Later On

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Archive for the ‘Health’ Category

Interesting psychological effect used by weight loss software

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I blogged earlier about the $5 OS X program Diet Controller, which I bought from the App Store. Most people nowadays have diet programs for their smartphones, but I still use dumb phones, so I wanted something on my computer.

The backstory: I lost a lot of weight, kept it off for a while but when I discontinued Pilates—which I liked a lot but finally realized I could not really afford—my weight gradually started creeping up over the months. Finally, I realized I had to Take Steps.

My main weakness is eating between meals—little snacks plus a bite here and a bit there—so my initial thought in getting the software was twofold: first, I would get a better idea of my caloric intake, and second, that writing down snacks and bites (and I’m very good at recording this: skipping entries distorts the data, and I’m the only one looking at it, so why not enter all food?) would make me conscious of what I was doing, and if I ate the snack anyway, at least I would know the caloric impact.

But Diet controller turned out to be a much better program than I expected. First, the user interface is very nice. Second, it has an interesting psychological aspect. Looking at the calories has helped it itself, but the program also has graphs of the “calorie balance” (which I tend to call the calorie deficit). The calorie deficit is the difference between the number of calories required in a day and the number of calories consumed that day.

The number of calories required per day is computer from a basic metabolism rate computer from weight, age, and general activity level (sedentary, for me) and the number of calories expended in exercise, which is entered in the exercise log. (No entries yet for me.)

Obviously, a positive calorie deficit is good—you’re burning more calories than you’re consuming, so body fat is burned to make up the deficit—and a negative calorie deficit is bad. When you see the deficit chart day to day, somehow one becomes motivated to increase the deficit, and increasing something is more psychologically satisfying than decreasing something. So although the only way to increase the calorie deficit is to cut back on calories consumed, by focusing on increasing something (or at least maintaining what has been achieved) is psychologically more appealing than trying to make something smaller (calories consumed). Here’s one such graph (the program has several ways of viewing the deficit). It’s for 20 days (you can select number of days), and I started using the program on 30 March. You’ll notice the deficit went negative (i.e., I consumed more calories than I burned) at first, but then I start to figure it out.

Screen Shot 2014-04-13 at 7.34.46 PM

It really is an excellent little program, and very nicely done. $5. Amazing.

That blowout on 3 April was because I made myself a big batch of oyster stew, which included 12 oz shucked oysters (555 calories) along with butter, flour, and whole milk. Delicious, but… But you will notice I’m catching on.

Written by LeisureGuy

13 April 2014 at 7:37 pm

Cancer and cannabis

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A hopeful report by Randy Robinson. Although one case doesn’t establish efficacy, it certain suggests that research is justified—and Obama will not budge on reclassifying marijuana from Schedule I. Randy Robinson writes in Culture:

At 14 years old, Alysa Erwin was diagnosed with terminal brain cancer.  As it would with any family, the news hit hard. “When the doctor called me to tell me Alysa had cancer, she said there wasn’t a good outcome. There was no success rate whatsoever,” said Carly, Alysa’s mother.

“She told me all we could do was have hope.”

But that was in 2011.

In 2014, Alysa is cancer-free, and her family believes cannabis oil saved her life. At the time, the Erwins’ outlook appeared grim. Doctors call her condition Grade III anaplastic astrocytoma, an inoperable cancer with a near-zero survival rate. Alysa’s disease, caused by uncontrolled neuron growth, had spider-webbed throughout her brain. There were no individual tumors to target. A wiry network of cancerous cells penetrated so far into her skull that surgery was impossible. That meant Alysa would have to undergo aggressive chemo—and radiation therapies, a choice which leaves many terminal patients incapacitated during their final days. In Alysa’s case, even with traditional medical treatment, doctors expected she’d survive for only another one or two years. The situation became desperate, and the Erwins sought out another choice.

Alysa’s father David, heard about Rick Simpson’s Phoenix Tears Foundation through Michigan Compassion, a medical cannabis organization. After watching the documentaries What If Cannabis Cured Cancer? and Run from the Cure, the Erwins decided cannabis oil was their best bet for Alysa’s recovery.

“We knew what we wanted,” Carly said, “but we wanted to hear her choice.”

Alysa, presented with the options of chemotherapy or cannabinoids, tried the conventional route first. After just five days of popping Temedor pills—and enduring the debilitating nausea that comes with them—she abandoned chemo and went with cannabis. The Erwins were floored. They saw instant results.

Thirty minutes after she took her first half-teaspoon mix of concentrate and peanut butter, Alysa was laughing again. She was eating. Her pain vanished and she could hold down food. “She was like a regular teenager,” her mother said. . .

Continue reading. Why won’t Obama budge on reclassifying marijuana? It is an action he could take immediately, but he doesn’t and since he doesn’t have press conferences, there’s no way of asking him why. But none of the reasons I can think of are very complimentary to him.

Written by LeisureGuy

10 April 2014 at 2:00 pm

Toxic emission spikes at fracking sites are rarely monitored

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Do not live or spend much time near fracking sites: the government is failing to regulate fracking and when businesses are given the opportunity, they poison the environment. Lisa Song and Jim Morris report at McClatchy:

People in natural gas drilling areas who complain about nauseating odors, nosebleeds and other symptoms they fear could be caused by shale development are usually told by state regulators that monitoring data show the air quality is fine.

But a new study suggests that the most commonly used air monitoring techniques often underestimate public health threats because they don’t catch toxic emissions that spike at various points during gas production. The study, reported this week in the peer-reviewed journal Reviews on Environmental Health, was conducted by the Southwest Pennsylvania Environmental Health Project, a nonprofit based near Pittsburgh.

A health survey the group released last year found that people who live near drilling sites in Washington County, Pa., in the Marcellus Shale, reported symptoms such as nausea, abdominal pain, breathing difficulties and nosebleeds, all of which could be caused by pollutants known to be emitted from gas sites. Similar problems have been reported by people who live in the Eagle Ford Shale in South Texas.

While residents want to know whether gas drilling is affecting the air near their homes – where emissions can vary dramatically over the course of a day – regulators generally use methods designed to assess long-term regional air quality.

