Protein modifies thyroid hormone levels according to body temperature

The thyroid hormone thyroxine, which controls our day-to-day activity and was previously believed to remain at a constant level in the blood, actually fluctuates as a result of a protein which modifies the release of the hormone depending on body temperature, new research reveals. The research was published today, 29 January, in the journal Proceedings of the Royal Society B.

The hormone thyroxine regulates metabolism in all mammals, including humans. If there is too much, it leads to hyperactivity, and if there is too little, it leads to dormancy. This essential hormone is carried and stored in the blood by the protein thyroxine-binding globulin (TBG). It was previously thought that the levels of the hormone remained constant. However, the new research, led by Robin Carrell, Emeritus Professor of Haematology at the University of Cambridge, found that when the body’s temperature rises, TBG’s affinity for thyroxine decreases, resulting in an increase of the available hormone and a subsequent increase in metabolism. If the body temperature drops, such as when an animal goes into hibernation, TBG’s affinity for thyroxine increases, resulting in a decrease in the availability of the hormone and a decrease in metabolism.

The findings provide insight into the changes that occur during fevers, when the body accelerates its metabolism to counter infection and inflammation. The research shows that TBG has an inbuilt booster which gives a surge in thyroxine release as the body temperature rises above 37ºC. The study found that a body temperature of 39ºC will result in a 23 per cent increase in concentration of thyroxine levels in the blood – temporarily moving into the range seen in patients with hyperthyroidism.

Professor Carrell said: “The effect of temperature on thyroxine levels has been largely overlooked because most measurements of the hormone are carried out when the blood is at room temperature. As a result, blood samples taken from hypothermia or heatstroke patients, or from an infant with fever, would not show the change of free thyroxine in the blood. We are excited by our findings as they are directly relevant to better understanding fevers, which, although beneficial, can pose problems, especially to young children.”

Evidence of the significance of this surge in thyroxine during fevers is demonstrated in a unique way – an environmental adaptation in the aboriginal Australian. The researchers discovered that a genetic modification in aboriginal Australians recalibrates the TBG protein’s effect during fevers and so will cancel the fever-induced boost in metabolism.

The researchers believe that whilst being advantageous as a defence mechanism in temperate climates, such an increase will be a potential disadvantage in the arid climate of central Australia. There the historic survival risk has been not so much the infection itself, but rather the dehydration and heat exhaustion that accompany dysentery and other common illnesses in childhood. The two genetic mutations have become incorporated in the DNA of some 40% of West Australian aboriginals, to give a halving of the surge in metabolic activity that would otherwise take place in fevers.

The research also sheds light on infant febrile seizures – convulsive episodes that often accompany the spiking fevers during early childhood. Although not typically life threatening, these seizures, which can occur in young babies, can be a terrifying experience for parents. The researchers believe that part of the reason these seizures may occur is because the brain is especially sensitive to thyroxine – rises in thyroxine result in increased brain activity, hyper-excitability and, in the extreme, convulsive seizures. The occurrence of the last in response to increased thyroxine can now be seen to have direct implications for the previously inexplicable febrile seizures which cease as soon as the infant’s body is cooled.

Additionally, the scientists believe their discovery helps explain the euphoric feeling some people experience after spending time in a sauna or hot-tub. Professor Carrell added: “In everyday life, the accelerated release of thyroxine that will take place as the body core temperature rises to 39ºC in a sauna or hot-tub will contribute to an enhancement of the activity of body and mind: to the euphoria and to the occasional Eureka! Old figures of speech – ‘hot headedness’ and ‘fevered imagination’ – can now be seen to have a basis in science.”


Understanding how plague spread.

Modern science has solved a historical cold case by revealing that two of the world’s most devastating plagues, the Black Death and Plague of Justinian – each responsible for killing as many as half the people then in Europe – were caused by distinct versions of the same pathogen, Yersinia pestis.

