Friday, April 20, 2007

Health Points: April 14th to 20th

This week a couple of article that were published in Science look interesting:

A new study show that the genetic risk factors for Autism are greater than previously thought.
Strong Association of De Novo Copy Number Mutations with Autism
Science 20 April 2007:
Vol. 316. no. 5823, pp. 445 - 449

This of course does not mean that there are not epigenetic, environmental, or infectious factors involved in coming down with autism, just that genetics may indicate a higher susceptibility.

Another new study brings into question the belief that anti-depressants could lead to suicide in young people.

Study Questions Antidepressant Risks
Science 20 April 2007:
Vol. 316. no. 5823, p. 354
An analysis of 27 clinical trials of antidepressants in youngsters has found a negligible risk of suicidal thoughts and suicide attempts, with the treated groups showing 0.7% greater risk than participants given a placebo. The study comes more than 2 years after regulatory agencies worldwide warned doctors to take great care in prescribing the drugs to children and teenagers because they might increase "suicidality." Since then, controversy has grown over whether the risks have been exaggerated.
Seems that the BigPharma may have been given the short end of the stick in this controversy. I think that's a rare event, but maybe I'm wrong.

Wednesday, April 11, 2007

Low Sugar Coconut Ice Cream

So I'm not up on the relative health benefits of coconut milk[1*,2*]and coconut oil though there are those out there going gaga for it (and those out there who have other ideas) It seems that there might be an association between a certain constituent molecule in coconut oil, lauric acid [1,2*], and health benefits.

Despite those statements, coconut milk is very high in saturated fat so I would still not say that the following recipe is a healthy one. Maybe this will get some further research. But one thing I do know is that the modern diet contains far too much sugar.

Low Sugar Coconut Ice Cream

1 Cup Whipping Cream
1 Can (~14oz.) Coconut Milk
2 Table Spoons Honey
1-2 teaspoons Vanilla Extract

I know, I know. But I said low sugar, not low fat.
Empty can of coconut milk into bowl, whisk in honey until fully mixed (if granulated sugar, until fully dissolved). Add cream, mix. Add vanilla,mix. Put in ice cream maker. Takes about 25 minutes (about 10minutes less than usual) in our machine.

I'd recommend organic ingredients since there is an indication that they are higher in omega-3s and raw honey.
If you have not been doing the low sugar thing up to this point this is not necessarily the recipe to go cold turkey with. The original recipe that this is lightly based on called for 3/4 cup of granulated sugar. I'd recommend then that you start out with about 1/2 cup of granulated sugar (or equivalent honey) and work your way down. Sugar is like salt in that the more you consume the higher the threshold you have for tasting it. Today, when I have a cookie or pastry not made with reduced sugar it is basically repellingly sweet.
And remember, moderation in everything (within moderation).

* The sites linked are to groups or individuals advocating a position. These sites can look and feel very much like scientific sites with scientific authority and backing. Yet science is based on the concept of inquiry and advocacy is generally the opposite of inquiry. This is not to say that the information provided is not true or unhelpful. One way to view this is that advocacy tries to paints things in black and white and it is my take home understanding that this particular issue has an a lot of gray in it. What are the shades of gray is what it is all about.

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Sunday, April 8, 2007

Omega-3s: More on ALA:EPA:DHA

This is a reply to this comment left by Maikeru on the post Omega-3 Fats: The Right Ratio.

Hi Maikeru,

The ALA/DHA/EPA question is an important one for those interested in improving their omega-3 intake. ALA is found primarily in plants such as greens and some seeds while the other two are derived primarily from fish and land animals.

There is an interesting book on the subject called The Queen of Fats by Susan Allport that is well written and engaging. There she describes a competitive reaction with an 18 carbon omega-6 fatty acid for the enzyme involved with carbon addition to make the 20 carbon chain acids. Thus what she is saying is with too high an intake of the omega-6 acids the body will favor the production of the omega-6 20 carbon acid over the conversion of ALA to EPA. This conflict between the two fatty acid families is not well known and thus not accounted for in studies of ALA conversion in the body.

While it might seem logical to just bypass the problem all together by only eating fish and meats there are of course some complications. Fish higher up in the food chain tend to concentrate the pollutants that humans have been adding to the oceans and lakes of the world (another socialized cost of "cheap" electricity. Coal contains a lot of mercury which winds up in the worlds waters and in fish.) In addition the worlds fish populations are in serious jeopardy of being over fished with some reporting fishery degradation in every spot on Earth and around 80% fishery collapse. Getting omega-3s from fish (the highest concentration) is not sustainable. There are a few companies that are going right to the source and gathering DHA from algae.

As for meats, though grass fed animals are higher in omega-3s than are grain fed animals they are not near the 1:1 ratio of omega-3 to omega-6 that is thought to represent our evolutionary diet. Meats are also high in saturated fats which are still widely seen as unhealthful. Lastly, though the omega-3 content is likely playing some role in this, every study of health and diet points to the importance of green (or better yet, colorful) plants (fruits and vegetables) in the diet.

So considering the we could potentially get a lot of our omega-3s form the plants we eat if we 1) cut back on the amount of omega-6s and 2) increased our consumption of fruits and vegetables we should try to get most of our omega-3s that way but I would still supplement with pharmaceutical grade fish oils or something like that (particularly after a fat laden meal out) since our understanding is still rudimentary.

It should be mentioned again that anyone that wants to radically change their diet should consult their physician and their own body. High omega-3 diets are known to increase bleeding. There may be other complications that are not well known.

