How Immune Health Depends on Vitamin D

Quoting Kate Kelland:

The researchers found that immune systems’ killer cells, known as T cells, rely on vitamin D to become active, and remain dormant and unaware of the possibility of threat from an infection or pathogen if vitamin D is lacking in the blood.

"When a T cell is exposed to a foreign pathogen, it extends a signaling device or ’antenna’ known as a vitamin D receptor, with which it searches for vitamin D ... This means the T cell must have vitamin D or activation of the cell will cease.  If the T cells cannot find enough vitamin D in the blood, they won’t even begin to mobilize."

So unless you spend about 20 minutes a day outside in the noontime sun -- or take a vitamin D supplement -- your immune system can’t do its job effectively.

Posted by Anthony on reply

Being Fat is Bad for Your Brain

Quoting Olivia Judson:

That, at least, is the gloomy conclusion of several recent studies.  For example, one long-term study of more than 6,500 people in northern California found that those who were fat around the middle at age 40 were more likely to succumb to dementia in their 70s.  A long-term study in Sweden found that, compared to thinner people, those who were overweight in their 40s experienced a more rapid, and more pronounced, decline in brain function over the next several decades.

I’m not sure why this is "gloomy" news, though.  It essentially means that you can do something to decrease the odds of getting these horrible late-life mental conditions: keep your body healthy.

Posted by Anthony on reply

Weighing the Evidence on Exercise

Quoting Gretchen Reynolds:

The newest science suggests that exercise alone will not make you thin, but it may determine whether you stay thin, if you can achieve that state. [...]

The exercising rats metabolized calories differently.  They tended to burn fat immediately after their meals, while the sedentary rats’ bodies preferentially burned carbohydrates and sent the fat off to be stored in fat cells.  The running rats’ bodies, meanwhile, also produced signals suggesting that they were satiated and didn’t need more kibble. ... Running had remade the rats’ bodies so that they ate less.

The article has lots of interesting stuff in it from different studies, many involving humans rather than rats.  The main idea is that yes, exercise is important for weight control, but not necessarily in the way you’d expect.

Posted by Anthony on reply

ObamaCare: The Aftermath

59% of Americans oppose ObamaCare.  58% want a smaller government.  But Obama and the Democrats can’t be bothered by such trifiling details as what Americans think.

Democrats to America: Drop dead:

Quoting Washington Examiner:

Never before in American history has a measure of such importance been imposed on the country by the majority party over the unanimous opposition of the minority.  Democrats have continually sought to create a halo effect for Obamacare by associating it with Social Security and Medicare.  But the reality is that both of those landmark programs were approved with strong bipartisan support in both the Senate and House. ... Such bipartisan consensus was what the Founders sought with the Constitution.  But Democrats made a mockery of bipartisanship by shoving Obamacare down the throats of Republican lawmakers and snubbing the popular majority that opposed it.

Senator Lamar Alexander’s response:

Quoting Lamar Alexander:

This is an historic mistake.  And unlike Social Security, Medicare and civil rights legislation, the only thing bipartisan about it is the opposition to it.

The mistake is to expand a health care delivery system that is already too expensive instead of reducing its cost so more Americans can afford health insurance.

This taxes job creators in the middle of a recession.  It means Medicare cuts and premium increases for millions of Americans.  When you include the cost of paying doctors who serve Medicare patients, it will increase the national debt.

A warning and a reminder that Democrats haven’t cornered the market on slimeballery:

Quoting Megan McArdle:

Republicans and other opponents of the bill did their job on this; they persuaded the country that they didn’t want this bill.  And that mattered basically not at all.  If you don’t find that terrifying, let me suggest that you are a Democrat who has not yet contemplated what Republicans might do under similar circumstances.

And make no mistake about what the Democrats’ end-game is:

Quoting Jerry Pournelle:

The health care bill was ideological, transformational, unpopular, and not well understood -- indeed we still don’t know the details.  It is almost certainly the beginning of the end for the private health insurance industry (although something called that may survive as a highly regulated, highly subsidized, public utility).  Any "insurance" policy that requires the insurer to accept anyone regardless of their pre-conditions at the same premium it charges those without the conditions is not insurance, it is an entitlement; and no company can afford to do that.  First they will have to raise premiums for everyone since the healthy will have to pay for the unhealthy.  As those premiums rise fewer and fewer can afford them.  Over time more and more will go to the "exchanges" and subsidies.  Over time the system becomes the single payer system you see in other countries.

That may be all to the good, but the majority of the American people don’t think so, and the majority of taxpayers decisively don’t think so.

ObamaCare is the opposite of reform.

