RottenBrains

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Archive for the ‘Health’ Category

Mozzies learn to ignore DEET

Thursday, February 21st, 2013

A test suggested that some mosquitoes can be temporarily desensitized to DEET. I wish I could become as easily desensitized to the the stuff. I’d like to see a similar test for picaridin.

Mozzies learn to ignore DEET | TG Daily

Hit & Run > The Whole Foods Plan for Health Care Reform – Reason Magazine

Wednesday, August 12th, 2009

Reason’s Matt Welch points out what I consider the single biggest bang-for-the-buck health-care reform opportunity in his blog on Whole Foods CEO John Makey’s proposal:

“As someone who h-a-t-e-s the health care system, I’ve never understood why de-linking insurance from employment isn’t a central part of every serious crack at reform, given that a preponderance of analysts on all sides of the debate agree that the post-war linkage of health benefits to the workplace is one of the system’s Original Sins.”

Hit & Run > The Whole Foods Plan for Health Care Reform – Reason Magazine

A Measured Response

Thursday, April 30th, 2009

While there have been various slapdash measures put in place to mitigate the spiraling US Influenza A(H1N1) death count — one person and counting — it’s good to see that Fort Worth ISD has been able to keep their wits about them. Their measured response to the situation? “Fort Worth ISD To Close All Schools Immediately Because of Swine Flu Threat.”

Yes, they do use the phrase “until further notice,” and then go on to say that it will probably be at least a week and a half before they re-open any schools.

Rotten Brains

Thursday, December 18th, 2008

As the year draws to a close, it’s time to reflect on times past.

Back in September of 1997, when the media found out about the various transmissible spongiform encephalopathies that can arise from eating neural material of infected animals, CNN ran a story specifically about the eating of squirrel brains as a delicacy in certain southern US states.

The best part is the graphic they ran along with the story, which helpfully points out what part of the squirrel one should avoid eating:

squirrelbrains

Have a pleasant new year, and watch out for those squirrels.

Chocolate as an Antitussive

Thursday, December 28th, 2006

According to a 2004 article in New Scientist, theobromine maybe a stronger cough suppressant than codeine.

Theobromine is an alkaloid primarily found in dark chocolate.

Edit: The article did not actually say it was better than Codeine. I read that somewhere else–I forget where.

Edit 2: Anyone in the Estacado Systems office this week would tell you I was in need of such. I tried some–and it worked for a while, anyway. (Thanks, Brian!)

Monkey Chow Diaries

Wednesday, June 7th, 2006

Or, using general insanity to get people to link to your blog.

A guy decides to eat nothing but processed primate kibble ( _for_ primates, not _from_ primates) for 5 days. If his blog is to be believed, somewhere around day 3 or 4, the monkey chow company changed their fact sheet to say for all “non-human” primates.

Another Weapon for MRSA

Thursday, May 18th, 2006

The antibiotic/superbug battle has always struck me a bit like the antipiracy-measure/pirate situation. Sure, the anti-piracy crowd can keep coming up with new mechanisms, but it’s just a matter of time before the pirates find a way around them.

This puts humans on the losing side of a very long battle. I don’t think it will happen in my lifetime, but I strongly suspect we’ll return to 18th-century levels of mortality from infection within the next couple of hundred years, as we continually train bacteria to become resistant to more and more attacks. I don’t think it’s unreasonable to expect that the relatively short-lived “age of antibiotics” will form a quaint footnote in human history.

In any case, it appears that the humans may have bought a little more time yet again. The discovery of a new substance, dubbed “platensimycin,” has given us another tool against methylcillin-resistant staph (MRSA), vancomycin-resistant enterococci, and potentially a large number of other developing superbugs.

Edit: For what it’s worth, I beat Slashdot to this story by about 15 hours.

Feel The Burn: Peppers Thwart Cancer?

Wednesday, March 15th, 2006

Cancer Research has published the result of a study that suggests that capsaicin may reduce the incidence of prostate cancer. The team is calling for human studies on individuals with prostate cancer.