They’re “misapplying the technology,” said lead author David Brown, who conducted the study with three of his colleagues at the Environmental Health Project. . .

Continue reading.

Written by LeisureGuy

9 April 2014 at 1:15 pm

Saturated Fads: Butter Is Back Only Because Our Biases Remain

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I suppose it was too good to be true. James McWilliams writes at Pacific Standard:

A report published in the Annals of Internal Medicine on March 17 left meat eaters salivating. The meta-analysis of over 70 studies explored the comparative impact of saturated fat (found in meat, butter, and cheese) and unsaturated fat (found in vegetable oils, nuts, and fish) on heart disease. Challenging decades of conventional wisdom, the authors reported no clear correlation between levels of saturated fat and heart problems. Brashly, they concluded: “Current evidence does not clearly support guidelines that encourage high consumption of polyunsaturated fatty acids and low consumption of total saturated fats.”

Food writers, who have long struggled with promoting meaty recipes without prescribing a heart attack on a plate, were wide-eyed with glee. New York Times columnist Mark Bittman wrote, “Butter is back, and when you’re looking for a few chunks of pork for a stew, you can resume searching for the best pieces — the ones with the most fat. Eventually, your friends will stop glaring at you as if you’re trying to kill them.” Christiane Northrup, writing in Huffington Post, practically urged readers to get thee to the nearest Burger King. “Think about it,” she wrote, “It’s NOT the burger with cheese and bacon that’s the issue. It’s the ketchup, the bun, and the fries.” Michael Pollan, commenting on the Times coverage of the study, tweeted: “About time!”

As a rule, one should be suspect when any nutrition study is widely celebrated. Sure enough, as so often happens, the other shoe quickly dropped on the saturated fat news. Within days of publication, critics of the study—as well as the researchers themselves—reported a slew of not insignificant errors. In one case the authors misinterpreted a study showing a strong correlation between unsaturated fats and positive heart health and, in another, they overlooked two critical studies on omega-6 fatty acids that presumably did not support their findings.

Scientists were unusually vocal in their critiques. The omissions, according to a New Zealand scientist, “demonstrate shoddy research and make one wonder whether there are more that haven’t been detected.” The authors of the study “have done a huge amount of damage,” Walter Willet, the chair of the nutrition department at the Harvard School of Public Health, told Science. Deeming the work “dangerous,” he called for a retraction.

Vocal critiques notwithstanding, the media blast touting this study cannot be undone. Willet noted as much, saying, “It is good that [the authors] fixed it for the record, but it has caused massive confusion and the public hasn’t heard about the correction.” A big problem for Willet is meta-studies more generally.”It looks like a sweeping summary of all the data, so it gets a lot of attention,” he said, “but these days meta-analyses are often done by people who are not familiar with a field, who don’t have the primary data or don’t make the effort to get it.”

Just as unfortunate as the apparently flawed meta-study was . . .

Continue reading.

Written by LeisureGuy

3 April 2014 at 1:37 pm

Posted in Food, Health, Science

I’ll continue my vitamin D supplement, supported by two new studies

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Anahad O’Connor writes in the NY Times:

People with low vitamin D levels are more likely to die from cancer and heart disease and to suffer from other illnesses, scientists reported in two large studies published on Tuesday.

The new research suggests strongly that blood levels of vitamin D are a good barometer of overall health. But it does not resolve the question of whether low levels are a cause of disease or simply an indicator of behaviors that contribute to poor health, like a sedentary lifestyle, smoking and a diet heavy in processed and unhealthful foods.

Nicknamed the sunshine nutrient, vitamin D is produced in the body when the skin is exposed to sunlight. It can be obtained from a small assortment of foods, including fish, eggs, fortified dairy products and organ meats, and vegetables like mushrooms and kale. And blood levels of it can be lowered by smoking, obesity and inflammation.

Vitamin D helps the body absorb calcium and is an important part of the immune system. Receptors for the vitamin and related enzymes are found throughout cells and tissues of the body, suggesting it may be vital to many physiological functions, said Dr. Oscar H. Franco, a professor of preventive medicine at Erasmus Medical Center in the Netherlands and an author of one of the new studies, which appeared in the journal BMJ.

“It has effects at the genetic level, and it affects cardiovascular health and bone health,” he said. “There are different hypotheses for the factors that vitamin D regulates, from genes to inflammation. That’s the reason vitamin D seems so promising.”

The two studies were meta-analyses that included data on more than a million people. They included observational findings on the relationship between disease and blood levels of vitamin D. The researchers also reviewed evidence from randomized controlled trials — the gold standard in scientific research — that assessed whether taking vitamin D daily was beneficial. . .

Continue reading.

Written by LeisureGuy

3 April 2014 at 9:24 am

Posted in Daily life, Health, Science

Americans finally understand that marijuana is less harmful than alcohol

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Christopher Ingraham writes in the Washington Post:

A new Pew survey out today provides yet another illustration of the failure of America’s drug war. By a nearly five-to-one margin, Americans agree that alcohol is worse for you than marijuana. However you slice the data up demographically, majorities say the same thing.

reefer-madness

The elderly, Republicans and Hispanics are the least likely to agree that booze is more harmful than weed, but even among these groups respondents said that alcohol was more harmful by more than a two-to-one margin. At the other end of the spectrum, blacks say alcohol is more harmful by an eight-to-one margin, while those under thirty agree by nearly seven-to-one.

On the relative dangers of marijuana and alcohol, the public is now in line with what medical researchers have been saying for years. A 2010 study in the journal Lancet, for instance, graded common drugs on sixteen criteria relating to how harmful the drugs were to users, and how harmful they were to society overall. On both measures – harm to self and harm to users – marijuana scored significantly lower than alcohol.

harm

In fact, alcohol was the most dangerous of all the drugs studied, vastly more dangerous than other drugs in terms of harm to society, and behind only meth, crack and heroin when it came to harm to users.

Other topline findings from the Pew survey: . . .

Continue reading.