Quoting Jonah Goldberg:

Insurance companies are now heavily regulated government contractors.  Way to get big business out of Washington!  They will clear a small, government-approved profit on top of their government-approved fees.  Then, when healthcare costs rise -- and they will -- Democrats will insist, yet again, that the profit motive is to blame and out from this Obamacare Trojan horse will pour another army of liberals demanding a more honest version of single-payer.

When it becomes obvious that ObamaCare has failed, having made healthcare worse yet more expensive, guess what the Democrats’ solution will be: more government spending and more government control.

Posted by Anthony on reply

The Crusade Against Bottled Water

There was a segment on the Factor last week about a documentary called "Tapped," which is apparently one of these plastic-is-evil-and-so-is-bottled-water deals.  They invariably show footage of some polluted stream or lake with a plastic water bottle floating on it.  The implication is clear: if you drink bottled water, you’re an evil consumer who hates the earth.

Never mind that plastic water bottles are fully recyclable.  No, the bottle-haters would have you believe that whenever someone finishes a bottle of water, they take the empty bottle to the nearest river, lake, or ocean and toss it right in.

Of course if you drink bottled water, you’re also an idiot, because half the kinds of bottled water sold are really just purified tap water!  You big dummy!  Never mind that a) such purified water actually says "purified water" right on the label, so anyone who specifically wants spring water instead (as I do) just buys spring water instead, and b) there’s not actually anything stupid about buying purified tap water because it’s cleaner than raw tap water.

But buying bottled water is just wasting money, because tap water is free!  Well, no; in most places, tap water isn’t free.  You either pay a monthly water bill, or you pay for the electricity and maintenance of a well and whatever equipment your system uses to clean and/or soften the well water.  And the water isn’t exactly the same either; people who want good clean drinking water from their tap often install for example a Brita filter which is of course not free.  Finally, the bottle-haters dishonestly use the $1+ per bottle, single-bottle price in their comparisons, not the 21-cents-per-bottle price that you pay when you buy it by the case.

And let’s not pretend that tap water is necessarily clean and pure; quite often it’s filthy and nasty.  In our case, we used to have a well, which produced water that was decent sometimes, but anytime it rained, the tap water turned brown.  So we switched to municipal water -- which was quite expensive, but not nearly as expensive as fixing or replacing the well would have been -- and now what comes out of the tap is basically pool water.  I can barely stand to brush my teeth with it because of the chlorine taste.  And whenever there’s a storm, they crank up the chlorine level even further -- since storms cause raw sewage to overflow into the rivers that supply our tap water -- to the point where I literally cannot stand to put the tap water into my mouth because of the chlorination.

Bottled water makes that a non-issue.  And there are plenty of other benefits to bottled water, independent of any purity or cost issues.  It is of course extremely convenient to be able to grab a bottle to take with you whenever you’re going out, or exercising, or taking a hike or a bike ride.  And having a few cases of bottled water in your house is good disaster preparedness, whether it’s just a small electricity/water outage, or a more serious long-term situation like a blizzard, hurricane, earthquake, EMP, etc.

If you want to drink tap water, and advocate the drinking of tap water, go right ahead; but don’t be a fascist about it.  There’s nothing stupid or evil about bottled water.

Posted by Anthony on reply

President Obama: "ALL YOUR BASE ARE BELONG TO US"

From Obama’s Speech after the ObamaCare vote:

Quoting President Obama:

We proved that this government still works for the people

Really?  By voting for a bill that most Americans oppose?  A bill that, at 2700 pages, no American is likely to ever read in its entirety, let alone comprehend?

Quoting President Obama:

Tonight’s vote is not a victory for any one party

Odd, considering that only one party voted for the bill...

Quoting President Obama:

It will reduce our deficit by more than $100 billion over the next decade, and more than $1 trillion in the decade after that

Noted for future reference.  And not in a good way.

Quoting President Obama:

This is what change looks like

Yeah, I guess this must be the change; it sure ain’t the hope...

Quoting President Obama:

On Tuesday the senate will take up revisions to this legislation ... revisions that removed provisions that had no place in it

You mean like the government takeover of the student loan industry that you quietly snuck into this totally unrelated bill?

Posted by Anthony on 1 reply

Why America Hates Universal Health Care: The Real Reason

Well, there are plenty of real reasons, but this is a good one:

I’m perfectly willing to provide subsidized health care to people who are suffering due to no fault of their own.  But in those cases -- which, unfortunately, constitute perhaps a majority of all cases -- where the unwellness is a consequence of the patient’s own misdeeds, bad habits, or stupid choices, I feel a deep-seated resentment that the rest of us should pick up the tab to fix medical problems that never should have happened in the first place.

