagnosed with breast cancer at the age of 42 and told she had a 25 per cent chance of developing cancer in the other breast. She insisted on having both breasts removed and went through a nine-hour operation in which excess fat was taken from her abdomen to build new ones. It took two weeks before she could stand up because of the tummy tuck, she now needs a further operation to repair some bulgy scar tissue, and currently she has no nipples – yet still, she says, she would tell any woman to do the same.

“I didn’t feel comfortable living with unnecessary risk, and to me 25 per cent was unacceptable,” she says. “Why would you hang around and wait for the cancer to come when you can just get rid of it? Once it was done I felt exhilarated. Now my risk is around 2 per cent.”

While Nzekwu is very happy with her reconstruction, some of the women in Rosenberg’s study were less so. Asking them how they felt after surgery, nearly a third said their confidence about their appearance was worse than they thought it would be, while 42 per cent said their sense of sexuality was worse than expected.

Broadcaster Bridgid Nzekwu, 43, says: 'One of the advantages of having a double mastectomy is that you get a much better result cosmetically' (Anna Huix)

Broadcaster Bridgid Nzekwu, 43, says: ‘One of the advantages of having a double mastectomy is that you get a much better result cosmetically’ (Anna Huix)
“My fear after the Angelina Jolie experience is that a lot of women will step forward and say me too,” says Dr Baildam. “For women of high risk, it is highly effective; we just need to be sure surgery is offered only in the right context.”

Rosenberg agrees. “We are concerned about women who are not high risk who are deciding to do this,” she says. “We need to address the underlying anxiety so these women don’t do anything they regret.”

Plus, concludes Mokbel, there is a lot that can be done to reduce risk before turning to the knife. Exercise routines and changes to diet can reduce the risk from 25 per cent to below 10 per cent. “I don’t think we as doctors can refuse to do it; we just need to ensure women know it’s a massive decision and don’t take it lightly.”

Helen Brown

40, nurse

“I found a lump when I was 37. It was very weird; I had a dream that I’d found one and woke up and checked myself and there it was, exactly where it was in the dream.

“I’ve got a family history of breast cancer, but even so, I still thought they would tell me it was a cyst or an old milk duct. But they said, ‘It’s come to you. You’re going to need a mastectomy next week.’ It was so fast. I felt like I’d jumped on a conveyor belt that I couldn’t get off.

“My brain shut down. I totally lost control. A lot of cancer patients will say this – that the first day of diagnosis is the worst, the moment you hear your death knell. But then four days later the doctor came back and said it was benign. I couldn’t believe it. I had told everyone I knew; I’d called my sister in Australia and made plans for my three children during the treatment.

“That was a turning point for me. I thought, ‘There is no way I’m going to go back to check-ups to go through that again.’ So I booked myself in for a double mastectomy and reconstruction.

“The fear lifted instantly. I remember waking up from the anaesthetic and thinking all that dread, it’s all gone. I went from 85 per cent risk to 5 per cent. It was liberating. And as it turns out, there were some pre-cancerous cells there, so I feel completely justified. Now I have enviable boobs and I kept my nipples.”

Heather Johnson

44, Pilates instructor

“My aunt was diagnosed with breast cancer at 38 and was dead by 43. It hit me hard. My mum was 58 when she was diagnosed. It came back twice; eventually she had a double mastectomy and we thought that was it. Seven years later they found a lump on her reconstructed breast, which is incredibly rare. The breast was removed but when she went for her six-month check they found it had spread to her liver and bones. She died two years ago.

“It was due to my mum’s encouragement that I got a double mastectomy. As soon as I stopped breastfeeding my last child at the age of 32 I went and had a mammogram. I had some benign cysts but the doctor said to me, ‘It’s a matter of when, not if, these lumps become cancerous.’

” I sat down with my husband and said, ‘I don’t want to live with this fear.’ Deciding on a double mastectomy wasn’t difficult after what I’d witnessed with my mum and aunt.

“After the surgery I found it hard to breathe for a while and I certainly found it difficult to look at myself. I was without nipples for two years. You lose something so feminine about yourself.

