One of your New Year’s resolutions was to improve your diet in 2015. Less vending machine, more vegetables. Fewer fries, more fruit. But there is a pesky problem with produce: Fruit stickers. Every supermarket apple, avocado & apricot carries with it a sticky, numeric tag that tells your cashier’s computer what type of healthy snack you’re taking home today.
You probably haven’t given them a second thought… but we did… and we learned some pretty interesting things — eight interesting things to be exact:
1. Fruit stickers are edible! Should you peel them off? Yes. But, if you happen to eat one or two it’s not a big deal. They’re actually made out of “edible paper” or other food grade materials with that possibility in mind!
Stickers on conventionally grown produce have four digit numbers
Organic produce labels have five digit numbers and they always start with a “9”
Genetically modified produce labels also have five digits, but they always start with “8”
4. The numbers are the same everywhere. For example, all conventionally grown bananas get stuck with the number 4011 everywhere you go. Everywhere.
5. Do you find fruit labels hard to remove? Use scotch tape to take them off. In a 1999 Dear Heloise column, Laurel Powers from Rochester, New York, suggested using a piece of tape to remove the sticker! And it works! Most of the time — at least on apples.
Relatively rare, but increasingly studied, blood clotting disorders present at birth can create problems throughout your life.
These disorders usually cause blood clots in veins including deep vein thrombosis (DVT) of the arms or legs, pulmonary embolism, and blood clots in the brain, intestines and kidneys. They rarely cause blood clots in the arteries.
How clotting works
When you sustain an injury or cut, important components in your blood such as platelets and plasma including fibrinogen and other factors help to stop blood loss. They do this by thickening up the blood and forming a clot.
However, the blood shouldn’t clot when it’s just moving through the body. If blood tends to clot too much, it is referred to as a hypercoagulable state. The term thrombophilia describes a hypercoagulable state when it is due to the presence of abnormal clotting factors in the blood. These abnormal clotting factors may be due to inherited or acquired conditions.
Top inherited clotting disorders
John Bartholomew, MD, Section Head of Vascular Medicine and Director of the Thrombosis Center at Cleveland Clinic, says there are two common genetic causes of excessive clotting and several others that are identified less frequently.
Dr. Bartholomew says, “We are now looking closely at the specific causes behind clotting disorders, and our ever-increasing knowledge of genetics allows us to differentiate one disease from another, to identify the cause behind the symptoms.”
Though all occur rarely, Factor V Leiden and prothrombin gene mutation occur most often. Less common are: antithrombin, protein C and protein S deficiencies.
Factor V Leiden: In Factor V Leiden, the normal checks and controls on a blood clotting substance known as Factor V are inactivated. In this particular case, genetic flaws inhibit a protein that normally keeps Factor V under control. As a result, blood clotting lasts longer than normal. Between 3 -8 percent of the population with European ancestry carries the gene mutation associated with the disorder.
Prothrombin gene mutation: Patients with this disorder have a genetic defect that results in an overabundance of a blood clotting protein called prothrombin (also called Factor II). About 2 percent of Caucasians have some form of this disorder, which most often causes clots in the veins.
According to Dr. Bartholomew, “One of the most concerning thrombophilia disorders is the antiphospholipid syndrome.” It is an acquired condition, meaning it is not inherited. It is not clear why some people develop this condition, but it has been associated with infections, cancer, medications and some rheumatalogical conditions such as systemic lupus erythematosus.
In this complex syndrome, the body attacks substances called phospholipids that play a vital role in the integrity of cell wall membranes. As a result, blood cells degrade and then cause repeated clotting (thrombosis) in both the veins and arteries. This disorder can impact multiple systems in the body.
Even if you have a blood clotting disorder, you most likely will only need treatment when a blood clot develops. Anticoagulant drugs help prevent additional clots because they decrease the blood’s ability to coagulate. These drugs include:
There are a number of newer blood thinning drugs approved by the FDA and available for use. These include: dabigatran (Pradaxa®), rivaroxaban (Xarelto®) and apixaban (Eliquis®).
