Author Archives: Bix

Data Smog

Here’s an article by Dr. Andrew Weil where he talks about being deluged with too much information:

Addressing Information Overload

This is the Information Age. We live in the middle of a revolution in collecting and disseminating information made possible by computers, the Internet, e-mail, mobile phones, and digital media. Information overload is the defining characteristic of our times and the main force now shaping the evolution of human society.

Sounds good, but there is a profound downside. A great deal of that information overload is irrelevant or suspect, and the sheer amount of it is drowning us. In addition, the media that deliver it to us are changing brain function, not necessarily for the better. The revolution in communication and information delivery has become one of the most contributory factors to epidemic depression.

Francis Heylighen, a cyberneticist at the Free University of Brussels, wrote, “The retrieval, production and distribution of information [are] infinitely easier than in earlier periods, practically eliminating the cost of publication. This has reduced the natural selection processes, which would otherwise have kept all but the most important information from being transmitted….The result is an explosion in irrelevant, unclear, and simply erroneous data fragments. This overabundance of low quality information has been called data smog….The problem is that people have clear limits in the amount of information they can process.”

When the amount of information overload coming at them exceeds those limits, people suffer. They are likely to ignore or forget information they need, to be overconfident on the basis of flawed or incomplete information, and to be less in control of their lives as a result. In the long term, information overload increases stress, with all of its predictable consequences for physical and emotional health.

For mental health and balance, nothing is more essential than placing firm limits on the amount of information you let into your life. There is no single right way to do it. You may choose to answer no email after 4 p.m. You may decide to carry a simpler cell phone that does not contain a vast array of attractive, distracting “apps.” You may take extended “data vacations” in which you have no interaction with digital devices at all, choosing instead to converse with friends, work in the garden, or otherwise engage in some activity that’s been part of human experience for thousands of years.

I can’t tell when he wrote this but I think data smog was a topic he covered in his 2011 book, Spontaneous Happiness. It wasn’t that long ago but in those 6 or 7 years I feel we’ve become even more attached to the online world. You can pay your bills, do your banking, shop, play games, watch movies, listen to music, do research, order meals … all online. All of that and now with the “internet of things” it’s become even more difficult to unplug. Do you think? (All of those things I just mentioned are also an opportunity to be exposed to advertising. Ads are everywhere!)

Two questions:

1. Do you take breaks from technology? (On purpose, not because you have to, and sleeping doesn’t count.)
2. What do you do during your break?

This is what grew from exactly 6 marigold seeds that I planted back in May and that resisted daily destruction by a chipmunk. I’m not a gardener and I don’t know much about flowers but it’s a nice break away from technology.

Zinc, A Reminder: Vegetarians Don’t Get Much

Most of the following is from the NIH Office of Dietary Supplements fact sheet on zinc.

Zinc is an essential mineral; we must eat some to survive. This is how much we should be eating:

Unlike other nutrients like iron, you need to eat some zinc every day “because the body has no specialized zinc storage system.”

Groups at Risk of Zinc Inadequacy

  • Evidence suggests that zinc intakes among older adults might be marginal. An analysis of NHANES III data found that 35%–45% of adults aged 60 years or older had zinc intakes below the estimated average requirement.
  • Any gastrointestinal problem, like IBS, Crohn’s, diarrhea, can decrease absorption.
  • The bioavailability of zinc from vegetarian diets is lower than from non-vegetarian diets because vegetarians do not eat meat, which is high in bioavailable zinc and may enhance zinc absorption. In addition, vegetarians typically eat high levels of legumes and whole grains, which contain phytates that bind zinc and inhibit its absorption. … Vegetarians sometimes require as much as 50% more of the RDA for zinc than non-vegetarians.
  • Ethanol [alcohol] consumption decreases intestinal absorption of zinc and increases urinary zinc excretion.

Imagine if you combine the above? An older person who eats a vegetarian diet, drinks alcohol, and suffers from IBS is a prime candidate for low zinc.

One of zinc’s primary uses in the body is for cell division. So, anything that involves the making of new cells (wound repair, protein synthesis, muscle building, skin and GI lining turnover, immune cells to fight off infection) is going to need zinc, and a condition of low zinc will slow these functions, e.g. wounds will take longer to heal.

If you’re looking for foods with zinc, follow the protein. Animal foods are good sources for zinc, but beans are a respectable non-animal source. An apple, being low in protein, has practically no zinc.

Life On The 4 Income Levels

In the vein of pictures telling stories (click to enlarge):

What I learned here is that more than half of the world’s population lives at Levels 1 and 2.

Here’s a quotation I read this morning. It’s attributed to the author William Gibson:

“The future has arrived — it’s just not evenly distributed yet.”

Red Lentil Paste

Red lentil paste is the foundation of a soup I eat almost every day. I boil some diced peppers, onions, tomatoes for about 20 minutes until most fluid is gone, add bean paste, extra jarred tomato sauce, tamari, and lots of spices (I like it hot). Sometimes I throw in some frozen spinach or diced zucchini. One day I’ll get enough of this soup but that day is not around the corner.

