Let me begin by quoting a paragraph from Gyorgy Scrinis, a lecturer in food and nutrition politics and policy at the University of Melbourne. This is from a chapter called ‘Nutritionism and Functional Foods,’ which he contributed to the book The Philosophy of Food. Scrinis went on to publish an entire book on this subject, Nutritionism: The science & politics of dietary advice.
Just prior to the following paragraph, Scrinis has been discussing the dietary advice, from the 1960s to the 1990s, that it was better to eat margarine than butter. (Added emphasis in this and the following quotations is mine.)
The “mistake” of inadvertently promoting transfat-laden margarine is one of several mistakes, revisions, and backflips in scientific knowledge and dietary advice over the past century. Other cases include advice regarding dietary cholesterol, eggs, low-fat diets, and vitamin B. Yet these revisions do not seem to have tempered the sustained and confident discourse of precision and control that continues to pervade nutrition science, nor the willingness to translate limited and partial scientific insights into definitive population-wide dietary advice. I refer to this nutritional hubris as the myth of nutritional precision, as it involves an exaggerated representation of scientists’ understanding of the relationship between nutrients, foods, and the body and a failure to acknowledge the limits of the nutrient-level perspective. At the same time, the disagreements and uncertainties that exist within the scientific community with respect to particular nutritional theories tend to be concealed from, or misrepresented to, the lay public.
I always thought the main function of the hippocampus was to convert short-term memory into long-term memory. It’s one of the first regions of the brain damaged by Alzheimer’s. If your spouse can’t remember something you discussed 20 minutes ago, you start to worry.
The hippocampus also plays an important role in spatial memory and navigation. That’s why you unfortunately hear of Alzheimer’s patients wandering away from home and not being able to find their way back.
1.6 billion people – almost a quarter of the world’s population – observe the biannual shifts between standard and daylight saving time. Does the loss of an hour’s sleep in the spring affect their health? According to a study published in The New England Journal of Medicine, there’s a statistically significant increase in the number of heart attacks (myocardial infarctions) in the week after we shift to daylight saving time.
Researchers in Sweden extracted statistics from 20 years worth of data on heart attacks. They compared the incidence of heart attacks during each day of the week after we change the clocks (both spring and fall) with the number of heart attacks two weeks prior to and two weeks after the time change.
There are always more heart attacks on Mondays, presumably connected to the stress of going back to work. But the number of Monday heart attacks was significantly lower following an extra hour of sleep in the fall. In fact, except for Fridays, the number of heart attacks was lower for the rest of the week. Following the loss of an hour’s sleep in the spring, heart attacks were up for the entire week, and the increase was especially significant on Tuesday.
Monday heart attacks and sleeping in on the weekend
These findings, of course, do not mean that losing an hour’s sleep causes a heart attack, but they do suggest that individuals who are vulnerable to heart problems might want to make the transition to daylight savings time gradual rather than abrupt. Read more
The divided self, hidden values, and moral sensibility in medicine (Lancet)
A thought-provoking essay by Arthur Kleinman. Medical decision-making is so over-simplified that we ignore the complexity of conflicting emotions — in both patients and doctors. A corrective would be medical education that includes the study of the humanities. Why don’t medical journals in the US write about this? Read more
‘Vampire Face-Lifts’: Smooth at First Bite (NYT)
Plumping out nasiolabial folds with your own blood platelets. Not tested. Not FDA approved. “This is another gimmick that people are using to make themselves stand out on the Internet in a real dog-eat-dog part of medicine.”
A Ban on Brain-Boosting Drugs Is Not the Answer (Chronicle)
A large number of undergrads use neuroenhancers. Is this unfair competition? The way to stop their use is to change the culture of competition in college and engage students in learning for learning’s sake.
Culture of greed upsets attempts at health care reform (Boston Globe)
No kidding. Blue Cross CEO gets $8.6 million for leaving the company. “I am stunned by the arrogance of Blue Cross Blue Shield and the entire health insurance industry to allow this type of transfer of income from the working class to the wealthy.
U.S. Bioethics Panel to Review Clinical Trials Around the World (Science Insider)
Prompted by revelations of US experiments on Guatemalans in the 1940s that exposed test subjects to syphilis and gonorrhea, bioethics panel to review rules that protect clinical trial participants from harm and unethical treatment, both domestically and internationally.
