Friday, January 29, 2016

How America eats

Here you go--lunch!
Was yakking with a friend on "good" and "bad" foods. We decided we have no idea what we should eat, even if we felt like doing something we "should." No meat? In my case, no dairy (bad innards). Everyone blats about sugar--don't eat that. So no desserts.  Wheat is out--so no bread. Green veggies are bitter--to keep off insects--but those are OK (except they also tear up my innards).

I keep returning to the idea of eating a varied diet--those food groups--protein, carbs, fats--in decent rotation and sensible
                                                         amounts (no seconds).

According to the Institute for Food Technologists, 47 million adults in this country describe themselves as foodies...Live to eat not eat to live types. This is 36% Millennials, 32% Boomers.

Eaten more now than 10 years ago--yogurt is number one. Followed by bottled water, pizza, poultry sandwiches, Mexican, fresh fruit, bars, frozen sandwiches, chips and pancakes.

More meals are eaten at home now, with a decline in going out.

A fourth of consumers eat soup once a week.

Twenty-eight percents of consumers prepare ethninc food more than five yrs ago.

More than half buy prepared items like rotisserie chicken.

For the first time in five, years "indulgent" snacks outpaced healthy choices.

To me, this looks like a varied diet...Certainly all the food groups are not ruled out. What the heck are we supposed to eat with no meat, no bread, no fat, no sugar...Kale? Don't answer that.

Thursday, January 28, 2016

The pain in rain

Sophie Freeman, EXPRESS (UK), writes about the complaint that damp or rainy days make arthritis hurt more.

Some people also think a flare-up can predict a coming storm.

A team at the University of Manchester asked people all across Britain to report in on their mobiles (as they call them there).

They are hoping with this data they can forecast pain just as they do weather...a Pain Index.

The team leader, a rheumatologist, says for years his patients linked pain to weather...The cold, the damp, humidity or even heat making pain worse. Patients have different experiences, but each stays true to that person.

A pain forecast, said one patient, would allow her to manage her life better.

I exchange emails with a friend on our pain--she thinks the cold is worse...I think the damp gives me fits.

Wednesday, January 27, 2016

Is your child farsighted?

Researchers at Ohio State have found that children who are farsighted lose ground in reading before even starting first grade.

Four to 14% of preschoolers are farsighted to some degree.

Some doctors, though, don't like to prescribe glasses for these little ones, saying they will outgrow it.

The National Eye Institute supported this study but wants to see more research before recommending glasses for farsighted preschoolers.

For one thing, they want to know which kids will benefit from glasses and which will not.

Until then--discuss with your doctor?

Tuesday, January 26, 2016

You do TOO have a great memory

Researchers at the Salk Institute in La Jolla, CA, have taken a hard look at neural connections in the brain and concluded that each of us has the memory capacity of the entire World Wide Web (a petabyte).

They described the revelation as "a real bombshell."

Stay with me here. Memories and thoughts come from electrical and chemical activity in the brain. Branches of cells called neurons interact at certain junctions called synapses. An output wire called an axon from one neuron connects to the input wire called a dendrite of another neuron. Each neuron can have thousands of these connections at once.

In building a model of this, the Salk people found that a single axon formed two synapses sometimes, reaching out to a single dendrite. This seemed to mean it was sending a duplicate message.

In measuring the two synapses from one axon, they found them to be slightly different, with some 8% larger.

This turned out to mean that there were many more sizes of synapses than always thought. They synapses also changed size depending on the info being transmitted.

And THIS resulted in orders of magnitude more memory capacity or thought capacity.


You know what I always want to know--How does some goo in your head somehow retain a visual picture or complete memory of something from decades before?

I like the term miracle--but I guess the Salk people would prefer "good engineering."

Monday, January 25, 2016

Bigger is not necessarily better in football players

As football gets rougher, the conventional wisdom is that players need to bulk up--say to fridge size, remember him?

Two Grand Valley State researchers in Allendale, MI, set out to determine how body size has changed in college and pro ball.

The went on the assumption that the most at-risk athletes were the offensive and defensive linemen.

These player have gained and average of between a quarter to one and a quarter pounds a year since 1942.

Average: A 60-lb increase.

This increased body mass, especially in the abdominal area, can increase risk of heart disease, blood pressure, diabetes and metabolic syndrome.

