If, like me, you have already started witnessing the measurable result of your early excesses of the festive season (although I have hardly left my house and only just noticed that Christmas is again upon us), there is some cheerful news courtesy the scientific fraternity. Scientists have discovered fat cells that burn up only sugar and could be targeted to encourage weight loss.
The bad news is that, as with all things scientific, it is still early days and the mice in the laboratory are, to date, the only beneficiaries of this revelatory gift. Essentially, the body stores energy in white fat cells, and also has another kind of brown or beige fat that burns the energy stored in those white cells to produce heat and help us control our body temperature in cold weather. Now, scientists have uncovered within those “thermogenic” fat cells a previously unidentified type of beige fat cell that burns mainly sugar and they are exploring if there are other unknown cells doing unknown-about work and how to make them all work to our advantage. A lot of scientific work has already gone into this area of research but, to date, no drug has been successful at targeting those fat cells. Nature magazine, where the announcement was published, explains this is partly due to the fact that we each have different allocations of fat cells and those change as we age, so there are risks involved as no one size dose fits all. The knowledge breakthrough could lead to treatments for type 2 diabetes and could also help in the growing problem of obesity.
Not all gifts are long-term investments, although the best ones can be. I have a birthday at Christmas and my mother believes that I was a Christmas gift. I can only say that it was a very expensive one she gave to herself. For me, being born between Boxing Day and New Year’s was not a generous gift from my parents. It is perhaps the worst time of year to have a birthday because, for a start, you do not get any presents. As a child I discovered that adults were being disingenuous when they said that my Christmas gift would be extra special. It could never have been, as in my then very large extended family amongst whom gifts were always exchanged, no one ever had the time or money to spend extra on me, not even my parents.
Christmas can also be a dodgy time for families. It may be a time of cheer but it’s also a time of strife. Relate, the UK relationships charitable organisation, published some sobering Christmas facts in 2011 which were the results of a survey. They found that 68 per cent of respondents expected to quarrel over a holiday period and for 39 per cent, Christmas was the time when they were most likely to have a bust up. In the first week of January of 2012 alone, Relate had an increase of 35 per cent in people seeking post-Christmas relationship counselling. The survey showed that 66 per cent of families look forward to being together at Christmas and believe sharing time bonded them, but personality clashes pop up, and arguments with partners was the biggest incident, followed by quarrels with one’s children.
But even if you manage not to quarrel, everyone is fed up with eating ham and drinking sorrel and hanging out with droves of people who all chat and argue about the same old tired subjects of conversation; and they are definitely not in the mood for organising yet another gathering and round of presents.
Maybe a good gift to oneself is to move a Christmas birthday to a better time of year and celebrate then. I did that one year and it was great fun. Having said all of that though, I have to confess that I consider Christmas Day with my mother’s relatives and stray friends a most wonderful gift. Usually we are up to about 25, this year we are down to about a dozen as people become too old or too ill or unable to come home for the holidays. About three years ago the gifts just became too many to fit under the Christmas tree. Imagine, each of 25 people getting a gift for 24 others! Everyone sighed with huge relief when I suggested we forget about exchanging tokens of love and appreciation when we had each other for a whole day.
So, the Christmas tree is bare but our hearts will be full and our voices too when we sing our parang.
I wish all the readers of this column a very happy, argument-free Christmas and lots of wonderful gifts for you to keep opening well into the New Year.