I’m speaking specifically of medical problems caused by:

- Obesity
- Cigarette smoking
- Alcohol abuse
- Reckless behavior
- Criminal activity
- Unprotected promiscuous sex
- Use of illicit drugs
- Cultural traditions
- Bad diets

Now, I really don’t care if you overeat, smoke like a chimney, hump like a bunny or forget to lock the safety mechanism on your pistol as you jam it in your waistband.  Fine by me.  And as a laissez-faire social-libertarian live-and-let-live kind of person, I would never under normal circumstances condemn anyone for any of the behaviors listed above.  That is: Until the bill for your stupidity shows up in my mailbox.  Then suddenly, I’m forced to care about what you do, because I’m being forced to pay for the consequences. [...]

Do you want that?  No.  Do I want that?  No.  And that’s the point.  Instituting a single-payer universal health-care system, or even a watered-down version as the government is now proposing, compels me to become a meddlesome busybody in your personal choices. [...]

That’s what socialized medicine does: it turns each of us into a little fascist.  A nagging nanny who tells other people what to do and how to live.

Posted by Anthony on reply

Grandpa Munster Supports ObamaCare

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Posted by Anthony on 1 reply

Why Even I Must Oppose My Cousin Barack's Health Care Plan

Milton Wolf on Obamacare:

Obamacare proponents would have us believe that we will add 30 million patients to the system without adding providers, we will see no decline in the quality of care for the millions of Americans currently happy with the system, and -if you act now!- we will save money in the process.  But why stop there?  Why not promise it will no longer rain on weekends and every day will be a great hair day? [...]

I believe there is a better way.  The problems in the American health care system are not caused by a shortage of government intrusion.  They will not be solved by more government intrusion.  In fact, our current problems were precisely, though unintentionally, created by government.

World War II-era wage-control measures - a form of price controls - ushered in a perverted system in which we turn to our employers for insurance and the government penalizes us if we choose to purchase insurance for ourselves.  You are not given the opportunity to be a wise consumer of health care and compare prices as well as quality in any meaningful way.  Worse still, your insurance company is not answerable to you because you are not its customer.  It is answerable to your employer, whose interests differ from your own.

Read the whole thing.

Meanwhile, the treasurer of Massachusetts, where they’ve already tried government-run health care, fears that Obamacare will bankrupt the country.

Posted by Anthony on reply

Making Progress Against Cancer

The NYT has a great story in two parts (here and here) that provides a tantalizing glimpse into the future of cancer treatment.  Scientists and doctors are designing drugs that target specific genes in order to directly alter cancerous cells, as opposed to more traditional approaches like chemotherapy and radiation treatment which are essentially brute-force attacks that damage the patient as much as the cancer.

Targeted therapy for cancer is not brand new, but it’s nascent compared to the more traditional therapies.  It is a long and slow process to determine, develop, test, and finally administer the specific drug needed for a specific cancer.  In fact it’s a process that takes years, designed for patients who often only have months to live.  The NYT articles on this process are exciting but also frustrating to read; but results like this, showing dramatic tumor reduction in just 15 days, are simply amazing.

FuturePundit has more good news on the cancer front:

Death Rate Dropping From Cancer: Some reports have cited limited improvement in death rates as evidence that the "war on cancer", which was initiated in 1971, has failed.  Many of these analyses fail to account for the dominant and dramatic increase in cancer death rates due to tobacco-related cancers in the latter part of the 20th century. [...] For all cancers combined, death rates (per 100,000) in men increased from 249.3 in 1970 to 279.8 in 1990, and then decreased to 221.1 in 2006, yielding a relative decline of 21% from 1990 (peak year) and a drop of 11% since 1970 (baseline year).  Similarly, the death rate from all-cancers combined in women increased from 163.0 in 1970 to 175.3 in 1991, and then decreased to 153.7 in 2006, a relative decline of 12% and 6% from the 1991 (peak year) and 1970 rates, respectively.

It’s slow progress, but it’s progress.

Posted by Anthony on 2 replies

Mysterious Dreams

I recently saw an episode of NOVA called What Are Dreams?  Dreams are such a fascinating subject, and it was a great show.  It’s so interesting for example that scientists have identified 5 stages of sleep, can recognize them based on brain activity and physiological factors, know how long they tend to last and the order in which they occur -- yet the only way to determine whether a subject is dreaming is to wake them up and ask them.