Add to this, the researchers say, growth promoting substances--and bulking up can be a health hazard.

How can this be mitigated?

--Strive for an increase in lean body mass of a pound a week. Not more.

--Eat one and a half grams of protein for every two pounds of body mass.

--Eat adequate carbs, avoiding excessive intake.

--Resistance-train 3-5 days a week.

--Leave plenty of time for test and recovery.

The full study can be found in the Strength and Conditioning Journal.

The idea is to be strong and a formidable obstacle, but also fast and above all, not just plain obese.

Friday, January 22, 2016

Blizzard warning

Flake Fiction
Nothing like living in the desert and watching people cope with snow. I believe they call this schadenfreude. Sad-happy.

My old stomping grounds--Washington DC--is apparently expecting two feet of the white stuff. So many memories--being hip deep in snow and slowly tumbling over sideways and my daughter, then about 8, laughing hysterically. People cross-country skiing on Connecticut Avenue. Getting the last bottle of milk off the smeary shelf in the store.

Updating the scene: Now--I read--the delivery apps are doing two and three times their usual business to get essential liquor and other goodies into homes, where the federal employees will await, having been let off early. The mail carrier, Dominos--are you artifacts of a distant age as Ubers creep through the unplowed streets?

It all takes on a holiday atmosphere--off work, a snow day...all memories of trying to get home Wed and Thurs with one inch of snow now in the rear view.

Monday the little kids will tune into radios to hear which schools are closed...or do they do email blasts now or something. The radio? Where have I been? Oh, that's right--the desert.

And if it doesn't happen--and I have found when widely heralded like this, it often does not--well, I had the memories.

If you want all this to be bittersweet, come on out to Arizona--where all the flakes are human.

Thursday, January 21, 2016

To see or not to see

A lot involved there...
If you are interested in blindness or vision in general, you might want to pick up a book called CRASHING THROUGH by Robert Kurson (Amazon).

This book follows the life of a guy named Mike May, who was blinded by a chemical explosion when he was three. His mother mainstreamed him and he learned to be fiercely independent, traveling the world with a cane and/or dog, starting businesses, skiing at the championship level, even serving in the CIA for two years, and in Ghana as a volunteer. He was quite the "ladies man," apparently, and finally married and had two sons.

In a chance moment, his wife's eye doctor hooks him up with another ophthalmologist who had performed an extremely rare stem cell transplant in six people--an operation open to only those with chemical burns of the cornea or a rare genetic disease called Stevens-Johnson Syndrome (blisters all over the body).

The doctor thinks Mike May could regain vision of some sort with the procedure--but there are big risks. First it only has a 50-50 chance of working. Even it it did work, what kind of vision he would get would be unknown and it could disappear in a second at any stage of his life. He also would have to take anti-rejection drugs that have severe potential side efx, including cancer.

A friend finds some accounts of people who had regained vision--and they found the world "drab" and were very depressed.

Eventually, he decides to try it--as he put it, not to regain vision but to see what vision is like--another adventure.

He has the two-part surgery, the first part to implant the cells around the burned and useless cornea and let them throw off  "daughter cells" for a few months to protect the second donor cornea.

When the bandages come off, brilliant light cascades in, shocking him. He tries to see his wife for the first time, but her face means nothing--she is a pink blob. He finds he can see colors OK, and motion...when something goes into motion, he can then "see" it--otherwise he cannot distinguish objects and people.

At the point, some researchers hook up with him and do a special MRI that shows brain activity in response to images--they put him in the tunnel and show him brain activity in the portion of the brain that recognizes faces, the same for objects... Colors and motion are OK.

They explain to him that seeing is mostly dependent on the brain and the info the brain accumulates about context and other attributes of things, starting at birth when babies touch and mouth everything they see, logging in this info. He had done this as a baby, but when the explosion took place, come neurons repurposed themselves to other tasks in the brain and were not going to help him "see" certain things.

He considers dumping the anti-rejection drugs and letting the new cornea get rejected. It takes so much work to consciously log in all the info over again--he memorizes clues about things--all flight attendants wear the same uniform, OK, got that. He keeps at it--although he does have a bad rejection episode.

Eventually, he brings his real talents to the fore--echo sounding, other sounds, smells, etc. He keeps the vision part but makes it secondary.

