Hair colorants and the cancer connection – Protect yourself with these natural alternatives

As a culture obsessed with youth and beauty, it’s easy to fall into the trap of using hair dyes to cover those telltale gray hairs. However, using these commercial products is risky since the chemical formulations are linked with a range of cancers. Even so-called ‘natural’ dyes can compromise health. Where do we turn? With a measure of creativity and knowledge, do-it-yourself hair color can give you glossy, rich locks without the drawbacks of pre-made colorants.


Beware of youth in a bottle

In the quest for an ageless appearance, scores of women and men have substantially increased their risk of cancer through the use of commercial hair dyes. Concoctions of poisons that can lead to cancer of the breast, ovary and bladder, as well as leukemia, the hazards of hair colorants outweigh the temporary cosmetic benefits. According to NYR Natural News, several studies over the years have found:

87 out of 100 breast cancer patients have used hair dye long-term.Women who changed their hair color (instead of simply masking the gray) tripled their risk of breast cancer.Ovarian cancer rates increase by 70 percent for those women who color their hair one to four times per year.Non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma and multiple myeloma rates quadruple in women who color their hair.
The use of hair dye is responsible for a 90 percent increase of multiple myeloma in men.

It’s no wonder the incidence of serious disease has spiked with hair dye use considering most contain the following toxic chemicals: propylene glycol, polyethylene glycol, isopropyl alcohol, phenylenediamine, para-toluenediamine, ortho-phenylenediamine, para-aminophenol and ortho-aminophenol, while ‘natural’ hair dyes can contain para-phenylenediamine (PPD) as well as heavy metals.

All in all, for the sake of health and well-being, it behooves us to seek out safer, less toxic alternatives than what is available commercially.

DIY natural colorants

If you would like ditch standard hair dyes, without having to sacrifice beautiful color, Whole Living provides several alternatives. Using a few key ingredients once a week, “[y]ou’ll get similar effects to using store-bought products, but without the fragrances, dyes, or chemicals,” states Julie Gabriel, author of The Green Beauty Guide.

Brunettes can use a mixture of cocoa powder, yogurt, honey and apple cider vinegar to enrich natural color while covering gray. For brightening blonde hair, chamomile tea, lemon and potato are effective. Redheads find success with a combination of carrots, honey, yogurt and cranberries. Complete instructions can be found here.

Using organic instant coffee is another option as it will cover gray hair and can actually curb shedding, as reported by this study. Simply blend one tablespoon instant coffee granules and 1/4 cup brewed coffee with one cup natural conditioner. Next, place a towel around your shoulders and massage entire mixture into the hair. Wrap a plastic bag around your head and secure. Let sit for 15-30 minutes then rinse well. Hair color will deepen over time with each application and, once a satisfactory color is achieved, can be used once per week for maintenance.

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Why Adults Scorn Teens For Sleeping Too Much | Smart News | Smithsonian

New research suggests that oversleeping makes teen feels better, and adults feel worse

Teenagers love to sleep. You know this whether you’re a parent or a sitcom watcher. And while their habits may be the brunt of jokes and parental groaning, new research suggests that teenagers are sleeping in for a good reason.

sleeping teen

A new study kept track of 397 people from age 12 to 88 for nine days. Six times a day the researchers caught up with their subjects on the phone, asking them about their sleep. As you might expect more sleep was good for people—people who slept less than average felt worse. But they also found that the impact of sleeping more wasn’t uniform. Eric Horowitz, a blogger at Peer Reviewed by My Neurons, explains:

The researchers found that for adolescents, there was a positive linear relationship between sleep and positive affect. Compared to an average night of sleep, adolescents felt better with one extra hour, even better with two extra hours, and even better with three extra hours. The more the merrier.

However, for the elderly and middle-aged adults, too much sleep led to less well-being. Instead of there being a linear relationship between sleep duration and positive affect, the relationship resembled an inverted U. A night of below-average sleep left adults feeling worse than average, but so did a night in which they slept three hours more than usual. If adults think it’s a bad idea for kids to sleep until noon, that’s because for adults it actually is a bad idea.

