Later On

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Archive for the ‘Health’ Category

What Life Is Like When Corn Is off the Table

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Sarah Zhang writes in the Atlantic:

When Christine Robinson was first diagnosed with a corn allergy 17 years ago, she remembers thinking, “No more popcorn, no more tacos. I can do this.”

Then she tried to put salt on her tomatoes. (Table salt has dextrose, a sugar derived from corn.) She tried drinking bottled iced tea. (It contains citric acid, which often comes from mold grown in corn-derived sugar.) She tried bottled water. (Added minerals in some brands can be processed with a corn derivative.) She ultimately gave up on supermarket meat (sprayed with lactic acid from fermented corn sugars), bagged salads (citric acid, again), fish (dipped in cornstarch or syrup before freezing), grains (cross-contaminated in processing facilities), fruits like apples and citrus (waxed with corn-derived chemicals), tomatoes (ripened with ethylene gas from corn), milk (added vitamins processed with corn derivatives). And that’s not even getting to all the processed foods made with high-fructose corn syrup, modified food starch, xanthan gum, artificial flavorings, corn alcohol, maltodextrin—all of which are or contain derivatives of corn.

“It’s such a useful plant,” Robinson says of corn. “It can be made into so very, very many things that are, from my perspective, trying to kill me.”

Read: Drowning in corn ]

Corn allergies are relatively rare, and ones as severe as Robinson’s are rarer still. (Many people unable to eat whole corn can still tolerate more processed corn derivatives.) But to live with a corn allergy is to understand very intimately how corn is everywhere. Most of the 14.6 billion bushels of corn grown in the U.S. are not destined to be eaten on the cob. Rather, as @SwiftOnSecurity observed in a viral corn thread, the plant is a raw source of useful starches that are ubiquitous in the supply chain.

It’s not just food. Robinson told me she is currently hoarding her favorite olive-oil soap, which she had been using for 17 years but recently went out of stock everywhere. (A number of soap ingredients, such as glycerin, can come from corn.) She’s been reading up on DIY soapmaking. A year ago, the brand of dish soap she liked was reformulated to include citric acid, so she had to give that up, too. And navigating the hospital with a corn allergy can be particularly harrowing. Corn can lurk in the hand sanitizer (made from corn ethanol), pills (made with corn starch as filler), and IV solutions (made with dextrose). A couple years ago, she went to see a specialist for a migraine, and her doctor insisted she get an IV that contained dextrose.

“And while in the midst of a migraine I had to argue with a doctor about the fact [that] I really could not have a dextrose IV,” she said. In the moment, she realized how absurd it was for her to be telling a world-class specialist to change her treatment.

Read: The allergens in natural beauty products ]

Because corn allergies are rare, many doctors are not familiar with the potential scope. Robinson said she was the first case her original doctor had ever seen in 38 years of practice, and he didn’t know to advise her against corn derivatives. Even official sources of medical information can be confusing, telling corn-allergy patients that they do not need to avoid cornstarch and high-fructose corn syrup. Misinformation abounds in the other direction, too, because corn allergies can be easy to misdiagnose and easy to self-diagnose incorrectly. All this means that corn-allergy sufferers encounter a good deal of skepticism. But Robert Wood, president of the American Academy of Allergy, Asthma & Immunology and a pediatric allergist at Johns Hopkins, told me that derivatives such as corn syrup can indeed cause problems for certain people.

People with corn allergies have naturally been finding one another on the Internet. A Facebook group called Corn Allergy & Intolerance (Maize, Zea Mays) now has nearly 8,500 members. Becca, a tech worker in Washington State, writes a fairly prominent blog called Corn Allergy Girl. (She asked I not use her last name because she doesn’t want her health status to affect her professional life.) The blog collates years of Becca’s research into corn allergies, as well as resources inherited from other, now-defunct corn-allergy blogs.

Members of the Facebook group have also forged ties with individual farms. Once a year, Robinson said, a farmer in California sends members of the group a big box of avocados that have not been exposed to corn-derived ethylene gas or waxes. “It’s a great month when you’re trying to get through all of them,” she said. For the rest of the time, she gets most of her food from a CSA with a local farm in Pennsylvania.

Becca, who writes Corn Allergy Girl, also gets a lot of her produce from local farms. The rest she grows. She goes to a specific butcher and meat processor who will custom-process whole animals for her without using lactic acid or citric acid. . . .

Continue reading.

