Archive for the “Random Musings” Category

Interesting items from my inbox and elsewhere …

Everything causes cancer. Or prevents cancer.

But we already knew that, right? You can hardly open a newspaper without being told this-or-that is “linked” to a higher or lower rate of cancer. Some researchers with a sense of humor decided to randomly select ingredients from a cookbook and see how many of them have been associated with cancer in observational studies. Here are the opening paragraphs from the study:

Background: Nutritional epidemiology is a highly prolific field. Debates on associations of nutrients with disease risk are common in the literature and attract attention in public media.

Objective: We aimed to examine the conclusions, statistical significance, and reproducibility in the literature on associations between specific foods and cancer risk.

Design: We selected 50 common ingredients from random recipes in a cookbook. PubMed queries identified recent studies that evaluated the relation of each ingredient to cancer risk.

A “highly prolific field” … yeah, that’s one way to phrase it. Anyway, here’s what the researchers found:

At least one study was identified for 80% (n = 40) of the ingredients selected from random recipes that investigated the relation to cancer risk: veal, salt, pepper spice, flour, egg, bread, pork, butter, tomato, lemon, duck, onion, celery, carrot, parsley, mace, sherry, olive, mushroom, tripe, milk, cheese, coffee, bacon, sugar, lobster, potato, beef, lamb, mustard, nuts, wine, peas, corn, cinnamon, cayenne, orange, tea, rum, and raisin.

We found that 80% of ingredients from randomly selected recipes had been studied in relation to malignancy and the large majority of these studies were interpreted by their authors as offering evidence for increased or decreased risk of cancer.

So darned near everything causes or prevents cancer.

However, the vast majority of these claims were based on weak statistical evidence.

No kidding.  But I’ll bet most of them also led to big headlines.

At least okra doesn’t give me the munchies.

This is an old CNN story, but only came to my attention recently when a reader warned me that Chareva’s okra might lead to a raid by cops.

The grower was alarmed when the police helicopter swooped low over his property.

Soon, Bartow County, Georgia, deputies — “strapped to the gills” and with a drug dog in tow — converged on his doorstep. They had the grower dead to rights.

Except the plant that the chopper cops had spotted from the air was … okra.

The helicopter was combing the area in search of cannabis plants when it came across the five-leaflet okra plant, the station reported. Marijuana plants can have anywhere between one and 13 leaflets per leaf, depending on maturity and health, but they generally have seven or nine.

“It did have quite a number of characteristics that were similar to a cannabis plant,” Georgia State Patrol Capt. Kermit Stokes told WSB.

If you haven’t already heard Kermit the Frog in your head, explaining how okra looks a lot like marijuana, something went very, very wrong in your childhood.

“Here I am, at home and retired and you know I do the right thing,” Perry told the station. “Then they come to my house strapped with weapons for no reason. It ain’t right.”

Upon realizing that it had dispatched officers to confiscate a popular gumbo ingredient, the Georgia State Patrol, which operates the task force, issued an apology, both to Perry and publicly.

I’ll bet Mr. Perry was so annoyed with the cops, he gave them each a bag of okra.

How nutritionists deal with contrary evidence.

Yet another study recently declared butter not guilty of the crimes it’s been accused of, as reported in HealthDay online:

Spread the news: Butter may not be the unhealthy food many Americans believe it to be, new research suggests.

“Overall, our results suggest that butter should neither be demonized nor considered ‘back’ as a route to good health,” study senior author Dr. Dariush Mozaffarian, dean of the Tufts University School of Nutrition Science and Policy in Boston, said in a university news release.

The new study was funded by the U.S. National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute. Mozaffarian’s team reviewed data from nine studies that included more than 636,000 people living in 15 countries.

The findings showed that eating butter was only weakly associated with increased risk of premature death and not associated at all with heart disease. There was a slight association with protection against diabetes, the study found.

I’m sure those findings won’t surprise you. Unfortunately, this probably won’t surprise you either.

One nutritionist said her views on butter remain unchanged, however.

