Seesaw Your Way to Super Fast Fat Loss

Fiona Kirk_Fat in the City_HeaderYou may have tried one or two (or more) ‘low carb’ diets and if you have, you likely saw a good few pounds gratifyingly drop off in reasonably quick time. However, one of the most common complaints I hear from dieters is that after a while, cravings for bread, pasta, potatoes and pastries start to invade and they start dreaming of hot buttered toast and Krispy Kreme doughnuts!

I decided the time had come to see if I could devise a nutritious and delicious fat loss plan that satisfies our hard-wired desire for the comfort of starchy foods whilst at the same time accelerating fat loss. Much research and copious hours of recipe testing have gone into this project but I am rather pleased with the result! Take a minute to have a quick look at my gallery to see visuals of some of the dishes involved.

The diet focuses on what I call my ‘seesaw strategy’ where you have 3 days with no starch other than the small amounts provided by fruits and vegetables followed by a day where a little starch is included in the form of oats, potatoes, rice etc. The reason this strategy works is because studies show that when we know that some of our ‘favourites’ are not totally off limits, cravings (the dieters nemesis) are greatly reduced and after a short time, can disappear altogether.

Another important aspect of the diet is the recommendation to have a really good feed at each meal to keep hunger at bay and negate the need for ‘between meal’ snacks and leave 5 hours between meals to allow the fat burning hormone, glucagon to work its magic and encourage stored fat to be released from those ‘way too comfortable’ fat cells on hips, bums and bellies, provide energy and in the process, shrink on a daily basis!

There are however, a couple of snack options that I do endorse and one of them is chocolate. Far from being the enemy to fat loss, a little dark chocolate each day encourages a few very helpful actions. The ‘reward’ chemical, dopamine and the ‘happy and relaxed’ chemical, serotonin are released, magnesium levels which help to calm the nervous system are increased and last but not least, we don’t feel deprived and miserable which makes super fast fat loss a breeze!

The ‘seesaw strategy’ can be followed for as little as 4 days if time is tight and an event or holiday is looming or for as long as you wish without fear of going hungry or running short on essential nutrients and the need to obsessively count every calorie or step on the scales every morning doesn’t feature (super busy people simply don’t have time!)

Since the publication of the 2 Weeks in the Super Fast Lane diet in eBook format through Kindle (RRP £2.99) at the end of last month, I have already received a great many very encouraging emails from dieters across the globe. Here’s just one from a reader in Singapore: “8 days in, hooked on the Parsley Soup on no starch days and the Crispy Topped Baked Fish on starch days, savouring my daily chocolate moments and I wore a skirt to work today that I haven’t been able to get past my hips in months!”

To find out more about the diet, click here to have a ‘Look Inside’ the book, head to my website, join me on Facebook or follow me on Twitter.

2019 – How to Manage New Year’s Resolutions

December 31st 2012 – on New Year’s Eve many of us decided on a list of new year’s resolutions, be it to work harder, spend more time with family and friends, loose weight and get fitter and so on. However, after only a few days many of us have forgotten most of these resolutions and carry on with our every day life and loose ourselves in stress at work again.January-health-image

Listen to your principles

One of the pillars in my life are my principles. Each one of us has their own set of principles and morals and these are anchored in our surroundings and ourselves. These principles help structure our lives and help us realise our dreams. They also help us put all these resolutions into context and realise some of them in the greater frame work of our lives.

Be prudent but adamant

Most of us will have many ambitions and resolutions for the New Year. If you put too much on your plate, failure will follow suit. Be prudent and choose a few goals that you can manage. Little but firm steps are often long-lasting whereas the occasional big leap can backfire.

Make a list

I love making lists and work through them. The same principles can be applied to your New Year’s Resolutions. If you tackle one challenge at the time you are more likely to see long-lasting results.

Follow things through

Do not give up when things become difficult. if you set yourself a challenge, stick to it. Goals such as ‘losing weight’ are challenges and require will-power. Remember that January is cold and boring and the festive times have just past. Close your eyes from time to time, remember your principles and remember that your resolutions are part of a bigger dream and the bigger picture.

Rely on your friends

Ask your family and friends to help you with your goals. They can support you and help you when things become tricky. Do not try to fight every battle alone, but try to help them and they will help you.

Disappointment is part of life

Not everything will work. There will be draw backs. Do not dwell on them, but stand up and carry on. Obstacles are there to be overcome and the more challenging your resolutions, the more draw backs you may encounter. Battle on!

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Beethoven’s Ninth Symphony

This week we will continue our music series on famous classical pieces with Beethoven’s masterpiece: Symphony No. 9 (Op. 125). This piece is one of the best known works in the Western classical repertoire and the European Anthem is based on the final movement, the Ode to Joy.

Most people in the Western World have probably heard the final movement at one stage or another in their lives.

The Symphony is the last complete symphony of Beethoven and he finished the masterpiece in 1824. It was the first symphony ever to use vocals and was thus the first choral symphony ever written. He kept that as a surprise at the premiere of the Symphony in Vienna where the choir was hiding behind a giant curtain until the final movement. The audience was ecstatic when the curtain fell and the vocals joined the 4th movement. Beethoven originally wanted to perform the premiere in Berlin, but his friends urged him to perform it first in Vienna.

The lyrics of the final movement were adapted from Friedrich Schiller’s Ode to Joy and Beethoven adapted them to the melody as early as 1803, but did not write the symphony for another 20 years.

The symphony is always a highlight and many musicians dream of participating in a performance of this masterpiece. It is also traditionally played for New Year’s Eve by many orchestra’s, for example the famous Leipzig Gewandhausorchester in Leipzig.

Here the complete recording of Beethoven’s Symphony No.9:

The piece always amazes me and I will lead you through the various movements:

1st movement - Allegro ma non troppo, un poco maestoso

The symphony starts very quietly and opening theme, played pianissimo over string tremolos, so much resembles the sound of an orchestra tuning and over about half a minute the movement builds up in a very powerful crescendo. The famous opening chords of the main motif really make the listener sit back in his/ her chair and listen in awe. The symphony starts in D minor but the movement is transposed back into D major, relieving the listener from the initial shudders.

2nd movement – Molto vivace – Presto

The second movement is a Scherzo and is also composed in D minor. The opening theme is similar to that of the first movement, but the change in tone and nature of the music makes the listener feel that there is a development, an evolution of the music. Beethoven did not adhere to the classical Scherzo form, but mutated it and it has different themes opposing each other. The dance style is very powerful and captivating. This music was also chosen for the film “A Clockwork Orange”, where the theme reoccurred various times.

3rd movement - Adagio molto e cantabile

The third movement is quiet and slow in nature and rather calming. Almost like the “stillness before the storm”. It is rather long and really prepares the listener for the final movement. Beethoven uses a clever change of rhythm between the two themes of the movement: 4/4 and 12/8. This contrast really keeps the listener alert and addicted. Even for the untrained ear the change is obvious and interesting.

4th movement 

The final movement is almost like a symphony in a symphony. It encompasses a complete symphonic composition in just one movement. The main theme is introduced with a powerful fanfare at the beginning. Slowly the famous melody of the Ode to Joy is introduced and builds up in volume and speed.

Then the same fanfare starts again, but a tenor sings the powerful introduction to the ode to joy.

O Freunde, nicht diese Töne!
Sondern laßt uns angenehmere an stimmen,
und freudenvollere.
Oh friends, not these tones!
Rather, let us raise our voices in more pleasing
And more joyful sounds!
Freude, schöner Götterfunken
Tochter aus Elysium,
Wir betreten feuertrunken,
Himmlische, dein Heiligtum!
Deine Zauber binden wieder
Was die Mode streng geteilt;
Alle Menschen werden Brüder,
Wo dein sanfter Flügel weilt.
Joy, beautiful spark of divinity
Daughter from Elysium,
We enter, drunk with fire,
Into your sanctuary, heavenly (daughter)!
Your magic reunites
What custom strictly divided.
All men become brothers,
Where your gentle wing rests.

