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Archive for July, 2009

Recent studies show that food allergies in Europe have a regional differences. An early hypothesis was that the different diets from the varying regions explained the variety of allergies. It did not explain certain foods, like apples. In northern Europe people are allergic to the inside of the apple, and in the south they are allergic to the skin.

What could be the cause of this strange invisible dividing line that skims across south-west France, cuts through Italy close to Florence, and continues eastwards through the middle of the Black Sea?

Significantly, this line marks the southern limit of the birch tree, a plant whose pollen is one of the causes of hay fever in northern Europe. Clues for this link lie in the different proteins found in various parts of the fruit: the flesh harbours an allergenic protein called Mal d 1, while the skin is relatively rich in Mal d 3. The structure and composition of the Mal d 1 protein strongly resembles the allergenic protein Bet v 1 found in birch pollen. This means that people who suffer from birch pollen allergy may be primed to overreact to Mal d 1 – explaining the prevalence of the allergy to apple flesh in this region.

Inhaling a protein may cause someone to develop allergies for a similar ingested protein, but not vice versa because when it hits the lungs it passes into the bloodstream whole, and is not broken down by digestion.

There are several factors at work here, including genetics and other environmental conditions which have not yet been analyzed. Hopefully, with more research we will soon see the end of severe allergies.

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Healing Wounds With Nanodiamonds

“This study introduces the concept of nanodiamond-mediated release of therapeutic proteins,” said Dean Ho, assistant professor of biomedical engineering and mechanical engineering at the McCormick School of Engineering and Applied Science. Ho led the research. “It’s a tricky problem because proteins, even small ones like insulin, bind so well to the nanodiamonds. But, in this case, the right pH level effectively triggers the release of the insulin.”

Nanodiamonds will hold onto insulin tightly under normal pH conditions. If they are place in an alkaline environment (pH above 7) the insulin loses its grip and is released.

That’s all well and good but why would you want to put insulin onto a would site?

Insulin accelerates wound healing by acting as a growth hormone. It encourages skin cells to proliferate and divide, restores blood flow to the wound, suppresses inflammation and fights infection. Earlier investigations have confirmed an increase in alkalinity of wound tissue, due to bacterial colonization, to levels as high as pH 10.5, the pH level that promoted insulin release from the nanodiamonds in the Northwestern study.

Now it makes sense.

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Congress has apparently been considering a “Bo-Tax” on cosmetic surgeries. It should come as no surprise to anyone who pays attention to politics that the average person undergoing such a procedure is not a wealthy socialite, and the idea that this would be a tax on the rich is ridiculous.

Roth, a plastic surgeon at Maimonides Medical Center in Brooklyn, N.Y., said it “would be a discriminatory tax against women,” noting that 86 percent of patients are female and 91 percent are of working age between 19 and 64.

He also disputed the notion it would be a “tax on the wealthy,” noting most patients earn less than $100,000 a year. “People put money aside for years, sometimes weekly under-the-mattress deductions” to get the surgery they want, he said.

If it is permissible for Congress to tax particular medical procedure, then what’s preventing a special tax on abortions? How much meddling in private affairs are citizens willing to put up with before it becomes too much?

…Susan R. Estrich and Kathleen M. Sullivan have stated: “Whatever position one takes on the decision to [publicly fund abortions], it is surely different than a state policy which seeks to ‘encourage childbirth’ by taxing abortion. Even assuming that rewards may be appropriate to secure the end of childbirth, punishments should not.”

Legally, it seems the government is allowed to levy a tax as long as it doesn’t impose a substantial burden.

…under current law, a tax targeted at abortions would be difficult to sustain. Under Casey, states may not impose regulations that place an “undue burden” on a woman’s constitutional right to terminate her pregnancy. A law creates an “undue burden” where it has “the purpose or effect of placing a substantial obstacle in the path of a woman seeking an abortion of a nonviable fetus.” Any abortion tax large enough to raise a meaningful amount of revenue would likely increase the cost of abortions sufficiently to constitute an “undue burden” under this test.

In other words, if the tax was high enough to raise enough money so it would be worth pissing off constituents, it would be too high to be legal. Some people might go as far as saying that Congress should concentrate on ways to spend less money, rather than try to squeeze more and more of it from people who don’t have any.

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Women Are Getting More Beautiful

UPDATE: See the clarifications and corrections from Markus Jokela, the author of the original research cited in the Times Online article.

The evolutionary power behind this is straightforward: more attractive women tend to have greater numbers of children, and the most attractive are less likely to have sons.

In a study released last week, Markus Jokela, a researcher at the University of Helsinki, found beautiful women had up to 16% more children than their plainer counterparts.