GERD: New Outpatient Surgery Options

Thursday, January 12th, 2006

This has apparently been around for a while (FDA approval was granted in 2003), but it just now caught my attention: there’s a relatively new device used to perform a type of outpatient surgery to fix gastroesophageal reflux, called the Plicator. Studies appear to give it a pretty good success rate (half of the successful participants were completely off heartburn drugs at the one-year mark).

It doesn’t sound like too many facilities exist for treatment at this time; however Baylor Dallas does perform such procedures. The process apparently takes between 20 and 45 minutes, and is done under conscious sedation.

Conflicting Evidence on Fiber

Wednesday, December 14th, 2005

Reuters is reporting that a recent analysis of previous dietary studies has concluded that dietary fiber has no discernable correlation to incidence of colon cancer.

The article is careful to point out that the other benefits of dietary fiber haven’t been called into doubt (and that, in fact, this analysis did turn up a reduction in rectal cancer in individuals with higher-fiber diets).

I love you, man!

Thursday, September 22nd, 2005

I am drunk off my ass, so I must post something.

On the other hand, I have very little to say.

So I’m gonna tell you about fats.

In fact, I’m going to tell you how I lost 20 pounds without even really trying. I would think it’s just a fluke, except that when I saw Jonathan in Paris, he had lost 30 pounds by doing almost exactly the same thing.

There are two fundamental principles: (1) Saturated fats are bad, and (2) refined carbohydrates are bad.

Let’s examine this for a second.

Staurated fats have a proven impact on blood syrum levels of cholesterol, which we all know is bad for you. I’m really not sure if this has anything to do with the weight loss, but my own personal cholestersol level is far more within spec than it was before. I’d love to add rigorous exercise to my regiment to suppliment this, but my current schedule doesn’t really allow this.

Here’s what I suspect is the more important part, though: I’ve stopped eating refined grains. No more white bread. No more white rice. No more refined sugar. And the coolest part is that I’m not hungry between meals anymore. Ass far as my research has led me to beleive, one of the key problems is that the consumption of refined carbs — grains or sugars — leads to a spike in blood sugar levels. WOO HOO!!! However, your body responds by releasing huge amounts of insulin. This takes the sugars out of your blood stream, and then hangs around, removes all the ATP from you system, and makes you continue to feel hungry. So, you eat again — even though you’ve had well more than enough calories for the day. The end result? You consume craploads more calories than you need, and you’re on a blood sugar roller-coaster that makes you crabby near meal-times.

There’s no magic bullet here. The basic axiom that you need to expend more calories than you consume still applies. However, by making yourself not as hungry all the time, eating less becomes a far more tractible problem.

I leave you with a very nic recipe that I constructed with the aid of a CIA textbook and some guidance from a professional chef friend of mine: I’ts a risotto-like dish made from steel-cut oats. And it’s very simple.

1 cup steel cut (“Irish”) oats
4 cups vegetable or chicken bouliion
1 medium onion, finely minced
1/4 cup olive oil
1/4 cup dry white wine (e.g. dry sherry)

In a medium sauce pan, heat the oil over medium. Add the onion and saute until translucent. Add the oats and stir until the oats begin to brown. Add 1/3rd of the boulion. Simmer until the liquid is mostly gone. Add another 1/3rd of the boulion, and do the same. Add the final 1/3rd of the boulion. Finally, when the last batch of boulion is reduced, add the wine and simmer down to a pasty texture. Adjust salt if necessary.

You can use this as a base for any sort of risotto-like dishes. Some good additions include fresh tomatoes, organo, basil, thyme, lemon juice, or anything similar that strikes your fancy.

Bon apetit, and enjoy the fiber. You’ll feel much beter.

Next time around, I’ll give you a more serious treatment of why polyunsaturated fats and monounsaturated fats are pretty much good for you, and why you shouldn’t try to limit yourself to low-fat options as much as low-saturated-fat options. In the meanwhile, add ground flaxseed to everything you cook, and stop buying white flour. You really can use whole wheat soft white flour anywhere white flower works, with the possible minor exception of angel food cakes. But we’ll explore that later.

In the meantime, I’m still quite drunk and must get some sleep. Hug someone for me, and be nice to your pets. Eat well. Be happy. And, for the love of God, spend some time outside this weekend (unless you’re being battered by a hurricaine). Come by and see our new office if you haven’t already. I’d love to meet up for lunch sometime next week.

