Category: Health

Time to end the “war on drugs”

| November 12, 2014 | Reply

What’s the drug war about? American psychosis, born of racism, but now one humongous wholly misguided attempt to put children into a protective bubble. But now there is some hope for change in the right direction, according to Ethan Nadelmann’s TED talk. He is Director of Drug Policy Alliance. Brilliant talk, concluding with a call to end the drug war.

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Eric Barker summarizes Stephen Pinker’s advice on how to write

| November 11, 2014 | Reply

What can you do to be a better writer? Stephen Pinker offers some excellent advice, and Eric Barker puts it into summary fashion, peppering the ideas with useful links.

The beauty of Barker’s posts is that the links tend to lead you to rich clusters of new links. One of the links from this post lead me to a link on how to be a better story teller. The person interviewed is UCLA Film School Professor Howard Suber. Here’s a captivating bit of advice:

Every so often in my personal life with friends, I’ll have somebody who will be telling me, it’s usually over a meal, about they’re in a relationship, and it’s in trouble and this trouble has been going on for some time, often years, and it’s now heading for a crisis. And it’s one of those things where you know sort of, even though they don’t verbalize it, they’re asking, “What do you think? What do you think I should do?”

And after listening to the narrative for a while, every so often, I’ll say, “What movie are you living now?” And it always produces the same response. The person is startled because it sounds initially like a trivial question. They’re usually telling the story with considerable agony, and so they kind of freeze like a deer. And then their eyes rotate, usually upwards to the right, which is where a lot of people go when they’re searching their memory bank, and then they’ll laugh.

That’s the important point of this, and they’ll laugh and say, “The Exorcist,” or something like that. And the laugh is a sign of recognition that the story they’ve been telling me has a recognizable structure, and once they give me that, they then usually laugh again and say something like, “Oh, my God.” I then say, as quietly as I can, “And where does the story go?” And that’s the advice I’ve given them.

While on the topic of Barker, this might be my favorite of his many posts: “Which Old Sayings are True?”

One more: Barker summarizes a study on the importance of sleep. Stunning results:

By the end of two weeks, the six-hour sleepers were as impaired as those who, in another Dinges study, had been sleep-deprived for 24 hours straight — the cognitive equivalent of being legally drunk.

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Guided meditation Video

| October 7, 2014 | Reply

I’ve soured on Sam Harris over the years, but I still find him to be highly articular and engaging.

In recent weeks, some friends have indicated that I look absorbed and even anxious, even though my life is filled with joys and possibilities. I have been told that I have tied myself in knots, and I have heard, “You need to get out of your own way.” For the umpteenth time, it has been suggested that I consider meditation in order to clear my mind.

You can learn about meditation in many places. I’ve read articles and even a book on meditation. Today, I stumbled across this video by Sam Harris, who has long been an advocate of meditation. The fact that he is also well versed in cognitive science caused me to be interested in his approach to meditation. This is a 26 minute guided meditation. I found myself surprisingly able to hang onto the process and to escape some of the things that have been distracting me as I viewed this video. I’m going to come back to this several more times, while I continue to explore personal meditation.

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Gluten Sensitivity as a Nocebo

| September 25, 2014 | 2 Replies

There’s an awfully large amount of money being spent on special gluten free products.  How many of the people who buy these products really need them?   According to this article on Buzzfeed, not many.    The most memorable passages from this article:

17 million people may unnecessarily believe that they are gluten-sensitive. (Source: A Mayo Clinic survey in 2012, cited in a NY Times article.)

[We] spent $10.5 billion last year on gluten-free products. (Source: Mintel, a market research company, cited in the NY Times article.)

It is especially important because a psychological disease can spread as fast as any virus but be more enduring.

A 2012 Mayo Clinic survey concluded that only 1.8 million Americans have Celiac disease. Only 1.8 million people should be on a non-gluten diet. Compare this to the 18 million people who consider themselves “gluten sensitive”

According to this article many of the people who spend lots of money on gluten-free products, gluten serves as a “nocebo,” defined below by Wikipedia:

nocebo (Latin for “I shall harm”) is a harmless substance that creates harmful effects in a patient who takes it. The nocebo effect is the negative reaction experienced by a patient who receives a nocebo. Conversely, a placebo is an inert substance that creates either a positive response or no response in a patient who takes it. The phenomenon in which a placebo creates a positive response in the patient to which it is administered is called the placebo effect. The nocebo effect is less well-studied and well-known, by both scientists and the public, than the placebo effect.

What’s the evidence that gluten is not detrimental to most people who are committed to gluten free products?

