Livin' on the MDedge

Human hair’s super strength and boiled diabetes


Stop us if you’ve heard this one

Dean Bertoncelj/iStockphoto

Hair salon

An elephant, a capybara, and a horse walk into a bar …

What? You’ve heard it? Really? … No, not really? You were just pulling our leg. Very funny.

Can we go on now? You’re sure? Because if there’s one thing we love, it’s reader participation.

Anyway, there’s this bar, and a bunch of researchers from the University of California’s San Diego and Berkeley campuses are hanging out with a bear, a boar, a javelina (looks and sounds like a pig, about the size of a border collie), and a giraffe when the aforementioned trio shows up.

They see all these mammals together and get an idea. Why not compare the tensile strength of their hair with that of a human adult and child? The next day, after sobering up, they started collecting hair samples.[Legal note: The situation at the bar is a literary device. At no time did the investigators conduct any of their work in such a place.]

Once that was done, uniaxial tension tests were conducted, as you would expect, using an Instron 3342 universal testing system equipped with a 500-N load cell at a strain rate of 10–2s–1.

The results, however, were not expected. Thin hairs are stronger than thick hairs. Hair from a human, with an average diameter of about 60 mcm, is stronger than hair from a boar (average diameter, 235 mcm) or a horse (average diameter, 200 mcm), and the weakest hair of all came from an elephant (diameter of 345 mcm) and a giraffe (diameter of 370 mcm). Also, the hair from the 9-year-old child is stronger than the thicker hair of the 30-year-old adult.

The results show that the inherent strength of human hair’s hierarchical structure – an outer layer, or cuticle, “wraps around an inner cortex made of many small fibers linked by chemical bonds” – makes it resistant to deformation, the investigators explained. They hope that synthetic materials with a similar structure could become lighter and stronger in the future.

Now what? The punchline? All this valuable hair information isn’t enough? Fine.

The shocked bartender, who’s already got the makings of a small zoo in his establishment, points a finger in alarm at the latest arrivals and yells, “Hey!” The horse says, “You read my mind, buddy.”

Boiled type 2 diabetes

coffee beans and coffee cup amenic181/Getty Images

Ah, coffee. Is there anything it can’t do? From speeding up delivery of this tardy column (if not boosting its comedy quotient) to reducing the risk of type 2 diabetes, the magic bean seems nearly omnipotent. But java’s magical metabolic properties may be entirely dependent on how you brew your brown elixir.

Coffee-fueled Scandinavians have determined that the stimulating liquid’s antidiabetes effect is only possible when you don’t boil your beans. For those eager to ward off type 2 diabetes, filtered coffee – not boiled coffee – is the ticket to lower insulin resistance.

Researchers at Chalmers University of Technology in Gothenburg, Sweden, and Umeå (Sweden) University identified biomarkers that distinguished the consumption of filtered coffee from its boiled cousin. They found that people who drank two to three cups of filtered coffee a day enjoyed a 60% lower risk of type 2 diabetes than did those who subsisted on less than one cup of filtered coffee per day. But drinking boiled coffee did nothing to dent drinkers’ diabetes risk.

Why the difference? The coffee-sipping Swedish investigators say boiled coffee contains diterpenes, which don’t make it past a coffee filter. Other studies have shown diterpenes inflate the risk of heart and vascular diseases. And the researchers say those unfiltered diterpenes may sap your morning cuppa joe’s antidiabetes powers.

We know what you’re thinking: Who boils powdered coffee? Is Sanka even a thing anymore? It’s an approach that’s unfamiliar to most Mr. Coffee–owning Scandinavians and American java junkies alike. But before you, like us, take another smug sip from that cup you just made in the Keurig machine, know this: Coffee pod machines deal out hot, unfiltered brew.

Maybe just add two sugar packets next time. Your beta cells will thank you.


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