Your health; world health — World Health Day, 7 April 2013

Thursday, April 4th, 2013


MINED PHOSPHORUS, AN ELEMENT WIDELY USED AS AGRICULTURAL FERTILIZER, IS A NON-RENEWABLE RESOURCE. This finite supply has led some researchers to project a peak phosphorous scenario, akin to that of peak oil, in which the earth’s reserves of the mineral will be completely depleted within 50-100 years. Too much phosphorus in an ecosystem as a result of runoff and erosion can also lead to eutrophication, a process of dense plant growth that depletes the system’s overall supply of oxygen.

Because the overuse of phosphorus has both agricultural and ecological consequences, GENEVIÈVE METSON, a PhD student in McGill’s Department of Natural Resource Sciences, sought to investigate how changes in diet might contribute to sustainable phosphorus management. To do so, she performed a number of statistical calculations on the amount of phosphorus applied to crops to feed humans, including the feed used by animals ultimately consumed by people.

“Our results demonstrate that changes in diet can be a significant part of the strategy for enhancing sustainability of phosphorus management,” Metson says. “In particular, reduced consumption of meat, and especially beef, in countries with large phosphorus footprints could put a big dent in demand for mined phosphorus — since it takes many kilograms of feed, which is fertilized, to produce a kilogram of meat.”

This research was supported by funding from the Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council of Canada, Arizona State University’s Sustainable P Initiative, and the U.S. National Science Foundation.


IN THE SAME WAY THAT SPRING TRAINING IS INTENDED TO WHIP BASEBALL PLAYERS INTO SHAPE FOR THE UPCOMING SEASON, so can you put your brain through the paces and fend off dementia in old age with a new cognitive training project offered by the McGill Centre for Studies in Aging and the Douglas Mental Health University Institute.

Called PONDER (Prevention of Neurological Diseases in Everyone at Risk), the initiative is led by associate professor of psychiatry JENS PRUESSNER, who points out that the more we use our minds, the less likely we are to, well, lose them.

“Studies show that cognitive training has a significant effect on preserving high cognitive function in old age. The idea is that the more intellectual capacity you have to begin with, the more of a buffer you have that will prevent you from being afflicted with neurodegeneration or dementia,” he says. “Dementia is like descending a mountain — it takes longer to reach the bottom if you start
at 1,000 feet than if you start at 100 feet.”

To start climbing: the PONDER website ( offers a series of online games that progress from encouragingly easy (repeat the sequence of one or two flashing lights as they travel across your screen) to revealingly aggravating (repeat the sequence of seven traveling, flashing lights and realize after three failed attempts that your brain is in some serious need of regularworking out). The project encourages participants to register, which gives players access to the full series of games rather than a sample, and which will also allow researchers to create a database of longitudinal cognitive assessments, providing further insight into intervention and treatment of dementia such as Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s disease. So what are you waiting for? Get those neurons firing!

Jens Pruessner’s research is funded by the Canadian Institutes of Health Research, the Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council of Canada, the Alzheimer Society of Canada, Fonds de recherche du Québec — Santé and the donors of the McGill Centre for Studies in Aging.


Find out more about World Health Day here. This year’s theme is awareness about high blood pressure… so if nothing else, don’t let all this research information stress you out too much.

Here’s to your health and to the world’s health.

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