The World’s Largest Solar Plant Just Torched Itself


The Ivanpah Plant

Misaligned mirrors are being blamed for a fire that broke out yesterday at the world’s largest solar power plant, leaving the high-tech facility crippled for the time being. It sounds like the plant’s workers suffered through a real hellscape, too.

A small fire was reported yesterday morning at the Ivanpah Solar Electric Generating System (ISEGS) in California, forcing a temporary shutdown of the facility. It’s now running at a third of its capacity (a second tower is down due to scheduled maintenance), and it’s not immediately clear when the damaged tower will restart. It’s also unclear how the incident will impact California’s electricity supply.

Putting out the blaze was not easy task, either. Firefighters were forced to climb 300 feet up a boiler tower to get to the scene. Officials said the fire was located about two-thirds up the tower. Workers at the plant actually managed to subdue the flames by the time firefighters reached the spot, and it was officially extinguished about 20 minutes after it started.

 Located on 4,000 acres of public land in the Mojave Desert, the sprawling concentrated solar thermal plant is equipped with 173,500 heliostats—each with two mirrors—that focus sunlight on boilers located on top of three 459-foot towers. The tremendous heat created by the concentrated solar power produces steam that drives turbines to produce electricity. The plant, the largest of its kind in the world, features a gross capacity of 392 megawatts, enough to power 140,000 homes. Each of the computer-controlled solar-reflecting mirrors is about the size of a garage door.
This image shows one of the plant’s three towers when it’s functioning properly and online. 

A spokesperson for the plant said it’s too early to comment on the cause, but it appears that misaligned mirrors are to blame. The Associated Press quoted Mike McClintock, the San Bernardino County fire captain, who said that some mirrors delivered sunlight to a different level on the third unit, causing electrical cables to catch fire.

Inevitably, the incident reveals the inherent dangers of concentrated solar power as well as the need to ensure that the mirrors are always on target. Concentrated solar power plants, in addition to being a menace to themselves, can also pose a hazard to local wildlife. Last year, a plant in Nevada torched over a hundred birds when they flew through the plant’s “flux field.”

It’s yet another setback for the Ivanpah facility. For the past few months, the plant has been unable to meet the output levels stipulated in its power purchase agreement, and it was given an extension until July 31, 2016 to improve performance. This fire obviously isn’t going to help.

Diplomatic incident sparked by human spam claim


The Facebook post that started it all. One woman's claim has led to China's state-run news agency publicly denying the rumour. Photo / Facebook
The Facebook post that started it all. One woman’s claim has led to China’s state-run news agency publicly denying the rumour. 

A diplomatic incident has been sparked by fictitious claims that China has been exporting canned human meat for consumption in Africa.

Zambia’s government has apologised to China and launched an investigation after the rumour appeared in a local tabloid newspaper.

The rumour has been fuelled by a hoax post on Facebook that has been shared more than 26,000 times.

Ghanaian woman Barbara Akosua Aboagye wrote in the Facebook post: “Chinese people have started producing corned beef with their dead bodies and sending them to Africa. Please stay away from corned beef irrespective of brand, most especially in Africa and from Afro-Asian grocery shops.”

China condemned the “malicious” rumours in a statement published by state-run news agency Xinhua.

ang Youming, China’s ambassador to Zambia, said it was unfortunate people were trying to destroy the relationship between the two countries.

“Today a local tabloid newspaper is openly spreading a rumour, claiming that the Chinese use human meat to make corned beef and sell it to Africa. This is completely a malicious slandering and vilification which is absolutely unacceptable to us,” he said.

“We hereby express our utmost anger and the strongest condemnation over such an act.”

Zambian minister Christopher Mulenga told Xinhua his government would investigate.

“The government of Zambia regrets the incident in view of the warm relations that exist between Zambia and China. We shall make sure that relevant government authorities will take up the investigations and give a comprehensive statement.”

Why Doctors Are Sick of Their Profession


American physicians are increasingly unhappy with their once-vaunted profession, and that malaise is bad for their patients.

All too often these days, I find myself fidgeting by the doorway to my exam room, trying to conclude an office visit with one of my patients. When I look at my career at midlife, I realize that in many ways I have become the kind of doctor I never thought I’d be: impatient, occasionally indifferent, at times dismissive or paternalistic. Many of my colleagues are similarly struggling with the loss of their professional ideals.