“I hate it when people tell me how brave I’ve been. I took the easy way out. The women who fight cancer are the brave ones. I’m still amazed that women are so afraid to give up their breasts if cancer is the sure-fire alternative. I would do it again in a heartbeat.”

Bridgid Nzekwu

43, broadcaster

“As a teenager I had Hodgkin’s lymphoma; the treatment was two lots of chemotherapy and a month of daily radiotherapy. In 2007, it was discovered that people who had been through this treatment have a higher-than-normal risk of developing breast cancer. They called me in for annual breast screenings.

“In 2012, they realised a lump I had in my breast had become cancerous. Because I’d had such massive doses of radiotherapy in my teens, the hospital couldn’t give me any more. The only option was to remove my breast.

“I said I wanted both breasts off now. I was 42 at the time and had a three-year-old; I wanted to eliminate my risk. They said it was completely healthy and there was no reason to remove it. So I transferred to another hospital and had both breasts removed and immediate reconstruction.

“One of the advantages of having a double mastectomy is that you get a much better result cosmetically. They look better if they are done at the same time and they are more likely to match. Also, because I’d been through cancer in my teens, I knew I just couldn’t go through it again.

“Now, although I’m taking Tamoxifen [a hormonal therapy used to treat breast cancer], I’m in early-stage menopause; I’m having hot flushes and I’m trying to stave off the weight gain that goes with it. All of that is preferable to not being alive.”

Breast cancer in numbers

1 in 8 women will be diagnosed with breast cancer in their lifetime

136 women a day were diagnosed with breast cancer in 2010

80% of women live for at least five years with breast cancer (it was 50 per cent in the 1970s)

18,000 mastectomies are performed by the NHS each year (up 50 per cent over the past decade)

‘Memories’ pass between generations


Generations of a family

Behaviour can be affected by events in previous generations which have been passed on through a form of genetic memory, animal studies suggest.

Experiments showed that a traumatic event could affect the DNA in sperm and alter the brains and behaviour of subsequent generations.

A Nature Neuroscience study shows mice trained to avoid a smell passed their aversion on to their “grandchildren”.

Experts said the results were important for phobia and anxiety research.

The animals were trained to fear a smell similar to cherry blossom.

The team at the Emory University School of Medicine, in the US, then looked at what was happening inside the sperm.

They showed a section of DNA responsible for sensitivity to the cherry blossom scent was made more active in the mice’s sperm.

Both the mice’s offspring, and their offspring, were “extremely sensitive” to cherry blossom and would avoid the scent, despite never having experiencing it in their lives.

Changes in brain structure were also found.

“The experiences of a parent, even before conceiving, markedly influence both structure and function in the nervous system of subsequent generations,” the report concluded.

Family affair

The findings provide evidence of “transgenerational epigenetic inheritance” – that the environment can affect an individual’s genetics, which can in turn be passed on.

One of the researchers Dr Brian Dias told the BBC: “This might be one mechanism that descendants show imprints of their ancestor.

“There is absolutely no doubt that what happens to the sperm and egg will affect subsequent generations.”

Prof Marcus Pembrey, from University College London, said the findings were “highly relevant to phobias, anxiety and post-traumatic stress disorders” and provided “compelling evidence” that a form of memory could be passed between generations.

He commented: “It is high time public health researchers took human transgenerational responses seriously.

“I suspect we will not understand the rise in neuropsychiatric disorders or obesity, diabetes and metabolic disruptions generally without taking a multigenerational approach.”

In the smell-aversion study, is it thought that either some of the odour ends up in the bloodstream which affected sperm production or that a signal from the brain was sent to the sperm to alter DNA.

How do S Africans rate Mandela film?


South Africans are flocking to the cinemas to watch a film about their former President, Nelson Mandela. The movie Mandela: Long Walk To Freedom, starring British actor Idris Elba, is based on the former political prisoner’s autobiography of the same title and seems to be hitting the right notes.

I went to watch the epic 146-minute film in one of Johannesburg’s busiest economic hubs, Rosebank, and I found very few critics of the film among the general public.

Almost everyone I spoke to expressed their pleasant surprise at how well the film came across. A big thumbs-up for the lead actor, given that he is not South African, let alone not being Xhosa, Mr Mandela’s tribe. Some sang Elba’s praises because they felt that he got the accent right – not exactly like Mr Mandela, but close enough.