In other words, “[i]n adults, but not adolescents, not only sleeping less but also sleeping more than one’s average can be associated with lower affective well-being,” as the researchers write. So scoff at your teen all you want, but that sleep feels a lot better for them than it probably does for you.


Magnesium consumption linked to lower risk of hip fractures

A higher intake of magnesium may reduce the risk of hip fractures, according to a study conducted by researchers from the Norwegian Institute of Public Health and published in the journal Bone.

Researchers from the Universities of Bergen, Tromso, Trondheim and Oslo also collaborated in the study, which was funded by the Norwegian Research Council.


Norway has one of the highest rates of hip fractures in the world, with approximately 9,000 cases per year. This is considered a major public health problem, given the seriousness of hip fractures and the high costs of care. Although scientists have identified many hip fracture risk factors, including smoking, body mass index, vitamin D levels, diet and exercise, these factors are unable to explain the majority of variation in fracture rates.

Because both hip fracture rates and water quality vary dramatically across separate regions of Norway, the researchers sought to determine whether different levels of magnesium and calcium in drinking water were correlated with rates of hip fractures.

Both calcium and magnesium are known to play a role in bone strength.

Magnesium protects; calcium doesn’t

The researchers used data from the National Population Register, which contains information on all inhabitants of Norway, and combined it with data from the national hip fracture register and data from the Trace Metals Project, a study of Norwegian drinking water. This allowed them to follow roughly 700,000 Norwegian adults over a period of seven years, during which there were 13,600hip fractures in women and 5,500 hip fractures in men.

Using geographical information systems, the researchers overlaid a map of hip fracture rates with a map showing the coverage areas of various Norwegian water companies. While there was no connection between calcium levels and hip fracture rates, regions with higher magnesium content had significantly lower rates of hip fracture in both women and men.

“The protective effect of magnesium was unsurprising but the correlation between calcium and magnesium in water and hip fracture was complex and somewhat unexpected,” researcher Cecilie Dahl said. “Therefore more research is needed to get a more reliable result of the relationship between drinking water and hip fractures and to get a better picture of the biological mechanism in the body.”

The researchers also noted that some third factor, correlated with magnesium levels, might be the actual cause of lower hip fracture rates.

Up your magnesium intake

If this study’s findings are confirmed, the researchers said, utility companies may be able to reduce hip fracture rates simply by adding more magnesium to the water. They noted that, in adding lime (calcium carbonate) to reduce the acidity of drinking water and make pipes last longer, utility companies are already adding calcium as a byproduct.

“Perhaps water utility companies should use dolomite in addition, or as an alternative, to lime,” Dahl said. “Dolomite contains both magnesium and calcium, while lime contains only calcium carbonate.”

But there’s no need for individual consumers to rely on water companies to boost their magnesium intake for them. You can increase the amount of magnesium in your diet simply by eating more green leafy vegetables, whole grains, legumes, nuts and seeds.

And it will benefit more than just your bones. A study published in the European Journal of Clinical Nutrition found that higher magnesium intake was correlated with a lower risk of colorectal cancer, while one in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition found an association with lower risk of stroke. And higher magnesium intake may also lower your risk of diabetes, according to a study in the journal Diabetes Care.

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Microgravity and radiation exposure add up to serious health risks for astronauts

Astronauts floating weightlessly in the International Space Station may appear carefree, but years of research have shown that microgravity causes changes to the human body. Spaceflight also means exposure to more radiation. Together, microgravity and radiation exposure add up to pose serious health risks. But research is not only making space safer for astronauts, it’s helping to improve health care for the Earth-bound as well.

One of the effects of  is damage to DNA, or deoxyribonucleic acid, the genetic material in nearly every cell of our bodies. When damaged DNA repairs itself, errors can occur that increase the risk of developing cancer. A new study, MicroRNA Expression Profiles in Cultured Human Fibroblast in Space – Micro-7 for short – will examine the effect of gravity on DNA damage and repair. Because there is no controlled radiation source aboard the space station, the cells will be treated with bleomycin, a chemotherapy drug, to induce DNA damage.

