Archive for the “Random Musings” Category

After I went from a mostly vegetarian diet to a meat-based low-carb diet and saw my health improve, I swore I’d never swear off red meat. But … uh … (say it ain’t so, Joe) … a run-in with the wrong insect could apparently change all that:

A bug can turn you into a vegetarian, or at least make you swear off red meat. Doctors across the nation are seeing a surge of sudden meat allergies in people bitten by a certain kind of tick.

A tick? You mean those nasty little critters who crawl up my legs while I’m playing disc golf or working around the property? Oh, no …

This bizarre problem was only discovered a few years ago but is growing as the ticks spread from the Southwest and the East to more parts of the United States. In some cases, eating a burger or a steak has landed people in the hospital with severe allergic reactions.

The culprit is the Lone Star tick, named for Texas, a state famous for meaty barbecues. The tick is now found throughout the South and the eastern half of the United States.

Well, maybe the anti-meat ticks are farther south and east than where I live. So if I just stay in my part of Tennessee …

In Mount Juliet near Nashville, Tennessee, 71-year-old Georgette Simmons went to a steakhouse on June 1 for a friend’s birthday and had a steak.

“About 4:30 in the morning I woke up and my body was on fire. I was itching all over and I broke out in hives. Nothing like that had ever happened to me before,” she said.

A few weeks later, for a brother’s birthday, she ordered another steak. Hours later she woke “almost hysterical” with a constricted throat in addition to hives and a burning sensation. She, too, recalled tick bites.

Mount Juliet?! Holy @#$%, that’s not only near Nashville, it’s north of where we live. So the demon ticks are already in our area.

At the University of Virginia in Charlottesville, “I see two to three new cases every week,” said Dr. Scott Commins, who with a colleague, Dr. Thomas Platts-Mills, published the first paper tying the tick to the illness in 2011.

One of the first cases they saw was a bow hunter who had eaten meat all his life but landed in the emergency department several times with allergic reactions after eating meat. More cases kept turning up in people who were outdoors a lot.

People who were outdoors a lot … gulp.

Here’s how it happens: The bugs harbor a sugar that humans don’t have, called alpha-gal. The sugar is also is found in red meat — beef, pork, venison, rabbit — and even some dairy products. It’s usually fine when people encounter it through food that gets digested.

But a tick bite triggers an immune system response, and in that high-alert state, the body perceives the sugar the tick transmitted to the victim’s bloodstream and skin as a foreign substance, and makes antibodies to it. That sets the stage for an allergic reaction the next time the person eats red meat and encounters the sugar.

A reader recently sent me a link to an article about a professor of bioethics who proposed making people allergic to meat to save the planet from climate change. Somebody should investigate and see if this little screwball has been messing around with ticks in his lab.

Doctors don’t know if the allergy is permanent.

Please, God, don’t let it be permanent.

Some patients show signs of declining antibodies over time, although those with severe reactions are understandably reluctant to risk eating meat again. Even poultry products such as turkey sausage sometimes contain meat byproducts and can trigger the allergy.

Michael Abley, who is 74 and lives in Surry, Virginia, near Williamsburg, comes from a family of cattle ranchers and grew up eating meat. He developed the meat allergy more than a decade ago, although it was only tied to the tick in more recent years.

“Normally I can eat a little bit of dairy,” he said, but some ice cream landed him in an emergency room about a month ago.

Okay, so if I get bit by one these little demons, all I’d have to do is give up beef, pork, dairy products, and perhaps poultry products. If you hear a scream loud enough to break windows in Georgia coming from Tennessee, you’ll know I got bit by a Lone Star tick.

Up to this point, I’ve been trying to be judicious in my use of Deep Woods Off before working outside. I believe I’ll start soaking myself with it. And washing my clothes in it. And using it for shampoo.

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I wasn’t around last night to write a post.  Sara took her goats to the 4-H livestock show at the county fair early in the morning, and in the middle of the afternoon, Chareva called to tell me one of the goats won his class, then his division.  That meant Sara would be competing for the grand prize in the evening.

So I wrapped up work for the day around 5:00 and took Alana to the fairgrounds to watch.  Here are some short video clips of the day:

Alana and I left around 8:30 PM, but Sara and Chareva had to stick around for the auction.  We’ll make a bit of profit on the goats (although I wouldn’t want to live on it), and Sara took home some nice prize money to put in her “I want a car when I’m 16″ savings account.