And why do we dream in the first place?  One theory is that the brain is running simulations in order to test how our actions affect situations, in order to be better prepared to face potentially dangerous situations in real life.  Another says it’s the brain running through newly-acquired information in order to better learn/remember it, or to try and find connections between pieces of information that our waking mind might not realize should be connected.

For the past few years I’ve had variations of the same dream many dozens, if not hundreds, of times.  In the dream, I’m in school -- sometimes it’s high school and sometimes it’s college -- and it’s late in the semester.  I realize that for one of my classes, I haven’t attended it for most of the semester and haven’t done the assignments and can’t possibly pass it.  For the past year or so, however, that recurring dream has been largely replaced with another one: I’m in a situation involving a river or a lake (this is a good and fun dream for me) and I end up jumping or falling into it, then suddenly realizing that I’ve left my iPhone in my pocket.

After watching this NOVA episode, it occurred to me that although I spend the majority of my time alone (except for the cats), I can’t think of a single dream that doesn’t involve other people.  And it’s usually lots of other people.  It seems that my threat simulator needs to upgrade itself to prepare me for the kinds of threats that I might actually encounter: stubbing my toe on the way to the bathroom, being fangoriously devoured by a small housecat, etc.

Posted by Anthony on 3 replies

Celebrities Who Make Kids Sick

Greg Gutfeld:

The Lancet retracted a horrible study attempting to link measle vaccines to autism.  Now this would really be great news, if the study had not come out, oh, 12 years ago.  It’s really scary that it took a medical journal over a decade to admit what nearly everyone else with a working brain knew: the study had more gaping holes in it than Tom Sizemore’s septum.

Just another case of doesn’t fit the narrative -- the narrative in this case being that the big pharmaceutical companies are evil.  The truth didn’t fit the narrative, whereas the study did, so the study won.  And so what if kids died as a result?

It’s much easier to blame a big faceless company than to consider the possibility that it’s your own fault, that by avoiding the sun yourself and keeping your kids out of it, you could be inviting all kinds of diseases and developmental issues including autism.

But Jenny McCarthy fighting big pharma makes headlines.  Saying "go outside and get some sun" doesn’t.

Posted by Anthony on reply

Vitamin D Test Results: I Won

I got my Vitamin D3 test results last week: after taking 5000 IU of D3 daily for about 3 months, the level of "Vitamin D, 25-OH" in my blood is 75 ng/ml.  The results sheet says that the reference range is 32-100 and that "the range considered by most experts as optimal for health" is 50-70.  The Vitamin D Council says 50-80:

Quoting Vitamin D Council:

The body does not reliably begin storing cholecalciferol in fat and muscle tissue until 25(OH)D levels get above 50 ng/ml.  The average person starts to store cholecalciferol at 40 ng/ml, but at 50 ng/ml virtually everyone begins to store it for future use.  That is, at levels below 50 ng/ml, the body uses up vitamin D as fast as you can make it, or take it, indicating chronic substrate starvationónot a good thing.  25(OH)D levels should be between 50Ė80 ng/ml, year-round.

The test results sheet also has this to say about toxicity:

Be aware that Vitamin D levels greater than 150 ng/mL may lead to toxicity and high calcium levels.  This may be dangerous.  These levels are only achieved with supplementation, so if you are supplementing with high levels of Vitamin D (greater than 10,000 IU) then testing is strongly recommended.

Posted by Anthony on 2 replies

Cardio Confusion

Quoting JD Johannes:

How can something so logical as burning more calories through cardiovascular exercise not result in sustained fat loss?  The answer is in your body’s ability to adapt to exercise and the complex functions of the hormone cortisol.  The conventional wisdom of cardio is the energy in vs. energy out formula.  Burn more calories than you eat and you will lose weight. ... But the simple fact remains that even if you did create a 500 calorie deficit every day through exercise, you will not be able to exercise yourself out of existence.  Your body will adapt to the workload. [...]

According the University of New Mexicoís Len Kravitz, the critical level that results in excess cortisol secretion occurs after about 45 minutes of exercise -- some people hit the critical level earlier, others later depending on a variety of genetic and other variables. ... When cortisol puts the body in a catabolic mode while doing cardio vascular exercise the muscle is burned instead of fat.  For every pound of muscle that is burned, your resting metabolism slows down a little bit.  If your energy intake from food is not adjusted to the loss of muscle, you have a calorie surplus and will gain fat while doing lots of cardio.

He goes pretty deep into the science behind these ideas, and makes the case that High Intensity Interval Training is a good way to avoid the cortisol signaling that’s caused by sustained cardio and which results in muscle burn instead of fat burn.

Posted by Anthony on reply

Don't Hate the Sun. Take Your Vitamin D.