“When a cell in the human body is exposed to radiation, DNA will be broken and repaired, which is considered the initiation stage of tumor development,” explains principal investigator Honglu Wu, Ph.D., at NASA’s Johnson Space Center in Houston. “Cells damaged from  in space also experience microgravity, which we know changes gene expressions even without radiation exposure.” That equals the space double-whammy for the human body.

Previous studies have exposed cells or organisms on Earth to high-energy charged particles to simulate space radiation, using the resulting cell damage or induction of tumors to predict the risk of cancer for astronauts from radiation. But those predictions don’t include the effects of microgravity, making them potentially less accurate than the space based Micro-7 study. This investigation will address that by examining the effects of bleomycin-induced DNA damage aboard the orbiting laboratory.

The study will be the first in space to use cultured human fibroblasts, the non-dividing cells that make up most of the . Fibroblasts form the framework for organs and tissues and play a critical role in wound healing and other bodily functions.

The investigation is scheduled to launch to the orbital complex aboard SpaceX-3 March 16, 2014. Micro-7 is managed by NASA’s Ames Research Center, Moffett Field, Calif., and is funded by NASA’s Space Biology Program. Bioserve Space Technologies at the University of Colorado, Boulder, Colo. is providing the experiment hardware and implementing the science payload aboard the space station.

Wu will focus on how these cells respond to DNA damage in space by examining changes in a small, non-coding form of RNA known as microRNA, which is known to affect how genes are expressed in cells. The investigation will compare the cells in spaceflight with those on the ground to identify unknown functions of microRNA and the functions they regulate in our bodies. Similarities and differences in the space and Earth data will also improve our knowledge of fundamental biological processes critical for maintaining normal cell function.

In the future, Wu would like to have a controlled , such as a portable X-ray machine, on the space station to expose cultured cells or small animals to specific doses of radiation in space. Cells or organisms on the ground would be exposed to the same dose, and the DNA repair in both compared. Wu says that may be possible in the near future, perhaps by modifying a bone density scanner or other equipment aboard the .

Researchers can use data from Micro-7 in future Earth-based studies to examine whether the cell changes observed during spaceflight are seen in disease states of tissues and organs as well. Ultimately, this may help scientists better understand disease and this type of research could even lead to development of new treatment drugs.

“If we learn more about how  repair DNA damage more efficiently or less efficiently in , that knowledge also will be helpful for cancer radiotherapy or treatment with radiation,” Wu adds. “A challenge in medical treatment is that certain tumors are highly resistant to radiation. But there could be various ways to make them more radiosensitive, or less resistant to radiation. That would help provide more effective treatment.” And also make those weightless astronauts a bit more carefree.

The unexpected benefit of offshore wind farms.

The benefits of offshore wind farms might see obvious: cheapabundant, clean energy. 

But preventing billions of dollars in damage? That’s right, there’s another benefit that has nothing to do with energy. Huge offshore wind farms could play a role in stifling the impact of hurricanes.

new study published in the journal Nature Climate Change [pdf], out of Stanford University, built a computer model that simulated what would happen if a hurricane — like KatrinaIsaac, or Sandy — collided with a large offshore wind farm with thousands of wind turbines stretching for miles along a coastline. The results, according to Mark Jacobson, a professor at Stanford University:

“We found that when wind turbines are present, they slow down the outer rotation winds of a hurricane,” Jacobson said. “This feeds back to decrease wave height, which reduces movement of air toward the center of the hurricane, increasing the central pressure, which in turn slows the winds of the entire hurricane and dissipates it faster.”

To be clear, to have this big of an impact, there would need to be thousands of wind turbines. The model with the fewest number of wind turbines — more than 78,000 off the coast of New Orleans — shows that the wind farm could have slowed Hurricane Katrina’s peak wind speeds by as much as 80 miles per hour and reduce the storm surge’s impact on New Orleans by a wide ranging 6-71 percent. 