The chorus and the soloists then sing on the other parts of the adapted poem to give the message of brotherhood in a great musical fashion.

Wem der große Wurf gelungen,
Eines Freundes Freund zu sein;
Wer ein holdes Weib errungen,
Mische seinen Jubel ein!
Ja, wer auch nur eine Seele
Sein nennt auf dem Erdenrund!
Und wer’s nie gekonnt, der stehle
Weinend sich aus diesem Bund!
Whoever has had the great fortune
To be a friend’s friend,
Whoever has won a devoted wife,
Join in our jubilation!
Indeed, whoever can call even one soul,
His own on this earth!
And whoever was never able to, must creep
Tearfully away from this band!
Freude trinken alle Wesen
An den Brüsten der Natur;
Alle Guten, alle Bösen
Folgen ihrer Rosenspur.
Küsse gab sie uns und Reben,
Einen Freund, geprüft im Tod;
Wollust ward dem Wurm gegeben,
Und der Cherub steht vor Gott.
Vor Gott!
Joy all creatures drink
At the breasts of nature;
All good, all bad
Follow her trail of roses.
Kisses she gave us, and wine,
A friend, proved in death;
Pleasure was given to the worm,
And the cherub stands before God.
Before God!
Froh, wie seine Sonnen fliegen
Durch des Himmels prächt’gen Plan,
Laufet, Brüder, eure Bahn,
Freudig, wie ein Held zum Siegen.
Glad, as His suns fly
Through the Heaven’s glorious design,
Run, brothers, your path,
Joyful, as a hero to victory.
Seid umschlungen, Millionen!
Diesen Kuß der ganzen Welt!
Brüder, über’m Sternenzelt
Muss ein lieber Vater wohnen.
Ihr stürzt nieder, Millionen?
Ahnest du den Schöpfer, Welt?
Such’ ihn über’m Sternenzelt!
Ãœber Sternen muss er wohnen.
Be embraced, millions!
This kiss for the whole world!
Brothers, above the starry canopy
Must a loving Father dwell.
Do you bow down, millions?
Do you sense the Creator, world?
Seek Him beyond the starry canopy!
Beyond the stars must He dwell.

Seid umschlungen, Millionen!
Diesen Kuß der ganzen Welt!
Brüder, über’m Sternenzelt
Muss ein lieber Vater wohnen.
Seid umschlungen,
Diesen Kuß der ganzen Welt!
Freude, schöner Götterfunken
Tochter aus Elysium,
Freude, schöner Götterfunken

Be embraced, you millions!
This kiss for the whole world!
Brothers, beyond the star-canopy
Must a loving Father dwell.
Be embraced,
This kiss for the whole world!
Joy, beautiful spark of divinity,
Daughter of Elysium,
Joy, beautiful spark of divinity

In the middle of the movement there is a march alla turca.  It is still disputed why Beethoven chose to incorporate a Turkish March in the middle of this movement. It could however be a hint towards the victory of Western culture at the battles in the 17th century. However, all this is then overcome in brotherhood between the nations …
This symphony is a try jewel in the classical repertoire. Enjoy listening to it!

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Video reproduced from YouTube / AnAmericanComposer



Christmas Thoughts on Society

Christmas is nigh and after the past stressful weeks at work and some frantic shopping sprees, we finally get to sit together with our family and friends, eating copious amounts of turkey, goose or duck, followed by sweet desserts and a plethora of presents.


This is the time of year where we talk about peace and fraternity, run to church the only time of the year and forget about all the problems and negative thoughts that fill the news the other 364 days of the year. Surely, during that time we should not think about hungry people on the street, civil wars in the Middle East and global climate change. This time should be about us. Great, I agree that there should be a time dedicated to family and friends.

But why are we celebrating Christmas these days? Despite religious reasons for some of us and long-lasting tradition to get together with the family on that day of the year, the message of love, peace and togetherness is much more far-reaching, over the boundaries of religion.

After Christmas life will carry on and the problems society faced yesterday will still exist and many of these will have to be solved more urgently than ever before. Our economy is still weak, global climate change is threatening our very existence and social injustice is growing. In addition, people in our society are becoming more and more individualistic and selfish.

Should we think about these things over Christmas?

Yes we should. Indulging in gluttony for a few days is surely a great feeling, but it hardly helps our species survive.

I personally have never been an advocate of any main stream political agenda and coming from a country that has tried both, the extreme right and far left, I have always been cautious with people who try to invent theories that defy human nature.

I believe that we should aim to fulfill our potential and use our strengths to advance society and or own lives. Furthermore, I have no time for destructive and silly thoughts such as xenophobia, nationalism or the crazy idea that we are all the same.

We all have our responsibilities and share the same rights. Maybe it is time now to wake up after our Christmas gluttony and fulfill our responsibilities as individuals.

Otherwise, our children may not have a planet to live on.

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Did the Earth Once Have Two Moons?

The moon has always been an object of mystic interest to humans. Some nights we see it clearly and bright; during full moon and when the sky is clear. Other nights we look for the moon in vain, for instance when the sky is clouded over.

Interestingly we only ever see one side of the moon, and thus many old tales and even science fiction movies have exploited our fantasies of what we might find on the other side. Recently, even the new cinema blockbuster “Transformers 3” featured the “dark side of the moon”.

Martin Jutzi from the University of Bern/ Switzerland and his colleague Erik Asphaug from the University of St. Cruz/ U.S.A. have now suggested that this may not always have been the case. They speculate that the earth once had two moons, until about 4.5 billion years ago. They were happily circling the earth and may have given the observer a spectacular view at night. Unfortunately life was in its infancy at that time and there were possibly only molecules of the primordial soup inhabiting our home planet.

However, their trajectories around Earth were changing and the gravity of the two moons was attracting them towards each other. Then about 4.5 billion years ago, so the scientists argue, they collided and formed the moon as we know it today. This theory would explain the rough landscape observed by human satellites on the far side of the moon. This dichotomy between the two lunar landscapes has always been a matter of debate. Whereas the near side is low and flat, the far side is deeply cratered.

The theory predicts that both moons were on trajectories of equal distances to the earth until they collided. This story was published in Nature.

This theory would also explain why the far side of the moon experiences volcanic activities until about 800 million years ago, whereas the near side had no volcanic activity long before that. The fact that the lunar crust is much thicker on the far side also favours this collision theory.

Soon, NASA will send another space mission to the far side of the moon to get more data on this mysterious side. It might be unlikely that NASA will discover some strange alien spacecraft but rather gather data about the lunar surface.

This finding is another example of how dynamic the story of our existence may have been. Certainly, the molecules of the primordial soup had a fantastic view at night. Earth must have been a world so alien to us at those days. Unfortunately we will never be able to go back in time and observe.

But as with everything in life and in science. We never really know …

M. Jutzi & E. Asphaug, Forming the lunar farside highlands by accretion of a companion moon, Nature, 476, pp. 69–72.

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The Extraordinary DNA of a 115-year Old Woman

Don’t we all wish to live long and healthily without any diseases such as dementia, diabetes or a weak heart? Hendrikje van Andel-Schipper, a Dutch woman who passed away in 2005 at the age of 115, lived through three centuries without any health problems and was told to be “as fit as a 60-year old woman” during her last years of her life.

Her memory was remarkable and she could remember clearly the day in 1898 when Wilhelmina became Queen of the Netherlands. She also followed September 11 in 2001 in great detail on television.

But what enabled Hendrikje to live such a long live without any of the health problems that affect most of us much lower ages? What was her secret? Did she have a remarkable life without any stress and hardship or did she carry some remarkable DNA inside her?

When she was asked during her last two years of her life what made her so extraordinarily fit at her old age, she replied: “I eat a herring every day, drink a glass of orange juice and try to limit my alcohol intake to a glass at the weekend”. But could that be the reason for her incredible physical fitness and mental sharpness up to such an old age?

Scientists now believe that the DNA of this woman may hold the key to longevity. Her case is extremely interesting because she had hardly any health problems until her death. She did not even have artery calcification, from which most people suffer at an age above 70. Since 2003 several hundred human genomes have been sequenced and now scientists hope that the DNA of the old lady may reveal the secrets of her longevity.