UPDATE: And check out this story: “NJ Prosecutors Reverse Age-old Position and Now Support Marijuana Legalization“. From the article:

The paper reported that Barr’s other reasons for backing marijuana legalization include:

• Requests by prosecutors to analyze samples of marijuana are overwhelming the state’s drug-testing laboratories, sometimes leading to dismissals of cases when defendants invoke their rights to speedy trials;

• Studies show that marijuana is less addictive than alcohol, nicotine or caffeine;

• Marijuana is easier for high school students to obtain than alcohol because the sale of alcohol is strictly regulated;

• Very few of the thousands of DWI cases prosecuted annually are for driving under the influence of marijuana;

• Statistics show that African-Americans are four times more likely to be arrested for marijuana offenses than white people, but there is no evidence to show there is disproportionately more marijuana use in minority communities;

• The state loses money by not collecting sales tax on marijuana, while drug dealers profit.

“The time has come to understand that this particular offense makes about as much sense as prohibition of alcohol did,” Barr said. “It is time to stop the insanity.”

Written by LeisureGuy

2 April 2014 at 11:46 am

Posted in Drug laws, Health, Science

What happens when you repeal mandatory motorcycle helmet laws?

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Deaths increase sharply. It seems pretty clearcut—MUCH more persuasive than “vaccines cause autism,” for example. In the case of the vaccines, when thiomersal was removed from vaccines, there was no effect at all on autism rates. In contrast, when motorcycle helmets were no longer mandatory, deaths immediately started to rise. See this brief, interesting article with graphs in the NY Times.

Written by LeisureGuy

1 April 2014 at 10:04 am

Project to Improve Poor Children’s Intellect Led to Better Health, Data Show

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The governmental policy implications are obvious, I think. Sabrina Tavernise writes in the NY Times:

In 1972, researchers in North Carolina started following two groups of babies from poor families. In the first group, the children were given full-time day care up to age 5 that included most of their daily meals, talking, games and other stimulating activities. The other group, aside from baby formula, got nothing. The scientists were testing whether the special treatment would lead to better cognitive abilities in the long run.

Forty-two years later, the researchers found something that they had not expected to see: The group that got care was far healthier, with sharply lower rates of high blood pressure and obesity, and higher levels of so-called good cholesterol.

The study, which was published in the journal Science on Thursday, is part of a growing body of scientific evidence that hardship in early childhood has lifelong health implications. But it goes further than outlining the problem, offering evidence that a particular policy might prevent it.

“This tells us that adversity matters and it does affect adult health,” said James Heckman, a professor of economics at the University of Chicago who led the data analysis. “But it also shows us that we can do something about it, that poverty is not just a hopeless condition.”

Continue reading.

Written by LeisureGuy

29 March 2014 at 4:12 pm

Selling potent neurotoxins to consumers with no regulation or oversight

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Sometimes it seems very much as though people lack common sense. Matt Richtel writes in the NY Times:

A dangerous new form of a powerful stimulant is hitting markets nationwide, for sale by the vial, the gallon and even the barrel.

The drug is nicotine, in its potent, liquid form — extracted from tobacco and tinctured with a cocktail of flavorings, colorings and assorted chemicals to feed the fast-growing electronic cigarette industry.

These “e-liquids,” the key ingredients in e-cigarettes, are powerful neurotoxins. Tiny amounts, whether ingested or absorbed through the skin, can cause vomiting and seizures and even be lethal. A teaspoon of even highly diluted e-liquid can kill a small child.

But, like e-cigarettes, e-liquids are not regulated by federal authorities. They are mixed on factory floors and in the back rooms of shops, and sold legally in stores and online in small bottles that are kept casually around the house for regular refilling of e-cigarettes.

Evidence of the potential dangers is already emerging. Toxicologists warn that e-liquids pose a significant risk to public health, particularly to children, who may be drawn to their bright colors and fragrant flavorings like cherry, chocolate and bubble gum.

“It’s not a matter of if a child will be seriously poisoned or killed,” said Lee Cantrell, director of the San Diego division of the California Poison Control System and a professor of pharmacy at the University of California, San Francisco. “It’s a matter of when.”

Reports of accidental poisonings, notably among children, are soaring. . .

Continue reading.

Written by LeisureGuy

24 March 2014 at 10:32 am

Posted in Business, Government, Health

The Indian sanitary pad revolutionary

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A totally fascinating article in the BBC News Magazine by Vibeke Venema. Although there is much struggle, there are no villains. Well worth reading. It begins:

Arunachalam Muruganantham’s invention came at great personal cost – he nearly lost his family, his money and his place in society. But he kept his sense of humour.

“It all started with my wife,” he says. In 1998 he was newly married and his world revolved around his wife, Shanthi, and his widowed mother. One day he saw Shanthi was hiding something from him. He was shocked to discover what it was – rags, “nasty cloths” which she used during menstruation.

“I will be honest,” says Muruganantham. “I would not even use it to clean my scooter.” When he asked her why she didn’t use sanitary pads, she pointed out that if she bought them for the women in the family, she wouldn’t be able to afford to buy milk or run the household.

Wanting to impress his young wife, Muruganantham went into town to buy her a sanitary pad. It was handed to him hurriedly, as if it were contraband. He weighed it in his hand and wondered why 10g (less than 0.5oz) of cotton, which at the time cost 10 paise (£0.001), should sell for 4 rupees (£0.04) – 40 times the price. He decided he could make them cheaper himself.

He fashioned a sanitary pad out of cotton and gave it to Shanthi, demanding immediate feedback. She said he’d have to wait for some time – only then did he realise that periods were monthly. “I can’t wait a month for each feedback, it’ll take two decades!” He needed more volunteers.

When Muruganantham looked into it further, he discovered that hardly any women in the surrounding villages used sanitary pads – fewer than one in 10. His findings were echoed by a 2011 survey by AC Nielsen, commissioned by the Indian government, which found that only 12% of women across India use sanitary pads.

Muruganantham says that in rural areas, the take-up is far less than that. He was shocked to learn that women don’t just use old rags, but other unhygienic substances such as sand, sawdust, leaves and even ash.

