Archive for the ‘Health’ Category
And to continue the string of stories, consider this report in the NY Times by Sabrina Tavernise:
Tobacco companies are pushing back against a worldwide rise in antismoking laws, using a little-noticed legal strategy to delay or block regulation. The industry is warning countries that their tobacco laws violate an expanding web of trade and investment treaties, raising the prospect of costly, prolonged legal battles, health advocates and officials said.
The strategy has gained momentum in recent years as smoking rates in rich countries have fallen and tobacco companies have sought to maintain access to fast-growing markets in developing countries. Industry officials say that there are only a few cases of active litigation, and that giving a legal opinion to governments is routine for major players whose interests will be affected.
But tobacco opponents say the strategy is intimidating low- and middle-income countries from tackling one of the gravest health threats facing them: smoking. They also say the legal tactics are undermining the world’s largest global public health treaty, the W.H.O. Framework Convention on Tobacco Control, which aims to reduce smoking by encouraging limits on advertising, packaging and sale of tobacco products. More than 170 countries have signed it since it took effect in 2005.
More than five million people die annually of smoking-related causes, more than from AIDS, malaria and tuberculosis combined, according to the World Health Organization.
Alarmed about rising smoking rates among young women, Namibia, in southern Africa, passed a tobacco control law in 2010 but quickly found itself bombarded with stern warnings from the tobacco industry that the new statute violated the country’s obligations under trade treaties.
“We have bundles and bundles of letters from them,” said Namibia’s health minister, Dr. Richard Kamwi.
Three years later, the government, fearful of a punishingly expensive legal battle, has yet to carry out a single major provision of the law, like limiting advertising or placing large health warnings on cigarette packaging.
The issue is particularly urgent now as the United States completes talks on a major new trade treaty with 11 Pacific Rim countries that aims to be a model for the rules of international commerce. Administration officials say they want the new treaty to raise standards for public health. They single out tobacco as a health concern, wording that upset the U. S. Chamber of Commerce, which said that the inclusion would leave the door open for other products, like soda or sugar, to be heavily regulated in other countries.
“Our goal in this agreement is to protect the legitimate health regulations that treaty countries want to pursue from efforts by tobacco companies to undermine them,” said Michael Froman, the United States trade representative, in a telephone interview. The language is not yet final, he said. . .
Continue reading. In the view of tobacco companies, shortening their lives is okay if it turns a profit.
I think we knew that backers of Keystone XL (those who stood to make ginormous sums of money) would think hard about how to make it happen, and they naturally would know one major opponent would be the various environmental groups. So they tried to figure how best to approach the issue and deal with the threat. I see nothing at all wrong with that picture (save the Keystone XL pipeline itself, that is—but if you’re going to support it for whatever reason, the steps being taken seem totally reasonable to me). The article at the link above provides backstory, the link below is what they came up with.
What is interesting is to see the specifics of the analysis as presented.
The common thought is yes, but there are counterarguments, as Zazie Todd points out in an article in Pacific Standard:
Did you over-indulge during Thanksgiving? Could a dog be the answer? A new meta-analysis by an international team investigates whether dog owners are more physically active than people without dogs.
Contrary to popular belief, not all pet dogs are walked. And it’s possible that dog owners spend time walking their pets at the expense of participating in sports or going to the gym. A 155-pound adult uses 493kcals playing soccer or using a rowing machine at a moderate pace, compared to 211 walking. So the question is whether, on average, people who own dogs get more physical activity than those who don’t.
This is of particular interest to public health specialists who want to know how to leverage your dog to make you more active. The scientists, writing in the Journal of Physical Activity and Health, explain that “considering the large proportion of dog owners, and that many dogs enjoy being walked, dog walking could provide a potentially viable strategy for increasing population levels of physical activity.”
The team, led by the University of Western Australia’sHayley Christian, analyzed 29 research studies conducted between 1990 and 2010, mainly in the United States and Australia. They looked at dog owners and non-dog owners of all ages, from children to seniors.
Their results showed that dog owners . . .
Interesting article by Tom Jacobs from Pacific Standard. The gist:
“Women who perceived themselves as overweight consumed significantly more high-calorie snack food—about 80 calories more, on average—after reading a news article about the social and economic costs associated with being overweight.”
Furthermore, their answers to a questionnaire revealed these women “felt significantly less capable of controlling their food intake after reading the weight-stigmatizing article,” rather than the version that stigmatized smokers.
Importantly, the researchers found this effect with women who perceived themselves as overweight, as opposed to those who were actually overweight (as measured by their BMI). To their surprise, they found that for women who do not think of themselves as overweight, “exposure to a weight-stigmatizing message appeared to boost their self-efficacy for controlling their diet.”