However, when she was born, her life did not look that promising at all. She was born with a weight of only 1.6 kg, an almost definite death sentence at the end of the 19th century. However, her grandmother nourished her and Hendrikje witnessed three different centuries.

At the age of 82 she agreed that her body may be used for scientific purposes once she is dead. It was even more surprising that her autopsy revealed that her cause of death was an unidentified stomach cancer. Had she been operated early enough, she might have lived on for another few years, so the doctors reported.

But what is the cause of dementia in so many old people?

In Britain currently about 1 million people suffer from dementia and more than sixty percent of them have the most common form of dementia, Alzheimer’s disease. Hendrikje however did not show any signs of dementia and was mentally fitter than many of her friends who were half her age.

It is still unclear what exactly are the factors that define our age. We have some clues from genetic studies about the shortening of chromosomes but the issue is too complex and too many factors determine our age.

Maybe the scientists will find something remarkable in Hendrikje’s genome that will help us understand ageing and maybe even help some of us suffering from dementia or other diseases of high age?



Lila: an Inquiry into Morals

What is quality and what are values? This is the integral question Robert Pirsig asks in his book “Lila”, which is a sequel to his famous novel “Zen and the art of motorcycle maintenance”. City Connect reported on the latter book previously, and now we will continue the philosophical debate.

Just like the prequel, the book is written as a narrative and again incorporates a beautiful story helping the author conveying his ideas in a way that is relatively easy to understand. Pirsig uses a lot of metaphors and examples of every day life to communicate his ideas to the reader, making his philosophy accessible to a wide audience.

Robert Pirsig put a new idea forward. Instead of everything being defined as objects and subjects, he argues that everything has an underlying innate quality or value, which can be interpreted by an individual. This quality is an underlying characteristic of any object or idea and exists as an entity before it is integrated into a system.

Furthermore, so he argues, life is undergoing dynamic changes, which in most cases are unanticipated. This he calls “dynamic quality”. On the contrary, certain value sets help a system to survive in its current state, which he calls “static quality”. For example, the law system of a society may represent a static set of values, which is needed to keep a society functioning. On the other hand, the evolution of a society is determined by dynamic changes, which can either be deleterious or help society reach a higher level in complexity and evolution.

The argument about dynamic quality is one of the main themes through the entire book, and one example that he gives goes as follows:

Why is a man apt to feel bad in a good environment, say suburban short hills, New Jersey, on an ordinary Wednesday afternoon? Why is the same man apt to feel good in a very bad environment, say in an old hotel in Key Largo, in a hurricane… . Why is it that a man riding a good commuter train from Larchmont to New York, whose needs and drives are satisfied, who has a good home, loving his wife and family, good job, and enjoys unprecedented “cultural and recreational facilities” often feels bad without knowing why?

Why is it if such a man suffers a heart attack and, taken off the train at New Rochelle, regains consciousness and finds himself in a strange place, he then comes to himself for the first time in years, perhaps in his life, and begins to gaze at his own hand with a sense of wonder and delight?

These are for sure daunting questions, as Pirsig states, but with the division of Quality into dynamic and static patterns, a way of explaining them emerges.

This very man is experiencing the difference of dynamic quality breaking the static patterns of his life and perceives the change as something refreshing and invigourating.

Equally, the book tries to explain why scientific advances have in many places replaced religion. He argues that science is more apt to response to dynamic changes, whereas religion is connected to a static value pattern that does not really allow change. Only if religion is open to change and can adapt to the changes in society, will it survive. It has to be noted that Pirsig does neither refute, nor support science or religion. He just states factual observations. Furthermore, he highlights the weaknesses of science by the fact that even scientific value patterns prohibit advancements and often changes take a long time to be understood by individuals and society. He quotes the famous example of the Platypus. Being neither a mammal, nor a bird, the mere existence of the creature was disputed my many scientists for decades as it just did not fit into the known classification of mammals or birds. What was it?

The definition of mammals and birds had to change and science allowed this dynamic change eventually.

Besides Pirsig’s new proposition of the metaphysics of quality being able to replace the old subject and object metaphysics, which was in great part shaped by Aristotle, he also put forward a challenging thought about our existence.

Why is it that man, being on the top of the evolutionary ladder, is sacrificed for society in times of war? In other words, what justifies the sacrifices of lives in the name of society?

Pirsig argues, that society is actually a higher form of “life” and on the top of the evolutionary ladder. Just as a single cell in a body does not really comprehend the fate of the organism, one human being cannot understand the fate of a society. Just as a cell in a body is replaceable, so is a single man in society. He further argues, that society, for example the city of New York, has its own driving forces, which cannot be controlled by a single person. The city consists of thousands of people, each individual fulfilling one small task in a huge organism. When I first read this statement it made me feel uncomfortable, vulnerable and replaceable. But the more I thought about the concept, the more a saw how much sense this idea makes.

So what does this new metaphysics of quality teach us?

Why is it superior to the simple division of life into subjects and objects?

As a concluding remark, Pirsig gives a comment on our possible future. He argues that life superimposed itself upon death billions of years ago. Man superimposed itself upon life a hundred thousand years ago. Society superimposed itself upon man thousand of years ago and now we are fighting the battle of intellect superimposing itself upon society. Should we maybe not scared about the “decay of values” of our society but see it as a chance to built a new level of our evolution?

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Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance

“We’re in such a hurry most of the time we never get much chance to talk. The result is a kind of endless day-to-day shallowness, a monotony that leaves a person wondering years later where all the time went and sorry that it’s all gone.”

Zen and the art of motorcycle maintenance written by Robert M. Pirsig is probably the oddest title that you can possibly find in the book shelves. However, this novel has not attracted many readers because of its peculiar title, but rather due to its philosophical depth written in a way comprehensible to everyone. The book is centered around one protagonist who is on a 17-day motorcycle journey through the United States with his son Chris. Throughout the book one central question is reiterated over and over again: “What is good and what is good writing?” More precisely, the main character asks “What is quality and how is it defined?” Although, this may not seem an obvious philosophical dilemma for the untrained eye, the reader soon realises in a very beautiful narrative that it is virtually impossible to define quality. In fact, what is it? Who sets the standards? What is quality based on? What in fact is quality? These questions, which are rooted in his past, drive the protagonist slowly insane. Pirsig leads the reader cunningly throughout many epochs of history addressing the central question of quality and its implications to our modern world.

“The place to improve the world is first in one’s own heart and head and hands, and then work outward from there.”

“For every fact there is an infinity of hypotheses.”

“You look at where you’re going and where you are and it never makes sense, but then you look back at where you’ve been and a pattern seems to emerge.”

Picture: courtesy from Random House UK Ltd

This book is certainly a modern classic dealing with a very deep philosophical question. Do not be afraid of technical terms about motorcycle maintenance, for that really is a way of Pirsig to draw the attention of your mind to details in a very unfamiliar way. This book is mesmerising and unique in style. Are you ready for an outstanding piece of modern writing which will stimulate your brain and change the way you perceive the world?

Sleep Sharpens Your Memory

A good night’s sleep is important for many reasons and researches have found another good reason why it is so important to rest calmly during the night. Your memory sharpens during sleep, when your brain puts all the information you acquired during the day in order. This phenomenon has been investigated for years now and a new study published in the Journal for Experimental Psychology consolidated that we are learning during sleep.

In this recent study people were asked to learn words associated to others and recall them a day after. It was found that those that had a good night sleep had a significantly improved ability to remember than those who had not slept well.

This study confirms many other studies that have been performed previously. It is striking to note, that the study was performed twice, using the same individuals but swapping the roles, i.e. those with a bad night’s sleep previously were granted a good night’s sleep the second time. The results showed the same results in both cases with those that had slept well performing much better in the memory tests.