The research, by an international collaboration of scientists including the University of Sydney, used miniscule DNA fragments from the 1500-year-old teeth of two victims of the Justinian plague, and produced the oldest pathogen genomes ever obtained.

The findings suggest new plagues could emerge in humans in the future.

“We discovered that the bacterium responsible for the Plague of Justinian, which jumped from rats to humans and killed many millions of people in the sixth century, faded out on its own,” saidProfessor Edward Holmes, from the University of Sydney’sSchool of Biological Sciencesand co-lead author of the study published today inLancet Infectious Disease.The findings not only give a new historical perspective, but could lead to a better understanding of the dynamics of modern infectious disease.

The findings are dramatic because little has been known about the origins or cause of the enigmatic Justinian Plague, which helped bring an end to the Roman Empire, killing virtually half the world’s population as it spread across Asia, North Africa, Arabia and Europe.

The samples came from ancient plague victims buried in a small cemetery in the German town of Aschheim, who are believed to have died in the final stages of the epidemic when it reached southern Bavaria sometime between 541 and 543.

For this study, scientists reconstructed the oldest pathogen genome ever obtained and compared it to a database of Yersinia pestis genomes of more than a hundred contemporary strains.

They found that the Justinian outbreak was an evolutionary ‘dead-end’ and distinct from strains involved in the Black Death and other plague pandemics. A third pandemic, likely to be a descendant of the Black Death strain, started in Yunnan in China in 1855 and spread globally, killing more than 12 million people in China and India alone.

Dave Wagner, an associate professor in the Center for Microbial Genetics and Genomics at Northern Arizona Universitysaid, “We know the bacterium Y. pestis has jumped from rodents into humans throughout history, and rodent reservoirs of plague still exist today in many parts of the world. Fortunately we now have antibiotics that could be used to effectively treat plague, which lessens the chances of another large-scale human pandemic.”

Two unanswered questions remain: why was the Justinian Plague so remarkably virulent and what caused it to die out?

“This study raises intriguing questions about why a pathogen that was both so successful and so deadly died out. One testable possibility is that human populations evolved to become less susceptible,” said Professor Holmes.

Hendrik Poinar, associate professor and director of the McMaster Ancient DNA Centreand an investigator with the Michael G. DeGroote Institute for Infectious Disease Research, is co-lead author of the research.


What it would take to get me to wear Google Glass on my glasses.

Glasses with Glass? Google’s latest design tweak to its wearable headsets is a smart move, but not quite enough to get me to leap.

Scott Stein

The latest design iteration of Google Glass is here. Unlike the weird headband-visor-with-a-monocle design of the original, there are now prescription versions of Google Glass: real glasses, on top of which are Glass.

I’m a glasses-wearer. I struggled with Glass on my glasses, and eventually even got temporary contacts. And I remember that, a year ago at Google I/O, some prescription glasses with Google Glass attached were floating around the show floor.

  • So am I satisfied with the latest news about Glass and glasses? No. Because, even if these new glasses with Glass attached offer up a less intrusive-looking, slightly more stylish and possibly more convenient solution, it’s not enough for me yet. I’m talking about wearing, mind you, not using — using them is an entirely different debate, and one that’ll keep shifting as the software and apps evolve. But if you’re asking me if I would really wear Glass all the time as anything more than an experiment, I’d need a bit more.

For it to be a comfortable wearable device for me, some other steps need to be taken. Here’s what I want Google Glass to do:

Work with my prescription
The lenses made by VSP for Google’s Glass glasses actually only work for -4 to +4 prescriptions. My -9 prescription is out of the question. That’s a shame, because, really, aren’t these new glasses meant to offer access to Glass for all?

(Credit: Sarah Tew/CNET)

Work with my own glasses
Buying a Google Glass-compatible glasses frame costs $225, and then you have to buy lenses, which may or may not be supported by your vision insurance. These are real glasses, but can have Google Glass screwed onto them. I want to use my own glasses. I like my own glasses. Buying a new pair is expensive. There are only four frames to choose from, and I have no idea how they’ll look on me. Google’s prescription Glass glasses are a good first step, but not enough.