“Despite the findings of this study, I am not about to make a huge shift in the recommendations I make about consumption,” said Dana White. She is a dietitian and professor of sports medicine at Quinnipiac University in Hamden, Conn.

“Butter remains a very high-calorie and high-fat food with little nutrient density to offer, and therefore still needs to be consumed in strict moderation,” White said.

In other words: I’ve been telling people to strictly limit their butter intake for years, and I’m going to keep on doing it, no matter what the evidence says.

Head. Bang. On. Desk.

The FDA plans to poops all over poop transplants.

If you’re a regular reader, you know I think our government’s regulations are often full of poop. So it seems rather appropriate that a branch of the government wants to regulate poop, as reported by BuzzFeed.

Gastroenterologist Colleen Kelly performed her first poop transplant eight years ago, on a young woman with a life-threatening gut infection who had run out of options. The bacterium Clostridium difficile had invaded the woman’s gut, bringing her constant diarrhea and pain, and antibiotics weren’t working.

Kelly’s patient persuaded her to try a fecal transplant, in which poop from a healthy person is put into a sick person’s colon in the hope of resetting the mix of microbes there. The patient’s boyfriend provided fresh stool, and Kelly introduced half a cup of it into her patient via a colonoscopy. To Kelly’s surprise, it worked — by the next day, the woman’s symptoms began to wane.

Kelly, an assistant professor of medicine at Brown University, has since performed some 300 fecal transplants for C. diff infections. These days, she usually buys healthy stool samples from OpenBiome, a nonprofit “stool bank” in Somerville, Massachusetts that launched in 2013. “It’s really unlike any therapy to date,” she told BuzzFeed News.

So this spring, when the FDA announced that it intended to tighten its rules on the procedure, known as fecal microbiota transplantation (FMT), making it harder for doctors to buy stool from banks, Kelly was among the commenters who wrote back, opposing the proposal.

It’s the typical pattern. People working in a profession find something that works. Businesses spring up to provide that something at a reasonable price. Then the feds, seeing something successful happening that they don’t control, step in to regulate.

“If the FDA makes it prohibitively difficult for clinicians to work with stool banks, I believe this will actually make the procedure less safe, and of course, less accessible,” wrote Sarah McGill, a gastroenterologist at the University of North Carolina Medical School who has performed about 30 fecal transplants on C. diff patients in the last two years.

Yes, of course that’s how it will play out. If I’ve said it once, I’ve said at least twice: most of the “protect the public” regulations that come along are backed by businesses who want to leverage the coercive power of government to stifle their competition. Public safety is merely the excuse. The BuzzFeed writer, unlike most media writers, actually understands that.

But one company, at least, welcomes more government regulation of stool. Rebiotix, a startup based in Minnesota that is developing an enema treatment of bacteria extracted from poop, told the FDA to shut down the stool banks and adopt the strictest regulation possible in dictating how samples are procured. The company contends that this is for the patients’ own good, as stool banks may not be fully screening their samples for diseases.

And now for the real reason …

Rebiotix is also worried about its bottom line. If the company’s poop-like drug for C. diff makes it through the rigorous clinical trial process before anybody else, it would win the rights to be an exclusive seller of the product for seven years, gaining a huge lead in a market expected to be worth $1.5 billion by 2024.

Anyone who tells you the FDA is imposing this limit on patient choice to protect the public is full of unregulated poop.


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It’s been a bit busy around here, what with the full-time job, trying to make progress on the book and film, four extra people living in the house, etc., etc.

I thought I’d finally have time tonight to write a post I’ve had in mind, but a client discovered a little bug in a software package I sell to law firms.  Fortunately, the client is also my best friend of 40-some years, so he told me about the bug over dinner and a couple of beers, as opposed to, say, in an angry email.

Now that I know I’ve got a bug, I feel obligated to track it down and kill it as soon as possible … before a less-chummy client runs across the same issue.  So there goes my evening.


