Archive for December, 2009

The last of my in-laws left yesterday, so I’m just now getting around to some of my end-of-the-year tasks.  My favorite but very time-consuming task is producing a DVD of the girls, complete with little comedy bits and music videos.  I’ve been doing that since Sara was born, and the DVDs are a treasure to us and the grandparents.  (Sample from the 2005 release below.)

 

Anyway, I’ve got a lot to wrap up this week, so I’ll resume posting after New Year’s.  I did manage to read The Vegetarian Myth last week, and all of you who told me it’s a masterpiece were correct.  I’ll write a review next week.

Happy New Year.

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Fat Head will air again on TV in New Zealand on December 30th.  Set your DVRs and get gobsmacked all over again. 

Here’s the listing.

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‘Twas the night before statins, and all through the land
Our lipids were lethal, as we’d soon understand.
Our eggs were all stacked in the fridge with great care
In hopes they’d be scrambled, or fried if we dare.

The children were calm and well-fed in their beds,
While visions of sausages danced in their heads.
The dads, mostly lean, and wives often thinner
Had just settled down for a porterhouse dinner.

When out in the world there arose such a clatter,
They sprang from their plates to see what was the matter,
And what on the cover of TIME should appear,
But an arrogant scientist, peddling fear.

Cheers and belief from an ignorant press
Gave a luster of truth to the new, biased mess.
So away to the doctor we flew in a pack,
In hopes of a plan to end heart attacks.

He was dressed in all white from his neck to his butt
(which conveniently hid the size of his gut).
He sat us all down for a well-meaning chat:
“More carbohydrates — avoid all that fat!”

So sugars and starches we passed through our lips,
Only to wear them on bellies and hips.
Our hearts with their plaques continued to swell,
We grew diabetic and weren’t feeling well.

The doctor announced it was likely our fault –
We were, after all, still eating salt.
“But there’s no other option,” he said with shrug,
And pulled out his pad to prescribe some new drugs.

“Now Crestor!  Now Zocor!  Then Lipitor next!
Now Lipex!  Now Lescol, and best take Plavix!
To the depths of the liver!  To the artery wall!
Force it down, force it down, foul cholesterol!”

Our appetites crazed, we soon looked like blimps.
Our children lost focus, our manhood went limp.
The doctor examined joints now wracked with pain
And concluded the patients were old or insane.

He chose Celebrix for muscles that ache,
And added Cialis to the drugs we should take.
“Now stick to your diet, and be of good cheer,
If this doesn’t work, I’ll do lap-band next year!”

We’ve got family coming in to celebrate our first Christmas in Tennessee.  I’ll be taking the rest of the week off, except to check comments.  Happy holidays to all of you.

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Whenever my wife serves a meat dish, my daughters immediately grab the bones (if there are any) and start trying to dig out the marrow, which they seem to enjoy more than the meat itself.  Well, go figure.  Marrow is full of fat and other nutrients.  In hunter-gatherer societies, it was a prized food, as were the brains and other fatty organs. 

That’s one of the mistakes modern nutritionists made when they decided our Paleolithic ancestors lived on low-fat diets. Yes, it’s true, the wild animals back then didn’t have as much fat in their muscles as the animals we raise today.  But early humans didn’t just eat the muscles.  They ate nearly the entire animal — and they often ate the fattiest parts first. Here’s what Dr. Weston A. Price, the author of Nutrition and Physical Degeneration had to say on the topic:

I found the Indians putting great emphasis upon the eating of the organs of the animals, including the wall of parts of the digestive tract. Much of the muscle meat of the animals was fed to the dogs. It is important that skeletons are rarely found where large game animals have been slaughtered by the Indians of the North. The skeletal remains are found as piles of finely broken bone chips or splinters that have been cracked up to obtain as much as possible of the marrow and nutritive qualities of the bones. These Indians obtain their fat-soluble vitamins and also most of their minerals from the organs of the animals. An important part of the nutrition of the children consisted in various preparations of bone marrow, both as a substitute for milk and as a special dietary ration.

