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Evolution in the balance / Can early dietary choice influence future health? / How banknotes may be useful in assessing levels o

Evolution in the balance

Noah's arkAccording to a report in the 12 January issue of Science, a curious situation has arisen in the US over the argument between creationists and evolutionists, which has provoked considerable antagonism.

A bookstore in the Grand Canyon run by the US National Park Service has been distributing a 2003 book entitled ‘The Grand Canyon: a different view’ by Tom Vail, which puts forward a creationist rather than a scientific explanation for the formation of the Grand Canyon, claiming that the feature in question was formed about 4,500 years ago during the Biblical flood of Noah. This claim is in contradiction to the assertion by geologists that it was in fact formed five to six million years ago.

In 2004, seven scientific groups wrote to the National Park Service asking it to remove the book from the bookstore’s science bookshelf. In response NPS geologists reviewed the book and concluded that it should not be sold at all. NPS officials compromised by moving the book from the scientific to the ‘inspirational” section of the store.

Recently, however, a group called Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility has claimed that the compromise decision still violates NPS policy that all material offered to the public should be “of the highest accuracy and have undergone peer review”. The group is demanding that the NPS should ban the book from its store.

For some reason Americans are less likely to adopt the theory of evolution than are citizens of other industrialised nations and are influenced by fundamentalist religious beliefs more than other people. It has been suggested that differences between political liberalism and conservatism may lie at the roots of this. General social surveys over the past 10 years or so have found that, when asked whether humans evolved from some other species of animals, more than half of American respondents believed this was probably or certainly not true. Those with more liberal political views were more likely to believe in evolution.

Can early dietary choice influence future health?

According to an editorial in the 3 February issue of the BMJ, there is an increasing amount of evidence to suggest that health and survival have a link with intelligence. Intelligence may mediate the long-term impact of adverse factors such as overcrowding and it may also help in the acquisition of habits that protect health. In particular, it appears that intelligence may lead people to adopt a healthy vegetarian diet.

In a representative study of more than 8,000 subjects from a national cohortof men and women born in Britain in 1970, it was found that those who at theage of 10 were assessed as having high intelligence went on to have an increasedlikelihood of being vegetarian at age 30. This finding was not linked to educationalattainment and social class.

The editorial says that an analysis of other studies suggests that vegetarianshave a mortality rate 76 per cent lower than that of non-vegetarians, after adjustingfor age, sex and smoking habit. And it has been shown that higher intakes ofvegetables, legumes, fruit and bread, along with more chicken and fish in placeof red meat, are associated with a lower risk of dying from heart disease anda lower incidence of cancer in men who had survived myocardial infarction.

So is diet responsible for the link between childhood intelligence and adulthealth? Mediation of this kind was found in relation to obesity in studies withan earlier British birth cohort, which showed that a healthy diet score significantlyaccounted for a link between childhood intelligence and weight gain between 16and 42 years.

If diet does mediate the effect of intelligence on other health outcomes — suchas cardiovascular disease, colorectal cancer, diabetes and Alzheimer’sdisease — then there could be benefit in launching public health initiativesto encourage a consistently healthy diet. Parents should encourage children toeat healthily so that they may continue to make healthy food choices as adults.

How banknotes may be useful in assessing levels of cocaine use

A note in the 26 January issue of Science reveals a strange situation. It appears that Irish banknotes examined in Dublin recently using the technique of liquid chromatography combined with mass spectrometry (LC-MS) were shown to be contaminated with low levels of cocaine.

And it is being suggested that analysis of banknotes in circulation could bea useful tool in assessing changes in the level of cocaine use in the city.

Environmental chemists at Dublin City University found traces of cocaine on 45Euro notes collected from around the city. Three of the notes also showed tracesof diamorphine. It is known that in 2001 a study of dollar bills from the USrevealed the presence of cocaine, diamorphine, metamfetamine (methamphetamine) and phencyclidine.

In 5 per cent of the Dublin samples, particularly the €20 and €50 notes, thecocaine concentration was about 100 times as great as in the rest. The indicationthus is that these high denomination notes had been rolled up and used to inhalethe drug, while others became contaminated in the course of handling and countingin the financial institutions.

The findings also raise the possibility that the use of illegal drugs in Irelandhas escalated dramatically in recent years, with the alarming prospect that Irelandmay be en route to becoming the cocaine capital of Europe. It is proposed thatan annual survey of banknotes might be advisable to evaluate any changes in drughabits.

The investigation demonstrates the great sensitivity of modern “hyphenated” analyticaltechniques such as LC-MS in this kind of work. But a cautious approach is desirablein trying to link the findings with possible community drug misuse. It is difficultto decide whether the situation should stir up grave concern or only stimulatefurther debate.

And I quote…

Disadvantage of vegetarianism
“The average age [longevity] of a meat eater is 63. I am on the vergeof 85 and still work as hard as ever. I have lived quite long enough and am tryingto die; but I simply cannot do it. A single beefsteak would finish me; but Icannot bring myself to swallow it. I am oppressed with a dread of living forever.That is the only disadvantage of vegetarianism.”
GeorgeBernardShaw, playwright, Nobel laureate and Academy Award winner (1856–1950).

Citation: The Pharmaceutical Journal URI: 10003387

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