30 July, 2009

Organic Food Is Crap

There has to be something to be taken from this article.  What exactly that something is, though, I couldn't tell you.  It seems to be what one famous surgeon delights in calling "woo," though.  It's a study commissioned to establish some results about organic food.

The result is that "organic food is no better than factory-farm-grown."  The British Food Standards Agency has made a "ruling" to that effect, based on this research.  That is heavy-handed and smacks of bulldozing.  A little.  But let's check a bit deeper, there might be something in this after all.

The study is of course conducted by the very best organisation to do it, a body whose skills in nutritional studies, knowledge of industrial toxins, and skill with biochemistry is unrivalled in the world today, it's the...  hold on, what the hell?  - the London School of Hygiene & Tropical Medicine.   What. The. Fuck.

Horses for courses people, and if scientists were horses and the field of nutrition was the trots, that school would be the one circling the glue factory with sleds made of house bricks.  Scientists are the ones always insisting on the right qualifications, and a school of hygiene is not a school of nutrition specialists no matter how you try and spin doctor it.

So what resources are they drawing on?  Oh good, they have the "analysis of 50 years of research into organic food" to draw on.  Which were apparently done at a rate of a thousand studies a year, because the article states that number a bit further on, 50,000 studies were analysed according to the reporter.  Uh, hang on.  BBBZZZZZZZTTTTTT!!!!  Nope, sorry.  Scratch that. Bad reporter, writing things the wrong way and creating a false impression. 

The unqualified researchers didn't actually analyse 50,000 study results, they carefully selected 55 - yes, a whole 55 - of those study results.  The rest apparently "didn't meet the researchers' criteria" whatever that means.  Oh yes, that's a way of saying "the rest didn't demonstrate what we were setting out to demonstrate..."

So.  A body that is not really all that qualified to conduct a nutrition study, carefully selects 0.1% of results out of 50 years of nutritional research, and presents its "findings" to the FSA on the basis of those.

I find it soooo helpful to turn this around, because it will help you to focus on what's relevant here - it's not that they carefully researched 0.1% of all the food studies done in the UK in 50 years, it's more a case of that their findings aren't fully supported by 99.9% of the studies done over fifty years...

And okay - I know that it's not actually unsupported by 99.9% of studies, but even if the study results were completely random, you'd expect that 50% would be favourable and 50% unfavourable.  To only find one tenth of one percent of study results to be suitable for your research indicates a very narrow focus of the research, and possibly a very specific guideline to preselect for the results you want to have come out of it.

Look.  I'm not going to research the researchers, or how they researched, or what their criteria were.  I can only say that it not only appears to be a carefully crafted study and result, but also that it flies in the face of everything that we know as commonsense.  A food produced naturally is natural, and is nutritively what our bodies have evolved to digest.  A food produced with the aid of chemical and physical processes will not be natural, and who knows - especially not a school of hygienists - how well tolerated it will be by our bodies?  There are thousands of ways to hook together carbon hydrogen and oxygen atoms, and just counting them as "nutrients" is not good enough.  After all, hook them together one way and you get oil, another way and you get alcohol.  VERY different effects on our bodies...

Our scientists are always asking us to beware of bullshit, and keep in mind that if it seems too good to be true, then it probably is too good to be true.  Unless it's their bullshit, and they're the ones saying that you can take their shortcuts and still come out with a miraculously indistinguishable product at the end of it.

And let me ask you, if it came down to it, does it change your buying habits?  Not mine.  I will always prefer food I've grown myself or food I've seen grown locally and without much processing, to what's on the shelves in the local supermarkets.  I'll always prefer free range and barn eggs and chickens to chicken factory product, and in fact I prefer my own chickens and their eggs to either of those.

Having just finished watching several nights of news articles about food processors cheating and defrauding us by adding water and bulking agents, cosmetically altering foods with various chemicals to make them more appealing when they're past their storage date, ripping off growers by storing foods for sometimes years, and underweighing, overpricing, and price fixing, I can safely say that I feel better about giving double the money to an organic grower and receiving honest produce than I would if I was saving half that amount but getting months-old food from a multinational giant corporation that's probably about 5% responsible for the global weather crisis due to their disregard for anything except profit.

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29 July, 2009

Proved Right Again, By Research.

Here's another article pointing to inflammation as a cause of illness, but this time mental illness. And I don't mean in a roundabout namby-pamby indirect way, either.  This is BAM! direct.  Read the article.

