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Ila Kapadia

It has been just over 50 years since a first heart transplant was successful. In 2015  an Italian surgeon Mr. Canavero from the Turin Advanced Neuromodulation group made an amazing announcement that he is working on perfecting a procedure to graft someone’s head on to a new body. He first hoped to perform this on a terminally ill patient.  After that he expects most recipients to be with muscle wasting diseases and  patients with muscular dystrophy and tetraplegia.

Now not only organ transplant but many intricate surgeries to major organs have become routine. Fertilizing embryos in the laboratory is well established. However, a leading newspaper has reported that tissue and organ transplant would be considered barbaric in the generation to come as research has advanced in the possibility of growing body parts from a person’s own tissues.  Similarly, it has been just over 60 years since the structure of D.N.A. molecules and location of the genes were discovered. Now, genetic engineering has advanced to such an extent that genes leading to serious medical diseases are identified and progress is being made to remove such genes at embryonic stage.  

Over the past six -seven decades Medical Science has progressed by leaps and bounds. The cures for many killer diseases like smallpox are eradicated from the world. The development of various vaccinations against measles, whooping cough, diphtheria, polio has reduced childhood misery and mortality drastically. The antibiotics and penicillin are excellent cures for most infections. The  awareness for better sanitation and addressing poverty has increased life expectancy.

However, it seems the whole mankind is in the  pursuit of pleasure and leisure. Overeating and the consumption of exotic rich and junk food has become part of daily life leading to obesity, especially in the developed countries. This has been the major factor leading to heart attack, cancer and type -2 diabetes and stroke.  The race to increase income level to fulfil desires, to follow the fashion and trend, achieve higher and luxurious standard of living and achieve a well paid career path has increased the stress level leading to stroke and alcoholism, drug abuse. WHO (world health organisation) reported that Smoking also is a major factor causing cancer, coronary and respiratory diseases

B.B.C. had relayed two programmes, titled as above – HOW TO STAY YOUNG, conducted by well-known journalist Angela Ripon and Dr. Chris Van Tulleken, a doctor by profession and research scientist. Based on the latest study, they demonstrated how lifestyle affects our body and brain. One of the keys to address obesity is to eat a balanced diet, avoiding red meat, dairy  products and reduce two white poisons i.e. sugar and salt. Chris Tulleken assured that even reducing the intake of these items has great effect. Research shows vegan diet is the healthiest of all. Adding lentils and chick peas which contain high resistance starch, helps to break down stored internal fat around the major organs. The epidemic of obesity has become so imperative that not only advanced western countries but OECD countries (organisation for economic co-operation and development) have taken steps to bring public awareness. The displaying of the amount of the nutrients and daily requirement of these on the food packaging has been made mandatory in many countries to guide the public in controlling their diet.

B.B.C. news brief of 27th July 2020 revealed that 2/3 of adults and 1/3 of children in primary school are obese in England. Nearly 8% of critically ill patients in intensive care unit  have been morbidly obese compared with 2.9% of the general population. As a result govt. has now banned buy one get one free offer of unhealthy food, displaying of sweets at the checkout and advertisement of unhealthy food before 9.00 p.m. Restaurants will have to display calorie count on the menu.     

The invention of labour saving domestic equipment has reduced the physical activities which help free flow blood circulation in the body. The motor driven vehicles have become part of our daily life. We use cars even to drop children to school, missing the walking opportunity. Researchers have proved regular exercise is vital for healthy living and 30 minutes daily walk is the best form of exercise.  However, the B.B.C. program showed that dancing or similar activity is better for blood circulation than walking as it exercises all parts of the body including our brain.

To prove the theory Angela Ripon and Dr. Van Tulleken presented the research experiment. 75% of the way our brain ages and shrinks depends on the lifestyle. A research scientist Dr. Francesca gave a written test designed to check the level of memory, problem solving and cognitive skills to a group of volunteers. She then divided the group into walkers and table tennis players. After ten weeks she tested both the groups, giving them the same test. The result of the experiment revealed that walking increases neurons and connections in the brain leading to improved memory and alertness more than playing table tennis. However, not only table tennis players were physically stronger but the complex use of the brain and coordination, increased the cells in the cortex, the outer circle of the brain, resulting in the expansion of the brain. This improved the  executive functions like planning, organizing and complex thinking.