Antioxidants May Facilitate The Spread Of Cancer

Antioxidants May Make Cancer Worse, Scientific American, October 2015

Scientists now think that antioxidants, at high enough levels, also protect cancer cells from these same free radicals. “There now exists a sizable quantity of data suggesting that antioxidants can help cancer cells much like they help normal cells.”

The study that this article was based on was done on mice and used the antioxidant  N-acetylcysteine (NAC). The researchers also tested human melanoma cells with a form of vitamin E. In all of their tests, antioxidants caused cancer cells, melanoma cells in this case, to metastasize or spread.

When the body is given extra antioxidants, its tumor cells get to keep more of the antioxidants that they already make themselves. The [cancer] cells can store the surplus, improving their ability to survive damage.

It’s not so much that antioxidants caused cancer (initiation), but that they promoted the spread of existing, perhaps undiagnosed, cancer (progression).

In other words, it “could be that while antioxidants might prevent DNA damage — and thus impede tumor initiation — once a tumor is established, antioxidants might facilitate the malignant behavior of cancer cells.”

In some of their previous research this team found that antioxidants also protected lung cancer cells and breast cancer cells. There have been some epidemiological studies that support this well:

  • A large trial reported in 1994 that daily megadoses of the antioxidant beta-carotene increased the risk of lung cancer in male smokers by 18 percent.
  • A 1996 trial was stopped early after researchers discovered that high-dose beta-carotene and retinol, another form of vitamin A, increased lung cancer risk by 28 percent in smokers and workers exposed to asbestos.
  • A 2011 trial involving more than 35,500 men over 50 found that large doses of vitamin E increased the risk of prostate cancer by 17 percent.

Here’s the study it referenced:

Antioxidants Can Increase Melanoma Metastasis In Mice, Science Translational Medicine, October 2015

All of this work is about antioxidants from supplements, not from food. Not saying eating lots of antioxidants from food wouldn’t do the same thing, but it wasn’t addressed here.

Here’s a list of some antioxidants. Some of these, like vitamin E, selenium, and beta-carotene, have been linked to cancer, in supplement form.

Want To Solve The Obesity Crisis? Fight Poverty, Not Poor People

I want to highlight a few points in this article, even though the title says it all.

Want To Solve The Obesity Crisis? Fight Poverty, Not Poor People, Wired UK, 27 May 2018

People with lower incomes pay more – outright – for the same goods and services that higher-income people purchase. They also pay more indirectly, compared to those with higher-incomes, because necessary purchases take up a larger portion of their income. Similar to regressive taxes.

While we all need to eat healthier and exercise more the issues among low income groups are more complex. Those on low incomes pay what is called a ‘poverty premium’ for goods and services. They end up paying more – out of their lesser incomes – for services such as electricity, the internet and rent [and I’ll add for here in the US, healthcare]. They don’t have access to credit so cannot take advantage of online offers of cheap goods. They often live in areas where access to healthy and affordable food, especially fresh fruits and vegetables, is limited.

And this point, which I’ve been making for years (See my latest post on it, The Physician Boondoggle):

Data shows that the rich are more deficient in cooking skills than those on low incomes but do we hector them to learn how to cook? We don’t need to, as their diets are generally healthy for other reasons mainly to do with income, they can buy fresh fruit and vegetables and not worry about them going to waste a luxury not available to all on low incomes. For people on lower incomes, however, it is nearly impossible to purchase a healthy food basket, even if they wanted to.

And this point, which I’ve also posted about (See my post, “Hunger” Is Big Business):

Food charity developments such as food banks need to be seen for what they are – failures of the system not as celebrations of community good but, as one of my colleagues put it, “a symbol of our society’s failure to hold government accountable for hunger, food insecurity and poverty.”

“Why are you talking about food banks existing, if you don’t talk about why they exist, … It’s like pouring water into a boat that’s leaking.

It isn’t only poor people who are pressed to eat poorly. The medium income in this country hovers just under $60,000/year for a family; half the population makes more than that, half less. I’ve worked that out to about $6 for each meal – not $6 for one person, $6 for 3 or 4 or 5 people … a family. Two-for-one deals on fast food are attractive for millions of Americans because they are convenient, inexpensive, and tasty.

The Healing Power Of Sugar

The focus here is sugar placed on the body to treat wounds. Although, even in the body sugar is not so bad.

The Healing Power Of Sugar, BBC, 30 March 2018

To treat a wound with sugar, all you do, Murandu says, is pour the sugar on the wound and apply a bandage on top. The granules soak up any moisture that allows bacteria to thrive. Without the bacteria, the wound heals more quickly.

A growing collection of case studies from around the world has supported Murandu’s findings, including examples of successful sugar treatments on wounds containing bacteria resistant to antibiotics.

But a great deal of medical research is funded by pharmaceutical companies. And these companies, he points out, have little to gain from paying for research into something they can’t patent.

Is it useful on people with diabetes? Yes:

One question he had to answer during his research was whether sugar could be used on diabetic patients, who commonly have leg and foot ulcers.

He found that it worked for diabetics without sending their glucose levels soaring. “Sugar is sucrose – you need the enzyme sucrase to convert that into glucose,” he says. As sucrase is found within the body, it is only when the sugar is absorbed that it is converted. Applying it to the outside of the wound isn’t going to affect it in the same way.

Sugar, as well as honey, is also useful on pet’s wounds.