It could be just a midlife crisis, but it occurs to me that my profession is in a sort of midlife crisis of its own. In the past four decades, American doctors have lost the status they used to enjoy. In the mid-20th century, physicians were the pillars of any community. If you were smart and sincere and ambitious, at the top of your class, there was nothing nobler or more rewarding that you could aspire to become.

Today medicine is just another profession, and doctors have become like everybody else: insecure, discontented and anxious about the future. In surveys, a majority of doctors express diminished enthusiasm for medicine and say they would discourage a friend or family member from entering the profession. In a 2008 survey of 12,000 physicians, only 6% described their morale as positive. Eighty-four percent said that their incomes were constant or decreasing. Most said they didn’t have enough time to spend with patients because of paperwork, and nearly half said they planned to reduce the number of patients they would see in the next three years or stop practicing altogether.

American doctors are suffering from a collective malaise. We strove, made sacrifices—and for what? For many of us, the job has become only that—a job.

That attitude isn’t just a problem for doctors. It hurts patients too.

In a survey of 12,000 physicians, only 6% described their morale as positive.
In a survey of 12,000 physicians, only 6% described their morale as positive.

Consider what one doctor had to say on Sermo, the online community of more than 270,000 physicians:

“I wouldn’t do it again, and it has nothing to do with the money. I get too little respect from patients, physician colleagues, and administrators, despite good clinical judgment, hard work, and compassion for my patients. Working up patients in the ER these days involves shotguning multiple unnecessary tests (everybody gets a CT!) despite the fact that we know they don’t need them, and being aware of the wastefulness of it all really sucks the love out of what you do. I feel like a pawn in a moneymaking game for hospital administrators. There are so many other ways I could have made my living and been more fulfilled. The sad part is we chose medicine because we thought it was worthwhile and noble, but from what I have seen in my short career, it is a charade.”

The discontent is alarming, but how did we get to this point? To some degree, doctors themselves are at fault.

In the halcyon days of the mid-20th century, American medicine was also in a golden age. Life expectancy increased sharply (from 65 years in 1940 to 71 years in 1970), aided by such triumphs of medical science as polio vaccination and heart-lung bypass. Doctors largely set their own hours and determined their own fees. Popular depictions of physicians (“Marcus Welby,” “General Hospital”) were overwhelmingly positive, almost heroic.

American doctors at midcentury were generally content with their circumstances. They were prospering under the private fee-for-service model, in which patients were covering costs out of pocket or through fledgling private insurance programs such as Blue Cross/Blue Shield. They could regulate fees based on a patient’s ability to pay and look like benefactors. They weren’t subordinated to bureaucratic hierarchy.

Read more from The Wall Street Journal: Five Things To Know Today.

After Medicare was introduced in 1965 as a social safety net for the elderly, doctors’ salaries actually increased as more people sought medical care. In 1940, in inflation-adjusted 2010 dollars, the mean income for U.S. physicians was about $50,000. By 1970, it was close to $250,000—nearly six times the median household income.

But as doctors profited, they were increasingly perceived as bilking the system. Year after year, health-care spending grew faster than the U.S. economy as a whole. Meanwhile, reports of waste and fraud were rampant. A congressional investigation found that in 1974, surgeons performed 2.4 million unnecessary operations, costing nearly $4 billion and resulting in nearly 12,000 deaths. In 1969, the president of the New Haven County Medical Society warned his colleagues “to quit strangling the goose that can lay those golden eggs.”

If doctors were mismanaging their patients’ care, someone else would have to manage that care for them. Beginning in 1970, health maintenance organizations, or HMOs, were championed to promote a new kind of health-care delivery built around price controls and fixed payments. Unlike with Medicare or private insurance, doctors themselves would be held responsible for excess spending. Other novel mechanisms were introduced to curtail health outlays, including greater cost-sharing by patients and insurer reviews of the necessity of medical services. That ushered in the era of HMOs.

In 1973, fewer than 15% of physicians reported any doubts that they had made the right career choice. By 1981, half said they would not recommend the practice of medicine as highly as they would have a decade earlier.

Public opinion of doctors shifted distinctly downward too. Doctors were no longer unquestioningly exalted. On television, physicians were portrayed as more human—flawed or vulnerable (“M*A*S*H*,” “St. Elsewhere”) or professionally and personally fallible (“ER”).