Part of the legacy of the apartheid system is that two decades since the introduction of democracy, the minds of South Africans are still very much defined along racial lines. So inevitably I must tell you what the white people thought and what the black majority said.

Mandela’s key dates

  • 1918: Born in the Eastern Cape
  • 1944: Joins African National Congress
  • 1962: Arrested, convicted of sabotage, sentenced to five years in prison
  • 1964: Charged again, sentenced to life
  • 1990: Freed from prison
  • 1993: Wins Nobel Peace Prize
  • 1994: Elected president
  • 1999: Steps down as leader
  • 2004: Retires from public life
  • 2010: Appears at football World Cup

In 1994, no-one thought we would still be talking about the colour of our skins in 2013 – especially considering the fact that we are just reviewing a film. However, that’s the reality of today’s South Africa.

Take Karabo Nkabinde, a teenage girl who can be best described as a born-free – the label attached to those who were born after the country was liberated from racial oppression and Nelson Mandela was elected president in the country’s first multi-racial election.

Clad in a fashionable small black hat and thick-framed spectacles, she told me that she had loved the film because it reminded her of the sacrifices Mr Mandela had endured.

“He’s actually been through a lot for us South Africans… for the youth and it is our job to make him proud,” she said.

Her friend Kgomotso Maloka, wearing a glamorous maroon lip gloss, said that she was pleased that, as a young black person, she could watch a film about Mr Mandela in a climate of peace where both black and white lived together in harmony.

“My favourite part was the ending, when he got freed and so did everybody else. Freed from fear and from the past! The movie is very touching and it could get you crying!” she said.

I then met a young white couple just as they walked out from Cinema One at Rosebank’s Ster Kinekor movie house holding hands. The man told me that he thought it was a very moving film which reminded him both of the liberation struggle and that there was still a long way to go to redress the imbalance of the past. They were shy to reveal their names.

After watching the film myself, I thought it was hard to squeeze such a rich life – including a 27-year prison sentence – into two hours without leaving out some key historical moments. And given that challenge, the film, in my view, captured the spirit of the man and his people in their desire to free themselves from the shackles of a brutal racist system.

While clearly the film was about Mandela the man, it also left me with a sense of the struggle of an entire people. When I asked a middle-aged white lady what she thought about the portrayal of the cigarette-smoking white men who ran the country under apartheid, she told me: “They were adequately portrayed, just as they were.”

Box-office records

I personally thought the death of Chris Hani ought to have been marked, even if it meant doing it with one single frame. I mention Chris Hani because his assassination on that fateful Saturday morning on 10 April 1993 delivered what is today celebrated as the nation’s biggest public holiday – Freedom Day on 27 April.

At the time of his death, Hani was the second most popular leader in the African National Congress after Nelson Mandela. He was shot by a Polish immigrant, Janusz Walus, in a killing ordered by right-wing politician Clive Derby-Lewis.

Nelson Mandela in a file photo from 2010
A film about an icon, but is it an iconic film?

They are both serving life sentences for killing Hani, with the sole purpose of starting a racial conflagration – something Mr Mandela prevented, and which was the primary reason he won the Nobel Peace Prize.

There were reports that, in some cinemas near Soweto, people took a day off work to watch the film. One cinema manager was quoted as saying that attendance was “unusually high”.

The film has broken box-office records for a non-holiday movie in South Africa, opening at number one.

However, even though it is about a much-loved figure like Mr Mandela, there has been some sharp criticism of Anant Singh’s production.

Writing in The Times, a national daily newspaper, Tymon Smith said: “If you want to really get to grips with the man though, you can do better by reading the books. One day someone will make a film that says something new and interesting about Mandela, but this is not that film and it seems a wasted opportunity rather than the fulfilment of a dream.

“It is also unfortunate that, because of all the power, money and influence behind it, all future films will have to struggle in its undeservedly long shadow.”

So, clearly not everybody is singing from the same hymn sheet. However, even Smith agrees in part that the actors are a class act: “The film certainly looks as good as any other epic and you can see the money on the screen.”

