Why Your Doctor Is Clueless About Diet

Because, despite decades of government recommendations telling us what kind of diet we should eat (a low-fat, high-carb, grain-heavy one), there is actually very little science to support such claims:

Quoting The New York Times:

“We don’t know what the best diet is,” said Dr. Michael Lauer... When it comes to diet and heart disease, doctors -- and patients -- have been going on hunches. [...]

“Diets are an extreme case of accepting evidence we want to believe,” said Dr. J. Sanford Schwartz, a professor of medicine at the University of Pennsylvania.

That includes doctors, he added, who overlook that the evidence for the low-fat diets they often recommend is the sort “we would never accept in the practice of medicine.”

Those low-fat diets sound sensible -- eat fruits and vegetables, fish and lean meats.  Cut back on salt- and sugar-laden sodas and potato chips.  Cut or sharply limit most fats, including olive oil and nuts.  But such diets have not been tested in the way the Mediterranean diet was tested.

Doctors are in a bind, said Dr. Daniel J. Rader, a heart disease specialist at the University of Pennsylvania.  When patients ask what to eat, he said, “you have to give them something.”

“Given the importance of diets and given the decades of dietary recommendations we have given to people, you would think we would have had more dietary studies with hard endpoints to get at these questions,” Dr. Rader said.  But the best they have are studies that look at intermediate markers of risk, like cholesterol levels.  In the end, he said, “most doctors just give dietary platitudes.”

Actually, it’s worse than that: because the government decided to start giving out dietary advice before there was solid scientific evidence to support that advice, they now have a vested interest in keeping that narrative going even in the face of evidence against it, since the government can’t admit when it has made a mistake.

Posted by Anthony on reply

My Cure for Headaches

For most of my adult life I’ve gotten headaches regularly, about once or twice per week.  Typically these are not severe -- and I don’t think I’ve ever had a migraine -- but they’re bad enough to make me want a couple of ibuprofen pills, which virtually always cure the problem within a half hour or so.

When I discovered Fat Head and Paleo and started cleaning up my diet (mainly eating more natural fats and protein, and cutting back on grains, refined sugar, and vegetable oil), the frequency of my headaches decreased a bit, to maybe one per week, and sometimes making it through a whole week without a single headache.

More recently it occurred to me that a headache seems like a kind of inflammation, and should therefore respond favorably to an improved omega-3 to omega-6 ratio.  I had already made progress on that by cutting back the vegetable oils and trying to eat more omega-3-rich seafood like salmon, but even when I ate salmon every single week (which was rare) that was still essentially the only source of the anti-inflammatory omega-3 fats in my diet, whereas the pro-inflammatory omega-6 fats are in virtually everything.

Around the end of September I decided to make a more concerted effort to eat more omega-3.  I don’t like cooking, so it’s fortunate that there are a couple of delicious ready-to-eat sources of omega-3: sardines and salmon.  I especially like SeaBear Ready-To-Eat Smoked Sockeye Salmon, and Season Skinless and Boneless Sardines in Olive Oil; more recently I’ve found Crown Prince Natural Skinless & Boneless Sardines in Pure Olive Oil which are even better.  I stocked up and started eating one ~4-oz can or pack of those about 2-3 times per week, e.g. salmon on Monday, then sardines on Wednesday, and salmon on Saturday, etc.  (Update: two more delicious favorite omega-3 sources that I’ve found: Crown Prince Smoked Oysters, and several of the Bar Harbor brand varieties, especially Wild Herring with Cracked Pepper and Sardine Fillets In Maple Syrup.)

Amazingly, after having gotten a headache (and taking ibuprofen) about once a week for ~15 years, I went six weeks without a single headache after making this small, simple change to my diet.  After that, I was busy or distracted or something, and went 6 days with no salmon or sardines, and got a headache on about the 7th day.  I got back on the program and it’s now been about 2 more weeks headache-free.

Give it a try and see if it works for you.  It should also help with many other health issues, since most diseases are at least partially driven by inflammation.  A couple things to note: technically you can get omega-3 from plant sources such as flaxseed oil, but those are short-chain omega-3 fats, which your body can’t use without putting them through a very inefficient conversion process to turn them into the long-chain forms (EPA and DHA).  Only about 5% of those short-chain fats get converted to the long-chain forms, so it’s virtually impossible to eat enough of it to get any benefit, whereas omega-3-rich seafood already contains the long-chain forms.  Second, a lot of canned seafood is packed in nasty industrial seed oil -- aka vegetable oil -- like cottonseed oil, soybean oil, canola oil, etc.  Those are exactly the pro-inflammatory omega-6 fats we’re trying to avoid!  So watch out for that when buying seafood; it should be packed in olive oil, or something other than oil.