This difference “may explain the intuitive appeal of stigma as a motivational tool,” they write. “Among those who are not overweight, and have a hard time understanding what it is like to be overweight, stigma feels like it would help other people’s result to eat less, since it strengthens their own.”
But these findings suggest that assumption is very wrong.
Rather than take Bisphenol-A (BPA) off the US market, it is increasingly used. Tom Philpott in Mother Jones writes:
Bisphenol A, a chemical used in can linings and plastic bottles, is pretty nasty stuff. The Food and Drug Administration recently banished it from baby bottles (at the behest of the chemical industry itself, after baby bottle producers had already phased it out under consumer pressure). BPA, as it’s known, is an endocrine-disrupting chemical, meaning that it likely causes hormonal damage at extremely low levels. The packaging industry uses it to make plastics more flexible and to delay spoilage in canned foods.
You might think that such a substance would lose popularity as evidence of its likely harms piles up and up. Instead, however, the global market for it will boom over the next six years, according to a proprietary, paywall-protected report from the consultancy Transparency Market Research. The group expects global BPA sales to reach $18.8 billion by 2019, from $13.1 billion this year—about a 44 percent jump.
TMR researchers declined to be interviewed by me and wouldn’t give me access to a full copy of their report. But they did send me a heavily redacted sample. One of the few trends I could glean from it is that the “steady growth” in global BPA consumption is driven by “increasing demand in the Asia-Pacific region.” (According to this 2012 paper by Hong Kong researchers, Chinese BPA production and consumption have both “grown rapidly” in recent years, meaning “much more BPA contamination” for the nation’s environment and citizens.) As for the United States, the report says that North America is the globe’s “third largest regional market for BPA,” behind Asia and Europe. North American BPA consumption is growing, but a “at a very slow rate,” the report states. As a result, our share of the global BPA is expected to experience a “slight decline” by 2019. Not exactly comforting.
The sample that Transparency Market Research sent me blacked out its analysis of which companies have what share of the global BPA market. . .
Ruth Williams explains the trap in The Scientist.
A very interesting column by Dylan Matthews in the Washington Post showing many good long-term trends. Here’s one chart:
Click the link above to see the other 21.
We have cut down our meat consumption considerably, though we will probably never go to zero. But I’m finding vegetarian alternatives tasty and interesting. The above chart is from MeatlessMonday.com, part of an article that begins:
For everyone interested in lowering their consumption of meat, there’s a new food pyramid to tape to your refrigerator. And from the bottom to the top, the advice couldn’t be simpler: Eat these foods every day.
Unlike other recommendations that say eat “50% of this” or “25% of that,” the Oldways Vegetarian & Vegan Diet Pyramid offers an abundance of colorful, delicious, healthy foods you’ll want to eat every Meatless Monday: fruits and vegetables, whole grains, legumes, herbs, spices and, for vegetarians, eggs and dairy.
“The old ways of eating around the world focus on food from plants,” explains Sara Baer-Sinnott, the President of Oldways. “The Mediterranean, Asian, Latin American, and African Heritage diets all have plant foods as the foundation of healthy eating. Therefore, food from plants are at the center of the plate.”
The good news is, this “old way” of eating is new again, reflected by the national trend towards plant-based diets, farmers’ markets, and a reduction in the consumption of meat. “Interest in following a plant-based diet is at an all time high, whether people pack their plates with vegetables once a day, once a week, or all their lives,” says Baer-Sinnott.
The first Vegetarian Diet Pyramid produced by Oldways, a nonprofit food and nutrition education organization, was created in 1997. “Today there is more scientific evidence for the health benefits of plant-based eating,” Baer-Sinnott explained. “And with growing awareness about this lifestyle, we knew it was really important to update the 1997 version.”
To produce the new Vegetarian Pyramid, Oldways gathered a world-renowned scientific committee to review extensive data on plant-based diets and provide recommendations. Complementing the pyramid is a printableVegetarian/Vegan Diet brochure that fully explains all the delicious options available on the pyramid and the proven benefits of switching to a plant-based diet. What can everyone who has taken the Meatless Monday pledge do with this new information? “Cook!,” laughs Baer-Sinnott. . .
Oldways is, in fact, very much into food pyramids. From the Oldways site:
- Why Pyramids are Important – At Oldways, we’re convinced that good dietary guidance has three important elements: pyramids, plates and real food. Learn more
- Latino Diet & Pyramid – Oldways created the Latin American Diet Pyramid in 1996 to help Latinos maintain good health through traditional foods, especially those native to Central and South America. Learn more
- African Heritage Diet & Pyramid – Incorporating delicious foods from Africa, South America, the Caribbean and the American South, this pyramid shows the wisdom of traditional diets from the African diaspora. Learn more
- Asian Diet & Pyramid – This pyramid was developed in conjunction with the Cornell-China-Oxford Project on Nutrition, Health & Environment, and the Harvard School of Public Health. Learn more
- Vegetarian/Vegan Diet & Pyramid – This pyramid is a guide to a healthy traditional plant-based eating pattern for vegetarians and vegans. Learn more
Each of those pyramids is intriguing and helps stimulate meal ideas. Collect ‘em all!
