"It is true, and thus the question of whether it is sad or happy has no meaning whatever."
Bernhard Schlink

Science is best when discussed: leave your thoughts and ideas in the comments!!

Tuesday, July 31, 2007

Disease Genes 

The really big news recently is of course the discovery of a new multiple sclerosis gene on chromosome 5. This is pretty cool, not only in terms of hope for MS patients, but also because this gene could be key to other autoimmune processes and diseases.

Secondly and less convincingly, an Oxford team claims to have found the (or at least a) gene for left-handedness. On the upside, this is interesting. On the downside, the gene also appears to increase risk of schizophrenia. This coincidence is odd but not totally shocking - schizophrenia seems to be a problem with how the brain organizes information, and a gene that pretty radically changes all those systems may well make them more likely to screw up.

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Friday, July 27, 2007

No, and No. 

Puritans and busybodies everywhere are crowing about a meta-study suggesting that pot smokers are more likely to develop psychotic disorders later in life. The claim, boasted by newspapers, PR mouthpieces, and even study authors, is that pot causes these disorders. While that conclusion is possible, the data don't actually do anything o support it. You see, people predisposed to psychosis could be drawn to pot for the same (or different) reasons that they are predisposed to psychosis.

Take cigarettes: no one has ever alleged that they cause psychosis, but schizophrenics tend to be HEAVY smokers. Before and certainly after developing the disease. Analysis similar to the current pot study would similarly link tobacco to psychosis, an association known to be inverted (smoking is a form of self-medication for many schizophrenics).


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Thursday, July 26, 2007

Dubious, Obvious 

Abbott labs has published a study which suggests that the Ayurvedic herb Salacia oblonga may be helpful in managing diabetes type II and obesity. The drug significantly lowered post-meal glucose peaks, decreasing insulin responses. It's thought to act as an alpha-glucosidase inhibitor, essentially blocking carbohydrates from being absorbed. I'm sure the herb has some effect, and could be really effective, but I suspect that we're a long way from seeing it in a useful formulation here in the States.

One thing we have lots of here, on the other hand, is vitamin C. Australian researchers suggest that a diet high in this citrusy nutrient, as well as in green-veggie carotenoids, could lower one's risk of developing knee arthritis. This result strikes me a bit odd, but given my history of knee injuries, I can't say I'll be avoiding my fruits or veggies!!

Something else we have a lot of in the US (especially here in Atlanta, home of the nation's second-most-unhealthy commute) is air pollution. While we've known for some time that pollution is linked to increased cardiovascular disease, it's not been clear precisely why. Now, UCLA researchers (who live in the unhealthiest commuter area) have found a direct link between air pollution and arteriosclerosis: strongly oxidative particles. Oh, goody. Can I get my car fit with a gas mask?

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Wednesday, July 18, 2007

Fat Kids on Drugs in School 

Surprising no one, a SAMHSA study has found that we are a nation of druggies. Well, actually they found that at least 8.3% of us are honest when answering surveys. Data from three annual surveys of 40,000 participants indicated that about one in twelve full-time workers admitted using illegal drugs in the past month.

The highest rates being among restaurant workers, shocking no one except New York lawyers and stock brokers, who thought they were ahead as usual. The problems with surveys like this pretty much outweigh their usefulness, as far as I'm concerned. Firstly, honest reporting is a serious problem. Secondly, asking if people have used drugs gives no indication whatsoever as to whether or not they did so in a dangerous, or excessive, or other manner which caused them to be less effective members of society.

Besides being on drugs, Americans are also very often obese. Why? Well, for starters we don't get enough exercise. A CDC study found that, even though as many as 35% of kids live within a mile of school, few walk or bike. Why? Well, it might have to do with the fact that we're a lazy, car-obsessed society. More interestingly (and ironically) is that we are also a fear obsessed society. Parents and school are so afraid of anything happening to their kids (and of getting sued for it) that they don't even allow their kids to walk. (I remember a comments discussion with Karen about her kids and school a while back, but can't find it)

Parents should, of course, be more afraid of their kids being obese and getting diabetes (both things which are likely and eminently preventable) than of their kids being kidnapped, run over, or getting lost (all increasingly unlikely, unless the kid is famous and/or incredibly stupid) on the treacherous 400 meter walk home. Why, you ask?

