My favorite web application/piece of software, Evernote, has received an overhaul for Windows.
My favorite web application/piece of software, Evernote, has received an overhaul for Windows.
Eczema is a genetic disorder with an environmental trigger, which affects one in three people at some time in their life.
People with eczema essentially have sensitive skin that is easily irritated. The irritation produces dryness by disrupting the function of the external waterproof skin barrier, allowing water to leave the skin.
The main gene associated with eczema – or atopic dermatitis, as it’s known clinically – is filaggrin. Filaggrin mutations reduce the ability of the skin to withstand environmental insults and to repair itself after injury.
Disruption to the skin barrier allows allergens to enter the deeper layers of the skin and activate the immune system.
How the immune system reacts to these allergens determines the severity of the skin inflammation and the duration of the disruption to the skin barrier function.
If you or someone in your family has suffered with severe eczema, you’ve probably tried all sorts of remedies to alleviate the itching. Here are five tips to calm your skin:
1) Avoid things that irritate the skin. No matter how wonderful a hot shower feels on itchy skin, it actually aggravates eczema. Keep showers to five minutes or less and use luke-warm water.
Wash with water alone: no soap, no soap substitute, no soap-free wash and definitely no bubble bath. Just water.
2) Avoid overheating. Heat makes the itch worse, irrespective of the cause. Turn the heating down to 18 to 20 degrees Celsius (64 to 68 degrees Farenheit) and put on an extra layer of clothing.
Take the doona off your bed and sleep under good old-fashioned cotton blankets. Overheating at night leads to scratching in your sleep. If there is blood on your sheets in the morning, that is a sure sign your bed is too hot at night.
3) Take a bleach bath. This is a simple method to reduce the bacteria on the surface of your skin. For a full tub of water, use half a cup of bleach. Never apply bleach directly to the skin. (More safety tips and instructions are available here.)
If the eczema is weeping, oozing or has honey-coloured crusts, there is almost always golden staph on the skin surface aggravating the eczema. Bleach baths are a good alternative to antibiotics.
4) Use lots and lots of moisturiser. To fix eczema you will also need to restore the skin barrier. That requires frequent and liberal use of moisturiser, including after the eczema appears to have cleared up.
There are lots of moisturisers on the market. Trial and error is the best way to find the right moisturiser for your skin. Keep in mind that if you use a light one, you need to reapply it more often than a heavy one.
While tablets can help stop the inflammation, in general that’s not enough to stop the eczema.
5) Use your topical corticosteroid creams as directed. Additives reduce the skin thinning that can occur with prolonged use of potent topical steroids. Your dermatologist is the best person to advise you on this.
Researchers are investigating whether a new class of drugs, called biologics, could help manage severe eczema.
Biologics try to block critical steps within certain pathways, which can terminate inflammation.
Biologics are most commonly produced from bacteria or yeast cultures. Specific genes are inserted into bacteria and yeast that have been inactivated so they are no longer dangerous to humans.
Production of biologics in this way is slow, low-volume, high-tech and expensive. Consequently, biologics can cost tens of thousands of dollars per patient per year.
A number of clinical research trials are underway to test these agents. People with severe eczema, which is not adequately controlled with current treatments, may consider enrolling to participate in a research trial.
It will still take three to five years for the results of these trials to be fully assessed and to know whether biologic agents are safe and effective in the management of eczema. If they are, they could revolutionise the management of severe eczema.
So this has been the scourge of my adult life really – Chronic Fatigue Syndrome. I first fell ill with it in late 1989 – early 1990. It is a dreadful illness. The link below is to an article that takes a look at this affliction.
The Jason Bourne series of movies are among my favourites, so news of another movie in the series is great for me. Looking forward to it. It also has another of my favourite actors in it by the look of it – Tommy Lee Jones.
Any deficit in normal body water – through dehydration, sickness, exercise or heat stress – can make us feel rotten. First we feel thirsty and fatigued, and may develop a mild headache. This eventually gives way to grumpiness, and mental and physical decline.
We continually lose water via our breath, urine, faeces and skin. Most healthy people regulate their body’s water level remarkably well via eating and drinking, and are guided by appetite and thirst. But this is more difficult for infants, the sick, the elderly, athletes, and those with strenuous physical occupations, especially in the heat.
By the time you feel thirsty your body is already dehydrated; our thirst mechanism lags behind our actual level of hydration.
Research shows that as little as 1% dehydration negatively affects your mood, attention, memory and motor coordination. Data in humans is lacking and contradictory, but it appears that brain tissue fluid decreases with dehydration, thus reducing brain volume and temporarily affecting cell function.
As you “lose” body water without replacing it, your blood becomes more concentrated and, at a point, this triggers your kidneys to retain water. The result: you urinate less.
