Blog dedicated primarily to randomly selected news items; comments reflecting personal perceptions

Thursday, August 22, 2019

A Mysterious Frozen Lake Disgorging Its Corpses

"It's hard to believe that each individual died in exactly the same way. We were extremely surprised by the genetics of the Roopkund skeletons."
"The presence of individuals with ancestries typically associated with the eastern Mediterranean suggests that Roopkund Lake was not just a site of local interest, but instead drew visitors from across the globe."
Eadaoin Harney, lead author, evolutionary biologist, Harvard University

"We have searched all the archives, but no such records [journeys of distinct populations in antiquity] were found."
"It is still not clear what brought these individuals to Roopkund Lake or how they died. We hope that this study represents the first of many analyses of this mysterious site."
Niraj Raf, ancient DNA expert, Birbal Sahni Institute of Palaeosciences, India
Roopkund Lake and its surrounding mountains. (Atish Waghwase)
Roopkund Lake and its surrounding mountains. (Atish Waghwase)

"Through the use of biomolecular analyses, such as ancient DNA, stable isotope dietary reconstruction, and radiocarbon dating, we discovered that the history of Roopkund Lake is more complex than we ever anticipated."
David Reich, geneticist, Harvard Medical School

"Individuals belonging to the Indian-related group had highly variable diets, showing reliance on C3 and C4 derived food sources. These findings are consistent with the genetic evidence that they belonged to a variety of socioeconomic groups in South Asia."
"In contrast, the individuals with eastern Mediterranean-related ancestry appear to have consumed a diet with very little millet."
Ayushi Nayak, archaeologist, Max Planck Institute for the Science of Human History
Skeletal remains from as many as 500 people might lie in and around Roopkund lake.   Awanish Tirkey / Shutterstock
Scientists in India, the United States and Germany have published the results of a study they collaborated in, examining DNA from 38 remains found 16,500 feet above sea level at Roopkund Lake, known colloquially as 'Skeleton Lake' for the human bones it disgorges from time to time. The new genetic analysis published in Nature Communications, according to Jennifer Raff, a geneticist and anthropologist from University of Kansas, not involved in this research, has led to "a far richer view into the possible histories of this site".

That it may have done, but the mystery of how much, less why the lake became a funeral depository for people whose genetic differences indicate they came from diverse parts of the world is no closer to being solved. The lake, one hundred and thirty feet in width, remains frozen for most of the year in its snowbound valley. When warm days arrive, a macabre spectacle can be seen with hundreds of human skeletons emerging, some with flesh remaining attached to the bones.

The mystery of what it all means has puzzled scientists for years; how did the people buried there arrive, and from where, and why would the lake be designated a burial site? The prevailing thesis up until this new published research, was simultaneous mass death owing to a catastrophic event that occurred over a thousand years earlier. An anthropological survey dating back several years had studied five of the skeletons, concluding them to date from 1,200 years ago.

Roopkund Lake and its mysteries have been known to science for the past several decades -- while the provenance of its skeletons was a puzzle. The fact that the site has been disturbed as a result of rock slides, the migration of ice disturbing the site, as well as human visitors disturbing and moving remains made it awkward to decipher when and how the burials took place, let alone who was buried there: "In a case like this, that becomes impossible", bioarchaeologist Cat Jarman of University of Bristol, England, explained.

Led by Niraj Raj and David Reich, a geneticist at Harvard University, the researchers extracted DNA from the remains of dozens of skeletal samples, identifying 28 as males and 15 females. Tests placed these individual skeletons into three distinct genetic groupings; twenty three, both males and females indicated ancestries typical of contemporary South Asians. Their remains had been deposited at the lake some time between the seventh and 10th centuries, discretely.

Some of the skeletons were identified as more ancient than others; many lifetimes apart. The findings settled on two more genetic groups suddenly appearing at the lake between the 17th and 20th centuries; one identified as being of East Asian-related ancestry, the remainder, 14 individuals of eastern Mediterranean ancestry. The great conundrum is how all these individuals died. No evidence can be found of bacterial infections, ruling out an epidemic.