Written by LeisureGuy

19 January 2019 at 4:41 pm

Nitrate-Free Bacon: Myth or Reality?

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Jennifer Curtis has a nice write-up at Firsthand Foods:

When the Firsthand Foods’ team began to get serious about making bacon, we decided, due to popular demand, to offer a “nitrate free” product. We came up with a bacon brine that utilizes celery juice powder as a natural preservative instead of sodium nitrite. The bacon that resulted is delicious! And left us wanting to know more about exactly what’s going on with that celery powder. What are nitrites and is our bacon really nitrate or nitrite free? Here’s what we’ve figured out from our research:

What are nitrates and nitrites and what do they do?

Sodium nitrate and sodium nitrite are salts that are used in curing or preserving meat and fish. Sodium nitrate is a naturally occurring mineral that exists in lots of green vegetables, which we (optimistically!) consume all the time. Sodium nitrite is derived from sodium nitrate and is the compound that actually contains the antimicrobial properties that are desired in the production of bacon, hot dogs, salami, etc… In the case of salami, sodium nitrate is added during preparation and it then breaks down during the fermentation process into sodium nitrite, which helps prevent the growth of the deadly botulism bacteria. In the production of products like bacon, ham and hot dogs, which aren’t fermented, straight sodium nitrite is added. Besides preventing botulism, the presence of sodium nitrite provides the characteristic pink color and piquant “cured” flavor to these meat products.

Are nitrates and nitrites bad for you?

Yes and no. Turns out that nitrates exist in fairly large quantities in green vegetables. When we consume dietary nitrate our body converts it into nitrite, which increases nitric oxide in our blood stream and helps lower blood pressure. The stuff that’s actually bad for you is nitrosamine. This is created in the body when those green vegetables react with our acidic gastric juices. However, those vegetables also contain anti-oxidants, which keep nitrosamine production in check. Nitrosamines are also created when sodium nitrite is heated to a particularly high temperature. Nitrosamines have been linked in studies to cancer and so they are considered carcinogenic. Because of these studies, the USDA has imposed limits on the amount of sodium nitrite in cured meats and requires the addition of ascorbic acid (an antioxidant) in order to restrict the amount of nitrosamines that we consume. The other thing worth mentioning about these studies that link nitrosamines to cancer is the fact that a person eating enough bacon to ingest a dangerous amount of nitrite is eating, well, a lot of bacon. This equates to the consumption of a lot of meat, saturated fat and salt, in addition to sodium nitrite. If you are consuming traditional nitrite cured bacon, try to avoid burning it and be sure (surprise!) to maintain a balanced diet so that you’re eating antioxidant containing vegetables and/or fruits along with that bacon.

What’s up with celery powder in “nitrate free” bacon, ham, etc…?

As mentioned above, green vegetables contain nitrates. If you want to cure meat without the pure synthesized form of sodium nitrite, the naturally occurring nitrate in celery can be used. During the curing process, the nitrates in celery powder break down into nitrites and provide all the benefits of botulism prevention, bright pink color and that delicious cured flavor. For full disclosure, the USDA does not consider celery powder or any other “natural” form of nitrate to be a curing or preserving agent but rather a flavoring agent.

So are there nitrates or nitrites in there or what?

Our products can be legally and technically labeled “nitrate-free,” because the brine we use contains no synthesized sodium nitrite. It contains celery powder (and thus “naturally occurring sodium nitrite”), sea salt, cherry juice powder (ascorbic acid), maple sugar and some spices.

But to be completely transparent about it, due to the basic rules of chemistry, products that include celery powder do end up containing naturally-occurring nitrate and its derivative, sodium nitrite. We could choose to make our bacon without celery powder but it would be gray in color and, quite honestly, not as tasty. We’ve opted for striking a balance between flavor, appearance, and ingredients that speak to our customers’ interests in a more natural product.

When it comes to bacon, ham and cured meats, we believe in providing our customers with wholesome, high-quality products made from welfare-approved, pasture-raised animals sourced from local farmers. We encourage you to indulge in these specialty products in small quantities balanced with a good dose of seasonal fruits and vegetables.

Written by LeisureGuy

18 January 2019 at 12:46 pm

Posted in Daily life, Food, Health, Science

How Exercise May Help Keep Our Memory Sharp

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Good to know. Gretchen Reynolds writes in the NY Times:

 

A hormone that is released during exercise may improve brain health and lessen the damage and memory loss that occur during dementia, a new study finds. The study, which was published this month in Nature Medicine, involved mice, but its findings could help to explain how, at a molecular level, exercise protects our brains and possibly preserves memory and thinking skills, even in people whose pasts are fading.