As managed care grew (by the early 2000s, 95% of insured workers were in some sort of managed-care plan), physicians’ confidence plummeted. In 2001, 58% of about 2,000 physicians questioned said that their enthusiasm for medicine had gone down in the previous five years, and 87% said that their overall morale had declined during that time. More recent surveys have shown that 30% to 40% of practicing physicians wouldn’t choose to enter the medical profession if they were deciding on a career again—and an even higher percentage wouldn’t encourage their children to pursue a medical career.

There are many reasons for this disillusionment besides managed care. One unintended consequence of progress is that physicians increasingly say they don’t have enough time to spend with patients. Medical advances have transformed once-terminal diseases—cancer, AIDS, congestive heart failure—into complex chronic conditions that must be managed over the long term. Physicians also have more diagnostic and treatment options and must provide a growing array of screenings and other preventative services.

At the same time, salaries haven’t kept pace with doctors’ expectations. In 1970, the average inflation-adjusted income of general practitioners was $185,000. In 2010, it was $161,000, despite a near doubling of the number of patients that doctors see a day.

While patients today are undoubtedly paying more for medical care, less of that money is actually going to the people who provide the care. According to a 2002 article in the journal Academic Medicine, the return on educational investment for primary-care physicians, adjusted for differences in number of hours worked, is just under $6 per hour, as compared with $11 for lawyers. Some doctors are limiting their practices to patients who can pay out of pocket without insurance company discounting.

Other factors in our profession’s woes include a labyrinthine payer bureaucracy. U.S. doctors spend almost an hour on average each day, and $83,000 a year—four times their Canadian counterparts—dealing with the paperwork of insurance companies. Their office staffs spend more than seven hours a day. And don’t forget the fear of lawsuits; runaway malpractice-liability premiums; and finally the loss of professional autonomy that has led many physicians to view themselves as pawns in a battle between insurers and the government.

The growing discontent has serious consequences for patients. One is a looming shortage of doctors, especially in primary care, which has the lowest reimbursement of all the medical specialties and probably has the most dissatisfied practitioners. Try getting a timely appointment with your family doctor; in some parts of the country, it is next to impossible. Aging baby boomers are starting to require more care just as aging baby boomer physicians are getting ready to retire. The country is going to need new doctors, especially geriatricians and other primary care physicians, to care for these patients. But interest in primary care is at an all-time low.

Perhaps the most serious downside, however, is that unhappy doctors make for unhappy patients. Patients today are increasingly disenchanted with a medical system that is often indifferent to their needs. People used to talk about “my doctor.” Now, in a given year, Medicare patients see on average two different primary care physicians and five specialists working in four separate practices. For many of us, it is rare to find a primary physician who can remember us from visit to visit, let alone come to know us in depth or with any meaning or relevancy.

Insensitivity in patient-doctor interactions has become almost normal. I once took care of a patient who developed kidney failure after receiving contrast dye for a CT scan. On rounds, he recalled for me a conversation he’d had with his nephrologist about whether his kidney function was going to get better. “The doctor said, ‘What do you mean?’ ” my patient told me. “I said, ‘Are my kidneys going to come back?’ He said, ‘How long have you been on dialysis?’ I said, ‘A few days.’ And then he thought for a moment and said, ‘Nah, I don’t think they’re going to come back.’ ”

My patient broke into sobs. ” ‘Nah, I don’t think they’re going to come back.’ That’s what he said to me. Just like that.”

Of course, doctors aren’t the only professionals who are unhappy today. Many professions, including law and teaching, have become constrained by corporate structures, resulting in loss of autonomy, status, and respect. But as the Princeton sociologist Paul Starr writes, for most of the 20th century, medicine was “the heroic exception that sustained the waning tradition of independent professionalism.” It is an exception whose time has expired.

How can we reverse the disillusionment that is so widespread in the medical profession? There are many measures of success in medicine: income, of course, but also creating attachments with patients, making a difference in their lives and providing good care while responsibly managing limited resources.

The challenge in dealing with physician burnout on a practical level is to create new incentive schemes to foster that meaning: publicizing clinical excellence, for example (public reporting of surgeons’ mortality rates or physicians’ readmission rates is a good first step), or giving rewards for patient satisfaction (physicians at my hospital now receive quarterly reports that tell us how our patients rate us on measures such as communication skills and the amount of time we spend with them).