So that’s it.  The goats are gone. It was a great summertime experience for Sara, but with school starting up again, plus piano lessons and eventually band-instrument practice, I think she has enough to keep her busy for awhile.

In few more days, she’ll auction off five of her chickens at the fair.  Meanwhile, we’re starting to get small eggs from her flock.  When her 15 remaining chickens start laying full-sized eggs, it will be time to open that egg stand by the side of the road.

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This article about cigar smokers showed up in yesterday’s online edition of  MedPage Today:

Most cigar smokers in America are smoking cheaper, unfiltered versions cigarillos and mass market cigars, a government report showed.

Among the 7% of American adults reporting smoking cigars at least sometimes, 62% said they usually smoked cigarillos or mass market cigars, Catherine G. Corey, MSPH, of the FDA’s Center for Tobacco Products in Silver Spring, Md., and colleagues found.

“These findings underscore the importance of public health interventions to reduce cigar smoking among U.S. adults,” Corey and colleagues argued. “Evidence-based tobacco control interventions such as increased taxes, smoke-free policies, and public education campaigns should also address non-cigarette tobacco products.”

“Regular cigar use is estimated to be responsible for approximately 9,000 premature deaths and almost 140,000 years of potential life lost annually,” according to a conservative estimate, Corey’s group noted.

Cigarillos are little cigars (think Swisher Sweets) made with tobacco filler, and from what I’ve seen, people tend to smoke them like cigarettes – one after another, sometimes even inhaling.  Bad idea. Premium cigars, on the other hand, are larger and made from rolled tobacco leaves.  Try inhaling one of those, you’d probably pass out.

When we lived in suburban neighborhoods with streets and sidewalks, I used to take long walks three or four nights per week and smoke a premium cigar while listening to a podcast or audiobook.  Now that we live in the sticks, I don’t take those late-night walks.  So I smoke maybe a couple of cigars per month, usually sitting outside at night after Chareva and the girls have gone to bed.  I’ve never smoked them indoors.

By pure coincidence, I happened to stop at a cigar shop the day before the MedPage Today article ran.  Even though this particular shop only sells premium cigars, there was a big sign (no doubt mandated by law) on the door to the humidor, warning me that according to the Surgeon General, cigars cause cancer.

Hmmm … I’ve been hearing that one for years.  I’ve had people inform me that smoking cigars doubles my risk of mouth and throat cancer.  So a couple of years ago, I looked up the actual data.  In honor of the MedPage Today article, I thought I’d dig up the data and share it.  This isn’t exactly diet-related, of course, but it illustrates how government officials have no qualms about exaggerating risks when they want to discourage us from a habit they don’t find acceptable.

The data I’m quoting here comes from something called the Smoking and Tobacco Control Monograph.  I have a PDF that doesn’t specify the publisher, but from what I can find online, it was apparently produced by the National Cancer Institute.  The paper is a meta-analysis of multiple observational studies on smoking, mortality and disease.   So let’s dig in.

The risks of smoking in the paper are expressed as risk ratios.  In case you’re not familiar with what those mean, here’s the lowdown:  Suppose in a control population of non-smokers we want to use for comparison, 10% of all people end up with heart disease.  That’s what we’d consider normal, so we assign that a risk of 1.0.  Now suppose that among cigar smokers, 12% of them eventually end up with heart disease.  That’s 20% higher, so we’d say their risk ratio is 1.2.  Or we could say for every 1,000 non-smokers, 100 will end up with heart disease, while for every 1,000 cigar smokers, 120 will end up with heart disease — 20 additional cases per 1,000 cigar smokers.

Got the idea?  Good.  On to the data.

We’ll start with the big one: all-cause mortality.  Everyone dies, so I assume they’re talking about premature death.  Cigar smokers as a group have a risk ratio of 1.12.  So that looks kind of bad, doesn’t it?  (Among cigarette smokers, it’s far worse.  The premature-death risk ratio for them is 1.66.)

But who are these cigar smokers?  If it’s the people puffing away on a dozen cigarillos per day, I’d say we can partly blame the cigars, but we might also be looking at people with bad health habits in general.  Not a lot of health-conscious people make a habit of smoking Swisher Sweets.

On the other hand, there are plenty of people like me out there too — health-conscious people who smoke a premium cigar now and then.  In fact, based on the fellow cigar smokers I’ve known, I’d say most people who smoke premium cigars smoke one per day, if that.  After all, we’re talking about a $10 cigar.  Unless you have money to burn (literally), you’re not going to smoke your way through five or 10 of those per day.

