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Monday, December 27, 2010

Palin, Genetic Engineering, and Big Business

I while back I wrote Genetic Engineering: It's what's for Dinner.  I discussed the Roundup Ready seed products from Monsanto and how they were in everyday use.  I explicitly covered the details of how it was done as well as referenced the patents filed by Monsanto.

Of particular interest here is that during the creation of "Roundup Ready" seeds Monsanto extracts a large portion of DNA from the life forms used to develop a tolerance to glyphosate.  Claim #4 of the US Patent US Patent 4,535,060 says "A DNA sequence of less than 5 Kb having a structural gene coding for a glyphosate resistant 5-enolpyruvyl-3-phosphoshikimate synthetase."

This morning I read this opinion piece (link) in the WSJ: Ag Department Uproots Science.  The particular quote that interests me "the Roundup Ready crop [in this case alfalfa] menaces the purity of nearby organic fields, potentially cross-pollinating and threatening the livelihood of organic farmers."

The WSJ article complains that "sound science" is being ignored while "activists" set the agenda for what is approved or not approved by the USDA.

Sadly I think the WSJ is a bit late in its assessment of "sound science" - perhaps 30 years too late.

The first "Roundup Ready" patent dates from the mid 1980's.  Since that time a significant amount of additional information wabout what might exactly be in the "less than 5Kb" of DNA used to create the Roundup Ready crops has been unearthed:

 - Wired "Early Reports from the 'Dark Matter' of the Genome"

 - Which leads you to "ENCODE: More Genomic Empowerment"

 - Which covers these many papers.

The papers address the function of what was considered "non-coding junk" (see Wikipedia) in DNA - the spaces between the actual DNA elements which encoded for proteins (introns).

Thirty years ago splicing DNA a la Monsanto and Roundup Ready did constitute "good science".  At that time the only function thought to be carried in the spliced genes was the protein encoding portion.  The introns were useless junk left by evolution - sort of like an old attic full of quaint and useless artifacts.

Today much more is now known about that that "good science" involves.  Specifically the ENCODE papers discuss the venerable Fruit Fly, its genes and (from Wired) "2,000 previously unknown genes" and "more than 100,000 new elements, or molecules that aren’t genes but may still have function in the genome."

So much for useless junk.

So what is 5Kb of DNA contains not only the protens for glyphosate resistance but also other, unknown things - probably quite a lot of unknown things.

The "activists" complain that the Roundup Ready pollen is being spread beyond the Monsanto crops as I covered in my original post.  At this point I have to say that the WSJ needs to check further in to modern science - perhaps they are less than "cutting edge".

Science has progressed since the 1980's.

On the same page as the "Ag Department" (yes, I am reading the "hard copy") article we find "Palin's Food Fight".  This piece contains a discussion of Mrs. Palin's comments on her TV reality show regarding "S'mores" and "Michelle Obama".   Palin specifically says, with regard to serving her children s'mores: "This is to honor Michelle Obama, who said the other day we should not have dessert."

Michelle Obama, like Sarah Palin, has recently emphasized "personal responsibility" is choosing what to eat.

The problem here is that based on my previous comments "choosing what to eat" is no longer a black and white choice like it once was.

And that's my point. 

On the same page where the WSJ is crying foul about "activists" and genetically modified food it is also discussing "personal responsibility" and selecting what to eat.  We now consume foods with artificially embedded genetic material which we do not understand.  So how do we choose wisely here?

And that's a problem.

The "good science" on GM foods is old.  What is being done to our food is clearly, based on the recent research, not so simple as merely transferring a protein coding genes from A to B.  More than just a gene, in fact a lot more, comes along for the ride in what used to be considered "junk DNA".

Consider 98% of human genes do not encode for proteins.

Which means that even if we sequence the entire genome of a human we are still missing 98% of what's being coded - and of that 98% we apparently know about zero regarding what it does.  And it apparently does a lot according to ENCODE.

So what do the Roundup Ready GM introns copied into the GM seeds do? (No one knows.)

Did Monsanto get all the right introns copied?  (No one knows.)

Do they understand what these introns do? (More than likely not.)

Is it a good idea to spread these modified genes around not knowing what they do? (No.)

I don't think that these points make me a crackpot activist.

I think that handing kiddies a lunch box full of big ag bioengineering without knowing what all the introns do does make anyone who supports it a crackpot.

Or perhaps, crackpot is too kind of a word.

Perhaps without full and complete understanding GM modifications like Roundup Ready could be dangerous in some unknown way.  (Given the large percentage of introns in genes relative to protein encoding I think makes this even more dangerous.)

Humanity as a whole has not done a very good job with that sort of thing, e.g., thalidomide, Celebrex and all the other wondrous creations withdrawn from market.  Weren't they all "approved" at some point only to later discover that the approval was perhaps granted to hastily?

The genetic changes being made are more complex than simple drugs you swallow and will therefore likely take much long to express their true meaning.

And drugs don't permanently and uncontrollably alter the genetic nature of our environment.

Wednesday, December 22, 2010

We'll Be On Holiday...

Over the next two weeks with a lighter posting schedule....

Tuesday, December 21, 2010

Stink Bug Remedy

If you live on the east or west coast you've probably seem them and worse, have them in your house.

We have them here in western Pennsylvania.

The brown marmorated stink bugs (BMSB) are probably a recent guests - first found in Penssylvania in Allentown around 1998.  The bug is a true bug and part of the insect family Pentatomidae.  Its Latin name is Halyomorpha halys.  The rumor is that they arrived in containers from Asia.

These bugs are true agricultural pests in their homeland of China, Japan, Taiwan and Korea. However, they are not dangerous to humans and do not damage structures or reproduce inside.  There are numerous species of these bugs, many common to Africa, India as well as Asia.

Here I have seen them on fruit trees and, according to this, they will attack other crops as well.  Regional fruits and vegetables subject to Halyomorpha halys attack include apples, mulberries, blackberry, sweet corn, field corn, soybeans, tomatoes, lima beans, green peppers and peaches.  Damage to fruits looks like this.  It's called "cat facing" and renders the fruit unfit for sale as "fresh".

Here in Pennsylvania their life cycle is probably one generation per year (perhaps more if its warm, maybe to two or three max).  In Asia where its warm they probably have four to six generations per year.

To prevent a "stink bug" problem its best to make sure they can't get inside.  Right.

So now that they are in your house what do you do?

Basically there aren't many options.  You can spray for them but that might leave you with a killing fields of stink bugs which will attract yet more bugs to eat the carcasses.

So while I've been busy fixing up my new powder room, working and writing blog posts my better half, unnoticed, has be cleverly developing a "stink bug" final solution for our house.  We had quite a few over the summer and now, even when the temperature pops up to 25 F or better then emerge to cling to the windows, fly around, and generally cause problems.

So today I noticed that one of the larger spider plants had been moved over to the kitchen table.  Near by is a small soup can.  I don't pay much attention until she calls me over.

"Look at this" she says proudly thrusting the can under my nose.

"What's that?" I say.

"Look!"

Sure enough there are dozens of dead stink bugs in the can floating belly up.  I think back.  Yup, she was over there fiddling with that plant and can for the last couple of days.

"They love my spider plant," she says.

Sure enough its covered with them.  Lurking about under the leaves.  So I watch.  Evey once and a while she goes over and picks off any new arrivals off the plant and drops them in the soup can.

(Which is filled with the water.)

Now that I think about it there are far fewer around (I do realize its winter but until the spider plant was pulled out onto the dining room table as a trap there were still quite a few flying around when it warmed up even a few degrees).

So why is this working?

The spider plant, or Chlorophytum comosum, is a native of South Africa, according to Wikipedia.  We've had them in our home on and off for decades.  So a little research turns up this link: Stink bugs are a South African delicacy collected by women from plants at dawn, washed, boiled and eaten.  No doubt our little friends feel right at home in the spider plants.

In any case it seems the stink bug and the spider plant are old friends.

Now that its dinner time I guess I'd better check to see of the soup can is empty...

P.S. - She claims that Dawn is mixed into the water as well to help the bugs on to their next lives.

Products for Sale...

Here at the Lone Wolf & Just-Got-Lucky we don't just work on software or blog about random stuff.

Over the last nine months or so I have been working on some ideas for some "old barn" inspired cabinetry.  I have been debating about what to do with this and I have decided to offer for sale a line of custom cabinets, counter and sink tops.

On our property we had an old barn.  It was built in the 1850's and was a "Dutch" style.  There are a lot of these in the neighborhood where we live.   It was getting a bit weathered and there seemed no point in doing a lot of work on it since we did not plan to continue using it as a barn.  So in 2006 we knocked it down.