Women who do use cloths are often too embarrassed to dry them in the sun, which means they don’t get disinfected. Approximately 70% of all reproductive diseases in India are caused by poor menstrual hygiene – it can also affect maternal mortality.Finding volunteers to test his products was no mean feat. His sisters refused, so he had the idea of approaching female students at his local medical college. “But how can a workshop worker approach a medical college girl?” Muruganantham says. “Not even college boys can go near these girls!” . . .

Continue reading. The story is very satisfying. I was particularly struck by this:

Muruganantham seemed set for fame and fortune, but he was not interested in profit. “Imagine, I got patent rights to the only machine in the world to make low-cost sanitary napkins – a hot-cake product,” he says. “Anyone with an MBA would immediately accumulate the maximum money. But I did not want to. Why? Because from childhood I know no human being died because of poverty – everything happens because of ignorance.”

He believes that big business is parasitic, like a mosquito, whereas he prefers the lighter touch, like that of a butterfly. “A butterfly can suck honey from the flower without damaging it,” he says.

As readers know, I believe that corporations suffer from perverse incentives (maximize profit above all), which leads them to do despicable things (cf. Duke Energy) to their employees and their communities and (all too often) their customers (cf. Ford knowingly building cars that were fiery death traps because it would be somewhat more profitable than building a safe car). The thinking (if one can call it that) is:

1. Profit!
2. ???
3. A beneficent and happy life

This guy sees clearly that profit may not be the essential ingredient. As it says, one can achieve the benefit without damaging lives.

Plus, of course, I resonate to the idea of approaching a problem rationally, ignoring taboos and conventions created by ignorance. What a guy!

UPDATE: The more I thought about it, the more I liked the marked transformation from a small impetus—look, for example, at the changes in his own village. Or this:

He was once asked whether receiving the award from the Indian president was the happiest moment of his life. He said no – his proudest moment came after he installed a machine in a remote village in Uttarakhand, in the foothills of the Himalayas, where for many generations nobody had earned enough to allow children to go to school.

A year later, he received a call from a woman in the village to say that her daughter had started school. “Where Nehru failed,” he says, “one machine succeeded.”

Through one small effort—and the decision to have as a goal the greatest use rather than the maximum profit—enormous changes ensue: a landslide starting from one pebble (though the pebble was clearly difficult to dislodge).

UPDATE 2: The unexpected cultural changes that follow from the introduction of small (and inexpensive) manufacturing of sanitary pads reminded me of something I had read about earlier: how the invention of the bicycle had unexpected consequences. Peter Barnes wrote the following letter to The Guardian:

The work of James Tanner (obituary, 15 October) is replete with thought-provoking observations. His time as a pupil at Marlborough college appears, later, to have afforded him access to the records of the medical officer and the natural science master dating from 1873. Using these as a baseline, Tanner showed how the average height of the boys when aged sixteen and a half had risen by half an inch a decade over an 80-year period. In Foetus Into Man (1978), he suggested that this “secular trend” was in part a consequence of improved nutrition, but also attributable to genetic factors. The latter included the increased incidence of procreation outside the village community, a key factor in which was the introduction of the bicycle.

Written by LeisureGuy

21 March 2014 at 4:04 pm

Posted in Business, Daily life, Health

The FDA is badly broken and also underfunded: Sunscreens edition

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I wish Obama were more interested in fixing the Executive Branch of the government. He seems mainly focused on enabling it to continue as it is (cf. NSA, CIA, FDA, SEC, DOJ, and so on). Read Brady Dennis’s article in the Washington Post:

The tourists flocking to the French Riviera or Spain’s Costa del Sol this summer will slather on sunscreen containing the latest ingredients for protecting against the sun’s most harmful ultraviolet rays.But American beachgoers will have to make do with sunscreens that dermatologists and cancer-research groups say are less effective and have changed little over the past decade.

That’s because applications for the newer sunscreen ingredients have languished for years in the bureaucracy of the Food and Drug Administration, which must approve the products before they reach consumers.“We have a system here that’s completely broken down, and everybody knows that it has broken down,” said Wendy Selig, president of the Melanoma Research Alliance, the largest private funder of melanoma research.Her group and others, along with dermatologists and sunscreen manufacturers, have joined forces to make a public push for the FDA to approve at least some of the backlogged applications.The agency has not expanded its list of approved sunscreen ingredients since 1999. Eight ingredient applications are pending, some dating to 2003. Many of the ingredients are designed to provide broader protection from certain types of UV rays and were approved years ago in Europe, Asia, South America and elsewhere.

The FDA noted that U.S. consumers “have access to a great number of sunscreen products,” but said in a statement to The Washington Post that it recognizes the public health importance of sunscreen and has prioritized its review of the long-pending applications. The agency said “it is proceeding as quickly as practicable given available review resources and competing public health responsibilities.”

In the meantime, advocates for newer sunscreens have grown increasingly frustrated.

“These sunscreens are being used by tens of millions of people every weekend in Europe, and we’re not seeing anything bad happening,” said Darrell S. Rigel, clinical professor of dermatology at New York University and past president of the American Academy of Dermatologists. “It’s sort of crazy. . . . We’re depriving ourselves of something the rest of the world has.”

Even some FDA officials have expressed frustration about how the applications have become mired in a complex regulatory regime, adopted more than a decade ago, that was originally intended to simplify approvals for over-the-counter products used in other countries for at least five years.

“This is a very intractable problem. I think, if possible, we are more frustrated than the manufacturers and you all are about this situation,” Janet Woodcock, director of the FDA’s Center for Drug Evaluation and Research, told lawmakers in November when asked about the agency’s sluggish over-the-counter reviews.

Part of the holdup, she said, is that . . .

Continue reading. Maybe sunscreen makers are lucky: scientists who wanted to study the effectiveness of marijuana as a treatment for PTSD waited 14 years to get approval—14 years.

Increasingly the US government seems to be badly broken, beholden to corporations and big money and unable to function.

Written by LeisureGuy

21 March 2014 at 1:09 pm

Duke Energy Caught Intentionally Dumping 61 Million Gallons Of Coal Waste Into North Carolina Water

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Perhaps it’s time to disincorporate Duke Energy and send its executives to prison. Emily Atkin writes at ThinkProgress:

North Carolina regulators on Thursday cited Duke Energy for illegally and deliberately dumping 61 million gallons of toxic coal ash waste into a tributary of the Cape Fear River, which provides drinking water for several cities and towns in the state.