I am always so goddam proud when science backs up my hypotheses.  I mentioned briefly in The Body Friendly Zen Cookbook that I figured that a lot of the damage to our bodies is caused by cellular inflammatory disorders of one kind or another, and here's one that's now being laid right on that very doorstep.

I've had this inkling you see, from reading lots online, that oxidants and other irritants cause inflammation at the cellular level.  These irritants include many of the food additives that are put into our processed foods.  makes sense doesn't it?  An ingredient meant to irritate minced beef into retaining its red colour has got to also irritate your body when you ingest it.  We're made of damn meat...

When the cells are inflamed, there's an increase in "noise" which makes the signals the cells are supposed to react to, harder for the cells to detect.  You can drown out a quite sensible and loud conversation with around half the sound power of white noise, very effectively.  And cells are much simpler things than we are, they can't adapt their sensing to a noisier environment.  So they start no longer seeing the signals that are meant to regulate them.

One of the signals that gets drowned out is the sugar/insulin signal.  Imagine dabbing peroxide bleach on a spot over and over, several times a day, for several years.  Do you reckon you might have a rew raw patch in that spot?  Hell yeah!  Would you do that to yourself/  Probably not.  Yet millions of people every day consume white sugar that has been bleached white with far unfriendlier substances than peroxide...

Here's the real kicker, as far as I'm concerned - when your body gets a free source of carbs such as white sugar, guess where that goes?  Yep, right to storage in your body fat...

I know that the "respected medical and scientific comunity" out there will holler about woo, they'll decline to study something so wild and unfounded, because dammit there's a way to do things and having idea from the laiety is not the way!  Which is a great pity because in the meanwhile people will in increasing numbers die of diabetes, of cancers, and immune diseases while someone somewhere one day decides to put in process the 'porper way" to "do science" and by then it'll be too late for several million souls.

I'm going to bold this.  If you take home one lesson from this article, let it be this:

Food from large food manufacturers, even and especially the "healthy alternative" ones, are pumped out in more kilotons than fell on Hiroshima and Nagasaki, and produced as cheaply as possible, and they aren't formulated to be 100% safe, they are formulated not to spoil and thus cost the manufacturer returns.  

Lastly, remember what I said about the inflammation in cells causing mis-signalling, and then you have to realise that we're actually built around a very complex feedback network of very small signals.  If you want a demonstration of that, just mess your microscopic signals up with a really good getting drunk and subsequent hangover, then imagine if the drunk and the hangover was to last a lifetime...

Cancer cells are similarly miscommunicating about where growth ought to stop...

And we should be communicatiing VERY clearly with food manufacturers who put into their foods additives which are banned across whole continents just so they can stretch a product to make a few tenths of a cent per gram, or to last longer on the shelves so they can ship it farther and cover more markets with it.

In the meantime I'm just going to say to you to avoid white sugar, white bread, overly white salt, the additives that start with an E on most foodstuff in supermarkets, and too much animal fat, because just like us, they concentrate their poisons and irritants that are in their foods, in the fat and organs first.

That happens with us too, of course.  Fatty liver from eating too much inflamed fat which then has to be gall-dissolved and filtered, leaving all the adulterated fat nodules behind to form the liver-kiling specks.  Kidneys failing from trying to pass poisons that are designed to irritate meat, which the kidney is made out of.  And bowels and colons that spend most of their lives in contact with a colour / irritant made from a crushed insect that uses that irritant as a weapon, suddenly developing the cancer that the weapon grade irritant was supposed to cause...

The second take-home from this article is - your body has a remarkable amount of capacity to recover.  If you give it a chance.  Stop eating production line white bread, switch your white sugar for raw sugar, avoid any processed item that has more numerical ingredients than real ones, eat clean fresh vegetables that are in season (but there are exceptions, see my book) and remember that if you remove the irritation source, that will make a huge difference.  If you also learn how to deal with ALL the natural foods our bodies have evolved to, then your body is right in its comfort zone and will function at its most efficient - and you'll get that in health and energy.  

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23 July, 2009

The Final Solution Could Be...

Almost everyone who stops to think about it knows of at least one environmental impact that they, their lifestyle choices, or their life requirements, make on the Earth.  Go on, ask yourself, ask anyone.  "Yeah I know I shouldn't drive to the shop when I could cycle or walk but..."  or "I know I should walk and save the waste of resources on a 10-speed titanium framed bike but..." and so forth.