We decided to use the parts of it in an addition we planned to build to our home.  The goal was to preserve the design and "nature" of the barn while at the same time bringing it into a modern home.  (We had looking into making the barn a house but decided there were too many problems.)

Here is an example of what the counter and sink tops look like.  The counter top is joined, hand-matched oak splits.  Each is about 1" and matched with its neighbor.  The top is basically a custom marine-style finish of tung oil and spar varnish.  The hardware was selected to resemble the colors you would find in vintage 1850's metal.  (The rest of the powder room is not complete as can be seen from the missing trim.)



The base is made from the siding from the old barn we took down on our property.  The wood here is untreated siding that has been exposed to the elements for the last 150 or so years.  The flooring here is tile matched to the style of the base.


Here is another view of the sink top.  I was a bit worried about joining the top and sink but it worked out okay.


There is still a "skirt" that fits between the underside of the top and the base.  I will post a picture of this when my wife completes it.  It will be woven wood strips.  There is also a back splash that is not yet complete. 

The goal in creating this was two fold - create something that would work at its intended purpose as well as be a pleasing art work that brought the old barn into a modern house.

The goal here is to sell something that people would be proud and pleased to have in their homes.  Most of my life involves building things of one sort or another targeted to specific, one time uses and this is really no different.

Ideally potential customers will have hardware (like the Kohler commercial were the wife plops down a faucet and asks the architect to build a house around it) and I will create the rest.

Though this is inspired by the barn I have no compunction about creating other types of cabinetry.  My dad, an architect, was an actual student of Frank Lloyd Wright so I am well versed in all sorts of other types of design.

More on this to come over the next couple of weeks...

Monday, December 20, 2010

Barbie Porn

One of the most disturbing things in the modern age is the "what if" crime.  For example, Mattel (or whoever makes Barbie these days), produces a Barbie doll with a small video camera inside.  The result of this is that the FBI issues a warning document (described here) claiming that "law enforcement is encouraged to be aware of unconventional avenues for possible production and possession of child pornography, such as the Barbie Video Girl."

(Unlike the the Amazon porn guy documented here I think "child porn" production should be a death penalty case - there would be much less that way...)

Now as far as it goes this FBI document is fine.

I just wonder why they missed the whole grade school/middle school sexting thing.  Clearly this is just as bad as any Barbie camera doll - but apparently there isn't much call for parents and law enforcement to be careful about what kids are doing with their phones.  Certainly its a problem.

Clearly any cell phone or video device can be used in this sort of crime - but no one is concerned until Barbie does it.

I see a few fundamental problems here.

First off I find it troubling that kids in grade or middle school, or even high school for that matter, need phones, let alone phones with cameras in them.  Given the "porn star mentality" of most prime-time TV shows (documented here) its little wonder that kids' hormones direct them to activities that, 20 years ago, simply would not have been possible.

Now personally I don't blame the kids.  Adults are required to buy the phones and 99.9% of the time pay for the phones.  So clearly its their fault to begin with.  Yet somehow, when some highschool kids are involved in "sexting" (see this story) charges are brought against the kids.

Now I ask what about the parents?  Aren't they required for the kid to have a cellphone in the first place.  Isn't using a phone something that requires responsibility?

While the kids violate the letter of the law (with very serious consequences) the various statutes they violate were not, according Patrick Artur, a Philadelphia defense attorney, designed for "sexting".  Their primary use was to stop "dirty old men in rain coats".

So the FBI is concerned about "what if" some perv gets hold of a Barbie camera while, right underneath their noses, kids are manufacturing porn at a pace to rival commercial porn houses: 1 in 5 kids post nude pictures of themselves on cell phones - 1 in 5.  So if there's, say 15 million kids in high school (grades 9 -12) you're looking at millions of kids producing child porn as defined by the law.

So I ask "what if" that's a problem?  All this kiddie porn on cellphones.

In today's age of "its not my fault" how does this go on?

Personally I think its a question of adult responsibility abdication.

In the olden days your dad had a hunting rifle.  You didn't touch it without permission let alone take it out or to school.  There was an entire societal infrastructure around learning to use it safely and carefully and "becoming a man" as you graduated to being able to hunt with dad and his friends.  There were no school shootings in those days because society created a means to control something dangerous.

Today there is no such societal governor on our kids behavior.

The reason is simple and sad: everyone is too busy.  They are too busy working extra hard to afford cell phones for their kids - all the while not realizing what the kiddies are up to with it.  (Though there is no doubt in my mind that a significant number of parents don't care whether the kids are sexting or not - some Modern Mon's probably think its cool and are jealous.)

Now I argue with my better half about this.  One perspective is "if its wrong and you do it, you're punished".  While I agree with this from the perspective of the "olden days" I am no so sure when modern technology like a video camera cellphone is released "into the wild".

I believe that children are just that, children, and offering them an unchecked Pandora's box of sexual delights at age 12 is crime.

But, you might argue, its not a crime, its a phone.  They need it to call me when they get home from school so I know they are safe.

Right.  Safe.  Safe at home manufacturing child porn after school because they are bored.

In my childhood there was (and still is) the concept of "the attractive nuisance".  Some guy would setup a trampoline next to a cliff side.  The kiddies would show up, play on the trampoline until someone went sailing over the edge.  Bingo, the trampoline owner was at fault. (This is why all pools have fences today.)

Why?

The assumption under the law was that, as an "owner" of the trampoline there came responsibility.

This needs to be applied to the wondrous new technologies that are being shoved down the throats of ten year old by modern society.

The legal system needs to wake up and realize that its the parents that own the phones - not the kids.  The kids are not allowed to buy them unless they are eighteen.

But no, cell phones make a wonderful babysitting tool for Modern Mom so no one wants to rock the boat with talk of Modern Mom also having to be responsible for what is done with her property.  "What if" mom and dad were responsible for what the kid did... just like in the olden days?

No, the only real pornography here is watching society debauch kids in the name of convenience and corporate profits.

Friday, December 17, 2010

HFCS: Spawn of Satan?

I wrote here yesterday about High Fructose Corn Syrup (HFCS) and nutrition, health and diet.  Its clear to me that HFCS along with sugar are contributing to the obesity of people around the world.

But what's contributing HFCS to our food supply in the first place?  Why do we even need this product?

Well let's take a look...

Before there was HFCS there was sugar.  So let's start with that.  Some research led me to this article about the history (written in the 1990's) of sugar prices in the US.  You can read more about the details, which are quite interesting, but the bottom line seems to be summed up by this one sentence: "U.S. sugar prices have been as high as or higher than world prices for 44 of the last 45 years."  The point of the article is that sugar tariffs are imposed to ensure that cheap foreign sugar does not easily enter the US.  The tariffs come and go over time but when they are present they drive up the cost of sugar significantly.

The basic system here is and was to ensure that US sugar growers, who have a nice lobbying effort, also have a nice market.  By restricting foreign imports consumers and businesses pay a premium to use sugar.  US consumers pay a heavy multiple for sugar over the world price (maybe 4x or 5x).

Of course, from a health perspective, too much sucrose, which is what US-produced sugar is, is in my opinion just as bad a food product as anything else.

Eventually all of this price manipulation and sugar price pressure led big purchasers of sugar, e.g., Coca Cola, to switch from sugar for the products to HFCS.  This switch, in the 1980's, created a market for HFCS which was quite significant.  

While tariffs on importing cheap world sugar don't cost the US government very much they cost the US consumer heavily each year - some estimates go as high as many tens of billions of dollars each year.

Now we have to look at US corn production (see this PDF for backup).  In 2009 the US, which produces at least 40% of all corn on earth, produced 334 million metric tons of corn.  Interestingly this is about 26% of all crops grown in the US.  Of all this corn produced 42% is used for animal feed and other residual uses and about 32% goes into ethanol production.  A paltry 3.5% of all this corn is used to produce HFCS.

Unlike sugar the US Government pays out a lot in various "corn subsidies".  For the last fourteen years ending in 2009 (according to this) over five billion USD a year.  For this $5 billion USD of taxpayer investment we get a corn crop worth about $48 billion USD (in 2009).  About 40 times as much corn is planted each year as sugar producing crops (cane and beets).

So if you take the 48 billion USD corn crop and you take out the 3.5% used for HFCS you have a market of about 1.7 billion USD for corn supplied to HFCS producers and about $175 million USD in subsidies (proportionally) are used to support that market.  From this about 19.5 billion pounds of HFCS (dry) are produced each year - though demand is presently falling.