Posted by Anthony on reply

How the Standard American Diet Promotes Depression and Deadly Disease

I recently heard a fascinating Science Friday segment with Dr. Andrew Weil, dealing primarily with depression and its causes, and how to fix it.  But interestingly, two of the most common causes -- vitamin D deficiency and omega-3 deficiency -- are also at the root of the big three deadly diseases: cardiovascular disease, cancer, and neurodegenerative disease.  That’s because those diseases, like depression and in fact like most diseases, are caused or exacerbated by inflammation.

Take 25 minutes and listen to the whole episode.  Here are a few quotes from it:

Quoting Dr. Andrew Weil:

Most people in my experience seem to think that they’ll be happy if they get something they now don’t have... Many people imagine that positive moods depend on external circumstances, and that’s not a good place to have it linked to.

The notion that a human being should be constantly happy is a uniquely modern, uniquely American, uniquely destructive idea... Many parents think that it’s their job to make kids happy all the time.  We’re not supposed to be happy all the time.  Our moods are supposed to vary.  They’re not supposed to vary so extremely that they disable us, but I think it is perfectly normal to have lows as well as highs, and there may be even some value in those experiences.

A much better goal to strive for is to be content.  Contentment is something that comes from within, and is relatively independent of external circumstances.

One of the research findings that I find very interesting is that the more people have, the less content they seem to be.  There is a clear correlation of depression with affluence.  And we’re seeing an unprecedented epidemic of depression, in our country especially, but in the developed world generally.  Some of this is manufactured by the medical-pharmaceutical complex.  The pharmaceutical companies have been very effective at convincing people that ordinary states of sadness are now matters of imbalanced brain chemistry which needs to be treated.  I think that’s spurious. [...]

I think in essence the depression epidemic represents a mismatch between the kind of life our genes have prepared us for, and the kind of life most of us actually live.  One clue is that major depression is virtually unknown in hunter-gatherer societies.  You can’t find a case of it in Papua New Guinea.  So what’s different there?  Well, everything.  People in those cultures are living close to nature, they enjoy strong tribal and community support, they’re eating natural diets, not industrial food, they’re getting plenty of physical activity. [...]

On the physical level, the strongest evidence we have is for exercise and for supplemental fish oil.  Both of these interventions work as well as antidepressant medication for mild to moderate depression.  I think they’re even very helpful as adjunctive measures for severe depression. ... These long-chain omega-3 fatty acids [in fish oil] have a great influence on brain function.  One of them, DHA, is the major constituent of cell membranes, neuronal membranes.  And if that’s deficient in the diet, as it is generally in the North American diet, brain health suffers.  So we have very strong evidence for not only the antidepressant effects, but I’d say generally the brain-protective effects of supplementing the diet with omega-3s.  I recommend that everybody take 2-4 grams of supplemental fish oil a day, whether or not you eat fish. [...]

We’re getting a tremendous overload of omega-6s today, mostly from refined vegetable oils; this is heavily present in industrial food.  The more omega-6s you consume, the more omega-3s you need to consume in order to get tissue levels up to where they need to be.  So I think the main thing is that our omega-3 sources have been reduced, and our omega-6 intake has greatly increased, and this puts us at a great disadvantage biochemically. [...]

There is a disturbing and growing body of evidence that the major class of antidepressant drugs, the SSRIs, selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors, don’t work so great.  In fact, they barely can be distinguished from placebo, even in severe depression.  And it may only be in very severe depression that they show any advantage.  There is also great concern about a new problem just coming to light; it’s called tardive dysphoria, which means lingering depression -- caused by the drugs.  We were always taught that depression, however severe it is, is self-limited, that it resolves itself.  Well, it doesn’t anymore.  And one reason why it may not is because the drugs produce the very problem they’re meant to treat.  And this is so logical; it’s similar to what you discussed earlier about antibiotics and germ resistance.  When you push on the body with an outside force, it pushes back; this is called homeostasis.  It’s a basic truth of physiology.  If you increase serotonin at neural junctions with a drug, the body responds over time by producing less serotonin and dropping serotonin receptors.  And therefore, it gets you into a worse situation.  It’s like trying to treat acid reflux with drugs that suppress acid: you take it away, and you have a worse problem than you did to begin with.  So the drugs may create their own need...

If you’ve been on these drugs for a year, it’s worth finding a practitioner who can help give you a schedule to wean yourself off while using the other measures that I recommend.  And if you have mild to moderate depression, I would really urge you to find out about the other things you can do first, before you try medication.  And that not only includes the things we’ve discussed; it may include getting your vitamin D levels checked, because there’s a clear correlation with low vitamin D and poor emotional health. [...]