It's pretty obvious that just by being alive, we have an impact on the earth.  "If I hadn't just eaten that animal, the last breeding pair of the species might have been saved" or "Damn, if I hadn't just eaten that plant, the last breeding pair of the species that lives exclusively on this plant might have been saved"

I can also see that nuclear waste seems to be providing one of the last refuges for "natural" life on Earth.  There's this Russian woman, see, who's gone back to the Chernobyl region and taken photos of a place which has reverted back to nature, with slightly glowing animals. Check her site here.  And I'm kidding, the animals don't glow or anything, and also, we won't know how long the animals manage to live and breed in the hot zones.  But the hot zones do keep humans out, to a great extent.

So I can see the attraction of solving the problems of disposing of nuclear waste and maintaining natural forests in one solution.  And yep, it would seem that this does neatly solve both problems, although I also say that probably just putting up radioactivity warning signs would have the same effect... %)

But I can also see radical, "fundamentalist' activists thinking along the lines of my first few paragraphs, and stealing material used to safeguard a forest, and spreading that among the ecosystem at large... In fact, I predict that before 2020, some misguided group of eco warriors somewhere is going to do precisely that, seed a large chunk of prime farmland or something like that with nuclear material or some other highly toxic material.

Ironically, the greatest effect on reducing human impact might be one of our more toxic byproducts, and the best of human intentions may result in the best of human extinctions...

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20 July, 2009

HUGE Plug For Livelocal!

Here's a site that deserves promotion promotion promotion...  LiveLocal is in beta but already showing the things it can do to make a difference.  As a bonus, it's developed and operated right here in Australia but will be useful no matter where in the world you are.  And it's hopefully going to be a bit better than some DIY sites...  The idea of Livelocal is to try stuff that makes a difference and share it, hopefully leading others to also try doing similar things.  Hopefully those things are clever and ecologically sound...

The concept is very useful and will allow you to take advantage of other people's experiences and techniques for sustainable living, and deserves everyone's support.  Everyone has something to contribute on a site like this, and definitely everyone will find something they can learn from it, too.

I'm thinking that if one of the experiments was to be a home gardening information and trading post, we could do away with a lot of supermarket product and the pollution and carbon costs involved in their shipping food all over the world.  There!  An idea already!

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It seems that pollution affects intelligence in a negative manner.  But I wonder if all the possible interpretations for these data have been drawn.  The result seems significant enough, but as with every study I've seen, in an effort to be specific enough to prove a hypothesis, it's too narrow in scope to eliminate all the other variables.

My hypothesis is that parents with slightly higher potential and actual intelligence would be more aware of the ill effects of pollution in general, and would tend to avoid those areas of higher pollution.  They would be earning slightly more and thus more able to afford to avoid such areas.  They would also be slightly more aware of the need for proper and balanced nutrition, so if I was running the study I'd also be checking the parents' incomes and the health levels of the children and seeing if the more intelligent children show signs of better nutrition. (As opposed to the signs of less pollution exposure.)

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06 July, 2009

Caffeine Improves Alzheimer's .. Um .. Something ..

Growing up for some of my youth in Arabia, I'm now very glad I learned to enjoy the odd cup of coffee a day... I seem to remember a few decades ago that people were saying they reckoned coffee improved their memory.

It seems that caffeine may finish up as a treatment for people with memory problems and/or dementia issues.  Something that people obviously realised a long time ago, since coffee has always been a high valued luxury food.

The article states that caffeine improved memory in mice which have been bred to be prone to Alzheimer's, and that it reduced amyloids in the brain and blood by almost one half in both human patients and the mice.

What seems strange to me is that a percentage of people already do drink the required number of cups of coffee (five, if you're wondering, is the dose mentioned in the article) and a percentage of people get Alzheimer's.  Maybe there's already survey/research results out there that can be used to support or disprove the efficacy of caffeine?

Me, I can't wait until coffee is covered by a PBS subsidy...  %)

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05 July, 2009

Drowning In Flies? There May Be A Reason...

If you only take home one thing from this article, let it be this quote I pulled:

""Ten years ago, we would have said, 'No way. Managed relocation is a stupid idea.' And that's because the best strategy is to reduce greenhouse gases. But we are not reducing greenhouse gases fast enough.""