Now, my girls aren’t Indians (they’re frequently wild, but that’s another topic), but they do know the good stuff when they taste it.  After watching them desperately trying to poke every last bit of marrow out of small steak bones on several occasions, my wife decided to go ahead and pick up some large marrow bones, which she cooked up as part of a beef stew.  (Delicious, by the way).  Then she gave the marrow bones to the girls.  Below is the result.  Enjoy — they did.

p.s. – I know some of you who subscribe to the YouTube channel received multiple notices that a new video was uploaded and tried to leave comments.  Sorry … for some reason, YouTube kept taking my 16×9 video and squeezing it into 3×4, which made the girls look like stick figures.  I had to keep deleting and trying different output formats.

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I spent last weekend in Illinois to perform at a comedy club in my hometown. I also visited my dad, so of course I’ve once again got Alzheimer’s on my mind (no pun intended).

The good news is that Dad was having one of his better days when Mom and I took him out to lunch. He called me by name twice and was able to participate in the conversation a bit. He spoke briefly with a friend who happened to at a nearby table and seemed to recognize him.

Amazingly, he still shows flashes of humor. A couple of times, he got that old twinkle in his eye and said something funny — on purpose. A few weeks ago, when a lifelong friend of his was visiting and complained that a hair stylist had “gone a bit short” with her haircut, Dad turned to her very bald husband and said, “Looks like that stylist went a bit short on you too, huh, Bob?” I don’t know how a mind that can’t grasp the concept of putting on shoes can still generate humor. Maybe it’s in his DNA. I told my mom I think every Irishman’s secret wish is to die five seconds after saying the funniest line of his life.

The bad news is that his better days still aren’t good. While trying to help him put his coat on after lunch, I couldn’t get him to understand that he needed to move his arm backwards, not forwards. As my mom took him back inside the nursing home, he said, “I’m tired.  I probably won’t go into the office tomorrow.” I guess those walkers will have to go unsold for a day or so.

My older brother was in the audience for the Friday-night standup show, and we talked about Dad’s condition afterwards. After I recounted the lunch with Dad, my brother said, “Well, we’re screwed.” (He was slightly more colorful, but you get the idea.) I asked why he thought so.

He replied, “Grandpa Markwell [our great-grandfather] didn’t start getting senile until he was 98. For Grandma Naughton, it was in her 80s, and for Dad, it was around 70. We’re screwed.”

I don’t think so, at least not in my case. When it comes to disease, genetics may load the gun, but we can avoid pulling the trigger. I know better than to shoot myself. Dad made two big mistakes I won’t repeat: he became a bit of sugar freak after he quit smoking (and almost certainly became progressively more insulin resistant, judging by his girth), and he took Lipitor for more than twenty years. I’ve mentioned both before, but let’s take a more detailed look.

First, statins: If you want to delve into the chemistry of how statins affect brain function, you can read this article. In the meantime, here are a few highlights:

There is a clear reason why statins would promote Alzheimer’s. They cripple the liver’s ability to synthesize cholesterol, and as a consequence the level of LDL in the blood plummets. Cholesterol plays a crucial role in the brain, both in terms of enabling signal transport across the synapse and in terms of encouraging the growth of neurons through healthy development of the myelin sheath. Nonetheless, the statin industry proudly boasts that statins are effective at interfering with cholesterol production in the brain as well as in the liver.

Researchers are only recently discovering that both fat and cholesterol are severely deficient in the Alzheimer’s brain. It turns out that fat and cholesterol are both vital nutrients in the brain. The brain contains only 2% of the body’s mass, but 25% of the total cholesterol. Cholesterol is essential both in transmitting nerve signals and in fighting off infections.

High cholesterol is positively correlated with longevity in people over 85 years old, and has been shown to be associated with better memory function and reduced dementia. The converse is also true: a correlation between falling cholesterol levels and Alzheimer’s.

Put yourself on Lipitor, and we can pretty much guarantee that your cholesterol will fall. That’s the supposed benefit. But …

Yeon-Kyun Shin is an expert on the physical mechanism of cholesterol in the synapse to promote transmission of neural messages. In an interview by a Science Daily reporter, Shin said: “If you deprive cholesterol from the brain, then you directly affect the machinery that triggers the release of neurotransmitters. Neurotransmitters affect the data-processing and memory functions. In other words — how smart you are and how well you remember things.”