The incident marks the eighth time in less than a month that the company has been accused of violating environmental regulations. The North Carolina Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR) said Duke — notorious for the February Dan River disaster which saw 82,000 tons of coal ash released into state waters — was taking bright blue wastewaterfrom two of its coal ash impoundments and running it through hoses into a nearby canal and drain pipe.

Duke is reportedly permitted to discharge treated wastewater from the ash ponds into the canal, but only if they are filtered through so-called “risers,” pipes that allow heavier residue in the water to settle out. DENR told ABC News on Thursday that Duke’s pumping bypassed the risers.

“We’re concerned with the volume of water that was pumped and the manner it was pumped,” DENR Communications Director Drew Elliot told ABC. “It did not go through the treatment facility as it should have.”

Duke’s most recent incident was discovered after the environmental group Waterkeeper Alliance last week released aerial surveillance photos taken from a fixed-wing aircraft that showed Duke workers pumping wastewater from the two toxic coal ash lagoons into a canal.

Waterkeeper Alliance tried to go to the source of the pollution via boat but were warned off by plant employees and a policeman, so they resorted to aerial surveillance, as seen in this clip from the Rachel Maddow Show on MSNBC. . .

Continue reading. There’s more to the story and the video clip is interesting.

Written by LeisureGuy

21 March 2014 at 12:07 pm

Joining a gang makes people sick

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Not at the time, necessarily, though of course a gang member encounters many risks while active in the gang, but most will leave the gang after around 3 years or less and move into adulthood—whereupon they encounter ill health (mental and physical) more than those who did join a gang.

Lauren Kirchner writes in Pacific Standard:

Gangs are a favorite topic among social scientists and criminologists. Research has consistently shown that, when kids join gangs, they immediately increase the risks that they will commit crimes and be incarcerated, become addicted to drugsdrop out of school, and be on either the giving or receiving end of violence. None of these findings are particularly surprising. But what about the long-term impact? Most gang stints are relatively short, with kids joining in their early teens and getting out a few years later. Then what? Amanda Gilman, a doctoral candidate in the University of Washington School of Social Work, saw a gap in this field.

“We think of gang membership as being an adolescent phenomenon, but what happens when they grow up and have their own families, and become adults?” asked Gilman, who is the lead author of a new paper out in the American Journal of Public Health. “Our theory was that we would see some of these negative outcomes in adulthood, but to some extent we were surprised to see how pervasive this sort of risky lifestyle of being in a gang could be in transitioning to adulthood.”

Gilman found that the impact of those risks and stress were very pervasive indeed. Most people in the study who said that they had been in gangs said their memberships lasted for only three years or less. Even so, they felt the impact of this set of choices for years. Compared to those people who had never been members of a gang, former gang members reported much worse overall health—both mental health and physical health. Former gang members were more likely to suffer from depression, anxiety, alcoholism, and “poor general health” physically when they were 27, 30, and 33. They were also three times as likely to be addicted to drugs.

The results stayed the same “even after controlling for individual, family, peer, school, and neighborhood characteristics.” It was gang membership that made the difference. And these negative effects of the gang life are so significant, the authors explained, that they go beyond the realm of mere community crime and disorder, and can actually impact the level of the overall health of a community.

“Gang membership has always been under the discussion of criminologists; it’s been like a juvenile justice issue, or a criminological issue,” says Karl Hill, a research associate professor and co-author on the paper. “What Amanda’s showing here is that it’s a bigger issue than that; it’s a public health issue. It’s not just the corrections systems and the police that need to be concerned about it, because it has broader public health impact.”

Aside from these particular findings, the source of Gilman’s data is also pretty remarkable. . .

Continue reading.

Written by LeisureGuy

18 March 2014 at 11:43 am

The unhealthy meat market

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In both senses: unhealthy-meat market and unhealthy meat-market. Nicholas Kristof writes in the NY Times:

Where does our food come from? Often the answer is Tyson Foods, America’s meat factory.

Tyson, one of the nation’s 100 biggest companies,slaughters 135,000 head of cattle a week, along with 391,000 hogs and an astonishing 41 million chickens. Nearly all Americans regularly eat Tyson meat — at home, at McDonalds, at a cafeteria, at a nursing home.

“Even if Tyson did not produce a given piece of meat, the consumer is really only picking between different versions of the same commoditized beef, chicken, and pork that is produced through a system Tyson pioneered,” says Christopher Leonard, a longtime agribusiness journalist, in his new book about Tyson called “The Meat Racket.”

Leonard’s book argues that a handful of companies, led by Tyson, control our meat industry in ways that raise concerns about the impact on animals and humans alike, while tearing at the fabric of rural America. Many chicken farmers don’t even own the chickens they raise or know what’s in the feed. They just raise the poultry on contract for Tyson, and many struggle to make a living.

Concerned by the meat oligopoly’s dominance of rural America, President Obama undertook a push beginning in 2010 to strengthen antitrust oversight of the meat industry and make it easier for farmers to sue meatpackers. The aim was grand: to create a “new rural economy” to empower individual farmers.

Big Meat’s lobbyists used its friends in Congress to crush the Obama administration’s regulatory effort, which collapsed in “spectacular failure,” Leonard writes.

Factory farming has plenty of devastating consequences, but it’s only fair to acknowledge that it has benefited our pocketbooks. When President Herbert Hoover dreamed of putting “a chicken in every pot,” chicken was a luxury dish more expensive than beef. In 1930, whole dressed chicken retailed for $6.48 a pound in today’s currency, according to the National Chicken Council. By last year, partly because of Tyson, chicken retailed for an average price of $1.57 per pound — much less than beef.

Costs came down partly because scientific breeding reduced the length of time needed to raise a chicken to slaughter by more than half since 1925, even as a chicken’s weight doubled. The amount of feed required to produce a pound of chicken has also dropped sharply.

And yet.