Your doctor will talk to you about the benefits and risks of these medications. This information, along with your diagnosis, will help determine the type of medication you will take, how long you will need to take it, and the type of follow-up monitoring you need.
As with any medication, it is important to know how and when to take it according to your doctor’s guidelines. It’s also important to have frequent blood tests that your doctor orders.
Researchers say they have developed a new technique that will get more kidneys to people who need transplants, but the method is sure to be controversial: The research shows that it is feasible to remove a kidney from an aborted human fetus, and implant the organ into a rat, where the kidney can grow to a larger size.
It’s possible that further work could find a way to grow kidneys large enough that they could be transplanted into a person, the researchers said, although much more research is needed to determine whether this could be done.
“Our long-term goal is to grow human organs in animals, to end the human donor shortage,” said study co-author Eugene Gu, a medical student at Duke University and the founder and CEO of Ganogen, Inc., a biotech company in Redwood City, California. [The 9 Most Interesting Transplants]
Such organs could also be used to test drugs before human trials are started, which would help avoid the risks associated with using untested compounds in people, Gu added.
The new findings will be published tomorrow (Jan. 22) in the American Journal of Transplantation.
But the research raises a number of ethical questions, including whether it is acceptable to use human fetal organs in research, or to transplant human organs into animals. If the research moves forward, it must be determined that the organs were obtained with proper consent, and that the research was conducted with adequate oversight, experts said.
More than 123,000 people in the United States currently need an organ transplant, and about 21 people die each day waiting for one, according to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.
Previously, other scientists had attempted to grow immature human kidneys in the abdomens of mice, but the new research “is definitely the first time an actual whole human organ has been grown in an animal, and has sustained the life of that animal,” Gu told Live Science.
In the new study, Gu and his colleagues obtained human fetal kidneys from Stem Express, a Placerville, California-based company that supplies researchers with tissue from deceased adults and fetuses. The people who donated the fetal tissues gave consent for the kidneys to be used in research, and the scientists were completely separated from the donation process, Gu said.
The researchers transplanted the fetal kidneys into adult rats that lacked an immune system (so as to avoid tissue rejection), and connected the animals’ blood vessels to the organs using a challenging procedure that involved tiny stitches, about three to four times smaller than the width of a human hair.
One of the main reasons that previous attempts to transplant fetal organs into animals have failed is due to a difference in the blood pressure between human fetuses and adult animals. In most adult animals, including rats, the average blood pressure is about three times higher than it is in human fetuses. If a fetal organ is transplanted without adjusting the pressure, “the organ basically hemorrhages everywhere,” Gu said.
To get around that problem, Gu’s team developed a device, called an arterial flow regulator, which they fitted around the rats’ blood vessels to decrease the pressure of the blood flowing into the fetal kidneys.
About a month after the researchers transplanted the fetal kidneys into the rats, the scientists surgically removed the animals’ own kidneys. The rats that received the transplanted kidneys survived an average of four months after transplant, and one even survived for 10 months, Gu said. By comparison, a control group of rats that did not receive a transplanted kidney lived for only three to four days after having their kidneys removed, the researchers said.
Kidney growth in a rat host
In addition to kidneys, the researchers have also transplanted human fetal hearts into rats, Gu said. The work is still in progress, but the researchers said it may also be possible to use the method with other organs. “This technology is applicable not just to the kidney, but to every kind of [blood-supplied] organ in the body,” Gu said.
In the short term, fetal organs grown in animals could be used to test drugs that can’t normally be tested in living humans. Ultimately, the researchers plan to transplant the kidneys into larger animals, such as pigs, where the organs could grow large enough to be transplanted back into people, Gu said.
But this idea may be controversial among the American public, bioethicists say.