Of this 19.5 or so billion bounds of HFCS produced most goes into soft drinks - and again the category here is falling, i.e., consumption of soft drinks is in decline.

Given all of these facts is where does "HFCS is evil" fit in?

Well, for one thing is a product designed to counter the US Government's sugar price manipulation.  Without the US Government manipulating sugar prices there would probably be no HFCS.

We know that its just fructose and glucose - like sucrose without the bond holding the two together - but still natural sweeteners on their own.  Sure they were created from corn, but sugar is created from sugar cane or beets, so it isn't really any different.

HFCS is a tiny fraction of US corn production (3.5%) and corn subsidies.  (Ethanol is another story.)  To me this seems much more like a product created in response to the sugar price manipulations rather than anything bad or evil in and of itself.  There is and was a surplus of US corn, the sugar prices remained high relative to the cost of gearing up HFCS and there you have it.

The alternative to HFCS, sugar, is just as bad nutritionally.

The bottom line is that HFCS is just another type of sugar being pumped into the US food consumption.  While there are subsidies and so forth on the corn side and price manipulations on the sugar side the US Government is probably just doing what it has always done - skewing the market based on lobbying.

The real HFCS is evil created by us - the stupid US consumer.

In 2000 we consumed approximately 53 gallons of soft drinks per year (about a gallon per week).  By 2008 this decreased to a mere 47 gallons per year.  During this same time the proportion of "diet" drinks increased substantially (but that's another health story). During this entire time we continued to consume about 140 pounds of sweetener per year.  On the other hand, during the same period, our consumption of bottled water went from about 17 gallons/year to about 31.

We simply consume too much sweets.  Its not the fault of industry, of some evil HFCS corn-growing conspiracy, it us...  If we lived in Australia, as I mentioned last time, HFCS would not exist and we would be faced with the reality of our over-consumption of sweets:

Imagine 140 pounds (the average US consumption of sweetener per year) divided by 52 weeks equals almost 3 pounds of sweetener per week - close to 1/3 of a pound of sugar and HFCS per day. 

Is it any wonder we are fat? 

Personally I eat close to zero each day if I can - though I likely consume some extra if we do not eat at home (though I don't eat desert, drink sweetened drinks, etc.).  I cannot even imagine eating that much sweet crap each day.

No, I think all the HFCS "crisis" is merely a blame-based buggaboo fabrication by an aging, grossly overweight population groping around for someting to blame on decades of excess in the eating department.  Speculating on how things got to this state is probably fodder for more posts.

Personally I recall realizing around 1982 that I could no longer drink a soft drink without feeling ill afterward and haven't had any to speak of (unless there is absolutely nothing else) since.  I used to each more sweets and carbohydrates but, as I got older, I realized that I felt less and less well after eating them and eventually I stopped entirely save for a small amount of chocolate I eat every day which curbs any outstanding desire for sweets.

Well, at least I know that HFCS is no better or worse a buggaboo than big industry and big government.

Hopefully enough people will ignore it long enough and it will just go away.



Thursday, December 16, 2010

High Fructose Corn Syrup

We've all heard about the evils of High Fructose Corn Syrup (HFCS) - its the cause of Type 2 diabetes and nearly everything else bad like obesity.

But what's the real story...?

Before we can talk about HFCS we have to understand something about sugars.  Sugar is not what you have on the kitchen table - "sugar" as we use the term here means something very specific.  Sugars are actually a class of things called "saccharides" and saccharides are carbohydrates.

Carbohydrates are compounds made of carbon (C), oxygen (O) and hydrogen (H) where there is a two to one (2:1) ration of hydrogen to oxygen.  There are four kinds of carbohydrates: monosaccharides, disaccharides, oligosaccharides, and polysaccharides.  Our concern here will be with monosaccharides and disaccharides because these two groups are components of what we commonly call "sugar".

Monosaccharides are the most basic form of carbohydrate.  Monosaccharides make up the the simplest form of sugar.  They are usually colorless, water-soluble, and crystalline solids.  The most important monosaccharide is glucose.

Glucose is critical to life because it is the product of either photosynthesis or cell respiration and it provides energy to living cells.  Starches and cellulose are composed of glucose.  Glucose is also called D-glucose, grape sugar and dextrose.  Its chemical structure is C6H12O6.  The exact details of this are not important here.

As I discussed in another posts the presence of glucose in the blood is reduced as cells in your body consume glucose for energy when insulin is released by your pancreas.

Fructose is the second monosaccharide we are concerned with.  Fructose, or fruit sugar, is commonly found in fruit, honey, and a variety of other natural sources.  Its chemical structure is C6H12O6, just like, glucose, but the atoms are arranged in a different structure.  What's important here is that your body treats fructose differently from glucose because the atoms have a different structure.

Finally, we are concerned with sucrose.  Sucrose is what we call "table sugar" and its what's in the sugar bowl.   It is made up of one molecule of glucose joined to one molecule of fructose.  Fructose is a disaccharide - "di" meaning two sugars.

Given all of this we can now talk about HFCS in a meaningful way.

HFCS was created in 1957 and commercialized in the lat 1960's by Dr. Y. Takasaki at the Agency of Industrial Science and Technology of Ministry of International Trade and Industry of Japan.  Since that time HFCS has steadily replaced sucrose in commercial foods.

Today HFCS is implicated in everything bad: obesity and diabetes primarily.  But is that a bum wrap?

To answer this we have to look at how human bodies process mono- and disaccharides.

Glucose is basically absorbed directly into the blood though the small intestines by something called SGLUT-1 (see this at bottom).  This is why consuming glucose gives that instant "sugar high".  What's important here is that the glucose moves from the digested food in the intestines into the blood stream directly - there pathway is basically automatic.  This is unlike the transmission by GLUT-4 of glucose in the blood into cells in response to insulin.  There is no "governor" on the SGLUT-1 process - the more glucose you consume the more your blood glucose will increase.

Glucose is stored in your liver and the pancreas monitors your blood glucose level.  If it increases insulin is released so that you body will take up the glucose.  If it decreases the pancreas tells your liver to release more glucose.  (Something interesting that I cannot find is what happens if you push too much glucose into your cells, how much energy can they store??)

Fructose is processed differently.  Fructose by itself is handled by GLUT-2 and GLUT-5 and is transported into your body such that it passes directly to the liver.  Your liver is the only part of your body that can process fructose - unlike glucose which nearly every cell can process.  In the case sucrose (with one glucose and one fructose) processing occurs in parallel for both, i.e., the bond between the two is split and  both are more readily absorbed (see this).

Too much fructose can cause liver disease because the liver prioritizes the conversion of fructose to glycogen above all other functions.  According to this "the livers of the rats on the high fructose diet looked like the livers of alcoholics, plugged with fat and cirrhotic."

So fructose alone is bad for the liver and consuming too much fructose regularly will destroy it just like drinking too much.

On to HFCS...

HFCS is made up of fructose and glucose in varying proportions based on taste.  So for Coca Cola, as an example, which uses HFCS, the two (glucose and fructose) are mixed to provide the same perceived taste as sucrose (which was used prior to the 1970's).  In general HFCS is at least 45% fructose all the way up to 90% fructose.

So what about doctors saying that too much fruit is bad because of the fructose?  Well, if we examine, for example, the fructose in pineapple we see its about 1% of the pineapple.  According to this two apples have as much fructose as one can of soda.  What no one seems to understand is that in the case of the pineapple 99% of the pineapple is "other things for your body to digest".  So these doctors are basically idiots - raw fruit is good for you.

Now let's consider soft drinks as an example of manufactured food.

Each ounce of soft drink contains about 30 cc's of liquid so a 12 ounce drink (one can of soda) would be 360 cc's of liquid water or 360 grams of water.  In that water might be up to 30 grams of fructose according to this.  (In 360 grams of pineapple there would be approximately 3.6 grams of fructose which is almost 1/10th the fructose by weight of what's in a can of soda.  The precision may be off somewhat here because of how sugar dissolves and so forth but you get the idea.) 

Now when you eat pineapple you get lots of other good things for your body to digest along with the fructose. 

With the soft drink you get nothing but water.

Now one more piece of interesting data is that there is an obesity epidemic in Australia just link in the US - but they don't use nearly as much HFCS (see comment at bottom, there are other sources as well if you Google them).

I think this last point is key - no HFCS in Australia but a blossoming obesity and Type 2 diabetes - at rates very close to the US rates.

Many doctors and others are saying that its the HFCS that's bad.  My guess though, based on all this, is that too much mono- and disaccharides are bad - period.  Whether they were pure glucose or fructose in HFCSs the result of too much is bad.