A second way (besides their direct impact on cholesterol) in which statins likely impact Alzheimer’s is in their indirect negative effect on the supply of fatty acids and antioxidants to the brain. It is a given that statins drastically reduce the level of LDL in the blood serum. This is their claim to fame. It is interesting, however, that they succeed in reducing not just the amount of cholesterol contained in the LDL particles, but rather the actual number of LDL particles altogether. This means that, in addition to depleting cholesterol, they reduce the available supply to the brain of both fatty acids and antixodiants, which are also carried in the LDL particles. As we’ve seen, all three of these substances are essential to proper brain functioning.

The bottom line: your body makes cholesterol for a reason. Beat down your cholesterol with a drug, and you’re messing with your biochemistry at the cellular level. Not a good idea.

Of course, plenty of people who don’t take statins develop Alzheimer’s as well. I doubt statins are a major cause of the disease. But insulin resistance could be.

As Gary Taubes explains in Good Calories, Bad Calories, since neurons in the brain ideally last for a lifetime, they may be prime candidates for the accumulation of advanced glycation end-products, or AGEs — proteins linked haphazardly with sugars. (The acronym is convenient if not intentional; AGEs literally age your tissues.) AGEs appear to be involved in the early stages of the amyloid plaques that form in the brain. That means the foods that spike your blood sugar are already causing trouble. As an article on AGEs and diabetes explains:

A lowered glucose concentration will unhook the sugars from the amino groups to which they are attached; conversely, high glucose concentrations will have the opposite effect, if persistent.

And of course, when you spike your blood sugar, your body spikes its insulin output in response. If you become insulin resistant, your insulin will be high all the time — which in turn inhibits your brain’s ability to clear away plaques. As Gary Taubes wrote:

Insulin (in a test tube) will monopolize the attention of insulin-degrading enzyme (IDE), which normally degrades and clears both amyloid proteins and insulin from around the neurons. The more insulin available in the brain, by this scenario, the less IDE is available to clean up the amyloid, which then accumulates excessively and clumps into plaques … Mice that lack the gene to produce IDE develop version of both Alzheimer’s disease and Type 2 diabetes.

Other research has shown that insulin receptors in the brain can become resistant and waste away, just as they can in the muscles and other organs. No wonder some researchers are beginning to refer to Alzheimer’s as Type 3 diabetes.

Some months ago, I mentioned the HBO series The Alzheimer’s Project. I’ve included a 21-minute clip that addresses insulin resistance below.

I found this section of the series interesting but also somewhat annoying. Dr. Craft, the expert interviewed here, makes a good case for insulin resistance causing Alzheimer’s. But of course, she’s convinced complex carbs are good and saturated fat is bad. For the gazillionth time, complex carbs are only good compared to refined carbs. They are not good in and of themselves. Eat enough of them, and you’ll still spike your blood sugar.

She also mentioned only two diets being tested for their effects on insulin: a high-sugar/high-fat diet and a low-sugar/low-fat diet. Now, the sad truth is, when you eat refined carbohydrates and fat together, it’s the worst combination of all, for all kinds of reasons. But take away the carbohydrates, and the fat isn’t a problem. As the first article I linked points out, fats are crucial for brain function. So why aren’t the researchers including a high-fat/low-sugar diet in this study? After all, ketogenic diets have been shown to prevent plaques, at least in mice. Ketones have also been shown to improve memory in humans with Alzheimer’s.

As I mentioned before, my mom is an optimistic person and she’s handling Dad’s situation well. My wife is also an optimistic person, but I don’t want her to handle a similar situation – ever. When I’m 70, she’ll only be 56. My daughter Sara will only be 25. Alana will be 23. I’m pretty sure none of them will be ready yet to deal with seeing me fade away, as we’ve seen my dad fade away.

Great-Grandpa Markwell was sharp until he was 98 and, by the way, lived to see his 101st birthday. I still remember taking a walk with him when I was an adolescent — he was in his late 80s — and struggling to keep up.  I plan to follow in those footsteps, not my dad’s. That’s one of the many reasons I eat the way I do.

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I finally finished Jimmy Moore’s newest book this week. I say “finally” because it’s 500 pages long and I made a Thanksgiving trip to Illinois in the middle of reading it. (I always take a book with me on trips home, but rarely get a chance to read more than a few pages.)

