Category Archives: Health & Nutrition

Wednesday smorgasbord.

An infrequent article dump to clear the tabs on my computer. Topics include: Latin America; the end of Fannie and Freddie (I can only dream); biblical misconceptions; autism; innovation and unemployment; Leon Panetta’s strategy to cut defense spending; and things happy people do. Enjoy!


The Washington Post interrupts “the current gloom about the global economy to bring you a word about progress. In Latin America and the Caribbean, the portion of the population living in poverty fell substantially from 1990 to 2010, from 48.4 percent to 31.4 percent, according to a new United Nations report. And this occurred as the population grew from 440.7 million to 582 million.”

Meanwhile, media outlets in Mexico report that over 12,000 people were killed last year in drug-related violence. “Annual indexes of torture, beheadings and the killing of women all showed increases.”

William M. Isaac and Richard M. Kovacevich, writing for CNN Money, explain their plan for closing Fannie and Freddie.

John Shelby Spong, a former Episcopal bishop of Newark, New Jersey, explains the three biggest bible misconceptions: “First, people assume the Bible accurately reflects history. That is absolutely not so, and every biblical scholar recognizes it… The second major misconception comes from the distorting claim that the Bible is in any literal sense “the word of God.” Only someone who has never read the Bible could make such a claim… The third major misconception is that biblical truth is somehow static and thus unchanging. Instead, the Bible presents us with an evolutionary story, and in those evolving patterns, the permanent value of the Bible is ultimately revealed.”

The New York Times explains the romantic relationships of those with autism.

On a day early this month, before their planned trip to the animal shelter, Kirsten and Jack stood before a group of young adults with autism at the Kinney Center for Autism Education and Support in Philadelphia, answering their questions while Jack’s father addressed their parents in a different room. “Did you ever think you would be alone?” one teenager wanted to know.

Kirsten answered first. “I thought I was going to be alone forever,” she said. “Kids who picked on me said I was so ugly I’m going to die alone.”

Her blunt tip on dating success: “A lot of it is how you dress. I found people don’t flirt with me if I wear big man pants and a rainbow sweatshirt.”

Then it was Jack’s turn to answer, in classic Aspie style. “I think I sort of lucked out,” he said. “I have no doubt if I wasn’t dating Kirsten I would have a very hard time acquiring a girlfriend that was worthwhile.”

A mother who had slipped into the room put up her hand.

“Where do you guys see your relationship going in the future?” she asked. “No pressure.”

Kirsten looked at Jack. “You go first,” she said.

“I see it going along the way it is for the foreseeable future,” Jack said.

One of the teenagers hummed the Wedding March.

“So I guess you’re saying, there is hope in the future for longer relationships,” the mother pressed.

Kirsten gazed around the room. A few other adults had crowded in.

“Parents always ask, ‘Who would like to marry my kid? They’re so weird,’ ” she said. “But, like, another weird person, that’s who.”

Francisco Dao, writing for the Washington Post, explores whether innovation is leading to higher unemployment:

Instead of the normal evolutionary rise and fall of industries, our economy is now at something analogous to the Cretaceous-Tertiary extinction event (the end of the dinosaurs). Going forward, those who will prosper will be characterized by their ability to leverage technology, while everyone else will find themselves relegated to obsolescence by exponentially more powerful machines.

What is different now is the power and scale of technology at our disposal. One hundred years ago, “leveraging technology” meant using a better plow to plant more land than your neighbor. Eventually he would go out of business and you would take over his farm.

Today, it means a handful of people at Instagram and Flickr can bankrupt Kodak and put hundreds or thousands of people out of work.

According to the NYT, “Defense Secretary Leon E. Panetta is set this week to reveal his strategy that will guide the Pentagon in cutting hundreds of billions of dollars from its budget, and with it the Obama administration’s vision of the military that the United States needs to meet 21st-century threats, according to senior officials.”

Lastly, Mark and Angel Hack Life reports on 12 things happy people do differently.

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Filed under Economy, Health & Nutrition, Latin America, Mexico, Miscellaneous, Religion

The overkill of antibacterial soap

From Johns Hopkins Magazine:

“Wash your hands!” How many times did you hear this as a child, or tell your own children? One of the simplest ways to stay healthy is to practice good hand hygiene. In fact, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, hand hygiene is the single most important step health workers can take to prevent the spread of infection.