One finding was that women were generally regarded by both sexes as more aesthetically appealing than men. The other was that the most attractive parents were 26% less likely to have sons.

Physical appearance is highly heritable, so it follows that the daughter of an attractive woman will have greater odds of being attractive herself and thus carry a reproductive advantage.

However, what about the men?

“For women, looks are much less important in a man than his ability to look after her when she is pregnant and nursing, periods when women are vulnerable to predators. Historically this has meant rich men tend to have more wives and many children. So the pressure is on men to be successful.”

As with many human traits, such as skin color or height, the distribution follows a bell curve. A shift in the curve as indicated by this research means that a comparison of two women who are average for their respective times, would place the more modern woman as the more attractive one.

A factor acting as a brake on overall attractiveness is male appearance. For example, an attractive woman may have children with an attractive man but their daughter may look like the father and therefore have an unattractive, masculine appearance. Other similar scenarios are why the majority of people are neither very attractive or very ugly, but somewhere in between.

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Food, Inc. is a movie designed to raise several important issues regarding the industrialized food system in The United States. You may not take all of their issues with the same seriousness, but some interesting points are being made that need addressing.

From a review of the movie:

The reason I wasn’t too enamored of seeing it, at first, is that I figured it would mostly rub me the wrong way. I guessed it would mostly be about how “big bad business” ought to be even more tightly regulated than ever (since the mountains of regulations to which they are already subject have worked out so well, I suppose).

While one “sub-plot” of the film was indeed about this aspect of “food politics,” it wasn’t nearly at all the theme nor major element of the film. And, in fact, to large extent in my view, the rest of the film undercut the calls for more regulation.

I’ll go a step further. The film was pretty pro-business (on “practical” rather than principled grounds, i.e., freedom and property ownership), and even so for larger corporations. One notable scene was that of a long-time environmentalist who founded an organic yogurt company and has now succeeded in getting his product into Wal-Mart. The rational was, of course, obvious to anyone who knows anything about free-market economics: 1) Wal-Mart will sell what people want to buy, and 2) to the extent that Wal-Mart displaces non-organic, unhealthful products with true organic and healthful ones, it represents a tremendous positive impact in terms of things conservationists, environmentalists, and others worry about: pesticides, chemicals, transportation footprints, etc.

Read the rest of the review and judge for yourself. It may open your eyes to something you’ve been blind to your whole life.

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Fats To Eat, Fats To Avoid

There’s a piece of common knowledge circulating amongst the general population which holds fats in contempt, and should not be part of a healthy person’s diet. It is false. The key is knowing which fats are acceptable, and which can cause problem because the simple fact is that not all fats are created equal.

After mentioning that vegetable oils were bad I was recently asked “which fats can I eat?” It is not surprising that we are all confused with the low-fat/saturated fat hysteria going on. So I thought I’d share with you the types of fats that we use in our home along with the ones that we try to avoid. First there are a few things you should know about fats…

Fats To Eat

  • Butter from grass-fed cows
  • Lard from pastured pigs
  • Tallow from grass-fed cows
  • Unrefined Coconut oil
  • Cold pressed olive and sesame oils (uncooked or low heat)

Fats To Avoid

  • Soy oil
  • Corn oil
  • Cottonseed Oil
  • Canola Oil (GMO, can contain trans fatty acids and can cause heart lesions)
  • Hydrogenated Oils
  • Most other vegetable oils, especially when not cold pressed (they are rancid and therefore a carcinogen)

There’s more at the article, including a breakdown of the Omega-6 and Omega-3 ratios in certain fats.

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Frank Bruni has an excellent article in The New York Times Magazine discussing his issues with food, weight and appearance which apparently began in early childhood. It is a riveting tale and we advise you to read it all. Here are a few excerpts.

A hamburger dinner sounded the first alarm. My mother had cooked and served me one big burger, which would be enough for most carnivores still in diapers. I polished it off and pleaded for a second. So she cooked and served me another big burger, confident that I’d never get through it. It was the last time she underestimated my appetite.

It became a pattern. No fourth cookie? I threw up. No midafternoon meal between lunch and dinner? Same deal. I had a bizarre facility for it, and Mom had a sponge or paper towels at hand whenever she was about to disappoint me.

You need to be conscious of time. There’s no such thing as bulimia on the fly; a span of at least 10 minutes in the bathroom is optimal, because you may need 5 of them to linger at the sink, splash cold water on your face and let the redness in it die down. You should always carry a toothbrush and toothpaste, integral to eliminating telltale signs of your transgression and to rejoining polite society without any offense to it. Bulimia is a logistical and tactical challenge as much as anything else. It demands planning.

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