Firstly, there’s the issue of using human fetal organs in research at all, said Hank Greely, an ethical and legal expert on biomedical science at Stanford Law School. [Humans 2.0: Replacing the Mind and Body]
“The key issues are the existence of the pregnant woman’s consent and the total separation of the decision to abort from the decision to let the fetal remains be used in research,” Greely told Live Science. In other words, a woman must have already decided to have an abortion before she can be asked whether she is willing to donate the fetus for research.
For the organs used in the new study, “All donors are properly consented through an Institutional Review Board (IRB) consent, and donors are made aware of the potential use of any sample that we collect,” said Cate Dyer, CEO and founder of Stem Express, the company that provided the kidneys for the study. This includes being told that the tissue could be transplanted into animals.
In addition, the donors did not receive any direct benefits for donating the fetal tissue, Dyer noted, writing in an email to Live Science.
There’s also the additional ethical issue of implanting human fetal organs into nonhuman animals, Greely said. Researchers “do this a lot — make nonhuman animals with some human parts — so we can study the human parts outside of a human, he said.
Most of such research is done with cells or tissues, and not with whole organs, but the procedure isn’t ethically objectionable unless it involves brains, sex organs or “externally visible things that provide a human appearance to the animal,” Greely said.
In 1987, Swedish scientists transplanted human fetal brain tissue into human patients who had Parkinson’s disease, according to a study published in the New England Journal of Medicine. A moratorium was placed on the use of this therapy in 2003, but that was lifted in 2014.
Finally, there’s the issue of oversight of kidney transplants in the animals.
The study was approved by Ganogen’s Human Fetal Transplantation Research Ethics Committee, which consists of two board-certified transplant surgeons at separate academic centers, two members of the general public not affiliated with the institution and one board-certified general clinician, the researchers said.
But some experts say fetal organs will never be used for human transplants.
Arthur Caplan, a bioethicist at NYU Langone Medical Center, said the study itself did not concern him.
However, “there is no way we’re ever going to use fetal human kidneys or any other solid organs for transplant,” Caplan said. “American society is morally uncomfortable enough about abortion that growing organs from fetal remains will never be accepted, and will be banned in state after state.”
The researchers said they hope Caplan is wrong. “There would, at the very least, be the role of using human fetal organs obtained from therapeutic abortion procedures [in which an abortion is done because the mother’s life is in danger] to save a baby with a fatal disease,” Gu said.
Given the major shortage of children’s organs available for transplant, “the U.S. public may find this technology more palatable if they we restrict the organ recipients to only neonatal and fetal patients who have basically no other alternative to save their lives,” Gu added.
The study did not receive any federal, state or local government funding; it was funded privately through donations from the researchers’ family and friends and other small investors.
An international team of scientists including Hans-Rainer Klöckner from the Max Planck Institute for Radio Astronomy in Bonn and Dominik Schwarz from the University of Bielefeld have joined forces to lay the foundations for an experiment of truly astronomical proportions: putting together the biggest map of the universe ever made. The experiment will combine signals from hundreds of radio dishes to make a cosmic atlas. In a series of papers published today on the arXiv.org astrophysics pre-print website, an international team of researchers set out their plans for the mammoth survey.
Researchers from the Cosmology Science Working Group of the Square Kilometre Array (SKA) have worked out how to use the world’s largest telescope for the task. “The team has produced an exciting collection of cutting-edge ideas that will help shape the future of cosmology,” said Working Group chair Roy Maartens, from the University of Western Cape in South Africa.
The SKA will be a collection of thousands of radio receivers and dishes spread across two sites in South Africa and Western Australia. When the first phase is completed in 2020, the SKA will have a total collecting area equivalent to 15 football pitches, and will produce more data in one day than several times the daily traffic of the entire internet. A second phase, due in 2025, will be ten times larger still.
The key to mapping the cosmos is to detect the faint radio emission from hydrogen gas. “Hydrogen is the most common element in the universe, so we see it everywhere” said Phil Bull, from the University of Oslo in Norway. “This makes it ideal for tracing the way matter is distributed throughout space.” This includes the mysterious dark matter, which is completely invisible to telescopes, but can be detected through its gravitational pull on other objects, like hydrogen-containing galaxies.