The thicker and more concentrated your blood becomes, the harder it is for your cardiovascular system to compensate by increasing heart rate to maintain blood pressure.
When your dehydrated body is “pushed” – such as when exercising or faced with heat stress – the risk of exhaustion or collapse increases. This can cause you to faint, for instance, when you stand up too quickly.
Less water also hampers the body’s attempts at regulating temperature, which can cause hyperthermia (a body temperature greatly above normal).
At a cellular level, “shrinkage” occurs as water is effectively borrowed to maintain other stores, such as the blood. The brain senses this and triggers an increased sensation of thirst.
Normal water needs range drastically due to a number of factors, such as body composition, metabolism, diet, climate and clothing.
Surprisingly, the first official recommendation about water intake was made as recently as 2004. According to the Institute of Medicine, the adequate water intake for adult men and women is 3.7 and 2.7 litres per day, respectively.
Around 80% of total daily water should be obtained from any beverage (including water, caffeinated drinks and alcohol!) and the remaining 20% from food.
But of course, this is just a rough guide. Here’s how to monitor your own hydration:
Track your body weight and stay within 1% of your normal baseline. You can work out your baseline by averaging your weight (just out of bed, before breakfast) on three consecutive mornings.
Monitor your urine. You should be urinating regularly (more than three to four times per day) and it should be a pale straw or light yellow colour without strong odour. If less frequent, darker colour or too pungent, then drink more fluids.
Be conscious about drinking enough fluids. Your fluid consumption should prevent the perception of thirst.
There is no-one that loves Australia as much as me. I am Australian and I love this country. It is the best country on earth. However, celebrating Australia Day is something I become more uncomfortable with each year. Why? Because there is a significant portion of our population who have their nose rubbed in it every year on this day – this day that marks the anniversary that their land was invaded by Europeans – this day that conveniently forgets that this country wasn’t settled/pioneered on and from that day, for it was already settled by other nations – this day that marked the beginning of countless atrocities against the traditional owners of this land. Yes, I am Australian and so are they, so please remember our original Australian patriots on this day. Perhaps a change of day in the future should be considered? Just a thought.
In Australia, there is a lingering belief that bankruptcy should not be “too easy”.
The federal government’s plan to reduce the period of bankruptcy from a minimum of three years to one year, announced in December’s Innovation Statement, has been criticised for allowing debtors to avoid the consequences of their misconduct.
But this view misunderstands the role of bankruptcy law in a modern economy and arguably conflates the role of bankruptcy and criminal law. In fact, what is needed in addition to legal changes is a shift in the way Australians think about bankruptcy.
Modern personal bankruptcy law attempts to balance competing public interests of rehabilitating debtors and allowing them a fresh start, with the need to discourage reckless borrowing and spending and abuse of the credit and insolvency system.
But bankruptcy as a crime has had a long history, arising out of an early need to allay the violence and mayhem occurring through Roman debtors not paying their creditors, by imposing some order and authority on the warring parties.
This authority sought to divide up the debtor’s assets among the creditors; but the idea of protection of the unfortunate debtor did not arise until later. The first modern bankruptcy laws developed in the 16th century in England and sought to provide administrative order to commercial debt recovery.
Non-business bankruptcy was treated as a crime, with debtor’s prisons existing until the late 19th century. The growth of middle classes after the industrial revolution and the drive to encourage and broaden entrepreneurial risk taking helped change society’s treatment of all bankrupts (both business and non-business) and the goal of protection and rehabilitation became more important.
At the same time, bankruptcy continues to involve the bankrupt losing most of their property, including the family home, and any cash, shares or other property, including their passport, and anything other than household furniture and a cheap car.
There are requirements to repay creditors through contributions from income, above a certain level; restrictions imposed on obtaining credit and with credit agencies reporting the bankruptcy; and restrictions on being a company director and on retaining licenses to work in certain trades and professions.
A failure of a bankrupt to comply with their obligations can result in the extension of their bankruptcy to five or even eight years. Failure to file a list of their assets and liabilities can result in the bankruptcy continuing indefinitely, at least until the bankrupt complies.
Most of these impacts are expected to remain whether bankruptcy is one year or longer.
Our 21st century laws even connect bankruptcy with serious crime, and treason, and impose criminal sanctions, including imprisonment, for breaches by bankrupts of many of these obligations. And there is still the stigma of bankruptcy, of being labelled as someone who could not manage their finances and left their creditors unpaid, and who otherwise might be seen as morally suspect.
The government doesn’t propose to lessen these rules. Those who suggest that bankruptcy is an easy option are ignoring the range of penalties and limitations that apply to bankrupts. Given the fact that bankruptcy can release a debtor from debts of $20,000, or $20 million, the law – and society – acknowledges that some accountability and consequence be imposed. It is a matter of degree and of balance.
