Menampilkan postingan dari Mei, 2008

Eagle Creek

Last weekend, I went on a 3-day backpacking trip with some friends. We endured rain, snow, difficult river crossings and a vicious mouse attack, but managed to have a good time nevertheless. Here are a few pictures:

Punchbowl falls

Tunnel falls

Basalt cliffs

Apparently mice like cheese!


I am a label reader. Whenever I'm thinking about buying food in a box, which is rare, I typically read the whole label to look for sinister ingredients. So when I got a booster vaccine for tetanus last week, naturally I asked for the product information.

Along with a nice dose of tetanus and diphtheria toxoids, my medial deltoid received 0.28 mg of aluminum, up to 0.3 micrograms of mercury, and up to 100 micrograms of "residual formaldehyde". I got the vaccine because I like being able to chew, but I wasn't able to lift my arm for several days. I don't know if that was due to an immune response to the tetanus and diphtheria (probably) or if it was caused by the aluminum, mercury and formaldehyde they injected into my arm.

We work with formaldehyde in my lab, and I can tell you it is not to be messed with. I had to take an entire training course just to use it, during which I learned that if there's enough of it to smell, it's toxic. 0.1 parts per mill…

Exercise Didn't Keep Us From Getting Fat

One of the surprising things I noticed when I was poring over data from the NHANES survey (US CDC National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey) from 1975 to 2006 is that the number of inactive people has diminished in that same time period from 50% to 24%. This is shocking to most people. We have this romanticized idea that in the 1970s people were more active, as if everyone chopped wood and walked 15 miles to work in the morning. The reality is, there were office jobs, housewives and cars without the large numbers of runners and gym-goers we have today.

Granted, NHANES data are self-reported and should be taken with a grain of salt. However, Chris at Conditioning Research pointed me to a study looking at changes in energy expenditure from the 1980s to the present in North America and Europe. It doesn't suffer from the same biases because it's based on direct measurement rather than self-reporting. Here's the executive summary: we're expending slightly more…

California "Raw" Almonds

I bought about a pound of almonds yesterday for a backpacking trip I'll be doing this weekend. I like to soak raw almonds, then lightly toast them. It sweetens them and breaks down some of their anti-nutrients.

When I arrived at the grocery store, the only raw almonds they had were from California. I prefer to buy domestic products when I can, but in case you haven't heard, "raw" almonds from California are no longer raw. They are required to be sterilized using steam or antiseptic gases, despite their relative safety as a raw food.

The worst part is that they are not required to label them as pasteurized; they can still be labeled as raw. The Almond Board's argument is that there's no difference in quality and pasteurized almonds are safer. I find this highly offensive and deceptive. It flies in the face of common sense. If you walked up to someone in the street and asked them what the phrase "raw milk" means, would they say "oh yeah…

Real Food VII: Lentils

Lentils are a healthy food that comes with a few caveats. They have more protein and less carbohydrate than any other legume besides soybeans and peanuts, and they contain a remarkable array of vitamins and minerals, particularly B vitamins. One cup delivers 90% of your RDA of folate, so between lentils and liver there's no need for those sketchy prenatal vitamins.

Lentils must be properly prepared to be digestible and nutritious! I can't emphasize this enough. We did not evolve eating legumes, so we have to take certain steps to be able to digest them adequately. As with all beans and grains, proper soaking is essential to neutralize their naturally occurring toxins and anti-nutrients. Anti-nutrients are substances that interfere with the absorption of nutrients. Soaking activates enzymes in the seeds themselves that degrade these substances. It also cuts down substantially on cooking time and reduces flatulence.

Phytic acid is an anti-nutrient that's abundant in beans, gr…

US Fructose Consumption Trends

As you may have noticed, I suspect fructose is involved in overweight and other health problems. It seems to have adverse effects on fat deposition in the liver and insulin sensitivity that could be related to its association with weight gain. I looked through USDA estimated per capita consumption of different sweeteners to get an idea of how fructose consumption has changed in the US in the time since adult obesity rates have doubled.

In 1970, we ate an estimated 72.5 lb/year of cane and beet sugar (sucrose) per person, which is 50% fructose and 50% glucose. We also ate 0.4 lb/year of corn syrup, which is most commonly 55% fructose, 45% glucose. Consumption of other unspecified sweeteners was 12.0 lb/year, for a total intake of 84.9 lb/year of added sweeteners.

In 2007, we ate an estimated 44.2 lb/year of sucrose, 40.1 lb/year of corn syrup, and 12.9 lb/year of other unspecified sweeteners, for a total added sweetener intake of 97.2 lb/year.Doing the math, and generously assuming …

Lessons From the Pima Indians

At 38% and climbing in 2006, the Pima indians (Akimel O'odham) of Arizona have the highest rate of diabetes of any population in the world. They also have staggering rates of obesity (~70%) and hypertension.