It is generally known that pupils and students perform better in exams if they have slept well during the nights leading to exams. However, what is probably more interesting, is the question what ware the effects on memory and cognitive functions long-term. There is emerging evidence now, that long-term sleep deprivation has very deleterious effects on short-and long-term memory functions. Sleep has a profound effect on both procedural (how to do things) and declarative (facts and knowledge) memory and all phases of sleep are important, including REM and non-REM sleep. Thus, napping for a few hours here and there is not efficient enough to compensate. The brain needs full sleep cycles to process information, a god night’s sleep in other words. This adds a new dimension on the importance of sleep.

There are many factors that influence sleep, but broadly they can be divided into physical and psychological factors.

Physical factors include things like back pains, diet, temperature, noise etc.; in other words your environment. That can be adjusted easily in many cases. Often a better mattress helps or consulting a physiotherapist if you experience pains when you lay down. In any case, you should tackle these issues as an important sleep is vital.

Psychological factors can include stress, relationship problems, problems at work etc. Often we underestimate what profound effects these factors have on our sleep.

If you are interested to get some tips on how to prepare yourself for a better sleep, you can read Sloan Sheridan-Williams’ article here.

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Commemoration of River Phoenix

City Connect commemorates River Phoenix, the older brother of Joaquin Phoenix, who died on October 31 1993 under tragic personal circumstances. His work encompassed 24 films and television appearances, including the coming-of-age film Stand by Me, the science fiction adventure Explorers,  the action sequel Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade and the independent adult drama My Own Private Idaho. The actor’s meteoric rise to fame led to his inevitable status as a “teen sensation”.

Phoenix began acting at the age of ten in some television commercials. He appeared in various roles, making his first notable appearance in the 1986 film Stand by Me, a hugely popular coming-of-age film based on a novella by Stephen King. He made a transition into more adult-oriented roles with Running on Empty  that earned him a nomination for an Academy Award for Best Supporting Actor, and My Own Private Idaho playing a gay hustler in search of his estranged mother.


On the evening of October 30, 1993, Phoenix was to perform with his close friend Michael Balzary from the Red Hot Chili Peppers onstage at The Viper Room, a Hollywood nightclub partly owned at the time by Johnny Depp. Phoenix had returned to Los Angeles from Utah to complete the three weeks of interior shots left on his last project Dark Blood, a film which was finally completed in 2012. His younger sister Rain and brother Joaquin had flown out to join him. Phoenix’s girlfriend, Samantha Mathis, had also come to join him. All were present at the scene of Phoenix’s death, when he passed away the following morning caused by a Heroine overdose.

City Connect celebrates this outstanding actor today.

The Requiem by Camille Saint-Saëns

May 22 in 1878 in the Eglise Saint Sulpice in Paris/France. That was the date when Saint-Saëns’ masterpiece was performed for the first time. He dedicated this work to his benefactor Albert Libon. This event was preceded by some sad events in the composer’s private life. Both his sons had died within six weeks in the same year, one fell out of a window and the other died of an illness six weeks later. He blamed his wife for the death of his sons and they got seperated. It is said that these tragic events influenced the music in the requiem heavily and is the reason why the requiem ends with the Agnus Dei movement. Saint-Saëns did not compose a movement In Paradisum which is common in other requiems of French composers such as Fauré or Duruflé, which would have been like a “good ending”. This requiem finishes sad and unresolved. The requiem starts with a very powerful and moving movement, the Kyrie. The music in this movement really mirrors the words: Lord have mercy on us. The first words sung in this movements are “Requiem aeternam” – eternal rest – which is introduced by the soloists first and then accompanied by the choir. This music really gives me goose pimples but a kind of reflective joy at the same time.

This movement is followed by the Dies Irae, the “Wrath of God”. This again is powerful and fast moving and the choir is supported by trumpets and an organ, which give the movement a real feeling of “wrath”.

This movement is followed by a quieter part, the Rex Tremendae. It is more reflective but yet does not give the listener time to rest the mind.

The next movement Saint Saëns named Oro Supplex but it is equivalent to the Lacrymosa movement of other requiems. It has more of a lamenting style in line with the words that it is a movement about lamenting and resentment.

The next movement Hostias is very calming and this mood is supported by a calm choir and a harp.

The Sanctus movement is very serene and uplifting followed by the reflective Benedictus. Both movements are incredibly short but have beautiful melodies which really help the listener transcend to a different world. The listener thinks s/he is transformed to another world bringing piece but then …. the Agnus Dei. This movement starts with the same melodie as the first movement and has a very melancholic undertone. The Requiem finishes with this powerful movement and leaves a sadness behind in the listener. This sadness very much reflects what Saint-Saëns must have gone through after the death of his children. The Lamb of God – He who carried the sin of the world. The end of the piece is almost eerie but I think that it carries an innate beauty and the composer could not have found a better way to catch his feelings with music. The requiem ends with the word Amen and this marks the end of the prayer.

This piece is wonderful to reflect on where and who we are living on this planet. If you want to buy the CD, click on the picture


Videos reproduced from YouTube /LIRIKXIII, mariocaccioppoli, ComposerJMV and choralconductor1

The Secret

When we open the newspapers in the morning or switch on the evening news on the TV we are overwhelmed by the sheer amount of bad news. Most newspaper articles will focus on the negatives in the world, which will have the same effect on our psyche: stress, disappointment, fear, anxiety and discomfort. Taking in negative news on a daily basis is detrimental for our mental health. Rhonda Byrne asked herself the same question and wrote a short book based on the idea of attracting positive thinking. The Secret is easily read in an evening. Byrne takes this thought further and claims that positive thinking can influence a reader’s world and claims that one can influence the outcome of one’s life by positive thinking. In simple words: think positively, set your mind to something and you will get it. Seems easy enough? Clearly, life is not that simple but there is a very important message here. Think positively! Whether that will solve your daily problems or make you a millionaire is surely a matter of a philosophical debate, but that in itself is irrelevant considering the effect a positive way of thinking will have on one’s life! Surely reading something that makes you smile in the morning will more likely make you smile at noon. This is definitely an interesting read and despite the international criticism, there is a fundamental message in this book. Simple and obvious, but often we cannot see the wood for the trees. Have a read and try to make your life your own by leading your own thoughts to something positive.

Picture courtesy by Beyond Worlds Publishing.

Rehydration – Remember the Electrolytes!

Have you ever felt a tingling sensation in your muscles during a work-out? Do you sometimes feel faint after heavy exercise? Are you sluggish after a heavy cardiovascular session and you feel more exhausted than you should?

Besides the fact that your training regime might be completely wrong, you may be dehydrated and your electrolytes might be completely off balance. Many of us also take protein shakes and energy drinks during and after the workout. These make the situation even worse and deplete you of even more electrolytes! Next time, why don’t you try to take some electrolytes such as Dioralyte which can can be ordered from Amazon UK.

The drink is very easy to prepare. Just dissolve one sachet in 200 ml of water just before consumption. Dioralyte comes in different flavours – Blackcurrant, although being the most widely sold, may not be to everyone’s pellet. The above advertised citrus flavour is much easier to handle. So next time you do heavy exercise, why not try replenish your electrolytes? You will see that it will make a world of a difference. In fact, even if you are not a sportsperson, this is a good addition to your diet and helps keep your hormone levels in check and your body retain the water it absorbs.

Give Acne a Break

Many of us will have had problems with acne before to varying extents at different stages of our life. It is never pretty and can be a nuisance for us as it itches, can lower our self-esteem and it looks unhealthy. But how can we reduce it? Acne can arise from many different factors and there is no single way to treat it that works for everyone. However, I wrote this article to give you some suggestions that may help you.

What is acne?

Acne comes from a blockage of follicles which are small clusters producing hair in the skin. Attached to the follicles are the sebaceous glands which produce sebum, a fatty waxy substance helping to wax the hair. It is believed to be an evolutionary remnant, as our ancestors had much more hair which had to be protected from water. The sebaceous glands can also be enlarged due to increased androgen production (hormones). These glands can then become clogged with sebum and dead skin cells. In these conditions, the naturally occurring bacterium Propionibacterium acnes can cause inflammation, leading to inflammatory lesions, i.e. acne.