Clip on and off
Bluetooth headsets are easy to pop on and off as needed. Screwing Google Glass on and off of these new glasses, comparatively, doesn’t exactly seem like an easy process. During the day, I don’t want to wear Glass at every moment. I’d want to pop Glass on and off whenever I feel like it, like I do when I take out my earbuds or remove a Bluetooth earpiece. I should be able to attach and detach my little Glass screen as I like. Wearable tech should be optional, not stapled onto your required eyewear. These eyepieces should be optional, more like a mini monocle. Use magnets, use a clip…be creative.

Google’s Sergey Brin sports the Explorer Edition Google Glass.

Be a lot smaller

Which brings me to this: Google Glass without the titanium headband-visor is small, but it’s long like a pencil or stylus. Most people look at Glass, see that little lens and camera, and think that’s mostly it. I wish I could pop that bit off and tuck it in my pocket. Easier said than done, but I’d love something akin to the Jawbone Era of Google Glass. That, of course, could take years. But the closer Glass gets to a Jawbone-sized minigadget — and the sooner — the better for me.

If those things happen…well, I wouldn’t mind wearing a Google Glass around at all. As far as buying one…that’s another story.


A new dark-energy detector on the horizon.

A dark-energy detector under development at Fermilab uses a different technique to generate full-color images of astronomical objects.

The power of the 570-megapixel Dark Energy Camera, which is mapping the southern sky in unprecedented detail, lies in its ability to capture celestial objects millions of light-years away. Scientists are now working toward developing an instrument for characterizing these stars and galaxies in even greater detail.

Scientist Juan Estrada is currently leading a Fermilab team to develop a large instrument using detectors called MKIDs, short for microwave kinetic inductance detectors. In the coming years, they’ll use it to obtain more information about the astronomical objects already detected by the Dark Energy Camera, pointing it into the night sky to capture more information about those objects’ light.

The team builds on the work of a University of California, Santa Barbara, group led by Ben Mazin, which developed MKIDs for the visible and infrared spectrum.

“These are small detectors,” Estrada says. “We’d like to convert this technology into something for a large instrument for cosmology.”

The Dark Energy Camera is outfitted with 74 charge-coupled devices, better known as CCDs, and its optical filters divide the light from far-off galaxies or stars into one of five spectral ranges. When a CCD gets a hit from one of the photons from the split-off light, it sends a small signal saying that the light in that filter’s range of wavelengths has come through. The data from the five filters are then reassembled into a color picture of the galaxy or star, much the way a computer monitor layers red, green and blue pixels to generate full-color images.

Thus DECam’s filter-and-CCD system gives scientists the rough spectral make-up of an astronomical object.

An MKID, however, would enhance that five-color rendering many times over. When struck by a visible photon, it produces a flood of so-called quasiparticles, allowing the wavelength for every single photon hitting the MKID to be precisely measured. That, in turn, leads to color images of astronomical objects without the use of optical filters. The higher the photon’s energy—or the more towards the violet end of the spectrum it is—the more particles it produces.

MKIDs, which use superconducting material, must be very cold to be able to detect photons. In testing the current MKID-based prototype instrument, Estrada’s team recently brought it to a temperature of 33 millikelvin—the lowest temperature ever achieved on site at Fermilab.

Over the next several years, the team hopes to create an MKID prototype instrument that can be installed in a telescope on a mountaintop next to DECam for testing. This means assembling it with a compatible mechanical design and high-bandwidth digital processing system.

If all goes well, the team can then look realistically to constructing instruments installed with MKIDs and, conceivably, with 100,000 light channels. That’s 20 times more channels than the currently planned next-generation technology.

“We are still some distance away from having a full-on instrument,” Estrada says. “But we are taking the initial steps that would put us closer to this very ambitious goal.”

Japanese bra only unhooks for true love, say makers.