There were children and elderly adults among the skeletons, none familial-related. Individuals were identified from chemical signatures as having had significantly varied diets, suggesting that several distinct population groups were involved. The genetic ancestry appears to resemble that of people today living in Greece or Crete, but it is clear that those from the distant eastern Mediterranean came from a far distance to reach Roopkund Lake, their reasons beyond obscure.
Roopkund Lake is 16,499 feet above sea level in the Indian Himalayas.
Roopkund Lake is 16,499 feet above sea level in the Indian Himalayas. (Pramod Joglekar)

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Wednesday, August 21, 2019

Challenging Research

"[It's possible some] mystery variable [is related to both fluoride and IQ, but we controlled for everything we could think of]."
"Four-and-a-half IQ points is not negligible. People have been calling this a small effect. I'm shocked. [The effect on IQ] of lead exposure is of this magnitude. It's a big deal."
"The impact is going to be felt -- it means fewer people in the gifted [IQ] range and more people falling in the range of intellectual disability."
Dr.Christine Till, professor of psychology, York University

"[The size of the sample was reasonable and the study is] methodologically sound [making an important contribution]."
"Public policy is ideally informed not by any one study, but by the best available evidence as a whole."
Dr.Lindsay McLaren, community health sciences professor, University of Calgary

"What we know about the effects of lead on IQ doesn't come from one study. It is ... based on a far larger set of research findings that extend over many more populations and many more years."
"At the end of the day, it is still one study. Although I like a lot of what was done in this particular paper, at the end of the day, you're left scratching your head -- why aren't the results internally consistent?"
"I've had that discussion with many, many colleagues, in many different research areas, over many years. And my advice to them is: I'm with you on the research. It's really neat stuff ... but the policy-makers have to consider far more than just one paper. And some of my research colleagues get that more than others. For some, it's a really tough sell."
Dr.Ray Copes, chief of environmental and occupational health, Public Health Ontario
Despite the benefits, adding fluoride to tap water will always be contentious, a chemistry professor says. (Craig Chivers/CBC)

Several generations ago fluoride was being introduced for the first time to drinking water in Canadian jurisdictions. Some municipalities started using fluoride in 1945. Medical science argued for its use in reducing cavities in children. Fluoride strengthens teeth, helping in the prevention of bacterial decay, as a mineral that binds to teeth.

Public health, medical and dental groups all recommended fluoridation of community water, among them the Canadian and American Dental Associations, the Chief Dental Officer of Canada, the World Health Organization. Its contribution to cavity decline in children saw the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention naming it one of the  ten great public health achievements of the 20th Century.

From the very beginning right to the present time some in the scientific community and in municipal leadership have called its usefulness into question, citing the possibility that the use of fluoride led to other health problems. Some municipalities ceased using fluoride, the result of which saw a dramatic rise in cavities among children living there. Fluoride's qualities as a cavity preventive are lauded. And fears of its possible darker side are cited by opponents.

A new study led by York University's Christine Till -- published in the journal JamaPediatrics -- found what the researchers believe to be a link between fluoride exposure in drinking water during pregnancy and the eventuality of lower IQs in children. On publication, the study and its conclusions caused an international stir, leaving Dr. Till professing "shock" at the way the study has been received.
Fluoride has been one of the most positive public health interventions in human history, public health experts say.

Levels of fluoride in some 500 pregnant women's urine was measured for the study on three occasions during pregnancy. Self-reported information on individuals' consumption of tap water and black tea -- known to be naturally high in fluoride -- was collected. The women's children's IQs were tested -- once -- at ages three or four. Self-reported fluoride was then associated with lower IQs both in girls and boys.

Only in boys, however, was urinary fluoride concentration associated with lower IQ. A drop of 4.5 IQ points was found for every one milligram-per-litre increase in urine fluoride. A variety of other factors including economic status, parents' education, exposure to other environmental chemicals that could account for IQ differences was controlled for in the study.

Given that the research was subject to "review after review after review" prior to funding, then underwent extensive scrutiny during peer review, the authors going so far as to hire a third-party statistician to look over the numbers to ensure everything was in order, the study is considered to be the largest, most rigorous of its kind to have been conducted to date.