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I confess:  during the programming marathon that lasted nearly three weeks, I took one evening off from coding, but didn’t write a post.  Instead, I bought a basketball hoop for Sara and got it set up.  It was important to her.  To understand why, I’ll share the opening paragraphs from our upcoming book for kids:


You probably remember someone like me from grade school.  I was what the other kids called a brain.  But that was almost 50 years ago, and I’m told kids nowadays wouldn’t insult me like that.  Today they’d call me a nerd, a dork, or possibly a dweeb. Anyway, you know the type.  I was usually the smartest kid in class, and I was lousy at sports.

How lousy?  Well, here’s one of my not-so-fond memories from gym class:  We were running a relay race where each guy on the team had to dribble a basketball down the court, make a layup, then dribble back and hand off to the next guy.  I was the last guy on our team, and when I got the ball, we were in the lead.  I bounced the ball down the court, tossed it towards the basket … and missed. By a lot.  I tried again and missed.  And missed again.  And again — mostly because my weak arms couldn’t fling the ball high enough.

The other team had already won, but the gym teacher growled, “You’re not quitting until you make that basket.”  So I leaned back and hurled the ball as hard as I could.  It bounced off the rim, smacked me in the face, and knocked me on my butt.  At that point the gym teacher decided I could quit after all.


That’s the type of kid I was.  The opening chapter goes on to briefly recount my life as a fat kid and fat adult, and how I finally lost weight and got healthy as I neared age 50.  Like many other people, I’ve often wondered what life would have been like if I’d figured out the diet thing decades earlier.  That’s why the title of the book is Fat Head Kids: stuff about diet and health I wish I knew when I was your age.

Anyway, back to the basketball hoop.  Sara inherited so many of my traits, she’s referred to herself as a female mini-me.  She has a quick sense of humor and likes to write.  (She already writes poems that are genuinely funny.)  She loves reading books and thinking about concepts and ideas.  She routinely scores 99 or 100 on standardized math and science tests.   She’s watched some online tutorials on programming and done the exercises just for kicks.  Often she’ll say or do something that prompts Chareva to turn to me and say, “She is SOOO your daughter.”

Unfortunately for Sara, she also inherited my athletic abilities.  Before summer vacation started, she asked if we could please get a basketball hoop so she can practice.  She explained that during basketball games in gym class, other kids had taken to chanting “Pass it to Sara!  Pass it to Sara!  SARA!  SARA!”  I was impressed … until she went on to explain that other kids want her to shoot so they can cheer another “spectacular miss.”  That’s how she put it.

Yeah, I know all about those spectacular misses.  My school gym-class career was full of them.

As I explain near the end of the book, I was never going to be a great athlete.  I don’t have the natural coordination or the preponderance of fast-twitch muscle fibers that produce explosive power and quickness.  But I didn’t have to be the worst athlete in class, either.  I was weaker, fatter and slower than I should have been because of my lousy diet growing up.

As an adult, I worked out and got stronger.  I still had a belly, but not the weak muscles.  I found that with dedicated practice, I could become competent at some sports.  Back when I played a lot of golf, I usually shot between 85 and 95 – not great, but not embarrassing.  I’m pretty good at disc golf these days.  And at one time, I actually got to be a good shot with a basketball, thanks to hours of shooting baskets.  I still wasn’t a great player, since I can neither run fast nor jump high, but I could shoot.  I was no longer the guy nobody wanted on the team for pickup games.

I explained all that to Sara.  She replied that she has no illusions about becoming the star player during basketball games, but she’d like to become a decent shooter and silence those chants of “Pass it to Sara!”  I promised we’d go shopping for a hoop some weekend.

Next thing I know it’s late July, and the new school year is approaching.  Sara reminded me during my programming marathon that our driveway still lacked a hoop.  I looked at some portable hoops at our local sporting-goods store and mentally selected one that costs around $350.  But I wanted to check around for a service that would assemble and install the thing.  Last thing I wanted to tackle during a programming marathon was a huge box full of parts and badly-written instructions with little dotted lines pointing to bolts and such.