If the app determines the woman's feelings are for real, the clasp at the front pops open to allow matters between lovers to take their course  - AFP

If the app determines the woman’s feelings are for real, the clasp at the front pops open to allow matters between lovers to take their course .

Tokyo: In a long-awaited fusion between hot-blooded hormones and cold-headed engineering, a Japanese lingerie company has produced a bra they claim will only unlock when the wearer is really in love.

The ‘True Love Tester’ uses sensors and a special gadget linked to a mobile device to analyse the pattern and speed of the user’s heart beat in the heat of the moment.

If the app determines the woman’s feelings are for real, the clasp at the front pops open to allow matters between lovers to take their course.

The bra is a gimmick by lingerie brand Ravijour, which says it is not for sale, but forms part of a publicity campaign for the marque’s 10th anniversary.

“We wanted to do something that wouldn’t just appeal to people who wear our products, but also to lift the romantic mood between men and women,” spokeswoman Yuka Tamura said.

In a promotional video, viewers are shown how the glittering gold lame bra conceals sensors placed inside the cup, which send wireless signals to a smartphone.

The app studies the heart’s changing pattern and the duration of the change, which the makers say will allow it to distinguish between activities as diverse as jogging and flirting, where a woman’s requirements of her bra are quite distinct.

In a promotional video clip, a toned model stands in a dimly lit studio wearing only her underwear, which keeps the insistent alpha male at bay because he cannot unhook the clasp.

It is ‘a revolutionary bra that knows truly how women feel’, the video says.

The video can be seen at:


New theory suggests way to teleport energy long distances

A trio of researchers at Tohoku University in Japan, led by Masahiro Hotta, has proposed a new way to teleport energy that allows for doing so over long distances. In their paper published in Physical Review A, the team describes a theory they’ve developed that takes advantage of the properties of squeezed light or vacuum states to allow for “teleporting” information about an energy state, allowing for making use of that energy—in essence, teleporting energy over long distances.



On  such as Star Trek, people are moved from one location to another via teleportation, where the people (or objects) are not literally sent—instead their essence is reestablished in another local, giving the illusion of movement. In real life, nothing like that exists, though scientists have begun using the term teleportation to describe the results of entanglement experiments—where two  are joined somehow despite no apparent connection between them. Changes to one particle happen automatically to the other. Scientists have broadened their experiments to include light and matter, and more recently, energy.

Back in 2008, Hotta, with another team, first devised a theory for teleporting energy based on taking advantages of vacuum states—theory suggests they are not truly empty, instead there are particles in them that pop in and out of existence, some of which are entangled. While interesting, the theory suggested that teleporting energy could only be carried out over very short distances. In this new effort, Hotta et al have found a way to increase the teleportation distance by making use of a property known as squeezed light which is tied to a squeezed vacuum state.

Quantum mechanics laws limit the ways that values in a system (such as a vacuum) can be measured—physicists have found however, that increasing the uncertainty of one value, decrease the uncertainty of the value of others—a sort of squeezing effect. When applied to light, theory suggests, it leads to more pairs traveling together through a vacuum, which in turn leads to more of them being entanglement, and that the team suggests should allow for teleporting  over virtually any distance.

The researchers suggest their theory could be put to the test in a lab and Hotta hints that he and another partner are in the process of doing just that.


​FDA did not act after deeming animal feed antibiotics ‘high risk’ to humans .

AFP Photo / Thomas BregardisBased on the US Food and Drug Administration’s own safety analyses, 30 antibiotic feed additives formerly approved for “nontherapeutic use” on food animals would not meet current agency health standards if submitted for approval today, a new report shows.

Previously undisclosed FDA documents reveal that 30 penicillin and tetracycline antibiotic feed additives reviewed by the agency from 2001 to 2010 would likely fail to meet modern safety requirements for nontherapeutic livestock use if they were proposed as new products, according to a report by the Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC).

Nontherapeutic use of antibiotics means they are not used to treat diseases, but are rather used for growth promotion in animals or to counteract disease amid crowded or unsanitary conditions for livestock and poultry in industrial farming.