E. coli found on 50 percent of shopping carts (MSNBC)
The Fox News headline on this story featured the finding that 72% of carts had “fecal matter.” There are similar statistics on those bowls of free food samples in grocery stores. There’s more E. coli on carts than in supermarket restrooms. Nobody cleans the carts. But bacteria are everywhere – doorknobs, countertops, car seats. “My guess is that there are more bacteria on a car seat than on a shopping cart.” Read more
Overdiagnosis and the dangers of early detection (BMJ)
Ray Moynihan reviews H. Gilbert Welch’s new book. Overdiagnosis is one of medicine’s biggest problems, causing millions of people to become patients unnecessarily, producing untold harm, and wasting vast amounts of resources. Many of the big and costly medical conditions of our time are not in fact diseases, but rather are risk factors portrayed as diseases. “These decisions [about the definition of a disease and guidelines of its treatment] affect too many people to let them be tainted by the businesses that stand to gain from them.”
Cats Adore, Manipulate Women (Discovery)
Cats attach to humans, particularly women, as social partners, not just for the sake of obtaining food. They hold some control over when they are fed and handled, functioning very similar to human children in some households. “A relationship between a cat and a human can involve mutual attraction, personality compatibility, ease of interaction, play, affection and social support. A human and a cat can mutually develop complex ritualized interactions that show substantial mutual understanding of each other’s inclinations and preferences.” I can so relate to that. Read more
History of Modesty, Part 2 (Patient Modesty & Privacy Concerns)
Part two of my post on the history of patient modesty is up as a guest post on the Patient Modesty blog. I discuss how, in the 19th century, doctors got patients to accept a much more invasive physical exam than what patients were used to.
Greater Germ Exposure Cuts Asthma Risk (WSJ)
Another example of the hygiene hypothesis. Children living on farms have a lower risk of asthma than children who don’t because they are surrounded by a greater variety of germs. Key is exposure to diversity of germs, not just more of them. “You have to have microbes that educate the immune system. But you have to have the right ones.”
Where Have The Good Men Gone? (WSJ)
This is sure to get lots of attention. From Manning Up: How the Rise of Women Has Turned Men into Boys. “Today, … with women moving ahead in our advanced economy, husbands and fathers are now optional, and the qualities of character men once needed to play their roles—fortitude, stoicism, courage, fidelity—are obsolete, even a little embarrassing. … Women put up with him for a while, but then in fear and disgust either give up on any idea of a husband and kids or just go to a sperm bank and get the DNA without the troublesome man.”
Judge Tosses Suit Against Health Care Law (NPR)
Yeah! Suit was against universal mandate, but on narrow grounds: that it violates religious freedom of those who rely on God to protect them. The judge expressed doubts that plaintiffs can really determine they’ll never need health care. Read more
Joyce Carol Oates’s Widow’s Lament (NYT)
“A Widow’s Story: A Memoir.” She “has assembled a book more painfully self-revelatory than anything Oates the fiction writer or critic has ever dared to produce.” Touches on the power balance between artist and spouse.
A Soft Spot for Circuitry (NYT)
Paro the seal, a sociable robot, accomplishes its lifelike interaction through hidden sensors that monitor sound, light, temperature and touch. Sociable robots are now being used as therapy for the elderly. “We as a species have to learn how to deal with this new range of synthetic emotions that we’re experiencing — synthetic in the sense that they’re emanating from a manufactured object.”
What’s the Matter With Corn Syrup? (NYT)
Review of documentary “Fresh” on industrial farming and its devastating toll on soil, health and livestock. More folksy in tone than “Food, Inc.” and more focused on practical solutions. Addresses class barrier to healthy eating.
The Case of the Pregnant Seaman (PLoS Blogs)
Scientists have now shown that normal, healthy men often undergo real bodily changes when they’re expecting children. What for years was considered a disorder of the mind is actually a natural physiological reaction to impending fatherhood. Read more
Sleep and heart risk link is uncertain (NHS)
The association of both long and short extremes of sleep with poor cardiovascular health is of interest, but the “mechanisms that underlie these associations are not fully understood”. The association may be a by-product of other factors.