May is human--so I caution you that parts of this are sort of creepy or at least I thought so. One reason he wants vision, for example, is to go to topless beaches. When he finally does--he can only see the superstructure of women if they have on a brightly colored top. Irony!

I am missing sight in one eye and have found weird brain compensations and changes--this was fascinating to me.

Wednesday, January 20, 2016

For nutritional info, read back of package

According to the Institute for Food Technologists, shoppers face many Front of Pack "health claims"--but the ones on the front may be meaningless or even misleading.

The article appeared in the January issue of J of Food Science.

Researchers from Ohio State and St Joseph's University in Philadelphia examined 2,200 breakfast cereals and prepared meals sold between 2006 and 2010.

The Food & Drug Administration defines four types of Front of Pack claims:

--health claims
--qualified health claims
--structure/function claims
--nutrient claims

Words like "may reduce risk of heart disease, " "low-fat", or "cholesterol-free" compete with such terms as "organic," "natural, or "local,"

The latter three do not necessarily mean anything nutritionally.

The key: Know your nutrients--and read the info on the back.

You mean Wheaties will not make you an Olympian? Well darn!

Tuesday, January 19, 2016

Even "Eat Locally" Seattle couldn't

Locavores, eat locally--the buzz is to eat foods from nearby. Think about Crunchy Granola Seattle--surely that burg could live off food grown in the city or very nearby, right?

Wrong--only 1-4% of the population could live off urban crops. Scientists determined this by looking at current land use, light availability, and the national nutritional guidelines.

The net would have to be considerably widened and repurposed to meet 100% of Seattle's food needs, if that would even be possible.

To meet the nutritional needs of people eating a vegetarian diet, only about 6,000 people (1% of the population) could be fed if all single-family backyards were converted to urban farms.

Too often, the researchers said, people eat a salad from veggies grown by the homeowner and assume it amounts to eating locally.

They are plunging ahead, though, to think of ways to make Seattle more sustainable.

The problem is Seattle is densely populated and surrounded by mountains...There is only so much room to spread.

Monday, January 18, 2016

Your cold and flu therapy

A Vanderbilt infectious disease guy named William Schaffner, MD, says go ahead and snuggle up with your dog or cat if you're sick with a cold or flu.

He didn't prescribe a therapy animal, but said it is way unlikely that someone petting the animal after you glommed all over it would get the disease. And the animals won't get the flu or a cold.

You really need to breathe or sneeze on the person within three feet--leave Fido and the pussycat out of it.

Also watch the handshaking (with your fellow humans).

Oh, and just as the pets got immunized against diseases they actually get, you should get a flu shot against a disease you can get.

 I am not woofin' you!

Friday, January 15, 2016

Could vitamin D supplements cause more falling?

The conventional wisdom is that older people fall more and need vitamin D supplements and calcium to make them more sturdy so they don't fall as much or if they do, so their bones don't snap as often.

BUT--in a study at the University of California San Francisco---it seems that raising vitamin D rates to 30 ng/ml--the new gold standard--can cause rather than prevent falls.

While--the researchers emphasized--vit D and calcium supps have been proven to prevent falls and fractures in patients who are homebound or in long-term care facilities, for other people there is no consistent evidence that these supplements help reduce falls or fractures.

Vitamin D supplementation has been claimed to have many benefits, such a prevention of cancer and heart disease, but this is not supported by clinical trials.

Now, the docs think maybe the old standard for a blood level of vitamin D--20 not 20 ng/ml--might carry less risk.

But, of course, until we have the science, they tell us people 70 and older should get 800 IU vitamin D a day--from the sun and from milk, fortified yogurt, and salmon and tuna. always...back to you.

Thursday, January 14, 2016

Attention parents of kids with food allergies

Parents of food-allergic kids who are prescribed an Epi-Pen, an auto injector of epinephrine, which can stop sometimes fatal reactions, should be given detailed instructions for when and how to use it--but often are not.

This from a study at Northwestern. An associate professor of pediatrics at the medical school, Ruchi Gupta, MD, says this information should he "hammered home" at every visit to the pediatrician and/or allergist.

The study, in the January 12 issues of  the J of Allergy and Clin Immunology, said all caregivers near the child should have this info.

Eight percent of the kids in the US have food allergies, peanuts being the most common, followed by milk, eggs, and tree nuts.