The vitamin D issue just won’t go away.  Here’s a bit of a nice long article by Patrick Cox:

Quoting Patrick Cox:

The "scientific consensus" that has held sway for four decades regarding both exposure to the sun and vitamin D has collapsed.  What has emerged in place of the old "settled science" is the knowledge that most people in America are seriously vitamin D deficient or insufficient. [...]

Simply put, unless you are one of the few people with optimal serum D levels, such as lifeguards and roofers in South Florida, you can cut your risks from most major diseases by 50 to 80 percent.  All you have to do is get enough D.  It also means we can significantly reduce both health care costs and the staggering national deficit by taking a few simple steps. [...]

If you do take my advice and perform further research on this subject, you will still encounter holdouts who assert that unprotected exposure to sunshine is always dangerous and that a normal diet supplemented by a daily multiple vitamin provides sufficient vitamin D.  Behind the scenes, however, even the NIH is now looking for a face-saving way to change positions on vitamin D without taking too much blame for having resisted those who have urged reassessment for decades.

The stakes are huge, as are the benefits of attaining optimal vitamin D levels.  The embarrassment for those who must admit past error, however, may be even greater.  The reason is that untold millions have suffered and died prematurely because those who challenged the "settled science" regarding sunshine and vitamin D decades ago were treated like crackpots and demonized. [...]

[Dr. Michael Holick] questioned the conventional zero-tolerance approach to sun exposure that has held sway with dermatologists since the 1970s.  Holick, a professor of dermatology himself, lost his teaching position when he published his findings.  When he wrote a book on the subject, he was targeted by a well-funded PR campaign, aimed at debunking him, by the leading dermatological organization.  Supposedly objective journals, including the New England Journal of Medicine, refused to publish his exhaustively documented research -- research now accepted as both accurate and pioneering. [...]

Optimal vitamin D serum blood levels, attained through sunlight or supplementation, dramatically reduce the risk of many diseases other than bone maladies.  Many of the most serious are ameliorated by an astonishing 50 to 85 percent.  These diseases include cancers, from breast and colon to deadly melanoma skin cancers. [...]

This is not the end of the list, though.  The big killers and most expensive diseases respond similarly to adequate D.  I’m talking about hypertension, cardiovascular disease, and stroke.  So do type 1 diabetes, type 2 diabetes (to a lesser extent), rheumatoid arthritis, peripheral vascular disease, multiple sclerosis, dementia, autoimmune diseases, and apparently even viral diseases such as H1N1 and AIDS. ... Even conditions such as autism and schizophrenia may be directly related to prenatal or infantile vitamin D deficiency.

Nevertheless, the NIH’s current recommended dosage for vitamin D supplementation remains basically unchanged since it was established to prevent rickets. ... This is extremely unfortunate because it takes about a hundred IU to raise serum blood levels by 1 ng/ml in a healthy adult.  To get into the optimal range, 40 to 60 ng/ml, one would therefore have to take 4000 IU daily. ... The evidence, incidentally, is that 10,000IU is entirely safe.

Also mentioned is that every single cell in our bodies has a vitamin D receptor, and around 10% of our genes are influenced by vitamin D.  Even psychological issues like depression and dementia are linked to it.

It looks like 2010 is shaping up to be the year of vitamin D.  It also looks like our generations may come to be known as the ones who hated the sun, and paid for it via all manner of diseases.

As I’ve mentioned before though, at this distance from the equator, you simply can’t get enough vitamin D from the sun except during the summer.  I’ve been taking 5000 IU of vitamin D3 daily for the past few months; for me it’s preventive since I’m pretty healthy to begin with.  I also received my vitamin D test kit last week and I just did the blood spot test today, so I’ll be sending that back to the lab and should get the results -- my vitamin D level -- soon after.

The bottom line here is pretty simple:
1) vitamin D deficiency causes lots of nasty diseases;
2) you’re probably vitamin D deficient;
3) you can fix it with extremely inexpensive supplements.

Posted by Anthony on 2 replies

Health Care, C-SPAN, and Obama: Government Corruption At Its Worst

During his presidential campaign, Barack Obama repeatedly and explicitly promised that the health care reform process would be broadcast on C-SPAN.  He lied, and now the White House refuses to even acknowledge the issue.

Perhaps worse than the lie itself, though, is what it means: the Democrats pushing this absurd health care bill absolutely do not want the public to know what’s in it.

These people are supposed to represent us.  Instead, they’re creating laws in secret, forcing through the largest and most expensive government program in history -- one which the majority of Americans oppose.

This is the opposite of democracy.  The only thing these people represent is the complete corruption and perversion of our system of government.