I should mention here the local cast of stars is also something that could not go unnoticed. Take the Walter Sisulu character, the man who recruited Nelson Mandela into the ANC, played by the talented Tony Kgoroge.

He was just brilliant alongside Elba and another British actor, Naomie Harris, who plays Winnie Mandela. And there are many other local talents like him in this biopic.

Considering that Mr Mandela is recuperating from a long illness at home just a few blocks away from the cinema, I was struck by the reality of it all. We have become accustomed to watching big Hollywood blockbusters on our local screens and listening to stories about others, so how refreshing it is to see characters of the very people I had drinks with just a week ago.

This story is not just about Mr Mandela but is a story of the people through the life of one man.

That’s what I take away from it. And with the current levels of poverty, inequality and unemployment which are in essence the legacy of apartheid, the story of the people continues where the film ends.

The End of the World As We Know It?


The End of the World As We Know It?

I would wager that a majority of you are like us (here at FQTQ)… we typically find the comments section exponentially more entertaining than the actual content of most articles (and also more depressing and insane). This fact is especially prevalent when dealing with “doomsdayers.” AKA: The people that seriously believed just last year, that a mythical, invisible planet was making its way to the inner solar system, where it would eventually collide with Earth, killing every0ne (as the Mayans systematically rise from the dead to say, “we told you so”) Regardless of the battiness, many are still enjoyable, which got us to thinking about some of the more bizarre apocalyptic scenarios we’ve heard. Here is a list of a few of our favorites along with a description of why they are unlikely, if not downright impossible, to happen.

3. Strangelets:

When CERN’s “Large Hadron Collider” [LHC] was first proposed, many bloggers wanted to capitalize on the ignorance of the masses, instilling several ridiculous notions among their readership, mostly purporting that the LHC could destroy the world (the worst case of fear mongering I’ve seen since the Y2K scare). This came to a head after a lawsuit was filed against CERN, trying to put off the completion of the project until the safety was reassessed to the satisfaction of the defendants. People needed to believe that particle accelerator collisions could not create planet-engulfing black holes or spontaneously recreate the big bang. One of the strangest fringe claims centered around strangelets: a hypothetical, unstable, exotic form of matter that is comprised of an equal amount of up, down, and strange quarks (quarks are a constituent part of elementary particles, which come in various flavors).

Death by Strangelets:

264120061_8bda0dff14_m“Strange” matter is named as such for a reason… it is really freaking strange. At least, what we know about it is strange. It’s believed that quarks in various flavors can collect together and remain stable instead of decaying into normal matter. So, assuming a batch of strange matter made its way to Earth (or was created at the Large Hadron Collider), it’s possible that, instead of decaying, it could overwhelm normal matter and transform it into strange matter (an energetically favorable state). Before too long, the entire planet (and everyone on it) would be converted into strangelets (the Pauli exclusion principle in action). Needless to say, that would not be a good thing.

Why It’ll Never Happen:

First, strange matter has never been observed directly, thus relegating it to the realm of theoretical physics. However, our models suggest that “strange” matter, if it exists, is quiet heavy and prone to decaying very quickly, reverting it back into traditional up and down quarks. Furthermore, If the LHC could create strangelets whilst slamming atom nuclei together at almost light speed (knocking the quarks from their atoms), it’s almost certain that the temperatures would prohibit strange matter from bonding with additional flavors of quarks — something that is needed to transform the normal matter into strange matter, even with its electromagnetic upgrade (from the surge of mass, thus increased gravity). Even if it did manage to do that, only the negatively charged strangelets are remotely capable of destroying the planet. Did you notice all of the “ifs” and “even ifs” in that paragraph? I hope so.

2. Grey Goo:

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Among the pinnacles of technological evolution is nanotechnology, the production of incredibly small, sometimes self-replicating objects that can be made up of biological materials (currently, more than 100 products available in the UK contain nanoparticles. Some are used in things like antibacterials, agricultural chemicals. and baby food). These are made by exploiting the unique properties of matter, where chemical reactions occur on a microscale. The nanontechnology in question would seriously be tiny beyond measure — hypothetically becoming smaller than a single atom or molecule.