Take note if you’re young and diabetes runs in your family:
Preventing diabetes could mean going meatless more often.
Scientists at the Institute of Health and Medical Research in Paris have discovered that a dietary acid found in animal proteins may be associated with type 2 diabetes.
Though foods high in sugar such as candies, sodas, white breads and pastas have long been considered the primary culprit of type 2 diabetes, this pioneering study focuses on the negative effects excess meat consumption has on the body.
At the same time, eating more fruits and vegetables can help the body neutralize the acid in meat.
As study leader Dr. Francoise Clavel-Chapelon and her colleagues wrote in the journal Diabetologia:
“A diet rich in animal protein may favour net acid intake, while most fruits and vegetables form alkaline precursors that neutralise the acidity. Contrary to what is generally believed, most fruits such as peaches, apples, pears, bananas and even lemons and oranges actually reduce dietary acid load once the body has processed them.”
The study included over 66,000 women in Europe whose dietary habits were tracked for more than 14 years. During that time, nearly 1,400 of the women were diagnosed with type 2 diabetes. Those with diets highest in acidic foods were 56% more likely to develop the condition than those with the lowest acidity diets.
Some 25.8 million Americans live with diabetes, 7 million of whom go undiagnosed. Adults age 65 and over are particularly susceptible: 10.9 million had diabetes in 2010, and 50% are estimated to have prediabetes. The total estimated cost of diabetes in the U.S. is $245 billion.
The findings are yet another report that associates meat products with medical issues, and provide another reason for individuals to join the Meatless Monday movement. But while this and other studies help inform the current discourse, the basic guidelines for a recommended diet remain the same: vegetables, complex carbs, limited meats and fats, and regular physical activity.
Lindsay Abrams reports in Salon:
The Nation has two tragic — and infuriating — investigative pieces about how young farmworkers (as young as 12) are left entirely unprotected by federal labor laws. Kids, writers Mariya Strauss and Gabriel Thompson found, are getting sick, injured and killed amid unsafe working conditions.
Both articles are pegged to the Labor Department’s 2011 attempt to update child labor laws, which fell through in the face of pressure from the Farm Bureau and other agricultural lobbies. Under the Fair Labor Standards Act, kids as young as 12 can work as hired hands in agriculture. The proposed revisions would have kept children under the age of 16 away from more dangerous tasks, just as they would in any other workplace. Instead, the workplace fatality rate for child farmworkers is four times that of children in other industries. Since the proposals were scrapped, Strauss discovered, four farmworkers under the age of 16 died, and 16 others were injured, doing jobs that would have been off-limits:
The cases I did find included 15-year-old Curvin Kropf, an Amish boy from Deer Grove, Illinois, who was killed in July 2012. According to the sheriff’s report, Kropf died after he leaned from his seat atop a tall, tractor-like vehicle called a High-Boy to pull the tassels off a stalk of corn, fell and was crushed under the vehicle’s wheel. According to local press reports, OSHA officials arrived at the scene but left because there were fewer than ten workers on the farm, which meant they lacked jurisdiction. (The same was true of the farm where Michael Steele was working last July.) I also learned about Cleason Nolt, 14, a member of a Mennonite community in Peach Bottom, Pennsylvania, who died along with his father and older brother: all three drowned in a manure pit while working as contractors in May 2012. Another preventable death was that of 18-year-old Kyle Beck of Wauseon, Ohio, who was killed when he fell beneath a wagon full of grain that was being pulled by a 15-year-old driving a tractor, which would not have been allowed under the proposed rules.
Also legal: a 12-year-old working 70-hour weeks in a tobacco field. Thompson writes of the slow poisoning of adolescent tobacco-pickers whose skin ends up absorbing nicotine equivalent to the amount of 36 cigarettes in just one day. The new regulations would also have protected children like the three Cuello sisters, aged 12, 13 and 14:
Their mother told the girls to stick together, but Neftali soon fell behind. “I was seeing little circles, and the sky started to get blurry,” she says. “It felt like my head was turned sideways.” Her mother ordered her to rest in the shade, but Neftali sat down only briefly. “I wanted to show that I could work like an adult,” she recalls. She soldiered on through a splitting headache and waves of dizziness. Several times, about to faint, she sank to the ground between rows to rest.
“I would find her looking confused,” Yesenia says.
Later in the day, Neftali heard someone retching. One row over, Kimberly was bent double, throwing up on the plants. Afterward, feeling slightly better, Kimberly resumed work, only to throw up again. When the twelve-hour shift finally came to an end, the sisters trudged back to their car. Neftali fell asleep on the short drive home, but that night, despite her fatigue, she was woken several times by the same dream: she was back in the tobacco fields, stumbling around in a daze, surrounded by suffocating plants.