While I was at the office one day, Chareva sent me a link to an ad on Craigslist.  Someone was selling the same hoop for $125 as part of a moving-out-of-state garage sale.  She’d already called for a location, and the family selling the hoop was about 25 miles north of Nashville.  We live about 25 miles south of Nashville, so it would be a waste of time and gas for me drive home and pick her up, then drive 50 miles north, then 50 miles south.  Okay, I said, pick me up at work and we’ll drive up there.

Getting there was the easy part.  Figuring out how to get the whole contraption into the van was a royal pain in the @$$.

The seller was an engineer/baseball coach/basketball coach.  He was, not surprisingly, a very fit and strong guy.  But even with all us (including has athletic teenage son) tugging and pulling and banging with tools, we couldn’t get the two-section pole to come apart.  So after about an hour of sweating, we decided the only option was to remove the backboard and the base, then slide the entire pole into the van.  Fortunately, I’d had the good sense to tell Chareva to bring my socket set and some other tools.

The pole just … barely … fit … into the van.  I’m talking with the top of the pole touching the dashboard and the bottom of the pole almost resting against the back hatch.  We slid the backboard and hoop in alongside and wrapped a seatbelt around it.  But the real fun part was the base, which is filled with sand and must weigh 400 pounds.  That took some serious hoisting and yanking and wiggling.

By this time, I was hot and sweaty and tired and thinking about all the work I had to get done and sorry I hadn’t just bought a new hoop and paid someone to deliver it and put it together.  But we’d already paid for the $125 used model and loaded it into the van, so we thanked the seller and headed south … just in time to run smack into rush-hour traffic.  We crawled along to the office, where Chareva hopped out to drive my car home.  Then I drove the van back into the line of cars crawling along on the highway.

Frankly, I didn’t mind the slow traffic.  My worst fear at this point was having to slam on the brakes and watch the pole launch itself through the windshield like some medieval weapon of war.

Once we both arrived home, my worst fear was that we’d never 1) manage to wrestle the 400-pound base from the car, or 2) remember exactly how to attach the pole to the backboard and base.

Both fears were overrated, as it turned out.  We couldn’t just lift the base from the van, but as small-time farmers, we’re the proud owners of a good-sized crowbar.  So with the magic of leverage, we managed to scoot the thing out the hatch, onto the ground, and into position.  We used sawhorses to get the backboard positioned near the top of the pole, then I screwed it back into place while Chareva held it steady.  Then I held the pole – which is impressively heavy with a backboard attached – in its place at the base, and Chareva attached it.

Whew.  Done.   My visions of the pole falling over and the backboard shattering weren’t premonitions after all.

Most parents have had an experience like this:  child begs and pleads for some must-must-must-have object.  Parent eventually makes a mildly heroic effort to acquire the must-must-must-have object.  Child is delighted and enjoys the object immensely  … for approximately 137 minutes, then loses all interest.  Forever.

I’m happy to say that didn’t happen with the hoop.  Sara’s been out there shooting for at least a little while almost every day.  After dinner, she’ll often invite me to join her for a game of Horse or Pig.  Sometimes Alana joins in.  We’ve played a few pickup games, first one with five baskets wins.  (The rule is that I can’t attempt to block Sara’s shots.  I have a wee bit of height advantage.)

As a result, I don’t think the other kids will be chanting “Pass it to Sara!” this year.  She’s already improved her accuracy by something like a hundred million billion percent.  Okay, that might be exaggerating.  But she’s hitting a lot of shots, and her misses are no longer spectacular.

She’s my daughter, and I’m flattered that she likes being like me in so many ways.  But I don’t want her to re-live my gym-class career.


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My apologies — again — for taking so long between posts.  I got swamped at work.  Well, to be accurate, I chose to swamp myself.  We have an issue with trying to gather data from spreadsheets that are sent via email.  If the data can’t be accurately ingested into the company databases through some kind of software intelligence, people end up having to type it all.  That’s one big @#$%load of tedious typing.