The paper doesn’t distinguish between good cigars and cheap cigars, but fortunately it does split out the data by the number of cigars smoked per day, and also by age group.  And that’s where it gets interesting.

For all-cause mortality, here are the risk ratios by age group for men who smoke 1-2 cigars per day:

35-49: 0.70
50-64: 1.10
65-79: 1.02
80+: 0.97

Holy smokes, Batman, look at that low risk ratio among the 35-49 age bracket!  If we saw that result in a study of whole grains, there would be headlines splashed all over the media telling us that A DAILY SERVING OF WHOLE GRAINS REDUCES RISK OF DEATH IN MIDDLE AGE BY 30%!

But we’re talking about cigars, and the Surgeon General doesn’t want us to smoke cigars, so this interesting bit of data remains in the research closet, so to speak.

I’m not suggesting cigars prevent early death, of course – and I’m certainly not encouraging anyone who doesn’t already smoke cigars to start.  My guess is that people in the 35-49 age bracket who smoke a cigar or two per day are more well-to-do, and people with higher incomes tend to have better health outcomes for all kinds of reasons.  But I think we can safely say that smoking a cigar now and then isn’t killing people in that age bracket – and probably not in any age bracket.

Here are the risk ratios for lung cancer among men who smoke one or two cigars per day, divided by the age brackets available in the data tables:

50-64: 0.83
65-79: 1.27
80+: 0.66

CIGARS PREVENT LUNG CANCER IN MIDDLE AGE, OLD AGE, STUDY SHOWS

Okay, just kidding.  That spike in the 65-79 group is interesting, but again, given that cigar smokers in the other two groups have lower rates of lung cancer than non-smokers, I think we can safely say smoking a cigar per day doesn’t cause lung cancer.  The combined risk ratio for all groups, by the way, was 0.90, which means we could say that smoking cigars lowers your risk of lung cancer by 10% — which again is what we’d see in the media if we were talking about whole grains or soy milk.

Here are the risk ratios for coronary heart disease – once again, these are only for men who smoke 1-2 cigars per day, not people who puff away on a dozen cigarillos.

50-64: 0.72
65-79: 0.97
80+: 0.99

Another media headline you’ll never see:  A CIGAR PER DAY PREVENTS HEART DISEASE IN MIDDLE AGE

You get the idea.  But let’s look at the big one, the disease several people (including my mom) warned me about after learning I smoke an occasional cigar: cancer of the esophagus.  We’re talking about men who smoke 1-2 cigars per day, and I smoke maybe two per month now, but for the sake of argument I’ll assume these risk ratios apply to me:

50-64: 1.86
65-79: 2.62

So that’s why I’ve been warned that those Macanudos are doubling my risk of throat cancer.  But as I pointed out in my Science For Smart People speech, whenever you’re presented with a relative risk, the question you want to ask yourself is: What’s the absolute difference?  In other words, how many actual extra cases of esophageal cancer are we talking about?

I found some data on esophageal cancer in another paper put out by the National Cancer Institute.  In the U.S., the incidence rate of esophageal cancer for white males is 8 per 100,000 per year. That number, of course, includes smokers of all kinds, including heavy cigarette smokers.  The NCI didn’t list the rate among non-smokers, but from what I can find elsewhere online, it appears to be around 1.5 per 100,000 per year.  Smoking 1-2 cigars per day more or less doubles that risk.

So here’s the absolute difference:  Among non-smokers, 3 in every 200,000 will develop cancer of the esophagus in a given year.  Among men who smoke 1-2 cigars per day, 6 in 200,000 will develop cancer of the esophagus in a given year.  That’s one extra case of cancer per year for every 67,000 men who smoke a cigar or two per day.

I think I can live with those odds … no matter how many signs the Surgeon General tries to make me read as I walk into the humidor.

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Random thoughts that don’t belong in a From The News post:

Safe Starches Didn’t Cause Weight Gain

When I wrote a series of posts explaining why I was moving more towards a Perfect Health Diet, I said I’d report back if I gained or lost weight as a result.  I haven’t gained or lost, so I’ll report that instead.

I was at 198 lbs. when I started adding some safe starches back into my diet some months ago.  I was at 198 lbs. when I went to the gym last week.  So while I know from experience that keeping my carb intake at or below 100 grams per day level prevents me from gaining weight and makes it easier to lose weight, it’s simply not true (at least in my case) that the fewer carbohydrates we eat, the leaner we will be.  Below a certain level, there are no additional benefits for me that I can see or feel.