Stress can worsen acne

Stress can worsen acne. Certain hormones like glucocorticoids and adrenal androgens are released during stress. These are known to cause breakouts by activating the oil gland and clogging your pores.

Acne can be genetic

Some of us have more of a genetic predisposition to acne than others. This is something we simply have to life with, but it does not mean that horrible acne and skin lesions are normal for some of us.


Diet plays a huge role and your skin is on one of the first indicators of your diet. A high glycemic load in your diet is associated with worsening acne, i.e. a high content of carbohydrates. There is no evidence of foods high in salt or chocolate causing acne, but often food high in salt or cocoa also has a high glycemic index. Futhermore, there is a relation between the consumption of animal milk with the severity of acne.

Hormonal dependency

Acne is strongly linked to hormonal changes, such as puberty and menstrual cycles. During puberty, especially young men are affected, as the increased production of male sex hormones causes clogging of the sebaceous glands leading to acne.

Liver problems

Acne can also be a sign of malnutrition or problems with your digestive system. In particular, if the interplay of liver, gall-bladder and intestine is impaired, you may experience an increased severity of acne.

How can I reduce acne?

There is no single treatment of acne and it very much depends on the exact cause of the skin disorder in individual cases. However, there are a few measures you can take to reduce or cure acne.

  • Exercise: exercise increases blood flow and thus brings nutrients and oxygen to your skin whilst removing waste products. Aerobic exercise has the best effect.
  • Hygiene: although acne is not caused by the lack of hygiene, a proper routine can help reduce acne. Make sure you wash your face and affected areas properly. There are many different ways, but a slight dermal abrasion using special cloths or beauty products can help.
  • Reduce your glycemic load, i.e. eat fewer carbohydrates, in particular just before bed. During the night blood flow is decreased, and thus waste products are not transported away from your skins as efficiently as during the day.
  • Medication: consult your doctor for medication as it might be necessary to treat more severe forms of acne.
  • There are a few natural remedies that can reduce acne in some cases: Aloe vera and tea tree oil.
  • Reduce your stress levels.

I hope you found this information useful. Please let us know if you struggle with acne and we might be able to suggest ways for you to tackle the problem. Please consult your doctor if you have severe issues with acne.

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Dopamine Addiction and Happiness?

Often we read in newspapers about the pursuit of happiness, often sounding as if it were the only thing that people are looking for these days. But what exactly is that happiness we are searching for? Can we really be truly happy? Why does everyone always talk about “looking for happiness”, but not often talk about the happiness we have at the moment.

Life is ever-changing and nothing is really static. That is an inevitable fact. So, what happens to us once we have found “happiness”? Do we continue to look for more happiness and does the happiness we have found then become less happy?

These questions might seem trivial at first glance, but if you examine them closer, you might see that they actually describe a dilemma and a contradiction.

So we have to ask the question, is it happiness we are pursuing or the pursuit of happiness we are pursuing? Is the thought  of the reward or the reward itself what motivates us? Biochemically speaking, we seek out those things that fire up the dopaminergic neurons leading to the release of dopamine. Maybe we have to delve deeper into the biochemistry of this molecule to try to understand what this pursuit of happiness is all about.

Dopamine itself is a small molecule. C8H11NO2. 4-(2-aminoethyl)benzene-1,2-diol. Chemically speaking there is nothing greatly exciting about this formula. However, this molecule is a neurotransmitter and up to now, five receptors have been identified in humans. What a remarkable molecule!

The substance has therefore a role in many cognitive functions ranging from motivation, concentration, higher order movement, sex to what we call reward. In fact, dopamine is the compound associated with reward and thus causes one of the strongest and most desirable emotions.

Neurological functions, neurotransmitters and emotions have been evolving for hundred of thousands of years and are thus strongly coupled to biological necessities. Of course dopamine, in particular in conjunction with sex, has a role in biological reproduction and survival. However, there is a fine line between unwarranted consumption and addiction. Since all signals from our senses are transmitted electrochemically, the reward from any activity comes from the substances in your brain being consumed; thus it can be argued that the biochemistry of dopamine is the reward.

Now it can be argued that many addictions, such as sex, strive for power or other habitual addictions can be attributed to the need of reward, ultimately dopamine. Even addictions such as alcohol or hard drugs are ultimately dependent on dopamine release.

However, once we have achieved a reward and have been fulfilled with “happiness”, the body quickly degrades excess dopamine and we ultimately fall into a low after the reward. Hence, we strive for “happiness” again, or in other words, we are striving for reward again, i.e. dopamine. This is an endless circle and our brain adapts to our ways of life and to what we associate with reward.

Therefore, it is hard to quit eating chocolate and exercise instead, although both activities would release dopamine.

Maybe we can think about our own little “addictions” and instead of indulging in them over and over again, condition our brains to associate other activities with reward. This strategy might help us with our daily struggle and habits and make life more interesting again. However, the stimuli that control our reward centre in the brain are buried in our subconscious and that makes it incredibly difficult to identify them.

Next time you have a habit that you like to break, think about the rewards you might get and how you feel when you anticipate this reward.

Moreover, in my opinion we have to reassess this strive for happiness that is so openly proclaimed nowadays. Is that what we really are looking for or are we subordinate to nature’s most powerful molecules? Does our intellect, as a higher form of evolution, permit us to break free at least partially from our addictions, and the biological processes that can at times control our lives and prevent us from living up to our potential?

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Inspirational Quotes

This week, I will present some inspirational quotes again, which will hopefully inspire you, dear reader, to reflect on your life and the relations you have with other people.

Often we live one hectic day after the next and forget to sit down and contemplate about what we are doing. Personally, I find it very useful to have some time for myself every evening and reflect on the day and think about my actions, including my planned future actions.

The three topics covered in this list are leadership, success and overcoming failure.


The art of getting someone else to do something you want done because he wants to do it.
Dwight D. Eisenhower

Do not follow where the path may lead.
Go instead where there is no path and leave a trail.
Harold R. McAlindon

What chance gathers she easily scatters. A great person attracts great people and knows how to hold them together.
Johann Wolfgang Von Goethe

The ultimate measure of a man is not where he stands in moments of comfort, but where he stands at times of challenge and controversy.
Martin Luther King, Jr.


Along with success comes a reputation for wisdom.

Keep steadily before you the fact that all true success depends at last upon yourself.
Theodore T. Hunger

To climb steep hills requires a slow pace at first.
William Shakespeare

Try not to become a man of success but a man of value.
Albert Einstein


 It is hard to fail, but it is worse never to have tried to succeed.

Theodore Roosevelt

Go back a little to leap further.
John Clarke

Little minds are tamed and subdued by misfortunes; but great minds rise above them.
Washington Irving

Our greatest glory consist not in never falling, but in rising every time we fall.
Oliver Goldsmith

Every failure brings with it the seed of an equivalent success.
Napoleon Hill

We learn wisdom from failure much more than success. We often discover what we will do, by finding out what we will not do.
Samuel Smiles

Experience teaches slowly, and at the cost of mistakes.
James A. Froude

He who fears being conquered is sure of defeat.
Napoleon Bonaparte

Let us know what you think about these quotes and contact us directly via e-mail at: editor(at) or via our comment section below.

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Will It Be a Boy or a Girl?

One of the true wonders of nature and life is birth, and many a times couples have been contemplating the question that has been occupying human beings possibly since the beginning of humankind: will it be a boy or a girl? There are tests available these days, such as ultrasound, which is completely safe, and slightly risky invasive measures such as chorionic villus sampling and amniocentesis. Some of us, however, wish not to know what gender the unborn has.

A new study has found that women who started their period at a young age are more likely to give birth to a girl. For a long time a myth held that the sex of the newborn is determined by the father and it was popular to think that increased virility of the father would help producing a boy. The new study published in Human Reproduction now shows how the mother may actually influence the sex of the child (DOI: 10.1093/humrep/der107)

The study encompassed over 10,000 mothers who were asked at which age they had begun their period and that information was correlated with the sex of their baby. Women who began their period at the age of 10 gave birth to girls with a probability of 54 %, compared to 47% for women that started their period at the age of 14. A previous study had demonstrated that women who entered menarche before the age of 12 had higher levels of the female sex hormone Estradiol.