But the government has opted for a fresh approach to unpaid debt in personal insolvency, given it is a more emotive area than the relative anonymity of corporate losses.
Australia is seen internationally as having a rather harsh view of unpaid debt. But punishment and deterrence can only achieve so much when it comes to discouraging reckless borrowing or profligate spending.
A person might well not pursue their innovative business idea if the consequence of it not working were jail, or at a less extreme outcome, a long period of bankruptcy and the loss of most if not all of their property. Creditors also need a predictable, transparent and fair system for collecting their debts.
For that reason, many other countries are refocusing their insolvency laws more on rehabilitation and a constructive approach to business rescue.
The government is trying to shift the balance in favour of risk and innovation, with its potential for promoting economic growth, and to move the language away from retribution and failure, an important aspect of cultural change. But merely reducing the period of bankruptcy won’t be enough.
The public narrative and perception around financial failure and insolvency, both personal and corporate, need to change if we are to embrace an entrepreneurial and innovative business culture.
Changing the law is perhaps the easier part, with initial public support needed, followed by a shift in public perception in order to allow the law to be fully effective.
Self-control is a major problem for many of us, so failure to maintain our resolutions isn’t surprising. But is it inevitable? Is there anything we can do to make it more likely that we stick to our resolve?
Psychology research can help: here are four things you can do to make it more likely that, this year, you maintain your resolutions.
First, you can form implementation intentions. Multiple studies show people are much more likely to follow through on an intention to do something – say, exercise more – if they form the intention to do it when they encounter a cue.
Rather than just intending to exercise more, you might form the intention to set off jogging when the alarm goes off. Forming an implementation intention automates preparation for the behaviour when the cue is encountered. And that makes following through more likely.
In one study, for instance, women who formed food specific implementation intentions lost twice as much weight as a control group of dieting women.
Second, you can focus on abstract properties of events and things rather than concrete properties. Suppose your goal is to eat more healthily, and you’re tempted by a doughnut.
A focus on its concrete properties – its sweet stickiness, for instance – tends to promote consumption. But a focus on its abstract properties, the properties it shares not only with other doughnuts but the broader set of things you find tempting, tends to promote self-control.
You might think of the challenge not as “eat this doughnut or not?” but “eat unhealthy food or not?”.
This is an application of what’s known as construal level theory to the problem of self-control. In general, construing things in more abstract terms tends to facilitate more rational thought and behaviour, possibly because it makes more salient the reasons why we want to exercise self-control in the first place.
It’s the effects of a pattern of eating doughnuts – not of eating a single doughnut – that we want to avoid, and these patterns and their effects are abstract properties. In contrast, the low-level properties of a temptation make salient the ways in which it’s immediately rewarding.
Relatedly, you can engage in the activity American psychiatrist, psychologist, and behavioural economist George Ainslie calls bundling choices.
When you bundle choices, you don’t see them as discrete episodes, unrelated to one another. Rather, you see your current choice as representative of a recurrent challenge.
You can bundle choices by regarding yourself not as choosing just how to act now, but rather as choosing how to act now and on every subsequent occasion. I might see my choice whether to eat a doughnut with my coffee as predictive of how I will act in similar situations in the future (whenever I go to the cafe, for instance), thereby bundling my current choice with my future, similar, choices.
Just like focusing on abstract properties, bundling helps people to make choices they’re less likely to regret later.
There’s some evidence that self-control is a limited resource: the more you use up, the less you have available for future challenges until the passage of time and rest restore your self-control capacities.
The third strategy you can employ to maintain your resolutions, then, is to restore your self-control relatively rapidly. Several things seem to help.
Eating sweet foods helps too, though that’s a problem if what you’re trying to control is your tendency to eat too much junk, especially since it turns out artificial sweeteners don’t help. One experiment showed that while subjects who drank sugar-sweetened milkshakes had their depleted self-control restored, milkshakes flavoured with artificial sweeteners didn’t help at all (despite the fact that people were at chance when it came to guessing whether their drink used sugar or not).
Why artificial sweeteners don’t restore self-control, but sugar does, is currently unknown. Fortunately, more recent research has shown that it’s not necessary to actually consume the sugar sweetened food to get the benefits: swishing a sweet drink around your mouth and then spitting it out is just as effective.
If self-control is a limited resource, then we can avoid expending it unnecessarily: we can save it until we need it. The fourth strategy for keeping our resolutions, more generally, is avoiding temptations. This seems, and is, obvious, but its importance may go unrecognised.
Perhaps people think willpower is more effective than it actually is. Or perhaps they fail to recognise it diminishes with use and across the day (consider how much more likely you are to eat sweets in the afternoon). So they don’t employ this strategy of avoiding temptation as often or as effectively as they might.