On top of the fact that the people don’t actually want this bill, there’s the fact that we can’t afford it, and we’ll be lucky if it doesn’t destroy the country.

That’s why federal spending above its revenues should be illegal, punishable by crucifixion (or perhaps something even more painful).

Crucifixion would be too kind a fate for these people.

Posted by Anthony on reply

Hands-Only CPR?

I just saw an ad for Hands-Only CPR.  I clicked on it (a web ad that I actually clicked -- that virtually never happens) and it turned out to be a broken link, but I then searched for it and found the site.

It says the following:

Itís not normal to see an adult suddenly collapse, but if you do, call 911 and push hard and fast in the center of the chest.  Donít be afraid.  Your actions can only help.

But can that really be true?  Surely it’d be worth having some broken ribs if it saves your life, but... it seems unlikely that in 100% of these cases "your actions can only help."  Is it just me?

Posted by Anthony on reply

Kettle Corn

Today Kim came home with two big bags of Hall of Fame Kettle Corn popcorn from Dale and Thomas.  It’s really good: a little sweet and a little salty.  The sweetener they use in it is sugar -- crazy, right?

A few years ago I discovered this kind of sweet and salty "kettle corn" popcorn at the grocery store.  It was made by Pop Secret and I loved it.  But one day I happened to notice the ingredients and saw that it was sweetened not with sugar, but with sucralose (Splenda).  Of course I’m not going to intentionally eat that crap, so I had to give up the kettle corn, as every brand I found in the grocery store was sweetened with sucralose instead of sugar.

I can understand why some companies would choose an artificial sweetener over sugar: it’s likely cheaper than the real thing, and many consumers are obsessed with the idea of a magical substance that will allow them to lose weight while eating too much, which is how these substances are marketed.  But I couldn’t believe there wasn’t a single popcorn maker who used natural sweeteners in their popcorn.

Well, Dale and Thomas does, so kettle corn is back.

Posted by Anthony on reply

Best Product Comparison Ever

I ordered and received my 5000 IU Vitamin D3 the other day, and they included a free sample of fish oil pills with it.  The sample pack shows what must be the greatest product comparison of all time:

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Posted by Anthony on reply

Toxic Waters

Great reporting by The New York Times on the appalling state of enforcement (i.e., virtually none) of water quality and safety regulations, at both the state and federal levels, throughout the US:

Quoting The New York Times:

In the last five years alone, chemical factories, manufacturing plants and other workplaces have violated water pollution laws more than half a million times.  The violations range from failing to report emissions to dumping toxins at concentrations regulators say might contribute to cancer, birth defects and other illnesses.

However, the vast majority of those polluters have escaped punishment.  State officials have repeatedly ignored obvious illegal dumping, and the Environmental Protection Agency, which can prosecute polluters when states fail to act, has often declined to intervene. [...]

Some violations are relatively minor.  But about 60 percent of the polluters were deemed in "significant noncompliance" -- meaning their violations were the most serious kind, like dumping cancer-causing chemicals or failing to measure or report when they pollute.

Finally, the Times’s research shows that fewer than 3 percent of Clean Water Act violations resulted in fines or other significant punishments...

"I met our inspector at the spill site, and we had this really awkward conversation," [DEP regulator] Crum recalled.  "I said we should shut down the mine until everything was cleaned up.  The inspector agreed, but he said if he issued that order, he was scared of getting demoted or transferred to the middle of nowhere.  Everyone was terrified of doing their job."

Mr. Crum temporarily shut the mine.

In the next two years, he shut many polluting mines until they changed their ways.  His tough approach raised his profile around the state [of West Virginia]. [...]

In 2003, a new director, Stephanie Timmermeyer, was nominated to run the Department of Environmental Protection.  One of West Virginia’s most powerful state lawmakers, Eustace Frederick, said she would be confirmed, but only if she agreed to fire Mr. Crum, according to several people who said they witnessed the conversation.

She was given the job and soon summoned Mr. Crum to her office.  He was dismissed...

The 7-page report focuses on some specific West Virginia problems but deals largely with nationwide issues.  They’ve also compiled a national database of pollution-discharge compliance and violations.

Posted by Anthony on reply

Vitamin D, Or: You're Not Getting Enough Sun

Over the past few months I’ve been hearing more and more about vitamin D deficiency.  Then a few weeks ago Steve Gibson, the guy who does the Security Now podcast, took a rare diversion from security to talk about vitamin D (podcast here).  He created a page about vitamin D explaining everything and citing all the research he’s read, and that page also links to some good videos on the topic: a 90-second video focused on cancer; another 90-second video on cancer and sun exposure; a 6-minute video on vitamin D’s effect on general health (money quote: people who take sufficient vitamin D supplements just don’t get sick anymore); and finally a 1-hour video full of tons of vitamin D science.