Routine since the mid-20th Century across Canada, fluoride added to drinking water helps in tooth enamel strengthening; its beneficial role in cavity reduction unquestioned. Other studies indicate that those who benefit the most from fluoride use in drinking water are those with poor oral health and compromised access to dentistry.

Dr. Copes at Public Health Ontario is perplexed by the observed sex differences in the study. An indication, he feels, that the use of different research methods might be indicated, along with replication of research conducted by other researchers prior to informing pregnant women they are advised to limit fluoride consumption. His position on the other hand, puzzles Dr. Till who believes ample evidence exists to inform pregnant women to limit their fluoride exposure immediately.

Ayesha Drouillard in her home in Windsor on Friday, February 17, 2012. Drouillard was hoping to push city officials to remove fluoride from the drinking water in Windsor.
Ayesha Drouillard in her home in Windsor on Friday, February 17, 2012. Drouillard was hoping to push city officials to remove fluoride from the drinking water in Windsor.

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Tuesday, August 20, 2019

Not All Food Is Created Equal

"Ditching meat for substitutes is the most effective thing an individual can do to fight climate change, according to a study in the journal Science."
"[If fake meat can help avoid the worst of climate change], more power to the plant dog and soy burger masquerading as meat."
Timothy Egan, The Times

"It [anchovy-flavoured broth from plants] was being used to make paella. But you could use it to make Caesar dressing or something like that."
"With respect to the urgency of the environmental impact, fish are second to cows, followed by other animals."
Pat Brown, chief executive, Impossible Foods

"The cells [cellular agriculture] know what to do. They become muscle fibers. They become fat tissue. They create the connective tissue that we know as meat."
Arye Elfenbein, founder, Wild type, San Francisco

"If you want to convey something tastes like bacon, what do you do? Do you say it's salty and fatty and, wink-wink, piglike?" 
"The point is that we should not have to engage in linguistic gymnastics."
Michele Simon, executive director Plant Based Foods Association
Black Bean Tacos
Black Bean Tacos  EatingWell

People seized with the continued environmental warnings that we are facing a warming climate with Climate Change, are increasingly turning to lifestyle changes in an effort to personally 'make a difference'. And what could be more personal than cashing in the way we eat to eschew meat products in favour of engineered plant-based products emulating meat to produce the amount of protein required in a daily diet, and to still give consumers the taste-sensation of eating meat?

A single beef hamburger requires about 2,500 litres of water in its production, the equivalent of a full week of water use for the average American household. Growing evidence of damage related to human activity on the planet has focused people's minds on making an effort to try to impact that change in a positive way to pull it in the opposite direction.

The substitute-meat market is steadily gaining popularity. There is, of course, a caveat associated with these food substitutions. They are all, irrespective of their sources, heavily processed; the 'natural' benefits of whatever those vegetable sources happen to be, have undergone an organic alteration which often deprives them of their original vitamins and minerals, some of which are restored during the processing.

That said, sales of meat alternatives rang up $19.5 billion on a global scale last year, according to Euromonitor International research. This has become such a hit with consumers that its profitability cannot be overlooked by companies interested in expanding their food inventories to appeal to the greatest possible audience possible. In the case of substitute meat products, a consumer audience that is already committed to bypassing meat in favour of vegetable-sourced protein products.
Tempeh 'Chicken' Salad     EatingWell

And willing to pay the freight, so to speak. The producer of the faux-meat Whopper sold at Burger King plans to develop replacements for all meat-based foods by the year 2035. Impossible Foods obviously believes this is the future and they have every intention of being a player in this food future. If there is any one consumer product that will never go out of favour it is food.

And Impossible Food has inaugurated a new product, announcing back in June the creation of fishless fish, an anchovy broth made from heme alongside plants, similar to the protein used in its meat formula. Marine fish stocks are 90 percent depleted globally, according tot he World Economic Forum, a rate of depletion that some describe as a "meltdown."

Wild Type based in San Francisco uses cellular agriculture to grow salmon in a laboratory. At a June tasting at a Portland, Oregon restaurant, creation of the half-kilo of salmon served took almost four weeks. Scaling up production is a monumental necessity to ensure this kind of production is both sustainable as a readily available consumer food product and reasonably enough priced to persuade people to switch to it from real salmon.