How to Map the Cosmos: Speed, or Accuracy?
The standard way to map the positions of galaxies is to painstakingly detect the faint radio signals from many individual galaxies, staring at them for long enough to measure properties like their distance. Though time consuming, this method is the most accurate, allowing highly detailed 3-D maps of the matter distribution to be made. By the late 2020’s, the researchers hope to have found almost a billion galaxies in this way; in comparison, the largest galaxy surveys to date have mapped the positions of only around a million galaxies.
An exciting alternative option being developed by SKA researchers, and others, is to rapidly scan the telescopes across the sky, sacrificing accuracy but surveying a much larger area in a short period of time. “This will only give us a low-resolution map” said Mario Santos (University of Western Cape), “but that’s already enough to start answering some serious questions about the geometry of the universe and the nature of gravity.” The results from this type of “intensity mapping” survey could be ready as early as 2022.
New Window on Cosmic Mysteries
For the astrophysicists, some of the biggest questions relate to dark energy, an enigmatic substance that appears to be making the universe expand at an ever faster rate. “The SKA will allow the most precise investigations of dark energy to date” said Alvise Raccanelli, from Johns Hopkins University, USA. “By using 3-D maps of the distribution of galaxies, we can study dark energy and test Einstein’s General Relativity better than any experiment so far,” he added. Characteristic patterns in the galaxy distribution allow researchers to make extremely accurate measurements of how the cosmic expansion has changed over periods of billions of years.
Testing Einstein’s theory is another top priority for cosmologists. “This will shed light on whether there is a ‘5th force’ of nature,” said Gongbo Zhao from National Astronomical Observatories of China. “Seeing it would be the smoking gun if General Relativity is breaking down over cosmological distances.”
Such a huge atlas of the distribution of matter in the universe will also open a new window to investigate the first moments after the Big Bang. “What happens on ultra-large distance scales tells us something about how the newborn Universe behaved when it was only a tiny fraction of a second old,” said Stefano Camera, at the Jodrell Bank Centre for Astrophysics in Manchester, UK. The measurements will allow researchers to more closely scrutinise “cosmic inflation,” the process that is believed to have sown the seeds of structures like galaxies and superclusters that we see today.
According to the scientists, it’s not only by looking into the past that we can figure out how the universe works. “By observing a billion galaxies at two different dates, ten years apart, the SKA will be able to measure the expansion of the universe directly” said Hans-Rainer Klöckner from the Max-Planck Institute for Radioastronomy in Germany. The cosmic expansion happens relatively slowly compared to the timescale of, say, a human lifetime, so performing a direct measurement like this “would be a major technical achievement,” as well as providing more information on the nature of dark energy, said Klöckner.
The shape of the universe
In addition to 3-D maps of the hydrogen radio emission, the SKA will also make two-dimensional maps using the total radio-wave emissions of galaxies. “These maps will contain hundreds of millions of galaxies, and billions in Phase 2, allowing us to test whether the shape of the universe is as simple as our theory predicts,” said Matt Jarvis from Oxford University, UK.
Jarvis is referring to a series of fundamental physical principles, dating back to Copernicus in the 16th Century, which state that the shape of the matter distribution should look about the same on average, regardless of the direction you point your telescope. Recent observations have revealed troubling hints that this property, called “statistical isotropy,” may not hold however. “If this turns out to be the case, there would be very serious ramifications for our understanding of the cosmos” concludes Dominik Schwarz, from the University of Bielefeld in Germany.
“Well, the idea that a computer was relevant to the problems they were dealing with, where getting enough food, having decent health, getting any electricity, a reasonable place to live, it was pretty clear to me that, hey, I love this computer, and I thought it was neat and kids should have access, but they had to rig up a special generator so I could do this one demo. And they borrowed this generator. It wasn’t going to be there when I left. So the idea that there was a hierarchy of needs … While still believing in digital empowerment, that was not at the top of the list. That was pretty eye opening for me.”
