Discovered: A famous diet can improve heart health by as much as 30 percent; maybe organic tomatoes are better for you after all; signs of an ancient underwater continent; Spider-Man's hypothetical web could stop a hypothetical train, according to physics.
Quantifying the health benefits of a Mediterranean diet. The healthiness of a Mediterranean diet (chock full of fruits and vegetables, olive oil, fish, nuts, and the occasional glass of wine) has been promoted by nutritionists for years. And now there's a sweeping study to back up the claims that it helps improve heart health, even for those already at high risk for a heart attack. Led by Ramon Estruch of the University of Barcelona, this is the first study to clinically measure the diet's impact on heart health. Estruch and his colleagues found that high-risk patients saw their chances of suffering a heart attack, stroke, or other heart complication decrease by 30 percent. Over 7,000 Spaniards with poor heart health were randomly assigned a Mediterranean or low-fat diet, and the results showed no real health benefits while the Mediterranean diet revealed appreciable cardiovascular health improvements. "The really important thing," University of Vermont professor and American Heart Association spokeswoman Rachel Jonson tells The New York Times' Gina Kolata, "is that they used very meaningful endpoints. They did not look at risk factors like cholesterol of hypertension or weight. They looked at heart attacks and strokes and death. At the end of the day, that is what really matters." [The New York Times]
Organic tomatoes may be healthier after all. If that Stanford study claiming organic foods hold no health benefits over genetically modified ones left a bad taste in your mouth, perhaps you'll reacquire your appetite for natural tomatoes after hearing about the results in a new PLOS One paper. The researchers found that organic tomatoes have more phenols and vitamin C than your typical grocery store tomato. Such phenols are believed to be important in fighting cancer. [Grist]
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A new kind of Atlantis. The fairy tale allure of a continent washed away by the sea may have just manifested itself beyond storybooks. European researchers believe that they may have found an ancient continent called Mauritia under the Indian Ocean. Using rock analysis, gravity mapping, and plate movement models, they hypothesize that this land was pulled apart by plate tectonics 50 to 100 million years ago. But parts of it live on as islands, they believe. Take for instance Mauritius, an island about 1,056 miles east of the Seychelles. Its sands contain zircons, which could be connected with this ancient underwater continent. "Zircons don't fly," says lead researcher Trond H. Torsvik of the University of Oslo. "I don't believe these could have been brought by other means—they must have been eroded from the basalt itself." [ScienceNow]
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Physics validates Spider-Man. By applying the real-world laws of motion to the fictional world of superheroes, University of Leicester physics students were able to determine that Spider-Man's hypothetical web would indeed be able to stop a hypothetical train. This scenario occurs in Spider-Man 2, prompting James Forster, Mark Bryan, and Alex Stone to wonder if a man-sized spider and his tensile webbing could reasonably catch a train. They calculated the force of a runaway New York City subway car, estimating the force it would exert on the web at 300,000 newtons. With a stiffness of 3.12 gigapascals, Spider-Man's web would be able to halt such a train's advance. "While our work may not seem to be very serious it has helped teach us about applying physics to varying situations as well as the peer review process through which scientific journals operate," says 22-year-old James Forster. "This makes it an invaluable experience to anyone who wants to go into research later in life." [University of Leicester]