One of the things that was new for me in researching the book is the connection between inflammation and depression. ... Farmers have long known that when domestic animals become sick, usually with infectious illnesses, they show a characteristic pattern of behavioral changes, and these are called sickness behavior.  They include immobility, loss of appetite, loss of interest in socializing with others of their kind, loss of interest in sex -- changes that are strikingly similar to the changes that human beings show who have major depression.  Farmers assumed that this was due to fatigue, caused by illness.  But in the 1950s, it was found that sickness behavior is mediated by a bloodborne factor.  You can take blood from an animal with this behavior, inject it into a healthy animal, and that animal shows the same behavior.  Nobody knew what it was; it was called Factor X for 20 years.  And then in the 1970s it was identified as cytokines, a group of regulatory proteins used by the immune system to regulate inflammation.

Some of these cytokines later became purified and available for medical use like interferon for the treatment of chronic hepatitis, and interleukin-2.  When these are administered to people for medical treatments, the most severe side effect is extreme depression and suicide. ... So this has led to the cytokine hypothesis of depression, which I find very compelling, and it is that there is a link between upregulated inflammation and cytokines, and depression.  In animals who are sick, this is an adaptive response: the cytokines affect the brain, and cause behavioral changes that probably favor healing.  It makes more energy available to the immune system.  But I think this is a really interesting connection; it opens new avenues for both preventing and treating depression by following an anti-inflammatory lifestyle. [...]

For years I’ve been recommending an anti-inflammatory diet as the best strategy for optimizing health, extending longevity, reducing overall risk of disease.  And I have devised an anti-inflammatory diet; you can find this in the book or on my website drweil.com; it’s a version of the Mediterranean diet, for which we have great evidence of general health benefits, and I’ve tweaked it to make it even more effective.  But the theory here is that all of the major chronic diseases -- cardiovascular disease, cancer, neurodegenerative disease -- begin as inflammatory processes.  And I think most people in our culture go through life in pro-inflammatory states.  There are many reasons for that: genetics, stress, exposure to environmental toxins.  Diet plays a huge role.  The mainstream diet, which is heavy in industrialized food-like stuff, is strongly pro-inflammatory.  It gives us all the wrong things: the wrong fats, the wrong kinds of carbohydrate, and it’s deficient in all that can protect us from the damage of inflammation.  And now, there is this new connection that our emotional health may also be tied here, so that following an anti-inflammatory diet and lifestyle may offer great protection as well as a new treatment strategy for managing depression. ... And the simplest step, the first step of an anti-inflammatory diet is simply to avoid eating refined, processed, and manufactured food.

Fortunately, it’s easy to fix two of the main drivers of inflammation, which are vitamin D deficiency and omega-3 deficiency.  You can get proper vitamin D levels by simply going outside in the noonday sun for about 20 minutes per day a couple of times per week during the summer, or taking ~5000 IU of vitamin D3 in supplement form a couple times per week during the winter months.  And you can get adequate omega-3 intake by eating fish like salmon and herring a couple times per week, or taking a few grams of fish oil (the kind containing EPA and DHA) as often.

But as Dr. Weil explains, regarding omega-3 intake, you also have to consider the opposing type of fat, which is omega-6.  Both are essential, but omega-6 is pro-inflammatory whereas omega-3 is anti-inflammatory, and it’s the ratio that matters: you want to consume about the same amount of each.  Unfortunately, the Standard American Diet is nowhere near this ideal 1:1 ratio; instead, it’s more like 10:1 or 20:1, with omega-6 far outnumbering omega-3, hence the epidemic of inflammation and inflammatory diseases.  So it’s not enough to simply boost your omega-3 intake; you also need to decrease your omega-6 intake, which means ditching the industrial seed oil -- commonly known as vegetable oil -- that’s present in so many packaged foods, not to mention commonly used as cooking oil and salad dressing.  Boosting your omega-3 intake won’t do any good if you’re regularly consuming typical amounts of soybean oil, canola oil, corn oil, etc.

Posted by Anthony on reply

Why You Can't Trust the Media for Accurate Health Information

A rather ridiculous Wall Street Journal article about weight gain carries this subtitle: "Study Challenges Idea That Varying Amounts of Fat, Protein and Carbohydrates Are Key to Weight Loss".  It states:

Quoting Ron Winslow:

It isn’t so much what you eat, the study suggests, but how much you eat that counts when it comes to accumulating body fat.

The findings are the latest in a string of studies to challenge claims that the secret to healthy weight loss lies in adjusting the amount of nutritional components of a diet -- protein, fat and carbohydrates. [...]

25 young, healthy men and women were deliberately fed nearly 1,000 excess calories a day for 56 days, but with diets that varied in the amounts of protein and fat... body fat among participants in all three groups increased by about the same amount. [...]