On the other hand, if there were an almost unbelievable 543,000-plus wind turbines placed along much of the Gulf Coast it could have reduced peak wind speeds during Hurricane Katrina by more than 90 miles per hour and reduced the storm surge along the coast by 26-75 percent.

While the impact of reducing offshore wind on hurricanes seems clear, what’s not clear is whether offshore wind farms will ever be large enough, as in the simulation, to have any impact on hurricanes. The largest offshore wind farm in the world, currently, has just 175 wind turbines. In the United States, states arestruggling to build offshore wind farms with less than 100 turbines. There are currently no offshore wind farms operating or under construction in the U.S. even though the potential generating capacity is huge.

Still, Jacobson and his colleagues make a strong economic case for investing in these massive wind farms along coastlines that are regularly threatened by hurricanes, even more so than other hurricane solutions like costly seawalls. As the study explains:


Turbines pay for themselves from the sale of electricity they produce and other non-market benefits (Table 2), but sea walls have no other function than to reduce storm surge (they do not even reduce damaging hurricane wind speeds), so society bears their full cost. Conversely, if wind turbines are used only for hurricane damage avoidance, an array covering 32 km of linear coastline in front of New York City would cost ~$210 billion with no payback …, higher than the cost of proposed sea walls, $10-29 billion. Thus, turbines cost much less than sea walls to protect a city, as turbines also generate electricity year-round, but if turbines were used only for hurricane protection, sea walls would be less expensive.

With Hurricane Sandy alone costing an estimated $82 billion in damages, a $200 billion-plus wind farm that can produce a huge amount of energy and reduce the huge cost of future hurricanes, starts to sound like a pretty good deal.

James Watson Proposes Offbeat View of Diabetes—Oxidants Too Scarce, Not Too Abundant

Undeterred by conventional wisdom or his lack of physician’s credentials, Nobel laureate James D. Watson, Ph.D., co-discoverer of the structure of DNA, is forwarding a bold hypothesis—diabetesarises from a deficiency in biological oxidants. This hypothesis directly opposes the usual view, which holds that diabetes is caused by an excess of biological oxidants, or reactive oxygen species (ROS). Biological oxidants are widely believed to cause inflammation that is harmful to pancreatic cells.

Watson Proposes Offbeat View of Diabetes—Oxidants Too Scarce, Not Too Abundant

Watson first presented his hypothesis in an article that appeared online February 27 in the Lancet. The article, which is entitled “Type 2 diabetes as a redox disease,” will also be on the cover of the Lancet’s U.S. print edition dated March 1–7. In this article, Watson makes it clear that he developed his hypothesis by considering the role of exercise.

“Physical exercise has long been widely regarded as essential to human health,” Watson writes. “Yet, we do not know how exercise-stressed skeletal muscle cells that generate reactive oxygen species such as hydrogen peroxide delay—if not prevent—the occurrence and severity of diseases such as type 2 diabetes (as well as dementias, cardiovascular disease, and some cancers).”

Exercise is recommended for patients with incipient type 2 diabetes—those with high blood sugar levels. In fact, patients often begin exercise before they begin receiving glucose-lowering drugs such as metformin. It struck Watson that while exercise and metformin seem to help not only patients with diabetes, but also patients with cancer, Alzheimer’s disease, and cardiovascular disease, the reasons behind the benefits remain unclear.

How could exercise, which prompts the body to make large numbers of oxidants, protect against diabetes, which presumably arises from inflammatory processes caused by an excess of oxidants? Perhaps oxidants and their role in inflammation needed a closer look. Clearly, pancreatic tissue in people with type 2 diabetes is indeed inflamed. But could the inflammation be due to something other than an excess of oxidants?

The body’s cells cannot survive without making both oxidants and antioxidants. “There is a delicate balance between the two,” Watson observes. In a cellular organ called the endoplasmic reticulum, hydrogen peroxide, a well-known ROS, helps forge chemical bonds, which stabilize proteins as they fold.