A study from Captain Obvious' lab has found that overweight kids face severe stigma from a very early age, especially from peers but also from parents and teachers. Fat kids lives tend to suck. Fat kids are also at risk of developing diabetes, which sucks even more.

On the upside, there is evidence that vitamin D and calcium may help protect against type II diabetes. It's not clear how this works, but is a promising direction for research.

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Tuesday, July 17, 2007


I mean, there are exceptions, I'm sure, but yeah. Pretty much.

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Wednesday, July 11, 2007

Selenium Cola and HIV 

We know HIV is bad for you. That's rather obvious - it causes all kinds of nastiness. One of the big problems facing those with HIV is the virus' ability to mutate at astounding rates, and thus rapidly develop resistance to any treatments thrown its way. An experimental drug, etravirine, may provide needed relief in this area: resistant patients treated with approved antiviral drugs and etravirine seem to have lowered their viral loads much more than those on antivirals alone. Granted, this data is from a pharmaceutical company's press release, with no publication cited, but we can hope the effects are real.

While everyone knows HIV is bad, most people are aware that drinking lots of cola is probably not good for them. Unfortunately, an article in the July issue of the journal Epidemiology suggests that folks who drink more than two servings of cola per day (that's less than one of those 20-oz bottles!) had a higher risk of chronic kidney disease. The culprit seems to be cola's characteristic phosphoric acid, as other sodas and caffeinated drinks didn't show similar effects.

Finally, you probably thought that Selenium was good for you. Health food stores and "dietary supplement" companies have been touting it for years as a miracle for everything from cancer to obesity and beyond. Unfortunately, what looks like a pretty robust clinical trial has found that selenium supplementation appears to be linked to higher risk of diabetes. Granted, this result comes from secondary analysis, but still it should serve as a warning: we don't really know what all those "supplements" do to our bodies.

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Sunday, July 08, 2007

Points of Origin 

I assume what their products all come from the same factory. Or at least from petrol, in the more basic sense.

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Tuesday, July 03, 2007

Fat Sack 

We are, if you believe the hype, in the midst of a great and terrifying obesity epidemic. Hell, even if you don't believe the hype, a trip to your local shopping mall (especially if you live in the South or Midwest) will provide all the evidence you need. The question then is: why is it happening, and what can we do about it?

Understanding the why can lead to the what-to-do. On top of my list, besides our increasingly-sedentary society, is fructose sweeteners. In the US especially (due to ridiculous sugar tariffs designed to guarantee votes from Cubans in Florida), almost any food you buy is laced with high fructose corn syrup.

Besides being a source of boundless empty calories, new research further confirms that this crap is actively bad for you: compared to glucose-sweetened drinks, volunteers drinking fructose-sweetened ones had increased LDL ('bad') cholesterol, triglycerides, and other measures of atherosclerosis risk. This is why I read labels and avoid the stuff.

What else makes people fat? Stress! Georgetown researchers confirmed that chronically stressed mice got fatter, and put the fat in more unhealthy places (around the abdomen) than did non-stressed mice, and that Neuropeptide Y appears to be a major culprit in this pathway. Blocking NPY made fat cells shrink and excess fat 'melt' away. Ignoring the likely side-effects, where's my anti-NPY?!!

So, if you wanna lose weight: stop eating fructose-sweetened food, be less stressed, and, oh yeah, GET SOME EXERCISE!!!!

On a tangentially-related note, it turns out that those 'probiotic' yogurt thingeys, containing Lactobacillus casei, L bulgaricus, and Streptococcus thermophilus, really do reduce your risk of getting diarrhea after antibiotic treatment. Cool!

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