At the Cole face

 

Cheryl Cole is seldom out of the spotlight and some of the media stories even have science behind them, writes CLAIRE O’CONNELL

Malaria

Last summer Cheryl came down with malaria. She needed to go to hospital to be treated for the disease, which is caused by a tiny parasite called Plasmodium.

If you get bitten by a female mosquito that carries Plasmodium, the parasite can get into your bloodstream and move to your liver. It develops for a while there and then moves to your red blood cells, where it grows.

Infected blood cells can burst, or they can fail to flow through blood vessels properly and cause damage to vital organs. A person with malaria may suffer symptoms of fever, chills, jaundice and low iron, and in some cases the disease is fatal.

In 2008 there were almost 250 million cases of malaria reported in the world, and around one million people died of the disease, mostly children living in Africa. Reports speculated that Cheryl may have picked up malaria on a visit to Tanzania.

Blood group

Cheryl was recently quoted as supporting a diet in which you guide your food choices based on your blood type. The approach itself has been dismissed by scientists as nonsense, but let’s think about blood types for a minute.

Your blood type, or group, is determined by A and B “antigens” on red blood cells in your bloodstream – the combination that you have classifies your blood group as one of A, B, AB (both present) or O (none present). Your blood type is genetically determined and is related to your parents’ blood types.

During a blood transfusion, which someone might need because of an accident, illness or surgery, it’s important to match the donor blood type carefully with the blood type of person who is receiving it, to ensure the blood being introduced is not seen as “foreign”.

Stress

Cheryl leads a busy life that can be pretty stressful. And it didn’t help that, on top of the hectic schedule of filming and recording, last year she got divorced from her former husband, footballer Ashley.

When you are under stress, your adrenal glands on top of your kidneys release a steroid hormone called cortisol, which is also known as a “fight-or-flight” hormone. This helps you to deal with a stressful situation in the short term.

But if you are under chronic stress for a long time, producing too much cortisol can eventually have an unhealthy impact on your tissues and your digestion.

Hair

Cheryl is well known for her glossy, healthy hair, and she sometimes wears it in unusual styles, such as the “Minnie Mouse” do she sported recently on the X Factor.

Each hair on your head grows out of a structure called a follicle on your scalp, and your follicles influence whether your hair grows out straight, wavy or curly.

A hair itself contains long chains of a structural keratin protein, and these molecules bundle together within the strand. The natural colour of your hair depends on cells in your hair follicles called melanocytes, which produce pigment.

Decisions

As a judge on the X Factor, Cheryl had to publicly choose between contestants. How humans make decisions is a topic of huge interest among scientists, and also within companies that make products they want you to buy.

When you make a conscious decision you use several parts of your brain to weigh up the options. One part that makes “executive” decisions is in the front of your brain, the pre-frontal cortex.

Imagine how that area of Cheryl’s brain was buzzing when she had to choose between X Factorfinalists – or even when she decided not to choose between Katie and Cher...