Further the form of sugar does not matter beyond fructose causing liver damage as well as other problems such as obesity.

So what do I think after all this research?

The bottom line is that too much sugar in any form is bad period.  HFCS is no worse than purse cane sugar because cane sugar is sucrose which is 50% fructose and 50% glucose.

Its simply all bad.

HFCS (as well as sucrose or glucose or fructose alone or in combination in other countries) is in virtually everything we eat if we don't follow something like the "caveman diet": meat, fish, eggs, fruit, vegetables, non-toxic oils (olive, fish, coconut, etc.), nuts, and seeds.

Personally I think that HFCS are nothing to be concerned with unless you are eating it - in which case A) you are a fool and B) it will eventually kill you.

HFCS is just a tool for us to kill ourselves with something besides sugar.  Perhaps its a government conspiracy because there are huge subsidies that make corn cheap.  But beyond that its shear stupidity on the part of the citizens of the USA.

If you must consume HFCS (or any other kind of sugar in any amount other than a teaspoon or two) I way say eat it with a lot of celery or meat or fish or nuts or seeds to offset the direct impact of total sugar, i.e., give your body something to digest with it besides water or nothing.

I don't eat HFCS or sugar other than in coffee or on cereal.

You shouldn't either...

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

Lawyers and Salt...

We probably all have them.  Lawyers on TV, radio and the internet advertising how they will get money for you because of an accident or injury.

Did you ever think about what sort of pollution and environmental harm this might be causing?

Let's take a look at the use of salt for ice.

I chose this because there are related reasons homes, businesses and governments use way too much salt.

Today if a bank or other institution owns property you will typically see commercial salting operations hitting their streets, roads, and sidewalks with a heavy dose of salt right after even a tiny amount of snow.  Why is this?

More than likely A) someone has sued them or someone they know in the recent past because of a slip, a  fall or other accident,  B) their insurance company (if they are a private busines) requires them to over salt these roads and sidewalks in order to prevent the possibility of accidents and subsequent suites, C) they have leases or other contracts requiring them to do this to protect their business partners, lessors, or other commercial interests.

If you're a government you over salt to prevent accidents - not because, as a government, your responsible for how people drive, but because you fear legal recourse for lawyers for accidents or deaths.

(Here's a link to this very topic.)

And what about all sorts of safety equipment, activities, fences, walls, and other lawsuit-driven safety nonsense you see every day?

Labels on ladders telling you they can tip over.

Labels on buckets and pails telling you a child might drown in them.

Too many street lights, lighted signs, and on and on and on.

Again, all of this costs our environment in terms of wasted electricity, wasted travel, wasted materials, wasted resources.

But, you say, these notices are important!  They save lives!  What would we do on slippery roads!

Well, let's see.

In the past there was much less salt usage, for example.  The consequences of this were that people who were doing the driving were responsible for traveling safely on icy roads.  Today its the borough, city or state who is responsible that you drive safely - thanks to lawsuits.

In the past if you fell of a ladder is was considered your fault - you should have been more careful because you knew ladders could tip over.  Not today - ladders tipping over is a wondrous experience for some - again thanks to lawsuits.

Responsibility for peoples behavior now rests with others and this is simply not fair and its ruining our country from an environmental standpoint.

I think its time that people stop and consider the consequences of this sort of nonsense.  Salt is polluting our drinking water.  But rather than simply accept that we are responsible for our own driving we instead slough this off to government.

How about simply putting up a sign that says "You Are Responsible for Your Own Driving on Icy Roads" and leaving the salt home.

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

Mercury In Your Mouth...

We all have them: amalgam fillings.  And some people think they are toxic and highly dangerous. 

But are they?

You can find a lot of material on the web related to this topic - the vast majority to me seems to indicate that amalgam fillings are poisoning you.  But there are some problems with the arguments for widespread mercury poisoning form amalgam fillings.

(This war was already fought in the 1840's and 50's just after the use of amalgam was brought to the US from France.  Initially it was considered quackery by the established dentists (American Society of Dental Surgeons) who hammered "hot gold" into the tooth cavity.  Eventually amalgam won out and was endorsed by the American Dental Society in 1850.)

What's most interesting to me are these facts:

Amalgam fillings have been in constant use for at least 150 years.  During this time not only do the recipients of amalgam filling have exposure to some level of mercury, but so do the dental providers installing these fillings.

Mercury is supposedly linked to autism and vaccines - yet autism has increased while use of amalgam filling has decreased during the last 30 or so years.

Amalgam fillings offer a degree of active suppression of further decay once installed.

There are a lot of pro and con studies related to this that are summarized here.

So what's the truth here?

First of all mercury is clearly bad for you and there is no minimum dose considered safe.  Mercury is fat soluble and once ingested is enters the body and organs it a way that makes removing it difficult.  Mercury easily passes the blood/brain barrier and can enter the brain to cause mental impairment.  It also can easily pass via breast milk from mother to child.

No one disagrees on this.

Then there is the amalgam itself:

Modern dental amalgam consist of (from Wikipedia):
  • > 40% silver (Ag)
  • < 32% tin (Sn)
  • < 30% copper (Cu)
  • < 2% zinc (Zn)
  • < 3% mercury (Hg)

For a filling of amalgam weighing one gram there would be about 30 mg (or 30,000 ug) of Mercury.

Now consider that you are not eating the filling - its installed in your mouth where it may live for 50 years.  So consider the following from that perspective:

According to the EPA (from this) "[The] EPA's methylmercury reference dose is .1 micrograms/kg body weight per day. In July 2000, the National Academy of Sciences found the EPA's reference dose as "scientifically justifiable" for protecting most Americans."

For a 200 pound man (approx. 90 kg) 90kg x .1 ug/kg = 9 ug of mercury per day or 63 ug of mercury per week. (1 ug is one millionth of a gram.)

The WHO reports (mentioned here) that people inhale mercury from amalgam fillings at a daily rate of 3 to 17 ug per day.

Thimeresol in some vaccines for chldren (given an average western vaccine regiment) means a does of 25 ug/vaccine for at least a dozen vaccines.

Your diet probably includes at least 15 ug of mercury per day without eating anything special (like fish).

I doubt there would be much disagreement on these facts and the conclusion from them is Mercury, at a rate of probably 8 - 30 ug's, enters your body daily from a variety of sources if you have amalgam fillings.  It also leaves your body daily at some measurable rate.

What is disputed is what, if any, effect the inhaled or injected mercury has on an individual.  (There is a corresponding argument for dental professionals exposed to mercury but we are not focusing on that here.)

Here there is very, very little agreement.

Both those for and against amalgam vaccines claim the other side is using quackery instead of science to support their position: The "Amalgam is Toxic" Quackery (also here) and The "Amalgam is Not Toxic" Quackery.

The FDA and the American Dental Society believe and say (as recently as 2008) that amalgam fillings are safe and that there isn't any scientific reason to ban or otherwise alter their usage.

The bottom line for me here has to be the "history"...

A century and a half of continuous usage (and dental hygiene today is not what it was 50 years ago, i.e., more amalgam fillings then than today where only about 50% of fillings are amalgam) tells me that its likely that though fillings out-gas mercury (along with any that you might ingest with dental work) you are probably still "safe" from mercury - whatever that means.  Since we ingest some mercury every day its likely our bodies can, to a certain extent, handle it.

There is also a hysterical element to the "Anti-Amalgamists" - claiming various "cures" for  a large variety of vague problems solved only by having all of their fillings replaced.  Certainly there are documented allergies to amalgam - but they are very few.  This side is not well documented and populated mostly by anecdotal claims of healing - I need more than this and more than studies telling me that mercury passes through me on a daily basis.

Personally I don't plan to have my amalgam fillings ripped out anytime soon...

But then I always live dangerously.

Monday, December 13, 2010

Genetic Engineering: Its what's for Dinner

For many years consumers have been consuming soybean oil from genetically engineered plants.

Certainly I had no idea this was going on until I came upon some articles about how a company called Monsanto was able to patten genetically engineered soybean plants.

Before the 1980's a pesticide called glyphosate had been used to kill weeds. Glyphosate interferes with the plants ability to produce certain amino acids.  While a good pesticide (at least relatively speaking) it was not helpful on crops.

In the 1980's when Monsanto filed for US Patent 4,535,060.  This patent describes how to create a soybean plant that includes a special genetic modification that prevents glyphosate from interfering with the plants metabolism.

