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The dorsal view

Strap yourselves in folks, it may be an interesting time to observe US politics from afar. Amid hysteria over Donald Trump’s seismically-significant electoral success, there are those who believe it is a welcome step back from political correctness and a kick up the backside for the political establishment in the US. There is yet another group who believe that like many other political campaigns, rhetoric and bombast do not necessarily translate into policy and it will simply be a case of ‘meet the new boss; same as the old boss’.

Whatever the case may be, Trump really hit a nerve with a fed-up US public. As hundreds of thousands marched in proteston the day of his inauguration, his response was a vintageTrump-ism: “Why didn’t all these people vote?”

Among his various statements on the US health system, as well as his moves to dismantle ‘Obamacare’, paediatric public health professionals have become alarmed that he wants to revisit the debate on vaccinations and autism — an issue that many would say was put to bed years ago.

According to the press agency AP, ‘The Donald’ met with Robert F Kennedy Jr to ask him to spearhead the fresh look at vaccinations. However, details of how this will proceed are thin on the ground.

Kennedy told reporters: “[then] President-elect Trump has some doubts about the current vaccine policies and he has questions about it… we ought to be debating the science.”

Of course, ‘the science’ has shown us that vaccines containing thimerosal did not cause autism and even now, there are thimerosal-free alternatives to therapies such as the flu jab for those who still have concerns.

Steamed-up for health

If you’re looking for science on the health benefits of a good sauna, it’s a fairly safe bet that it would come from Finland.

With a population equivalent to Ireland, Finland has approximately three million saunas, roughly one for each household. These steamy oases are viewed not so much as a luxury but a necessity in Finland and before the advent of advanced maternity services there, most babies were born in saunas. They are still seen as the place to be when Finns are entertaining family or friends.

So no surprise then that research published late last year by the University of Eastern Finland suggests that frequent sessions in a sauna reduce the risk of dementia.

The 20-year follow-up study of men who take a sauna four-to-seven times a week found that they were 66 per cent less likely than non-sauna bathers to develop dementia, compared to those who had a sauna just once per week, including a 65 per cent reduced risk of Alzheimer’s among the 2,000 participants.

There were other benefits found in the Kuopio Ischaemic Heart Disease Risk Factor Study — frequent sauna bathing reduced overall mortality, including a drop in the risk of death from coronary artery disease and sudden cardiac death.

The mechanisms are not fully understood but you can bet that improved mental and emotional health due to relaxing in a sauna almost every day plays a big part in it.

“It is known that cardiovascular health affects the brain as well. The sense of well-being and relaxation experienced during sauna bathing may also play a role,” says study lead Prof Jari Laukkanen.

So now you have the science to inform what you should do with that spare bedroom.

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