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The Dorsal View

Lamb’s blood, Spanish fly and zombie Presidents

Much has been speculated and written about the mental health of Donald Trump. As he squares-off with the even more unpredictable and clearly unhinged Kim Jong Un, we can only hope that it all blows over. These guys make JFK and Khrushchev look like Jedward.

But in terms of physical health, Trump and other modern US Presidents have never had it so good. Money is no problem when accessing the best medical care and screening procedures in the world — Trump is the oldest man ever to be elected President at 70 years old. Talk about an ageing population.

His personal physician, Dr Harold Bornstein, is of a similar age and is even more hirsute than ‘The Donald’. Dr Bornstein — whose father was also Trump’s physician — attributes the full head of hair sported by both men to finasteride, which they both take to lower their PSA levels. This, according to Dr Bornstein, prevents testosterone from converting into dihydrotestosterone, which he says can cause baldness by inhibiting the absorption of nutrients necessary for healthy hair follicles. In 2015, Dr Bornstein penned a letter, released by Trump, stating that he would be the “healthiest individual elected to the presidency”. How he established that, I’m not sure.

But compared to previous Presidents, the current crop have never had it so good in terms of medical care. For example, in 1799, George Washington developed breathing difficulties and three physicians were summoned to his bedside. What followed was straight out of a cheesy horror movie — Washington was given an enema, followed by a potion of some sort that made him vomit violently. Spanish fly was applied to his limbs and throat and for good measure, they drained over 80 ounces of his blood.

Unsurprisingly, Washington passed away the next day.

But the docs of the day weren’t giving up, even at that stage. Another physician stepped in and declared that he could actually bring Washington back to life. Dr William Thornton proposed using what were presumably the most advanced medical techniques of the time to execute his resurrection plan. This involved rubbing Washington’s corpse with blankets, after which he would perform a tracheotomy.

He then proposed employing a bellows to fill Washington’s lungs with air. The final part of the procedure would see Dr Thornton pump the dead President’s body full of lamb’s blood. Washington’s family declined their consent for this bizarre combination of procedures and Washington rested in peace.

When he does eventually pass away, if the prospect of a ‘Zombie Trump’ fills you with nightmares, just don’t give Dr Bornstein any ideas.

A glass half-full   

If that prospect leaves you needing a stiff drink, let me share some research out of Linnaeus University in Sweden. This one goes on the list of ‘Studies I Would Volunteer For’ — a scientific paper on why whiskey tastes better when water is added.

For those of us who are not whiskey connoisseurs but who ‘know what we like and like what we know’, a little background information on the process: Whiskey matures for a minimum of three years in oak barrels following mashing, malting, fermentation and distillation. But before being bottled, it is diluted with water to approximately 40 per cent by volume.

This improves the taste, but another addition of water (or indeed ice) when it’s poured into a glass further enhances the flavour. But why?

Over to Dr Bjorn Karlsson, chemistry boffin at Linnaeus University: “The taste of whiskey is primarily linked to so-called amphipathic molecules, which are made up of hydrophobic and hydrophilic parts. One such molecule is guaiacol, a substance that develops when the grain is dried over peat smoke when making malt whiskey, providing the smoky flavour to the whiskey.”

Cheers, Bjorn. In Scientific Reports, he goes on to explain that guaiacol and ethanol molecules work well together.

His co-researcher (because drinking alone is not a good sign) Dr Ran Friedman adds: “This suggests that, in a glass of whiskey, guaiacol will therefore be found near the surface of the liquid, where it contributes to both the smell and taste of the spirit.

“Interestingly, a continued dilution down to 27 per cent resulted in an increase of guaiacol at the liquid-air interface. An increased percentage, over 59 per cent, had the opposite effect, that is to say, the ethanol interacted more strongly with the guaiacol, driving the molecule into the solution away from the surface.”

That’s all well and good, so how much water should we actually be adding to a tipple of whiskey?

“How we experience taste and aroma is highly individual,” says Dr Karlsson. “Some people choose to add ice cubes to their whiskey, to cool it down and give it a milder taste. Thus, there is no general answer to how much water you should add to your whiskey to get the best taste experience.”

No doubt, ‘further research is needed’.

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