Insects are one of those things we take for granted, or curse, or occasionally squish.  They are also a large and important part of the whole ecosystem, and the term "Butterfly Effect" was a reference to that.  I'm more inclined to say "Honeybee Effect" because I enjoy growing vegetables and I've been following the beehive extinctions with a bit of a shudder.  Luckily there are plenty of bees around here, and show no signs of dying off.

But if you want to try just one example of the weather changes really messing with life on the planet, try and imagine a world without bees.  It's the most obvious example, but by far not the only one - and some can be a bit unexpected...

On a recent holiday to a rainforest area just north of Albany, T. and I found ourselves enveloped in absolute clouds of bushflies.  Everywhere we went, over a huge segment of the lower southwest, it seemed there'd been a population explosion of flies.  I know a fair portion of Australia, and I knew that clouds of flies like that were unusual.  So I asked a local working at one of the forestry projects.

Turns out, those fly populations had been that high before.  Around the time that people began to introduce sheep and goats and cattle, apparently...  The flies found cowpats and other excrement to be an ideal place to lay eggs, and lived the high life enjoying crapaccinos and other muscine delights.  I am not kidding!  

The pioneer farmers started the explosion, and modern more intensive farming with more animals just kind of put the crap on the cake so to speak.  That particular region is genuine humid rainforest, so the conditions for flies are ideal.

So why were there such record numbers of flies that particular year?  (As I said, I've experienced the region in other years and that particular year was orders of magnitude type worse.)  Well, a shortage of dung beetles apparently.  Yep, the local Lands and Environment departments would buy tens of thousands of dung beetles and airdrop them over the region, the beetles would roll up the poop and their larva eat the fly larva as part of their birthday celebrations.  And that year, either there was a shortage of dung beetles and therefore a higher price for them, or the local authorities didn't have pockets as deep as usual...

Now I'm trying to imagine what the region would be like if dung beetles died off worldwide due to the changing weather, and then imagine a belt of rainforest climate sweeping up Western Australia towards Perth...

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02 July, 2009

Looking After You, Or Looking The Other Way?

You take a big bite of your corn cob, and life's pretty good. Sweet juice dribbles down. Sounds like heaven? It sure is - as long as you grew the corn yourself and didn't use pesticide around it...

It seems - surprise surprise - that some big chemical companies aren't quite as scrupulous in their processes of establishing how harmful their pesticides are. Are you as surprised as I was? Uh-huh...  The devil's in the details, as usual.

"Inert" material refers to any material that's not directly involved in the pesticidal action, from what I can glean from that article.  So if I needed to suspend my pesticide ingredients in carbon tetrachloride, that becomes the "inert" material in the pesticide.  Can you see where that leads to?   Okay - maybe my example wouldn't pass muster, since carbon tet has been well and truly vilified and exposed as a nasty chemical and even a large pesticide manufacturer might have trouble slipping that in.  But when you're dealing in quantities where a difference of cost to produce of a few cents a litre results in a profit of several million dollars a year, you can see the temptation they must be under...

If you read my last article about vitamins and supplements that are less than 10% of what they claim to be, and the other 90% possibly composed of lead or other poisons, then you see the pattern.  And once again, you aren't going to change that big company's method of doing business by standing there shaking a fist at them.  You'll be much better served by avoiding their product, directly and indirectly.

I suppose I imagine this scenario, as idealistic and misguided as I am:

  1. PesticideCo makes nasty pesticideX that makes people's fingernails drop off.  
  2. Farmer Harry uses that pesticideX, sells his corn to SupermarketCo.
  3. People (hey, that's you and me and everyone!) notice that their friends' fingernails are rolling around and
  4. Start buying their corn from local farmers that don't use pesticides, and are local as well.
  5. Supermarkets no longer see a demand for Farmer Harry's corn.
  6. Farmer Harry gets the buzz and stops using pesticideX.
  7. PesticideCo sees sales slump and decides not to make PesticideX any more.
  8. They now make PesticideY, or perhaps they close up shop.

But whether PesticideCo goes broke or not, the important thing to come out of this is that you still have your fingernails because you were proactive in your own health.  And enough people just doing that will make the rest of the effects from 5 onwards.

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Supplements "Supplemented" With More Than Just "Natural Goodness"

Interesting little article here, about supplements.  The claim is that some supplements and remedies are contaminated with heavy metals and other poisons.  It's also claimed in that article that there is ten times more hoodia sold in the USA than is grown in the whole world, so yeah, there must be a lot of "hoodia" tablets out there that are less than 10% the plant and 90% fillers.  Similarly, every few months we get another article about various tablets - sold by online presences that purport to be pharmacies - which are mostly filler and/or other components, and often have serious ill effects.