The hectic materialistic lifestyle we are living results in stress, another factor triggering stroke, causing heart attack and mental health conditions like anxiety, depression, panic attacks etc. It also shortens the life. Angela Ripon and Chris Tolkin reported a study where one of identical twins living in a stressful environment had his body age reduced by five years more than his biological age compared to his brother the other twin living in a stress free environment.

Yog and meditation have proven to release stress. Positive outlook i.e appreciating half glass full rather than half glass empty, facing the difficulty and focusing on the solution of the problem rather than pondering on the problem will help. The children should be moulded to be resilient from early childhood to face difficulties, harsh and hard incidences which are  part of life, guided to solve their problems rather than parents solving for them. Cases of students taking extreme steps of committing suicide cover the newspapers for not achieving expected results. Turning the failure into opportunity and looking at other options will prove success. `Try your best but prepare for the worst` and having a backup plan, prepares one for unexpected adverse events and outcomes.

Last but not least, pondering on spiritual thinking also can avoid emotional roller coasters. Containing anger, greed, infatuation, jealousy  and achieving a balanced mind can restrain stress. Though one works hard for a particular goal one may not get success for various reasons i.e. one may fall ill, have an accident on the day of exam or performance. In Geeta, a part of Hindu epic Krishna preaches Arjun in the battleground `karmanye vadhikarste ma faleshu kadachan` -  just work, don’t think of the result. if you deserve you will get the success

In addition, social interaction is just as important. Learning a new skill, language, musical instrument or drawing, improves mental sharpness and wires the brain. Eating purple colour fruits and vegetables (high in Anthocyanin) i.e. blackberries, blueberries, aubergine, is beneficial. The main source of food for people in a village called Okonova in Japan is purple coloured sweet potatoes, a powerhouse of nutrients. The reason why they live longer comparatively.

Though some people lead healthy lifestyles for the body as well as brain, with increasing age, they develop Dementia. A disease which affects the functions of the brain. With an increase of 200000 new cases of dementia every year in U.K., as reported recently, seeking early help is vital. Exploring the possibilities to help this condition further and find the cure has been absolutely inevitable.  

So Angela Ripon followed a study, conducted in U.S.A. over many years. The study group was 600 nuns of the School of Sisters of Notre Dam. These nuns were asked to write their biography when they joined the institution. A psychologist analysed that those who had a high level of education wrote complex and extensive writing whereas those who did not, their writing was sparse. Research Scientist Michael Neil believed that those who had a high level of education were less likely to get Alzheimer's as education stimulates and challenges the brain from early childhood and continues throughout life and stops the development of  dementia. 

Apart from taking periodic cognitive tests, 600 nuns agreed to donate their brains after their death. It was found that brains with dementia not only shrunk in size but these had a lot more reduced volume. Furthermore, brains with dementia had sticky protein substance which coagulated the pathways of the brain, killing the neuron cells. That deteriorated the functions of the different parts of the brain.

The journalist then visited the Patterson Air Base where an amazing experiment to see if electric stimulation had increased the memory, alertness and attention whilst the airman was given a virtual surveillance test. His performance was twice better with the electric stimulation. She herself took the test to see if an older person like herself (she is 70 years) performed better with the stimulation provided. It was found that her performance was 25% improved.

Another study performed an experiment on mice to see if giving blood of a young  mouse to an old one had any significant improvement in the memory and alertness. After receiving the blood, the old mouse was markedly quicker to find the escape rout in a maze establishing the possibility of improving the brain functions of an old person with the similar method.        

Retirement age in Britain is 70 years when a person would have accomplished his worldly responsibilities and duties. As per statistics published in 2017, life expectancy in Britain is 80 years. Following the guide lines not only will increase the life expectancy but will increase the quality of life. With a healthy mind in a healthy body a person has good 10 to 15 years to follow his passion, hobby, travelling to fulfil his life time yearning. It`s `time to let go rat race` control emotions, greed, infatuation anger as said in Geeta to achieve mental peace to reach Param Shanti – Eternal Peace.

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Category :- English Bazaar Patrika / Features