If you want to eat less chocolate, don’t buy the family size bar (or fall into the old two-for-the-price-of-one trap) and rely on your willpower to ensure you stick to just three squares tonight. When you’re tired, you might find it hard to stick to your resolve.
Better to buy a small bar: that way, the hassle of going out to buy more will probably be too great for you to give into your desire for another square of chocolate.
You can avoid temptation by choosing the lolly-free aisle at the supermarket; choosing a route home that doesn’t go past the pub; or the bakery, and so on. There’s evidence this kind of strategic approach to self-control is more effective than relying on willpower alone.
It takes planning to keep your resolution, but if it’s a worthwhile decision, it’ll be worth the effort.
This article is part of our series about New Year’s resolutions, A Fresh Start.
Neil Levy, Professor of Philosophy
New Year’s resolutions are set with the best of intentions. But they notoriously fail to translate into lasting behavioural changes.
The new gym membership falls into disuse come February; items forbidden from the new diet sneak back into the pantry by March. Even goals to work less and spend more time with friends and family seem to fall by the wayside almost as soon as the holiday break is over and the brimming email inbox beckons.
But recent psychological research highlights several reasons why these kinds of resolutions might actually work – as well as simple ways to set yourself up for success.
A series of recent studies supports the idea that the start of a new calendar year spurs initiation of activities related to self-improvement. They show Google searches for the term “diet”, gym attendance, and use of goal-support websites are highest in January and decline month by month over time.
Researchers doing the studies call it the “fresh start effect” – the idea that particular days and dates serve as temporal landmarks, much like physical landmarks serve as demarcations of important places. In the case of temporal landmarks, the demarcation is between a past self, who has perhaps failed to meet goals, and the present self, who has goal pursuit at their fingertips.
An additional set of studies, published recently in the journal Psychological Science by the same team, looked into this effect in more detail. In one experiment, participants asked to think about New Year’s Day as a meaningful day visited more websites related to goal-support (and spent more time browsing them) than those who were asked to think about it as an ordinary day.
Directly speaking to the idea that a temporal landmark mentally separates people from their past selves, another experiment in the series established that framing a character in a short story as experiencing a new beginning led participants to perceive that character as different from who they’d been in the past.
Importantly, that past/present differentiation statistically explained the effect of the new beginning on how much participants believed the character would pursue a previously unmet goal. In other words, the reason why goal pursuit flows from a new beginning is because of a perceived separation from past selves.
Another reason why temporal landmarks may work to promote goal pursuit is that they spur a search for meaning in life. Research from 2014 shows people whose ages end in the digit 9 (29, for instance or 39, and so on) report more desire for having a sense of meaning in life.
It’s not far-fetched to imagine that the end of the year (rather than a decade) might spur similar soul-searching. And that, in turn, can engender goals for self-improvement.
There are several ways to set yourself up for success with your New Year’s resolution. Here are a few relatively easy, research-supported methods.
Let the calendar be your guide: the “fresh start” research discussed above shows a similar goal-boosting effect for the start of the month (with activity peaking at the 1st of the month and declining towards the 30th or 31st). It even works for the start of the week (with activity peaking on Monday and declining through to Sunday). And there’s also a boost around birthdays and national holidays.
Clearly, the calendar itself can help in re-committing to goals. From this view, “a case of the Mondays” could be the impetus to revisit the gym, shut off email in the evening, or trade spaghetti bolognese for salad.
Don’t go it alone: setting a goal with friends can be the setup for success. One research study found signing up for a weight-loss program with friends and having that social support reinforced over time resulted in an increase from 75% to 95% in course completion. It even resulted in an increase from 24% to 66% in weight-loss maintenance, compared to signing up alone and receiving treatment not focused on social support.
As you ring in the New Year, look around for those with whom you can set collective resolutions.
Set a range: Many people are tempted (or even told) to set a specific goal. But research suggests that setting a range for a goal (planning to lose five to ten kilograms) rather than a specific target (aiming to lose eight kilos) will likely be more effective.
In research where participants were given a bag of M&Ms and asked to eat as few as possible across 25 minutes, the average consumed five. But participants who set a range goal of how many M&Ms to eat (on average, between three and eight) rather than a specific number (on average, five) reported that their goal seemed simultaneously more challenging and more attainable.
They also felt more accomplishment at the end of the 25 minutes as well as more interested in pursuing the goal again. The researchers who did that study found similar effects across a range of contexts, including weight loss and spending money.
These tactics will help you leverage the “fresh start” of the New Year to get ahead. Let the rhythm of the calendar push you, find a buddy, and set a range for your resolution. Science will be on your side.
This is the first article in our series about New Year’s resolutions, A Fresh Start. Look out for more articles on the topic in the coming days.