Yet, in the study, fewer than 70% of the parents recalled their allergists explaining the auto-injector and fewer than 40% of their pediatricians.

Not all doctors prescribe the injectors for children, although this is part of accepted treatment guidelines.

Physicians need more training in how to present this information--and parents need to ask for it. Doctors also need to ask parents to repeat back what they were told.

When to give, how to give, should the child do it him or herself? Do school officials know all this?

Wednesday, January 13, 2016

The skinny on apple cider vinegar

Not an old wife--but best I could do.
Read any story on what old wives say or on home remedies, and you will read about the powers of apple cider vinegar. Black Health Matters (website) delves into the claims.

Like all vinegar, apple cider vinegar contains acetic acid--but it also has trace amounts of antioxidants.

It helps you feel full longer. In a small study, people who consumed vinegar before eating a breakfast of white bread reported feeling more satisfied than the controls at the 60 minute mark, but by two hours, both groups were hungry.

It cancels some carbs.  The acetic acid does interfere with enzymes responsible for digesting starch, so you can't absorb the calories as well. There is no science on how many cals vinegar can block, though. Oh--it does slow the rush of sugar to your bloodstream if taken before meals, making spikes smaller.

It could lower blood pressure. It did lower BP a few points in animals.

It fights bad breath. It has antibacterial properties, but there are better products for this.

It could boost bone health. Vinegar is acidic, but in the system, it makes your pH more alkaline. Studies show people with a more alkaline body (more veggies, less meat) may have greater bone density. No research on it, though.

Relieves heartburn.  If the heartburn is from a food, it can neutralize. If the heartburn is from a lesion, vinegar can make it worse.

It cleans wounds. It is antibacterial as we have said, but it also can irritate the skin around an open wound. Ouch.  As for curing acne--remember that irritation.

Deodorizes feet. Yes!

If you want to give apple cider vinegar a try, dilute a tablespoon in a cup of water.

Never take more than two tablespoons--way too much of a possibly good thing.

Tuesday, January 12, 2016

Do little kids who eat veggies eat less candy?

Little kids love them both.
Public health officials have long assumed the answer is yes... They said they thought "that is the way the world was."

But--then they did a study. Ohio State researchers checked some low-income neighborhoods in Columbus and found that preschoolers who ate fruits and veggies and drank milk many times a day were just as likely to eat foods high in sugar and salt as those who rarely ate healthy foods.

A larger, national study is underway.  But based on this, the scientists said it was probably not enough to have a farmer's market and healthy choices available--and that the emphasis should be on pointing out the bad side of the unhealthy choices.

In other words, good does not automatically replace bad.

Carrot sticks, a salad, fries with cheese, a burger, a glass of milk, a was all in the mix.

Monday, January 11, 2016

Some yoga poses bad for glaucoma patients

Researchers at the New York Eye and Ear Infirmary at Mount Sinai published a study on PLOS ONE that said some head-down yoga poses can increase eye pressure--the cause of the potentially blinding disease called glaucoma.

Glaucoma is the leading cause of irreversible blindness, in fact, and short of that, can impact lifestyle with moderate to severe vision loss.

Although glaucoma patients are urged to pursue a healthy lifestyle, including lots of exercise, pushups and lifing heavy weights should be avoided.

And now, several yoga poses have been added to the list of no-nos. Previous research found that a headstand increased intraocular pressure two-fold. These researchers tested downward facing dog and the other poses shown.

More research is needed and planned but why take a chance?

For more info on this, go to

You know me--I am VERY eye conscious and want you to be, too.


Friday, January 08, 2016

Yes, you did see a purple margarita

No more dietary guidelines, food pyramids, bossy advice--today something completely different. Purple limes!

A University of Florida horticultural scientist named Manjul Dutt and his colleague Jude Grosser are into making developing a lavender margarita.

They found out that genetically engineered limes have some similar genetic factors as that expressed in grape skin and blood orange pulp. They have a protein that induces the process that creates the "red" in wine and which causes limes to develop a range of colors in the pulp ranging from dark purple to fuchsia.

These bioflavinoids are also good for you.

Blood oranges containing these anthrocyanins need cold to develop their vibrant color (say in Spain or Italy).

So the Florida guys used genes isolated from the red grape Ruby Seedless and the blood orange Moro to move toward a Florida-friendly blood orange.