This disease is largely self-diagnosed, and studies are starting to show that it may be real in a great number of cases. Professor and scientist Peter Gibson is no stranger when it comes to studying gluten. He did a study in 2011 that gave a lot of credit to the belief in (non-Celiac) gluten sensitivity. Seeing that NCGS had become a worldwide phenomenon, he revisited the topic in 2013 with a critical look at the original assumptions. These are the measures he took to validate his results:
Subjects were given every single meal for the duration of the study.Any other potential causes of bad stomach symptoms were removed from the diet. (Think lactose from milk.) Just in case you do not think he was serious, Peter collected nine days worth of urine and fecal matter. (Now that’s a topic of conversation.) The results were pretty shocking. They concluded that gluten in no way could have caused any of the negative symptoms that the subjects were suffering from.

 

Most claims of the need to be gluten free are starting to remind me of the phenomenon of facilitated communication regarding autistics.

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Neil deGrasse Tyson comment on GMOs blows up into a detailed discussion

| August 3, 2014 | Reply

Neil DeGrasse Tyson has been criticized by the anti-GMO crowd for not condemning GMOs during an interview during a book signing. He has now expanded his comments, as reported by Raw Story:

If your objection to GMOs is the morality of selling non-perennial seed stocks, then focus on that. If your objection to GMOs is the monopolistic conduct of agribusiness, then focus on that. But to paint the entire concept of GMO with these particular issues is to blind yourself to the underlying truth of what humans have been doing — and will continue to do — to nature so that it best serves our survival,” he advised. “That’s what all organisms do when they can, or would do, if they could. Those that didn’t, have gone extinct extinct.

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Double standard regarding drugs

| August 3, 2014 | Reply

Marijuana is constantly attacked by many politicians, even though use by adults (use by children is a different story) rarely if ever results in a visit to the hospital. This makes me conclude that the problem with marijuana is that users and producers need more expensive lobbyists. I write this based on an eye-popping article on the well-established dangers of LEGAL drugs in the September 2014 edition of Consumer Reports. Here’s an excerpt:

OxyContin, Percocet, and Vicodin–prescription narcotics . . . can be as addictive as heroin and are rife with deadly side effects. Use of those and other opioids has skyrocketed in recent years. … 46 people per day, or almost 17,000 people per year, die from overdoses of the drugs. That’s up more than 400 percent from 1999. And for every death, more than 30 people are admitted to the emergency room because of opioid complications. With numbers like that, you would think that the Food and Drug Administration would do all it could to reverse the trend. But against the recommendation of its own panel of expert advisers, last December the agency approved Zohydro ER, a long-acting version of hydrocodone.

Almost as dangerous is a medication renowned for its safety: acetaminophen (Tylenol and generic). Almost 80,000 people per year are treated in emergency rooms because they have taken too much of it, and the drug is now the most common cause of liver failure in this country.

If lawmakers put all drugs under the same scrutiny as far as safety, it would turn the drug world upside down.

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Coca Cola and obesity

| August 1, 2014 | 1 Reply

Coca Cola has been forced to reckon with the elephant in the room. Healthy people do not guzzle Coca Cola, as discussed by this article in Bloomberg.

Americans may not have figured out the answer to the obesity epidemic, but for years they’ve pointed to Coca-Cola and other soda as one of the causes. Coke has tried fighting against this. It’s tried ignoring it. Now it accepts this as a reality. This is the problem Douglas has to confront. He has to persuade people to drink Coca-Cola again, even if they don’t guzzle it like water the way they did before.

Cultural shifts don’t happen overnight. They build slowly—a sip of coconut water here, a quinoa purchase there, and suddenly the American diet looks drastically different than it did 10 years ago. Nowhere is this more pronounced than in the $75 billion soda industry. For decades, soft-drink companies saw consumption rise. During the 1970s, the average person doubled the amount of soda they drank; by the 1980s it had overtaken tap water. In 1998, Americans were downing 56 gallons of the stuff every year—that’s 1.3 oil barrels’ worth of soda for every person in the country.

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Anti-Anti-Vaxxers

| June 19, 2014 | Reply

Vincent Iannelli, M.D., offers this thrashing of the anti-vaccine mentality:

This guide to the 50 most common anti-vaccine myths and misinformation will help you understand that vaccines are safe, are necessary, and that getting your kids vaccinated and fully protected against each and every vaccine-preventable disease is the right decision to make.

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The promise of fecal transplants

| May 28, 2014 | Reply

Some patients are having astounding success with fecal transplants, and a DIY community is growing. BBC reports:

There is growing recognition that faecal transplant is the best way to treat [some] patients. In the first randomised trial of the technique published in the New England Journal of Medicine last year, 94% of patients were cured by the treatment, whereas a course of antibiotics cured just 27%. The disparity was so huge that the researchers stopped the trial early, on the grounds that it was unethical to deny the better cure to the cohort assigned antibiotics.

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