How is it possible that this sort of thing is allowed to happen? Strauss points to a certain ethos that might be preventing adults from doing more to protect young farmworkers: . . .
Another indication of how vital our microbiome is, and how we’ve evolved to make sure it’s there and working. Ed Yong writes at The Scientist:
From the sterile world of the womb, at birth babies are thrust into an environment full of bacteria, viruses, and parasites. They are very vulnerable to these infections for their first months of life—a trait that has long been blamed on their immature immune systems.
But Shokrollah Elahi from the Cincinnati Children’s Hospital Medical Center has shown that, at least in mice, this susceptibility is the work of special cells that actively suppress immune responses in newborns. This raises their risk of diseases, but it also creates a window during which helpful bacteria can colonize their guts. The results are published today (November 6) in Nature.
“This more intricate regulation of immune responses makes more sense than immaturity,” said Sing Sing Way, who led the study, “because it allows a protective response to be mounted if needed.” This may explain why newborn immune responses, though generally weak, also vary wildly between different babies and across different studies.
If the same suppressive cells are at work in humans, Way suggested that they might lead to new avenues for boosting immune responses in newborns, or making vaccines administered early on in life more effective.
The team began by . . .
David Nutt writes in The Guardian (emphasis added):
enjoying a seasonal drink at a Christmas party without the risk of a hangover the next day, or being able then to take an antidote that would allow you to drive home safely. It sounds like science fiction but these ambitions are well within the grasp of modern neuroscience.
Alcohol is both one of the oldest and most dangerous drugs, responsible for about 2.5 million deaths worldwide, which is more than malaria or Aids. The reasons for this are well known: alcohol is toxic to all body systems, and particularly the liver, heart and brain. It makes users uninhibited, leading to a vast amount of violence and is also quite likely to cause dependence, so about 10% of users get locked into addiction. If alcohol was discovered today it could never be sold as it is far too toxic to be allowed under current food regulations, let alone pharmaceutical safety thresholds. In this health-conscious age, it is odd that these aspects of alcohol are rarely discussed.
The only proven way to reduce alcohol harms is to limit consumption through increased pricing and limiting availability. Most governments have shied away from this because of public opinion and fears of lost tax income – the notable exception being Scotland with its minimum pricing strategy. An alternative strategy that offers greater health benefits would be to make a safer version of alcohol.
We know that the main target for alcohol in the brain is the neurotransmitter system gamma aminobutyric acid (Gaba), which keeps the brain calm. Alcohol therefore relaxes users through mimicking and increasing the Gaba function. But we also know that there are a range of Gaba subsystems that can be targeted by selective drugs. So in theory we can make an alcohol surrogate that makes people feel relaxed and sociable and remove the unwanted effects, such as aggression and addictiveness.
I have identified five such compounds and now need to test them to see if people find the effects as pleasurable as alcohol. The challenge is . . .
The boldfaced paragraph is why I support marijuana legalization, particularly since data show that people use less alcohol when marijuana is available.
I did realize how many people one nuclear test kills. The fact that we don’t know their names or their stories seems to make it okay, though. Harold Pollack writes at Wonkblog:
A growing branch of empirical health economics combines data and rigorous econometric method to tease out the impact of diffuse but important environmental hazards on human health. In recent years, brilliant papers have appeared to examine the health impact of particulate pollution, nuclear accidents, and legal changes such as the Civil Rights Act of 1964. A terrific recent NBER working paper by Sandra Black, Aline Bütikofer, Paul J. Devereux, and Kjell G. Salvanes deserves to join that group.
These authors examined the serious harms inflicted on Norwegian pregnant women (and ultimately on Norwegian children) by Soviet nuclear testing in the late 1950s and early 1960s. As an added bonus, their paper provides further posthumous vindication — as if this were needed — of the great Russian physicist Andrei Sakharov.
Most of my students were born after the fall of the Berlin Wall. Many don’t know who Sakharov really was. That’s too bad. If one had to make a list of the greatest human beings of the last century, Sakharov would be close to the top of any reasonable list. Father of the Soviet hydrogen bomb, he became first among equals among the dissidents courageously fighting for human rights and liberal values in the former Soviet Union.
If one had to identify a single year when Sakharov moved from pampered and compliant technocrat, three-time hero of Socialist Labor, to active dissident, 1962 would probably be that year. It was then that Sakharov waged a lonely, unsuccessful fight to prevent redundant tests of Soviet nuclear bombs. Four years before, Sakharov had published one of the first studies seeking to forecast the contributions of nuclear weapons testing to human cancers.
