BRIANWAVE COLUMN No 31: October 1996

Chain Reaction

Brian J Ford

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On a day like today, there can be nothing better than a good cup of tea. It’s a valuable diuretic and stimulant. However, I hope you know that the components can damage your blood vessels. High levels of caffeine are linked with distended capillaries in the skin. Perhaps it would be better not have a cup of tea at all.

On second thoughts, tea can help you avoid a stroke. A 15-year study of 552 men aged between 50 and 69 showed that those who drank five cups of a tea per day had 69 per cent less chance of having a stroke, compared to men who drank fewer than two cups a day. According to a report in the science magazine Focus, this is due to the flavinoids which teas contain.

Then again, you could damage your brain. Alzheimer’s disease is associated with raised concentrations of aluminium in brain cells. Scientists at Cardiff University were quick to deduce that this could be the cause of the disease: tea if often been made using aluminium tea-pots and kettles, and must account for the raised level of the metal in the brain.

Those men who drink tea experience a dramatically lowered incidence of stroke. It is concluded that the tea-drinking produces the effect. In reality, I believe it is equally likely that both phenomena are themselves related to a common cause. Rather than the tea preventing the illness, it could be that a happy and sanguine personality is less likely to suffer a stroke, and also more likely to spend time on such niceties as preparing a pot of tea.

The aluminium in the brain may well be a concomitant of Alzheimer’s disease, but the there may be a missing enzyme which allows it to concentrate. That is as entirely different matter from believing that aluminium utensils themselves cause the rise.

Did you know that a work-out on an exercise bike increases sexuality? Neither did I. In women, it has been found that a state of sexual arousal results in increased blood flow through the blood-vessels of the vagina. Two groups of young women were examined for blood flow within the vaginal wall. One group were rested before being tested; the others had to work-out on an exercise bike. The second group showed the raised level of vaginal blood flow associated with sexual excitement. Clearly (the scientists concluded) the cycling increased their sexuality.

It’s that myth of cause and effect once more. Nobody stopped to realise that the act of perching on a saddle and pedalling like crazy increases the blood flow of all the structures involved. Now consider: which part of the anatomy is perched on the saddle of an exercise bike? There is a further issue, namely, what the experimental subjects themselves reported. Did they feel any different? Any rise in sexuality? ‘No’, the women all said.

Modern science often misunderstands cause. As a student I used to say: ‘Is it true that smoking causes cancer? Or is it true that [a predisposition towards] cancer causes smoking?’ Until we get to grips with real causes of real problems, it is increasingly important to ask questions like that.

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