But the true moment that caused Gates to try to solve poverty was even more heartbreaking.
Melinda Gates, Bill’s wife, told that story to Rose. Gates had visited a hospital treating people for tuberculosis during his visit to Africa. He called Melinda, she recalls.
“We often call each other when we are the road. Almost every day. But it was a different call. Bill was really quite choked up on the phone … Because he’d seen firsthand in a TB clinic hospital how awful it is to have that disease … He literally said to me, ‘It’s a death sentence. To go into that hospital is a death sentence.”
So he decided not just to donate money to that one hospital, but to do things that could help “thousands and millions” get out of poverty altogether, Melinda Gates said.
The Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation has been going strong now for 15 years.
Zhao Hua Hong is one of the last living foot-binding practitioners.
For the past year I have been working with Britain’s BBC television to make a documentary series on the history of women. In the latest round of filming there was an incident that haunts me. It took place during a segment on the social changes that affected Chinese women in the late 13th century.
These changes can be illustrated by the practice of female foot-binding. Some early evidence for it comes from the tomb of Lady Huang Sheng, the wife of an imperial clansman, who died in 1243. Archaeologists discovered tiny, misshapen feet that had been wrapped in gauze and placed inside specially shaped “lotus shoes.” For one of my pieces on camera, I balanced a pair of embroidered doll shoes in the palm of my hand, as I talked about Lady Huang and the origins of foot-binding. When it was over, I turned to the museum curator who had given me the shoes and made some comment about the silliness of using toy shoes. This was when I was informed that I had been holding the real thing. The miniature “doll” shoes had in fact been worn by a human. The shock of discovery was like being doused with a bucket of freezing water.
Foot-binding is said to have been inspired by a tenth-century court dancer named Yao Niang who bound her feet into the shape of a new moon. She entranced Emperor Li Yu by dancing on her toes inside a six-foot golden lotus festooned with ribbons and precious stones. In addition to altering the shape of the foot, the practice also produced a particular sort of gait that relied on the thigh and buttock muscles for support. From the start, foot-binding was imbued with erotic overtones. Gradually, other court ladies—with money, time and a void to fill—took up foot-binding, making it a status symbol among the elite.
A small foot in China, no different from a tiny waist in Victorian England, represented the height of female refinement. For families with marriageable daughters, foot size translated into its own form of currency and a means of achieving upward mobility. The most desirable bride possessed a three-inch foot, known as a “golden lotus.” It was respectable to have four-inch feet—a silver lotus—but feet five inches or longer were dismissed as iron lotuses. The marriage prospects for such a girl were dim indeed.
As I held the lotus shoes in my hand, it was horrifying to realize that every aspect of women’s beauty was intimately bound up with pain. Placed side by side, the shoes were the length of my iPhone and less than a half-inch wider. My index finger was bigger than the “toe” of the shoe. It was obvious why the process had to begin in childhood when a girl was 5 or 6.
First, her feet were plunged into hot water and her toenails clipped short. Then the feet were massaged and oiled before all the toes, except the big toes, were broken and bound flat against the sole, making a triangle shape. Next, her arch was strained as the foot was bent double. Finally, the feet were bound in place using a silk strip measuring ten feet long and two inches wide. These wrappings were briefly removed every two days to prevent blood and pus from infecting the foot. Sometimes “excess” flesh was cut away or encouraged to rot. The girls were forced to walk long distances in order to hasten the breaking of their arches. Over time the wrappings became tighter and the shoes smaller as the heel and sole were crushed together. After two years the process was complete, creating a deep cleft that could hold a coin in place. Once a foot had been crushed and bound, the shape could not be reversed without a woman undergoing the same pain all over again.