Analyzing the diffusion of radioactive carbon, Sakharov forecast that the explosion of a one-megaton hydrogen bomb — equivalent in destructive power to 1 million tons of TNT — would cost more than 6,000 lives. These lives would be lost over many generations. These deaths would be hard to distinguish from the much larger number of unrelated fatal cancers. They would be no less important in the lives of real people.
At the time, the Soviet Union sought to demonstrate its resolve by exploding huge, militarily irrelevant hydrogen bombs. The largest of these explosions exceeded 50 megatons. According to Sakharov’s calculations, each such explosion would ultimately take hundreds of thousands of lives. He was a loyal Soviet citizen who believed that his country needed powerful weapons to deter western powers. He wanted this work conducted in safety, with restraint. He subsequently used his scientific influence to support a nuclear test ban, too.
Like the United States, the Soviet Union established two main labs designing these weapons. Inevitably, the two labs developed rather similar prototypes of a new bomb. Bureaucratic rivalry produced the predictable result: Each lab sought to explode its own bomb, although the resulting redundancy would expose millions of people to additional toxic fallout in return for very little military or scientific gain.
Sakharov frantically tried to stop one of the blasts — either one, he didn’t ultimately care. He appealed all the way up the chain to the leader of the Soviet Union, Nikita Khrushchev. Khrushchev frankly rebuffed Sakharov, sending a clear message that scientists should not meddle in larger policy matters. After the second explosion, Sakharov exclaimed, “A terrible crime had been committed, and I couldn’t prevent it…. I dropped my face on the table and wept.” (quote from Gennady Gorelik, “The World of Andrei Sakharov: A Russian Physicist’s Path to Freedom,” p. 288.)
The physicist’s anger and disappointment changed him. He began the journey from compliant technocrat to something more skeptical, to internal dissenter, and, eventually, to a political adversary of the Soviet regime.
Sakharov’s 1958 paper examined cancer. Black and her colleagues examined different consequences of nuclear testing that are scarcely less profound: The impact on Norwegian children of prenatal exposure to the fallout created by the frequent Soviet nuclear tests in the 1950s and early 1960s. Their specific findings are of interest. So is their clever and intricate study design. . .
Fascinating op-ed by Moises Velasquez-Manoff in the NY Times:
Will the cure for allergies come from the cowshed?
Allergies are often seen as an accident. Your immune system misinterprets a harmless protein like dust or peanuts as a threat, and when you encounter it, you pay the price with sneezing, wheezing, and in the worst cases, death.
What prompts some immune systems to err like this, while others never do? Some of the vulnerability is surely genetic. But comparative studies highlight the importance of environment, beginning, it seems, in the womb. Microbes are one intriguing protective factor. Certain ones seem to stimulate a mother’s immune system during pregnancy, preventing allergic disease in children.
By emulating this naturally occurring phenomenon, scientists may one day devise a way to prevent allergies.
This task, though still in its infancy, has some urgency. Depending on the study and population, the prevalence of allergic disease and asthma increased between two- and threefold in the late 20th century, a mysterious trend often called the “allergy epidemic.”
These days, one in five American children have a respiratory allergy like hay fever, and nearly one in 10 have asthma.
Nine people die daily from asthma attacks. While the increase in respiratory allergies shows some signs of leveling off, the prevalence of food and skin allergies continues to rise. Five percent of children are allergic to peanuts, milk and other foods, half again as many as 15 years ago. And each new generation seems to have more severe, potentially life-threatening allergic reactions than the last.
Some time ago, I visited a place where seemingly protective microbes occurred spontaneously. It wasn’t a spotless laboratory in some university somewhere. It was a manure-spattered cowshed in Indiana’s Amish country.
My guide was Mark Holbreich, an allergist in Indianapolis. He’d recently discovered that the Amish people who lived in the northern part of the state were remarkably free of allergies and asthma.
About half of Americans have evidence of allergic sensitization, which increases the risk of allergic disease. But judging from skin-prick tests, just 7.2 percent of the 138 Amish children who Dr. Holbreich tested were sensitized to tree pollens and other allergens. That yawning difference positions the Indiana Amish among the least allergic populations ever described in the developed world.
This invulnerability isn’t likely to be genetic. The Amish originally came to the United States from the German-speaking part of Switzerland, and these days Swiss children, a genetically similar population, are about as allergic as Americans.
Ninety-two percent of the Amish children Dr. Holbreich tested either lived on farms or visited one frequently. Farming, Dr. Holbreich thinks, is the Amish secret. This idea has some history. Since the late 1990s, European scientists have investigated what they call the “farm effect.”
The working hypothesis is that . . .
The Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP: food stamps) has been cut just at a time when the economy has put more families in need of it. The cuts were by the GOP, apparently as part of the war on the poor. This article in the Washington Post shows, however, that the SNAP program simply does not provide enough money. As a result, those receiving the aid must go for volume, buying the cheapest foods and going for volume and calories rather than nutritional balance—nutritional balance would cost more.