How they did this is not too hard to understand.  Basically they found some bacteria that could tolerate glyphosate.  Generation after generation they slowing increased the glyphosate in the medium where the bacteria where growing until the bacteria reached a certain level of tolerance.  This tolerance for glyphosate is expressed genetically in a specific piece of the bacteria's  genetic code.

At that point the "tolerance genetic code" was removed from the bacteria and placed into the soybean plant.  The resulting soybean plants and corresponding seeds produced by those plants were glyphosate tolerant, that is, glyphosate would not kill them.

By the mid 1990's Monsanto sold these seeds (along with, one presumes) glyphosate weed killer as "Roundup Ready" soybeans.  Roundup Ready means that Roundup (glyphosate) could be sprayed on the fields with these soybeans and the weeds would die but the soybeans would not.

The Monsanto patents (there are more than I listed (US 4,940,835, US 6,013,863, as well as others) cover the the actual life form of these genetically modified soybeans.

Monsanto, by the mid 1990's, created a business where these seeds were sold by contract to farmers under the condition that they could not replant any seeds (soybeans) harvested from the field - the assumption being that the plants were reproducing Monsanto's patented seeds and to harvest and keep them was to violate Monsanto's patents.

One of the many problems with all of this is that these plants freely interact biologically with non-Monsanto soybeans, i.e., the birds and bees mix the genetics in the usual way between Monsanto and non-Monsanto plants.  Thus if you had non-Monsanto soybeans growing next to a neighbor with Monsanto soybeans you automatically were in violation of Monsanto's patents if even on soybean plant in your fields reproduced their patented genetic modifications.

You can imagine that this created great misery for farmers and huge profits for Monsanto.  In particular, the art of harvesting soybean seeds, has been lost.  Prior to this invention most farmers replanted seeds year to year.  Seeds in those days came from university breeding programs or seed companies which had not intellectual property interests in the seeds or plants.

There are documentaries, (Food, Inc. is one), that outlines how Monsanto uses private investigators and a network of facilities to locate and those suspected of "stealing" Monsanto's intellectual property - either directly by replanting seeds (which you are not allowed to do contractually if you buy the seeds) or indirectly by having your fields cross-pollenated inadvertently.

What piqued my interest in this is that recently Monsanto tried to claim that soybean meal, containing some fragments of their intellectual genetic property, were also protected by their patent.

All of this is troubling at many levels:

For one, we really don't have any idea what affect this modified soybean is having on us.  Its been around for about 15 years or so and the oil, plants and seeds are used in virtually everything we eat.

For another, following this logic one could create a retro-virus containing some patented DNA, release it into the world, and claim ownership of anything thus infected.  Imagine a genetically modified HIV doing just this.

Owning life seems to me to be inherently wrong.  Monsanto, though they created the soybean plants and seeds that were glyhposate-resistant did not create the plants in the first place yet effectively claim benefits with all plants that breed with them.

Claiming ownership of offspring has some of its own issues.  Fortunately the original patents did a poor job of being specific about "owning offspring" and thus created some legal ins for those fighting this.

These products create a legal paradise for Monsanto when plants cross-breed by accident.  This web site offers some insight into the defenses used by one Canadian farmer who won his case against Monsanto.

Unfortunately this is not limited to soybeans.  The patents cover all manner of plants: rapeseed (canola),  corn and many others.

This situation has caused much anguish at many levels - for governments, farmers, and consumers and there is a loud cry to have the laws changed so this cannot occur.

The first Monsanto patents of this type expire in 2014 or so and Monsanto has claimed that people with these GM seeds will be free to save and reuse them.

Unfortunately (or, perhaps fortunately), there has been an increase in glyphosate-resistant weeds.

I for one am changing my life to consume non-GM plants and plant products.  Its sad that we have done this to ourselves in the first place and even sadder that no one for the most part knows that its even going on...

Friday, December 10, 2010

Living a Peanut Free Lifestyle

As I mentioned a few posts ago one of my grandchildren has a peanut allergy.

Now coming from an engineering-oriented background I am always fascinated by what I observe on the medical science side.  As a software engineer I am always interested in certainty and details because over the years I have learned that its very easy to fool yourself into believing something that is not true.

I have spent a number of years thinking about just how much information is enough to have a high degree of certainty.  Now this concept already exists in statistics and for statistical certainty we can talk about the likelihood that something is true given some observed evidence in a number of ways.  But that's not what I am interested in.

In software it is often the case that we have all the information about something, i.e., the complete set of programs and data, and our interest is in finding out why something is not doing what we expect.  You can call this "debugging".  I put A and B into the computer and expect to get C out but instead I get D.  This, of course, is not just limited to software but any sort of system where you have all the information.

Now you usually cannot have all the information about something as complex as a software system in your head all at once.  For example, think of the machinery of a clock: all the gears and levers ticking away.  Now imagine that you are looking at the insides of the clock through a small hole - small relative to the clock insides.  Given what you can see about the insides of the clock what can you know about how it works?  As the hole gets bigger and bigger more and more of the clock is revealed until finally you see the entire working.

This is sort of like statistical certainty up until you see the whole picture: then one presumes to have the entire, actual picture which makes figuring things out easy.

So lets talk about peanut allergies and my grandson.

Several months ago my daughter and grandson where at my house.  As part of whatever was going on she decided to give him part of a peanut butter and jelly sandwich.  Now he's a year old and prior to this point he had never exhibited any sort of allergies with regard to food.

As he ate his sandwich he started to break out in hives or bumps.  My daughter immediately called the doctor who suggested giving him benadryl.  She gave him some (this is one of the few drugs we actually keep around the house - specifically for this type of thing) and the bumps and hives slowly disappeared.

Immediately the hue and cry began that he was allergic to peanuts.

Being me I though: not so fast.  While it would certainly seem like this is true I thought it was worth a little further thought and investigation.  The first thing I realized was that he we eating a 12 grain bread that I eat that has a large number of various nuts and odd things a child would not normally eat.

So in started to investigate the label but I was too late.  "Its a peanut allergy" my daughter declared.

First thing the next day she called the doctor to schedule an allergy test but they told her that benadryl does not leave his body for several days and to wait.

Long story short there where never conclusive test results identifying peanuts as the direct cause (at least that I recall) but the doctor said, in effect, "it must be a peanut allergy".

Now it turns out that this is quite a problem for people (peanut allergies) and from my perspective I always like certainty as in a conclusive test of some sort that verifies this.  But that, as I recall, was not what happened.

I am also troubled by the fact that up until that particular sandwich the little guy ate just but everything - or at least put it in his mouth.  It seemed unlikely that he would never have encountered something with peanuts before this.  (Now to be fair we fed our children "table food" from fairly early on.  Not so our daughter who followed the modern medical advice of staving off "table food" until much older.)

The consequences of this are two-fold: one is that the food supply must constantly be checked for peanuts and the other is that my daughter keeps an EpiPen with my grandson at all time.

Fast forward to today.  My daughters daycare facility discovers that my grandson is "peanut allergic" and that there is an EpiPen in the bag she leaves with him.  This caused a huge problem.  The daycare owner told my daughter that "insurance does not allow us to administer the EpiPen".

My daughter freaked out, asked if they would instead just watch him die of anaplylaxis, and promptly changed him to a daycare (as in the next day) that would be willing to do this.

(Now to have a daycare in my state you must have Red Cross training which I believe covers exactly this.  So it would be an issue of lawyers; though one imagines that administering an EpiPen incorrectly and killing a child would not be nearly as bad as doing nothing or calling an ambulance and watching the child die in the process of waiting for it to arrive.)

In any case he is now in the new daycare with a staff that has EpiPen training.  He will remain there until the situation is straightened out at the original daycare (which involves my daughter signing a notarized release AND training the staff on the use of the EpiPen).

In the meantime she was at the doctor's office for her other son and somehow this topic arose.

The doctor asked "Isn't your house and daycare peanut free?"

My daughter did not know what to say... Certainly some peanut-containing items where there because other people in the house at them.  No peanut-free daycare centers are available as far as she can see.

My daughter thought about this for a while and reasoned as follows:

1) If she expunged all possible forms of peanuts from the house her child could safely grab anything at any time and put it in his mouth without fear of consequences.

2) Could she really rely on others, like the daycare or guests in her home, to be 100% infallible is this regard?

3) This would teach her son to expect that peanuts never occurred in his environment and therefore learn caution was not necessary.

What would you do?

Thursday, December 09, 2010

ADD and ADHD

A long time ago in a galaxy far, far away I had small children.

Like most parents of today we had a child that was unable to sit still in school: constantly moving, talking and disrupting everyone in the classroom.  Now this was probably about 1980 and things like ADHD and ADD were still not well known.  In those days ADHD/ADD was not like it is today or in the intervening years.  In fact, we had a second child in school many years later that also suffered from the same problems.