It seems to follow that the best way to get rid of germs is to use one of the myriad antibacterial hand soaps on the market. Not necessarily, says Athena Kourtis, SPH ’03 (MPH), a pediatric infectious disease specialist at the CDC and author of Keeping Your Child Healthy in a Germ-Filled World (Johns Hopkins University Press, 2011). As far as household use goes, there have been no studies proving that antibacterial soaps and cleaning products prevent infection better than plain soap, Kourtis says. “And that’s probably because most of the common infections in households are viral infections, and viruses will not be killed by antibacterial soaps.” These products might be doing more harm than good. Because antibacterial soaps are actually antibiotic, their overuse might promote the development of antibiotic-resistant germs—germs that could be transmitted to anyone. “Particularly with children who share toys and other objects in day care and school, where it has been shown that if one child carries in their throat, say, a germ that’s resistant to amoxicillin, then you found that even other children in day care who have not been exposed to the particular antibiotic also carry the resistant germ. So this is a problem that easily spreads across a community,” says Kourtis. “And there are other mechanisms as well. It’s not just person-to-person contact. These substances get into the water, into sewage systems, into the ground. It’s a wider community problem.”

Antibacterial cleaning products contain chemicals like triclosan and triclocarban, which kill bacteria. Plain soap, by comparison, is low-tech. It works by binding to dirt or other particles, making it easy to rinse these particles off with water without releasing problematic chemicals into the environment. (There has been concern recently that triclosan might become toxic when it comes into contact with sunlight, and triclocarban is a suspected carcinogen.) In situations where soap and water aren’t available, Kourtis advocates use of hand sanitizers. Many of these products contain alcohol, which makes them effective against bacteria and a variety of other microorganisms, including fungi and certain viruses such as influenza. Because sanitizers don’t contain antimicrobial ingredients like triclosan, they don’t contribute to antibiotic resistance, making them the CDC’s recommended choice for use by health care workers.

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Three Kinds of Penis Wine

Dog, Deer and Seal, if you must know.

From National Geographic.


Filed under China, Health & Nutrition

Monday Smorgasbord

I don’t have time to post these by themselves. They’ve been sitting in my “to do” pile for too long, but I find them all to be interesting reads. Read what interests you.

“How to Prevent a Depression” by Nouriel Roubini.

France imposes a “fat tax” on sugary soft drinks to combat obesity.

CNAS publication: “Hard Choices: Responsible Defense in an Age of Austerity,” by LtGen David Barno, Nora Bensahel, and Travis Sharp.

Megan McArdle: “By 2020, cases of throat cancer caused by the human papillomavirus may outnumber those of HPV-caused cervical cancer.”

Hitch on the killing of Anwar al-Awlaki.

Maurizio Viroli: Silvio Berlusconi and the moral malaise of Italy.

“The Value of Values: Soft Power Under Obama” Mark P. Lagon

A debate on whether too many students are in college. (My answer is yes.)

Cliff May, “Autocracies United: Why “reset” with Russia and “engagement” with Iran have failed”

A journalist on the argument for better football helmets, and an economist on the trade-off.

Lot of stuff going on here. Enjoy.

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Filed under Economics, Education, Europe, Foreign Policy, Health & Nutrition

Ooh La La!

A special thank you to the readers of TOTPS. Readership in October was up 60% over September! Please continue to share your thoughts on the comments page and what you find interesting with your friends. I’ll do my best to keep the content thought provoking and fun.

Like this:


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Filed under Health & Nutrition, Humor

“You Gotta Fight for Your Right to Foie!”

LOS ANGELES — A line up of people streamed into an unmarked, dimly lighted storefront on Fairfax Avenue as night fell Friday, on a mash-up Los Angeles block catering to religious Jews and hungry hipsters. Before long, a smattering of protesters arrived.

Behind the glass doors, an act of culinary defiance was taking place.

In eight months, the sale of foie gras will be banned in California. But for seven hours on Friday night, at a restaurant appropriately known as Animal, three chefs presented an eight-course meal that was nothing short of a glorification of this soon-to-be outlawed delicacy. There was smoked foie gras, roasted foie gras, steamed foie gras and liquefied foie gras, injected into agnolotti. It was served with veal tongue, yogurt, prosciutto, mustard ice cream and truffles. There was even a foie gras dessert: a brownie sundae with foie gras Chantilly.