Male embryos are more vulnerable to hormone imbalances, giving the observations more support. The researchers performed a statistical analysis and found that “Women entering menarche outside the normal range, especially those with earlier menarche, may have an increased chance of producing female offspring.”

Another study also showed that men who have many brothers, are more likely to produce male offspring.

However, all these numbers are still very close to the 50 % mark, and such slight changes in percentages may  be statistically relevant, but they do not really give a great insight as to whether one of us will be expecting a boy or a girl. It is evident that many factors play a role in influencing the sex of a child and for sure there will be other population studies to follow. At the end of the day, we will always ask ourselves the question as to what gender a new unborn has? Whatever might be the individual probability, the miracle of life always holds the greatest surprises.

Monty Python summarised the miracle of life in a very humorous way. Maybe life is a miracle and carries its fascination by its mere existence?


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Video reproduced from Youtube/ MontyPython


Fat Loss Myths – or How to Get a Flat Stomach

Getting a six pack can be a hard task and many people have tried to get a flat stomach doing lots of abdominal exercises. There are countless exercises for this muscle group and fitness models present their perfectly sculptured and flat stomach in almost every exercise video. But why do so many people struggle to get a flat stomach and what is the best way to achieve this goal? Are countless abdominal exercises really the best way to get this six pack and impress your partner? Do crunches burn fat?

You might be surprised to hear that abdominal exercises do hardly anything to flatten your stomach. Of course they help build muscles, but they do not actually help you loose fat.

It is first of all important to note that there are different body types, which contributes to how easy or hard it will be to have a flat stomach. The three major groups of body type are: endomorph (naturally short and stocky), mesomorph (naturally muscular and relatively lean) and ectomorph (naturally lean and slim). It is harder for endomorphic body types to obtain a flat stomach and ectomorphs often have flat stomachs.

This is genetic predisposition and part of the natural beauty of human diversity. It may not make your goals easy, depending on your body type, but you will have to work with this.

In addition, fat cells are deposited in the body at certain parts at a very young age, dependent on genetic factors and diet. These cells can increase in numbers and size but everyone’s “problem areas” are defined at young age. Again, as an adult you cannot do anything about that.

Fat loss is dependent on energy consumption and not muscular exercise. Thus, only cardiovascular exercise can really influence your weight loss, concomitant with dieting. It is an old myth that crunches will burn fat in the stomach. On the contrary, independent on what weight exercises you do, fat will be burned on the same spots of the body dependent on the energy consumption of the exercise.

Thus, it is important to perform cardiovascular exercise in conjunction with your weight training. For sure, crunches will always be important to sculpture a six pack, but it will be hidden behind some padding if you do not perform fat burning cardiovascular exercises in addition.

The intensity of cardiovascular exercise is important

What may also be against general belief, at least from my experience, is that long slow endurance cardiovascular training is the best form of exercise for fat loss. On the contrary, it has been shown that high intensity cardiovascular training (such as sprinting, fast cycling, high intensity sessions on the ergometer etc.) is much better at burning fat than prolonged medium impact exercise.

The Combo Work-out

A great way to loose fat is a combination of strength and cardiovascular exercise. This prevents loosing muscle doing prolonged cardiovascular exercise. If you’re after fat loss, aside from accelerating it, strength training will also preserve muscle. Thus, when the fat is gone, you’ll have a lean, athletic body to show for it.

In summary: Abdominal exercises make your abs look great— but only once that layer of fat on top of them is gone. But working your abs is not the way to a flat belly, and crunches are not even the best way to work your abdominal muscles. We will soon report on great exercises for your abs, which will help you define your stomach. In the meantime you may want to start your fat loss now …

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The Dangers of Cloning – a Popular Myth?

The world of biology was relatively quiet and untainted, whereas other natural sciences such as physics and chemistry had suffered from some bad reputations. Nuclear physics is now associated with the tragedies of Chernobyl and Fukushima and chemistry has been associated with pesticides, dangerous drugs and horrible toxins. But the view on biology changed in 1996 when Dolly the Sheep was born, the first official clone of a mammal.

Suddenly the press went haywire, drawing scenarios of the doom of humanity. The scientists from Scotland were suddenly accused that they had been interfering with the essentials of life and created a monster. Was this the beginning of Frankenstein come true? Certainly not. The streets are still safe and there is no army of human clones trying to invade us as so beautifully demonstrated in Star Wars. But what is the truth about the myth of cloning? How does it affect our everyday lives and what are the biologists cooking next in their laboratories?

Dolly is dead now. She died from lung cancer in 2003 after enjoying only half the life span of a normal sheep of that breed. Since Dolly, many mammals have been cloned, including bulls and horses and none of those has hit the news as vigorously – or maybe the name Bull 86 just did not quite cut it. Why do we clone animals?

First of all, it is important to understand what is cloning. Cloning is a natural phenomenon, just as is nuclear energy. Many organisms in nature reproduce asexually, for example bacteria, some plants and some insects. By definition, two clones are organisms with exactly the same genetic make-up. If a bacteria divides for example, two clones are formed. There are approximately 40 million bacteria in one gram of soil, often from the same clone, and thus two grams of soil has potentially got more clones than Britain has people.

Cloning is a technique used routinely in laboratories and has been since the dawn of molecular biology. It is a tool absolutely necessary to study the fundamentals of life and study mechanisms in cells that ultimately help us understand many diseases. So, cloning seems to be a good word. But why do we need to clone mammals or potentially even humans, which is still illegal.

Interestingly, Dolly was not even a real clone. There are two pools of DNA in a mammalian cells, one the nucleus which is passed on from the father and the mother, and one in the mitochondria, the “power plants” of a cell, which is only passed on from the mother. The mitochondria were not replaced and thus Dolly was strictly speaking not a clone – neither is any of the other mammals that have been cloned since.

Many plants that we cultivate and finally eat are clones. With the technology available we can also use cloning to genetically modify plants in order to increase crops, yield and even taste. Again there is the question as to whether this is necessary.

Despite heated debates and many laws about stem cells, genetically modified food and cloning, once Pandora’s box is open, it usually doesn’t get closed again. Cloning is good and has helped our understanding of the mechanisms of the cell and helped guide the development of many drugs which help millions of people. The question is not as to whether one should use cloning, but rather what is the scientist’s conscience using such techniques. We live in a society with strict moral codes laid upon us, some of them maybe debatable. As society evolves, the moral code also changes. To me, a scientist conducting experiments is responsible for his/her actions. Politics is responsible for laws that try to lead the conscience of people. It surely is our responsibility to understand the needs of society as a whole and help guide scientists to make good decisions and use the knowledge they generate wisely.

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Neanderthal DNA Strengthens Human Immune System

Where do we come from and who are we? Who were our ancestors? Why are we the dominant intelligent species on this planet and what made us be the first organism to create such a technological revolution? Who exactly are we? Who is Homo sapiens?

These questions have been occupying us for a long time and philosophy, religion and science have attempted many different explanations. It is now widely accepted that we have evolved over millions of years and many of our ancestors have been identified and many more are awaiting their discovery.

However, until about 33,000 years ago, at least two intelligent humanoid species lived on this planet: Homo sapiens and Homo neanderthalensis (Neanderthals). Modern humans were invading Europe from the South at the end of the last ice age. The continent was then inhabited by the Neanderthals who were very closely related to us. These humans were a little stockier and more muscular than modern humans. Furthermore, they had bigger heads with a strong and enlarged forehead and they were perfectly adapted to the cold European climate of the ice age.

But what happened to them? As recently as 2008 it was believed that modern humans pushed the Neanderthals out of their habitats and caused their extinction and that the two species never mated. However, it has now been suggested that both species actually interbred. In modern day Europeans about 2-4% of our genome comes from Neanderthals. This was the conclusion of a study that compared a partially isolated genome of Neanderthals with the DNA of modern humans.  The researchers compared the Neanderthal genome to samples from modern people inhabiting Southern Africa, West Africa, Central Europe, China and Papua New Guinea. Surprisingly, there were more similarities between the Neanderthals and the genes of the non-Africans than between the Neanderthals and the modern Africans. Thus, instead of being extinct, both species actually mixed to give rise to modern day Europeans.

