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Consensus on Coffee: It’s Good for You!

May 19, 2015

coffee is good for youA review of studies shows that coffee’s reputation as being unhealthy is undeserved, with the potential health benefits surprisingly large.

Aaron E. Carroll, professor of pediatrics at Indiana University School of Medicine, has looked at a number of studies and assembled some interesting news for those of us who love coffee but have long been told that it is bad for us:

  • Low risk of stroke: 11 studies totaling about 480,000 participants showed a lower risk of stroke for those consuming 2-6 cups per day vs. non-consumers
  • Heart failure: it’s not until the 10+ cups per day level of consumption that an increase in heart failure is indicated
  • Cancer: in some cases, such as prostate cancer, higher coffee consumption is not associated with negative outcomes; with breast cancer the link with drinking coffee is “statistically insignificant”; and with lung cancer outcomes are hard to parse out due to the influence of smoking
  • Cirrhosis of the liver: Drinking coffee is associated with “better laboratory values” in those at risk

More good news:

Is coffee associated with the risk of death from all causes? There have been two meta-analyses published within the last year or so. The first reviewed 20 studies, including almost a million people, and the second included 17 studies containing more than a million people. Both found that drinking coffee was associated with a significantly reduced chance of death. I can’t think of any other product that has this much positive epidemiologic evidence going for it.

An Environmental Activist’s Thoughts on GMOs (and How He Was “Converted”)

May 13, 2015

GMO tomatoesThere’s a lot of talk these days about eating genetically modified organisms (GMOs). GMOs are any organism whose genetic material has been altered using genetic engineering techniques.

For about 14,000 years humans have been using selective breeding, a form of genetic modification, in our raising of domesticated plants and animals. So, basically everything we eat has been selectively bred, thus modifying the genes over time.

How are GMOs intrinsically different? They may or may not be: whereas selective breeding depends on choosing among naturally occurring genetic variation within a population or species, genetic engineering can, but does not necessarily, involve the intentional introduction of genes from different species, a technology first developed in 1972.

And is this intrinsically “good” or “bad”? Mark Lynas, researcher at the Cornell Alliance for Science, mulls this over in “How I Got Converted to G.M.O. Food.” Lynas, a self-described lifelong environmental activist, notes that though he was initially opposed to GMOs, he now believes that genetically modified foods are safe, and points out a major gap between scientists’ and the public’s perception on the issue: per the Pew Research Center and the American Association for the Advancement of Science, while 88 percent of association scientists agreed it was safe to eat genetically modified foods, only 37 percent of the public did. Lynas, through his research at Cornell, tries to bring a more informed context to this gap. In sum he notes:

No one claims that biotech is a silver bullet. The technology of genetic modification can’t make the rains come on time or ensure that farmers in Africa have stronger land rights. But improved seed genetics can make a contribution in all sorts of ways: It can increase disease resistance and drought tolerance, which are especially important as climate change continues to bite; and it can help tackle hidden malnutritional problems like vitamin A deficiency.

Bulletproof, Biohackers, and Buttered Coffee

May 8, 2015

buttered coffeeHere in Seattle we love our coffee, so one that purports to “upgrade your head” caught our attention. We also have our fair share of coffee entrepreneurs (Starbucks anyone?) and it’s tempting to believe that a breakfast which starts out with two tablespoons of butter is going to be the cornerstone of a diet that provides for “more energy and willpower than you ever thought possible.”

A new restaurant, Bulletproof, just opened in Santa Monica, with openings planned for Seattle, Los Angeles, and Milwaukee, in case you’re wondering where you, too, can upgrade your head. Or you can check out the website and buy the high quality, low mold beans on-line while learning more about a diet trend which has stars from Jimmy Fallon and Shailene Woodley raving. Others, from Christopher Gardener, professor/diet expert at Stanford University’s School and Dr. Walter Willet, chairman of Harvard Medical School’s department of nutrition, are more skeptical. Gardener notes “If I gave this diet to 100 people and tested their weight, blood-glucose levels, and LDL cholesterol, some would benefit, some would be neutral, and some would get worse.”

The Bulletproof diet touted by entrepreneur Dave Asprey has people starting the day with Bulletproof coffee – a blend of his high quality beans ($18.95/pound), butter made from the milk of grass-fed cows, and a medium chain triglyceride (MCT) derived from coconut oil – and if you’re like Asprey, a self-described biohacker, a mix of 20 vitamins including K and C to help improve brain function.  (What is a biohacker? Somebody who uses science and technology to improve body function.) There’s also a book and a color-coded roadmap to help you avoid foods in the kryptonite region) available from Bulletproof. To be fair, low-mold beans are less bitter than regular ones, and we’re all for that. And as Asprey notes, “if I start to die, I’ll know it’s not working.”

What Are Nanoparticles – and Why Should You Care?

May 4, 2015

nanoparticlesPer this article in Fortune, Nanoparticles “touch nearly every Fortune 500 company and aspect of our lives”; the Project on Emerging Nanotechnologies estimates that it’s $20 billion industry.

Nanoparticle are between 1 and 100 nanometers in size (a billionth of a meter). They’re not particularly well understood but they’re present all around us in the environment – and in many of the products we buy and ingest. The interesting and sometimes unexpected properties of nanoparticles stem from the large surface area of the material relative to their overall size.

