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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Here’s some more insight into celiac disease. Read an earlier 3healthymonkeys article on it here.

There are three major contributing factors to celiac disease.

  1. Genetic variants of histocompatibility leukocyte antigens (HLAs), specifically, HLA-DQ2 and HLA-DQ8, seem to cause a heightened immune sensitivity to gluten. 95% of people with celiac disease have at least one of those variants, compared to 30-40% in the general population.
  2. CD patients also tend to have other genetic predispositions, such as a propensity for overproducing the immune stimulant IL-15 and for harboring hyperactive immune cells that prime the immune system to attack the gut in response to gluten.
  3. Zonulin is a protein which affects the permeability of the small intestine. In order for the gluten to trigger the immune response, it need to slip through the cracks in the normally well sealed lining of the small intestine. Gluten itself may trigger abnormally high levels of zonulin to be secreted, possibly due to genetics.

Disrupting the part of the process which allows gluten to enter the bloodstream, for example, through a zonulin inhibitor, is an active area of clinical research.

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Why the Imp in Your Brain Gets Out

At a fundamental level, functioning socially means mastering one’s impulses. The adult brain expends at least as much energy on inhibition as on action, some studies suggest, and mental health relies on abiding strategies to ignore or suppress deeply disturbing thoughts — of one’s own inevitable death, for example. These strategies are general, subconscious or semiconscious psychological programs that usually run on automatic pilot.

In order to suppress a particular (perhaps nasty or politically incorrect) thought, one must consider it in the first place. In doing so, it is more likely to come to fruition. Stress plays an important role in determining whether something remains a thought or actually gets blurted out.

Concentrating intensely on not staring at a prominent mole on a new acquaintance’s face, while also texting and trying to follow a conversation, heightens the risk of saying: “We went to the mole — I mean, mall. Mall!”

Paging Austin Powers…

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In a huge shock and surprise, research proves that the primary factor in fighting obesity is motivation, not money.

A study published in the Feb. 26 issue of The New England Journal of Medicine, for instance, compared four popular diets and found they all produced similar results. After two years, the dieters in each group lost an average of nine pounds. Notably, the dieters who attended more counseling sessions lost a little bit more, which may support the notion that behavior is more important than diet alone.

Motivation, though, is not always easy to come by — especially when it involves changing habits. Some people may need a little help to kick-start a weight-loss regimen, whether that means following a popular diet or enrolling in an organized program. Your goal, though, should not be short term.

From least to most expensive, here’s the options:

  • If you have a lot of self motivation, be sure to eat mostly fresh foods high in fiber, like vegetables, and keep count of calories. Exercise regularly.
  • Spend a few dollars and buy a good guidebook if you feel hesitant about doing it alone.
  • Joining a group, such as Weight Watchers, can help with that extra bit of motivation. Jenny Craig is more expensive, but provides one on one guidance.
  • Sign up for a hospital program, especially if you have a condition like diabetes and need to lose a lot of weight.

The reason motivation is such a strong factor has to do with keeping the weight off. Almost any diet system can help with losing a few pounds, but the right system will help you keep it off.

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Eating to Fuel Exercise

Eating and drinking properly are an important part of exercise and maintaining an active lifestyle. The real question is one of timing. Should you eat before you exercise? How soon before? Should you sip or gulp water?

This advice will apply to many, but not all people. Everyone has their idiosyncrasies so don’t get all up in arms because something does not apply to you as an individual.

  • A small amount of food (150 – 200 calories) an hour before exercising is ideal.
  • Ditto for a post exercise snack, to be consumed within 15 minutes after you’re done exercising. Doing so can help prevent muscle soreness.
  • Drink enough water during exercise – it’s a trick question because everyone has a different sweat rate. The range is from 14 to 40 oz. per hour.
  • Gulping water is better because it leaves the stomach faster. Although it seems counterintuitive, sipping is more likely to cause cramping because the water is sitting in the stomach longer.

These answers were provided by Leslie Bonci, director of sports nutrition at the University of Pittsburgh Medical Center and a certified specialist in sports dietetics.

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Happy 233rd Birthday America!

The United States of America turns 233 years old today. Happy Independence Day!

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While it’s been known that the incidence of celiac is on the rise, it hasn’t been clear whether doctors are simply looking for it more often, and therefore finding more cases. But new research from the Mayo Clinic in Rochester, Minn., suggests that the disease is four times more common today than it was in the 1950s, and not just because doctors are more likely to test for it.

People with celiac disease suffer an autoimmune response when they eat anything with gluten, a protein found mostly in wheat.

The trend is concerning because celiac disease is often misdiagnosed as irritable bowel syndrome or another condition. It’s been estimated that for every person diagnosed with celiac disease, another 30 people have it but haven’t been diagnosed. Once diagnosed, the disease can be managed by eating a gluten-free diet. But when people don’t know they have the problem and continue to eat gluten-containing products, the intestines become severely damaged, leading to long-term health problems and a higher risk of dying compared to people who don’t have celiac.

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Want to make your teeth last longer? University of Rochester Medical Center researchers find that tooth whitening with hydrogen peroxide does little damage to the teeth as compared to the acidity of orange juice.

“The acid is so strong that the tooth is literally washed away,” said Ren, whose findings were recently published in Journal of Dentistry. “The orange juice decreased enamel hardness by 84 percent.”  No significant change in hardness or surface enamel was found from whitening.

Before you get all carried away, this does not mean you should stop drinking orange juice. This is only a comparison designed to show that the professional over the counter teeth whitening kits which contain a 6% hydrogen peroxide solution are safe for your teeth. Also, as a practical matter, you should avoid brushing your teeth immediately after drinking orange juice or eating any acidic foods because the enamel is temporarily weakened.

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Some exciting news on the cure for cancer front from a research team headed by Sangeeta N. Bhatia, M.D., Ph.D., Massachusetts Institute of Technology, and Michael J. Sailor, Ph.D., University of California, San Diego.

Gold nanoshells are among the most promising new nanoscale therapeutics being developed to kill tumors, acting as antennas that turn light energy into heat that cooks cancer to death. Now, a multi-institutional research team has shown that polymer-coated gold nanorods one-up their spherical counterparts, with a single dose completely destroying all tumors in a nonhuman animal model of human cancer.

Here’s how it works, in simple English:

Tiny gold particles are injected into the site of the tumor and absorbed by it. These particles can then be heated using infrared light to a high enough temperature to destroy the cancerous tissue without harming the surrounding tissue. Not only that, but if the cancerous tissue cannot be completely eliminated through this method, the heating makes it more susceptible to the effects of chemotherapy, for a combined knock out punch. These particle can also be coated with different materials which can relay all sorts of useful data to the proper type of scanner.

The bad news is that this is still in the research phase of development.

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