The meat industry is less than pleased with this turn of events, predictably enough. It is a revolution in food production that does not advance their bottom line one iota, even if that happens to be the point of substitution. The industry and its advocates have lobbied for legislation in 24 U.S. states to make it illegal to label plant-based food as meat. There are precedents, where processed cheese is labelled not cheese but 'cheese product'.

According to the creators of Tofurkey, such a law is in violation of their constitutional rights through limitation of the kinds of words they are able to use in their marketing, leading them recently to file a suit in Arkansas objecting to such legislation. At the present tine, fake meat accounts for a mere one percent of the total market, with a 2018 study predicting a record-breaking year for American meat consumption. No need to panic.

Chipotle-Lime Cauliflower Tacos
"Chipotle-Lime Cauliflower Tacos"  EatingWell

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Monday, August 19, 2019

Advancing the Archaeological Record

"The most exciting finding is the fact that prehistoric people repeatedly, over millennia, spent considerable amounts of time in high altitudes at a residential site and actively, deliberately made use of the available Afro-alpine resources."
"Prehistoric humans at that time were mobile hunter-gatherers, so they never stayed sedentary at a single site, but had a scheduled 'subsistence circuit.'"
"Hunting giant mole-rats is a clever solution, because their meat is highly nutritious, hunting them is physically not demanding, they are abundantly available, they live in a restricted habitat, and they are year-round available."
Götz Ossendorf, archaeologist, University of Cologne, Germany

"At that time, a large part of the Bale Mountains — about 265 square kilometers [100 square miles] was covered by ice."
"Glaciers were flowing from a central ice cap down into the valleys."
"A high mountain area during a glacial period — normally, people escape such conditions. People normally move downward during cold phases."
Alexander Groos, glaciologist, University of Bern, Switzerland, study co-author
The Fincha Habera rock shelter in the Ethiopian Bale Mountains.
The Fincha Habera rock shelter in the Ethiopian Bale Mountains.
Image: Götz Ossendorf
A new discovery published in the journal Science reflects what is held to be the evidence of human occupation in rock shelters at extreme altitudes as long as 47,000 years ago, in the mountains of Ethiopia. A fairly intact rock shelter was investigated and found to contain bones, tools and hearths, located 3,000 metres above sea level. The findings appear to contradict the archaeological view that humans only took to high elevations in desperation, their very last choice of absolute necessity.

Paleoanthropologists have tended to focus attention on the Rift Valley and similar sites located at low elevations. "We were simply the first to go higher", explained archeologist Dr. Ossendorf, lead author of the newly published study. Humans, it has now been established with confidence, established themselves at high altitudes as hunter-gatherers making use of roasted giant mole-rats and glacier-fed streams, producing tools from obsidian.

The rock shelter that the research team investigated appeared to have been occupied for periods of time at least 16,000 years. Extreme altitudes are known to pose existential challenges -- with brutal weather conditions, while extreme altitudes are too harsh to support much vegetation let alone grasslands, and low oxygen levels can be life-threatening. "Our hominid ancestors were born lowlanders", explained Mark Aldenderfer, archaeologist from the University of California, not involved in the study.

While at the present time in Ethiopia, the Andes and Tibet, humans live at high elevations year-round, archaeologists had always assumed these to be places that were presumably the last choice for human settlement. Recent expeditions to mountains and plateaus have been revealing evidence of human occupation, however, dating back tens of thousands of years.

Dr. Ossendorf and colleagues initiated a project in 2015 in the Bale Mountains of southern Ethiopia, travelling over 1,100 kilometres by foot and using pack horses in a search for signs of early human occupation. Overhanging cliffs were searched to determine whether they had ever been used as shelters. Some 331 rock shelters were discovered to have signs of human occupation, but all had been used in recent centuries by livestock herders, complicating site examination for more ancient human remains.

