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Kale: Too much of a good thing is bad

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I just learned that the cruciferous vegetables (kale, cabbage, broccoli, brussels sprouts, collards, bok choy) are contraindicated for those who suffer from hypothyroidism, a condition that often develops in women over 40. Flaxseed is also to be avoided. Foods good for those with that condition are seaweed (e.g., seaweed salads, which I love), brazil nuts, macadamia nuts, and hazelnuts, fish, and others.

Tom Philpott has an interesting article in Mother Jones on the dangers of eating large amounts of kale daily: thallium poisoning, such as “Chronic fatigue. Skin and hair issues. Arrhythmias and other neurological disorders. Foggy thinking. Gluten sensitivity and other digestive troubles.” But this is for people who eat a lot of kale—e.g., using a juicer to make a daily glass of kale juice. (I avoid juicing in any case: why avoid the fiber?)

Jennifer Berman also has a column in the NY Times (from 1/1/2014) about the dangers and effects of overindulging in kale:

. . . Imagine my shock, then, at my last physical, when my doctor told me I had hypothyroidism, common in women over 40. When I got home I looked up the condition on the Internet and found a list of foods to avoid. Kale, which I juiced every morning, tops the list, followed by broccoli, cauliflower, cabbage, Brussels sprouts and collard greens — the cruciferous vegetables I consumed in large quantities because they are thought to prevent cancer, which runs in my family. And flax — as in the seeds — high in omega 3’s, that I sprinkled on cereal and blended in strawberry almond milk smoothies. Also forbidden: almonds and strawberries, not to mention soy, peaches, peanuts, corn, radishes, rutabaga and spinach. . . .

Continue reading.

If you find yourself eating a lot of any food, it’s probably a good idea to search for common side-effects or contraindications. Eating a good variety whole foods (not concentrating them by juicing) is a good and conservative approach.

UPDATE: An interesting note from TYD: “Cooking breaks down the goitrogenic compounds and thus it is only the vegetables in raw form that should be avoided by people on synthetic thyroid hormones.”

Written by LeisureGuy

17 July 2015 at 12:10 pm

Posted in Food, Health, Medical, Science

Pope Francis the radical reformer

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A very interesting report from Naomi Klein in the New Yorker:

JUNE 29TH—PACKING

When I was first asked to speak at a Vatican press conference on Pope Francis’s recently published climate-change encyclical, “Laudato Si’,” I was convinced that the invitation would soon be rescinded. Now the press conference and, after it, a two-day symposium to explore the encyclical is just two days away. This is actually happening.

As usual ahead of stressful trips, I displace all of my anxiety onto wardrobe. The forecast for Rome in the first week of July is punishingly hot, up to ninety-five degrees Fahrenheit. Women visiting the Vatican are supposed to dress modestly, no exposed legs or upper arms. Long, loose cottons are the obvious choice, the only problem being that I have a deep-seated sartorial aversion to anything with the whiff of hippie.

Surely the Vatican press room has air-conditioning. Then again, “Laudato Si’ ” makes a point of singling it out as one of many “harmful habits of consumption which, rather than decreasing, appear to be growing all the more.” Will the powers that be make a point of ditching the climate control just for this press conference? Or will they keep it on and embrace contradiction, as I am doing by supporting the Pope’s bold writings on how responding to the climate crisis requires deep changes to our growth-driven economic model—while disagreeing with him about a whole lot else?

To remind myself why this is worth all the trouble, I reread a few passages from the encyclical. In addition to laying out the reality of climate change, it spends considerable time exploring how the culture of late capitalism makes it uniquely difficult to address, or even focus upon, this civilizational challenge. “Nature is filled with words of love,” Francis writes, “but how can we listen to them amid constant noise, interminable and nerve-wracking distractions, or the cult of appearances?”

I glance shamefully around at the strewn contents of my closet. (Look: some of us don’t get to wear the same white getup everywhere…)

JULY 1ST—THE F-WORD

Four of us are scheduled to speak at the Vatican press conference, including one of the chairs of the United Nations’ Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change. All except me are Catholic. In his introduction, Father Federico Lombardi, the director of the Holy See press office, describes me as a “secular Jewish feminist”—a term I used in my prepared remarks but never expected him to repeat. Everything else Father Lombardi says is in Italian, but these three words are spoken slowly and in English, as if to emphasize their foreignness.