And don’t worry. I’ve had over two liters of water. I’ll feel fine in the morning.

Immortality within 25 years?

Saturday, May 14th, 2005

RjS and I were chatting about cancer and various other biologic ailments and that brought to mind a gentleman I read about a while back by the name of Aubrey de Grey.

As the articles say, he is a Computer Scientist that hasn’t taken a biology class since he was 15 years old. Never-the-less, he decided he wanted to put an end to aging, for himself and others. As part of the process, he now holds a doctorate in biology (from Cambridge, still without taking any biology classes), and has become one of the most renouned and respcted gerontology and senescence scientists around.

As part of his attempt to “cure” aging, he has identified 7 different factors which, if solutions are found, might allow indefinite life-spans.

“I think it’s reasonable to suppose that one could oscillate between being biologically 20 and biologically 25 indefinitely.”
– Aubrey de Grey

Weird and interesting stuff, for one of the multiple articles on him, see: The Prophet of Immortality

Violet is not Purple: Is digital imaging broken?

Sunday, May 1st, 2005

Last night, as I was trying to get to sleep, I had a series of thoughts that brought me to a troublesome gap in my understanding of human vision1. My problem? I couldn’t figure out how we see purple.

See, growing up, we were always taught that the spectral colors, starting from the longest wavelength, were red, orange, yellow, green, blue, indigo, and violet. If you ever asked the teacher what violet was, they’d say “it’s just another name for purple.” Indigo? “It’s kind of a puplish-blue. It’s named after a type of flower.” Thus, we are taught that the rainbow, and therefore the spectrum of colored light visible to humans, looks like this:


~400 nm                                                  ~650 nm
This Is Wrong

There is plenty of confusion to go around here, so let’s start with the basics.

Average human eyes have four types of receptors — rods and three kinds of cones.

The rods operate well in low-light, are far denser than cones, respond more slowly than cones, and help distinguish contrast and detail.

The cones require strong light, pick up colors, and help process motion more quickly. These cones each have a broad range of sensitivity. The short-wave ones, s-cones (often erroneously called “blue cones”) are most receptive around 420 nm. The medium-wave ones, m-cones (“green cones”), 534 nm; Long-wave cones, l-cones (“red cones” ), 564 nm. In reality, 420 nm appears violet to humans, while 564 nm is really more of a yellowish-green (and not anything like red at all).


Approximate Cone and Rod Responsiveness by Wavelength (normalized)

The responsivness of the l-cones is insignificant below 450 nm and above 700 nm; m-cones range from about 440 nm to 675 nm, and s-cones, from somewhere shorter than 400 nm to about 520 nm.

All that is sent to your brain (in terms of distinguing colors) is relative values from these three cones. So, consider a single, pure light wave with a wavelength of 570 nm. People with normal eyes will perceive this as yellow (because it stimulates both the m-cones and l-cones in the right ratio). Two simultaneous waves of light at, say, 510 nm (green) and 590 nm (red) in the right ratio will produce the same reaction from the cones — meaning it will appear to be the identical shade of yellow.

So, here’s where I got caught up: if purple (which at the time I thought was the same as violet) can be simulated as a mix of red and blue, how does violet — at the low end of the spectrum — stimulate the l-cones?

The answer is that apparently, it doesn’t. And the key to that answer is this: purple and violet are very different colors. Physiologically, violet results from stimulation of the s-cones without stimulating the m-cones. (Perceiving blue requires stimulation of the m-cones to some degree). Purple requires at least two wavelengths, so that the s-cones and l-cones are both stimulated without having too much stimulation of the m-cones. I’m going to have to grab a prism and play around with a few things to be fully comfortable with my understanding, but I think I have a functioning model again.

But here’s where things get odd.

The lowest wavelength that your screen can display is this:


      
 
 
 
Here is Blue

Exactly how that blue is produced (and its exact color) depends on whether you’re using a CRT or an LCD screen, and a wide variety of other factors. It’ll probably be around 460 nm, though. That’s right around what people like to call “blue.” Anyway, the fact is that your screen simply mixes Red, Green, and Blue together to make the colors that it can produce. And the blue that we see above is still stimulating your m-cones, or it would appear violet to you.

