Posts about Health Care

Don’t Eat What Doesn’t Rot

Here is a nice interview of Michael Pollan by Amy Goodman – Don’t Eat Anything That Doesn’t Rot:

Another assumption of nutritionism is that you can measure these nutrients and you know what they’re doing, that we know what cholesterol is and what it does in our body or what an antioxidant is. And that’s a dubious proposition.

if you look at the layout of the average supermarket, the fresh whole foods are always on the edge. So you get produce and meat and fish and dairy products. And those are the foods that, you know, your grandmother would recognize as foods. They haven’t changed that much. All the processed foods, the really bad stuff that is going to get you in trouble with all the refined grain and the additives and the high-fructose corn syrup, those are all in the middle. And so, if you stay out of the middle and get most of your food on the edges, you’re going to do a lot better.

Related: Research on Why Healthy Living Leads to Longer LifeEat food. Not too much. Mostly plants.Raised Without AntibioticsAnother Strike Against SodaEnergy Efficiency of Digestion

Placebo Effect

Don’t laugh, sugar pills are the future

In fact the new study added nothing (and it was ridiculously badly reported): we already knew that antidepressants perform only marginally better than placebo, and the National Institute for Health and Clinical Excellence (Nice) guidelines has actively advised against using them in milder depression since 2004. But the more interesting questions are around placebo.

Another study from 2002 looked at 75 trials of antidepressants over the past 20 years, but looked only at the response in the placebo arms of the trials, and found that the response to placebo has increased significantly in recent years (as has the response to medication): perhaps our expectations of those drugs have increased, or perhaps, conversely to our earlier example, the trial designs have become systematically more flattering. I’m giving you tenuous data, on an interesting area, because I know you’re adult enough to cope with ambiguity.

Related: Placebo Response in Studies of Major DepressionAn Exploration of Neurotic Patients’ Responses to Placebo When Its Inert Content Is DisclosedDiscussing Medical Study ResultsWhy Most Published Research Findings Are False

Electrical Brain Stimulation Boosts Memory

Deep stimulation ‘boosts memory’

The technique involves implanting electrodes into the brain: in this case into an area in the limbic system called the hypothalamus, which is thought to control the appetite. When the electrodes were stimulated by electrical impulses the patient began to experience feelings of deja vu.

He then had a sudden perception of being in a park with friends. He felt younger, thought he was around 20-years-old, and his girlfriend of the time was there. He was an observer, and saw the scene in colour. As the intensity of the stimulation increased, details in the scene became more vivid.

The results suggest it might be possible to use deep brain stimulation directly to boost memory. “We hopefully have found a circuit in the brain which can be modulated by stimulation, and which might provide benefit to patients with memory disorders,” said Professor Lozano. He is now leading a pilot study into whether deep brain stimulation can help people with early Alzheimer’s disease. They are initially testing six patients.

Related: Oliver Sacks podcastThe Brain is Wired to Mull Over DecisionsHow The Brain Rewires ItselfDeep brain stimulation could help memory loss

Brain Development

Making the Mind, Why we’ve misunderstood the nature-nuture debate by Gary Marcus

The mapping between genes and behavior is made even more complex by the fact that few if any neural circuits operate entirely autonomously. Except perhaps in the case of reflexes, most behaviors are the product of multiple interacting systems. In a complex animal like a mammal or a bird, virtually every action depends on a coming together of systems for perception, attention, motivation, and so forth. Whether or not a pigeon pecks a lever to get a pellet depends on whether it is hungry, whether it is tired, whether there is anything else more interesting around, and so forth. Furthermore, even within a single system, genes rarely participate directly “on-line,” in part because they are just too slow. Genes do seem to play an active, major role in “off-line” processing, such as consolidation of long-term memory—which can even happen during sleep—but when it comes to rapid on-line decision-making, genes, which work on a time scale of seconds or minutes, turn over the reins to neurons, which act on a scale of hundredths of a second. The chief contribution of genes comes in advance, in laying down and adjusting neural circuitry, not in the moment-by-moment running of the nervous system. Genes build neural structures—not behavior.

An interesting read on brain development. This is another topic I find very interesting.

Related: Feed your Newborn NeuronsHow The Brain Rewires ItselfBrain Development Gene is Evolving the FastestThe Brain is Wired to Mull Over Decisions

Raised Without Antibiotics

Tyson is going to start selling chicken Raised Without Antibiotics. The overuse of antibiotics is a huge problem and the overuse in the raising of livestock is a huge problem.

“While we have great confidence in the quality of our traditional chicken, we’re also committed to providing mainstream consumers with the kind of products they want,” said Richard L. Bond, president and CEO of Tyson Foods. “According to our research, 91% of consumers agree it’s important to have fresh chicken produced and labeled ‘raised without antibiotics’,” Bond said.

Tyson started selling 100% All Naturalâ„¢, Raised Without Antibiotics chicken this week. The product is being distributed nationwide in newly-designed packaging highlighting that the chicken is raised without antibiotics and contains no artificial ingredients.