The first question directed my way is from Rosie Scammell, with the Religion News Service: “I was wondering how you would respond to Catholics who are concerned by your involvement here, and other people who don’t agree with certain Catholic teachings?”

This is a reference to the fact that some traditionalists have been griping about all the heathens, including United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon and a roster of climate scientists, who were spotted inside these ancient walls in the run-up to the encyclical’s publication. The fear is that discussion of planetary overburden will lead to a weakening of the Church’s position on birth control and abortion. As the editor of a popular Italian Catholic Web site put it recently, “The road the church is heading down is precisely this: To quietly approve population control while talking about something else.”

I respond that I am not here to broker a merger between the secular climate movement and the Vatican. However, if Pope Francis is correct that responding to climate change requires fundamental changes to our economic model—and I think he is correct—then it will take an extraordinarily broad-based movement to demand those changes, one capable of navigating political disagreements.

After the press conference, a journalist from the U.S. tells me that she has “been covering the Vatican for twenty years, and I never thought I would hear the word ‘feminist’ from that stage.”

The air-conditioning, for the record, was left on.

The British and Dutch ambassadors to the Holy See host a dinner for the conference’s organizers and speakers. Over wine and grilled salmon, discussion turns to the political ramifications of the Pope’s trip to the United States this September. One of the guests most preoccupied with this subject is from an influential American Catholic organization. “The Holy Father isn’t making it easy for us by going to Cuba first,” he says.

I ask him how spreading the message of “Laudato Si’ ” is going back home. “The timing was bad,” he says. “It came out around the same time as the Supreme Court ruling on gay marriage, and that kind of sucked all the oxygen out of the room.” That’s certainly true. Many U.S. bishops welcomed the encyclical—but not with anything like the Catholic firepower expended to denounce the Supreme Court decision a week later.

The contrast is a vivid reminder of just how far Pope Francis has to go in realizing his vision of a Church that spends less time condemning people over abortion, contraception, and who they marry, and more time fighting for the trampled victims of a highly unequal and unjust economic system. When climate justice had to fight for airtime with denunciations of gay marriage, it didn’t stand a chance.

On the way back to the hotel, looking up at the illuminated columns and dome of St. Peter’s Basilica, it strikes me that this battle of wills may be the real reason such eclectic outsiders are being invited inside this cloistered world. We’re here because many powerful Church insiders simply cannot be counted upon to champion Francis’s transformative climate message—and some would clearly be happy to see it buried alongside the many other secrets entombed in this walled enclave.

Before bed, I spend a little more time with “Laudato Si’ ” and something jumps out at me. In the opening paragraph, Pope Francis writes that “our common home is like a sister with whom we share our life and a beautiful mother who opens her arms to embrace us.” He quotes Saint Francis of Assisi’s “Canticle of the Creatures,” which states, “Praise be to you, my Lord, through our Sister, Mother Earth, who sustains and governs us, and who produces various fruit with colored flowers and herbs.”

Several paragraphs down, the encyclical notes that Saint Francis had “communed with all creation, even preaching to the flowers, inviting them ‘to praise the Lord, just as if they were endowed with reason.’ ” According to Saint Bonaventure, the encyclical says, the thirteenth-century friar “would call creatures, no matter how small, by the name of ‘brother’ or ‘sister.’ ”

Later in the text, pointing to various biblical directives to care for animals that provide food and labor, Pope Francis comes to the conclusion that “the Bible has no place for a tyrannical anthropocentrism unconcerned for other creatures.”

Challenging anthropocentrism is ho-hum stuff for ecologists, but it’s something else for the pinnacle of the Catholic Church. You don’t get much more human-centered than the persistent Judeo-Christian interpretation that God created the entire world specifically to serve Adam’s every need. As for the idea that we are part of a family with all other living beings, with the earth as our life-giving mother, that too is familiar to eco-ears. But from the Church? Replacing a maternal Earth with a Father God, and draining the natural world of its sacred power, were what stamping out paganism and animism were all about.