Is the internet killing empathy? (CNN)
Serene Branson migraine. Have our brains become so desensitized that we’ve lost all perspective on appropriateness and compassion when another human being apparently suffers a medical emergency? Are we a society of detached voyeurs? Read more
FDA Report: Alarming Amounts of “Superbugs” in Supermarkets (Bnet)
Superbugs (bacteria resistant to antibiotics) in meat are a much more common and widespread problem than anyone would like to admit, according to federal government report. Chicken breasts, ground turkey, ground beef and pork chops tested.
Superbugs in Canadian chicken? Yes, and US too (Wired)
15% of bacteria on chicken breasts and ground turkey are resistant to 4 or more classes of antibiotics. Drug-resistant bacteria in food won’t diminish until we reduce the amount of drugs that food animals receive while they are raised.
Can relaxation drinks put you to sleep? (Health News Review)
Gary Schwitzer gives 4 stars to story on drinkable melatonin, valerian, other supplements. “The public should understand that behavior change will nearly always trump a pill (or supplement, etc.) for long-term efficacy and health effects.” Read more
How Never Let Me Go gave up and died (Guardian)
Film about human clones created for their body parts misses the point: the acquiescence of the weak to their exploitation by the strong. Film’s organ donors are comparable to “the lackeys of capitalism [who] compete to become employee of the month.”
A close call on health inequalities (Guardian)
BMJ study, plus Sir Michael Marmot’s. There’s more to life expectancy than a simple north-south divide of UK. Wealth determines health. Some of the starkest differences occur not between regions but between neighbors. Read more
Why Keeping Little Girls Squeaky Clean Could Make Them Sick (NPR)
The hygiene hypothesis: children exposed to lots of germs early in life less likely to develop allergies, asthma, autoimmune disorders. Women have higher rates of these disorders. Is that because girls are held to higher standards of cleanliness?
When cosmetic surgery is a marker of ambition (Guardian)
Why aren’t people more concerned about the medical risks of cosmetic surgery? We’re increasingly socialized to believe we must invest in ourselves to improve our chances and opportunities in life, whether it’s paying for higher education, looks or both.
The Tale of Tea with Jim the Third (Bioethics Forum)
Alice Dreger on the story of a man with a disorder of sex development (formerly termed “intersex”). One patient heard his urologist say to the nurse, outside the door, “I don’t deal with this shit.” The biggest issue is not surgery, hormonal treatments, or lack of psychological support for families. It’s shame and how no one deals with it.
Why “Disorders of Sex Development”? (Alice Dreger)
Dreger discusses the change in terminology from “intersex” to “Disorders of Sex Development” (DSD). The term “intersex” was a moving target. “DSD” gives patients a means to talk openly about what’s happened to them, without shame. “Intersex” did not.
The unease generally provoked by sexual ambiguity exposes our continuing discomfort with transgression of binary categories, whether the boundaries are broken by anatomy, sexuality, or non-conformity with gendered stereotypes of identity. Read more
Chocolate is a perennial favorite as a health topic. Readers are eager to learn of medical research that justifies something they want to do anyway.
WebMD recently ran an article called “Is Chocolate the Next Super Food?” The excuse for this particular article was a study that found the antioxidant activity of dark chocolate was higher than that of various “super” fruits (blueberry, acai, cranberry, pomegranate).
The article’s very last paragraph did mention — very casually — that the number of calories and fat grams in a serving of dark chocolate exceeds those of fruit juice. There was nothing but praise, however, for the ability of the antioxidants in chocolate to fight free radicals. The wisdom of the widespread consumption of antioxidants has recently been questioned. Getting the word out on that subject may prove awkward for WebMD, a site littered with ads for antioxidant supplements.
Free radicals fight toxins and cancer
Health and science journalist Sharon Begley had an excellent article on antioxidants and free radicals – “Antioxidants Fall From Grace” – in a recnt Newsweek. (emphasis added) Read more
Here’s why you’re right-handed or left-handed (MSNBC)
It depends on eye dominance. In recent U.S. history, the majority of presidents have been left-handed (Ford, Reagan, G.H.W. Bush, Clinton, Obama). Scientists haven’t yet found a link between hand preference and an individual’s abilities. Study based on eye and foot preferences of parrots (see left-footed parrot, right).
France’s first genetically-engineered baby born (M&C)
The headline is misleading. This is the first “savior sibling,” “spare parts baby” (think “My sister’s keeper”) in France. An embryo was screened both for lack of disease and being a sibling match. Genetic engineering implies something was changed, not just selected.