This industrial agriculture system also has imposed enormous costs of three kinds.

First, . . .

Continue reading. The comments also are interesting.

Written by LeisureGuy

15 March 2014 at 11:07 am

Posted in Business, Food, Health

Continuing doses of antibiotics make animals fat; humans are animals; ergo, …

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Very interesting article, especially for those with a chronic condition that is treated by continually taking small doses of antibiotics. Pagan Kennedy (obviously, not one of the Catholic Kennedys) writes in the NY Times:

IF you walk into a farm-supply store today, you’re likely to find a bag of antibiotic powder that claims to boost the growth of poultry and livestock. That’s because decades of agricultural research has shown that antibiotics seem to flip a switch in young animals’ bodies, helping them pack on pounds. Manufacturers brag about the miraculous effects of feeding antibiotics to chicks and nursing calves. Dusty agricultural journals attest to the ways in which the drugs can act like a kind of superfood to produce cheap meat.

But what if that meat is us? Recently, a group of medical investigators have begun to wonder whether antibiotics might cause the same growth promotion in humans. New evidence shows that America’s obesity epidemic may be connected to our high consumption of these drugs. But before we get to those findings, it’s helpful to start at the beginning, in 1948, when the wonder drugs were new — and big was beautiful.

That year, a biochemist named Thomas H. Jukes marveled at a pinch of golden powder in a vial. It was a new antibiotic named Aureomycin, and Mr. Jukes and his colleagues at Lederle Laboratories suspected that it would become a blockbuster, lifesaving drug. But they hoped to find other ways to profit from the powder as well. At the time, Lederle scientists had been searching for a food additive for farm animals, and Mr. Jukes believed that Aureomycin could be it. After raising chicks on Aureomycin-laced food and on ordinary mash, he found that the antibiotics did boost the chicks’ growth; some of them grew to weigh twice as much as the ones in the control group.

Mr. Jukes wanted more Aureomycin, but his bosses cut him off because the drug was in such high demand to treat human illnesses. So he hit on a novel solution. He picked through the laboratory’s dump to recover the slurry left over after the manufacture of the drug. He and his colleagues used those leftovers to carry on their experiments, now on pigs, sheep and cows. All of the animals gained weight. Trash, it turned out, could be transformed into meat.

You may be wondering whether it occurred to anyone back then that the powders would have the same effect on the human body. In fact, a number of scientists believed that antibiotics could stimulate growth in children. From our contemporary perspective, here’s where the story gets really strange: All this growth was regarded as a good thing. It was an era that celebrated monster-size animals, fat babies and big men. In 1955, a crowd gathered in a hotel ballroom to watch as feed salesmen climbed onto a scale; the men were competing to see who could gain the most weight in four months, in imitation of the cattle and hogs that ate their antibiotic-laced food. Pfizer sponsored the competition.

In 1954, Alexander Fleming — the Scottish biologist who discovered penicillin — visited the University of Minnesota. His American hosts proudly informed him that by feeding antibiotics to hogs, farmers had already saved millions of dollars in slop. But Fleming seemed disturbed by the thought of applying that logic to humans. “I can’t predict that feeding penicillin to babies will do society much good,” he said. “Making people larger might do more harm than good.”

Nonetheless, experiments were then being conducted on humans. In the 1950s, a team of scientists fed a steady diet of antibiotics to schoolchildren in Guatemala for more than a year,while Charles H. Carter, a doctor in Florida, tried a similar regimen on mentally disabled kids. Could the children, like the farm animals, grow larger? Yes, they could.

Mr. Jukes summarized Dr. Carter’s research in a monograph on nutrition and antibiotics: “Carter carried out a prolonged investigation of a study of the effects of administering 75 mg of chlortetracycline” — the chemical name for Aureomycin — “twice daily to mentally defective children for periods of up to three years at the Florida Farm Colony. The children were mentally deficient spastic cases and were almost entirely helpless,” he wrote. “The average yearly gain in weight for the supplemented group was 6.5 lb while the control group averaged 1.9 lb in yearly weight gain.”

Researchers also tried this out in a study of Navy recruits. . .

Continue reading.

Written by LeisureGuy

9 March 2014 at 7:33 am

Posted in Daily life, Food, Health, Science

Coal Company To Pay Largest-Ever Fine After 6,000 Clean Water Violations In 7 Years

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Ryan Koronowski writes at ThinkProgress:

Alpha Natural Resources, the third-largest coal company in the U.S., agreed to pay a $27.5 million fine after violating water pollution permits in Kentucky, Pennsylvania, Tennessee, Virginia and West Virginia.

Over the last seven years, Alpha and its subsidiaries discharged heavy metals into waterways across those five Appalachian states 6,289 times, through 794 different discharge points, sometimes by as much as 35 times the legal limit.

The pollutants that spilled from the coal mines throughout Appalachia include “iron, pH, total suspended solids, aluminum, manganese, selenium, and salinity,” according to an EPA press release.

The giant coal company will also spend $200 million to stop sending toxic discharge into the nations rivers and streams. According to the AP, which obtained details about the settlement on Wednesday, “under the agreement, the mine operators will install wastewater treatment systems and take other measures aimed at reducing discharges from 79 active coal mines and 25 coal-processing plants in those five states.”

Cynthia Giles, who runs the Environmental Protection Agency’s enforcement office, told the AP that the settlement was “the biggest case for permit violations for numbers of violations and size of the penalty, which reflects the seriousness of violations.”

“This is the largest one, period.”

A big part of the reason this settlement was so comprehensive and expensive is because in 2011, Alpha Natural Resources bought a coal company called Massey Energy. Massey’s coal operations account for more than half of the violations represented in Wednesday’s settlement.

Alpha spent $7.1 billion to purchase Massey, and it has been picking up the pieces ever since. Months after the purchase agreement was announced, Massey was still fighting a legal battle over dumping 1.4 billion gallons of toxic coal slurry into old underground coal mines — knowing all the while that the mines leaked into the water supply. Alpha settled the lawsuit with hundreds of West Virginia residents in 2011.