While it is nice they will start selling a portion of chicken raised without using antibiotics and endangering the health of the community by helping evolve super-resistant bugs this is really a pretty small step I would guess. The risk is not even mainly to the person eating the food pumped full of antibiotics it is to everyone when drug resistant bacteria are evolved through the overuse of antibiotics. Also, 100% All Natural is trademarked? Give me a break.

Nationwide Survey Reveals Most Americans are Unaware They Consume Beef and Poultry Raised on Antibiotics (2003)

“Antibiotic medicines are losing effectiveness on humans due to their increased use in animal feed,” said Margaret Mellon, Ph.D, JD, director of the food and environment program for the Union of Concerned Scientists. “Animals raised in natural environments rarely require the use of antibiotics. Americans who choose meat produced this way are making conscious decisions to ensure that antibiotics will still be working when they or their family need them.” The Union of Concerned Scientists estimates that 70 percent of all antibiotics in the United States are now fed to animals raised for human consumption in order to hasten the animals’ growth or prevent illness amid crowded, unsanitary conditions on factory farms.

Abuse of Antibiotics at Factory Farms Threatens the Effectiveness of Drugs Used to Treat Disease in Humans:

According to the Center for Disease Control, more than one-third of the salmonella poisoning cases in 1997 were found to be resistant to five antibiotics. Drug resistance in campylobacter bacteria, the most commonly known cause of bacterial food-borne illness in the United States, increased from zero in 1991 to 14 percent in 1998.

The European Union, on the recommendation of the World Health Organization, has banned the use of antibiotics to promote the growth of livestock animals when those drugs are also used to treat people. The Center for Disease Control has agreed with this position, but the U.S. government has failed to reduce the threat that ineffective antibiotics pose to human health. (Lieberman,, 1999)

To reduce serious health threats, the Food and Drug Administration should ban the use of antibiotics to promote livestock growth when those antibiotics are used to treat humans.

Tracking the Ecosystem Within Us

Gut Check: Tracking the Ecosystem Within Us

For more than 100 years, scientists have known that humans carry a rich ecosystem within their intestines. An astonishing number and variety of microbes, including as many as 400 species of bacteria, help humans digest food, mitigate disease, regulate fat storage, and even promote the formation of blood vessels. By applying sophisticated genetic analysis to samples of a year’s worth baby poop, Howard Hughes Medical Institute researchers have now developed a detailed picture of how these bacteria come and go in the intestinal tract during a child’s first year of life.

Before birth, the human intestinal tract is sterile, but babies immediately begin to acquire the microbial denizens of the gut from their environment — the birth canal, mothers’ breast, and even the touch of a sibling or parent. Within days, a thriving microbial community is established and by adulthood, the human body typically has as many as ten times more microbial cells than human cells.

The results, said Palmer, were striking: the group found that the intestinal microbial communities varied widely from baby to baby – both in terms of which microbes were present and in how that composition changed over time. That finding, she said, is important because it helps broaden the definition of healthy microbial colonization in a baby.

Another intriguing observation, Palmer noted, was a tendency for sudden shifts in the composition of the infants’ intestinal microbial communities over time as different species of bacteria ebbed and flowed.

I find this area and this study fascinating. I’m not exactly sure why this study and the incredibly significant positive bacteria for human life news doesn’t get more notice. Oh well I guess there are not cool pictures of robots or scary stories of potential threats to those reading which makes the news less interesting to some. Still I find this stuff amazing: Energy Efficiency of DigestionBeneficial BacteriaSkin BacteriaHacking Your Body’s Bacteria for Better HealthWhere Bacteria Get Their Genes

Avian Flu

Bird Flu Virus Microscope Photo

Photo of the Bird Flu virus, courtesy of

Avian Flu (site broke link so I removed it), World Health Organization Meeting to Discuss Avian Flu Pandemic as Bird Flu Continues to Spread Through Europe

World Health Organization officials are meeting in Geneva to consider the possibility of a global human bird flu pandemic as the deadly H5N1 strain continues to spread rapidly in birds.

Top influenza official Margaret Chan said the outbreak in poultry is historically unprecedented. She said the deadly virus presents a greater challenge to the world than any other emerging infectious disease.

The meeting was called to plan a response in case the bird flu virus mutates into a widespread human flu virus.

Drinking Soda and Obesity

Scientists in food fight over soda (bozos at CNN deleted the webpage):

Biologically, the calories from sugar-sweetened beverages are fundamentally different in the body than those from food.

The main sweetener in soda — high-fructose corn syrup — can increase fats in the blood called triglycerides, which raises the risk of heart problems, diabetes and other health woes.

This sweetener also doesn’t spur production of insulin to make the body “process” calories, nor does it spur leptin, a substance that tamps down appetite, as other carbohydrates do, explained Dr. George Bray of the Pennington Biomedical Research Center in Baton Rouge, Louisiana.

“There’s a lack of fullness or satiety. The brain just seems to add it on,” said Dr. Louis Aronne, a Weill-Cornell Medical College doctor who is president of the Obesity Society.

As with so much life science the “answers” are not clear (Medical Study Results QuestionedWhy Most Published Research Findings Are False). The article presents arguments from those who disagree about the link between drinking soda and the dramatic rise in obesity in the USA.

Another article on the topic: Cutting Sugary Drinks at Home Helped Teens Shed Pounds by Judith Groch.