Certainly watch the 2-3 shorter videos, and watch the longer one if you have time.  But the bottom line is this: many and probably most people are vitamin D deficient, especially in the winter months; and vitamin D deficiency is linked to not only many forms of cancer but also autism, bone diseases, tuberculosis, psoriasis, and many other diseases.  And in particular, vitamin D deficiency during pregnancy and after birth can cause lots of problems for babies, most famously the disease rickets.

Crucially, vitamin D is not actually a vitamin at all; it’s a hormone.  So it’s impossible to get a sufficient amount of vitamin D from your diet, unlike most real vitamins.  The only way to get sufficient vitamin D is from the sun, or via supplement -- but a multivitamin will not give you nearly enough.  For example, in milk that’s fortified with vitamin D, and in most multivitamins, there’s only a few hundred IU of vitamin D, whereas 10-20 minutes of noontime sun exposure will cause your body to create around 10,000 IU of vitamin D.

The problem is that in recent decades, due to the problem of skin cancer caused by overexposure to the sun, we have massively overcorrected, with the scientific, medical, and governmental guidelines generally recommending that we avoid the sun entirely, never being exposed to it without sunblock.  But since sunblock blocks virtually all UVB, your body doesn’t make any vitamin D when you’re covered in sunblock.

The solution is to get a moderate amount of noontime sunlight on a daily basis.  As mentioned above, just 10-20 minutes will boost vitamin D levels into the healthy range, and will not give you a sunburn.  It must be within about 2 hours of solar noon though -- which is 1 PM in the northern hemisphere -- because outside that range, the sun’s angle in the sky forces it to travel through much more atmosphere, which totally blocks UVB outside of about 10AM-4PM.  That’s also the reason it’s much harder to get a sunburn except within a couple hours of solar noon.

But during the winter, unless you live very close to the equator, the sun’s angle again prevents it from delivering enough UVB to generate healthy amounts of vitamin D in your skin.  Because of this, and because you can’t get sufficient vitamin D via diet, I plan to start taking a vitamin D supplement soon; Steve Gibson’s vitamin D page has his recommendations about halfway down the page, and in terms of dosage it appears that 2000 IU/day is a good amount.  And that’s about an order of magnitude below the level at which toxicity begins to become an issue.

This topic fascinates me partly because of its obviousness: for all of human history we’ve been exposed to at least some sun nearly every day, so the idea that we should now suddenly start avoiding it altogether is just insane.  It appears that we’re now suffering many unintended consequences of that advice.  There are lots of interesting statistics in the videos above, but one that sticks out to me is that, for some forms of cancer, vitamin D deficiency causes a doubled risk of metastases and a 75% increased risk of mortality.

Posted by Anthony on 9 replies

Exercise Makes You Fat

OK, so maybe that’s not exactly what this Time Magazine article says:

[T]he peer-reviewed journal PLoS ONE ... published a remarkable study ... The findings were surprising.  On average, the women in all the groups, even the control group, lost weight, but the women who exercised - sweating it out with a trainer several days a week for six months - did not lose significantly more weight than the control subjects did. ... Some of the women in each of the four groups actually gained weight, some more than 10 lb. each. [...]

Whether because exercise made them hungry or because they wanted to reward themselves (or both), most of the women who exercised ate more than they did before they started the experiment.  Or they compensated in another way, by moving around a lot less than usual after they got home. [...]

"I see this anecdotally amongst, like, my wife’s friends," [Dr. Church] says.  "They’re like, ’Ah, I’m running an hour a day, and I’m not losing any weight.’"  He asks them, "What are you doing after you run?"  It turns out one group of friends was stopping at Starbucks for muffins afterward.  Says Church: "I don’t think most people would appreciate that, wow, you only burned 200 or 300 calories, which you’re going to neutralize with just half that muffin."

I recently discovered that my eating habits were affecting my weight far more than my level of exercise.

Sometime about 6-8 years ago, while I was in college, I noticed that I ate about every 4 hours.  At that point, I guess I subconsciously decided that that was when I was supposed to eat, because ever since then, that’s been the main determinant in deciding when I should eat.

A few months ago, I noticed that my stomach fat was getting a little out of hand, and for some reason it occurred to me that the whole every-4-hours thing was totally arbitrary.  I mean, sure I was hungry at ~4 hours, but what if I stretched it to 6 hours instead?  Over the course of a day that’d cut out an entire meal.

