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10 Mind-Blowing Discoveries This Week

You may have had a bad week, but you can be thankful that a squid didn't try to knock up your face. This, and other science news.

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Halfway into the eight-month diet the participants had lost an average of 33 pounds but in the last few months the low-carb/non-dessert group gained back 22 of those pounds while the dessert-at-breakfast people lost another 18 pounds. 

Who DARES make fun of the Krispy Kreme now? 

The dessert dieters reported fewer cravings, had less difficulty sticking to their diet and had lower levels of the hunger hormone ghrelin after their dessert-y breakfast. The researchers believe that “meal timing and composition,” gave the desserters better results, that the higher protein-and-carb content stemmed their hunger and the sweets reduced  their cravings for “sweet, starchy, fatty foods.” 

It’s kind of a hard idea to oppose. Besides, the only part of the current let-’em-eat-cake zeitgeist might be taking it literally. 

5. While you were sleeping

“If desserts for breakfast worked Homer Simpson would be thin,” I just thought and then remembered he’s a cartoon character. 

There was an episode, though, where Homer tried to diet by listening to subliminal weight loss tapes while he slept but, having been given a vocabulary tape instead he didn’t lose an ounce but ended up talking like Tim Gunn.

Turns out that could  almost happen. If Homer had known all those $10 words in the first place having them reinforced in his sleep could have helped him remember them. And according to a study out of Northwestern University learning reinforced during sleep could help you remember things, too. 

Science Daily reports that research subjects learned to play two “artificially generated musical tunes with well-timed key phrases,” and while the subjects napped, researchers played one of the tunes but not the other. The tunes were played while the subjects were in a sleep stage called slow-wave sleep (deep sleep) (which the researchers determined by using an EEG). When reproducing the melody that was played while they slept the subjects made fewer mistakes than when playing the other. Paul J. Reber, co-author of the study, stressed that strengthening one’s memory during sleep is only for things you’ve already learned, not things you’re trying to acquire.

It’s all well and good if you’re trying to remember. But alas! What (puts hand to forehead dramatically) if you are trying to forget? (Looks wistfully out the window. Sigh.) 

6. Communicating with unconscious patients

So our conscious minds are evidently more active than we thought while we are sleeping. And now some researchers are looking for ways to see how much awareness people have when they’re in a much deeper state uncommunicative state, like coma. In  the  Ethics of Unconsciousness by Moheb Costandi from the Dana Foundation brain research Web site the author discusses the work of Adrian Owen at the University of Western Ontario, and Steven Laureys at the University of Liège in Belgium who are studying ways to use fMRI and EEG images to “study consciousness disorders” and help doctors diagnose those disorders more accurately.

“They now estimate that at least one in five patients given a diagnosis of being in a vegetative state are actually minimally conscious.” The team has found a way to ask yes/no questions of some of these patients, asking them to envision different scenarios for “yes” or “no." I n the New England Journal of Medicine study on that link, of 54 patients studied, one was able to answer “yes,” or “no,” during an fMRI but not “at the bedside.” 

It’s a complex, nuanced, provocative area of study that might mean the eventual reclassification of some patients and even enable them to make their own end-of-life decisions -- Costandi invokes the Terri Schiavo case. But before that here’s another ethical dilemma: because they can be asked, should they be asked? “Should we even ask these patients if they wish to remain alive or die?” Costandi asks.

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