Considerable scientific evidence already demonstrates that exercise remodels brains and affects thinking. Researchers have shown in rats and mice that running ramps up the creation of new brain cells in the hippocampus, a portion of the brain devoted to memory formation and storage. Exercise also can improve the health and function of the synapses between neurons there, allowing brain cells to better communicate.

In people, epidemiological research indicates that being physically active reduces the risk for Alzheimer’s disease and other dementias and may also slow disease progression.

But many questions remain about just how exercise alters the inner workings of the brain and whether the effects are a result of changes elsewhere in the body that also happen to be good for the brain or whether the changes actually occur within the brain itself.

Those issues attracted the attention of an international consortium of scientists — some of them neuroscientists, others cell biologists — all of whom were focused on preventing, treating and understanding Alzheimer’s disease.

Those concerns had brought a hormone called irisin into their sphere of interest. Irisin, first identified in 2012 and named for Iris, the gods’ messenger in Greek mythology, is produced by muscles during exercise. The hormone jump-starts multiple biochemical reactions throughout the body, most of them related to energy metabolism.

[Read more about irisin. | Sign up for the Well newsletter.]

Because Alzheimer’s disease is believed to involve, in part, changes in how brain cells use energy, the scientists reasoned that exercise might be helping to protect brains by increasing levels of irisin there.

But if so, they realized, irisin would have to exist in human brains. To see if it did, they gathered tissues from brain banks and, using sophisticated testing, found irisin there. Gene expression patterns in those tissues also suggested that much of this irisin had been created in the brain itself. Levels of the hormone were especially high in the brains of people who were free of dementia when they died, but were barely detectable in the brains of people who had died with Alzheimer’s.

Those tests, however, though interesting, could not tell scientists what role irisin might be playing in brains. So the researchers now turned to mice, some healthy and others bred to develop a rodent form of Alzheimer’s.

They infused the brains of the animals bred to have dementia with a concentrated dose of irisin. Those mice soon began to perform better on memory tests and show signs of improved synaptic health.

At the same time, they soaked the brains of the healthy animals with a substance that inhibits production of irisin and then pumped in a form of beta amyloid, a protein that clumps together to form plaques in the brains of those with Alzheimer’s. In effect, they gave the mice dementia. And, without any irisin in their brains, the once-healthy mice soon showed signs of worsening memory and poor function in the synapses between neurons in their hippocampus.

The scientists also looked inside individual neurons from healthy mice and found that, when they added irisin to the cells, gene expression changed in ways that would be expected to lessen damage from beta amyloid.

Finally and perhaps most important, the scientists had healthy mice work out, swimming for an hour almost every day for five weeks. Beforehand, some of the animals also were treated with the substance that blocks irisin production.

In the untreated animals, irisin levels in the brain blossomed during the exercise training and later, after the animals’ brains were exposed to beta amyloid, they seemed to fight off its effects, performing significantly better on memory tests than sedentary control mice that likewise had been exposed.

But the animals that had been unable to create irisin did not benefit much from exercise.  . .

Continue reading.

Written by LeisureGuy

17 January 2019 at 11:09 am

Proper Breathing Brings Better Health

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Christopher André writes in Scientific American:

  • A growing number of studies show that breathing techniques are effective against anxiety and insomnia.
  • These techniques influence both physiological factors (by stimulating the parasympathetic nervous system) and psychological factors (by diverting attention from thoughts).
  • Because these techniques are safe and easy to use, scientific validation might result in their being more frequently recommended and practiced.

As newborns, we enter the world by inhaling. In leaving, we exhale. (In fact, in many languages the word “exhale” is synonymous with “dying.”) Breathing is so central to life that it is no wonder humankind long ago noted its value not only to survival but to the functioning of the body and mind and began controlling it to improve well-being.

As early as the first millennium B.C., both the Tao religion of China and Hinduism placed importance on a “vital principle” that flows through the body, a kind of energy or internal breath, and viewed respiration as one of its manifestations. The Chinese call this energy qi, and Hindus call it prana (one of the key concepts of yoga).