In my day it was my problem to address these issues with my children.

There was no internet to search for clues, nothing much to do but take the crap from the school about how your child was a "problem".  In the 1980's there were only books to read - at the library or bookstore - to help you sort things out.

Today things are far different. 

ADHD/ADD and its drug-based treatments are now a top lifestyle choices of parents and teachers - primarily designed to make the teachers and parents lives flow smoothly and efficiently on a day-to-day basis.

What has changed over the last thirty or so years?

When I was a child in school in the 1960's things were far different than today.  I went to a small Catholic school administered and taught by nuns.  The nuns lived in large house behind the playground and teaching children was basically all they did.  I definitely recall other children with what would today be called ADHD and ADD: they constantly fidgeted, talked and otherwise disrupted the classroom.

However, unlike today, the nuns applied strict discipline, sometimes physical, sometimes not, but always effective.  

The first step in addressing ADHD/ADD is to ensure that there is adequate discipline involved with raising the child.  Its quite possible that lack of discipline can easily be confused with ADHD/ADD.  As a parent its actually fairly easy to tell if a child has the ability to properly concentrate.  Does the child every exhibit proper learning behavior, i.e., do they ever concentrate, do they ever sit still, do they ever pay attention?  (Of course the parent must be able to perform these tasks in a substantial way - otherwise how will they know if their child has a problem.)

If the answer is "yes they do", e.g., while playing a game, while watching TV, while spending time doing something they like to do, then my opinion is that the child is not ill and instead merely reacting to a lack of discipline in their life when asked to do something they don't like to do.  Let's not forget these are children and they are going to behave that way given no supervision.  Unless they learn that certain behaviors are unacceptable at certain times they will never be properly behaved.

Adequate discipline - now exactly what is that?  When I was a child adequate discipline involved behaving in a situationally appropriate manner as required by adults.  Adults during my childhood understood what it meant to be a child and knew the difference between when adequate discipline should be enforced and when not.  Typically there was an understanding that, as a child, you were expected to a large degree to "play by yourself" and to "entertain yourself".  Lack of proper behavior involved consequences that, though they varied from family to family, were never pleasant.

Today children have been taught that unpleasant consequences generally mean they are being abused or in some other way harmed.  Today adults seem to believe that their personal comfort and convenience are a priority over the needs of their children.  Today schools and child care facilities have become replacements for parental responsibility.  Today children are taught that its is the job of the adults in their lives to entertain them.

So personally I find it very hard to tell if its the attention span of the child that has dwindled to unacceptable levels or if the adults are merely exhibiting child-like expectations that their children will somehow exhibit more responsibility than them with respect to their proper behavior.

If proper and adequate separation and definition of adult and child behavior has been arranged its then possible to examine the next aspect of ADD/ADHD: diet.

Most parents today consider things like chicken nuggets, french fries, candy, and sugary foods, cereals, and drinks as proper foods.  Unfortunately these things have a variety of highly negative effects on the human body and the human body.

First and foremost today's adults with children must understand that the human body was not designed to consume these foods.  The insanely high levels of salt, sugar (if you are lucky), high fructose corn syrup, and toxic oils can trigger all sorts of negative physical reactions.  This is caused by two things I have written about previously: high blood glucose and toxic oils that corrupt the bodies ability to take up that glucose from the blood stream.

If a child is loaded with these chemicals day after day and subsequently expected to control his or her behavior the outcome is not very likely to be successful.  The symptoms of eating these foods long term include the exact symptoms of ADHD and ADD.

Finally there is nutrition, i.e., what nutritional elements the diet brings to the body.  Most people today in the US are deficient in Iodine and other vitamins.  Lifestyles that are too busy to focus on proper diet also fail to provide children with proper nutrition.  Nutritional deficiencies can cause all kinds of long term problems.  Candy vitamins and other nutritional aids do nothing to make sure the vitamins are properly absorbed by the child's body.

So why is ADHD/ADD so common today?

1) There is no proper expectation of discipline by adults of children.  Children today are tools of the adult lifestyle: no recess, 32 hours of TV per week, the expectation that non-parental caregivers are adequate for the child's needs (as covered in prior posts such as this one).

2) The children are literally being poisoned by their diets: rapid obesity, high sugar and corn syrup-based foods, and toxic oils; not to mention water laden with hormones and other problematic chemicals.

3) The children are nutritionally deficient.  The nutrients and elements in their diets they need to learn, to exhibit proper discipline, to grow and develop are missing.

4) Today's parents, doctors and teach have themselves more than likely been raised with these very problems leaving them ill-equipped to deal with their own lives let alone the lives of their children.

5) Adults raised to believe that medications, drugs and pills are the best lifestyle choices for themselves are likely to believe this is also true for their children.

6) Today's adults are taught to listen to other adults (teachers, care givers, medical professionals) and not children - after all, what do children know?  Yet the role of parents for the last two hundred thousand years or so has been nothing but parents listening and reacting to their children in order to guide them to adulthood in an all-to-dangerous world.

In assessing these points you will quickly see that the problem with ADHD and ADD is one that can clearly be placed on the shoulders of society and parents.  Children are not in a position to learn discipline on their own, to select a properly nutritious diet on their own, to supersede their parents level of self control and responsibility, nor to distinguish between true medical treatment and relying on pills and drugs as crutches.

Nothing here that I am saying is new, or, for me, even interesting any more.

There are hundreds if not thousands of web sites, books and health professionals that understand the true causes of ADD and ADHD and what can be done about it.

Finally I offer this video.  (I think the problem is not just that of the "educational system" as described in the video but in fact must be applied to the full society instead, i.e., is what our society is doing to our children the right thing.)

Whether you agree with it or not this video illustrates that there are many different ways to perceive the problem of ADHD/ADD in society today and many ideas of what might be done about it...

Wednesday, December 08, 2010

ADHD & A Spoon Full Of Sugar

I am writing this as part of my own Cod Liver Oil journey which began today.  I recently purchased a liter of Carlson's Cod Liver Oil to replace my daily intake of Walmart Norwegian Salmon Oil. (People often ask for specifics so I am listing this here to save the aggravation of repeating it fifty times.  Remember I am a random geek and not a doctor or nutritionist - so please see your doctor or do your own research before taking CLO.)

I chose it for a couple of reasons:  One is that the one I purchased provides information on purity, particularly the testing for heavy elements like mercury.  Another is that it is probably more effective that what I had been taking.  Third is that it provides natural Vitamin A and D.

(Some CLO has the natural vitamins removed only to be replaced by much higher doses of manufactured vitamins.  As long as the ratio of Vitamin A to D is 10:1 or less this is probably not the case - at least from a reputable manufacturer.)

Prior to the 1950's children were religiously dosed with Cod Liver Oil (CLO) on a daily basis to prevent rickets.  Rickets, for those old enough to remember, is a softening of the bones in children that can cause deformities and other problems.  Cod liver oil, which is high in vitamin D, was administered to prevent this.

I found this old ad somewhere on Google from "The Boston Medical and Surgical Journal" published in 1874:


This appeared as part of the following advertisement:

Interestingly we see Iodo-Ferrated Cod Liver oil.  Iodo-Ferrated means that ferrum iodatum (iron iodide) has been added to the oil.  I cannot find a lot of modern information in the US about iron iodide prior to the 1800's but it would appear to be a good source of iodine, among other things.  It is still sold today and it appears to be used in other countries - but primarily as a purely homeopathic treatment.

Interestingly it would appear that what I have been writing about in this blog, namely Vitamin D and Iodine, was on the minds of doctors in the 1800's.

So I have to ask myself why were they offering this to patients?

One reason is that rickets was a common affliction and Cod Liver Oil's Vitamin D content did much to address this.  However, why all these other versions - and particularly why Iodine?

Iodine was "officially" discovered in 1811-1813 (the date varies depending on the source).  It was known prior to that but no one knew exactly what it was, i.e., was it a mineral or element.  It was a controlled substance for a while and considered to be a stimulant. 

Lugol's solution was probably the most well known use of iodine (from wikipedia) first made in 1829, is a solution of elemental iodine and potassium iodide in water, named after the French physician J.G.A. Lugol. Lugol's iodine solution is often used as an antiseptic and disinfectant, for emergency disinfection of drinking water, and as a reagent for starch detection in routine laboratory and medical tests.  It was common in the biology class for testing for the presence of starch.