Things were very different for them before 1539, when the Spanish first made contact. They lived on an agricultural diet of beans, corn and squash, with wild fish, game meat and plants. As with most native people, they were thin and healthy while on their traditional diet.

In 1859, the Pima were restricted to a small fraction of their original land along the Gila river, the Pima Reservation. In 1866, settlers began arriving in the region and diverting the Gila river upstream of the reservation for their own agriculture. In 1869, the river went dry for the first time. 1886 was the last year any water flowed to the Pima Reservation in the Gila river.

The Pima had no way to obtain water, and no way to grow crops. Their once productive subsistence economy ground to a h…

Your Gut Talks to Your Brain

I've been reading through some papers on a gut-brain connection that regulates food intake and blood nutrient balance. I've learned some interesting things.

First of all, when fat hits your small intestine (especially long-chain fatty acids), it sends a message to the brainstem via the vagus nerve. This rapidly inhibits eating behavior.

The hypothalamus can also inhibit glucose production by the liver in response to fat in the bloodstream, by sending it signals via the vagus nerve.

A recent paper that got me interested in all this showed that when you put fatty acids on the upper small intestine, it sends a signal to the brain, which then sends a signal to the liver, increasing insulin sensitivity and decreasing glucose production.

The upper small intestine is not just a passive nutrient sponge. It's a very active player in the body's response to food, coordinating changes in food intake and nutrient disposal.

Diabetes and Your Small Intestine

In the last post, I introduced you to the remarkable antidiabetic effect of gastric bypass surgery. It rapidly reverses diabetes in 83% of patients, and it seems to be due to bypassing the upper small intestine specifically, rather than caloric restriction. This points to a special role of the upper small intestine in regulating food metabolism. I told you I was going to look into the mechanism of why this effect happens, and here's the short answer:

It's complicated and no one understands it completely.

Now for the long answer. Nutrient homeostasis is very important and we have sophisticated ways of coordinating it among different tissues. Part of the small intestine's job is telling the body that nutrients are on their way into the bloodstream. Two ways it conveys this signal are by secreting hormones into the bloodstream, and by sending signals to the brain and liver via parasympathetic nerves.

The small intestine secretes dozens of hormones, one category of which…

The Miracle Diabetes Cure You Don't Know About

What would you say if I told you there's a cure for type II diabetes that's effective in 83% of people, extremely rapid, and requires no lifestyle changes? Would you think I was crazy? Well maybe I am, but the cure exists nevertheless.

All it requires is a little intestinal mutilation. It's called gastric bypass surgery. It's an anti-obesity surgery where the digestive tract is re-routed, bypassing 95% of the stomach as well as the duodenum and jejunum, which are parts of the upper small intestine.

The effect was first reported in 1995 by Dr. Walter Pories. Initially, researchers thought the cure was simply from caloric restriction due to a smaller stomach volume, but since then the story has become much more interesting. The key finding was published in 2004 by Dr. Francesco Rubino, who showed that bypassing the duodenum and jejunum but not the stomach of type II diabetic rats was enough to cure their diabetes. The effect wasn't due to caloric restriction…


I've been thinking a lot about natural building lately. Here in the US, we are practically forced into occupying homes that are expensive and destructive to the environment. I met a woman last weekend who lives in a yurt and has an outdoor composting toilet. She paid $3,000 for the yurt, making it a dignified way to live on a low income. She's worried because what she's doing on her own property is illegal. She's living in a safe, efficient, inexpensive structure that is extremely light on the land, an it's illegal under her county building codes.

A conventional home that costs $200,000 may end up costing $400,000- $600,000 including interest paid to the bank and all fees. If you can save money and cut out the bank, you might be able to build your own code-compliant house for $100,000 or less, including the land. It isn't difficult to see the financial advantage of building yourself.

Conventional homes are also highly destructive to the environment, partly…

Real Food VI: Liver

Liver was a highly regarded food among many hunter-gatherer and traditional agricultural societies. It's not surprising once you realize it's quite literally the most nutritious food in the world. It's because the liver is a storage depot, into which important nutrients are deposited in case of later need. A modest 4-oz serving of calf's liver contains 690% of your RDA of B12, 610% of preformed vitamin A, 215% of folate, 129% of B2, 24.5 g protein, and the list goes on. The nutrients found in liver are particularly important for development, but are also helpful for continued health in adulthood.

Preformed vitamin A is one of the nutrients Weston Price suggested was responsible for the glowing health of the cultures he studied in his book Nutrition and Physical Degeneration. It's an essential nutrient, but it's different from most vitamins (except D) because it acts like a hormone, entering cells and altering gene transcription. Thus, it has its hand in …