Massey received global headlines for the tragic explosion in 2010 that killed 29 miners, and stayed in the headlines as Massey CEO Don Blankenship’s confrontational relationship with safety regulators prompted shareholder calls for his resignation. In 2009, Blankenship called the idea that safety regulators cared more about coal miners than he did “as silly as global warming.” This despite the small world encompassing coal industry and coal regulators: President Bush appointed a former Massey official to an MSHA review commission in 2002.

In 2012, Massey mine superintendent Gary May pled guilty to charges of criminal conspiracy over deceiving federal safety regulators. When the Mine Safety and Health Administration would come for an inspection, May would warn miners, increase air ventilation, falsify records, and cut corners in order to hide dangerous safety violations.

Though 2014 is barely two months old, the U.S. has seen a raft of coal spills — in West VirginiaNorth CarolinaWest Virginia again, and West Virginia again — signalling the problem of dirty coal is not going away.

Written by LeisureGuy

6 March 2014 at 9:59 am

Acetaminophen and ADHD

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Andrew Briner writes at ThinkProgress:

Add attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) to the list of ailments attributed to the popular painkiller acetaminophen. A new study in the journal JAMA Pediatrics found that more than half of mothers who took acetaminophen during pregnancy were more likely to have children with ADHD-like behavior or hyperkinetic disorder, a severe form of ADHD.

It’s unclear at this point whether acetaminophen use is actually causing these symptoms or if both are a sign of other unnoticed factors, as the Globe and Mail pointed out. And the long, shameful history of blaming and criminalizing pregnant women for pretty much anything they do during pregnancy means this news should be taken carefully. But even if proof of a causal link is demonstrated, the FDA’s record on regulating over-the-counter (OTC) drugs, specifically acetaminophen, shows it wouldn’t be up to the job of dealing with it.

And this news comes just as the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) announced it would berevamping its process for approving and regulating over-the-counter drugs, in response to just such concerns that it’s too slow to respond to new products and safety issues.

Acetaminophen is one such failure, as ProPublica extensively documented in September. The FDA convened a panel of experts to evaluate its safety in 1977, as the drug was first becoming widely popular. The panel determined it was “obligatory” to include a label warning that acetaminophen could cause “severe liver damage.” The FDA didn’t add that warning until 2009.

Acetaminophen is both one of the most commonly-used pain relief drugs in the United States and the primary cause of acute liver failure, nearly half of all cases. Overdoses kill an estimated 458 Americans each year, and are responsible for more than 56,000 emergency room visits and 2,600 hospitalizations.

No painkiller or drug is without risk. But for comparison, the entire class of drugs that includes ibuprofen, the Advil ingredient that is similarly popular to acetaminophen, was responsible for 15 deaths in 2010, according to CDC data as reported in ProPublica. In the same year acetaminophen killed 321, 166 of which were accidental overdoses.

The main problem is that the difference between a therapeutic dose and a life-threatening one is small. . .

Continue reading.

Written by LeisureGuy

6 March 2014 at 9:42 am

High Protein, High Risk?

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We should focus on eating plants. Rina Shaikh-Lesko notes in The Scientist:

Two studies published March 4 in Cell Metabolism suggest that a low-protein diet may be key for longevity, casting doubt on the widespread dietary trend of reducing carbohydrate intake and loading up on protein.

One study, led by Stephen Simpson at the University of Sydney, looked at the life spans of mice on diets containing varying levels of protein, carbohydrates, and fat. Mice on a high-protein diet were leaner, but mice on a low-protein, high-carbohydrate diet lived much longer. The other study, led by Valter Longo of the University of Southern California, used death certificate data from people 50- to 65-years-old who had participated in the national NHANES nutrition survey. NHANES participants who reported a high-protein diet on NHANES had a higher rate of death, especially from cancer before age 65. However, after age 65, a high-protein diet seemed beneficial.

“If these two studies are really correct, what people in general are trying to do . . . might be completely wrong in terms of maintaining health and even longevity,” Shin-ichiro Imai of Washington University in St. Louis told ScienceNow.

Popular nutrition writer Marion Nestle, who is also a public health professor at New York University, is more skeptical of Longo’s results. “Protein is not, and never has been, an issue in American diets, and the data presented in this study do not convince me to think otherwise,” she told the Washington Post.

Nice to know that a high-protein diet is good for me. (I’m past age 65.) However, I do respect Prof. Nestle’s opinion.

Written by LeisureGuy

6 March 2014 at 9:25 am

Posted in Food, Health, Science

The Germ Theory of Democracy, Dictatorship, and All Your Most Cherished Beliefs

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Fascinating article at Pacific Standard by Ethan Watters:

One morning last fall, the evolutionary biologist Randy Thornhill was standing with me in front of the gorilla enclosure at the Albuquerque zoo. He was explaining a new theory about the origins of human culture when Mashudu, a 10-year-old western lowland gorilla, decided to help illustrate a point. In a very deliberate way, Mashudu sauntered over to the deep cement ravine at the front of his enclosure, perched his rear end over the edge, and did his morning business.

Mashudu, I suspected, had just displayed what evolutionary theorists call a “behavioral immune response”—a concept central to Thornhill’s big theory. So I asked him whether I was right about Mashudu. “Pooping downhill is pretty smart,” Thornhill said after some consideration. “He got his waste as far away from him as possible. I think that would probably count as a disease avoidance behavior.”

It might seem strange to fixate on how a gorilla goes about answering the call of nature. But according to Thornhill’s hypothesis, much of what we humans like to think of as politics, morality, and culture is motivated by the same kind of subconscious instinct that likely drove Mashudu to that ledge.

Anyone with a basic grasp of biology knows that all animals have immune systems that battle pathogens—be they viruses, bacteria, parasites, or fungi—on the cellular level. And it’s also fairly well understood that animals sometimes exhibit outward behaviors that serve to ward off disease. Just around the corner from the fastidious Mashudu, Thornhill and I watched an orangutan named Sarah grooming her six-month-old son Pixel, poring through his hair for parasites. Some species of primate, Thornhill told me, will ostracize sick members of the group to avoid the spread of disease. Cows and other ungulates are known to rotate their movements among pastures in such a way as to avoid the larvae of intestinal worms that hatch in their waste. And in ant societies, only a small number of workers are given the task of hauling away the dead, while sick ants will sometimes leave the nest to die apart from the group.