We also need to replace the current fee-for-service system with payment methods such as bundled payment, in which doctors on a case are paid a lump sum to divide among themselves, or pay for performance, which offers incentives for good health outcomes. We need systems that don’t simply reward high-volume care but also help restore the humanism in doctor-patient relationships that have been weakened by business considerations, corporate directives and third-party intrusions.

I believe most doctors continue to want to be like the physician knights of the golden age of medicine. Most of us went into medicine to help people. We want to practice medicine the right way, but too many forces today are propelling us away from the bench or the bedside. No one ever goes into medicine to do unnecessary testing, but this sort of behavior is rampant. The American system too often seems to promote knavery over knighthood.

Fulfillment in medicine, as with any endeavor, is about managing hopes. Probably the group best equipped to deal with the changes wracking the profession today is medical students, who are not so weighed down by great expectations. Doctors ensconced in professional midlife are having the hardest time.

In the end, the problem is one of resilience. American doctors need an internal compass to navigate the changing landscape of our profession. For most doctors, this compass begins and ends with their patients. In surveys, most physicians—even the dissatisfied ones—say the best part of their jobs is taking care of people. I believe this is the key to coping with the stresses of contemporary medicine: identifying what is important to you, what you believe in and what you will fight for. Medical schools and residency programs can help by instilling professionalism early on and assessing it frequently throughout the many years of training. Introducing students to virtuous mentors and alternative career options, such as part-time work, may also help stem some of the burnout.

What’s most important to me as a doctor, I’ve learned, are the human moments. Medicine is about taking care of people in their most vulnerable states and making yourself somewhat vulnerable in the process. Those human moments are what others—the lawyers, the bankers—envy about our profession, and no company, no agency, no entity can take those away. Ultimately, this is the best hope for our professional salvation.

Should I Be Eating Egg Yolks Every Day?


In addition to half the egg's protein, the yolk contains vitamin D, phosphorus, riboflavin, choline, and selenium.
In addition to half the egg’s protein, the yolk contains vitamin D, phosphorus, riboflavin, choline, and selenium. Photo Creditlittleny/iStock/Getty Images

In an earlier article I revealed that one of my weight-maintenance tricks is to eat a whole egg as a morning snack pretty much every single day (hard-boiled or deviled). Eggs keep me feeling full, and the protein keeps my cravings in check. Plus, the yolks contain most of the nutrients, including vitamin D.

But I still see “egg white omelets” on menus at popular restaurants, and I’m wondering why some people are still avoiding eating the yolks? I started thinking: “Is it healthy for me to be eating egg yolks every day? Could this actually be a dangerous habit?”

To get an expert opinion, I consulted registered dietitian, Kelly Plowe, M.S., R.D. Here’s what she told me:

“If I were to create a top 10 superfoods list, eggs would hands-down make this list every single time. There is irony in this because for so long the egg was one of the most misunderstood foods (believed at one point to contribute to heart disease), which research has now cleared up.

“Eggs, specifically egg whites, have become a mainstay in many diets thanks to their lean, satiating protein. Many people are still surprised to learn however, that the yolk itself has about 3 grams of protein, almost half of the protein found in an entire egg. The yolk is also where all of the cholesterol (about 185mg) is found. The American Heart Association recommends keeping cholesterols intake to less than 300mg a day, which makes including an egg everyday, as part of an overall healthy diet doable.

I’m an advocate of including the yolk because this is where the majority of the nutrition in the egg is found. Aside from protein, the yolk is packed with vitamin D, phosphorus, riboflavin, choline, and selenium in addition to a number of other vitamins and minerals.”

Kelly’s expert info definitely made me feel confident that eating an egg a day (yolk and all) was A-OK. But what if I wanted to eat more than one egg in a meal?

“To enjoy more eggs in your day,” Kelly says, “I’m a fan of the 3:1 ratio — three egg whites to one entire egg.”

This is a tasty and filling scramble using the 3:1 ratio - three egg whites to one entire egg.
This is a tasty and filling scramble using the 3:1 ratio – three egg whites to one entire egg. Photo CreditMelissaAnneGalleries/iStock/Getty Images

Here’s one of Kelly’s go-to egg breakfasts that will keep you full until lunchtime:

Kelly’s Veggie Protein Scramble

(For calories, protein and full nutritional information, here is the link to the recipe we created in LIVESTRONG.COM’s MyPlate Calorie Tracker.)