As the practice of foot-binding makes brutally clear, social forces in China then subjugated women. And the impact can be appreciated by considering three of China’s greatest female figures: the politician Shangguan Wan’er (664-710), the poet Li Qing-zhao (1084-c.1151) and the warrior Liang Hongyu (c.1100-1135). All three women lived before foot-binding became the norm. They had distinguished themselves in their own right—not as voices behind the throne, or muses to inspire others, but as self-directed agents. Though none is well known in the West, the women are household names in China.
Shangguan began her life under unfortunate circumstances. She was born the year that her grandfather, the chancellor to Emperor Gaozong, was implicated in a political conspiracy against the emperor’s powerful wife, Empress Wu Zetian. After the plot was exposed, the irate empress had the male members of the Shangguan family executed and all the female members enslaved. Nevertheless, after being informed of the 14-year-old Shangguan Wan’er’s exceptional brilliance as a poet and scribe, the empress promptly employed the girl as her personal secretary. Thus began an extraordinary 27-year relationship between China’s only female emperor and the woman whose family she had destroyed.
Wu eventually promoted Shangguan from cultural minister to chief minister, giving her charge of drafting the imperial edicts and decrees. The position was as dangerous as it had been during her grandfather’s time. On one occasion the empress signed her death warrant only to have the punishment commuted at the last minute to facial disfigurement. Shangguan survived the empress’s downfall in 705, but not the political turmoil that followed. She could not help becoming embroiled in the surviving progeny’s plots and counterplots for the throne. In 710 she was persuaded or forced to draft a fake document that acceded power to the Dowager Empress Wei. During the bloody clashes that erupted between the factions, Shangguan was dragged from her house and beheaded.
A later emperor had her poetry collected and recorded for posterity. Many of her poems had been written at imperial command to commemorate a particular state occasion. But she also contributed to the development of the “estate poem,” a form of poetry that celebrates the courtier who willingly chooses the simple, pastoral life.
Shangguan is considered by some scholars to be one of the forebears of the High Tang, a golden age in Chinese poetry. Nevertheless, her work pales in significance compared with the poems of Li Qingzhao, whose surviving relics are kept in a museum in her hometown of Jinan—the “City of Springs”—in Shandong province.
Li lived during one of the more chaotic times of the Song era, when the country was divided into northern China under the Jin dynasty and southern China under the Song. Her husband was a mid-ranking official in the Song government. They shared an intense passion for art and poetry and were avid collectors of ancient texts. Li was in her 40s when her husband died, consigning her to an increasingly fraught and penurious widowhood that lasted for another two decades. At one point she made a disastrous marriage to a man whom she divorced after a few months. An exponent of ci poetry—lyric verse written to popular tunes, Li poured out her feelings about her husband, her widowhood and her subsequent unhappiness. She eventually settled in Lin’an, the capital of the southern Song.
Li’s later poems became increasingly morose and despairing. But her earlier works are full of joie de vivre and erotic desire. Like this one attributed to her:
…I finish tuning the pipes face the floral mirror thinly dressed crimson silken shift translucent over icelike flesh lustrous in snowpale cream glistening scented oils and laugh to my sweet friend tonight you are within my silken curtains your pillow, your mat will grow cold.
Literary criticsin later dynasties struggled to reconcile the woman with the poetry, finding her remarriage and subsequent divorce an affront to Neo-Confucian morals. Ironically, between Li and her near-contemporary Liang Hongyu, the former was regarded as the more transgressive. Liang was an ex-courtesan who had followed her soldier-husband from camp to camp. Already beyond the pale of respectability, she was not subjected to the usual censure reserved for women who stepped beyond the nei—the female sphere of domestic skills and household management—to enter the wei, the so-called male realm of literary learning and public service.
Liang grew up at a military base commanded by her father. Her education included military drills and learning the martial arts. In 1121, she met her husband, a junior officer named Han Shizhong. With her assistance he rose to become a general, and together they formed a unique military partnership, defending northern and central China against incursions by the Jurchen confederation known as the Jin kingdom.