The researchers did discover that because of a low ceiling, one rock shelter had been undisturbed and when the scientists excavated the floor they discovered the presence of hearths, animal bones and tools representing ample evidence that the rock shelter had once been used for human habitation. The site was called Fincha Habera, where carbon from charcoal remaining in the hearths was analyzed to establish the site age, to validate a range from 31,000 to 47,000 years.

From the evidence it was clear that giant mole-rats represented the bulk of the diet available to these cave dwellers in place of plentiful game available in the lowlands. The obsidian tools originated in the highlands where they were produced, a conclusion made obvious by the researchers tracing the presence of an obsidian outcrop at an elevation of over 4,100 metres -- not far from the Fincha Habera rock shelter.
Photo of rock shelter entrance from outside, and from inside with a person bending over to show how low it is.
Views of Fincha Habera from outside and from inside.  Image: Götz Ossendorf

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Sunday, August 18, 2019

More Hope for Stroke Victims

"If we can expand the treatment window to 36 hours, that's a time frame that could be relevant to 90 to 95 percent of stroke patients."
"This could really change stroke medicine as we know it. That's a big deal, because stroke is one of the leading causes of disability in most countries around the world."
Gil Van Bokkelen, head, Athersys, therapy development

"If they develop a treatment that improves outcomes for stroke patients and is effective and safe to give within a longer time window, that would be extremely welcome."
Professor Keith Muir, consultant neurologist Queen Elizabeth University Hospital

"This research shows that this new type of stem-cell treatment shows some promise in aiding stroke recovery."
"However, this was a small study and we're looking forward to seeing a larger trial."
Dr.Kate Holmes, assistant director, research, Stroke Association, United Kingdom
stem cell therapy
Image ©ElenaPavlovich/

When someone suffers a stroke and ideally they recognize the symptoms, they must take themselves as soon as possible to a specialist hospital. They are given the space of four hours to begin blood clot-busting treatment. In the event that treatment is undertaken in the first hour post-stroke, the best outcomes can be expected. But most people aren't able to make it to a hospital within the given time frame for optimum results. As a result close to two-thirds of stroke survivors inherit a disability by the time they leave hospital.

That may soon change. Thanks to a stem-cell injection that ideal of a single hour to seek remediation may now be extended, if all goes well, to a full day and a half for most patients of stroke. British patients who were subjects in a trial, receiving treatment 36 hours after a stroke, were able to emerge from the event without permanent disability. A new intravenous solution developed in the United States has proven to simultaneously regenerate damaged tissues while reducing harmful inflammation, stimulating nerve cells aiding in the brain's recovery.

The first trial took place for a number of patients across the United Kingdom and United States, resulting in a 15 percent greater opportunity of a full recovery after 90 days in comparison to subjects placed on a placebo. A year following the stroke, the likelihood of full recovery rose to 25 percent. Those given the stem cells a day and a half following the appearance of first symptoms following a stroke were among those making an "excellent" recovery.

Caution is expressed by independent experts hoping for additional convincing data before celebrating a "miracle" treatment. Even so, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration awarded the new technology the status of fast-tracking, leading the way to a larger study to commence expeditiously. For the new Masters 2 trial, doctors are in the process of enrolling 300 stroke victims to take part. The expectation is that the drug may be licensed by 2021.

The 36 hour window is critical, given that the new stem-cell treatment is not expected to produce a good outcome after that period of time. Damaging immune cells will have left the spleen and begin their journey to the brain after 36 hours, where considerable damage can be anticipated.

x-ray of brain after stroke
Stroke interrupts blood flow to the brain and could produce paralysis and speech problems, among other disabilities. MedicalNewsToday