The FDA documents – obtained by the NRDC through a public information request and litigation – show that 18 of the 30 additives were found to be “high risk” for “exposing humans to antibiotic-resistant bacteria through the food supply,” NRDC writes. The other 12 were not supported with enough evidence from the drugs’ manufacturers for the FDA to definitively determine their safety. In fact, 26 of the products did not even meet the FDA’s own safety standards from 1973.

Further, the FDA has not revoked any of the antibiotic additive approvals or required any drug manufacturer to resubmit a product for a new safety assessment following the agency’s reviews, though two were voluntarily withdrawn by their makers.

The NRDC said it is difficult to determine how widespread the use of these antibiotic additives has been, given that the FDA does not offer sales data on specific products.

However, the NRDC found that at least nine of the 30 additives are being marketed today and all of the products – outside of the two already withdrawn – remain FDA-approved despite the agency’s own damning reviews.

The NRDC noted that the reach of the findings goes beyond the 30 antibiotic feed additives surveyed. According to FDA data, the same antibiotics – tetracyclines and penicillins – “together make up nearly half of all the antibiotics used in animal agriculture.”

“Other feed additives with these same antibiotics, including generics, that are approved for similar uses would likely pose a similar risk of promoting antibiotic resistance,” according to the report.

“This risk was recognized by FDA in 1977 when it proposed to withdraw approvals for animal feed additives containing penicillin and most tetracyclines.”

Yet the use of the two antibiotics continues because the FDA never followed through with its own assessment.

Last December, the FDA announced a plan to phase out some antibiotics that promote weight gain, Food Safety News reported. That proposal was criticized because the agency planned on making them“voluntary” – not mandatory.

NRDC microbiologist and co-author of the report, Carmen Cordova, said the FDA’s inaction in regard to the additives’ continued use is “a breach of their responsibility and the public trust.” The NRDC called on the FDA to withdraw the nontherapeutic uses of the two additives.

In response to the report, the FDA issued a statement saying that “based on its review of this and other information, the Agency chose to employ a strategy that would more broadly address the concerns about the production use of medically important antimicrobials in food-producing animals.”

The FDA “is confident that its current strategy to protect the effectiveness of medically important antimicrobials, including penicillins and tetracyclines, is the most efficient and effective way to change the use of these products in animal agriculture,” the statement added, according to Food Safety News.


The Black Death: Plague that killed millions is able to rise from the dead

Two of the most devastating outbreaks of plague in history, each of which killed more than half the population of Europe, were caused by different strains of the same infectious agent, a study has revealed.

  • The Justinian Plague of the 6th Century AD, which is credited with leading to the final demise of the Roman Empire, and the Black Death of the 14th Century, were both caused by the independent emergence of the plague bacterium from its natural host species, the black rat, scientists said.

An analysis of bacterial DNA extracted from the teeth of two plague victims who died in the early 6th Century in present-day Bavaria, Germany, has shown that they were infected with the bacterium Yersinia pestis, the same plague agent known to have caused the Black Death 800 years later.

However, a detailed comparison of the bacteria’s DNA sequences has revealed that the two outbreaks were quite independent of one another. Each pandemic was the result of different Yersinia strains, indicating the independent emergence from the black rat on two separate occasions, the researchers said.

Although the strain behind the Justinian Plague died out completely, the strain that caused the Black Death probably re-emerged a few centuries later to cause the so-called Third Plague pandemic which began in the mid-19th Century in China and went on to kill about 12 million people in China and India alone, although it did not travel to Europe.

The scientists behind the study, published in the journal The Lancet Infectious Diseases, warned that the findings suggest there is a possibility of another pandemic strain of plague to emerge from the existing reservoir of Yersinia bacteria living in the current rodent population.

“The key point here is that this bug can re-emerge in new forms in humans and can have a tremendous impact on human mortality. It’s done it three times in the past and we should be monitoring it for the future,” said Hendrik Poinar, director of the Ancient DNA Centre at Canada’s McMaster University in Hamilton, Ontario.