They are tinkering in the same way with limes.

Looks beautiful, sounds yummy...but of course, the anti-GMO crowd will not be drinking to this one.

Thursday, January 07, 2016

Good dental habits for children

Do your kids give their teeth a quickie while horsing around at the sink? Do they eat sugary snacks in school (maybe in their packed lunch)?

Cavities are a major disease in childhood. Yes, disease.

Kathleen Pace, DDS, assistant professor at Texas A&M, has some tips:

--Provide a healthy diet at home. It will help kids grow, learn better, and as an added benefit, help their teeth.

--Fruits, veggies, whole grains, dairy, and protein.

--Pack fruit and dairy in lunches--if you pack the kids' lunches. This includes snacks. How about string cheese, or a carton of milk? Cheese, especially, protects enamel.

--Don't pack candy, gummies (not only sugary but stick on for hours), or even cookies with added sugar.

--Stand by when kids are brushing. Better yet, brush and floss alongside them.

--Get the kids to brush after breakfast.

--And, of course, get those checkups.

Wednesday, January 06, 2016

Home births--a new study

Where are you celebrating
your birthday?
Pam Belluck, NYT, Dec 30, 2105, asks how safe it is to have your baby at home instead of in a hospital.

A study in the NEJM, analyzed 80,000 pregnancies in Oregon, and found that when women planned a home birth (not those emergencies you see in the news), the probability of the baby dying at birth or within a month after, though slight, was 2.4 times that of a hospital birth.

On the upside, out-of-hospital births were far less likely to involve C-sections--5.3% versus 24.7% in hospitals.

The out-of hospital births also involved fewer interventions and the mothers suffered fewer tears and lacerations.

Surprisingly, advocates on both sides approve of this study.

Home births are a tiny fraction of all births, by the way--1.28% of all American births.

This was also possible to track because Oregon birth certificates require the mother to list where she planned to give birth versus where she ended up delivering.

So it comes down much risk is acceptable to you. Out-of-hospital death rates (at birth or within month) are 3.9 out of 1,000.

I had a planned hospital delivery and ended up with a C-section because of a huge fibroid that had gone undetected. My daughter could not drop down to be delivered. I am glad I didn't have to transfer to a hospital in an ambulance.

But people will do what they will do. This is a precious little life, though.

Tuesday, January 05, 2016

Hot and happenin' at the grocery store

According to the Food Marketing Institute as quoted in a story on the website Black Health Matters, 37,716 supermarkets took more than $638 billion of our money in 2014.  We average 1.5 visits a week and by we, I mean 70% women.

So the stores are getting more creative.

In-store entertainment. Watch for special events such as cooking demos, product sampling, and nutritional tours. A store in Ohio lets customers sample wine along with snacks around the store on special occasions.

Cafes. More and more stores are putting in cafes and bistros. Starbucks is even going inside stores.

Digital. Those millennials--they want electronic shelf labels beaming info to their phones.

Smallerization. The big stores are going small. This will be seen more in urban areas. More intimate--and yes, probably more expensive.

Online shopping. This is growing. (I use it.) There is a company called Instacart, for example, which lets customers order online and personal shoppers then find the items and deliver them. Curbside pickup of groceries ordered online will also be featured in coming years.

I like the wine idea...Pairs well with Kraft Dinner.

Monday, January 04, 2016

This bullying thing is out of control

Brats will be brats. We had bullies when I was a kid--usually some low-class punk who had everyone cowed.

Now it's more likely to be some mean girls who so relentlessly attack online that insecure classmates contemplate or even commit suicide.

More than 43% of teens are being bullied online. Usually the parents are the last to know.

You have to be a detective to get this out of a kid, apparently.

Watch for:

--Emotional upset or anxiety
--Frequent headaches and stomachaches
--Faking illness
--Unexplainable injuries (whoa!)
--Changes in eating habits
--Poor sleep/nightmares
--A drop in school performance
--Trying to get out of school
--Loss of friends
--Not wanting to go to parties or social occasions
--Low self-esteem
--Runnng away or hopeless thoughts of suicide

You need to insure your kid's safety, at very least. If you see several of these signs, try to gouge it out of the child--maybe while alone in the car.

This is serious stuff when injuries and suicide are mentioned. But the rejection and heartache can also take a big toll.