By asserting that nature has a value in and of itself, Francis is overturning centuries of theological interpretation that regarded the natural world with outright hostility—as a misery to be transcended and an “allurement” to be resisted. Of course, there have been parts of Christianity that stressed that nature was something valuable to steward and protect—some even celebrated it—but mostly as a set of resources to sustain humans.

Francis is not the first Pope to express deep environmental concern—John Paul II and Benedict XVI did as well. But those Popes didn’t tend to call the earth our “sister, mother” or assert that chipmunks and trout are our siblings.

JULY 2ND—BACK FROM THE WILDERNESS

In St. Peter’s Square, the souvenir shops are selling Pope Francis mugs, calendars, aprons—and stacks and stacks of bound copies of “Laudato Si’,” available in multiple languages. Window banners advertise its presence. At a glance, it looks like just another piece of papal schlock, not a document that could transform Church doctrine.

This morning is the opening of “People and Planet First: The Imperative to Change Course,” a two-day gathering to shape an action plan around “Laudato Si,’” organized by the International Alliance of Catholic Development Organisations and the Pontifical Council for Justice and Peace. Speakers include Mary Robinson, the former President of Ireland and a current United Nations Special Envoy on Climate Change, as well as Enele Sopoaga, the Prime Minister of Tuvalu, an island nation whose existence is under threat from rising seas.

After an opening prayer led by a soft-spoken bishop from Bangladesh, Cardinal Peter Kodwo Appiah Turkson—a major force behind the encyclical—delivers the first keynote. At sixty-six, his temples are grey, but his round cheeks are still youthful. Many speculate that this could be the man to succeed the seventy-eight-year-old Francis, becoming the first African pope.

Most of Turkson’s talk is devoted to citing earlier Papal encyclicals as precedents for “Laudato Si’.” His message is clear: this is not about one Pope; it’s part of a Catholic tradition of seeing the earth as a sacrament and recognizing a “covenant” (not a mere connection) between human beings and nature.

At the same time, the Cardinal points out that “the word ‘stewardship’ only appears twice” in the encyclical. The word “care,” on the other hand, appears dozens of times. This is no accident, we are told. While stewardship speaks to a relationship based on duty, “when one cares for something it is something one does with passion and love.”

This passion for the natural world is part of what has come to be called “the Francis factor,” and clearly flows from a shift in geographic power within the Catholic Church. Francis is from Argentina, and Turkson from Ghana. One of the most vivid passages in the encyclical—“Who turned the wonderworld of the seas into underwater cemeteries bereft of color and life?”—is a quotation from a statement of the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of the Philippines. . .

Continue reading. There’s much more.

Written by LeisureGuy

12 July 2015 at 6:52 am

Why Is the Federal Government Afraid of Fat?

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Very interesting article in the NY Times:

SINCE the publication of the federal government’s 1980 Dietary Guidelines, dietary policy has focused on reducing total fat in the American diet — specifically, to no more than 30 percent of a person’s daily calories. This fear of fat has had far-reaching impacts, from consumer preferences to the billions of dollars spent by the military, government-run hospitals and school districts on food. Thirty-five years after that policy shift, it’s long past time for us to exoneratedietary fat.

The guidelines changed how Americans eat. By the mid-1990s, a flood of low-fat products entered the food supply: nonfat salad dressing, baked potato chips, low-fat sweetened milk and yogurt and low-fat processed turkey and bologna. Take fat-free SnackWell’s cookies. In 1994, only two years after being introduced, SnackWell’s skyrocketed to becomeAmerica’s No. 1 cookie, displacing Oreos, a favorite for more than 80 years.

In place of fat, we were told to eat more carbohydrates. Indeed, carbohydrates were positioned as the foundation of a healthy diet: The 1992 edition of the food pyramid, assembled by the Department of Agriculture, recommended up to 11 daily servings of bread, cereal, rice and pasta. Americans, and food companies and restaurants, listened — our consumption of fat went down and carbs, way up.

But nutrition, like any scientific field, has advanced quickly, and by 2000, the benefits of very-low-fat diets had come into question. Increasingly, the 30 percent cap on dietary fat appeared arbitrary and possibly harmful. Following an Institute of Medicine report, the 2005 Dietary Guidelines quietly began to reverse the government’s campaign against dietary fat, increasing the upper limit to 35 percent — and also, for the first time, recommending a lower limit of 20 percent.