So I started doing that, and sure enough, in 2-3 months, I’ve lost 15 pounds.  I was previously right in the middle of the "overweight" range on the BMI scale -- and no the BMI theory is not perfect, but it’s a useful metric -- whereas now I’m just barely inside the "normal" range.

I’ve also started paying attention to the quantities of food that I eat.  For example, going out to a restaurant and eating the bread, the salad, the appetizer, and the whole entree -- which I used to do, even though I was stuffed afterwards -- is just ridiculous.  And for most of my life I’ve been able to eat huge amounts of everything and not gain weight; that of course changed in my mid-20s and it’s taken some conscious effort to stop eating that way.

But my point is that I achieved this not-insignificant change in my weight purely by adjusting my eating habits -- and only the timing and quantity, not what I eat.  I go for a 2-mile walk a couple times per week, and a ~10-mile bike ride maybe once or twice a week, which is the about same level of exercise I’ve done for the past few years.

Posted by Anthony on reply

It's Not the Party, It's the System

Cringely has a medical malpractice post that I don’t find terribly compelling, but here’s one of the comments on it:

Government trying to do anything for us is always bloated and inefficient because there are no checks and balances to keep costs down.  None.  Private business (up until the bailouts) must keep costs in check.  Government doesn’t care about that.  Why should they?  So when costs go out of control they either tax us at higher rates and/or print more money.

It’s not the party that’s in power, it’s the system that it has evolved into.  Have we not figured that out by now?

You might say that’s overly cynical but it seems about right to me.  I’m certainly no fan of insurance companies; I think insurance in general is just about the biggest scam that there is.  But I don’t consider it an improvement to replace [insurance system] or [other broken part of health-care system] with [corrupt politicians] or [additional layers of bureaucracy].

In the real world, you need to clearly identify the problem before you implement the solution.  But not in government.  It drives me crazy that these politicians are insisting on speed at the expense of correctness.  When Obama insists we must pass health care reform ASAP, it makes lots of people suspicious.  When Arlen Specter says that we have to "make judgments very fast" on a 1000-page bill that hardly anybody has even read, the crowd reacts instantly and angrily -- and rightly so.  What sane person thinks that it’s a good idea to make quick judgments rather than careful decisions on such huge and important matters?  Only politicians think that.

I’m all for reforming things that are broken.  But we need to clearly identify those things before we can fix them.  Ramming through a 1000-page bill is not a solution, and a government that would do such a thing is in itself broken, in a far more serious way than the health-care system is.

Posted by Anthony on 1 reply

Healthy Food For Lazy People

There’s a stereotype that geeks eat a lot of junk food.  But other than Utz Party Mix and a particular kind of potato chip, I’d say what I tend to eat is more "snack food" than "junk food".  I eat a lot of mixed nuts, almonds, and sunflower seeds, as well as popcorn and granola bars.

I’ve come to realize that laziness is the primary factor in determining what I eat.  I will almost always choose, say, a can of mixed nuts that I can just crack open and eat over something that I need to prepare.

In light of this, I’m trying to come up with & keep on hand foods that are more healthy but still require little or no preparation.  Here are some of my staples:

bananas
orange juice with "lots of pulp"
pickles
salsa & tortilla chips (OK, and cheese)
apple sauce (in individual 4-oz containers)
berry apple sauce
granola bars and nuts, as mentioned

What else should be on my list?

Posted by Anthony on 4 replies

Link Salad

Various tidbits seen over the past week or two:

...

From the Times Square Tea Party: "Do I look like a racist redneck teabagger to you?"

...

A hilarious Good Samaritan story by Scott Adams:

Luckily I did not have jumper cables, because if I did, I knew we would be late for the movie.  I did my best to make a face that said, "I sure wish I could help," while being secretly gleeful that this was officially not my problem.  I wondered if the young man thought I was lying about not having jumper cables.  My fake sincerity face looks like a mime with an intestinal infection.

...

Joe Biden on rural broadband funding:

The bottom line is, you can’t function -- a nation can’t compete in the 21st century -- without an immediate, high-quality access for everything from streaming video to information overline.

I don’t know what I’d do without a high-quality access to information overline.  In fact, I don’t even know what that means.

...

This article claims that wheat bread is no better than white bread.  But what’s interesting is some of the detailed information about metabolic functions that it contains.

...

From amazon: Classic Live Lobster Combo for Two People.  I don’t suppose it needs to be said that amazon rocks, this rocks, and "Lobsters-Online" rocks.

...

Ceiling cat.  The photo of the cat looking down is great.

Posted by Anthony on reply
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