Ultimately, around 1924, it was added to salt (making the Iodized Salt you can buy today) to reduce iodine deficiencies found in the Great Lakes region of the US. So its likely Iodine was added to Cod Liver Oil because of its wondrous though not understood effects.

One thing clear is, that much like today, there was a "wild west" atmosphere in the 1800's regarding "getting rich" from things like dietary supplements.  Financial issues and profit both then and now heavily influence peoples actions and choices.

On the iodine front I am gradually increasing my intake of Lugol's 2.2% to 3-4 drops per week.  I have notice some interesting personal results.  One is that I am using my "high beams" much less at night - my night vision seems to have significantly improved over the last few weeks.  I noticed this a while back when driving home late at night.  Normally I would have to use my high beams most of the way but no longer.

I can anecdotally report some other interesting things:

One is my daughter - Iodine seems to have made her much more energetic and, God forbid, almost "perky" - a dramatic and rapid improvement.  Needless to say this was not her prior condition (which was a more Goth-like one of quiet repose and grumpiness).

She herself claims to sleep much better as well.  She also provides some to her children as a supplement and reports, which I can confirm, additional profound effects: reduction in anxiety and reduced ADHD-like behavior among the ones I also have observed.

Googling "ADHD iodine" yields a number of interesting results.

I plan to write about this more as the experiment unfolds...

Tuesday, December 07, 2010

Peanut Allergies

I have been researching peanut allergies recently.  A new family member has been diagnosed with a "peanut allergy" and there are some interesting new consequences.

For one thing, the child is no longer allowed to be at certain care facilities because the allergy requires mom and dad to supply an "epi pen".  The insurance companies insuring these facilities don't allow workers there to administer "epi pens" in case of an allergic reaction.  So children with allergies are no longer allowed there.  (Aren't lawyers wonderful...)

So if you have a severe peanut allergy and you eat a peanut what happens?

The worst case scenario is that you suffer from anaphylaxis.  From the Mayo Clinic: "Anaphylaxis is a severe, potentially life-threatening allergic reaction. It can occur within seconds or minutes of exposure to something you're allergic to, such as the venom from a bee sting or a peanut."

Anaphylactic shock (AS) works is like this:  The first time you encounter something (a "sensitizing" dose) that will subsequently trigger AS your immune system becomes keyed to that substance.  A subsequent exposure (a "shocking" dose) to the keyed substance triggers a whole body allergic reaction.

Your body contains something called mastocytes (mast cells).  These are specialized cells that contain granules (basically pockets of chemicals inside the cells) of heparin and histamine.  Heparin is a powerful anti-coagulant with an unclear role in anaphylatic shock.   Histamine released into the body triggers an inflammation response.  The effect of histamine is to increase the permeability of capillaries to white blood cells.  White blood cells can then attack pathogens in parts of your body where there may be infection.

While mast cells role is primarily for body defense against pathogens, an allergen can trigger these mast cells to release histamine, heparin and antigens by degranulation. 

When the response by the mast cells overwhelms the circulatory system the result is anaphylactic shock.  That is the allergic response is so great that your cardiovascular system is unable to adequately deliver nutrients or oxygen to your cells.  Simple "shock", on the other hand, is the cardiovascular system, for reasons other than allergens, failing to deliver nutrients or oxygen, i.e., as with a serious injury.

The EpiPen contains epinephrine, which is another name for adrenaline.  Adrenaline is a hormone and an neurotransmitter that increases heart rate, dilates air passages, and generally prepares the body for "fight or flight".  The use of the EpiPen immediately reduces the symptoms of anaphylaxis by countering the effect of the mast cells releasing histamine, heparin, and other substances.

Now, has there been an increase in peanut allergies over the last few decades?

Unfortunately, the answer is yes.

Until about 1990 there had been a slow and unexplained increase in peanut allergies documented by physicians and medicine.  After 1990 there was a literal explosion of peanut allergies well documented by school, ER, and other government and health officials.  Today two to three percent (2% - 3%) of all children in western societies have serious peanut allergies.

So what caused this change?

To answer this we have to look at the history of mass allergies and medically induced allergies.

(The following description of events is not proven but I find it more satisfying than maternal peanut consumption during pregnancy and breast feeding - also not proven.  It also follows along with my discussions of toxic oils being introduced over the last 100 years and the development of Type II diabetes.  Besides, the Chinese are big consumers of peanuts and the allergy is virtually unknown there as of 2001 (see link below).)

Starting in 1895 with the introduction of the diphtheria vaccination thousands of children were killed with what was called at the the time "serum sickness".  Allergic reaction to the vaccines serum caused anaphylaxis on a mass scale.

A second wave of mass allergic reactions and analphylaxis related to food began in the 1930's with the introduction of cottonseed oil.  This oils was used in vaccinations and distributed to manufacturers of various foods.  This wave of anaphylaxis peaked in the 1940's and disappeared.

Cottonseed oil was replaced by peanut oil after World War II.

For the next thirty or so years traces of peanut proteins entered vaccinations until peanut allergies were first documented by S. A. Bock in 1974.  Special mixtures of peanut oil and aluminum (Adjuvent 65) were used starting in the 1960's because they increased antibody production 13 times over regular vaccines.

Though manufacturers tried to remove peanut proteins from the peanut oils used in these vaccines they were not 100% successful and these proteins began to create a third wave of mass allergies.

The presence of peanut protien peaked with the PENTA vaccine used from 1988 through the 1990's after which the "outbreak" of peanut allergies began in earnest.

So the bottom line is simple - peanut protein and aluminum in vaccines.

Is vaccination why your child has a peanut allergy?  A vaccine providing a "sensitizing dose"...

Certainly I do not know the answer.  But please do your own research.

Your child's life may depend on it.

Monday, December 06, 2010

Stomach Acid: Required for Health

I received a request from a family member to look into Xantac and the related class of "proton pump inhibitors" used for "acid reflux"...

First of all - some back ground.  If you like to go to the doctors office and you're 50 years old or more than they've probably told you that you have acid reflux disease and you must take one of the many "acid reducers" on the market.  Now, many of my relatives, in fact probably all over 50, are taking this medication as far as I can tell.  Some have been on these medications for years.

But does everybody theses days have acid reflux?

How is this even possible?

No one I knew had problems like this when I was a kid.  Sure grandma had a bottle of Pepto Bismo or Philips Milk of Magnesia in the bathroom - but it was generally not a lifestyle choice...

The first thing that I am going to talk about what stomach acid is and what does it do.  Once we understand that it should be easy to see what the problems are and what these drugs do.

Stomach acid is one of several secretions produced by the stomach.  The acidity has a PH of 1 - 2 (Hydrochloric acid 0.5%.)  Sodium and potassium chloride are also produced along with various digestive enzymes and hormones.  Stomach acid processes food into "chyme" which is basically semi-digested food ready for processing by the small intestines.

The stomach also produces pepsin.  This is an enzyme that breaks down proteins into peptides in preparation for absorption by the small intestines.

Production of stomach acid is linked to cholecystokinin (CCK).  CCK and secretin are produced in the stomach lining.  CCK is a hormone that triggers the release of bile and pancreatic enzymes into the intestines for further breaking down chyme.  Secretin triggers the pancreas to release a bicarbonate-rich liquid that plays a significant role in absorption of digested food by the small intestines.

Stomach acid also creates a significantly acidic environment for killing pathogens ingested along with the food and thus plays an important role in maintaining a healthy immune system.

The acid produced in the stomach also controls the Lower Esophageal Sphincter (LES).  This is essentially a valve at the upper end of your stomach that controls release of food into your stomach and prevents reflux of gastric acid into your esophagus.  Proper PH levels are required for the LES to operate - if acid levels are too low it will not close properly.  There is a corresponding pyloric sphincter at the lower end of your stomach, also triggered by high acid levels, that release the chyme into your intestines.

It should be apparent from this discussion that stomach acid plays a crucial role in your digestive system.  Further, unless acid levels reach certain required values the proper operation of your digestive system can be significantly inhibited.

So what do the common reflux drugs do to stomach acid?

There are three basic types of these drugs: antacids, proton pump inhibitors (PPIs), and H2-receptor antagonists.

Antacids work by neutralizing (raising the PH) of acid in your stomach. These have been used for centuries and can have serious side effects if taken in excess.  Their side effects include kidney stones, constipation, nausea, vomiting, mental changes, loss of appetite, and many more.  Further taking antacids as calcium supplements has been shown to be ineffective because stomach acid is required to absorb the calcium.  This has linked antacids to hip fractures and osteoporosis injuries in the elderly.

Proton pump inhibitors block the final stage of acid production in the stomach. PPIs can reduce stomach acid as much as 99%.