This study was published last year by a group at the Max Planck Institute in Leipzig led by Svante Pääbo.

Though it is thought that Neanderthals and modern humans last shared a common ancestor more than 300,000 years ago, the fact that Neanderthals have more in common with modern humans from outside of Africa suggests, that when modern humans migrated North into Europe and Asia between 50,000 and 100,000 years ago, they mixed with the Neanderthals.

How would social interactions between these two hominid species have looked like? The Neanderthal was still quite distinct from the modern human.

In addition to this spectacular hypothesis, scientists also believe that interbreeding of different hominoid species such as modern humans and Neanderthals actually strengthened our immune system. The diversity introduced by the different genome has increased our capabilities to fight off bacteria and other deleterious infections and thus positively contributed to our survival and success in dominating our planet. This study was performed by a team of researchers led by Laurent Abi-Rached and Peter Parham of Stanford University School of Medicine in California.

Furthermore, it is also believed that modern humans mated with other coexisting hominid species, such as the newly discovered species dubbed Denisovans, adding to the diversity of modern day humans. In summary, the Neanderthal did not really become extinct at the end of the day. The species has survived in our genes and is part of us today.

The quest to find out who we are and how we came into existence continues and will for sure be a central question in research and philosophy for a long time. This discovery is a small piece in the puzzle and redefines some ideas of our past and most certainly who we really are.

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Birth Control – a Guy’s Matter?

Some people might argue that certain things should not be interfered with and others may say that it is irresponsible not to control it. In our modern society, raising children has become increasingly difficult and is an increasingly huge responsibility, possibly more than ever before. Things have changed in the last hundred years and families now tend to be smaller with fewer children. This is also concomitant with a better health system and decreased child mortality. Furthermore, it has become expensive to raise kids.

So how do we go about birth control in our relationships? Often, the blame is easily laid upon the women as they obviously will bear the child. This is often topic of heated debates in relationships and can be topic of dispute. Once pregnant, the women has to deal with it physically and emotionally much more than the man.

But is it really the responsibility of the woman? No. it is the responsibility of both parents, ranging from prevention, pregnancy, birth and raising a child.

For the guy, things aren’t so much of a rocket science: wear a condom and wear it right. But what if you forget or it even bursts? What if you suddenly realise that the condom did not do it’s job properly, or you did not do your job properly? For the girl, things are more complicated. What if she forgets the pill? Does the pill give all time prevention?

Can you bring it up?

Prevention is a topic that should be discussed openly in a relationship. Of course you can bring it up. Maybe it is not the most romantic of all discussions, but it saves a lot of hassle afterwards and shows maturity and responsibility. Sex between a man and a woman, as beautiful as it is, also has the biological function of propagation. No need to think about this every time you have sex with your partner, but why not discuss first and enjoy later?

Condoms or diaphragm?

Some people do not like having sex with condoms and prefer to use a diaphragm. However, this can be uncomfortable for the woman and also has a lower degree of contraception than the condom.

Can you ask her to go on the pill?

Although you should be open about discussing birth control, you can’t insist on a type. Oral contraceptives are vastly different to wearing a bit of rubber. The pill tampers with hormones and thus with the woman’s emotions. This can lead to mood swings, decreased libido and even depression. Every woman reacts differently and some are simply not suited to the pill. This should be discussed between the woman and her gynaecologist. Also, the pill may have long-term health consequences such as breast cancer. Again, predisposition can be hereditary and depends on the individual. So, do not insist, but discuss!

When is the pill effective?

The pill should work immediately. She should take it at the beginning of her cycle and then no egg should be released. However, if she has irregular periods, and that happens in more women than we generally like to believe, matters become more complicated.

What if she forgets the pill?

If she takes the pill every day and forgets it once, the risk should not increase too much. However, you should use condoms for a week after the day she forgot to take it.

Intrauterine devices

Another way of prevention are intrauterine devices. There are two basic types: one deactivates sperm and egg and the other prevents sperm from entering the uterus. They are claimed to be perfectly safe and the woman is supposed to not feel them. However, this is an invasive technique and again should be the her choice to have them or not.

The morning after the pill

What if things happened in the heat of the moment and you wake up with your partner in the morning having this feeling that something might have happened. There are emergency post-coital contraception methods which should be taken the day after it happened. For this, you should consult your gynaecologist. They are usually harmless, but better left to your health professional for advice.

And what if it happened nevertheless?

As much as sex is part of nature, so are children. Now, if it happened it might mean that you have life-changing decisions ahead. From getting the child to abortion, none of the decisions is easy and highly dependent on the individuals and the situation. I would really urge you to discuss things openly with your partner and make a decision together. Talk openly and have a dialogue with each other. Whatever your decision will be, remember that once upon a time you were a little baby too that came out of the womb of your mother.


This article merely discusses birth control and does not give you instructions as these decisions lie in the hands of the individuals concerned. The involvement of sexually transmitted diseases, which are also prevented using devices such as condoms and diaphragms, was not discussed. Please consult your local sexual health professionals for these matters. and

Healthy Food – Prepared Easily

Have you ever come home, opened your fridge and wondered what to have for dinner with the few ingredients you have available? Have you ever come back home and ordered some take away since what you had really wasn’t so promising?

These scenarios seem to become more and more common these days and are part of an increasingly unhealthy diet of many of us. However, often we actually have food at home and do not prepare dinner because we think that the ingredients in our fridge are just not sufficient. However, you might be surprised to learn how simple it can be to prepare dinner and that  not every dish has to compose of a wealth of ingredients. Some great dishes actually have really simple and only a few ingredients. Also, this may inspire you to always have certain ingredients at home, so that you can easily prepare a dinner when you need it.

Thus, I will give some recipe suggestions that might inspire you to use up what is in your fridge and not pick up the phone to get a take away delivered. There are of course many more and you might want to investigate what great dishes you can prepare with the food you already have at home.

Spaghetti Carbonara

Cook your spaghetti or other pasta as normal. Fry a few pieces of bacon in oil. Mix the bacon and a few raw eggs to the warm pasta. The eggs will cook when you add them to the pasta. Spice it up with some black pepper and enjoy!


Salads are great for the evening. Just take some fresh leaves and you can add virtually anything. Blocks of cheddar, pieces of meat, vegetables, any seafood cooked or fried, nuts and many more. For the dressing, you can use the classic: olive oil with or without vinegar. You can also make a vinaigrette with mustard which gives your salad a nice touch.

Fried chicken with rice

Take some pieces of chicken breast from the fridge or freezer and fry them. If you have fresh chicken, you can actually just salt it a little and do not even need extra fat to fry, which makes it healthier. Cook your rice on the stove or in a rice cooker and … bingo, a very easy and healthy dinner!

Turkey breast and potatoes

Turkey breast is another easily prepared meat. You can buy it frozen or fresh. It tastes very nice if you marinate it beforehand in lemon and soy sauce with garlic. You can serve it with potatoes and a vegetable of your choice. Both are prepared very easily, too.


Risotto is a very simple dish to prepare. You can have it with virtually any flavour and add many different ingredients of your choice. If you have some fresh or frozen seafood at home, just briefly fry it in olive oil with onions and garlic. Add some spices and water and then add the risotto rice and cook it altogether. It will only take about 20-25 minutes all in all, depending on the risotto rice.

These are just a few examples of how you can turn a dull evening into a feast. Cooking is fun and you will be surprised what great food you can prepare very easily with only a few ingredients. If you have questions of what food you can prepare with what you have in your fridge, just send us your comments and we will happily make some suggestions.

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Drug Effectiveness Diminished in Space

Astronauts on long space missions may not be able to take antibiotics to treat infections or aspirin to treat headaches, simply because drugs have been found to decay much faster in space than on earth. A recent study in the AAPS Journal found, that the half-life of drugs is much lower in spacecrafts orbiting the planet.