I don’t consume 100 grams of safe starches every day, by the way.  Some days are almost zero-carb because I just happen to have a taste for meats and vegetables.  Sometimes I have a potato with breakfast or dinner, sometimes I don’t.  Other days I’ll end up having a potato with lunch and another one with dinner.

Tonight’s dinner was two cheeseburger patties (from a grass-fed cow), broccoli with butter, and a medium potato with butter and sour cream.  My glucose peaked at 130.  Not bad.  Potatoes are on my menu, but rice isn’t.  I’ve found that it doesn’t take much rice to push my glucose over 200. Since I find rice basically tasteless, that’s not a good tradeoff.

Exercise Didn’t Cause Weight Loss

When Dr. Mike Eades told me during the making of Fat Head that exercises like walking, aerobic dancing, etc., don’t induce weight loss, I couldn’t believe it.  He sent me links to some research to overcome my resistance.  I’ve since read quite a bit more on the subject.  Yes, we’d all like to believe an hour on the treadmill helps burn away the fat – because by gosh, it just feels like that kind of effort should be rewarded – but it simply isn’t the case.

Here’s a recent example: when I weighed myself at the gym before Jimmy Moore’s recent visit, I was at (surprise) 198 lbs.  During his visit, we walked 27 miles in six days.  (I consumed my normal diet that week, by the way.)  I went to the gym the Sunday after he left and found that I weighed … wait for it … 198 lbs.   All that walking, no change whatsoever.

I still can’t believe all the hours I wasted on a treadmill back in the day …

Comedians With Asperger’s

Since I’ve been both a comedian and an indie filmmaker, some young comedians sent me information about a documentary they’re producing – which I found intriguing because all four of them have Asperger’s.  Here’s the trailer:

They’re asking for donations to cover post-production costs.  (Yeah, I know all about those costs.)  I just made a donation.  Please consider doing likewise by visiting their IndieGoGo page.

Wow, that’s a lot of eyeballs

Speaking of indie films, when Fat Head was released in 2009, one of the clips I put on YouTube was an edited version of the section titled Why You Got Fat.  I haven’t checked the stats in a long time.  Take a look:

Nice.  Very nice.

Chicken-Killer Stew Part Duex?

What was once Sara’s flock of 25 chickens is now a flock of 20.  The raccoon that ended up in our stew pot killed four of them.  Something else nabbed another one last night.  Chareva noticed the tarp over the top of the hoop-house had been ripped open, apparently so some critter (most likely another raccoon) could grab a chicken and pull it out between the bars.

So she spent a good chunk of the afternoon covering the hoop-house with wire mesh.  I did my part by re-baiting my raccoon trap.

Come on, Rocky Raccoon, I double-dog dare you …

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After reading about my experience gutting a raccoon and making Chicken-Killer Stew, a friend of mine promised he’d try to find this cookbook and send it to me.

I bet Granny knows how to make a good possum pie.

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10:55 AM
Tom: -8
Christine: -4
Jimmy: -3

Jimmy is still playing with a painful stitch in his side, probably a muscle strain resulting from trying to throw a 600-foot drive a couple of days ago.  His driving distance has gone down, so he’s relying on long approach shots (and he’s very good at those) to stay competitive.

1:30 PM
Jimmy: -4
Tom: -4

Jimmy discovered an important lesson.  Thanks to the stitch in his side, he’s not trying to kill his drives.  So in throwing drives that felt  to him like maybe 60% of full power, he tied his best score of the week.  His drives aren’t sailing quite as far, but they’re consistently down the middle.   When he throws too hard, he usually hurts his score with two or three wild drives per round.  Meanwhile, I missed a birdie putt on 18 because I was so close to the basket (about 10 feet), I didn’t think I could miss and got way too casual about lining up.  That’s my lesson for the day: always line it up.

3:30 PM
Tom: -7
Christine: -3
Jimmy: +1

 6:30 PM
Tom: -3
Jimmy: -1

Okay, I admit it:  we’re both starting to wilt a bit in the heat and humidity.  Not much zip on our throws.  Tomorrow is supposed to be in the 70s, so that should help.

8:15 PM
Tom: -8
Jimmy: -1

Dinner, some rest, and shade in the pastures as the sun dipped behind the trees helped.

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