A little later, in the West, the Greek term pneuma and the Hebrew term rûah referred both to the breath and to the divine presence. In Latin languages, spiritus is at the root of both “spirit” and “respiration.”

Recommendations for how to modulate breathing and influence health and mind appeared centuries ago as well. Pranayama (“breath retention”) yoga was the first doctrine to build a theory around respiratory control, holding that controlled breathing was a way to increase longevity.

In more modern times, German psychiatrist Johannes Heinrich Schultz developed “autogenic training” in the 1920s as a method of relaxation. The approach is based partly on slow and deep breathing and is probably still the best-known breathing technique for relaxation in the West today. The contemporary forms of mindfulness meditation also emphasize breathing-based exercises.

In fact, every relaxation, calming or meditation technique relies on breathing, which may be the lowest common denominator in all the approaches to calming the body and mind. Research into basic physiology and into the effects of applying breath-control methods lends credence to the value of monitoring and regulating our inhalations and exhalations.

MIND UNDER THE INFLUENCE

Even a rudimentary understanding of physiology helps to explain why controlled breathing can induce relaxation. Everyone knows that emotions affect the body. When you are happy, for instance, the corners of your mouth turn up automatically, and the edges of your eyes crinkle in a characteristic expression. Similarly, when you are feeling calm and safe, at rest, or engaged in a pleasant social exchange, your breathing slows and deepens. You are under the influence of the parasympathetic nervous system, which produces a relaxing effect. Conversely, when you are feeling frightened, in pain, or tense and uncomfortable, your breathing speeds up and becomes shallower. The sympathetic nervous system, which is responsible for the body’s various reactions to stress, is now activated. Less well known is that the effects also occur in the opposite direction: the state of the body affects emotions. Studies show that when your face smiles, your brain reacts in kind—you experience more pleasant emotions. Breathing, in particular, has a special power over the mind.

This power is evident in patients who have breathing difficulties. When these difficulties are sporadic and acute, they can trigger panic attacks; when they are chronic, they often induce a more muted anxiety. It is estimated that more than 60 percent of people with chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) have anxiety or depressive disorders. These disorders probably stem in part from concerns about the consequences of the disease (what could be more distressing than struggling to breathe?), but purely mechanical factors may contribute as well: the difficulty these patients experience often leads to faster breathing, which does not necessarily improve the quality of their oxygen supply but can aggravate their physical discomfort and anxiety.

Rapid breathing can contribute to and exacerbates panic attacks through a vicious circle: fear triggers faster breathing, which increases fear. In 2005 Georg Alpers, now at the University of Mannheim in Germany, and his colleagues observed significant and unconscious hyperventilation when people who had a driving phobia took their vehicles on the highway (where they might not be able to pull over if they become agitated).

Whether anxiety derives from breathing problems or other causes, it can be eased by a number of breathing techniques derived from traditional Eastern approaches (see “Six Techniques for Relieving Stress”). For example, “follow your breath,” an exercise that focuses attention on breathing, is one of the first steps in mindfulness meditation, whereas alternate nostril breathing comes from yoga. Combining reassuring thoughts with breathing is an approach incorporated into sophrology, a technique that emphasizes harmony of body and mind and that borrows exercises from many approaches, including yoga and mindfulness.

Overall, research shows that these techniques reduce anxiety, although the anxiety does not disappear completely. Breathing better is a tool, not a panacea. Some methods have been validated by clinical studies; others have not. But all of those I describe in this article apply principles that have been proved effective. They aim to slow, deepen or facilitate breathing, and they use breathing as a focal point or a metronome to distract attention from negative thoughts.

SPOTLIGHT ON CARDIAC COHERENCE

A close look at one popular technique—cardiac coherence—offers more detail about the ways that breathing exercises promote relaxation. With the help of biofeedback, the approach attempts to coordinate breathing with heart rate, slowing and steadying breathing to slow and stabilize the heartbeat.

The method was developed based on the understanding that slow, deep breathing increases the activity of the vagus nerve, a part of parasympathetic nervous system; the vagus nerve controls and also measures the activity of many internal organs. When the vagus nerve is stimulated, calmness pervades the body: the heart rate slows and becomes regular; blood pressure decreases; muscles relax. When the vagus nerve informs the brain of these changes, it, too, relaxes, increasing feelings of peacefulness. Thus, the technique works through both neurobiological and psychological mechanisms.