That’s one heck of a menu. It’s also a sign of PETA’s influence and the mindset of micromanaging legislator. John L. Burton jokes that he’ll sell Lipitor outside, unaware that fat is not what causes heart disease according to the latest scientific studies. He also makes a comparison to the start of prohibition – “Everyone was giving away the booze. Whatever makes them happy.” Mr. Burton seems unaware that prohibition was a failure, as was the foie gras ban in Chicago in 2006, which lasted barely two years. If this ban succeeds, health problems will persist, jobs will be lost, and freedom will be diminished, all because PETA believes the animals are mistreated. Regardless, the PETA lobby wins and Mr. Burton feels especially proud. That is ultimately what matters.

Will foie gras producers be eligible for state aid for jobs destroyed?

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Filed under Economy, Food & Wine, Health & Nutrition, Role of Government

Does Sugar Cause Cancer?

Perhaps. It certainly has no nutritional benefit.

What we know: the consumption of sugar leads to an insulin response. Excess sugar – excess means different things to different bodies – can lead to “insulin resistance,” wherein your body produces so much insulin that the cells in your body are actively ignoring it, i.e. the insulin does not lower the blood sugar levels. From Gary Taubes:

So how does it work? Cancer researchers now consider that the problem with insulin resistance is that it leads us to secrete more insulin, and insulin (as well as a related hormone known as insulin-like growth factor) actually promotes tumor growth.

As it was explained to me by Craig Thompson, who has done much of this research and is now president of Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center in New York, the cells of many human cancers come to depend on insulin to provide the fuel (blood sugar) and materials they need to grow and multiply. Insulin and insulin-like growth factor (and related growth factors) also provide the signal, in effect, to do it. The more insulin, the better they do. Some cancers develop mutations that serve the purpose of increasing the influence of insulin on the cell; others take advantage of the elevated insulin levels that are common to metabolic syndrome, obesity and type 2 diabetes. Some do both. Thompson believes that many pre-cancerous cells would never acquire the mutations that turn them into malignant tumors if they weren’t being driven by insulin to take up more and more blood sugar and metabolize it.

What these researchers call elevated insulin (or insulin-like growth factor) signaling appears to be a necessary step in many human cancers, particularly cancers like breast and colon cancer. Lewis Cantley, director of the Cancer Center at Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center at Harvard Medical School, says that up to 80 percent of all human cancers are driven by either mutations or environmental factors that work to enhance or mimic the effect of insulin on the incipient tumor cells. Cantley is now the leader of one of five scientific “dream teams,” financed by a national coalition called Stand Up to Cancer, to study, in the case of Cantley’s team, precisely this link between a specific insulin-signaling gene (known technically as PI3K) and tumor development in breast and other cancers common to women.

Most of the researchers studying this insulin/cancer link seem concerned primarily with finding a drug that might work to suppress insulin signaling in incipient cancer cells and so, they hope, inhibit or prevent their growth entirely. Many of the experts writing about the insulin/cancer link from a public health perspective — as in the 2007 report from the World Cancer Research Fund and the American Institute for Cancer Research — work from the assumption that chronically elevated insulin levels and insulin resistance are both caused by being fat or by getting fatter. They recommend, as the 2007 report did, that we should all work to be lean and more physically active, and that in turn will help us prevent cancer.

But some researchers will make the case, as Cantley and Thompson do, that if something other than just being fatter is causing insulin resistance to begin with, that’s quite likely the dietary cause of many cancers. If it’s sugar that causes insulin resistance, they say, then the conclusion is hard to avoid that sugar causes cancer — some cancers, at least — radical as this may seem and despite the fact that this suggestion has rarely if ever been voiced before publicly. For just this reason, neither of these men will eat sugar or high-fructose corn syrup, if they can avoid it.

“I have eliminated refined sugar from my diet and eat as little as I possibly can,” Thompson told me, “because I believe ultimately it’s something I can do to decrease my risk of cancer.” Cantley put it this way: “Sugar scares me.”