Although this wasn’t technically my problem to solve, I had a flash of inspiration on how to solve it.  So I wrote code until the wee hours several evenings in a row (including weekends) and proved I could indeed solve it — for one major supplier of the spreadsheet info.  Now I’m attempting to take what I learned and apply it to multiple suppliers, all of whom seem to have their own opinions about where the data should go on a spreadsheet and how it should be formatted.  It’s a ginormous task.

But I’m close.  Really, really close.


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Yup, still working overtime at the job.  They want me to use up the hours budgeted for fiscal year 2016 (which ends July 1st) because any unspent dollars go POOF!  (And then some unidentified programmer’s PC turns into a pumpkin.  Or his shoes turn into glass slippers.  Don’t remember exactly, but something bad happens.)

I couldn’t possibly put in enough hours this week to soak up the entire balance, but I’m doing my best.  So it’s long days of coding for me … for a few more days.


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A few random thoughts that occurred to me after my previous post on the “alternative hypothesis”:

1. Too many carbs as an explanation for the rise in obesity and diabetes is still largely correct.

If we were Kitavans and got our carbs from sweet potatoes and other unprocessed foods, maybe the increase in carb intake since the 1970s wouldn’t have been such a problem.  But we’re westerners, and a disproportionate share of our carbs come from processed grains.  They spike blood sugar (which probably leads to insulin resistance over time) and they provoke inflammation (which probably leads to insulin resistance over time).

In Denise Minger’s book Death by Food Pyramid, she recounts the story of Luise Light, a government scientist who was given the task of writing new nutrition guidelines in the 1970s.

Unlike previous food guides, Light’s version cracked down ruthlessly on empty calories and health-depleting junk food.  The new guide’s base was a safari through the produce department – five to nine servings of fresh fruits and vegetables each day.  “Protein foods” like meats, eggs, nuts and beans came in at five to seven ounces daily; for dairy, two to three servings were advised.

The guide kept sugar well below 10 percent of total calories and strictly limited refined carbohydrates, with white-flour products like crackers, bagels, and bread rolls shoved into the guide’s no-bueno zone alongside candy and junk food.  And the kicker:  grains were pruned down to a maximum of two to three servings per day, always in whole form.

The USDA, of course, took her guidelines and mutated them into a pyramid that suggested 6 to 11 servings per day of grains.  Light later commented that “no one needs that much bread and cereal in a day unless they are longshoremen or football players” and warned that the six-to-eleven servings of grain per day could spark epidemics of obesity and diabetes.

And so they did.  We can blame it on hormonal disruption instead of too much insulin per se, and we can argue about whether or not eating more sweet potatoes and green bananas would have been good or bad.  But we were told to eat more breads and cereals, and those foods are a big part of the problem

2. Many of the people currently beating up on Atkins, Taubes, etc., owe them a huge thanks, whether they’ll admit it or not.

Yeah, you can say it’s not all about the carbs.  You can say it’s not about the temporary insulin spike after a meal.  You can say it’s more about food quality than macronutrients.  Heck, I’ll even agree with you.  But I suspect if there were no Dr. Atkins and no Good Calories, Bad Calories, a lot of current whole-foodies and paleo types who slam low-carb diets would still be afraid of saturated fats and cholesterol and trying to live on low-fat diets.

Honestly, how many of you out there were aware of all the bad nutrition “science” before Taubes starting writing about it?  I certainly wasn’t.  When I worked for a small health magazine in the 1980s, I quoted the USDA and the American Heart Association as reliable sources in my articles – because I assumed they were reliable sources.

3.  Mixing it up is probably the way to go.

Based on glowing reviews from readers, I recently read three books by Nassim Nicholas Taleb.  Great reads, all three of them.  In Antifragile, he makes the point that biological systems are often made stronger by doses of randomness.  If you do the same repetitive motion every day, you’ll likely injure yourself.  But if you lift weights now and then – a random stressor – you get stronger.  Taleb eats meat, but goes vegan for several days now and then.  He fasts now and then.  I recently heard legendary strength coach Charles Poliquin say (on a Tim Ferriss podcast) that he loves nuts, but he’s careful not to eat the same ones day in and day out.  The reason?  You can develop an intolerance if you eat the same foods over and over.  You need to mix it up.