The Justinian Plague, named after the Roman emperor who died of it, probably began in Asia but first came to prominence when it swept through the eastern Roman capital of Constantinople. It killed at least 50 million people, almost half the global population at the time, and is generally regarded as the first documented outbreak of bubonic plague.

The DNA analysis of the full Yersinia genome extracted from the two Bavarian plague skeletons, however, has shown that the pandemic died out completely within a couple of centuries without leaving any bacterial descendants, Dr Poinar said.

“The research is both fascinating and perplexing. It generates new questions which need to be explored, for example why did this pandemic, which killed somewhere between 50 and 100 million people die out?” Dr Poinar said.

The scientists extracted overlapping fragments of Yersinia DNA from the teeth of the two plague victims and were able to build the entire genome of 4.6 million “base pairs” – the individual letters of the genetic alphabet that comprise the bacterium’s genetic code.

“We know the bacterium Y. pestis has jumped from rodents into humans throughout history and rodent reservoirs of plague still exist today in many parts of the world,” said Dave Wagner of Northern Arizona University in Flagstaff, Arizona, the lead author of the study.

“If the Justinian plague could erupt in the human population, cause a massive pandemic, and then die out, it suggests it could happen again. Fortunately, we now have antibiotics that could be used to effectively treat plague, which lessens the chances of another large scale human pandemic,” Dr Wagner said.

Long periods of warm, wet weather preceded both the Justinian Plague and the Black Death, which was thought to have resulted in an explosion in the rat population. Scientists suspect that plague outbreaks eventually die out as people develop a natural immunity to the bacteria.

“Another possibility is that changes in the climate became less suitable for the plague bacterium to survive in the wild,” Dr Wagner said.

Giving up sugar: could you go cold turkey?

Giving up sugar: could you go cold turkey?

It was a diagnosis of thyroid cancer that spurred Rose Long to give up sugar, now being demonised as ‘the new tobacco’.

  In February last year, a month before my wedding, the unthinkable happens. I am diagnosed with thyroid cancer. My acupuncturist, Sue Cheetham, finds a lump on a routine visit. It’s totally unexpected: at 42, I’m reasonably fit and healthy. As the news sinks in and I struggle to come to terms with what lies ahead, I wonder what I can do to give my body the best chance of responding to the treatment.

A week before the wedding, I’m in bed recovering from surgery to remove my thyroid gland. Following the wedding, I’ll receive radioactive iodine treatment and will have to go into solitary confinement for three weeks to protect people around me from my radioactive state. It’s not exactly the honeymoon I was hoping for. I look around for ways of mentally preparing myself for the treatment. Sue gives me a book called Anticancer: A New Way of Life by  Dr David Servan-Schreiber, and I’m riveted.

Dr Servan-Schreiber was a neuroscientist who developed an interest in integrative medicine when he was diagnosed with a brain tumour in his thirties (which, sadly, killed him in his forties). “All of us have cancer cells in our bodies. But not all of us will develop cancer,” he explains in the book, which was published three years ago and became a bestseller, before going on to describe theories about how certain factors can encourage cancer to take root. These include the typical Western diet, stress and lack of exercise. All of these are present in my life to some degree. I decide to tackle my diet and as I extend my research, one theme jumps out at me: sugar. I have a seriously sweet tooth and it may not be doing me any favours.

Where once it was fat that was considered the demon of our diets, now we’re turning our attention to sugar. The American endocrinologist and author, Dr Robert Lustig, who last year published a book called Fat Chance – the Bitter Truth About Sugar, calls it a “poison”, that is responsible for obesity, diabetes and all manner of other ills. Last month, one epidemiologist and government advisor even went so far as to say that “sugar is the new tobacco”.