While generally well tolerated as medications PPI they can still cause headache, nausea, diarrhea, abdominal pain, fatigue, and dizziness, rash, itch, flatulence, constipation, anxiety, and depression. Decreased vitamin B12 absorption may occur with long-term use.

H2-receptor antagonists block the action of histamine on acid producing parietal cells in the stomach, decreasing the production of acid.

These drugs can cause headache, tiredness, dizziness, confusion, diarrhea, constipation, rash, gynecomastia in males, loss of libido, and impotence.

So aside from the effect of the drug itself what effects do these drugs have on you by inhibiting or neutralizing your stomach acid?

First and foremost they do not treat the underlying cause of reflux, GERD, and similar problems.

Digestive problems can be caused by malfunction of the LES, abnormal nerve issues in the esophagus or stomach,  stomach or esophagus muscle problems, and hernias.  Clearly all of these require a qualified medical professional to diagnose as they are also relative uncommon.  And clearly natural or non-medical treatments won't work if there is an underlying physical problem so it important to understand what's actually wrong. 

Stress and environment may also be a causal issue along with lack of exercise and anything else that helps you to manage your stress effectively.  While not a medical condition and there is no proven direct link anyone can attest to stress triggering digestive issues like vomiting, lack of appetite, and so forth.

Secondly, these drugs impair the ability of your digestive system to process food into nutrients.  This may compound other medical problems, increase your stress, and so on.  I have written here about nutrition at great length so taking these drugs may cause your otherwise proper nutritional habits to fail.

Third, these medications can cause your body to produce more gastrin - an hormone associated with acid production.  When you stop taking these drugs you may actually have excess stomach acid because your gastrin level has increased in response to your prior drug use.

As I wrote about insulin and Type 1 diabetes conversion taking drugs to overproduce hormones is, to my mind, a bad idea.

Fourth, the reduction in stomach acid can lead to ingested pathogens passing into your body from food.

So if you suffer from acid reflux or one the associated maladies what do you do?

There are many choices available:

- A common one is to consume additional acid foods or supplements such as Apple Cider Vinegar.  Though it seems counter-intuitive to what is advertised boosting the amount of acid in your stomach actually can improve the function of your digestive system.

- Another is to change your diet and/or sleeping habits.  Eating immediately before bed, for example, can trigger reflux and indigestion.

- If you're suffering from stress, deal with it in some effective way, perhaps by exercising or otherwise addressing the root causes.

- Glutamine, licorice, and aloe vera have been used in a variety of cultures over the years to relieve digestive problems without blocking stomach acid.

The real problem here as I see it is that these drugs are a big pharma "golden goose": the most taken and most prescribed drugs world wide.  But you have to ask yourself if there's been a significant increase in underlying causes to go along with this or are these drugs merely being used as a means to extract money for problems that could be addressed by simpler means that would not negatively impact your digestive system?

Most or all of my elderly relatives take these drugs - probably yours as well. 

Do they all have serious medical conditions or is this merely a "lemming effect"?

After all, simply eating a large, heavy meal and then laying down will trigger acid reflux symptoms so its not like a simple behavior adjustments might be all that's needed.  In today's world of "it's not my fault" its easier to take drugs than accept that perhaps a simple change of behavior will solve the problem.

Proper eating and diet cannot hurt you.

But I think these drugs can...

Friday, December 03, 2010

Lower Cholesterol = Memory Loss

I have made disparaging comments on the medical establishment before in previous posts, particularly with regard to the elderly.  This post will be no different.

I have been doing a lot of research on the effect of fats and oils in your diet as they relate to health.  One of the most notorious supposed offenders is cholesterol.  A class of drugs called statins, such as Lipitor and others, are prescribed along with a cholesterol-lowering diet under the rues of "reducing your risk of heart attack".

So let's be clear here first.  From the Lipitor site (www.lipitor.com and this link specifically): "High cholesterol is a risk factor for heart attack and stroke. In fact, 80% of people who have had a heart attack have high cholesterol."

I have written here about the concept of risk factor before in "Cholesterol, Heart Disease and Magical Thinking".  The marketing speak is utter nonsense because there is no demonstrative causal link between cholesterol and heart attack.  The reason is that a risk factor is merely a correlation between two things, like saying 80% of children with animal bites have shoes on.  Does a statement like that mean wearing shoes causes an animal bite or does it just happen to be coincidence that there is a correlation between the two.

My concern is that what's causing you to have the heart attack may also be causing you to have "high cholesterol".

So let's talk a bit about cholesterol.  From this site: "Cholesterol is a fatty substance that is manufactured by our liver. It is an extremely important building block for many of our vital functions including our brains, eyes, nervous systems and sexual apparatus (both varieties)." From Wikipedia: "Cholesterol is a waxy steroid metabolite found in the cell membranes and transported in the blood plasma of all animals. It is an essential structural component of mammalian cell membranes, where it is required to establish proper membrane permeability and fluidity."  Its good that these are somewhat different.  They say the same thing and, if you are interested, do you own research to identify just what cholesterol is.

What's key is that cholesterol is a fat and is not soluble in water.   Its manufactured by the liver as well as entering the body via diet.  Its transported to and from other parts of the body as follows (from the healthmattters link): "Cholesterol, being a fat, does not disolve in the blood stream which is mostly water. In order to be transported around in the blood, it must be carried by a Lipoprotein carrier which has an affinity for water. When it is being carried from the liver to the rest of the body, the Lipoprotein involved is LDL (low density Lipoprotein). When Cholesterol is being carried from the body back to the liver for recycling, the carrier is HDL (high density Lipoprotein)." More is going on than this but we are concerned here about this process because its how doctors decide to give you statins.

The common medical wisdom is that the LDL cholesterol is what builds up in your arteries and the higher you LDL number is the more "bad" cholesterol you have.

But there is another explanation.

The consumption of many types of manufactured and "unnatural" fats and oils can create a condition in your body call Hyperinsulinemia.  As I described in my previous post Type 2 Diabetes "... manifests when insulin progressively loses its effectiveness in sweeping the blood glucose from the blood stream into the sixty seven trillion or so cells that constitute our bodies."

What happens is that the consumption of these oils (hydrogenated vegetable oil, margarine, etc.) fool the body's system for processing fat and oils.  This happens because these manufactured fats and oils, while similar to healthy ones, do not support the transport of glucose through the walls of the cells like the natural version does.  The effect of this is that when insulin appears in the blood to cause cells to consume glucose the cells do not consume enough.  Hence the pancreas creates more insulin.

The result of this is that eventually the pancreas produces too much insulin or fails (conversion to Type 1 diabetes).

The fact that your cells are ignoring the insulin message leaves more glucose in your blood.

Diabetes is defined by this "high glucose" level in your blood - regardless of the cause.  And this is key.  Type 1 and 2, to my way of thinking, are two different problems.  The manufacture of insulin in your pancreas is an unrelated function with respect to the absorption of glucose in response to insulin in your cells.

You may say this is nonsense, or that I am an ignorant fool.  However, for anyone who questions this, and I encourage you to, please make sure any alternative explanation matches the history.

The classic diabetes diagnosis, i.e., too much glucose in the blood, occurred in about 0.0028% of the population around 1900.  Today its as much as 50% of the country suffers from it. 

What has changed in the last century?

I will argue that we no longer eat natural foods, specifically fats and oils.

Personally I have ordered my first bottles of Cod Liver Oil.  I have been taking fish oil for the last five or so years so I think I have been on the right road.  I am also working to eliminate the unnatural fats and oils from my diet.  I believe that consuming wrong types of oils and fats have a definite impact on this.

But circling back to the title of this post, what does all this have to do with your memory and brain function and, specifically, memory loss?

Cholesterol is vital for brain function.

Reducing cholesterol in the blood apparently does direct harm to your brain along with studies to confirm this.  If you're taking a statin to reduce the "bad" cholesterol in your diet consider this (from the link): "The LDL transports antioxidants, fat soluble nutrients and essential fatty acids to the brain for proper brain functioning. ... Cholesterol also promotes the growth of new brain cells and protects the integrity of the myelin sheath. The myelin sheath, essential for the proper function of the entire nervous system, covers the length of brain and nerve cells and is one fifth cholesterol. Low cholesterol levels make the myelin more vulnerable to breakdown and malfunction." - perhaps even Alzheimers?

If you're not taking fish oil pills or eating healthy fats and oils I would seriously consider it very soon - your mental health may depend on it.

The worst impact of statin drugs with regard to memory loss may be in the elderly.

Isn't research fun?