So, as far as I can tell, modern televisions, computer monitors, scanners — even digital cameras — simply ignore indigo and violet. There’s no way to record them, and no way to display them. Taking a digital picture of a violet flower or a bird with violet markings will produce an image that substitutes blue — probably dark blue — for violet.

A key example of this shortcoming is shown by any attempt to electronically render Yves Klein’s trademark “International Klein Blue,” which contains a lot of indigo and/or violet in it. In person, Klein’s art making use of this patented color is absolutely breathtaking, even if it’s just something simple like a sea sponge dipped in paint. Stunning. Unforgettable. Seeing a work like this in person is absolutely shocking:


You don’t understand how pretty this is

On your computer screen, it’s pretty unremarkable, isn’t it? To understand what you’re missing — and what’s wrong with stopping the spectrum at blue — make it a point to seek out some of Klein’s work the next time you’re near a modern art museum.

So, this raises an interesting question: why do all consumer electronics use only red, green, and blue? Consider that, if cameras and monitors instead used a red/green/violet color scale, we would be able to have the same range of color reproduction that we do currently, plus the visible colors from 400 nm to 460 nm. In practice, most people just don’t take much note of violet, and simply don’t miss it. But wouldn’t it still make more sense to be able to reproduce it when it is present?

I mean, doesn’t your monitor suddenly feel strangely defective now that you realize that there are colors you can see but which it completely lacks the ability to render?


1 The thoughts themselves started off with wondering whether a very low intensity LED (or similar light source) with a peak output around 496 nm — the peak sensitivity of the rods in human eyes — would be useful for assiting with seeing in low-light conditions without reducing night vision for objects not illuminated by the LED. In the final equasion, it seems that the use of red light works at least as well. But that’s the sort of random thought that goes through my mind when I’m drifting off.

Plants Create Genetic Backups?

Thursday, March 24th, 2005

Recent findings suggest that certain plants might have the ability to revert to gene sequences present in their grandparents’ DNA. One theory is that these reversions are activated if the genes passed to a plant by their parents cause them stress. It’s not clear where the backup copies of genetic information are being stored yet.

If these findings withstand scrutiny, and if such mechanisms also exist in animals, the implications for genetic engineering are staggering.

Enova Oil

Tuesday, March 22nd, 2005

Arthur Daniel Midlands has recently launched a new cooking oil in the U.S. that they’re marketing under the name “Enova.” The marketing claim is that “less Enova is stored as fat in your body than other cooking oils.” What is this stuff?

Structure and Process

According to their literature, the key difference between Enova and “conventional” cooking oils is that most plant oils are composed of triglycerides, while Enova is predominantly diglycerides — in particular, diglycerides of a very specific shape. My organic chemistry knowledge is very rusty, but the general idea is that the fats that we ingest are generally (always?) fatty acids attached to glycerol molecules (CH2OH-CHOH-CH2OH).


Glycerol

In triglycerides, all of the OH radicals are replaced by carboxyl groups which attach long hydrocarbon chains. The nature of the fat (both dietarily and physically) varies greatly based on the structure of these chains. Unsaturated fats, for example, have some of their hydrogen atoms replaced by carbon double-bonds. Predictably, diglycerides and monoglycerides replace only two or one such radicals, respectively.


Saturated Fat! It’s What’s For Dinner!

Back to Enova: apparently, the manufacturing process involves starting with traditional (canola, soy) oils, breaking the triglycerides down into glycerol and fatty acids, and then recombining them in the presence of an enzyme. It’s not clear from the literature whether this enzyme catalyzes reattachment to the 1,3 positions or retards attachment to the 2 position of the glycerol — but the net effect is that you end up with mostly 1,3-diglycerides.

Dietary Impact

Now, the theory is that, since the human body can’t easily reattach fatty acids to the 2 position, processing of these fats after being absorbed is different; instead of being reconstituted and available for deposition as body fat, they are instead used in the liver for beta-oxidation. (Intuitively, it would seem that this would simply make whatever fat would have otherwise been used for that purpose to be deposited in fat stores instead — which, although not particularly useful, would make their marketing claim technically true).