Cardiac coherence’s stabilization of the heartbeat can dampen anxiety powerfully. Conversely, patients with overactive heartbeats are sometimes misdiagnosed as victims of panic attacks because their racing heartbeat affects their mind.

A typical cardiac coherence exercise involves inhaling for five seconds, then exhaling for the same amount of time (for a 10-second respiratory cycle). Biofeedback devices make it possible to observe on a screen how this deep, regular breathing slows and stabilizes the beats. (The space between two heartbeats on the display is never exactly the same, but it becomes increasingly more consistent with this technique.) Several studies have confirmed the anxiety-diminishing effect of these devices, although the equipment probably has more influence on the motivation to do the exercises (“It makes it seem serious, real”) than on the physiological mechanisms themselves. Simply applying slow breathing with the same conviction and rigor could well give the same result.

Some versions of cardiac coherence recommend spending more time on exhaling than on inhaling (for example, six and four seconds). Indeed, your heart rate increases slightly when you inhale and decreases when you exhale: drawing out the second phase probably exerts a quieting effect on the heart and, by extension, on the brain. This possibility remains to be confirmed by clinical studies, however.

Other work suggests that the emotional impact of the breathing done in cardiac coherence and various other kinds of exercises stems not only from effects on the periphery—on the parasympathetic nervous system—but also from effects on the central nervous system. Breathing may well act directly on the brain itself.

In 2017, for instance, Mark Krasnow of Stanford University and his colleagues showed in mice that a group of neurons that regulates respiratory rhythms (the pre-Bötzinger complex in the brain stem) controls some of the activity of the locus coeruleus, a region involved in attention, wakefulness and anxiety. Breathing techniques may influence this seat of emotions by modulating the activity of the pre-Bötzinger complex.

Beyond any direct effects produced by slowed breathing, the attention given to inhaling and exhaling may play a role in the brain’s response. In 2016 Anselm Doll and his colleagues, all then at the Technical University of Munich, showed that this attentional focus eases stress and negative emotions, in particular by activating the dorsomedial prefrontal cortex, a regulatory area of the brain, and by reducing activity in the amygdala, which is involved in these emotions.

In addition, paying attention to breathing causes most people to slow it down and to deepen it, which as I have mentioned, is soothing. Cognitive resources are limited, and so when individuals concentrate on breathing, they are not thinking about their worries. Those who practice mindfulness learn to notice when their attention drifts away from breathing and goes back to their concerns, and they train themselves to return periodically to their breathing. This refocusing has a relaxing effect on anyone and helps to combat ruminative thinking in people who have anxiety or depression, especially those who are particularly prone to negative thoughts that run in a loop.

WHEN TO USE BREATHING TECHNIQUES

What is the best time to apply slow-breathing techniques? One is during occasional episodes of stress—for example, before taking an exam, competing in a sporting event or even attending a routine meeting at work. In 2017 Ashwin Kamath of Manipal University in India and his colleagues studied stage fright before a public speaking engagement. The participants, all medical students, spent 15 minutes doing alternate nostril breathing—that is, slowly inhaling through one nostril and exhaling through the other by applying finger pressure to the side of the nose not being used. Compared with members of the control group, participants experienced somewhat less stress when speaking publicly.

These exercises may also help when insomnia strikes. . .

Continue reading.

Written by LeisureGuy

16 January 2019 at 2:00 pm

Posted in Daily life, Health, Science

How ‘traditional masculinity’ hurts the men who believe in it most

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Just reading the title one things of John Wayne, Ernest Hemingway, Clint Eastwood, William Holden—that sort of masculinity. Monica Hesse writes in the Washington Post:

My grandfather is traditionally masculine in most senses of the word: He was a soldier, then a bait-shop owner, then a garbage collector; he rose before dawn most days of his life and I never heard him complain about it. He raised six good kids, he tells funny one-liners, he’s an expert fisherman. He once refused over-the-counter pain meds even while at death’s door.

I’ve been thinking about him lately, for reasons I’ll get to in a bit.

More than a decade ago, the American Psychological Association released a set of guidelines for treating women and girls: a document that addressed sexual violence and pay inequality, discussed how women disproportionately suffer from eating disorders and anxiety, and advised clinicians with female clients on how to be more sensitive and more effective. The APA has also, over the years, released guidelines for treating older folks, and racial and ethnic minorities, and members of the LGBT community.

What the largest psychological organization in the United States had never done was release guidelines for treating men.