Note that the following excerpt from the article:

"I believe that the problem is narrow, that the well-established and reputable brands deserve their reputations," said Michael McGuffin, president of the American Herbal Products Association.

A warning sign is that this is a spokesperson for a herbal products conglomerate, that kind of indicates a big conflict of interest in making the statement, but then it's also a pretty good general guide to life in general.  Remember that even the well-established brands have been caught out, but in general, reputations are deserved, one way or the other.  

The answer is as always - if it seems too good to be true, then it is too good to be true.  All throughout my blog I've urged people to take personal responsibility, and keep the bastards honest.  It's as true with vitamins and supplements - ask yourself why you're taking them, then ask yourself if they're really what your body needs, and if you really trust the manufacturer / supplier not to cut corners to snip themselves another percent of profit? 
Your body is pretty capable of getting its own vitamins from your daily diet - do you really need to spend that money on a product that may or may not be harmful to you without providing any benefit, or would you be better served spending it on some locally grown fresh fruit?  

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Just Disrespectful.

Here's one kind of science I despise, the smug up-its-own-ass kind that thinks all you have to do is go around being a smart-arse and everyone will realise what idiots they've been and come and sit at your feet with rapt attention...

I have to say here that I'm not a person who's impressed by reiki or homeopathy but I'm pretty sure most of us consider chiropractors to be a useful therapy.  And some would even go so far as to include the above-mentioned and add acupuncturists as well.  After all, it's what works for you, right?  That's why I can't stand the tone of this guy's article and am pushing this article out.  If the Catholic church had its way, we'd still be curing our ills by holding prayer sessions and subsisting on bread and water to toughen us up...  Similarly, if this guy has his way, we'll just stick with Big Pharma using us as guinea pigs for newer drugs with ever more "interesting" side effects...

I was going to leave this as a comment to Mr Insolence but instead I've decided to put it here and post a link in his comments:
"I live in Australia. We don't have a Sn Harkin to contend with, although we do have people who practice alternative medicine, just like everywhere else on earth. We too shudder at "therapeutic reiki" and all the other alternative therapies and snake oils and ill-advised advice. I'm afraid that one day I'll be referred to a homeopath and diluted out of existence, for sure.
But something I'm even more afraid of than someone like Sn Harkin, though, is the kind of person who sneers and thinks just calling something "woo" means that's it, the end of the matter, everyone has to agree with me now, thank you all very much you poor misguided shills you.
Your attitude of (dis)respectful insolence does nothing at all. Harkin's lumping alternative therapists in with the "legitimate" medical workforce? Awww diddums. Not so many centuries ago, Greek and Roman senators were sneaking in all those "alternative" therapists along with the perfectly good astrologers and soothsayers and shamanic herbalists, too. And it's only a distinct lack of public voice in the form of blogs back then that's saved us from the BC version of your ranting...
What I'm saying is - where does your "respectful insolence" stop? My grandma prescribed camomile tea for certain ailments, other herbs for others. Her knowledge was not learned in a University, it was passed down from one generation to the next - generations that had little better to do than exist, work, and observe the effects of certain herbs on certain illnesses and pass that knowledge on to their offspring. It's how all our advances were made at one stage. It's how pharmacology came to exist.
Is that "woo?"
Because if it is, then monkeys, horses, elephants, and scores of other animals do "woo" every day when they select what foods to eat and what to eat along with that food to counteract the toxins present in that food.
What about we say that "proper" pharmaceutical companies are the only thing that doesn't constitute "woo." Oh dear, they actually have a worse record than the animals and my granny. Because my granny never prescribed anything to me that caused severe side effects or death. And yet, every year, we hear about another drug from big pharma that has caused a spate of deaths or injuries or disablements...
Are surgeons the only medical people that aren't "pitching woo?" In my experience and reading, their success rates are not all that crash hot either. They kill more people by direct action than all the faith healers kill by "wooing" someone into ignoring symptoms. Oh yeah - and they come from a long line of bloodletters, "animal magnetists," and people who thought leeches and maggots would cure blood problems and infections. Oh wait, they're bringing those back in mainstream medicine, aren't they?
What I'm saying to you is to stop being a smart-ass insolent pup and start using your brain for what our ancestors used it for - to observe and record and remember and make discoveries instead of knocking other people down."

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