Health24.com | Gas-tracking pill shows how farts form

A group of researchers has developed an ingestible capsule which allows tracking and analysis of gut gases through a smartphone application.

The electronic pill is swallowed and travels through the gastrointestinal tract as food would, but picks up information about the various gases in the gut as it goes along.

Data can be collated in real time with a pocket monitor and the smartphone app.

Why would you want to track your farts?

In their paper, published on Nature.com, research leaders Kourosh Kalantar-Zadeh from ZMIT University and Peter Gibson from Monash University said that this technology could provide valuable information about the gut’s condition.

Information about the gut microbiome was not easily accessible in the past, because cumbersome equipment and tubes had to be used to collect information.

The capsule has a gas sensor built into it and senses gases like oxygen, hydrogen and carbon. The selectivity and sensitivity to different gases is controlled by adjusting the heating elements of the sensors.

Monitoring test subjects

When considering gut activity, researchers are aware of gases which are common in the human gastrointestinal tracts. Monitoring the different gases gives doctors, researchers and scientists insight into understanding disorders of the gut, which then allows them to research ways to rectify matters.

Reasons behind irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) are not entirely known. It is believed to be an over-reaction of the digestive system to emotional triggers, but studying the data collected from the device may help in making new discoveries about gut behaviours.

When test subjects ingested the device, which is roughly the size of a large vitamin tablet, they had eaten specific foods so researchers could monitor the gases, the temperature and time the device had spent in their systems.

One of the test subjects ingested the device twice. He had been eating food high in fibre before taking the first tablet, which resulted in the passing of the tablet a little too soon for his liking. He then had food lower in fibre and two weeks after taking his first tablet, he took another, which they hoped would be more effective.

A lot more insight

Researchers however ended up giving him a high dose of fibre to move the device along, because it was actually taking a little too long to exit his system.

Human bodies make use of two types of fibre – soluble and insoluble fibre. Soluble fibre is believed to help with lowering cholesterol and regulating blood sugar, whereas insoluble fibre creates bulk in our intestines and helps prevent constipation.

The data collected through the attempts are giving researchers a lot more insight into how the gut reacts to high- and low-fibre diets.

The team is now considering creating a company, so they can expand on their research and testing the device even further.

Image credit: iStock

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Health24.com | 6 fast moves to improve symmetry

You’ve heard about symmetry before: It’s a mathematical principle that denotes exact equality on two sides. A butterfly’s wings. A snowflake. Your face.

Some junior school teacher probably taught you about all of this years ago and you likely haven’t thought about symmetry since.

But you should, and especially when it comes to running, because an asymmetrical body could be the culprit behind a nagging injury, or what’s keeping you from finally nailing a new PB.

1. Single-leg tap

Works hamstrings, glutes and improves stability

exercise, flexibility

  • From a standing position, lift left foot and hinge forward at the hips, keeping them square, until you can tap left fingertips to the floor.
  • Return to starting position without letting left foot touch floor. Do 10 to 12 reps. Repeat on opposite side.

2. Single-leg squat

Works hips, quads, glutes and improves hip stability

exercise, flexibility

  • Stand on your left foot with right foot lifted slightly off floor.
  • Lower into a squat, keeping your right foot lifted (you can reach arms out for balance). Press through left heel to return to standing. Do 10 to 12 reps; switch sides.

3. Single-leg glute bridge

Works glutes and improves core control

exercise, flexibility

  • Lie faceup with feet planted near butt, arms at sides. Extend right leg toward ceiling, foot flexed.
  • Squeeze glutes to lift hips as high as you can. Hold at the top for 2 seconds, then lower until hovering just above the floor. Do 10 to 12 reps; switch sides.

4. Side-lying leg lifts

Works core, hips, glute medius and improves hip stability

exercise, flexibility

  • Lie on right side, legs stacked. Extend bottom arm to rest head on shoulder, and place top hand on floor in front of chest.
  • Squeeze thighs together and lift legs several inches. Hold for 2 seconds; lower legs to hover above floor. Do 10 to 12 reps; switch sides.

