Slap­ping your face won’t pro­tect against Span­ish Flu, but a new craze has Mau­rice Gueret swot­ting up on mus­cles

Sunday Independent (Ireland) - Life - - HEALTH - Dr Mau­rice Gueret is edi­tor of the ‘Ir­ish Med­i­cal Direc­tory’ dr­mau­ricegueret.com

It must be 10 years since the world lost its mind about brain gyms. Do you re­mem­ber them? All man­ner of Ja­panese gad­gets and mini com­puter pro­grammes were launched, promis­ing to work-out the grey mat­ter, tone up your neu­rones and ward off the rav­ages of Alzheimer’s disease. I have yet to see the clin­i­cal data to back up the wild claims, but my hunch is that some folks in the hand-held com­puter busi­ness tem­po­rar­ily im­proved their men­tal health by rak­ing in a lot of soft money. Peer­ing through to­day’s var­i­fo­cals, I view a world just as de­mented as it ever was. Those of a wise vin­tage have put down their brain-gym con­trap­tions and gone back to reading the death col­umns, com­plet­ing easy crossword puz­zles and fail­ing their daily su­doku. The lat­est craze on its way to Ire­land is the ‘face gym’. A fad that be­gan at Sel­fridges Lon­don in 2014, now looks set for world domination. The blank ex­pres­sions of Bo­tox are so yes­ter­year. The new kid on the cos­metic-in­dus­try block is a firm fin­ger mas­sage of tired-look­ing mugs. The self-im­por­tance of face gym de­rives from adopt­ing the ter­mi­nol­ogy of high-per­for­mance leisure cen­tres. There are warm-ups, cool-downs, pum­melling, sets and reps. Work­outs are fol­lowed by ex­er­cise regimes to fol­low up at home. There are even things called car­dios, which in­volve be­ing slapped quite hard by the masseur. All in the name of boost­ing blood cir­cu­la­tion and lay­ing down more col­la­gen, if you be­lieve in that sort of thing.

The the­ory goes some­thing like this. If you feel the urge to work out mus­cles, then you should start on a part of the body which has the great­est con­cen­tra­tion of them. In­stead of pecs, bi­ceps and glutes, the face gym works on mus­cles like le­v­a­tor labii su­pe­ri­oris alaeque nasi (it raises the up­per lip) and the cor­ri­ga­tor su­per­cilii (eye­brow wrin­kler). Doc­tors aren’t com­plain­ing at the prospect of new mi­nor in­juries at the surgery door. They’ll be swot­ting up on zy­go­matic sprain, wrenched riso­rius and buc­ci­na­tor paral­y­sis. I re­mem­ber our old anatomy pro­fes­sor telling us that it takes 17 mus­cles to smile and 43 of them to frown. My three years in his de­part­ment gave him the most mar­vel­lous work­out. And I didn’t charge a penny! You might well won­der how doc­tors re­mem­ber the names of the 640-odd mus­cles in the hu­man body. The truth­ful an­swer is that they don’t, with the ex­cep­tion of those who work full-time in teach­ing anatomy. But we have to know all their names and func­tions to get through med­i­cal school in the first place. That’s where lit­tle med­i­cal mnemon­ics come into their own. The le­v­a­tor labii su­pe­ri­oris alaeque nasi that I men­tioned above is known as the Elvis Pres­ley mus­cle, as it was this fa­cial con­trac­tor that gave the crooner his trade­mark snarl. But merely to call it after a leg­endary singer will not get you through an anatomy exam. You must also know that this mus­cle gets well ex­er­cised by noc­tur­nal snor­ers. And the way you re­mem­ber the dif­fi­cult name of this nasal mus­cle is to as­so­ciate it with the beau­ti­ful acro­nym: Lit­tle Ladies Snore All Night. You can barely move in book­shops th­ese days with so much 1916 para­pher­na­lia tum­bling from the shelves. I have been dip­ping into some of the more aca­demic of­fer­ings, and my favourite to date has been Neil Richard­son’s Ac­cord­ing To Their Lights, which is an ex­traor­di­nar­ily well­re­searched and pre­vi­ously un­told his­tory of the many for­got­ten Ir­ish­men who were serv­ing in the Bri­tish Army in Dublin dur­ing Easter week, 1916. There are even a few pages on my grand­fa­ther, who helped de­fend Trin­ity Col­lege dur­ing the up­ris­ing, and his brother, who took the rebel side of the gates. Over the next two years, I hope to hear a lot more about brave Ir­ish­men at the Somme, Pass­chen­daele and other far-flung, muddy bat­tle­fields. I hope some­body is writ­ing a book about the Span­ish Flu of 1918 and the Ir­ish ex­pe­ri­ence. First re­ported in Belfast, there were per­haps 800,000 cases in Ire­land, and more than 20,000 peo­ple per­ished. Things were par­tic­u­larly bleak in the Novem­ber and De­cem­ber of that year. It was called the ‘Black Flu’, per­haps be­cause those badly af­fected turned a pur­ple colour if the disease pro­gressed to sep­ti­caemia or blood poi­son­ing. Cures were six-a-penny, but th­ese were pre-an­tibi­otic days, when there were few re­sources to tackle the com­pli­ca­tions.

Bot­tles of ex­pen­sive For­mamint lozenges were rec­om­mended by the Lo­cal Govern­ment Board as ‘germ-killing throat tablets’, but, look­ing at the in­gre­di­ents to­day, I feel they may have done as much harm than good. I feel that the use of formalde­hyde and its poly­mers in medicine is bet­ter suited to the ster­il­i­sa­tion of catheters and sci­en­tific in­stru­ments, or the preser­va­tion of corpses. More pop­u­lar reme­dies were hot milk, vine­gar-soaked tow­els, and strong whiskey. It’s un­likely there are any sur­vivors of Span­ish Flu alive in Ire­land to­day, but if you have any in­ter­est­ing fam­ily sto­ries about the epi­demic, I’m all ears. Fi­nal straw this week is a fas­ci­nat­ing new study from GP surg­eries in the UK which sug­gests that flu vac­cine can be much more ef­fec­tive against some strains of the virus if re­ceived be­tween 9am and 11am, rather than be­tween 3pm and 5pm. Larger stud­ies will be needed to con­firm this, but if true and ini­tial find­ings are cor­rect, then it’s good news for early birds, with a pre­dic­tion that thou­sands more lives could be saved each year.

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