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Tuesday, April 3, 2007

School education fails to improve condom use

An interesting study based in Scotland that showed no increase in condom use even when students knowledge of condoms was improved. There persisted, despite education efforts, a sense that illness would not occur and thus condoms were thought not useful.

School-based education programmes may not be the answer to spiralling rates of sexually transmitted infections, analysis of a scheme in Scotland suggests. Healthy Respect, a classroom-based education programme delivered by trained teachers and nurses, produced no change in attitudes or intention to use condoms and no reduction in sexual intercourse in those under 16 years of age. The lack of behaviour change was clearly apparent despite teenagers having more knowledge of where to access condoms and how to use them effectively.

A second phase of the project, running until 2008, is focusing on areas where the team feel more progress will be made, such as increasing access to drop-in centres. “Sexual health programmes at school alone will not substantially mitigate against the factors that are shaping young people's risky behaviour”, Tucker continued. She added that governments should stop funding unsustainable efforts and projects that are poorly thought-out.

Sunday, April 1, 2007

Response to Dave's comment @ CP blog

This is in response to Dave over at the "Complete Patient Blog" on a recent posted entitled "Chewing on a Mother's Real Message About Raw Milk, and the Risks of Dramatic Stories"

First, the notion that 1/3 of milk-related illness is due to raw milk...

Those of you wishing to believe that statistic probably cannot be dissuaded, but the first time I saw it in print, I tried to track it down to root data, and was simply unable to do it. The raw data does not support the claim. Nevertheless it is gradually, maddeningly, becoming true by repitition! Ken. please look into this. You will find that most of the claims of illness from raw milk come from government investigators who have a nasty habit of making assumptions that fall into line with their job descriptions. You do not have to take my word on that---do the due diligence and look at the claims.

Fair enough. I actually picked up that statistic reading your site. I saw it being bantered about by raw milk supporters so I thought it accurate enough. Unfortunately to have to rely on non-government reports of raw milk illnesses for raw milk illness statistics is untenable. The people who investigate, gather and publish such statistics are these government people. I take it from your post that you view these people as having a conflict of interest. In what way? And if these numbers cannot be trusted (since I generally do not believe in conspiracies, let's assume that they subconsciously err on the side of blaming raw milk) how could one make any decision on raw milk?

Let us say that, due to socialization and what not, that these investigators unfairly accuse raw milk for illnesses 5 out of 10 times. Personally I think that such an error rate is extremely unlikely. But if true this means is that only half of the illness that are being ascribed to raw milk are real. To make it simple (and even reduce the illness rate ascribed to raw milk some more) let's say that raw milk accounts for only 15% of all cases. Even if that where true that would mean that something, if we are being really generous, that accounts for less than 0.1% (I'd guess 0.001% or less) of all milk sales accounts for 15% of all milk related illness. This does not speak well for the risk profile of raw milk.

And also on that same subject: If raw milk is so dangerous, or even deadly as some say, why are indiginous cultures with very heavy reliance on raw dairy able to survive so healthfully? The Masai in Africa (our contemporaries) live largely on milk and blood. They are sturdy, healthy, tall, and smart. (I'm told by someone who lives near the Masai that they look down their noses at everybody, for good reason!) They are not buying processed, pasteurized milk or even testing their milk or collection processes! How can that be?
The Masai have a life expectancy in the mid to late 40s. Not exactly the poster child of health. A lot of kids die in these cultures that have not yet fully embraced modern medical and health practices. That said they also drink fresh raw milk from one cow. They do not mix the contents of several or tens of cows, bottle, and in some states ship the contents.

Second, please bear with me as I relate a comment from a judge I met in Ohio. Over dinner conversation about law and regulation, he told me that the worst laws are the ones with names attached,[...]
A bit of a tangent but in general I agree. Yes these laws take the thinking out of the legal system (what little there is). But we Americans constantly confuse our legal system for a justice system, which it is not.

Last, regarding Ken's comment that raw milk is the perfect medium for infectious agents [to grow and multiply], I am compelled to say this: Milk, in its raw state, is loaded with friendly bacteria that actually destroy pathogens. You can inoculate raw milk with a pathogen, and see that pathogen neutralized by friendly resident microbes. Inoculate pasteurized milk, and you get no inherent protection.
I have yet to read anything in my research about these good bacteria. Can you direct me to where I should read up about them? Do you know their name or how they function? I'm wondering if they attack the bad bacteria or if they out compete the bad bacteria. I guess in general a citation for the inoculation experiment you describe above would also be in order.

No matter, I suppose, since pasteurization is such an effective pathogen-killer. But where then, do the presumed 2/3 of pasteurized milk illnesses come from? The answer of course, is the same for pasteurized milk as it is for raw milk: Individual consumer factors aside (like immune strength), it's about the processing.
Pasteurization does not completely destroy all pathogens (or other beneficial bacteria) but merely knocks back the numbers to a large degree (kills off many e-folds) Thus that the 99.9% to 99.999% of milk that is pasteurized could still contain and sustain dangerous bacteria is a probability.

I want to remind raw milk proponents that I am not saying they are wrong. I am finding new information as I read everyday that shows raw milk to have wonderful , healthful properties many of which are knocked-back or lost in pasteurization. The question is whether the risk is worth the benefit. Whether some of the benefits could be found in other, safer foods or be retained in raw milk with newer processing methods. I realize that part of the appeal of raw milk is that it is a living system and that consuming it is like drinking in life and health. I also realize that pasteurization knocks-out a lot of that life turning milk into a largely dead liquid. The question is once again what, if any benefit is there in raw milk that is unique (i.e. cannot be found in other, safer foods) and is it worth the risk? I'm still trying to figure that one out.


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