Some believe, that in the future, it will be possible to use tiny nanotechnology (sometimes called von Neumann machines) to exploit the resources of other planets. Using them to self replicate could cause them to begin replicating at such an extreme rate that they could literally consume everything, even biological material — turning the world (and everyone/everything on it) into literal gray goo (called “ecophagy”). Perhaps after that, it would continue on to consume a large fraction of our galaxy, before eating its way out into interstellar space.

Death by Grey Goo:

One such scenario was devised by Eric Drexler, from his book “Engines of Creation.” In it, he said: “…the first replicator assembles a copy in one thousand seconds, the two replicators then build two more in the next thousand seconds, the four build another four . . in less than two days, they would outweigh the Earth; in another four hours, they would exceed the mass of the Sun and all the planets combined…”

The punch line? We’d all be screwed.

Why It’ll Never Happen:

Drexler went on to say that any such nanoparticle replicator would be consigned by three rules for the grey goo hypothesis to be even slightly viable (and I use the term very loosely).

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First: They would have to be self-replicating in order to cause widespread ruin. This is essentially be the basic definition of grey goo-bots. Second: The grey goo-bots would have to be capable of surviving whatever environment they encounter to keep replicating. On Earth, that would also entail whatever materials we create in the future. Since many aren’t conceived of yet, it’s difficult to speculate on that aspect of the grey goo hypothesis. Third: The grey goo bots would need a source of energy to drive the replication process, which could include chemical reactions like oxidation.

Drexler himself even eventually admitted that his proposition was very unlikely, but he didn’t go so far as saying that it’s impossible. The laws of physics allow some VERY strange things to remain within the scope of possibilities, which brings us to….

1. Boltzmann Brains:

We all know that space is pretty big.. maybe even infinite. If so, that would allow for some mind-blowing predicaments. Somewhere within the scope of the universe, there may be a huge army of space brains, which are hypothetically self-aware, conscious entities that are not held down by some external biological presence (like skin, bones, teeth, hair and blood — in our case). These brains, which are usually referred to as Boltzmann brains, if they exist, would form spontaneously on their own under the right circumstances (give an infinite amount of time in an infinite universe, the idea states that it would eventually happen).

indexConsciousness alone is a tough thing to understand. For us, we have billions of neurons which build a system that allows us to create memories, retain information, and communicate with other parts of the body to keep us alive. This makes it all the more difficult to understand how conscience entities pop into existence. But the laws of physics don’t forbid them from occurring naturally (It follows the same logic as the idea that an infinite number of monkeys working on an infinite number of typewriters will replicate the complete works of Shakespeare, if you leave them to their own devices long enough. It’s quantum physics at its most wacky point.)

Death by Space Brains:

This one isn’t nearly as much about the physical capabilities of space brains as it is about how much their existence could uproot the basis of our understanding of the laws of physics. Though it’s conceivable that if enough of these entities came into existence, they could very well outnumber human beings by a large margin. If so, it seems unlikely that a legion of space brains would have a vendetta against the inhabitants of planet Earth. Then again.. some of us are pretty annoying. I mean, have you seen Jersey Shore?

Why It’ll Never Occur:

It’s more likely that not enough time has progressed to allow for the formation of an exponential number of these disembodied brains to exist. They seem more prone to occur under conditions that would be more favorable when the universe is a featureless, inky void…a time after the universe has expanded far beyond its current reach, making the future indistinguishable from the past (ultimately warping the human perception of the arrow of time — or our “norm.”)

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Furthermore, string theory dictates that many universes exist beyond ours. Each with properties of eternal inflation, which give way to new universes forming within other universes like a bubble. This is what we call the ‘multiverse’ (and it’s a fascinating topic, even if it’s unverifiable). It also means that many other universes, which are likely home to a slew of different laws that govern them, could have a plethora of conscious creatures that share a similar views with us concerning the arrow of time (others could experience time much differently. Going from a system of high entropy to a closed system of low entropy [like ours]).

Of course string theory is not universally accepted by physicists as the best model to explain the properties of the universe, but if it’s truly rooted in science, it would bode well for us vs the space brains — as it is possible with string theory to predict the properties of any “baby universes” that pop into existence from another in a larger multiverse. This would allow us to determine if the universe will last long enough to give the proper time needed for the brains to assemble.