"The body was confronted with excess calories, but it didn’t care where they came from," ... The findings suggest that it matters little whether a diet is high or low in fat, carbohydrates or protein, it’s calories that build body fat. [...]

"Weight gain depends primarily on excess calories, regardless of the composition of the meal."

After going on and on with comments like that, the author sticks the following sentence in at the end of the article, in a paragraph all by itself, without any commentary whatsoever:

Quoting Ron Winslow:

Carbohydrates were held steady at about 41% to 42% of calories while fat levels varied with the protein regimen.

Huh??  So: people were overfed by 1000 calories, they all ate the same amount of carbohydrates, and they all gained the same amount of body fat.  Conclusion: adjusting carb intake won’t help you lose weight!

How does this kind of thing get past editors, or the original author for that matter?  It’s hard to avoid the conclusion that either a) they’re all liars, or b) they’re all fools.

Posted by Anthony on reply

Must-Read: Wheat Belly

Dr. William Davis is a renowned cardiologist with a new book that’s probably the most important thing you’ll read this year.  Here are a few long but really good quotes from just the first few pages of the book:

Quoting Wheat Belly:

I recognize that declaring wheat a malicious food is like declaring that Ronald Reagan was a Communist.  It may seem absurd, even unpatriotic, to demote an iconic dietary staple to the status of public health hazard.  But I will make the case that the world’s most popular grain is also the world’s most destructive dietary ingredient.

Documented peculiar effects of wheat on humans include appetite stimulation, exposure to brain-active exorphins (the counterpart of internally derived endorphins), exaggerated blood sugar surges that trigger cycles of satiety alternating with heightened appetite, the process of glycation that underlies disease and aging, inflammatory and pH effects that erode cartilage and damage bone, and activation of disordered immune responses.  A complex range of diseases results from consumption of wheat, from celiac disease -- the devastating intestinal disease that develops from exposure to wheat gluten -- to an assortment of neurological disorders, diabetes, heart disease, arthritis, curious rashes, and the paralyzing delusions of schizophrenia.

If this thing called wheat is such a problem, then removing it should yield outsize and unexpected benefits.  Indeed, that is the case.  As a cardiologist who sees and treats thousands of patients at risk for heart disease, diabetes, and the myriad destructive effects of obesity, I have personally observed protuberant, flop-over-the-belt belly fat vanish when my patients eliminated wheat from their diets, with typical weight loss totaling 20, 30, or 50 pounds just within the first few months.  Rapid and effortless weight loss is usually followed by health benefits that continue to amaze me even today after having witnessed this phenomenon thousands of times.

I’ve seen dramatic turnarounds in health, such as the thirty-eight-year-old woman with ulcerative colitis facing colon removal who was cured with wheat elimination -- colon intact.  Or the twenty-six-year-old man, incapacitated and barely able to walk because of joint pain, who experienced complete relief and walked and ran freely again after taking wheat off the menu.

Extraordinary as these results may sound, there is ample scientific research to implicate wheat as the root cause of these conditions -- and to indicate that removal of wheat can reduce or relieve symptoms entirely. [...]

I call it wheat belly, though I could have just as easily called this condition pretzel brain or bagel bowel or biscuit face since there’s not an organ system unaffected by wheat.  But wheat’s impact on the waistline is its most visible and defining characteristic, an outward expression of the grotesque distortions humans experience with consumption of this grain. [...]

Many overweight people, in fact, are quite health conscious... Most will say something like "I don’t get it.  I exercise five days a week.  I’ve cut my fat and increased my healthy whole grains.  Yet I can’t seem to stop gaining weight!" [...]

Diabetics became nondiabetics.  That’s right: Diabetes in many cases can be cured -- not simply managed -- by removal of carbohydrates, especially wheat, from the diet.  Many of my patients had also lost twenty, thirty, even forty pounds.

But it’s what I didn’t expect that astounded me.

They reported that symptoms of acid reflux disappeared and the cyclic cramping and diarrhea of irritable bowel syndrome were gone.  Their energy improved, they had greater focus, sleep was deeper.  Rashes disappeared, even rashes that had been present for many years.  Their rheumatoid arthritis pain improved or disappeared, enabling them to cut back, even eliminate, the nasty medications used to treat it.  Asthma symptoms improved or resolved completely, allowing many to throw away their inhalers.  Athletes reported more consistent performance.

Thinner.  More energetic.  Clearer thinking.  Better bowel, joint, and lung health.  Time and time again.  Surely these results were reason enough to forgo wheat. [...]

The bottom line: Elimination of this food, part of human culture for more centuries than Larry King was on the air, will make you sleeker, smarter, faster, and happier.  Weight loss, in particular, can proceed at a pace you didn’t think possible.  And you can selectively lose the most visible, insulin-opposing, diabetes-creating, inflammation-producing, embarrassment-causing fat: belly fat.  It is a process accomplished with virtually no hunger or deprivation, with a wide spectrum of health benefits. [...]