Yet, this major change went largely unnoticed by federal food policy makers. The Nutrition Facts panel on all packaged foods continued to use, and still uses today, the older 30 percent limit on total fat. And the Food and Drug Administration continues to regulate health claims based on total fat, regardless of the food source. In March, the F.D.A. formally warned the manufacturer of Kind snack bars to stop marketing their products as “healthy” when they exceeded decades-old limits on total and saturated fat — even though the fats in these products mainly come from nuts and healthy vegetable sources. . .

Continue reading.

See also Why We Get Fat and What to Do About It, by Gary Taubes, and The Big Fat Surprise, by Nina Teichol, and note this post.

Written by LeisureGuy

9 July 2015 at 8:52 am

Promise Is Seen in an Inexpensive Cholera Vaccine

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Something new for anti-vaxxers to oppose. Report in the NY Times by Donald McNeil, Jr. at the link. The report begins:

An inexpensive, little-known cholera vaccine appears to work so well that it can protect entire communities and perhaps head off explosive epidemics like the one that killed nearly 10,000 Haitians in 2010.

A major study published on Wednesday in The Lancet found that the vaccine gave individuals more than 50 percent protection against cholera and reduced life-threatening episodes of the infection by about 40 percent in Bangladesh, where the disease has persisted for centuries.

In a result that surprised researchers, the vaccine worked far better than supplying families with chlorine for their water and soap for hand-washing.

“In the last five years, the conversation has switched from ‘We shouldn’t use vaccine’ to ‘How can we use it best?’ ” . . .

Written by LeisureGuy

9 July 2015 at 8:44 am

The problem is not in our wheat, it is in ourselves

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Why have our immune systems become so sensitive that auto-immune diseases are on the rise? Moises Velasquez-Manoff has an interesting column in the NY Times:

AS many as one in three Americans tries to avoid gluten, a protein found in wheat, barley and rye. Gluten-free menus, gluten-free labels and gluten-free guests at summer dinners have proliferated.

Some of the anti-glutenists argue that we haven’t eaten wheat for long enough to adapt to it as a species. Agriculture began just 12,000 years ago, not enough time for our bodies, which evolved over millions of years, primarily in Africa, to adjust. According to this theory, we’re intrinsically hunter-gatherers, not bread-eaters. If exposed to gluten, some of us will develop celiac disease or gluten intolerance, or we’ll simply feel lousy.

Most of these assertions, however, are contradicted by significant evidence, and distract us from our actual problem: an immune system that has become overly sensitive.

Wheat was first domesticated in southeastern Anatolia perhaps 11,000 years ago. (An archaeological site in Israel, called Ohalo II, indicates that people have eaten wild grains, like barley and wheat, for much longer — about 23,000 years.)

Is this enough time to adapt? To answer that question, consider how some populations have adapted to milk consumption. We can digest lactose, a sugar in milk, as infants, but many stop producing the enzyme that breaks it down — called lactase — in adulthood. For these “lactose intolerant” people, drinking milk can cause bloating and diarrhea. To cope, milk-drinking populations have evolved a trait called “lactase persistence”: the lactase gene stays active into adulthood, allowing them to digest milk.

Milk-producing animals were first domesticated about the same time as wheat in the Middle East. As the custom of dairying spread, so did lactase persistence. What surprises scientists today, though, is just how recently, and how completely, that trait has spread in some populations. Few Scandinavian hunter-gatherers living 5,400 years ago had lactase persistence genes, for example. Today, most Scandinavians do.

Here’s the lesson: Adaptation to a new food stuff can occur quickly — in a few millenniums in this case. So if it happened with milk, why not with wheat?

“If eating wheat was so bad for us, it’s hard to imagine that populations that ate it would have tolerated it for 10,000 years,” Sarah A. Tishkoff, a geneticist at the University of Pennsylvania who studies lactase persistence, told me.

For Dr. Bana Jabri, director of research at the University of Chicago Celiac Disease Center, it’s the genetics of celiac disease that contradict the argument that wheat is intrinsically toxic.