Watson suggests that when there is not enough oxidation in the endoplasmic reticulum, proteins emerge unfolded and cannot function. This, he proposes, causes the inflammation that harms the pancreas, sometimes causing type 2 diabetes.

Watson’s thinking is described by a press release issued by Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory, where Watson is chancellor emeritus: “Watson suggests [that] exercise, which promotes oxidation, plausibly can have a beneficial effect on those with high blood sugar. Such benefit would be lessened if not abolished, he speculates, if such an individual consumed large quantities of antioxidants—just as athletes who take large quantities of antioxidant supplements do not seem to benefit or benefit less from their exertions.”

The release indicates that Watson is planning a scientific meeting at Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory later this year, which he hopes will launch a larger scientific effort to investigate the mechanisms through which exercise improves health. “Just about every doctor I’ve ever known tells every patient who is capable of doing so to exercise,” notes Watson. “I think exercise helps us produce healthy, functional proteins. But we really need to have some high-quality research to demonstrate this.”

Not quite Jurassic Park, but could Woolly Mammoth roam again?

De-extinction scientists want to bring back vanished species by using new genomic technologies

If you thought the woolly mammoth and the dodo were gone for good, then think again – scientists in America are working to bring vanished species back to life.

Aided by new genomic technologies, biologists at The Long New Foundation in California are investigating the possibility of resurrecting creatures such as the sabre-toothed tiger.

The Revive and Restore project aims to achieve the “genetic rescue of endangered and extinct species”.

On their website, The Long New Foundation says: “The DNA of many extinct creatures is well preserved in museum specimens and some fossils. Their full genomes can now be read and analysed.

“That data may be transferable as working genes into their closest living relatives, effectively bringing the extinct species back to life.

“The ultimate aim is to restore them to their former home in the wild.”

In an interview with the New York Times Magazine, Steven Brand, the project’s president and co-founder, spoke about a plans to create a population of woolly mammoths in a Siberian preserve called Pleistocene Park, which was created by Russian scientist Sergey Zimov.

“We’ve framed it in terms of conservation,” Brand said. “We’re bringing back the mammoth to restore the steppe in the Arctic. One or two mammoths is not a success. 100,000 mammoths is a success.”

But it’s not quite Jurassic Park just yet.

Currently, the project is working to resurrect the passenger pigeon, which became extinct in 1914.

Ben Novak, the foundation’s research and science consultant, told the publication that the construction of the passenger pigeon genome is underway and that the scientists hope to have reintroduced the birds into the wild by 2060, if all goes according to plan.

And there’s certainly excitement in the scientific world surrounding the possibilities.

In a paper published in Science, the ethicist Hank Greely and the law professor Jacob Sherkow, both of Stanford University, argued that de-extinction ought to be pursued on the basis that it would “surely be very cool”.

However, many conservation biologists are concerned about the implications of the movement, questioning the logic of bringing back species whose environments have been destroyed, as well as the potential for creating a breeding ground for new diseases.

“We have answers for every question,” Novak told the New York Times Magazine.

“We’ve been thinking about this a long time.”

Then again, we all know what happened in Jurassic Park

Cancer survivor Elana Simon helps scientists study her own rare disease

The eighteen-year-old helped scientists discover a gene flaw that could play a role in how the tumour strikes

A teenager who survived a rare form of cancer went on to help discover a gene flaw that could play a role in how the tumour strikes.

Elana Simon was diagnosed with Fibrolamellar Hepatocellular Carcinoma, a rare form of cancer which mostly affects adolescents and young adults, when she was 12-years-old.

Surgery is currently the only effective treatment if the tumour is caught in time.

Ms Simon, along with her father, who runs a cellular biophysics lab at the Rockefeller University, her surgeon at Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center, and gene specialists at the New York Genome Center looked at data on genetic mutations in a laboratory studying another type of cancer.

This was then compared with samples of the tumour to identify differences in cells for their study, published in the journal Science.