Life is sweet: Rose Long now enjoys a diet almost totally free of added sugar

Life is sweet: Rose Long now enjoys a diet almost totally free of added sugarDr Servan-Schreiber’s book explains how glucose is the primary fuel for most of the cells in the body, including cancer cells. Eating sugar increases blood sugar levels, which in turn stimulates the release of insulin. He goes on to say that if we eat refined sugar regularly, insulin levels remain elevated, causing an increase in inflammation of the body’s tissue. Then, through a complex series of events, Dr Servan-Schreiber believed, the inflammation acts as fertiliser to the tumour cells, signalling them to multiply.

There are many who have questioned the science behind Dr Servan-Schreiber’s theories. But I’m not inclined to take any chances. I decide the sugar’s got to go. This is something I’d rather not tackle alone, so I contact a retreat I’ve heard about, Amchara in Somerset, where therapies such as juice fasting and colonic irrigation are employed to help people recharge their batteries, improve their health, or recover from illness. Its mission, it says, is to help people “change for good”, and this is what I want: sustainable change. They are not fazed by my quest to go sugar-free and have a varied programme to support me. In a few months’ time I will attend a 10-day detox programme. It won’t be cheap, but it sounds like just what I need.

But first, I meet with its naturopath, Rhaya Jordan, who listens to my situation, asks me about my sugar habits and calmly responds: “You’re describing typical addictive behaviour.” A sugar addict! I didn’t see that coming. The fact that I reach for sugar when I’m emotional or stressed means I am, in effect, using sugar as a drug. Serotonin is released when we eat sugar, giving us a happy feeling, and that’s what I’m after. She advises a total ban. This is a challenge. I miss the well-earned reward, the comforting consolation, the enjoyable treat and the quick energy fix. There’s a hole I can’t fill with carrot cake or a muesli bar. Without sugar, I feel tired, and must experience the emotions that I would usually stifle with a sugary serotonin hit. I find eating protein at breakfast curbs my physical cravings, but it doesn’t sever my emotional associations, which can still have me gasping for a sugar hit.

The latest calls for a tax on sugar are a lost cause

I feel self-conscious making this dramatic change. It seems an imposition on friends and family and I feel a real killjoy refusing sugary delights. But it’s when I’m declaring my new sugar-free status to a friend over lunch – and she suggests that I might want to hold off on the brown sauce – that I realise I’m still eating sugar hidden in processed foods.

Her observation begins the dispiriting process of checking everything for added sugar. It’s everywhere: yoghurt, bread, even the healthy seaweed snacks I’m smugly eating. I become a woman obsessed with ingredients, and find myself bamboozled by what “going sugar-free” actually means.

“After five days, my mood lifts and I have renewed vitality.”Dr Nyjon Eccles, a medical doctor working with Amchara, comes to the rescue. “The body needs glucose,” he explains. “It occurs naturally in many of the foods we eat, so we don’t need to add sugar. While refined sugar is arguably the most detrimental to our health, we’re not doing ourselves any favours by switching to a healthy alternative such as honey, thinking we can then eat as much as we like. We are not designed to eat large quantities of sugar.” I learn that our genes developed in an environment where one person consumed maybe 2kg of sugar per year. This increased by the 1830s to 5kg and rocketed to 50kg by the end of the 20th century.

Five months in and my emotions are more balanced, my energy has increased and my skin is clearer. But I’m still not 100 per cent sugar-free. While I’ve quit “using” it when stressed or emotional, I still like to indulge in a treat on special occasions. I attend a family wedding and, in the spirit of celebration, I give myself a day off. Well, I’m two ice-creams in and we haven’t had lunch yet, and when we do, I wolf down the dessert and wonder  when they’re going to cut the cake. I’m like a child at a birthday party – once the sugar is in my system, I just want more. I leave the party with a doggie bag, filled with wedding cake. I feel sick but I can’t resist it. I’m shocked. Is this what addiction feels like?