Active celiac disease can cause severe health problems, from stunting and osteoporosis to miscarriage. It strikes a relatively small number of people — just around 1 percent of the population. Yet given the significant costs to fitness, you’d anticipate that the genes associated with celiac would be gradually removed from the gene pool of those eating wheat.

A few years ago, Dr. Jabri and the population geneticist Luis B. Barreiro tested that assumption and discovered precisely the opposite. Not only were celiac-associated genes abundant in the Middle Eastern populations whose ancestors first domesticated wheat; some celiac-linked variants showed evidence of having spread in recent millenniums.

People who had them, in other words, had some advantage compared with those who didn’t.

Dr. Barreiro, who’s at the University of Montreal, has observed this pattern in many genes associated with autoimmune disorders. They’ve become more common in recent millenniums, not less. As population density increased with farming, and as settled living and animal domestication intensified exposure to pathogens, these genes, which amp up aspects of the immune response, helped people survive, he thinks. . .

Continue reading.

Written by LeisureGuy

5 July 2015 at 10:48 am

Pot’s Pesticide Problem

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Kaleigh Rogers reports at Motherboard on a problem due totally to marijuana being illegal instead of being legal, taxed, and regulated:

It goes without saying that growing weed is a little different from growing other kinds of crops. I mean, I don’t suspect vegetable farmers lose much sleep worrying aboutmischievous teens sneaking into their fields at night to grab fistfuls of organic kale (maybe hipster teens). But there’s one area where the difference between marijuana and other crops is particularly stark: pesticides, and it has both growers and consumers concerned.

For every other crop grown in the US, the chemicals used on them (like pesticides, herbicides, and fungicides) are carefully monitored and restricted by the Department of Agriculture and the Environmental Protection Agency. There are different limits setfor what kind of pesticides can be used and what is an acceptable level of chemicals that can be left behind on a crop (crops we eat, like tomatoes, are treated differently than crops we use for other purposes, like cotton).

But because marijuana is still illegal at the federal level, there are no protocols for pesticides when it comes to growing weed. From the federal government’s point of view, you shouldn’t be using any pesticides on cannabis because you shouldn’t be growing cannabis in the first place.

This has left growers with limited resources for trying to determine the best way to keep their crops healthy and their customers safe.

“Until very recently, it was the wild west: everyone was using whatever they wanted to, whatever they heard about on the internet,” said Whitney Cranshaw, a professor of entomology at the University of Colorado who studies pest management for crops. “Some were appropriate, others were inappropriate, but there was no direction from the feds, no direction from the state, no direction from anybody. So they just did what they thought was right.”

Recently, states where it’s legal to grow and sell medical or recreational marijuana have started rolling out recommendations for growers. In May, Colorado’s Department of Agriculture released a list of pesticides and fungicides that cannabis growers can use. Washington state followed suit earlier this month. But the lists are limited—they mostly focus on natural pesticides like cinnamon oil and garlic—and don’t provide a lot of info about the potential long-term effects of synthetic pesticides on a crop that isn’t just ingested, but inhaled.

“You can consume a large amount of pesticides from the plant by smoking it,” said Jeffrey Raber, a chemistry PhD who has studied the effects of pesticides on cannabis with his lab The WercShop. In 2013, The WercShop published a peer-reviewed study on the effects of pesticides on marijuana and found that up to 70 percent of pesticide residues on pot could be ingested through smoking. Aside from the high rate, Raber pointed out that inhaling a chemical very different from eating it.

“Usually the safety limits for a chemical on an inhalable substance are about ten times greater because they feel it’s that much more sensitive,” Raber said. “You don’t have stomach acid and your liver coming at things first. When you inhale things, it goes directly into your bloodstream. That’s a very different beast.”

The easy solution would seem to be looking to the pesticide restrictions on tobacco. People inhale tobacco the same way they inhale marijuana, so if a pesticide is safe to use on tobacco it must be safe for growing weed, right? Not quite, Raber said. Turns out the EPA has never been all that strict with tobacco regulations: research has shown the tobacco industry lobbies hard to keep its favored pesticides legal, and the list of pesticides commonly used on tobacco is fairly lengthy. Raber said at the end of the day, tobacco is getting mixed up with dozens of other nasty chemicals before it’s rolled into a cigarette. If you’re getting sick from a cigarette, it’s probably not because of a little bit of residual pesticide on the tobacco leaf.