In 1127, Jin forces captured the Song capital at Bianjing, forcing the Chinese to establish a new capital in the southern part of the country. The defeat almost led to a coup d’état, but Liang and her husband were among the military commanders who sided with the beleaguered regime. She was awarded the title “Lady Defender” for her bravery. Three years later, Liang achieved immortality for her part in a naval engagement on the Yangtze River known as the Battle of Huangtiandang. Using a combination of drums and flags, she was able to signal the position of the Jin fleet to her husband. The general cornered the fleet and held it for 48 days.
Liang and Han lie buried together in a tomb at the foot of Lingyan Mountain. Her reputation as a national heroine remained such that her biography was included in the 16th-century Sketch of a Model for Women by Lady Wang, one of the four books that became the standard Confucian classics texts for women’s education.
Though it may not seem obvious, the reasons that the Neo-Confucians classed Liang as laudable, but not Shangguan or Li, were part of the same societal impulses that led to the widespread acceptance of foot-binding. First and foremost, Liang’s story demonstrated her unshakable devotion to her father, then to her husband, and through him to the Song state. As such, Liang fulfilled her duty of obedience to the proper (male) order of society.
The Song dynasty was a time of tremendous economic growth, but also great social insecurity. In contrast to medieval Europe, under the Song emperors, class status was no longer something inherited but earned through open competition. The old Chinese aristocratic families found themselves displaced by a meritocratic class called the literati. Entrance was gained via a rigorous set of civil service exams that measured mastery of the Confucian canon. Not surprisingly, as intellectual prowess came to be valued more highly than brute strength, cultural attitudes regarding masculine and feminine norms shifted toward more rarefied ideals.
Foot-binding, which started out as a fashionable impulse, became an expression of Han identity after the Mongols invaded China in 1279. The fact that it was only performed by Chinese women turned the practice into a kind of shorthand for ethnic pride. Periodic attempts to ban it, as the Manchus tried in the 17th century, were never about foot-binding itself but what it symbolized. To the Chinese, the practice was daily proof of their cultural superiority to the uncouth barbarians who ruled them. It became, like Confucianism, another point of difference between the Han and the rest of the world. Ironically, although Confucian scholars had originally condemned foot-binding as frivolous, a woman’s adherence to both became conflated as a single act.
Earlier forms of Confucianism had stressed filial piety, duty and learning. The form that developed during the Song era, Neo-Confucianism, was the closest China had to a state religion. It stressed the indivisibility of social harmony, moral orthodoxy and ritualized behavior. For women, Neo-Confucianism placed extra emphasis on chastity, obedience and diligence. A good wife should have no desire other than to serve her husband, no ambition other than to produce a son, and no interest beyond subjugating herself to her husband’s family—meaning, among other things, she must never remarry if widowed. Every Confucian primer on moral female behavior included examples of women who were prepared to die or suffer mutilation to prove their commitment to the “Way of the Sages.” The act of foot-binding—the pain involved and the physical limitations it created—became a woman’s daily demonstration of her own commitment to Confucian values.
The truth, no matter how unpalatable, is that foot-binding was experienced, perpetuated and administered by women. Though utterly rejected in China now—the last shoe factory making lotus shoes closed in 1999—it survived for a thousand years in part because of women’s emotional investment in the practice. The lotus shoe is a reminder that the history of women did not follow a straight line from misery to progress, nor is it merely a scroll of patriarchy writ large. Shangguan, Li and Liang had few peers in Europe in their own time. But with the advent of foot-binding, their spiritual descendants were in the West. Meanwhile, for the next 1,000 years, Chinese women directed their energies and talents toward achieving a three-inch version of physical perfection.
We’ve all heard that breakfast is the most important meal of the day. But is it? A pair of recent studies has some questioning this long-held advice.
Breakfast has been associated with lower body weight in observational studies, a type of study in which researchers simply observe individuals or measure outcomes. However, researchers have yet to prove a cause-and-effect relationship between eating breakfast and shedding pounds.