This study was conducted by scientists at the Johnson Space Center investigated how the environment in space, such as higher radiation levels, lower gravity, micro gravity, vibrations, a carbon dioxide rich environment and variations in temperature and humidity could affect drug effectiveness.

Four boxes with drugs were flown to the International Space Station (ISS) and four identical boxes were kept at the research centre on Earth. The boxes were returned to earth at varying lengths of time, ranging from two weeks to over two years. The study concluded that a number of drugs stored in space had a much lower potency after storage in space, with most of them actually failing United States Pharmacopeia potency requirements.

“It is important to characterise space-specific degradation products and toxicity limits using ground-based analogue environments of space that include proton and heavy ion radiation, vibration and multiple gravity conditions“, the study claimed.

These studies have profound implications on the usage and packaging of drugs in space. The data also greatly help the understanding of the decay of drugs to improve their storage capacity on earth. This could potentially help save a lot of money each year, as drug deposits have to be cleared regularly due to drugs being out of date. If the understanding of drug storage can be improved, the costs to produce certain drugs can be reduced.

The studies also help to make space travel safer and will help reduce health risks to astronauts, once storage conditions have been optimised. It has to be noted that almost all our modern technology is dependent on space travel and on orbital satellites. The health and safety of our astronauts is thus imperative to the majority of us.

On the long run, the pharmaceutical industry and ultimately ourselves will benefit from these studies by making drugs safer and lengthening their expiry dates.

Du et al., Evaluation of Physical and Chemical Changes in Pharmaceuticals Flown on Space Missions, THE AAPS JOURNAL, 13, 299-308, DOI: 10.1208/s12248-011-9270-0

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I Dream and Think, Therefore I Am

Recently I came across the recordings of “Tabaluga”, a German children’s story by the pop star Peter Maffay. It is old now and probably not quite what children are listening to these days, but the central message is powerful and still holds.

Tabaluga is a small dragon who is making all sorts of mistakes and is looking for the things a small dragon would look for. He learns to fly, he learns about life, he falls in love as an adolescent and when he meets Nessaja, the ancient tortoise, he learns about growing up …

Nessaja speaks her mind and reminds the little dragon that growing up does not mean not to be a child anymore:

“I did not want to grow up. I always resisted. My skin became as hard as stone, but still, often I got hurt. Somewhere inside me I remained a child and only when I cannot feel it anymore I know it is too late, too late!”

“At the bottom of the sea where all life is mute forever I can still see my dreams like air ascending from the depth. Somewhere inside me I remained a child and only when I cannot feel it anymore I know it is too late, too late!”

I believe this metaphor is valid for everyone. Growing up does not mean to forget about one’s dreams. Often the naïve dreams of our childhood are the purest dreams you can have. Just because as adults we are “more responsible” does not mean that we are not still the same person inside.

When I was small I wanted to become a woodsman with a farm and never drive a car as it would be bad for the environment. I am a scientist now and do not share the same ideas but at heart the environment and nature are still important to me. This dream has now matured into something else but the roots of the thought are the same.

Often we forget about our dreams and don’t live them and come up with all sort of excuses as to why not live them.

But what is holding us back? Only we ourselves are, and if you look deep inside you, you may see your inner soul and the beauty that came into life at a very early age.

Somewhere inside me I remained a child and only when I cannot feel it anymore I know it is too late, too late!”

Look inside you and recover that spark. The spark that you had when you were young. The spark in your eyes which says “I am alive”. The spark that says “I dream, therefore I think and therefore I am”. This spark shines and can be seen at a long distance. You will see it in others once you have it inside you.

I Dream and Think, Therefore I Am.

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The Oxford Handbook of Neuroethics

A few decades ago, the international community published guidelines for athletes, trying to ban performance enhancing drugs in order to guarantee the safety of sportsmen and -women and ensure fair competitions. The phenomenon of enhancing an individual’s performance in sports is also known as doping. Although these guidelines exist for high performance athletes in many countries, many people still take many drugs, which can be dangerous or are illegal in many cases – steroids in the bodybuilding scene being one example.

With the advancement of modern technology, advances in the neurosciences and a vast amount of supplements and drugs available on the market, society now faces similar debates on the front of smart thinking drugs. The Oxford Handbook of Neuroethics discusses exactly this issue. It is not surprising that the film industry releases at the same time the new film Limitless, in which the protagonist takes a performance enhancing drug for his brain in order to cope with every day stresses and finish the tasks that otherwise seem to be insurmountable.

The book discusses in particular drugs that have been developed for specialised clinical settings, but have been been widely adopted for a wide range of non-medical purposes. In particular, the psychological and physical effects of drugs taken to enhance mental performance short term disregarding long-term effects, is beautifully discussed in this book. The book is divided into themed chapters and the language has been adapted for the general public, providing a means to bridge the gap between medical jargon and every-day language. This enables to deepen the dialogue between the medical and non-medical world and explains the effects that such drugs have. Society is constantly changing and with the increasing speed of new emerging technology and a change in life styles and massive changes at work environments, stress levels of the average modern human being have increased dramatically over the past decades. It is not surprising, that many of us may seek a quick fix rather than adopting the right coping strategies.

With the advancement of neuro-imaging, there are many novel attempts in combatting neurological cases, such as Alzheimer’s and and attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), which were were associated with changes in the brain. This has caused a revolution in our thinking and understanding of the human brain, paving the way for the development of many new drugs.

But what happens when people start taking such drugs, which have not been tailored to them and without medical surveillance. Where are the boundaries, also taking into consideration all the supplements available in shops today.

This is an excellent read and will make anyone think, not just about smart thinking drugs, but also about the impact of modern life on the human psyche.

The Oxford Handbook of Neuroethics, edited by Judy Illes and Barbara Sahakian, is published by Oxford University Press on 7 April 2011.

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Distant Star Moved by Tides

Recently, the scientific Journal Nature published an interesting theory online. Astronomers believe that the surface area of a distant star is influenced by the gravity of a huge alien planet. Earth’s moon is responsible for the tides that we observe here on Earth and equally, so the astronomers argue, the surface of a star is influenced by the gravity of the planets that encircle it.

It has been suggested that the planet, which orbits the star WASP 18 in the constellation Phoenix, would induce huge tides in its star. It has ten times the mass of Jupiter (which in turn has the mass of about 318 earths) and is so close to the star that it orbits it in less than a day.

WASP 18 is situated about 100 parsecs (i.e. 3.26 light years or 31 trillion kilometres) away from our sun. The alien planet was first observed when scientist noticed that the star would dim periodically, hinting towards a giant object passing between us and WASP 18. The planet’s existence was then confirmed by detecting Doppler shifts in the light emitted from the star reaching us.

A Doppler shift is the change of the frequency of a wave (here light) due to the Doppler effect caused by a nearby object to the observed phenomenon (in this case the huge alien planet). This phenomenon is used to determine distances in the galaxy as well as measuring gravitational phenomena in distant stars and galaxies.

However, the planet’s orbit posed an enigma. Planets that lie so close to a star would change their orbit from an ellipse to a circle. But the Doppler shift observed hinted towards an elliptical orbit of the giant planet.

However, Arras et al. argued that the gravity of the planet causes huge tides on the star’s surface, causing the observed change in the light path. Thus, the planet actually has a circular orbit.

Last year, another group of astronomers reported that planetary tides were causing the star HAT-P-7 to bulge, causing its brightness to change depending on which side of the star was being observed. However, if Arras’ team is correct, WASP 18 is the first time that astronomers have actually observed a star’s surface rising and falling in response to the gravitation of an orbiting planet. Arras’ team calculated the speed of the tidal rise and fall with 30 meters per second. These are tsunamis of completely different ball parks than those seen on earth. However, the surface of a star is hot burning plasma and not water, with a temperature of thousands of degrees.

Arras, P., Burkart, J., Quataert, E. & Weinberg, N. N. Preprint at (2011)

Hellier, C. et al. Nature 460, 1098-1100 (2009).

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