Mouthwash may rot your teeth but jazz helps you live longer


IT is now semi-official: listening to jazz music is good for your health, if one of the projects entered for this year's Aer Lingus Young Scientist Exhibition is to be believed. Listening to rock or country music, by contrast, is not.

According to experiments conducted by Julia Caldwell and Nicole Farrell, two 13-year-old pupils at Rathdown School, Dun Laoghaire, listening to jazz music reduces blood pressure. In tests on 20 subjects, blood pressure levels shot up when rock music was played. "If you've got high blood pressure, listen to jazz and pop," said Nicole. Blood pressure levels also dropped for rave music but rose again for country music. Even more disturbing than the possibility that jazz may actually be good for your health was the nature of the music used to test the response to rock music. In the rock music tests, subjects were exposed to high-level doses of the execrable Living Next Door to Alice by Smokie, indicating that fatalities induced by bad Seventies rock may only be a matter of time.

As the 535 entrants for this year's exhibition began to set up their projects for the start of today's judging, it quickly became clear that this was one exhibition to which hypochondriacs should give a wide berth.

A pig's teeth, personally extracted from the pig's skull by one Barry Haycock (15), of Terenure College, Dublin, was used for a study of the corrosive effects of mouthwash on teeth by young Haycock and his colleagues Niall Murphy (15), and Ian Murphy (16).

Their project found that some mouthwashes contained a chemical compound apparently used in chemical warfare to strip skin, another contained caustic soda while a third contained silver nitrate, used for treating warts.

"Don't use mouthwash," concluded Ian, proudly displaying three pigs' teeth rapidly degenerating to mush in test-tubes. "You'd be safer using hydrochloric acid."

Even worse than mouthwash is poteen, judging by an analysis of its contents by a group of Connemara students. Poteen - what's really in it?, a project by Sorcha O'Sullivan (13) Grace Kelly (14), and Larena Ward (14) of the Community School, Clifden, revealed the presence of methanol in the locally produced brew.

"If they're distilling poteen and it's still foggy, then they put methanol in it to clear it so they don't have to put it through the distilling process again and again," said Grace. Methanol, or methyl alcohol, is a poisonous substance which damages the optic nerve to produce blindness, which means that it really is possible to get blind drunk on poteen.

The threat of blindness has not affected sales, according to a survey of 180 local people by the three schoolgirls. Some 40 per cent of those surveyed drank poteen regularly, 67 per cent had tested it and 37 per cent wanted it legalised. An incredible 72 per cent of those surveyed also used it for treating illnesses in cattle.

Malaria could soon be added to the threats posed to the health of the Irish population by corrosive mouthwashes, bad rock music and illegal alcohol. Kaniah Cusack (16), a pupil of Colaiste Mhuire, Cearnog Pharnell in Dublin, contracted malaria twice while living in Tanzania and determined to find out if malaria could develop in Ireland.

"I've come to the conclusion that it can," said Kaniah. "Temperatures over the past 30 years have been steadily increasing, along with humidity and rainfall. In the next 60-120 years, it will be possible for the malaria parasite to develop in Ireland."

In tandem with her study of the potential malaria problem, she has also developed a simple insecticide which could be locally produced in Africa from the plant pyrethrum and sprayed over the areas where anopheles, the malaria-carrying mosquito, breeds.