Serves: 1

Ingredients:

  • 1/2 cup sliced mushrooms
  • 1/2 cup spinach
  • 2 tablespoons onion, chopped
  • 1 whole egg
  • 3 egg whites
  • Cooking spray
  • Salt and pepper

Directions:

1. Spray a small nonstick pan with a coat of cooking spray and place over medium heat.

2. Cook mushrooms, spinach and onions until soft and the spinach is wilted, about five minutes.

3. Season with salt and pepper and stir. Transfer to a small bowl and wipe pan clean.

4. Whisk egg and egg whites in a medium bowl until well combined. Coat pan with cooking spray and pour eggs into pan and cook.

5. Once edges of egg start to form, transfer veggies from bowl to the pan and begin to fold into the egg. Continue to fold until eggs are cooked throughout.

Readers – Do you eat eggs every day? Are you a fan of egg whites or yolks? What’s one of your favorite egg recipes? Leave a comment below and let us know.

Friends Provide Better Pain Relief Than Morphine, Oxford University Study Reveals


Social bonding has played a key role in our survival as a species. Some of the noted benefits of friendship from an evolutionary perspective include reduced vulnerability to predators, greater access to food resources, and protection from harassment. Today, though most of us no longer worry about being mauled by a predator as we go about our daily business, a healthy network of friends is still extremely valuable, acting like a safety net in life. Bolstered by the support of good friends, we can bound to great heights and celebrate the joys of life, and know that if we fall there will be someone there to offer comfort and assistance, to share our deepest fears and disappointments, and help make the dark moments much more bearable.

Friends 'better than morphine' for pain - University of Oxford reports

Recent studies have explored the science behind friendships and discovered that there are actually measurable differences between people who have strong, healthy social networks and those who don’t. In particular, people with strong friend connections were found to experience significantly better states of physical and mental health.

“People with social support have fewer cardiovascular problems and immune problems, and lower levels of cortisol — a stress hormone,” says Tasha R. Howe, PhD, associate professor of psychology at Humboldt State University.

Adding to the growing research on the benefits of friendship, a recent study conducted by researchers at Oxford University established that people with more friends have higher pain tolerance. Katerina Johnson, a doctoral student in the University’s Department of Experimental Psychology, wanted to investigate the relationship between our neurobiology and the size of our social networks.

“I was particularly interested in a chemical in the brain called endorphin. Endorphins are part of our pain and pleasure circuitry — they’re our body’s natural painkillers and also give us feelings of pleasure. Previous studies have suggested that endorphins promote social bonding in both humans and other animals. One theory, known as ‘the brain opioid theory of social attachment’, is that social interactions trigger positive emotions when endorphin binds to opioid receptors in the brain. This gives us that feel-good factor that we get from seeing our friends,” said Johnson. “To test this theory, we relied on the fact that endorphin has a powerful pain-killing effect — stronger even than morphine.”

The study was designed to use pain tolerance to test the brain’s endorphin activity. The researchers theorised that people with larger social networks would, as a result, have higher pain tolerance. The findings of the study supported their theory in that it showed that indeed, strong social connections were correlated with higher pain tolerance.

“These results are also interesting because recent research suggests that the endorphin system may be disrupted in psychological disorders such as depression. This may be part of the reason why depressed people often suffer from a lack of pleasure and become socially withdrawn,” explained Johnson.

The study also noted that people with higher levels of stress hormones were more likely to have smaller groups of friends.

“The finding relating to stress may indicate that larger social networks help people to manage stress better, or it may be that stress or its causes mean people have less time for social activity, shrinking their network.

“Studies suggest that the quantity and quality of our social relationships affect our physical and mental health and may even be a factor determining how long we live. Therefore, understanding why individuals have different social networks sizes and the possible neurobiological mechanisms involved is an important research topic. As a species, we’ve evolved to thrive in a rich social environment but in this digital era, deficiencies in our social interactions may be one of the overlooked factors contributing to the declining health of our modern society,” Katerina explained.