The article, which is lengthy and interesting, begins:
They were already running late for a doctor’s appointment, but first the Salas family hurried into their kitchen for another breakfast paid for by the federal government. The 4-year-old grabbed a bag of cheddar-flavored potato chips and a granola bar. The 9-year-old filled a bowl with sugary cereal and then gulped down chocolate milk. Their mother, Blanca, arrived at the refrigerator and reached into the drawer where she stored the insulin needed to treat her diabetes. She filled a needle with fluid and injected it into her stomach with a practiced jab.
“Let’s go,” she told the children, rushing them out of the kitchen and into the car. “We can stop for snacks on our way home.”
The family checkup had been scheduled at the insistence of a school nurse, who wanted the Salas family to address two concerns: They were suffering from both a shortage of nutritious food and a diet of excess — paradoxical problems that have become increasingly interconnected in the United States, and especially in South Texas.
For almost a decade, Blanca had supported her five children by stretching $430 in monthly food stamp benefits, adding lard to thicken her refried beans and buying instant soup by the case at a nearby dollar store. She shopped for “quantity over quality,” she said, aiming to fill a grocery cart for $100 or less.
But the cheap foods she could afford on the standard government allotment of about $1.50 per meal also tended to be among the least nutritious — heavy in preservatives, fats, salt and refined sugar. Now Clarissa, her 13-year-old daughter, had a darkening ring around her neck that suggested early-onset diabetes from too much sugar. Now Antonio, 9, was sharing dosages of his mother’s cholesterol medication. Now Blanca herself was too sick to work, receiving disability payments at age 40 and testing her blood-sugar level twice each day to guard against the stroke doctors warned was forthcoming as a result of her diet. . .
The program as it is does not strengthen our nation, but rather affects public health adversely.
The linked article is the fifth in a series of stories by Washington Post staff writer Eli Saslow looking at the U.S. food stamps program.
The food stamp economy: A look at how food stamps drive the economy in a Rhode Island town.
The recruiter: A food stamp recruiter deals with wrenching choices.
Summer lunches: A new way to help hungry children: A bus turned bread truck
Hard work: A Florida congressman pushing to overhaul the food stamp system toils to win over a divided Congress.
Yet another article (with podcast at the link) proclaiming the benefits of switching to extra-virgin olive oil as the cooking fat (rather than butter, lard, or what have you) and making the vegetables the center of the meal. One nice dish mentioned in the article:
Friedman whipped up a super creamy mushroom risotto topped with a parsnip puree. It sounds fancy, but Friedman says it’s really pretty simple: You just roast the parsnips with thyme, garlic and a little salt, then put them in a blender.
“If you look at it, it has the texture of creaminess, of butter,” he says. “But it’s just a puree.”
The taste is surprising.
Friedman agreed. There was no butter, no cream, no cheese, but the taste was divine. “I kind of tricked myself a little bit,” he says.
The article, at NPR by Allison Aubrey, also notes:
A new study published in the Annals of Internal Medicine finds that women who followed this pattern of eating in their 50s were about 40 percent more likely to reach the later decades without developing chronic diseases and memory or physical problems, compared to women who didn’t eat as well.
Researchers tracked the dietary habits and lifestyles of more than 10,000 women, beginning in late middle age. Every two years, the women filled out detailed surveys describing their diets.
Over the next 15 years, researchers kept tabs on who among the women developed a whole host of chronic diseases including Parkinson’s, cancer, and lung and pulmonary disease. The women were also given a battery of memory tests, and researchers also evaluated physical function, meaning the women’s abilities to move around and stay active.
“This really suggests that a healthy diet can help improve multiple aspects of your health and your ability to function when you’re older,” says researcher Fran Grodstein of the Harvard School of Public Health.
Stampfer says this study adds to a growing body of evidence that all points to measurable benefits of eating a diet that is rich in plant-based food and low in saturated fats, meat and refined starch. He says he’s changed his own eating habits based on the weight of the evidence.
Read the whole thing.
And yet, the statement is perfectly true—big-time true, since alcohol is much more addictive and much more dangerous. People regularly die of alcohol poisoning (hazing incidents, for example), and alcoholics find their body severely damaged by alcohol. None of that happens with marijuana. And people are not supposed to know this? It’s supposed to be kept secret so the alcohol industry can make more money? From an AlterNet article:
Chris Thorne at the Beer Institute told National Journal that it’s a red herring to compare alcohol to pot. “We believe it’s misleading to compare marijuana to beer,” he said, “Beer is distinctly different both as a product and an industry. Factually speaking beer has been a welcome part of American life for a long time. The vast majority drinks responsibly, so having caricatures won’t really influence people,” he said.