"Stroke is the second leading cause of death worldwide and the major cause of disability in Europe. A stroke happens when the blood supply to part of the brain is severely reduced, often with severe effects on the body. Depending on the extent of stroke and where it occurs, about a third of stroke sufferers recover quite well, but most still experience some permanent effects and some strokes cause severe disability. Could stem cell treatments help?"
"A stroke happens when the blood supply to one or more parts of the brain is reduced or completely blocked. The blockage may be temporary or permanent and it can be caused in two different ways:
  1. In ischaemic stroke a blood clot obstructs the supply of blood to the brain
  2. In hemorrhagic stroke a blood vessel bursts and bleeds into the brain
"All parts of the brain need to have a good blood supply to work properly. When the flow of blood is restricted or stopped, vital nutrients and oxygen cannot reach the cells in the brain and they are damaged or die. The effects on the body depend on which part of the brain is damaged and how long the blockage remains. A stroke can affect movement, speech, thought processes and memory. It can cause paralysis in one or more parts of the body, or loss of control of bodily functions. About 40% of people affected by stroke will have permanent symptoms that result in them needing special care. Many people’s symptoms improve significantly following a stroke, but only about 10% of patients recover fully."
"Anyone of any age can have a stroke, but there are some important risk factors. The chance of having a stroke increases with age, for example. Certain ethnic groups are more at risk and a family history of stroke increases the chance that you may be affected. There are also risk factors that we may reduce through lifestyle changes, such as making sure any high blood pressure is treated, eating a healthy diet low in fat and salt, stopping smoking and staying physically active." EuroStemCell

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Saturday, August 17, 2019

runner at sunset

Time-Out for Exercise!

"Human exercise performance is better in the evening compared to the morning, as [athletes] consume less oxygen, that is, they use less energy, for the same intensity of exercise in the evening versus the morning."
"It means, for example, if a person needs to go for a run, he will reach exhaustion earlier in the morning compared to the evening."
"In other words, he will be able to run for a longer duration in the evening compared to the morning under the same running conditions."
"If you wish to break the world record, or  your personal time, I assume [evenings would be better]."
Gad Asher, researcher, Department of Biomolecular Science, Weizmann Institute of Science
"We identified that time of exercise is critical in order for exercise to be beneficial [in metabolizing sugar and fat]."
"Circadian rhythms dominate everything we do [the internal mechanism influencing human cycles of sleep, awakening, eating, etc.]"
"At least fifty percent of our metabolism is circadian, and fifty percent of the metabolites in our body oscillate based on the circadian cycle. It makes sense that exercise would be one of the things that's affected."
"There is a time for exercise, resting or food intake. The metabolic cycles are not adapted to respond to external stimuli the same way at day or night."
Paolo Sassone-Corsi, director, Centre for Epigenetics and Metabolism, University of California, Irvine 

"Exercising late at night may interfere with sleep as it tends to energize you and enhance alertness, although some people like to exercise at the end of the day to help relieve the stresses of the day and prepare for evening activities, which is fine."
"Morning exercise has the advantage that no matter what else happens during the day, you have incorporated your physical activity. It also increases alertness and helps cognitive functioning."
Edward R. Laskowski, co-director, Mayo Clinic Sports Medicine
Three men training on exercise bar in gymnasium

Two studies, geared to studying basically which time of day exercise is undertaken is more beneficial shed some light on the whys and wherefores that can be extremely instructive to those who puzzle over the issue, both for efficient use of time and for maximizing both fitness and health opportunities.
One paper's focus resulted on the understanding that morning exercise may serve to activate certain genes in muscle cells increasing their capacity to metabolize sugar and fat.

This result has great meaning to those suffering from Type 2 diabetes or who are overweight -- or both -- since middle age-plus-overweight often triggers diabetes onset, alongside sedentary behaviour. In the opposite direction, an evening workout using less oxygen makes workouts more efficient, leaning toward an improvement of athletic performance -- an obvious benefit for serious competitors.

Dr. Asher's research group placed mice on treadmills at various times of day to study their exercise capacity at different intensities and regimens. Overall exercise performance was found to be improved -- about 50 percent on average -- during 'mouse evening' as opposed to morning. Another study group led by Dr. Sassone-Cosi placed mice on treadmills as well, taking a different approach, looking at the alterations in muscle tissues post-morning workouts with a particular attention to glucose breakdown and fat burning.

When they analyzed tissue, it was to discover that exercise appeared to provide the most beneficial effects on metabolism during the mouse equivalent of what represents late morning for human exercise. The conclusion that Dr. Sassone-Corsi reached is that the process relies on a protein, HIF1-alpha, directly regulating the body's circadian clock. Elite, serious athletes such as marathoners, basketball and soccer players looking for a competitive edge might select evenings to train or compete.