Men were already perceived as the default, unneeding of individuated study. “Unless you’re in a men’s group, you’re probably not regularly reflecting on what it means to be male,” says Matt Englar-Carlson, who directs the Center for Boys and Men at California State University at Fullerton. “You’re probably just enacting it.”

Psychologists want to change that, though, and last week marked the release of the APA’s inaugural Guidelines for Psychological Practice With Boys and Men — developed over 13 years and using four decades of research. Men are 3.5 times more likely to die by suicide than women, for example. They have more academic challenges and receive harsher punishments in school settings. They’re the victims of 77 percent of homicides (and they commit 90 percent of them).

One cause for this consortium of maladies, the guidelines suggested? “Traditional masculinity” itself — the term refers to a Western concept of manliness that relies — and sometimes over-relies — on stoicism, dominance, aggression and competitiveness.

“Everybody has beliefs about how men should behave,” says Ronald Levant, who was the APA president when the guidelines were initially conceived, and who has worked on them ever since. “We found incredible evidence that the extent to which men strongly endorse those beliefs, it’s strongly associated with negative outcomes.” The more men cling to rigid views of masculinity, the more likely they are to be depressed, or disdainful, or lonely.

The guidelines are saying some men are sick, in other words. But are they saying some men are sick, like, we need to gently care for them with aspirin and a thermometer? Or are they saying some men are sick, like, we need to put them in Hannibal Lecter masks and keep them away from everyone else?

Levant was shocked this past week by how many people responded as if the guidelines were suggesting the latter — people who read the 30-page document as an indictment not of rigid, traditional masculinity but of all masculinity, and of men themselves.

Fox News host Laura Ingraham accused the APA of conflating masculinity with “Harvey Weinstein”-like behaviors.

In the conservative National Review magazine, writer David French also critiqued the study: “It is interesting that in a world that otherwise teaches boys and girls to ‘be yourself,’ that rule often applies to everyone but the ‘traditional’ male who has traditional male impulses and characteristics. Then, they’re a problem. Then, they’re often deemed toxic.”

My grandfather is traditionally masculine in most senses of the word: He was a soldier, then a bait-shop owner, then a garbage collector; he rose before dawn most days of his life and I never heard him complain about it. He raised six good kids, he tells funny one-liners, he’s an expert fisherman. He once refused over-the-counter pain meds even while at death’s door.

I’ve been thinking about him lately, for reasons I’ll get to in a bit.

More than a decade ago, the American Psychological Association released a set of guidelines for treating women and girls: a document that addressed sexual violence and pay inequality, discussed how women disproportionately suffer from eating disorders and anxiety, and advised clinicians with female clients on how to be more sensitive and more effective. The APA has also, over the years, released guidelines for treating older folks, and racial and ethnic minorities, and members of the LGBT community.

What the largest psychological organization in the United States had never done was release guidelines for treating men.

Men were already perceived as the default, unneeding of individuated study. “Unless you’re in a men’s group, you’re probably not regularly reflecting on what it means to be male,” says Matt Englar-Carlson, who directs the Center for Boys and Men at California State University at Fullerton. “You’re probably just enacting it.”

Psychologists want to change that, though, and last week marked the release of the APA’s inaugural Guidelines for Psychological Practice With Boys and Men — developed over 13 years and using four decades of research. Men are 3.5 times more likely to die by suicide than women, for example. They have more academic challenges and receive harsher punishments in school settings. They’re the victims of 77 percent of homicides (and they commit 90 percent of them).

One cause for this consortium of maladies, the guidelines suggested? “Traditional masculinity” itself — the term refers to a Western concept of manliness that relies — and sometimes over-relies — on stoicism, dominance, aggression and competitiveness.

“Everybody has beliefs about how men should behave,” says Ronald Levant, who was the APA president when the guidelines were initially conceived, and who has worked on them ever since. “We found incredible evidence that the extent to which men strongly endorse those beliefs, it’s strongly associated with negative outcomes.” The more men cling to rigid views of masculinity, the more likely they are to be depressed, or disdainful, or lonely.

The guidelines are saying some men are sick, in other words. But are they saying some men are sick, like, we need to gently care for them with aspirin and a thermometer? Or are they saying some men are sick, like, we need to put them in Hannibal Lecter masks and keep them away from everyone else?

Levant was shocked this past week by how many people responded as if the guidelines were suggesting the latter — people who read the 30-page document as an indictment not of rigid, traditional masculinity but of all masculinity, and of men themselves.