There are no caricatures in comparing the harm, to the individual and to society, from alcohol and from marijuana. (This is not to comment on the damage to society from the war on marijuana, which has been enormous.) And even the slightest investigation reveals that marijuana is much more benign than alcohol. (I do use alcohol, BTW, so I am not speaking as a teetotaler.)
Still, I understand their fear: it’s highly likely that legalized marijuana will lead to a significant decline in alcohol sales. Certainly that’s been the experience in California, just with making medical marijuana available.
It seems that our microbiome plays an important and active role in our health: the obese have a different gut microbe population than the svelte, for example. (Correlation does not equal causation. (We’re now required to state that bromide any time a connection is noted.)) Now autoimmune diseases turn out to have some connection to our gut microbes. Abby Olena explains at The Scientist:
The more scientists learn about the gut microbiome, the more roles it seems to play. New evidence from researchers at the New York University (NYU) School of Medicine, the Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center in New York, and the Harvard School of Public Health in Cambridge, Massachusetts, shows a correlation between onset of rheumatoid arthritis (RA) with the prevalence of a certain microbe—Prevotella copri. The work was published this week (November 5) in eLife.
“It’s been suspected for years and years . . . that the development of autoimmune diseases like arthritis is dependent on the gut microbiota,” Diane Mathis, a professor of microbiology and immunobiology at Harvard Medical School in Boston, Massachusetts, who was not involved in the work, told ScienceNOW. “It’s a very striking finding,” she added.
The researchers sequenced bacterial genes in 114 fecal samples from patients who had recently been diagnosed with RA, patients who had been treated for RA, patients with a different type of autoimmune arthritis (psoriatic), and healthy controls. They found P. copri in 75 percent of the samples from patients who had just been diagnosed with RA, but only in 21 percent of samples from healthy controls, 38 percent of samples from patients with psoriatic arthritis, and in less than 12 percent of samples from patients who had been treated for RA. Then the researchers compared P. copri DNA from several of the samples from newly diagnosed RA patients and controls and found that P. copri strains from recent-onset RA patients had fewer genes to metabolize purines and vitamins. The team also inoculated mice with P. copri and showed that the bacteria not only colonized their guts, but also seemed to make the rodents more susceptible to inflammation.
“That they were able to associate one bacterium with one pathology is remarkable,” immunologist Yasmine Belkaid of National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases in Bethesda, Maryland, who did not participate in the work, told ScienceNOW.
“At this stage, however, we cannot conclude that there is a causal link between the abundance of P. copri and the onset of rheumatoid arthritis,” coauthor Dan Littman, a professor of immunology at NYU Langone Medical Center, said in a statement. “We are developing new tools that will hopefully allow us to ask if this is indeed the case.”
I’m certainly going to review my own supplements. Take a look at this NY Times article by Anahad O’Connor.
Americans spend an estimated $5 billion a year on unproven herbal supplements that promise everything from fighting off colds to curbing hot flashes and boosting memory. But now there is a new reason for supplement buyers to beware: DNA tests show that many pills labeled as healing herbs are little more than powdered rice and weeds.
Using a test called DNA barcoding, a kind of genetic fingerprinting that has also been used to help uncover labeling fraud in the commercial seafood industry, Canadian researchers tested 44 bottles of popular supplements sold by 12 companies. They found that many were not what they claimed to be, and that pills labeled as popular herbs were often diluted — or replaced entirely — by cheap fillers like soybean, wheat and rice.
Consumer advocates and scientists say the research provides more evidence that the herbal supplement industry is riddled with questionable practices. Industry representatives argue that any problems are not widespread.
For the study, the researchers selected popular medicinal herbs, and then randomly bought different brands of those products from stores and outlets in Canada and the United States. To avoid singling out any company, they did not disclose any product names. . .
“The dangers of smoking marijuana” is a tired canard, and increasingly irrelevant as medical patients use marijuana ingestibles and a growing number use vaporizers rather than combustion. (It’s never a good idea to inhale products of combustion, though studies referenced in the article below show that marijuana smoke is pretty much harmless—it certainly does not cause cancer, unlike cigarettes.)
Paul Armentano, the deputy director of NORML (National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws) and co-author of Marijuana Is Safer: So Why Are We Driving People to Drink, writes at AlterNet:
As public support for amending America’s antiquated and failed cannabis criminalization policies continues to grow to record levels, stalwart prohibitionists – predictably – are doubling down on tried-and-true propaganda tactics to attempt to turn the tide. One of their most common strategies is to emphasize alleged health risks associated with marijuana consumption, in particular the claim that cannabis smoking causes cancer and other tobacco-related respiratory risks.