So why has this seemingly benign plant that sustained generations of humans suddenly turned on us?  For one thing, it is not the same grain our fore-bearers ground into their daily bread.  Wheat naturally evolved to only a modest degree over the centuries, but it has changed dramatically in the past fifty years under the influence of agricultural scientists.  Wheat strains have been hybridized, crossbred, and introgressed to make the wheat plant resistant to environmental conditions, such as drought, or pathogens, such as fungi.  But most of all, genetic changes have been induced to increase yield per acre.  The average yield on a modern North American farm is more than tenfold greater than farms of a century ago.  Such enormous strides in yield have required drastic changes in the genetic code, including reducing the proud "amber waves of grain" of yesteryear to the rigid, eighteen-inch-tall high-production "dwarf" wheat of today.  Such fundamental genetic changes, as you will see, have come at a price.

If you are overweight or have any kind of sickness at all -- or even if you don’t -- you owe it to yourself to try simply removing wheat from your diet for 30 days, and see if it helps you.  It costs you nothing and could literally save your life.  The first time you think about cutting out wheat, the reaction is usually something like, "But what am I going to eat without bread, pasta, cereal...??!?"  But it’s actually pretty easy: just eat lots of meat and vegetables, plus smaller amounts of fruit, nuts, and seeds.  It helps if you already know that saturated fat is good for you, because then you won’t be worried about replacing "healthy whole grains" (which are actually killing you) with "artery-clogging saturated fat" (which is actually good for your heart and the rest of your body).

Perhaps the best thing about Dr. Davis, Robb Wolf, etc, is that these guys aren’t trying to sell you anything; they’re just trying to help you.  Well, technically they’re selling books, but you only need the books if you want all the details and the proof: they give away the "secret" for free on their websites and in their book summaries.  The "secret" is that if you cut these foods (wheat in Dr. Davis’ case, or all grains plus legumes and dairy in Robb Wolf’s opinion) out of your diet -- ideally for good, but at least for 30 days to see how it affects you -- then you’ll be far healthier for it.

Posted by Anthony on 2 replies

Love the Sun, Ditch the Sunburn

Mom and I were talking the other day about getting sunlight on your skin to make vitamin D, while not getting so much sun as to get a sunburn.  Your body makes something like 10,000 IU of vitamin D from just 10 minutes of midday sun exposure -- assuming a decent amount of uncovered, non-sunblocked skin is exposed -- so it’s pretty easy to get enough D without getting burned.  But then mom brought up an interesting question: why is it that, as kids, we were able to play outside in the sun all day with no sunblock and not get sunburned, whereas today, just an hour of sun will often cause a sunburn?

One theory is that ozone depletion, which has led to more ultraviolet light reaching Earth’s surface, is the cause of the increased sunburn incidence, but there doesn’t seem to be much solid evidence for that.  It makes sense and I think it’s a factor, but probably not the whole story.

A few days after this conversation, Mark Sisson wrote a piece on natural sunburn prevention in his usual thorough and well-referenced style.  It turns out that avoiding the sun, avoiding saturated fat, and loading up on omega-6 fats (e.g. vegetable oils) all increase the likelihood of getting a sunburn when you do get a rare bit of sun exposure.  Of course those three things are all recommended by the US government, and by now I’m well beyond the point where I’m surprised that US government recommendations actually cause harm rather than helping.

I didn’t realize this until I read Mark’s article, but since I switched to a more primal/paleo diet earlier this year, I’ve been able to get a lot more sun exposure without getting sunburned.  Last year, after hearing Steve Gibson’s comments on vitamin D and then deciding to go out and get some midday sun a few times per week, I could only get about 20 minutes before starting to burn, as I discovered one day when I tried to push it up to 30 minutes.  But this year, although I again started at 20 minutes, I have since pushed it up to about 45 minutes and I’m not getting burned at all.  The only difference is that this year, with my new way of eating, I’m consuming much less frankenfood like vegetable oil, and much more natural saturated fat.

Be sure to read Mark’s whole article on the topic for more natural ways to prevent sunburn, and don’t miss the comments, which are full of people reporting a complete lack of sunburn since having gone primal.

And if you’re worried about skin cancer, then you should seek the sun, not avoid it.  Sun exposure protects against skin cancer, as long as it’s not overexposure.

Posted by Anthony on 2 replies

The Primal Blueprint Carbohydrate Curve

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Pretty much says it all.  Notice that there’s no mention of calories nor dietary fat, because the fact is, those have very little impact on weight and body composition.

From Mark’s Primal Blueprint diagrams page.

