what's the buzz

Sugar more addictive than drugs

Sugar has been branded more addictive than heroin, according to a new study.

While foods high in fat were once accused of increasing our waistlines, experts said it was foods high in sugar, such as cereals and yoghurts, that are making us fatter and more prone to long-term illness, the Daily Telegraph reported. Nutritionist Jacqueline Alwill said foods high in refined sugar increased our risk of diabetes, caused us to age faster, sapped our energy levels and often led to obesity.

She said that the impact of sugar on our hormones is a huge issue and we can see this with the increasing number of individuals with obesity, diabetes, metabolic syndrome and cardiovascular disease.  The average Australian consumes about 53kg of sugar per year, or 29 teaspoons a day, according to health fund NIB.

 Alwill likened our dependency on sugar to a junkie’s drug addiction - with each hit only feeding a craving before the body screams out for more.

Technology enables crops to absorb nitrogen from air

Plant scientists from the University of Nottingham in the United Kingdom have announced a revolutionary new system which enables all of the world’s crops to take nitrogen from the air rather than expensive and environmentally damaging fertilisers.  Nitrogen fixation, the process by which nitrogen is converted to ammonia, is vital for plants to survive and grow. However, only a very small number of plants, most notably legumes (such as peas, beans and lentils) have the ability to fix nitrogen from the atmosphere with the help of nitrogen fixing bacteria. The vast majority of plants have to obtain nitrogen from the soil, and for most crops currently being grown across the world, this also means a reliance on synthetic nitrogen fertiliser.

Professor Edward Cocking, Director of The University of Nottingham’s Centre for Crop Nitrogen Fixation, has developed a unique method of putting nitrogen-fixing bacteria into the cells of plant roots.  This ground-breaking development potentially provides every cell in the plant with the ability to fix atmospheric nitrogen. The implications for agriculture are enormous as this new technology can provide much of the plant’s nitrogen needs.

Fewer teeth linked to poor memory

People who have fewer natural teeth perform poorly on memory tests, a new study has revealed. Looking at 273 people ages 55 and older, the researchers found a modest but significant relationship between a person’s number of natural teeth and his or her performance on memory tests, Fox News reported.

The link held when researchers took subjects’ ages into account. In other words, it wasn’t simply that both teeth and memory abilities tend to disappear with age. Although the reason for the link isn’t entirely clear, the new findings are in line with previous animal and human studies, suggesting that the presence of natural teeth has an impact on cognitive function, and having fewer teeth may be regarded as a risk factor for memory problems in the elderly, according to the researchers.  Animal studies have shown that rats whose teeth were pulled out showed memory and learning problems. The rats that had lost more teeth showed higher neuronal loss, and more damage to the hippocampus, a part of the brain involved in memory formation.

 It is possible that loosing natural teeth reduces sensory signals that teeth send to the brain, affecting its functions, including memory, the researchers said.  Natural teeth send signals to the brain via a nerve that is responsible for sensation in the face, and for motor functions, such as biting and chewing.  Prosthetic teeth, though helpful for eating, lack the nerves and ligament that attach natural teeth to the jaw, potentially resulting in a reduced sensory input to the brain.

It’s also possible that a common factor could be responsible for the link between teeth and memory.  For instance, gum infections that could lead to tooth loss may also cause inflammation, which may, in turn, cause neuronal death and memory loss, the researchers said.

Kids who gesture perform better in cognitive tasks

A new study has shown that children who use gestures perform better than their peers in cognitive tasks.  The task itself is relatively simple — sorting cards printed with coloured shapes first by colour, and then by shape.  But the switch from colour to shape can be tricky for children younger than 5, Professor of Psychology Patricia Miller said.

In a new study, Miller and SF State graduate student Gina O’Neill found that young children who gesture are more likely to make the mental switch and group the shapes accurately.

In fact, gesturing seemed to trump age when it came to the sorting performance of the children, who ranged from 2 and a half years old to 5 years old.  In the colour versus shape task, as well as one that asked children to sort pictures based on size and spatial orientation, younger children who gestured often were more accurate in their choices than older children who gestured less.

“The findings are a reminder of how strong individual differences are among children of a particular age,” she said.

Comments (+)