The team found a break in genetic material that left the “head” of one gene fused to the “body” of another in 15 tumours they tested.

This results in an abnormal protein forming inside the tumour but not in normal liver tissue, suggesting it might fuel cancer growth, the researchers wrote.

At the collaborating New York Genome Center, which genetically mapped the samples, co-author Nicolas Robine said a program called FusionCatcher ultimately zeroed in on the strange mutation.

Ms Simon’s father Sanford said other researchers then conducted laboratory experiments to show the abnormal protein really is active inside tumour cells.

What has proven difficult for the study is finding enough tumours to test, as just 200 people a year worldwide are diagnosed, according to the Fibrolamellar Cancer Foundation, which helped fund the research. There is also no registry that keeps tissue samples after surgery.

Scientists at the National Institutes of Health are now advising Ms Simons on how to set up a patient registry, and NIH’s Office of Rare Diseases Research has posted on its web site a YouTube video in which Elana Simon and a fellow survivor explain why to get involved.

The study was co-authored by another survivor of that particular form of cancer who did not want to be identified.

Dementia revolution: Jeremy Hunt pledges £90m for early diagnosis

New package will also include introduction of ‘dementia friends’ in high street chains

A new package of care for dementia sufferers will make the UK a world leader in fighting the illness, Jeremy Hunt has said.

The Health Secretary has announced a number of ambitions, including faster diagnosis, more funding for research and greater help from businesses to support sufferers.

But Labour warned that the Government must tackle “poor care standards” in order to combat the condition.

NHS England will invest £90 million in a bid to diagnose two-thirds of people with dementia by March next year.

Leading British businesses have signed up to the cause with more than 190,000 staff at Marks & Spencer, Argos, Homebase, Lloyds Bank and Lloyds Pharmacy set to become “dementia friends”.

They will be trained to learn how to spot the signs of dementia and offer support for sufferers.

Mr Hunt said: “Dementia can be a horrific and heartbreaking disease, but it is my mission as Health Secretary to make this country the best place in the world to get a dementia diagnosis, as well as a global leader in the fight to find a cure.

“Today’s package is about government, clinicians, business, society and investors coming together to raise our game on every front – from speedy diagnosis to compassionate care, and from help on our high streets to the quest for a cure.”

According to the Alzheimer’s Society there are around 800,000 people in the UK with dementia. One-in-three people aged over 65 will develop the condition, and two-thirds of sufferers are women.

NHS England will target work in areas where it can take up to 25 weeks to carry out a diagnosis.

Mr Hunt added: “To have variation in diagnosis rates from a few weeks to close to six months is totally unacceptable and I am pleased that the NHS England have agreed to address this within the funding they have available.”

He was in Paris yesterday to meet French dementia experts and health minister Marisol Touraine. Mr Hunt also visited a leading brain and spine institute.

Jeremy Hughes, chief executive of the Alzheimer’s Society, said: “It is unacceptable that some people with dementia have to wait months to get a diagnosis. Today’s announcement is a positive step forward to increasing diagnosis rates and ensuring that no matter where you live you will receive a timely assessment.

“Too often we hear about a lack of suitable services available to people with dementia and their carers. We welcome the focus on post-diagnosis support which will provide a vital lifeline to thousands who are currently left in the dark, with nowhere to turn for advice or support.”

Prime Minister David Cameron has appointed a World Dementia Envoy following agreement between the G8 countries at a dementia summit in London in December.

Dr Dennis Gillings, an expert in clinical trials, plans to create a World Dementia Council to raise funds for research towards a cure.

Dr Margaret Chan, director general of the World Health Organisation, said: “Dementia is a costly and heartbreaking epidemic with an immense impact. I can think of no other condition that has such a profound effect on loss of function, loss of independence, and the need for care – care that is immensely challenging, physically, psychologically, and financially.

“We need to accelerate research for new interventions, to find ways to improve the quality of life and care, and to do more to support care-givers and families. I welcome the appointment of Dr Gillings to draw the world’s attention to these critical issues.”