A recent example of this argument appeared in an October 29, 2013 Seattle Post-Intelligencer commentary , entitled “Marijuana smoking and the risk of lung cancer” by Eric Vallieres of the Swedish Cancer Institute. (Sweden, as a nation, imposes strict anti-drug prohibitions relative to most of Europe.) Predictably, his alarmist commentary is heavy on rhetoric but woefully short on facts.
Of course, no one argues that the ingestion of combustive smoke, whether it is tobacco smoke or cannabis smoke, is healthy. However, it is inaccurate to allege that the risks to the consumer posed by these two substances are equal. In fact, the most recently available peer-reviewed science clearly rebukes the allegation that cannabis is as equal to or more dangerous than tobacco. For example, writing in the prestigious Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA) in 2012, researchers from the University of California, San Francisco reported that occasional to moderate cannabis consumption was not associated with the adversely pulmonary risks associated with tobacco smoking. Investigators “confirmed the expected reductions in FEV1 (forced expiratory volume in the first second of expiration) and FVC (forced vital capacity)” in tobacco smokers. By contrast, “Marijuana use was associated with higher FEV1 and FVC at the low levels of exposure typical for most marijuana users. With up to 7 joint-years of lifetime exposure (e.g., 1 joint/d for 7 years or 1 joint/wk for 49 years), we found no evidence that increasing exposure to marijuana adversely affects pulmonary function.” The full study may be read online here.
The findings in JAMA were hardly a surprise. Previously, the largest case-controlled study ever to investigate the respiratory effects of marijuana smoking reported that cannabis use was not associated with lung-related cancers, even among subjects who reported smoking more than 22,000 joints over their lifetime. Summarizing the study’s findings in The Washington Post, lead investigator and pulmonologist Dr. Donald Tashkin of UCLA concluded , “”We hypothesized that there would be a positive association between marijuana use and lung cancer, and that the association would be more positive with heavier use. What we found instead was no association at all, and even a suggestion of some protective effect.” The full study is available here . (Notably, pot propagandists such as Dr. Vallieres try to in vain to undermine these findings by citing a 2008 New Zealand study, which some purport to definitively demonstrate a link between cannabis use and lung cancer. In reality, that study  only reported a positive correlation in 14 heavy using subjects – a sample size far too small to draw any conclusions from and a result that has, to date, never been replicated in any large-scale population case-control models. Moreover, the same study also found that light-to-moderate lifetime cannabis consumers, who consisted of the majority of the trials’ participants, possessed no increased risk of cancer.)
More recently, this past May presenters at the annual meeting of the American Academy for Cancer Research reported that subjects who regularly inhale cannabis smoke possess no greater risk of lung cancer than do those who consume it occasionally or not at all — according to an analysis of six case-control studies, conducted between 1999 and 2012, involving over 5,000 subjects (2,159 cases and 2,985 controls) from around the world. They concluded , “Our pooled results showed no significant association between the intensity, duration, or cumulative consumption of cannabis smoke and the risk of lung cancer overall or in never smokers.”
Most recently, an editorial in July published in the journal Annals of the American Thoracic Society concluded : “Cannabis smoking is not equivalent to tobacco smoking in terms of respiratory risk. … [C]annabis smoking does not seem to increase risk of chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) or airway cancers. In fact, there is even a suggestion that at low doses cannabis may be protective for both conditions. … This conclusion will affect the way health professionals interact with patients, parents with teenagers, and policy makers with their constituents. … Efforts to develop cleaner cannabinoid delivery systems can and should continue, but at least for now, [those] who smoke small amounts of cannabis for medical or recreational purposes can breathe a little bit easier.”
Why have scientists not identified a cannabis smoke/cancer link? The answer may be because cannabis, unlike tobacco, contains anti-cancer causing agents  – a fact most recently reaffirmed this week in Newsweek on October 29 under the headline “Marijuana might kill cancer.” Reports the story , “In a paper published in October’s Anticancer Research, Wai Liu, a senior research fellow at St. George’s University of London, reports that he found six cannabinoids – active components of the cannabis plant – that can slow or outright kill cancer cells.” Previous peer-reviewed assessments of the properties of cannabis smoke and tobacco smoke further acknowledge  that the pharmacological activities of these substances differ in such a manner that they are by no means equally carcinogenic.
It is true that some studies of cannabis smoke and pulmonary function indicate  that chronic exposure may be associated with an increased risk of certain respiratory complications, including cough, bronchitis, phlegm. That said, the ingestion of cannabis via alternative methods such as edibles, liquid tinctures, or via vaporization  — a process whereby the plant’s cannabinoids are heated to the point of vaporization but below the point of combustion –- virtually eliminates consumers’ exposure to such unwanted risk factors and has been determined  to be a ‘safe and effective’ method of ingestion in clinical trial settings.
Cannabis smoking is certainly not without potential risks. But these risks should not be overstated, nor should they be asserted as a justification for a public policy that continues to criminalize and stigmatize responsible, adult cannabis consumers.