Studies on ingestion of 1,3-digylcerides have produced conflicting results. Findings in Japan indicated that diglycerides may reduce visceral fat more than other areas. This would be significant if true, as recent findings on fat have reinforced earlier observations that viceral fat causes significantly more health problems than fat elsewhere. This study also observed significant fat decrease in subjects’ livers. However, a subsequent study in the U.S. was unable to replicate either result.

Both studies showed that the diglyceride group lost measurably more weight than the control group, so there is probably some benefit there.

In no case has any beneficial impact on blood serum levels of cholesterol or triglycerides been observed. This is particularly interesting, because the reported weight loss alone would generally be expected to cause a measurable decrease in LDL cholesterol levels.

Conclusions

So, the published information sounds pretty good — or, at very worst, innocuous. It’s a bit pricey, and I’m always personally wary of highly synthetic foods (e.g. corn syrup), but it doesn’t seem to have any outright warning signs. That said, there are a couple of items of potential concern that are worth noting.

Looking at it from the perspective of just another vegetable oil, there are some interesting things to note. If you check the nutrition label, you’ll see that it’s lower in saturated fats than even canola oil is. That would generally be good; saturated fats tend to raise LDLs. However, compared to most oils, the polyunsaturated fat content is somewhat high. Polyunsaturated fats tend to drop overall cholesterol levels, both LDL and HDL. That’s not bad, but it certainly isn’t as good as monounsaturates, which tend drop LDLs while raising HDLs. So, from a pure fat profile perspective, this looks like it’s not much of an improvement over, say, canola oil; and it may be worse.

The other interesting thing to take note of is the ratio of omega-6 fatty acids to omega-3 fatty acids. Enova has a ratio of about 10:1, while most vegetable oils are closer to 3:1. Although studies are currently ongoing, some researchers believe that higher percentages of omega-6 may cause higher blood pressure and chronic inflammation. (see http://www.psychosomaticmedicine.org/cgi/content/abstract/69/3/217).

[Edit: cleaned up many typos and cited a relevant study]

Sharks Can’t Get Cancer, Llamas Can’t Get Dandruff

Saturday, January 15th, 2005

Apparently, most dandruff in humans is caused by the presence of a specific fungus (malassezia furfur). You may have noticed, for example, that the active ingredient in Nizoral is ketoconazole — which, when taken orally, is a systemic antifungal. You’ll notice the similarity to the name of omniprazole (Prilosec); they’re in the same family. Unfortunately, their similarities cause them to interact in a way that increases the chances of liver damage when used together. From what I’ve been able to find, the same sort of interaction occurs between ketoconazole and the popular histamine blockers used to treat heartburn and alergies (largely, the drugs ending in -dine). I’ve gone looking for research data regarding the interaction between H2 blockers/proton pump inhibitors and topical ketoconazole before, but there don’t appear to be any such studies. After discussing this with a physician, the prudent course of action seems to be to avoid using them at the same time until such studies are made. Now, there are plenty of other active ingredients that have been FDA approved to treat dandruff (selenium sulfide, coal tar, salicylic acid, and zinc pyrithione). Unfortunately, most of these aren’t very effective. My understanding is that most, if not all, of these active ingredients simply mask the symptoms without having significant antifungal properties.

As usual, it’s llamas to the rescue. Researchers have discovered that llamas produce an antibody which specifically targets and kills malassezia furfur. The implication is that this discovery could be used to make a more specifically targeted dandruff shampoo that has much, much lower chances of interacting with other medication. I wonder if this could even lead to the developent of an oral dandruff solution…

Warning: Your Family May Be Bad For Your Health

Friday, December 17th, 2004

According to a study performed at Duke University, you have a 12.4% higher chance or dying during the two weeks surrounding Christmas. This pattern is pretty consistent across the past 26 years, except for two identified periods during which economic factors severely limited holiday travel.

What does this mean? Well, your guess is as good as mine, but it sounds to me like overexposure to certain family members (e.g. in-laws) causes potentially lethal levels of stress in most Americans. Regardless, it sounds like your best bet for surviving the holidays is to stay home this year…

Coffee and Your Heart Redux

Sunday, December 5th, 2004

I found a citation of a study which examined the link between chlorogenic acid and blood homocysteine levels (look about 4/5ths down the page, for the summary titled, “Consumption of high doses of chlorogenic acid, present in coffee, or of black tea increases plasma total homocysteine concentrations in humans.” ) Chlorogenic acid is not removed by any of the current decaffination processes.