So I like the approach Rob Faigin suggests in Natural Hormone Enhancement: eat a low-carb/high-fat diet for a few days to promote weight loss, then mix in a day with higher carbs and lower fat.  Or maybe a few days now and then.

Tim “Tatertot” Steele wrote an interesting book called The Potato Hack.  The “hack” is eating nothing but potatoes for a period of several days.  Salt and liquids like vinegar or chicken broth are allowed for flavor, but no fat.  Some people have reported losing a pound per day on the diet.  I tried it for three days in May and lost … nothing.  No change.  But the interesting part is that my blood sugar didn’t go through the roof like I feared it might.  I usually peaked at around 140 briefly, then dropped well below 100 by an hour after eating.  I boiled the potatoes and let them cool in the fridge overnight before reheating them for meals, so perhaps the resistant starch helped keep the glucose level down.

Kudos to Tim, by the way, for not letting his enthusiasm for the potato hack blind him to the danger for diabetics.  He tells readers trying the diet for the first time that they absolutely must check their glucose response.  He shows what normal responses should look like.  He also shows what a diabetic response would look like and says “If your numbers look like this, DON’T DO THIS DIET.  You are a diabetic and need to see a doctor.”

Anyway, if you decide to try Faigin’s mix-it-up approach, Steele’s potato-hack meals fit the “higher carb, low-fat day” prescription.

4. Never-ending low-carbing can cause problems for some people, but that doesn’t mean everyone should carb up.

Like I said in my previous post, I would never tell type II diabetics to run out and eat potatoes just because they seem to benefit me.  We’re all different.  Jimmy Moore interviewed Chris Kresser about diet and thyroid back in 2012, and Kresser made exactly that point.  Some people go VLC and they’re fine.  They feel great.  They don’t develop thyroid issues.  But some people do.  They stop converting as much T4 (the inactive thyroid hormone) to T3 (the active hormone) and their metabolisms slow down.  They’re surprised when Kresser has them eat more carbs and they begin losing weight again.

Too little glucose in the diet can clearly cause problems for some people, but so can too much glucose.  In my previous post, I linked to a study demonstrating that going VLC can cause some men to produce less testosterone – not a happy result if you want more muscle and less fat on your body.  But I should mention that other studies demonstrate that too much glucose in the system also reduces testosterone.

Here’s the conclusion from one study:

Glucose ingestion induces a significant reduction in total and free T levels in men, which is similar across the spectrum of glucose tolerance.

And from another study:

Oral glucose administration acutely lowers LH and total T concentrations by suppressing pulsatile LH secretion and basal T secretion commensurately.

Too little glucose, your testosterone drops.  Too much glucose, your testosterone drops.  Paul Jaminet got it right.  There’s an ideal range for glucose.  For most of us, it’s not zero … but it’s also nothing close to 300 grams per day.

While digging those studies out of my database, I also came across two that demonstrate the importance of the right fats.  Here’s the conclusion from this study:

Our results indicate that in men a decrease in dietary fat content and an increase in the degree of unsaturation of fatty acids reduces the serum concentrations of androstenedione, testosterone and free testosterone.

And from this study:

Production rates for T showed a downward trend while on low-fat diet modulation. We conclude that reduction in dietary fat intake (and increase in fiber) results in 12% consistent lowering of circulating androgen levels.

Studies have shown that men today have lower average testosterone levels than men in previous generations.  We’ve been jacking up our glucose levels with junk carbs and eating less saturated fat since the 1970s.  Could be a coincidence, but I doubt it.

So regardless of whether you stick with VLC or decide to mix it up with higher-carb days, here’s the take-home message for guys:  skip the cereals and eat your damned bacon and eggs.


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