5. Clamshell

Works hip abductors, glutes and improves hip rotation

exercise, flexibility

  • Lie on right side; stack legs with knees at 90 degrees. Rest head in right hand and place left hand on floor.
  • Keeping heels together, raise left knee toward the ceiling. Return to start. Do 10 to 12 reps. Repeat on opposite side.

6. Compound bird dog

Works core and improves stability

exercise, flexibility

  • Start on all fours, spine in a neutral position, right arm and left leg lifted and extended.
  • Pulse arm and leg up an inch and down an inch twice.
  • Bend right elbow and left knee under torso until they touch.
  • Return right arm and left leg back to start. Moving at the same time, guide arm and leg straight out to sides to about 2 and 8 on a clock.
  • Return to start. Do 10 to 12 reps of the entire sequence. Switch sides and repeat with opposite arm and leg.

This article was originally featured on www.runnersworld.co.za

Image credits: Matt Rainey

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Health24.com | Why some people fall asleep in weird places

Some of us might remember the 1991 movie My Own Private Idaho where the character Mike, played by the late River Phoenix, has unexpected attacks of deep sleep in the strangest places and situations.

No control

Most of us experience the odd daytime episode when we can hardly keep our eyes open. This may happen when we didn’t sleep well the night before or after a really big meal. In most cases, however, this isn’t a big issue and a cup of strong coffee or a walk around the block usually gets us going again.

But for some people, this isn’t so easy as they have no control over where and when they might lose consciousness.

The condition is called narcolepsy and affects an estimated 1 in every 2 000 people in the United States and approximately 3 million worldwide. It is however estimated that only 25% people who have narcolepsy have been diagnosed and are receiving treatment.

Narcolepsy has been described as: “It’s more like overwhelmingly bad jet lag. Like you can’t possibly stay awake, no matter how hard you try.”

Famous narcoleptics include Curt Cobain, Winston Churchill, Thomas Edison, Nastassja Kinski and Louis Braille.

What is narcolepsy?

According to NHS Choices narcolepsy is a rare long-term brain disorder that causes a person to suddenly fall asleep at inappropriate times. It doesn’t cause serious health problems, but can cause difficulties on a day-to-day basis.

A previous Health24 article lists four classic symptoms of the disorder:

  • Excessive sleepiness/drowsiness during the day and sudden sleep attacks  
  • Cataplexy – a temporary loss of muscle control resulting in weakness and sometimes collapse
  • Sleep paralysis – the inability to move or speak when waking up or falling asleep
  • Hypnagogic hallucinations – excessive dreaming (and waking up) during the night

Cause of narcolepsy

Narcolepsy can be caused by a lack of the brain chemical hypocretin which regulates wakefulness, but it doesn’t explain all cases.

Possible triggers may include hormonal changes during puberty or menopause, psychological stress and infections like swine flu.

Diagnosis

It’s not easy to diagnose narcolepsy because symptoms like fatigue are common to many conditions. The condition is diagnosed by means of a sleep study which requires an overnight stay in a sleep lab.

Misdiagnosis of narcolepsy is common and it may be mistaken for depression, insomnia and obstructive sleep apnoea.

Treating narcolepsy

Narcolepsy cannot be cured, but improving sleeping habits and taking the correct medication can help to lessen the impact of the condition on one’s daily life.

Frequent, brief naps throughout the day can help to manage excessive daytime drowsiness.

Going to bed at the same time each night can make a big difference.

There are medications that can help reduce daytime sleepiness, prevent cataplexy attacks and improve nighttime sleep.

Image credit: iStock

Health24.com | 7 frequently asked questions about ARVs

Thanks to antiretroviral drugs (ARVs), being diagnosed as HIV positive doesn’t have to be a death sentence. HIV attacks the immune system, making it more difficult for the body to fight infections a generally healthy body would be able to fight off easily.

ARVs are given to slow down the speed at which the virus multiplies in the body. These drugs were first introduced in 1996. Starting in April 2004, South Africa has been rolling out a programme to provide free ARVs to those living with HIV to provide a longer, healthy life.

In 2016, about 19.5 million HIV positive people throughout the world were being treated with ARVs.

Even though these drugs cannot eliminate the virus, by slowing down its multiplication they can prolong the symptom-free period of the disease and allow the immune system to recover.