As mentioned in the final statement it is not just the size of our social network that is important to our wellbeing, but the quality of the friendships that matters as well. With the advent of the internet modern society is changing quickly, and our interactions are increasingly occurring online. Even though the internet can be a great way to connect with likeminded people, online friends just aren’t the same as those we can actually sit with and look directly in the eye when we communicate–and a digital hug is just nowhere near as good as a real one!

Tips-how to make real friends:

Get out: Some great ways to meet people in real life include volunteering, taking a class, or joining a club or interest group (websites like meetup.com list groups with various interests that meet up in real life locations around the world).

Be yourself: A healthy relationship is built on truth and realness. People who attempt to come across as something they are not often have difficulty making real friends because people tend to sense a lack of genuineness in their approach. Trust that real friends worth having will value you for who you truly are. If you feel a bit shy or awkward try mentioning it. This can act to alleviate the tension, and a potential real friend will value your sincerity. Remember, people tend to feel more at ease with friends who are able to share their weakness as well as their strengths.

A healthy friendship is a two way street: While you can’t develop a real friendship without sharing aspects of yourself, it is important not to get so caught up in your own story that the other person doesn’t feel valued or heard. Don’t be afraid to show interest in the other person, pay attention, listen carefully, and ask questions about their life, opinions, and feelings about things. Both parties should feel enriched by the social interaction. If one person feels drained afterwards, it can be an indication that the dynamic is not balanced.

Try to focus on the positive: If you are someone who tends to focus on the negative, this could be affecting the quantity and quality of your friendships, as well as your worldview. Learning to lessen your focus on the negative will not only make you more appealing to others, it will likely make your whole life experience more uplifting.

Don’t rush: Though there are times when we meet someone and feel an instant connection that feels like it reaches beyond this life, these special friendships are not the norm. Usually a deep friendship takes time to cultivate; it certainly can’t be forced. Try not to catapult yourself into a person’s life. People are often inclined to withdraw when someone comes across as too forward, desperate or needy.

Alone time: In the same way that it is important to give others space, it is also important to take time to love and nourish ourselves. When we take responsibility for our own wellbeing we don’t need to rely on others to uplift us. Having a healthy internal foundation means that we approach a friendship from a space of desire rather than neediness.

Endometrial CD16+ Natural killer Cells and Sub-endometrial Doppler in Unexplained Infertility


Abstract

This prospective case-control study was conducted to investigate the relation between endometrial natural killer CD16+ cells and unexplained infertility. 45 women with unexplained infertility and another 45 fertile women as their controls were recruited in the study. Trans-vaginal sonography and endometrial sampling were performed 5-9 days after ovulation (implantation window). Endometrial thickness and sub-endometrial blood flow indices were assessed, endometrial CD16+ were assessed using immunohistochemical staining. A significant higher incidence of CD16+ positive endometrium was found in infertile women than controls, as well as a highly significant difference between the 2 groups regarding endometrial thickness (being thinner in the infertility group) and both sub-endometrial Doppler parameters (RI and PI)  (P<0.001). A positive correlation was found between endometrial positive CD16+ and both endometrial thickness and sub-endometrial RI (P=0.035 and P=0.011 respectively). This study suggests a significant association between endometrial CD16+ NK cells and unexplained infertility.

 

 

Scientists Discover Instinctual “Reptilian” Region of the Brain Directly Linked to Compassion and Happiness


We’ve all had those kinds of days where everything seems to go wrong. You’re running late, and hit every single stoplight from home to work. Kids are uncooperative. You forget your phone (and wallet). You spill coffee down the front your shirt. And so it goes. Nothing overly shocking, it happens to everyone now and again, but science is finding that how we respond to these kinds of challenging circumstances says a lot about how our brains are wired — and how resilient (and happy) we are when faced with negative events.

The amygdala (or “fear” center of the brain) generally gets a bad rap, known to be responsible for depression, anxiety and aggression — those very emotions that can be triggered when we’re having a tough day. It’s the oldest part of the brain and considered the most primitive, continually on the lookout for potential dangers. The small, almond-shaped brain region is associated with negative stimuli, and it’s largely accepted that those who have elevated activity in this area are prone to heightened levels of negative emotions. However, new research has discovered that the amygdala also responds to positive stimuli — and is strongly associated with compassion, human connection and happiness.

According to Greater Good, “the happiest people don’t ignore threats. They just might be better at seeing the good.”