Fox News host Laura Ingraham accused the APA of conflating masculinity with “Harvey Weinstein”-like behaviors.

In the conservative National Review magazine, writer David French also critiqued the study: “It is interesting that in a world that otherwise teaches boys and girls to ‘be yourself,’ that rule often applies to everyone but the ‘traditional’ male who has traditional male impulses and characteristics. Then, they’re a problem. Then, they’re often deemed toxic.” . . .

Continue reading.

Written by LeisureGuy

13 January 2019 at 4:00 pm

On discovering one has type 2 diabetes

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I just had a realization as I wrote a response to a person who was asking for diet advice because they had just discovered that they had diabetes. I wrote:

 When I found out that I was diabetic, I was crushed. It should not have been a surprise—I was overweight and (I now realize) making poor food choices—but I didn’t realize that it was so bad. And once I learned it was basically not going to change—once you have diabetes, you can’t put it back—I became fairly depressed for a while.

But then I decided to get serious about it, and I did a lot of reading and ended up with the approach I describe in that post, and things are going pretty well.

One big thing: if a food contains refined sugar, do not put it into your mouth. Period. Quantity of Sugar in Food Supply Linked to Diabetes Rates.

If a food is made of refined flour, avoid it: no bagels, bread, pasta, and so on. Occasionally I might have a hamburger, but even then I might remove the top bun and eat it as an open-face sandwich.

I avoid potatoes in all forms and rice in all forms: both of those drive up my blood glucose quickly. (Bread does, too.)

At Thanksgiving dinner and Christmas dinner, I will have a bit of dessert, but basically for dessert I eat berries. (See Low-Carb Fruits and Berries – the Best and the Worst.)

The more you learn about food and its effects on your body, the more confident and secure you will feel. It just occurs to me that learning that you have diabetes is stunning because you lose your Locus of control. That causes depression (cf. Learned Optimism by Seligman). By reading and learning and rebuilding your approach to food, you regain your locus of control and feel that once again you are in charge of your body, a feeling I lost when I was told I had diabetes.

The new insight was why I was depressed and how I got out of it, both of which were about my locus of control.

Written by LeisureGuy

13 January 2019 at 9:04 am

Very interesting report on exercise: what it can do and what it can’t

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It’s a long read but it’s worthwhile. Vybarr Cregan-Reid reports on “Why exercise alone won’t save us” in the Guardian. A few selections from the report.

. . . Fitness crazes are like diets: if any of them worked, there wouldn’t be so many. CrossFit, the intensely physical, communal workout incorporating free weights, squats, pull-ups and so forth, is still less than 20 years old. Spin classes – vigorous group workouts on stationary bikes – have only been around for about 30. Aerobics was a craze about a decade before that, although many of its high-energy routines had already been around for a while. (The pastel horror of 1970s Jazzercise is probably best forgotten.) Before that, there was the jogging revolution, which began in the US in the early 1960s. The Joggers Manual, published in 1963 by the Oregon Heart Foundation, was a leaflet of about 200 words that sought to address the postwar panic about sedentary lifestyles by encouraging an accessible form of physical activity, explaining that “jogging is a bit more than a walk”. The jogging boom took a few years to get traction, hitting its stride in the mid- to late-80s, but it remains one of the most popular forms of exercise, now also in groups. . .

. . . Technological innovations have led to countless minor reductions of movement. To clean a rug in the 1940s, most people took it into their yard and whacked the bejeezus out of it for 20 minutes. Fast-forward a few decades and we can set robot vacuum cleaners to wander about our living rooms as we order up some shopping to be delivered, put on the dishwasher, cram a load into the washer-dryer, admire the self-cleaning oven, stack some machine-cut logs in the grate, pour a glass of milk from the frost-free fridge or thumb a capsule into the coffee maker. Each of these devices and behaviours is making it a bit more difficult for us to keep moving regularly throughout our day.

As we step through various innovations, we tend to think of the work that is no longer required as “saved”. Cleaning a rug once burned about 200 calories, while activating a robo-vac uses about 0.2 – an activity drop of a thousandfold, with nothing to replace it. Nobody, when they buy a labour-saving device, thinks: “How am I going to replace that movement I have saved?” . . .