If concern for weight and controlling blood sugar levels is the motivating factor for exercise -- unconcerned with shaving a minute or two from marathon time -- these individuals might decide for morning exercise, when post-workout cell responses influencing metabolism are much more engaged. With this, Jonas Thue Treebak agrees, as associate professor at the Nova Nordisk Foundation Centre for Basic Metabolic Research, University of Copenhagen, co-author of a third study.

"At this point, we can only conclude that the effects of the two appear to differ, and we certainly have to do more work [research]", he states. Irrespective, however, of determining which of the choices, morning or evening time set aside specifically for exercise will work for anyone, the takeaway from all those involved in research and exercise performance is that the timing is irrelevant in actual fact, to the need to get out there at whichever time and just proceed with exercising to attain a quality lifestyle.

"[The research] tends to suggest that morning exercising before eating is helpful in terms of ensuring maximizing some of the positives effects of exercise on metabolism."
"To me, the other positive of exercising first thing is that you get it done before the day catches up with you."
"The 'do something' message is far more important than the 'do something at a specific time of the day' message."
Michael Joyner, Mayo Clinic

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Friday, August 16, 2019

Single-Sex Notoriety in a Tiny Polish Town

"Some scientists have expressed interest in examining why only girls have been born here."
"I also have doctors calling me from all over the country with tips on how to conceive a boy."
"And if that [a diet rich in calcium] doesn't work, there is always the tried way of the Polish highlanders; if you want a boy, keep an axe under your marital bed."
"There has been so much talk about us in the media that for a minute there I was considering naming a street after the next boy born here."
"He will definitely get a very nice gift. And we will plant an oak and name it after him."
Rajmund Frischko, mayor, Cisek, Miejsce Odrzanskie, Poland
Miejsce Odrzanskie in Poland has seen 12 daughters born in the last nine years but no sons. 
Miejsce Odrzanskie in Poland has seen 12 daughters born in the last nine years but no sons.  Credit: Kasia Strek/NYTNS / Redux / eyevine

The village of Miejsce Odrzanskie has a population of 272 people. The population has declined considerably, given that after World War Two there were 1,200 people living there. It is an agricultural village, a farming community where there is little doubt boys are valued to fill the traditional role of potential workers around the farm, though girls too are certainly capable of farmwork. The village is located  in the least populated province in the country.

And it is home to a strange anomaly where it has been ten years since a boy was born in the village overlooking the Oder River in southern Poland. However, in the years following, since the last baby boy was brought into the village, there were a dozen births, none of which were boys, all girls.  Poland itself became acquainted with the oddity when a local journalist realized that at a recent regional competition for young volunteer firefighters, the entire village team was comprised of girls.

a group of people posing for the camera: The volunteer fire department (pictured above) is the pivotal point of life for those living in Miejsce Odrzanskie and the force is made up almost entirely of women and girls

That peculiarity was first locally, then regionally and finally saw publication in the national arena. A town where the fire brigade has 24 young women and eight men, while the youngest team of volunteers is comprised only of girls. Ever since, Mayor Zydziak has fielded inquiries coming from all directions, leaving him with the impression that the matter had become "a little crazy and out of hand". Just recently, four separate television crews appeared in the town with one road in and out, and 96 houses.

A retired doctor from central Poland had recently contacted the mayor, happy to offer a solution to the town's puzzling lack of boy babies. The doctor left Mayor Zydziak with the edifying scientific solution to the matter, informing him that a baby's sex was dependent on the type of diet a woman consumed while carrying. To give birth to a boy, a woman's diet must be high in calcium.
"It has been going on for several decades. I came to the village, took a local girl for my wife and we had two daughters. I would like to have a son but it's probably unrealistic."
"My neighbor also tried and has two daughters. I don't think women give birth to boys here."
Tomasz Golasz, head, volunteer fire brigade

"[The village’s mostly female youth fire brigade is hugely adept at winning competitions and making a big splash]. These girls live and breathe it."
"There is so much passion and determination. For two months before every competition, they come to train every day or every other day after school."
Village firefighter Tomasz Golasz

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