We asked our HIV expert Dr Sindisiwe van Zyl to answer the most frequently asked questions about ARVs.

1. Who should take ARVs?

Everyone who is living with HIV – regardless of CD4 count – should start lifelong antiretroviral treatment, says Dr van Zyl. To treat HIV infection, a patient must receive a combination of three or more different antiviral drugs which target different steps in the replication cycle of the virus. A cocktail of three different ARVs reduces the chance of the virus becoming resistant.

2. When should you start taking ARVs?

According to Dr van Zyl, your doctor or nurse clinician needs to do a proper clinical assessment and baseline blood tests. The goal is to exclude all opportunistic infections before starting a patient on lifelong antiretroviral treatment.

Before January 2015, medical professionals suggested starting ARV treatment when the CD4+ count starts dropping and the immune system is failing. Today it’s recommended that ARV treatment be started immediately when a person is diagnosed as HIV positive. Patients who are on antiretroviral drugs need to be monitored for evidence of drug side effects, evidence of clinical response to therapy (climbing CD4+ cell count indicates a recovering immune system), as well as for unexpected worsening of opportunistic infections.

3. What types of ARVs do you get and how do they differ?

Dr van Zyl explains that there are first-line, second-line and third-line treatments. “We always start with first-line treatment and choose the regimen according to the patient’s baseline blood test results and clinical condition. Whatever we choose, we need to ensure that you are taking three or more drugs. That is how we treat HIV – with three or more drugs.” 

Each type of ARV drug attacks HIV in a different way. The first class of anti-HIV drugs was the nucleoside reverse transcriptase inhibitors (also called NRTIs or “nukes”.) Since then, many other forms of ARV have been used to fight HIV.

Antiretroviral drugs block various stages in the replication cycle of the virus. There are a growing number of different classes of drug, including:

  • Nucleoside and nucleotide reverse transcriptase inhibitors (NRTIs), such as zidovudine (AZT), lamivudine (3TC) and tenofovir (TDF).
  • Non-nucleoside reverse transcriptase inhibitors (NNRTIs), such as nevirapine, efavirenz, etravirone and delavirdine.
  • Protease inhibitors (PIs), such as indinavir, saquinavir, lopinavir and atazanavir. 
  • Fusion/entry inhibitors, such as maraviroc and enfuvirtide. 
  • Integrase inhibitors, such as raltegravir. 

4. What are the side-effects of ARVs?

Unfortunately there are different side-effects associated with different ARVs, but these vary from person to person. Side-effects can range from mild to severe – nausea, diarrhoea and fatigue are common side-effects that people experience. There are other less common side-effects such as mood fluctuation.

According to Dr van Zyl, Efavirenz causes the most side-effects. Most people experience dizziness, nightmares, sluggishness, and some people even get depressed. These symptoms are short-lived but if they persist please let the doctor or nurse clinician know. There are other options. “We do not want shift workers on Efavirenz because of the drowsiness and dizziness, so do let the doctor or nurse clinician know if you are a shift worker (policeman, doctor, nurse, pilot etc.),” states Dr van Zyl. 

5. Can ARVs completely cure HIV/Aids?

No, but they can drastically reduce the viral load in the blood, bringing the virus to a status called “undetectable”, says Dr van Zyl. You however still need to practise safe sex.

6. Can everyone take the same ARVs?

“Most people will start the same first-line regimen, especially in the public health sector,” says Dr van Zyl. The private health sector has different options determined by the treatment prescribed by your doctor. 

7. Where can I get ARVs?

ARVs are Schedule 4 drugs, meaning that have to be prescribed by a medical doctor or a nurse clinician who has been trained to manage HIV treatment.

You can get HIV treatment at any public sector health facility in South Africa. If the facility cannot assist you, they will refer you to a facility that can. You can also access treatment via your medical aid.

According to Dr van Zyl, all medical aids in South Africa are obliged to cater for HIV/Aids. The benefits will come from a separate fund for which you do not pay extra. If you are on medical aid, please make sure to ask your scheme how you can be registered on the programme. If you are a cash patient, look for a doctor who is familiar with or who specialises in HIV.

Do not hesitate to ask Dr van Zyl any questions directly on Health24.

Image credit: iStock