Not your average Pollyanna

It’s generally agreed that people with sunnier dispositions are apt to weather the bumps and bruises of life much easier than those who have pessimistic mental states. There’s a certain resiliency that positive people seem to possess, but does it simply come down to ignoring the negatives and viewing life through the proverbial “rose colored glasses”? Or becoming a Pollyanna positivity fanatic? What’s their secret to skillfully navigating life’s ups and downs with the highest happiness quotient possible? These questions are important because they have far-reaching implications for how you view your own life — and the subsequent joy and happiness you are able to experience over the long-term.

Surprising function of the evolutionary brain

Psychologist William Cunningham of the University of Toronto published groundbreaking work in the Journal of Cognitive Neuroscience demonstrating that the amygdala’s role goes far beyond simply keeping us safe from what we perceive as threats.

Cunningham and his colleagues showed a series of side-by-side pictures to study participants while documenting their amygdala activity using functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI). The images spanned a range of emotional content — positive, negative or neutral.

As expected, the negative pictures triggered amygdala activity. However, the positive images did as well — but only when participants were told to concentrate on them. As a rule, humans tend to focus on threats or negative stimuli. But this research shows that people can compensate for it by purposely focusing more on the positive. “While people do automatically attend to negative stimuli, given the proper ability and motivation, they can show the same sensitivity to positive stimuli,” said the research team.

Cunningham was involved in another study that found the amygdala “may also be at the heart of compassion.” The researchers scanned participants’ brains while they viewed pictures of people that were either in need of help or who might be useful in pursuing a goal. The data clearly indicated amygdala activity spiked when participants observed people in need, which was particularly true for those who scored high in empathy.

Scientists Discover Instinctive ''Reptilian'' Region of the Brain Directly Linked to Compassion, Happiness - FB

The research team noted that other studies have associated the ability to connect with and help others also fosters personal well-being. Apparently, humans have a “compassionate instinct” — a strong desire to help people that is located in the part of the brain which is oftentimes associated only with “primitive” or “reptilian” emotional states. The paper concludes:

“This research project builds on the idea that our evolutionarily older brain systems are not solely a source of immorality and selfishness, but when tuned by our goals, can contribute to moral and just behavior. Thus, human flourishing does not come from the suppression of aspects of the self, but rather through the integration of all relevant processes together into a unified response.” [source]

The question is: how does the activation of the amygdala of a happy person compare to someone who leans more toward a gloomy disposition? That’s exactly what Cunningham and Ph.D. student Tabitha Kirkland addressed in a subsequent study published in the journal Social Cognitive and Affective Neuroscience.

Taking the good with the bad

The team documented amygdala activity of 42 participants while they viewed a range of positive, negative and neutral pictures. Additionally, the participants completed surveys to establish their subjective happiness levels.

After the data was collected and analyzed, Cunningham and Kirkland discovered that happier people had greater amygdala activation in relation to the positive images. What was surprising, however, is that these same people did not have a decreased response to negative images — effectively ruling out the “rose-colored glasses” viewpoint of happiness. As a matter of fact, they found that “amygdala activation among happier participants was equally high for positive and negative stimuli.” The findings suggest that “happier people are not necessarily naïve or blind to negativity, but rather may respond adaptively to the world, recognizing both good and bad things in life.”

The takeaway message of this research is that our amygdala’s role isn’t just as the brain’s fear center, but actually assists us — on a very instinctual level — to see people in need and respond in a helpful manner. This in turn can cultivate connection and happiness in our own lives.

Home Wellbeing Health Is it coeliac disease? New campaign aims to raise awareness of anaemia and undiagnosed coeliac diease


One in 100 people in the UK has coeliac disease, while, current research indicates that only 24% of those with the condition are diagnosed, leaving an estimated half a million people in the UK struggling with undiagnosed coeliac disease5. Undiagnosed coeliac disease can lead to a number of complications including osteoporosisfertility problems and, in rare cases, small bowel cancer if left untreated.

Almost a quarter (23%) of British adults recalled being told they were anaemic following a blood test, according to a recent YouGov survey¹ for Coeliac UK; the charity is concerned that as anaemia is experienced in up to 50% of patients with coeliac disease at diagnosis, many with anaemia may have undiagnosed coeliac disease.