Posted by Anthony on reply

What the Government is Really Feeding Us

By now you’ve probably seen the "improved" version of the government food pyramid, which is the food plate:

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Of course, it’s the same old scientifically-discredited message: load up on fruit (sugar) and grains (more sugar) and avoid fat.  And what do you get when you follow the government’s advice?  All of this can be yours:

posted image

The solution is painfully obvious to anyone with half a brain: just eat real food.  Eat the foods that people have ALWAYS eaten, for the vast majority of human history, instead of the grains, vegetable oils, and other processed foods that modern man has invented.  In other words:

posted image

(Images via @robbwolf’s Twitter feed.)

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Posted by Anthony on reply

Why You Can't Get Sunburn Near Sunrise And Sunset

[For people finding this page by searching for things like "how late can you get sunburn", the short answer is that in the continental US, it’s virtually impossible to get a sunburn before 10 AM or after 4 PM, except in subtropical places like Florida.]

When the weather starts getting nice, I start thinking about the sun and UV rays and how to avoid sunburn.  I always try to plan my outdoor activities (biking, tubing, etc) to avoid the worst part of the day in terms of sunlight, which is when the sun is directly overhead -- around 1 PM in North America.  Sun exposure is crucial for proper health, but only if it’s time-limited so that it doesn’t give you a sunburn.

You’ve probably noticed that, while you can get a tan/sunburn in half an hour or so around midday, it’s pretty much impossible to get any tan -- let alone sunburn -- within an hour or two of sunrise and sunset.  When I got my iPhone 4 last June, I stood in line at the Lehigh Valley Apple store from about 4:30 PM to 7 PM.  It was a hot, sunny day; the Apple employees were giving out bottled water, and the line was in direct sunlight the whole time.  Despite this, I didn’t get a bit of tan.

The reason is because sunlight has to travel through the Earth’s atmosphere before it reaches us on the surface, and the atmosphere blocks some of the UV light.  When the sun is directly overhead, its light has to travel through a certain amount of atmosphere, but when the sun is at more of an angle (further from midday), the amount of atmosphere that sunlight must travel through is greater.

But how much greater?  I wanted to figure this out, and a little Googling didn’t turn up anything.  So I thought about how to model it, which is pretty simple: you just need to draw a big circle with a thin band surrounding it, then compare the thickness of the band at different angles.  So that’s what I did:

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The Earth’s radius is about 4000 miles, and the atmosphere (depending on how you want to define it) is, say, 80 miles thick.  The precise thickness doesn’t matter for our purposes here, though; all that matters is the ratio between the smallest thickness (the midday atmosphere) and the greatest thickness (the sunrise/sunset atmosphere).

By drawing two exact circles that are concentric, and using 1 pixel to represent 8 miles, it’s easy to "calculate" the sunrise/sunset thickness: you just need to count/measure the pixels.  There are 100 of them, compared to 10 pixels for the midday thickness, so the UV radiation must pass through ten times as much atmosphere at sunrise/sunset as it does at midday.  That explains why virtually none of that UV light passes through around sunrise and sunset: the atmosphere is far too thick for the UV to penetrate.

Update: here’s a related graph from NASA (via Wikipedia) showing how much of each UV fraction is blocked by the atmosphere (mainly the ozone layer):

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It shows that the atmosphere blocks all UVC, and most UVB, but only a small amount of UVA.

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Posted by Anthony on 14 replies

Science For Smart People

Tom Naughton recently gave a great presentation called Science For Smart People, and it’s well worth your time.  In it, he explains why there seems to be so much contradictory "scientific" evidence nowadays, especially regarding diet and health.  Tom also tells how to separate the wheat from the chaff to determine whether an alleged conclusion is actually supported by the evidence in a given study.

In one example, there was a clinical study involving three groups of people: one group on a low-carb, high-fat diet; a second group on a low-fat, moderate-carb diet; and a third group on an unmodified diet.  The actual results were that the low-carb group lost more body fat and showed the greatest improvements in all cardiovascular markers, including total cholesterol, triglycerides, HDL and LDL.  But what did the researchers write in their conclusion?  "Moderate approaches to weight loss such as a moderate-carbohydrate low-fat diet may be prudent."  Tom’s take on that:

Quoting Tom Naughton:

By "prudent" I guess they meant "we would like to continue receiving research grants from Kellogg’s, who funded this study."

This shows two big problems with much of the supposedly-scientific information reported on a daily basis: first, that research is often tainted by the simple fact that it’s funded by corporations; and second, that many people, including scientists, find it very difficult to accept the fact that eating fat is not bad for you, because they’ve been brainwashed by decades of government propaganda to the contrary.