Anorexics are finding ‘thinspiration’ on Web (The Daily)
Pro-ana and pro-mia (bulimia) websites went underground a decade ago, but are now making a comeback on microblogging platform Tumblr. New sites deny extreme weight-loss is an eating disorder. Claim it’s a healthier lifestyle.
How vegetables can give you that golden glow (Guardian)
Carotenoids, stored in fat under the skin and found in tomatoes, peppers, plums and carrots, can give Caucasian skin a healthy-looking golden glow – a look equated with attractiveness.
Is Health Care Reform Unconstitutional? (NY Review)
One of the best discussions I’ve read on the subject. Constitutionality won’t be an issue. Health care opponents simply looking for a way to prevent government from imposing a collective solution to a social problem.
Do diet sodas really cause stroke? I’m dubious. (Food Politics)
People who drink diet sodas every day are apt to do many other things – like eat a lousy diet. Those who drink any kind of soda daily, whether or not it’s diet, are probably not the most healthy minded.
Nipped, tucked and wide awake? (MSNBC)
Awake cosmetic surgery can be performed by doctors with two days of training and no hospital privileges. “This is just a gimmick by people who can’t operate their way out of a wet paper bag.”
Awake Cosmetic Surgery–The Pros and Cons (EmpowHer)
Growing trend alarms doctors. Presented to patient as a benefit. No side effects (or cost) of anesthesia, but requires near toxic levels of lidocaine. Selecting a cup size during surgery is like “making a decision while drunk.”
The tyranny of tradition (Lancet)
Review of film written by two doctors: “Riwayat” (traditions). Indian practice of killing baby girls. 10 million girls aborted in last 20 years, even though prenatal sex determination outlawed in 1994.
Don’t let anyone stop talk about end-of-life wishes (MSNBC)
Arthur Caplan on recent policy statement “imploring” doctors to discuss end-of-life choices with patients. “Sadly, in the hands of some conservative politicians trying to revoke the new health care law,” these discussions are discouraged.
Doctors in distress (Lancet)
Male doctors are 1.4 times more likely to commit suicide than other men, and female doctors are 2.3 times more likely to do so than other women. The problem starts in med school, but exact cause is unknown. Read more
Hit Send, Take a Bow (WSJ)
Sherry Turkle’s Alone Together. Precisely because there is so much opportunity for digital communication, we are losing the ability to make simple, genuine connections with actual human beings. “A behavior that has become typical may still express the problems that once caused us to see it as pathological.”
Who’s the Boss, You or Your Gadget? (NYT)
All of this amped-up productivity comes with a growing sense of unease. Too often, people find themselves with little time to concentrate and reflect on their work. Or to be truly present with their friends and family. “Nobody seems to actually pay full attention; everybody is doing a worse job because they are doing more things.”
You are not the boss of you (Wash Post)
Review of Daniel Akst’s “We Have Met the Enemy: Self-Control in an Age of Excess.” The reviewer pans the book, but the example of over-medicalization that he disses strikes me as spot on.
Close Look at a Flu Outbreak Upends Some Common Wisdom (NYT)
A study of the 2009 swine flu epidemic found that children did not catch the flu by sitting near classmates, adults probably were not infected by their children, and closing schools had little effect. Disease spread through child’s network of friends.
Women MDs Lose Ground in Starting Salaries (MedPage Today)
For new doctors entering the work force, women earned almost $17,000 a year less than men, regardless of their specialty. Between 1999 and 2008, the pay gap increased by a factor of five. Read more
2010 Dietary Guidelines, deconstructed (Food Politics)
Marion Nestle digests the new 95-page “policy document.” Being a vegetarian is no longer high risk. Change the food environment. “Eat less cake, cookies, ice cream, other desserts, and candy.” That’s pretty explicit.
How Often Does the Oldest Person in the World Die? (Village Voice)
Every six months, more or less. The world’s oldest person in the world died on Monday at the age of 114 years, 195 days. The honor is now held by a woman 37 days younger. Eight out of ten of the last “winners” have been 114, with the other two living to 115. Read more
Florida judge rules against Obama’s health reform (Guardian)
Conservative judge in conservative part of conservative state ruled health care reform unconstitutional. He argued that, because the bill includes the requirement that everyone buy insurance, the whole bill is unconstitutional. “Congress could require that people buy and consume broccoli at regular intervals,” he wrote. Read more