They’re not a new discovery – nanoparticles were used by artisans as far back as the ninth century in Mesopotamia for generating a glittering effect on the surface of pots. In 1857 Michael Faraday provided the first description, in scientific terms, of the optical properties of nanometer-scale metals. But their applications have changed considerably in the past few years.

Arturo Keller of the University of California, Santa Barbara has been studying nanoparticles, in particular titanium dioxide, in common products such as cosmetics, sunscreens, and lotions. It’s important to note that titanium dioxide is chemically inert and has been around humans for decades, and its practical applications includes use in joint replacements.

But at the nanosize, per Dr. Keller’s research the particles “can also cross the blood-brain barrier or enter cells and destroy genetic material,” leading to increased rates of cancer, heart disease, and neurological disorders.  The Environmental Working Group, a research organization based in Washington, D.C., estimates that nano titanium dioxide is in about 10,000 over-the-counter products, including food, a trend which started over a decade ago.

As research such as Keller’s is completed, many companies and the US government are paying close attention to their use and safety and the FDA is discussing regulations. Their small size allows for many positive uses such as highly targeted drug delivery at the molecular level, and a more targeted delivery of pesticides to crops. As Fortune notes, “perhaps the most concerning and harmful aspect of heightened fears about nanoparticles is the potential for a broad, ill-informed backlash.” Read more…

Man’s Best Friend – Some Insight into Why

April 22, 2015

 Not everyone loves dogs of course, but most dog owners claim a strong bond with their pet. A new study from Japan sheds some light into the biochemistry of this relationship: Dogs who trained a long gaze on their owners had elevated levels of oxytocin, a hormone produced in the brain that is associated with nurturing and attachment. After receiving those long gazes, the owners’ levels of oxytocin increased, too.  This is similar to how bonding occurs between parent and newborns.

Researchers also tested oxytocin levels in wolves-to-owner gazes among a sample of wolves who had been raised by humans. Compared with dogs, the wolves scarcely gazed at their owners, and the owners’ oxytocin levels barely budged.

Dr. Takefumi Kikusui, professor in the School of Veterinary Medicine at Azabu University, suggested that “there is a possibility that dogs cleverly and unknowingly utilized a natural system meant for bonding a parent with his or her child.” Certainly one doesn’t have to search long to find examples which speak to this bond:

“My little dog—a heartbeat at my feet.” – Edith Wharton

“Children and dogs are as necessary to the welfare of the country as Wall Street and the railroads.” – Harry S Truman

“All knowledge, the totality of all questions and all answers is contained in the dog.” – Kafka

 

 

Dr. Oz to Respond to Criticism

April 21, 2015

dr oz answersDr. Mehmet Oz will question the credibility of critics who sought to have him removed from his position at Columbia in a segment on his show on Thursday, a spokesman for the show said.

Why is this important, and why does MCNTalk care? Dr. Oz has noted on his Facebook page, “I bring the public information that will help them on their path to be their best selves. We provide multiple points of view, including mine which is offered without conflict of interest. That doesn’t sit well with certain agendas which distort the facts.”

But in the multi-billion dollar world of celebrity and supplement endorsement, is there such a thing as “without conflict of interest?” And, as we noted in 2013, “In medicine there is a continuum between hard science, that which can be objectively observed and tested, so-called ‘art,’ and unsubstantiated beliefs masquerading as science.”

There is certainly no harm in being a good person and given the nature of many illnesses, conveying warmth while the body heals itself may be more than enough. But promoting amulets, strange foods, and other hocus pocus presented by charlatans does a disservice to society. Oz appears to personally promote unproven products and their promoters in his show – conveying an irresponsible and unearned aura of legitimacy. It appears he has embraced celebrity at the expense of credibility and his millions of fans are none the wiser.

Dr. Oz’s Presence on Columbia Faculty Deemed “Unacceptable”

April 17, 2015

Dr ozDr. Mehmet Oz, celebrity doctor and host of “The Dr. Oz Show” since 2009 is no stranger to controversy. In 2014 he appeared before Congress where he admitted that weight loss products he’s endorsed “Don’t pass scientific muster.”

This week ten prominent national physicians, led by Dr. Henry Miller of Stanford University, sent a letter to Columbia University’s Faculties of Health Sciences and Medicine noting that:

“Dr. Oz is guilty of either outrageous conflicts of interest or flawed judgements about what constitutes appropriate medical treatments, or both…members of the public are being misled and endangered, which makes Dr. Oz’s presence on the faculty of a prestigious medical institution unacceptable.” (Text of the letter can be found here.)

A graduate of Harvard University and both the University of Pennsylvania’s School of Medicine and their Wharton School, Dr. Oz has been on the faculty of Columbia University since 2001, where he serves as professor at the Department of Surgery; he also directs the Cardiovascular Institute and Complementary Medicine Program at New York-Presbyterian Hospital.

The nine other doctors from across the country included Dr. Joel Tepper, a cancer researcher from the University of North Carolina School of Medicine, and Dr. Gilbert Ross of the American Council on Science and Health in New York City.

In a recent The New Yorker article subtitled “Is the most trusted doctor in America doing more harm than good?” Dr. Oz is quoted as saying:

“Medicine is a very religious experience…I have my religion and you have yours. It becomes difficult for us to agree on what we think works, since so much of it is in the eye of the beholder. Data is rarely clean….You find the arguments that support your data and it’s my fact versus your fact.”

 

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