Homocysteine is another predictor of cardiovascular health — so this would seem to indicate a more direct link between coffee and overall health.

There are conflicting research results about the effect of chlorogenic acid on cholesterol levels; Dr. Rodriguez de Sotillo’s research concluded that it has a lowering effect, while Dr. Frank’s research concluded the exact opposite.

So, this may really all be just so much noise for the time being.

Coffee Makes You Fat?

Wednesday, December 1st, 2004

A while back, I threw out a bit of trivia about a combination of research and theories, the conclusion of which is essentially that regular consumption of any kind of coffee leads to increased deposition of abdominal fat (which is a predictor of cardiovascular disease risk in both women and men).

Ben wanted me to dig up more information about the specific study, and it turns out that I can’t. I can find you information for the more limited case involving caffeinated coffee. In particular, numerous studies have found a link between oral caffeine administration and blood cortisol levels.

Add to this researchers’ beliefs that elevated cortisol levels foster abdominal fat deposition, even in individuals who would otherwise deposit fat in healthier places. One logical conclusion that can be drawn by taking these three findings together is that there is a credible linkage between caffeinated beverage consumption and cardiovascular health. It’s obviously not water-tight, and there’s still a good amount of research here to be done, but it sounds credible enough to act on.

Now, that’s all old news, and not what I was bringing up with my earlier statement to which Ben was replying. My earlier statement discussed the more general case of all coffee, even decaffeinated coffee causing increases in blood cortisol levels (and, by exension, unfavorable fat deposition patterns and resultant health impacts). If my memory serves, they attributed the increases to the theobromine and/or theophylline still present in decaffeinated coffee (meaning that, yes, chocolate may have a similar effect). If I stumble across that information again, I’ll put a pointer up on this site.

Teeth and Your Heart

Saturday, November 13th, 2004

So, I was pointing out the link between oral hygeine and heart attacks earlier this evening, and wanted to verify that I wasn’t hallucinating. It turns out that there is clinical evidence that the link between poor oral hygeine and heart attacks is significantly stronger than the link between elevated cholesterol and heart attacks. There is apparently also nontrivial evidence suggesting that gum disease is a good predictor of incidence of stroke.

More practically, from my own experience, Colgate Total seems to do a much better-than-average job of keeping bacterial plaque off your teeth than most toothpastes for a much longer period of time (although I imagine that the presence of triclosan or triclocarban would bring any other product up to the same level), and that a fluroide rinse or gel adds a further bacteriostatic effect which, if used at night, can be used to effectively eliminate “morning breath.” Additionally, the Johnson & Johnson brand tartar-control “woven floss” does a superior job of inter-tooth cleaning than most other flosses I’ve used (including Glide and various waxed flosses), with far less incidence of being destroyed by composite fillings. Further, recent studies that have shown that a mouth rinse with active ingredients of specific essential plant oils (thymol, eucalyptol, menthol) such as Listerine or generic versions of Listerine are “at least as effective as flossing for plaque and gingivitus” — 20% reduction in plaque, and 11% reduction in gingivitus, versus 3.4% and 4.3% respectively for daily flossing — which is a substantial improvement over purely mechanical removal. Finally, combine this with a plaque-loosening pre-rinse, such as Plax, before you begin your flossing and brushing, and you’ll find that you can spend significantly less time scrubbing your teeth to acheive the same effect. So, it may be overkill, but my bedtime routine consists of Plax/floss with Reach/brush with Total/Listerine/fluoride rinse. Sure, it takes a bit of time, but I figure I get most of that back by not dying young. YMMV.

This post brought to you by generous gin donations from Cullen and David, and all the folks who make Bombay Saphire so very tasty. I suspect that Alan may have brought my drunken mind to bear on the topic of oral hygeine, so he probably deserves equal credit. Thank you to all, and good night. I’m going to go brush my teeth now.

Edit: Total is made by Colgate, not Crest