Posted by Anthony on reply

Global Warming Nuts Take a Page From The Anti-Fat Fanatics' Playbook

When you’re wrong on the science, don’t despair; you can always turn to the government to force your views on the public.  Hey, it worked for the anti-fat fanatics.

Quoting Roger E. Sowell:

A group of attorneys using children and young adults as plaintiffs plans to file legal actions in every state and the District of Columbia on Wednesday in an effort to force government intervention on climate change. [...]

The second point, regarding the harm being fairly traceable to the defendant’s actions, is a great sticking point.  Here, plaintiffs must show that increases in CO2 are causing and will cause the dire events that are predicted.  "Fairly traceable" means that there is a direct cause-and-effect that can be discerned.  This will be where the fun begins, as each side trots out their experts and makes their case.  The fact that CO2 has risen over the past 50 years, yet none of the dire events have occurred, surely will not be overlooked by the defense attorneys.  The facts that CO2 continues to rise, and the global and regional temperatures are falling, and the ocean levels are falling, and the ocean temperatures are falling, also will surely be emphasized by the defense attorneys.

Posted by Anthony on reply

What Really Causes Heart Disease

Quoting Chris Kresser:

Let’s just make this crystal clear: 9 out of 10 cases of heart disease are completely preventable without drugs.  With sales of statin drugs reaching close to $30 billion this year with Lipitor alone bringing in close to $14 billion, this might come as some surprise.  But the pharmaceutical companies are, quite literally, invested in people taking their cholesterol-lowering drugs in spite of the complete lack of evidence that lowering cholesterol prevents heart disease.

In order to understand the changes we need to make to prevent heart disease, we have to briefly examine what causes it.  By now you know that the answer is not "cholesterol".  In fact, as I mentioned briefly in last week’s article, the two primary contributing mechanisms to heart disease are inflammation and oxidative damage. [...]

Over the past century we’ve seen a consistent decline in the consumption of traditional, nutrient-dense foods in favor of highly processed, nutrient-depleted products.  The flawed hypothesis that cholesterol causes heart disease has wrongly identified health-promoting foods like meat, organ meats, eggs and dairy products as harmful, and replaced them with toxic, processed alternatives... The average American gets 57% of his/her calories from highly refined cereal grains and polyunsaturated (PUFA) oils.  The #3 source of calories, behind grains and PUFA, is sugar and high-fructose corn syrup.  Refined grains, polyunsaturated oils and sugar are all major contributors to both inflammation and oxidative damage.

Not only do refined carbohydrates, vegetable oils and sugar contribute to inflammation and oxidative damage, they are also completely devoid of micronutrients that would protect us from these processes.  Meats, fruits and vegetables are all high in antioxidants that prevent oxidative damage, and rich in other micronutrients that play important roles in preventing heart disease.

If you only follow one health-related website, make it The Healthy Skeptic.

Posted by Anthony on reply

The Case Against Gluten For Everyone

A CNN article from yesterday points out the prevalence of gluten sensitivity even among non-celiacs:

Quoting Carina Storrs:

Cooper tested negative for celiac disease, but the doctor advised her to try a gluten-free diet anyway.

"Within a week of eliminating [gluten], I started to feel markedly better," says Cooper, now 36, from Melbourne, Australia. [...]

"Gluten is fairly indigestable in all people," Leffler says. "There’s probably some kind of gluten intolerance in all of us."

Experts now think of gluten intolerance as a spectrum of conditions, with celiac disease on one end and, on the other, what’s been called a "no man’s land" of gluten-related gastrointestinal problems that may or may not overlap.

Leffler estimates, for instance, that half of the approximately 60 million people in the U.S. who suffer from irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) are probably sensitive to gluten.

The following evolvify article from 2010 presents an overview and a list of medical journal articles on the topic:

Quoting Andrew Badenoch:

In the general population (those not having celiac disease or wheat allergies), gluten either causes, or is strongly correlated to a range of autoimmune and neurological disorders. Further, gluten intolerance can present with any one, or group, of symptoms or disorders with varying degrees of severity. Lastly, it is generally agreed that celiac disease and non-celiac gluten intolerance are underreported and under-diagnosed, though the numbers remain speculative.

For me, on a practical level, the correlations between autoimmune and neurological problems in the scientific literature, my personal experiences with gluten, anecdotal reports from others, and the logical framework of evolutionary biology/paleo diet is convincing enough for me to abstain from gluten.

As for me, I’ve already cut about 95% of the grains out of my diet, simply because I don’t want to eat all that sugar.  I’m not 100% wheat/gluten-free, but I do try to avoid it, especially in packaged products where there’s just no need for it in the first place.  At this point my primary wheat exposure is from croutons on salad once or twice per week, and from pizza once or twice per month.