As you probably know already, Jimmy’s book is titled 21 LIFE LESSONS FROM LIVIN’ LA VIDA LOW-CARB. The easiest way to describe it is that it’s a lot like reading Jimmy’s blog (which you should, if you don’t already). The book is a mix of his personal experiences, correspondence with readers as well as the many authors and researchers he’s befriended, and (of course) summaries of scientific research on health and nutrition, all neatly packaged into 21 topics.

Since I only delved into the science of health and weight loss a few years ago, when I started researching Fat Head, I enjoyed those chapters the most — and I believe Jimmy did as well, since they make up the bulk of the book. In several chapters, he takes the usual warnings about low-carb, high-fat diets (“You’ll die from a heart attack! You’ll ruin your kidneys! You’ll turn stupid!”), sets them up like bowling pins, then knocks them down with my favorite bowling ball — facts. Yes, I enjoy hearing about his personal experiences — that’s partly why I read his blog — but it’s easy for the anti-fat hysterics to write those off as anecdotal evidence. It’s a bit tougher to dismiss controlled clinical research.

In fact, while reading the book I began to fully appreciate just how many studies Jimmy has read over the years, and how scientifically literate he is. (I wish more media reporters could be described that way.)  He not only quotes a lot of excellent research; he knows how to recognize and shred the bad research and bad reporting on research as well. One of the chapters, LESSON #19: You can’t always trust or believe the negative studies on low-carb, should be required reading for health reporters. For example, he mentions a study that was reported in the media as evidence that sweets are good for your mood. After picking apart those conclusions on his blog, he received this email:

I am writing in response to your blog concerning the press reports on our work on sugar and stress. I am the principal investigator on the project. I want to note that, as is often the case, the press reports missed the point of our study. Our work indicates that eating sweets may be a form of ‘self-medication’ against stress; we feel that this is a physiologically maladaptive response to stress that is a likely contributor to our current ‘obesity epidemic’… In no way do we advocate carbs, sweets, etc. as a therapy for stress. I hope this clarifies the issue you raised.

I guess you’re doing something right when the principal investigator on a study feels compelled to reply.

Another chapter, however, recounts an episode in which Jimmy freely admits to being fooled: the Kimkins affair. As you may recall “Kimkins” was a woman who claimed she’d achieved astounding weight loss with her own modification of the Atkins diet — which she would teach others to follow for a membership fee. Believing her story and her before and after pictures, Jimmy helped introduce Kimkins to the world. Several major media outlets — with far more investigative resources at their disposal — bought her story as well. Later, she was revealed to be a fraud. The “after” picture was of a Russian model; the real Kimkins was an obese woman.

Other chapters describe the hate mail and love mail Jimmy has received since putting himself and his work out there for public consumption. Believe me, I relate. If you want to receive some serious hate mail, try telling the world Morgan Spurlock is a fraud whose math doesn’t add up. But of course, the letters of gratitude more than make up for the potshots. Jimmy has received more “thank you for changing my life” emails than he can count. The first time I received one of those — from a woman who was able to give up some nasty prescription drugs after Fat Head inspired her to drop her grain-based, lowfat diet — I knew the effort was worth it.

The most personal chapter is the last, LESSON #21: The early death of a brother or loved one may not be prevented. As you probably know, Jimmy’s brother Kevin died of heart disease at age 41, after years of being sick and morbidly obese, despite Jimmy’s efforts to encourage him to change his diet. What you may not know is that Jimmy and Kevin had a terrible childhood. Their mother and father were married and divorced three times each. Jimmy was dumped on his father at age 14, during what he thought was a visit. Over the next few years, he was often beaten and told he was worthless.

I didn’t know any of this either, until Jimmy and Christine spent a weekend with us a couple of months ago. Jimmy told me the stories as we watched a football game. I was stunned … not because I’m unaware awful parents exist, but because being around Jimmy, seeing him laugh and play and interact with kids, you’d never suspect his own childhood was traumatic. He’s an affable, caring, optimistic guy.

He’s also a guy who has educated and inspired thousands of people with his daily blog posts, his YouTube series, and his podcasts. I hope they all order a copy of his book … partly to enjoy reading it, and partly to say thanks for all the effort.

NOTE:  I’m heading back up to Illinois this week for a standup gig.  I’ll be performing in front of family, friends of family, high-school classmates, and even a few people who knew me in sixth grade.  I’ll check comments, but I won’t have time for another post this week.

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