At the most quotidian level, Thornhill finds it easy to convince people that humans likewise manifest such instinctual behaviors to avoid infection and illness. Some of these habits very much parallel those seen in other creatures. I admitted to Thornhill that I had recently been displaying a bit of grooming behavior myself after the youngest primate in my care came home from preschool itching with head lice. Like Mashudu, we humans remove waste from our living quarters. We ostracize our sick, at least to the extent that we expect those with the flu to stay home from work or school. And similar to the lowly ant, we assign a small number of our fellows the solemn duty of hauling away and disposing of our dead. On examination, everyday life is full of small defensive moves against contamination, some motivated by feelings, like disgust, that arise without conscious reflection. When you open the door of a gas station bathroom only to decide you can hold it for a few more miles, or when you put as much distance as possible between yourself and a person who is coughing and sneezing in a waiting room, you are displaying a behavioral immune response.

But these individual actions are just the tip of the iceberg, according to Thornhill and a growing camp of evolutionary theorists. Our moment-to-moment psychological reactions to the threat of illness, they suggest, have a huge cumulative effect on culture. Not only that—and here’s where Thornhill’s theory really starts to fire the imagination—these deep interactions between local pathogens and human social evolution may explain many of the basic differences we observe between cultures. How does your culture behave toward strangers? What kind of government do you live under? Who are your sexual partners? What values do you share? All of these questions may mask a more fundamental one: What germs are you warding off?

The threat of disease is not uniform around the world. In general, higher, colder, and drier regions have fewer infectious diseases than warmer, wetter climates. To survive, people in this latter sort of terrain must withstand a higher degree of “pathogen stress.” Thornhill and his colleagues theorize that, over time, the pathogen stress endemic to a place tends to steer a culture in distinct ways. Research has long shown that people in tropical climates with high pathogen loads, for example, are more likely to develop a taste for spicy food, because certain compounds in these foods have antimicrobial properties. They are also prone to value physical attractiveness—a signal of health and “immunocompetence,” according to evolutionary theorists—more highly in mates than people living in cooler latitudes do. But the implications don’t stop there. According to the “pathogen stress theory of values,” the evolutionary case that Thornhill and his colleagues have put forward, our behavioral immune systems—our group responses to local disease threats—play a decisive role in shaping our various political systems, religions, and shared moral views.

If they are right, Thornhill and his colleagues may be on their way to unlocking some of the most stubborn mysteries of human behavior. Their theory may help explain why authoritarian governments tend to persist in certain latitudes while democracies rise in others; why some cultures are xenophobic and others are relatively open to strangers; why certain peoples value equality and individuality while others prize hierarchical structures and strict adherence to tradition. What’s more, their work may offer a clear insight into how societies change. According to Thornhill’s findings, striking at the root of infectious disease threats is by far the most effective form of social engineering available to any would-be reformer.

If you were looking for a paradigm-shifting theory about human behavior, . . .

Continue reading.

Written by LeisureGuy

3 March 2014 at 11:26 am

GOP’s policy of giving corporations whatever they want backfires in North Carolina

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Trip Gabriel reports in the NY Times:

Last June, state employees in charge of stopping water pollution were given updated marching orders on behalf of North Carolina’s new Republican governor and conservative lawmakers.

“The General Assembly doesn’t like you,” an official in the Department of Environment and Natural Resources told supervisors, who had been called from across the state to a drab meeting room here. “They cut your budget, but you didn’t get the message. And they cut your budget again, and you still didn’t get the message.”

From now on, regulators were told, they must focus on customer service, meaning issuing environmental permits for businesses as quickly as possible. Big changes are coming, the official said, according to three people in the meeting, two of whom took notes. “If you don’t like change, you’ll be gone.”

But when the nation’s largest utility, Duke Energy, spilled 39,000 tons of coal ash into the Dan River in early February, those big changes were suddenly playing out in a different light. Federal prosecutors have begun a criminal investigation into the spill and the relations between Duke and regulators at the environmental agency.

The spill, which coated the river bottom 70 miles downstream and threatened drinking water and aquatic life, drew wide attention to a deal that the environmental department’s new leadership reached with Duke last year over pollution from coal ash ponds. It included a minimal fine but no order that Duke remove ash — the waste from burning coal to generate electricity — from its leaky, unlined ponds near drinking water. Environmental groups said the arrangement protected a powerful utility rather than the environment or the public.

Current and former state regulators said the watchdog agency, once among the most aggressive in the Southeast, has been transformed under Gov. Pat McCrory into a weak sentry that plays down science, has abandoned its regulatory role and suffers from politicized decision-making.

The episode is a huge embarrassment for Mr. McCrory, who worked at Duke Energy for 28 years and is a former mayor of Charlotte, where the company is based. And it has become yet another point of contention in North Carolina, where Republicans who took control of the General Assembly in 2011 and the governor’s mansion last year have passed sweeping laws in line with conservative principles. They have affected voting rights and unemployment benefits, as well as what Republicans called “job-killing” environmental regulations, which have received less notice.

Critics say the accident, the third-largest coal ash spill on record, is inextricably linked to the state’s new environmental politics and reflects an enforcement agency led by a secretary who suggested that oil was a renewable resource and an assistant secretary who, as a state lawmaker, drew a bull’s-eye on a window in his office framing the environmental agency’s headquarters.

“They’re terrified,” said John Dorney, a retired supervisor who keeps in touch with many current employees. “Now these people have to take a deep breath and say, ‘I know what the rules require, but what does the political process want me to do?’ ”

Duke has apologized for the Dan River spill and says it is now committed to cleaning up some of its 32 coal ash ponds across the state. The company has also been subpoenaed in the federal investigation.

A spokesman for Governor McCrory said the governor had no role in the state’s proposed settlement with Duke. . .

Continue reading. The story at the link includes a video. And the comments are worth reading. People are becoming increasingly angry at the downfall of the US.

Written by LeisureGuy

28 February 2014 at 1:26 pm

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