Sugar scares me too, obviously. I’d like to eat it in moderation. I’d certainly like my two sons to be able to eat it in moderation, to not overconsume it, but I don’t actually know what that means, and I’ve been reporting on this subject and studying it for more than a decade. If sugar just makes us fatter, that’s one thing. We start gaining weight, we eat less of it. But we are also talking about things we can’t see — fatty liver, insulin resistance and all that follows. Officially I’m not supposed to worry because the evidence isn’t conclusive, but I do.

These are excerpts from a longer article that is well worth the time. I can’t recommend it enough for those of you concerned about your health (shouldn’t that be everyone?) or concerned about a family member’s health (isn’t that everyone?). Savor it with a glass of water or wine, just not with orange juice or soda.

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A Malnourished Muppet?

From Joshua Keating at FP:

The pioneering children’s show has always striven to include characters representative of its viewing audience. Sadly, that now increasingly includes children who don’t get enough to eat:

A new poverty-stricken Muppet will highlight the issue of hunger struggles on an episode of “Sesame Street”, the show said in a statement on Tuesday.

Pink-faced Muppet Lily, whose family deals with food insecurity, will join Big Bird, Elmo and other favorites on a one-hour prime-time special featuring country star Brad Paisley and his wife Kimberly Williams Paisley called “Growing Hope Against Hunger,” to air Oct 9.

The new Muppet will bring awareness to the ongoing hunger struggles that families face in the United States, the show said.

“Food insecurity is a growing and difficult issue for adults to discuss, much less children,” the Paisleys said in a statement.

That is cute of Sesame Street, but it’s a cute fantasy. As one astute observer, who grew up in utter poverty, recently wrote:

Ironically, the one demonstrable nutritional difference between the poor and others is that low-income women tend to be overweight more often than others. That may not seem like much to make a political issue, but politicians and the media have created hysteria over less.

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Why Michelle Obama’s Let’s Move! Campaign Will Fail

The truth is, the conventional wisdom about why we get fat is simply wrong. It’s not about energy balance; it’s not about “overconsumption of calories” or “taking in more calories than we burn.” It’s about something else entirely: how the human body regulates fat metabolism and the accumulation of fat in our adipose tissue. This seems so obvious that it should go without saying—getting fat is a disorder of accumulating too much fat, so of course we should pay attention to how our bodies regulate fat accumulation —but this idea never managed to spread to the clinicians dealing with obesity, obsessed as they were with the notion that their patients were simply eating too much and exercising too little.

If you want an author who fearlessly challenges conventional wisdom, Gary Taubes is your guy. He also has the solution to America’s obesity epidemic, although no one seems to be listening.

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Heroin vs. Xanax

Which kills more Americans annually? The answer is a bit more complicated than the post title, but prescription drug abuse is growing more and more costly each year.

While most major causes of preventable death are declining, drugs are an exception. The death toll has doubled in the last decade, now claiming a life every 14 minutes. By contrast, traffic accidents have been dropping for decades because of huge investments in auto safety.

Public health experts have used the comparison to draw attention to the nation’s growing prescription drug problem, which they characterize as an epidemic. This is the first time that drugs have accounted for more fatalities than traffic accidents since the government started tracking drug-induced deaths in 1979.

Fueling the surge in deaths are prescription pain and anxiety drugs that are potent, highly addictive and especially dangerous when combined with one another or with other drugs or alcohol. Among the most commonly abused are OxyContin, Vicodin, Xanax and Soma. One relative newcomer to the scene is Fentanyl, a painkiller that comes in the form of patches and lollipops and is 100 times more powerful than morphine.

Such drugs now cause more deaths than heroin and cocaine combined.

The increased drug use is attributed to the perception of both its legality, thus harmlessness, and lack of a stigma, as opposed to illegal drugs, of which people are aware of both the health risks and the stigma. But how can something you get from your doctor be bad? “People feel they are safer with prescription drugs because you get them from a pharmacy and they are prescribed by a doctor,” says Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Sgt. Steve Opferman, head of a county task force on prescription drug-related crimes.

The solution must start with the admission that doctors, in trying to provide us with a world without pain and suffering, have overprescribed us. We must rein in our lax use of these drugs as a fix for all of life’s unpleasantries. Previous generations have suffered through, and thrived from, greater hardships. Luckily for them they didn’t have such pharmaceutical advancements. We have drugged ourselves to reduce our pains and displeasures, but our numbness is now literally killing us.

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Filed under Drug Wars, Health & Nutrition