In October, I head to my detox programme at Amchara’s country retreat in Somerset. I’ve signed up for a vegetable juice fast, optional daily colonics, yoga and meditation. To my surprise, I don’t feel hungry switching to the juice, but once my body goes into detox mode, I don’t feel so great. I feel heavy and listless and wonder why I’m putting myself through this. Then, after five days, my mood lifts and I have renewed vitality. I’m conscious of my energy in a new way. It’s life-affirming. I understand why religious traditions often include fasting; without being full of food, I am more sensitive to life itself.

When I introduce food near the end of my stay, my taste buds go into orbit. The butternut squash soup tastes out of this world. But after eating, my energy drops dramatically as my body digests the food. I’m learning that when it comes to energy, eating isn’t always the answer. To my surprise, salad tastes better to me than a brownie. Now that is new!

It’s while I’m at the programme that I receive the news that my cancer treatment has been successful. I am given the all-clear. I return home glowing with energy. I’ve realised that the feeling of happiness that I sought from eating sugar can equally be found in taking care of myself. I also find great alternatives to sugar such as cinnamon, vanilla powder and liquorice extract – they’re delicious, but not irresistibly so. I have a new creative flair in my cooking, appreciating new tastes. I walk past a patisserie and do a double take when I realise I haven’t had a “Mmm” moment as I look in the window.

I’m not a saint – and I can’t say what will happen at future weddings – but I’m satisfied with the progress I’ve made and trust there’s more to come. Life is sweet.

Self-driving cars irresistible to hackers, warns security executive

Researchers have already hacked a normal car, so how what are the risks once self-driving cars reach our roads?

  • Google's self-driving car
Self-driving cars will prove an irresistible target for hackers if they ever hit the roads, a top security executive has warned.

Speaking exclusively to the Guardian, Eddie Schwartz, the vice president of global security solutions for Verizon’s enterprise subsidiary, said that the cyber-security industry is still 40 years from maturity, and that the first half of the 21st century will see the number of targets increase exponentially.

“All of the major automobile manufacturers are working on self-driving cars,” Schwartz explained. “For cars to be able to self-drive, they have to be able to negotiate with each other. You can’t negotiate something like that without having some security principles behind it. So cars have to do basic things that we do with each other, like recognise each other – authentication.

“OK, I authenticate to you, that means there has to be an underlying artefact, a certificate or something like it that says ‘you’re an authorised car, and I’m an authorised car, therefore we can exchange this information really fast.’ And you stop and I turn.

Schwartz described “a million applications” in the car industry alone designed for machine-to-machine communications with potentially a million underlying security issues.

Even normal cars are susceptible to hacking attacks. In August, a pair of researchers demonstrated attacks on a Ford SUV and Toyota Prius which enabled them to slam on the brakes, jerk the steering wheel, or accelerate the car using a laptop plugged into the the diagnostics port.

In 2011, a different team of researchers managed to penetrate similar systems through bluetooth, mobile data and even a malicious audio file burned onto a CD played in the car’s media player.

But self-driving cars have many more avenues of communication with the outside world, and – definitionally – less oversight from a driver to correct any errors.

A ransom for your medical data?

As well as self-driving cars, Eddie Schwartz cautioned that the entire field of machine-to-machine communications, also known as “the internet of things”, presents an enticing target to hackers.

“How many IP-based [internet connected] devices does the average person have in their home today? Most people can’t even count them. If you ask them, they would probably say ‘oh, I have two computers and a whatever’, but the reality is it’s probably more like 20 to 30 if they start thinking about it… You’re going to see a spill from 4 or 5bn IP devices to hundreds of billions over the next 10 years.”

Schwartz cautioned that with the growth of new devices and services in the health space the potential for malicious hacks will grow exponentially, including devices that gather intimate personal medical data.

“These are going to be embedded solutions. It’s going to be wireless communications or NFC. These are machine-to-machine communications, and for critical care, they are going to have telemetry going on 24/7.

“There’s an underlying security and privacy issue: imagine ransom-ware [software such as Cryptolocker that breaks devices and demands a fee to fix them] in that world.”