Thursday, December 28, 2006

Memory Moments

For many, a bed, blankets, pillows, and pajamas are all traditionally associated with sleep.
  • Sleep (~7 hours) helps with consolidation of memories (placement of memories in "long term storage" within their meaningful context.)
  • There maybe wakeful moments when memory consolidation occurs as well.
The link that sleep helps with memory has been getting some more attention in the media recently. This is due to some recent science work that has shown a strong link between getting a decent nights rest (minimum of ~7 hours thus my memory problem) and ability to redo a task that was learned the previous day [1]. Though there are some doubts about what period in the sleep pattern such consolidation occurs [2].

Yet sleep may not be the only time period in our lives that such an important task takes place. If you listen between the lines in the NPR Science Friday podcast (mp3 download) you will hear that there are moments during waking hours where the brain also consolidates and processes memories. These are the moments where we sometimes catch ourselves or others "zoning out".

Zoning out is when someone seems to be just staring off into space (usually for shorter periods than daydreaming but daydreaming may well be a a form of this) for a few seconds or so before re-emerging into the present moment. My three year old does that, it seems, a lot. I've been starting to call those moments her zombie moment. She'll be engauged with us in conversation or interaction of some sort then freeze, staring off into space. I think, now that I have heard this podcast, that I'll call them memory moments.

I will research this further to see what scientific evidence there is to support the idea and will write a follow-up.

So remember the next time your son or daughter or your partner is just staringing into space when you were talking to them, it may be that they are doing something healthful and helpful for themselves. Or it may just be that they don't want to take out the trash.

A note to readers. If you have any ideas on health and diet that you would like to see researched in the scientific literature and addressed in a maner you might understand please email me at macclune (at) I cannot promise that I will address every question but I will try.

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Tuesday, December 26, 2006

Turmeric and cancer

Cancer can be a really difficult disease to fight using conventional methods. The cells in your body are in a state of flux. They are constantly dieing-off (senescence) and being replaced with new cells. The body needs to replace with new cells though only those that have been lost through cell death. Sometimes though that is not what happens.

Cancer cells are cells that have a faulty mechanism for turning themselves off. Both the replacement of healthy cells that have specific functions with cancer cells that do not perform those functions and the physical presence of the cancer mass have an impact on the body's functions such that death can occur if the cancerous mass is not removed either through surgery (not all cancers can be removed physically) or with chemical (chemo) therapy and/or radiation. Often a combination of these approaches are used.

Unfortunately not all cancers can be fought off in this way. Some are resistant (have faulty apoptotic pathways) and can even lead to increased malignancy with treatment over time. This tendency can either be inherent in the cancer type (shows no response to chemo/radiation therapy) or be acquired over time (initial response that is later lost.) But recent work on shows there may be some hope for future treatments on these resistant cancers.

There is a process of cell death termed mitotic catastrophe which in mammalian cells is caused by aberrant mitosis. This is sciencese for death of cells by dividing into various other (non-viable) forms. A mitotic catastrophe causes massive die-off of the affected cells. This process is generally prevented from occuring in cells due to a body chemical given the name of survivin (how creative! I guess that's better than zercoxinol or something like that.). It turns out survivn is found in all growing cell locations but not in mature tissue. Here is where things get interesting...

Turns out there is a way to interfere with survivin (remember servivin helps keep cancer cells alive by preventing mitotic catastrophe) and it is derived from turmeric.

From wikipedia:
Turmeric (Curcuma longa, also called tumeric or kunyit in some Asian countries) is a spice commonly used in curries and other South Asian cuisine.
An active ingredient in turmeric is a compound called curcumin. In a recent article in the journal International Journal of Cancer (Volume 119, Issue 8, Pages 1811-1818 23 May 2006) titled Resistance to apoptosis of HCW-2 cells can be overcome by curcumin- or vincristine-induced mitotic catastrophe Magalska et al state:
It has been very recently shown that curcumin (diferuloylmethane), a natural dye from the rhizome of Curcuma longa [turmeric] and a known apoptotic inducer, downregulates survivin. In other experiments, it has been shown that curcumin arrests MCF-7 cells in G2/M, disrupts mitotic spindle structure and induces micronucleation in MCF-7 breast cancer,[9] displaying cell morphology that fits very well to the mitotic catastrophe picture.
Well there is a lot of sciencese but the short of it is that this compound in turmeric may well play a future role in cancer suppression. This of course does not mean that you should expect that eating this turmeric will prevent cancer or help you if you have it. The body is far too complex a system to jump to that conclusion.

I will write more later about turmeric and a role it might have in helping older people keep mental acuity.

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Sunday, December 24, 2006