. . . A 2015 report by the Academy of Medical Royal Colleges called Exercise – theMiracle Cure said that regular exercise can assist in the prevention of strokes, some cancers, depression, heart disease and dementia, reducing risk by at least 30%. With regular exercise, the risk of bowel cancer drops by 45%, and of osteoarthritis, high blood pressure and type 2 diabetes by a whopping 50%.

Exercise, in these terms, is not a fad, or an option, or an add-on to our busy lifestyles: it is keeping us alive. But before it can work for us, our whole approach needs to change. . .

. . . The health effects of being sedentary are as common and recognisable as they are serious. Anxiety, depression, heart disease, breast and colon cancer, type 2 diabetes, high blood pressure, obesity, osteoporosis, osteoarthritis and the leading cause of global disability, back pain, are all driven by sedentary behaviours.

For our bodies to function properly, they operate on the assumption that we will be burning calories throughout the day, and not in short bursts. It is clear that periods of sedentariness are bad for the human body, and some exercise is always going to be better than none; the issue is not really to do with the types of exercise, but with our approach to them and what we expect them to achieve. We know from the data that the human relationship with exercise is predominantly characterised as both optional and additional to an otherwise sedentary life, which itself causes a ton of problems. As long as physical activity is divorced from the real work of our lives, we will find reasons for not doing it.

No matter how low the institutional expectations for physical activity drop, more of us fail to meet them each year. A Public Health England survey last year found that people in England are becoming so inactive that 40% of those aged between 40 and 60 walk briskly for less than 10 minutes a month. The reasons are numerous, but they seem to be connected to our notion of exercise, and the difference between short bursts of running or cycling and low-level, sustained physical activity. If we go back to the beginnings of exercise, we can see why it is still so problematic for us today. . .

. . . If being fit promotes long life, you might expect being an elite athlete to help you reach a ripe old age. It doesn’t. Olympians buy themselves an extra 2.8 years on average, according to a 2012 study. Devoting your life to sport and exercise will buy you more time, but once you factor in the Olympians’ lifelong sustained attention to diet and healthy living, as well as tens of thousands of hours spent training, 2.8 years might not really seem sufficient recompense.

Instead, the fittest and healthiest people on the planet have never been to a gym. These people, who report high levels of wellbeing and live extraordinarily long lives, inhabit what have been called “blue zones” – areas where lifestyles lead to peculiar longevity. The term was coined by two demographers, Gianni Pes and Michel Poulain, who, while collecting data on clusters of centenarians on the island of Sardinia, identified places of especially high longevity on their map with a blue felt-tip pen. Because clusters of long-lived people are often found in geographically remote places (also including parts of Okinawa, Costa Rica and Greece), jackpot genes seem like a strong candidate to explain their longevity. But a famous study of Danish twins has concluded that a long life seems to be only “moderately heritable”. Over the years, many studies have looked at the lifestyles ofpeople in “blue zones” and found that a number of their customs and habits contribute to a long life (everything from a sense of belonging and purpose to not smoking, or eating a predominantly plant-based diet). In the list of contributory factors, there is a noticeable absence of exercise.

I travelled to Sardinia to meet Pes and find out more about his work. He has a vested interest in longevity. His great uncle was a supercentenarian (living beyond 110). The years that Pes is interested in finding out more about are the good ones, not those spent with 24-hour care in a nursing home (there are also none of these in Sardinia’s blue zones). A trial by a group of gerontologists based at Boston University reported that 10% of supercentenarians made it to the final three months of their lives without being troubled by major age-related diseases.

In my conversation with Pes, he repeatedly stressed that while diet and environment are important components of longevity, being sedentary is the enemy, and sustained, low-level activity is the key that research by him and others has uncovered: not the intense kinds of activity we tend to associate with exercise, but energy expended throughout the day. The supercentenarians he has worked with all walked several miles each day throughout their working lives. They never spent much time, if any, seated at desks. . .

. . . For those of us who can’t move to Sardinia and become a shepherd, a review published in the Lancet in 2016 found that “high levels of moderate-intensity physical activity (ie, about 60-75 min per day) seem to eliminate the increased risk of death associated with high sitting time”.

So even if we go to the gym on a Saturday morning, our absolute inactivity at other times can still be damaging to the body. Low and moderate activity for longer or sustained periods seems to produce the best results. It looks like excessive high-intensity activity (the kind we see in elite athletes) drives metabolism and cell turnover, and may even, when all factors are taken into account, accelerate the ageing process. . .

Written by LeisureGuy

11 January 2019 at 4:21 pm

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