Posted by Anthony on reply

Why Fukushima made me stop worrying and love nuclear power

Quoting George Monbiot:

A crappy old plant with inadequate safety features was hit by a monster earthquake and a vast tsunami.  The electricity supply failed, knocking out the cooling system.  The reactors began to explode and melt down.  The disaster exposed a familiar legacy of poor design and corner-cutting.  Yet, as far as we know, no one has yet received a lethal dose of radiation.

My favorite response from the anti-nuclear enviro-wackos is the statement that this is "worse than Three Mile Island."  It’s hard not to be worse than Three Mile Island considering that there were virtually no ill effects whatsoever from that incident.

These plants have survived operator errors and the worst natural disasters because they were designed well -- fifty years ago.  Just imagine how much better off America would be if we could actually build some new nuclear plants, using the newer and much-improved designs, instead of relying on dirty fossil fuels and foreign nations for so much of our energy.

Posted by Anthony on 1 reply

Eating Fat Is Not Bad For You

This is one of those things that’s seemed vaguely obvious to me for a long time.  It never made any sense when so-called experts -- who generally turn out to be government stooges -- released grand statements claiming that natural foods like meat, eggs, milk, and butter were unhealthy.  The other day I came across a video that kind of pulled it all together.

The video is called Big Fat Fiasco (that link goes to part 1; you’ll see links to the subsequent parts after it’s over) and it was very interesting and informative.  The video’s creator, Tom Naughton, explains how the whole eating-fat-is-bad-for-you concept was created largely by a single scientist named Ancel Keys.  Keys had to throw out most of his data in order to reach the conclusion that he had previously decided was correct -- that eating fat is bad and causes heart disease.  But then, study after study failed to substantiate his theory, so naturally it was discarded the government got involved.

Quoting Big Fat Fiasco:

This [low-fat] diet, this [lipid] hypothesis, was failing over and over in clinical research ... What could have possibly kept such an unscientific, discredited, and possibly even harmful idea alive? ... A government committee.

Dr. Robert Olson: "I have pleaded in my report, and will plead again orally here, for more research on the problem before we make announcements to the American public."

Senator George McGovern: "I would only argue that senators don’t have the luxury that a research scientist has, of waiting until every last shred of evidence is in."

So the "heart-healthy benefits" of a low-fat diet became national policy because senators don’t have time to wait for all the evidence to come in.

The McGovern Committee’s report -- written by a vegetarian, of course -- recommended that Americans eat less fat, and started the government’s decades-long propaganda blitz telling us we should avoid fat and eat lots of carbohydrates, leading to the obesity epidemic that we’re in today.

Naughton goes on to point out the "French Paradox," which is that they eat twice as much saturated fat, four times as much butter, three times as much pork, and 60% more cheese than Americans, yet have only one-third as much heart disease.  There is also the "Swiss Paradox:" they have the second-highest intake of saturated fat, yet the second-lowest rate of heart disease.

You should check out these short videos on Naughton’s site; they’re pretty funny and they shoot down some of the anti-fat hysteria that the government has been pushing for decades.  They also point out how the "Super Size Me" video -- I can’t bring myself to call it a documentary -- was essentially BS, and the creator, Morgan Spurlock, appears to have lied about his caloric intake during the time, and has refused all requests to release his food log.  I’m no fan of McDonald’s, but nor am I a fan of anti-meat/anti-capitalism propaganda.

Gary Taubes also has a good article and a couple books on the subject, and somewhere on one of these guys’ sites, I read a comment that really made sense to me.  It said that eating a low-fat diet actually causes your body to create and store more fat, because your body interprets a lack of dietary fat to mean that it’s in a food-scarce environment, and thus it adjusts your metabolism accordingly, storing more energy in order to survive the period of famine.

Posted by Anthony on 2 replies

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

Why Cilantro Tastes Like Soap

Quoting The New York Times:

Flavor chemists have found that cilantro aroma is created by a half-dozen or so substances, and most of these are modified fragments of fat molecules called aldehydes.  The same or similar aldehydes are also found in soaps and lotions and the bug family of insects.

In other words: BECAUSE IT IS SOAP.  Green, evil soap.

Posted by Anthony on 3 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

Proof That College is More Expensive Than it Should Be

Here’s an article about some university researchers working on a device to create hydrogen from just sunlight and water.  It’s been done before, but their process greatly improves on the efficiency of the conversion and the lifespan of the device.

But towards the end of the article, there’s this bit about the fact that some of the parts are made of gold and platinum:

He and colleagues now plan to refine the system, including lowering the cost by making it with less expensive materials.  "There is no major reason for using gold or platinum," he says: those materials were used simply because they are common in the laboratory.

Posted by Anthony on reply

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 starvation—not a good thing.  25(OH)D levels should be between 50–80 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 Mexico’s 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
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