The two studies that came out in recent months seemed to say eating breakfast did not play a role in weight loss. They surprised many because for so long we all thought that we had to eat breakfast to be healthy and to lose weight.
Despite the two recent studies, I will still tell my patients to eat breakfast daily.
Let’s look at the studies. In one, researchers at the University of Alabama at Birmingham examined eating habits among nearly 300 participants who researchers split randomly into three groups. One group ate breakfast, one group did not eat breakfast, and members of the third group maintained their current eating habits.
Then the researchers weighed participants after a 16-week period. The researchers found no significant difference in weight loss among the groups.
In the second study, conducted at the University of Bath, researchers randomly assigned 33 lean subjects to either eat or skip breakfast. Six weeks later, the participants’ cholesterol levels, resting metabolic rates and overall blood-sugar levels were unchanged. Nor did they overeat during the day.
The researchers did find, however, that people who skipped breakfast were more likely to be lethargic and less active in the morning. The breakfast-skippers also ate less over the course of the day than did breakfast-eaters, though they also burned fewer calories.
More research needed
So what to make of this research? My reading is that these studies taken together show that you will not gain weight if you skip breakfast. Recall that the conventional wisdom is that if you want to lose weight, you should eat breakfast – it does not concern skipping breakfast. For those who are trying to lose weight, breakfast plays an important role in controlling hunger and maintaining energy throughout the day.
My other observation is that the second study shows that while biomarkers such as cholesterol levels may be unchanged, the breakfast-skippers also burned fewer calories. People trying to lose weight need to rev up their metabolism. So burning fewer calories because you’re skipping breakfast could be a drawback.
The takeaway for me is that if you are happy with your weight, you can choose whether to eat breakfast or skip it. For those who want to lose weight, I recommend a high-protein breakfast such as an egg-white omelet, or non-fat Greek yogurt. This kind of a meal can provide energy to power through your morning and help ward off cravings and binge-eating later in the day.
Researchers have discovered that the body clock becomes confused by changing sleep patterns when people are not at work, which they have termed “social jet lag”.
The study revealed that people who have a greater difference in sleep between free days and work days are more likely to be obese and suffer from obesity-related disease, than those with little to no difference between these timings.
Making an effort to go to bed and wake up at roughly the same time every day – or failing that, as close as possible – can help establish a more balanced pattern and reduce the likelihood that you will suffer from social jet lag. We take a look at some of the ways to do this.
Avoid caffeine in the afternoon
A cup of coffee can be a great way to overcome your morning drowsiness, but it lingers in your body for a number of hours.
So by avoiding caffeine in the afternoon – be it coffee, tea, chocolate, and even certain medications – you can be sure it will be out of your system by the evening.
Caffeine stays in your system for a number of hours (Alamy)
Make time for exercise
People who are physically active tend to sleep better than their sedentary counterparts. Set yourself a moderate target, such as 20 minutes of exercise each day. Not only will this help you sleep at night, but it will alsohelp you avoid an early death.
Daily exercise can help you sleep as well as live longer (Andrew Crowley)
Have an early, light dinner
Heavy meals can take longer to digest, and, if eaten late, make it harder to fall asleep.
If you have a light dinner at least two or three hours before you go to bed, your food should all be digested by the time you try to fall asleep – this is better for your metabolism too.
A late night pizza is not recommended (Reuters)
Create a soothing bedtime routine
Do the same, relaxing activity each night before you go to bed. For example, you could have a hot bath, do some gentle stretches, or some light reading. If you repeat this each night, your body will start to associate those activities with sleep.
Having a hot bath every night could be the perfect pre-bed treat (Todd Keith)
Exposure to sunlight
Sunlight plays a key role in regulating our sleep cycles. If you want to have more energy in the morning and want to feel sleepier at night, try getting more sun exposure in the morning, and less in the afternoon and evening.