And besides, Raber pointed out that tobacco, though also smoked, is a pretty different product than marijuana. While pot is often prescribed for people going through cancer treatments like chemotherapy to help ease pain and curb nausea, cigarettes are pretty much universally considered a bad idea when you’re going through chemo.

So if growers can’t look to the government and they can’t look to other crops as an example, what’s a modern day grow-op to do? . . .

Continue reading.

Written by LeisureGuy

30 June 2015 at 10:43 am

Posted in Business, Drug laws, Health

Addiction: Not a disease, but an example of the brain’s plasticity in learning

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Very interesting article in Salon by Laura Miller. The whole thing’s worth reading, but note this:

. . .  This conception of addiction as a biological phenomenon seemed to be endorsed over the past 20 years as new technologies have allowed neuroscientists to measure the human brain and its activities in ever more telling detail. Sure enough, the brains of addicts are physically different — sometimes strikingly so — from the brains of average people. But neuroscience giveth and now neuroscience taketh away. The recovery movement and rehab industry (two separate things, although the latter often employs the techniques of the former) have always had their critics, but lately some of the most vocal have been the neuroscientists whose findings once lent them credibility.

One of those neuroscientists is Marc Lewis, a psychologist and former addict himself, also the author of a new book “The Biology of Desire: Why Addiction is Not a Disease.” Lewis’s argument is actually fairly simple: The disease theory, and the science sometimes used to support it, fail to take into account the plasticity of the human brain. Of course, “the brain changes with addiction,” he writes. “But the way it changes has to do with learning and development — not disease.” All significant and repeated experiences change the brain; adaptability and habit are the brain’s secret weapons. The changes wrought by addiction are not, however, permanent, and while they are dangerous, they’re not abnormal. Through a combination of a difficult emotional history, bad luck and the ordinary operations of the brain itself, an addict is someone whose brain has been transformed, but also someone who can be pushed further along the road toward healthy development. (Lewis doesn’t like the term “recovery” because it implies a return to the addict’s state before the addiction took hold.)

“The Biology of Desire” is grouped around several case studies, each one illustrating a unique path to dependency. A striving Australian entrepreneur becomes caught up in the “clarity, power and potential” he feels after smoking meth, along with his ability to work long hours while on the drug. A social worker who behaves selflessly in her job and marriage constructs a defiant, selfish, secret life around stealing and swallowing prescription opiates. A shy Irishman who started drinking as a way to relax in social situations slowly comes to see social situations as an occasion to drink and then drinking as a reason to hole up in his apartment for days on end.

Each of these people, Lewis argues, had a particular “emotional wound” the substance helped them handle, but once they started using it, the habit itself eventually became self-perpetuating and in most cases ultimately served to deepen the wound. Each case study focuses on a different part of the brain involved in addiction and illustrates how the function of each part — desire, emotion, impulse, automatic behavior — becomes shackled to a single goal: consuming the addictive substance. The brain is built to learn and change, Lewis points out, but it’s also built to form pathways for repetitive behavior, everything from brushing your teeth to stomping on the brake pedal, so that you don’t have to think about everything you do consciously. The brain is self-organizing. Those are all good properties, but addiction shanghais them for a bad cause.

As Lewis sees it, addiction really is habit; we just don’t appreciate how deeply habit can be engraved on the brain itself. “Repeated (motivating) experience” — i.e., the sensation of having one’s worries wafted away by the bliss of heroin — “produce brain changes that define future experiences… So getting drunk a lot will sculpt the synapses that determine future drinking patterns.” More and more experiences and activities get looped into the addiction experience and trigger cravings and expectations like the bells that made Pavlov’s dogs salivate, from the walk home past a favorite bar to the rituals of shooting up. The world becomes a host of signs all pointing you in the same direction and activating powerful unconscious urges to follow them. At a certain point, the addictive behavior becomes compulsive, seemingly as irresistibly automatic as a reflex. You may not even want the drug anymore, but you’ve forgotten how to do anything else besides seek it out and take it. . .

Read the whole thing.

Written by LeisureGuy

28 June 2015 at 12:24 pm

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