Liz Kendall, Labour’s shadow minister for care and older people, said: “Dementia is one of the greatest challenges we face as a country. The Prime Minister is right to focus on it and Labour supports the Government’s commitments on research, and to ensure everyone with dementia is properly diagnosed.

“But if his words are to have real meaning, David Cameron must do far more to help people struggling to cope with dementia right now.

“£2.7 billion has been cut from council care budgets under this Government, hitting the quality of life of hundreds of thousands of people with dementia and their families. This isn’t good for them, and is a false economy as an increasing number of elderly people with dementia are ending up in hospitals or care homes when they don’t need to.

“The Prime Minister cannot credibly claim to show leadership on dementia unless he tackles poor care standards, like the increasing number of 15-minute home visits which are barely enough time to make a cup of tea, let alone help a frail elderly person with dementia get up, washed, dressed and fed.”

DNA pioneer James Watson sets out radical theory for range of diseases

Watson’s controversial hypothesis about cause of diabetes, dementia, heart disease and cancer published in medical journal
Scientist in race row

James Watson, 85, says he developed his theory after pondering why exercise seems to benefit people with high blood sugar. Photograph: Edmond Terakopian/PA

Not satisfied with his work that unravelled the double helix structure of DNA and landed him a share of a Nobel prize half a century ago, James Watson has come up with a radical theory for diabetesdementia, heart disease and cancer.

The 85-year-old scientist has turned to the pages of the Lancet medical journal to set forth his grand idea, which some academics say may not have seen the light of day had it come from anyone else.

Watson, who stepped down as director of the Cold Spring Harbour Laboratory in New York in 2007 after the Times quoted his views on Africa and intelligence, has arranged a conference at the lab this year to explore his latest hypothesis.

Writing in the Lancet, Watson claims that late onset, or type 2 diabetes, is traditionally thought to be caused by oxidation in the body that causes inflammation and kills off pancreatic cells. But he thinks the root of that inflammation is quite different: “The fundamental cause, I suggest, is a lack of biological oxidants, not an excess,” he writes.

Watson, a keen singles tennis player, says he developed his theory after pondering why exercise seemed to benefit people with high blood sugar, an early indicator of future diabetes. Exercise produced “reactive oxygen species” that were widely thought to be harmful.

Other research fed into his thinking, chiefly a study by Matthias Blüher at the University of Leipzig. He showed that reactive oxygen species released in exercise combatted the insulin resistance seen in diabetes, but that the benefits vanished if you gave people antioxidants before the exercised.

Watson believes that rather than being wholly bad, oxidising molecules, such as hydrogen peroxide, are crucial for the body’s health. In particular, he points out that hydrogen peroxide goes to work in a cellular organ called the endoplasmic reticulum, where it ensures proteins are stable. If levels of oxidants are too low, he suggests, the proteins become misshapen and cause the inflammation that damages the pancreas. And a raft of other diseases.

Large studies have already shown that antioxidant supplements do not help people to live longer. Watson’s hypothesis also suggests there is nothing to be gained, though he makes a point of saying he is not qualified to give people health advice.

“Just about every doctor I’ve ever known tells every patient who is capable of doing so to exercise. I think exercise helps us produce healthy, functional proteins. But we really need to have some high-quality research to demonstrate this.”

He adds: “We sorely need to take a much more serious and thorough scientific look at the mechanisms through which exercise improves our health.”

Watson’s idea received a mixed reception from scientists on Thursday. One professor of metabolic medicine was unimpressed and said the idea was not even novel. “It is only because of his name that James Watson is allowed to present his woolly thoughts in the Lancet,” he said.

The director of the MRC Metabolic Diseases Unit at the University of Cambridge, Stephen O’Rahilly, was less scathing. He said: “He’s exhorting more science to be done on how physical activity might be beneficial. We need to understand the mechanism. Making the right reactive oxygen species in the right place at the right time is critical for us to stay well, and blocking them might not be a good idea.”