Iron-deficiency anaemia is experienced by 2-5% of men and postmenopausal women and 5-12% of premenopausal women in the UK at any time², but occurs in some 30-50% of patients with coeliac disease at diagnosis³. NICE Guidance for the recognition, assessment and management of coeliac disease recommends that GPs screen patients with recurring or unexplained iron, B12 or folate deficiency anaemia for coeliac disease4.

One in 100 people in the UK has coeliac disease, while, current research indicates that only 24% of those with the condition are diagnosed, leaving an estimated half a million people in the UK struggling with undiagnosed coeliac disease5. Undiagnosed coeliac disease can lead to a number of complications including osteoporosisfertility problemsand, in rare cases, small bowel cancer if left untreated.

Almost a quarter (23%) of British adults recalled being told they were anaemic following a blood test, according to a recent YouGov survey¹ for Coeliac UK; the charity is concerned that as anaemia is experienced in up to 50% of patients with coeliac disease at diagnosis, many with anaemia may have undiagnosed coeliac disease.

Iron-deficiency anaemia is experienced by 2-5% of men and postmenopausal women and 5-12% of premenopausal women in the UK at any time², but occurs in some 30-50% of patients with coeliac disease at diagnosis³. NICE Guidance for the recognition, assessment and management of coeliac disease recommends that GPs screen patients with recurring or unexplained iron, B12 or folate deficiency anaemia for coeliac disease4.

Sarah Sleet, chief executive of Coeliac UK the national charity for people with coeliac disease said: “Recurring or unexplained anaemia, is a key symptom to help in the search for those with undiagnosed coeliac disease. These people are probably suffering in silence, taking supplements and worrying about what’s causing their anaemia off and on for years, when a simple blood test for coeliac disease might just reveal the answer and change their life for the better, forever.”

The charity recommends those wondering if they need to be tested for coeliac disease to take its online assessment, which allows people to check symptoms and related conditions and advises whether they should go to their GP to be screened. Since the assessment was launched under a year ago, over 30,000 people have taken the questionnaire. From feedback, the initial results suggest that around 8% of those who were recommended to seek testing went on to be diagnosed with coeliac disease.

Male infertility: the driver behind our team’s new study


Commentary on a 12-week double-blind placebo-controlled trial to see if raising blood lycopene levels improves sperm quality – by Dr Elizabeth Williams, a senior lecturer in the Human Nutrition Unit, Department of Oncology & Metabolism at the University of Sheffield.

Most young men are more than surprised when they are told that 25% of them will have poor sperm quality and that it is one of the major causes of infertility in couples.

These days young men are exposed to many factors that affect male fertility. This includes obesity, smokingstressalcohol abuse, environmental toxins, sexually transmitted diseases and many more factors that mean our body’s ability to produce healthy sperm is impaired.

Britain is facing an epidemic of childlessness with one in six couples unable to conceive and men having poor-quality sperm causing over half of the problem.

That is why we decided to undertake what I feel is an important study which is being led by our own well-respected UK expert in fertility, Allan Pacey, Professor of Andrology in the Academic Unit of Reproductive and Developmental Medicine.

Following the findings of a previous study at Cleveland Clinic’s Center for Reproductive Medicine in the USA, which indicated lycopene supplementation could raise sperm count by up to 70%, we decided to undertake our own lycopene study at the University of Sheffield.

There are a number of research papers that have also shown lycopene may slow the progression of cancer of the prostate, the gland that makes seminal fluid, so it is logical that lycopene may improve sperm quality.

Allan and I agreed that little work has been done in this area, but if lycopene has a beneficial effect on the prostate, it is reasonable to think it might also improve sperm function.

We have designed a double-blind placebo-controlled trial to investigate the effect of lycopene on sperm function. We are recruiting 60 healthy male students and university staff aged 18-30 to take part in the three-month study.

We are using an over-the-counter lactolycopene supplement, called XY Pro®, for the study because previous scientific papers showed its lycopene formulation is very readily absorbed.

Half of the study volunteers will take two 7 mg capsules per day of a lycopene supplement containing lactolycopene while the other half will take identical dummy capsules.

To avoid the risk of bias, neither the volunteers nor the researchers will know who has received the active capsules and who has received the dummy treatment, until the results are analysed. Volunteers will not be given any personal information about their sperm count or potential fertility.

There is enough evidence out there to suggest this study is worthwhile and I am cautiously optimistic. If it works in the volunteers we would then consider testing it in infertile patients.