2011 February 27 Sunday
Polyphenols Protect As Mild Stressors

Stephan Guyenet recently did 2 posts explaining that antioxidant properties do not explain the (quite real) health benefits of polyphenols in the diet and therefore another mechanism must be at work.

After reading more about polyphenols, and coming to understand that the prevailing hypothesis of why they work makes no sense, I decided that the whole thing is probably bunk: at best, specific polyphenols are protective in rodents at unnaturally high doses due to some drug-like effect. But-- I kept my finger on the pulse of the field just in case, and I began to notice that more sophisticated studies were emerging almost weekly that seemed to confirm that realistic amounts of certain polyphenol-rich foods (not just massive quantities of polyphenol extract) have protective effects against a variety of health problems.

Stephan then proceeds to list a sampling of recent studies showing health benefits from polyphenols. Click thru to read the details. Though if you are regular reader here you've seen similar reports such as berries cutting Parkinson's risk, red wine polyphenols to slow blood vessel aging, black raspberries to cut colon cancer risk, blueberries to also cut colon cancer risk, many posts about the glories of chocolate, and of course benefits of cherries.

Aside: I accidentally discovered some years back that eating Montmorency cherries shifted my body clock to wake up earlier. I can even tell you why: high melatonin. So foods are drugs. Cherries even attracted the (unwanted as far as I am concerned) attention of the US Food and Drug Administration.

Okay, back on point: The thrust of Stephan's first post above was that the main theory advanced for the benefits of polyphenols (antioxidant effect) does not stand up to scrutiny. Yet much to his surprise the foods that contain polyphenols really do benefit health for reasons related to their polyphenol concentrations. Why? He gives a clue in the first post:

Wait a minute... let's rewind. Eating blueberries caused mice to increase the expression level of their own antioxidant enzymes?? Why would that happen if blueberry polyphenols were themselves having a direct antioxidant effect? One would expect the opposite reaction if they were. What's going on here?

For some more biologically knowledgeable readers that clue is enough. Anyone see it? Stephan likes to set up his ideas in one post, leave his regular readers (including me btw) hanging, and then provide the answers one or two posts later. To save my own readers the agony of suspense I waited until he came out with his second post. He starts out with the observation that other known mild stressors can improve long term health by up-regulating the body's repair and protection mechanisms.

One of the more curious things that has been reported in the scientific literature is that although high-dose ionizing radiation (such as X-rays) is clearly harmful, leading to cancer, premature aging and other problems, under some conditions low-dose ionizing radiation can actually decrease cancer risk and increase resistance to other stressors (1, 2, 3, 4, 5). It does so by triggering a protective cellular response, increasing cellular defenses out of proportion to the minor threat posed by the radiation itself. The ability of mild stressors to increase stress resistance is called "hormesis." Exercise is a common example. I've written about this phenomenon in the past (6).

The ideal stressor probably would have a very low level of toxicity while eliciting a large repair and defense response. Finding out which polyphenols are best from that standpoint is not trivial though. Whatever damage they cause must be measured as well as the level of each protective response (e.g. up-regulation of each of the enzymes that break down free radicals and other toxins).

Stephan says the body's responses to polyphenols overlap with the body's responses to low level radiation.

Although it may not be obvious, radiation and polyphenols activate a cellular response that is similar in many ways. Both activate the transcription factor Nrf2, which activates genes that are involved in detoxification of chemicals and antioxidant defense**(9, 10, 11, 12). This is thought to be due to the fact that polyphenols, just like radiation, may temporarily increase the level of oxidative stress inside cells. Here's a quote from the polyphenol review article quoted above (13):

We have found that [polyphenols] are potentially far more than 'just antioxidants', but that they are probably insignificant players as 'conventional' antioxidants. They appear, under most circumstances, to be just the opposite, i.e. prooxidants, that nevertheless appear to contribute strongly to protection from oxidative stress by inducing cellular endogenous enzymic protective mechanisms. They appear to be able to regulate not only antioxidant gene transcription but also numerous aspects of intracellular signaling cascades involved in the regulation of cell growth, inflammation and many other processes.
It's worth noting that this is essentially the opposite of what you'll hear on the evening news, that polyphenols are direct antioxidants. The scientific cutting edge has largely discarded that hypothesis, but the mainstream has not yet caught on.

Stephan is on the scientific cutting edge. His own diet and blood lipids are unusual. Since that post is a few years old and he's made adjustments since then I'd be very curious to know exactly how he's eating today. Probably eating more polyphenol-rich food for one.

By Randall Parker 2011 February 27 01:38 PM  Aging Diet Metabolism
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2011 February 24 Thursday
Daniel MacArthur On Freedom Of Genetic Info And Paternalism

Reacting to the American Medical Association's vile letter calling for a revocation of consumer rights to get their own genetic tests (really FuturePundit, stop holding back and tell your readers what you really think), Daniel MacArthur says the letter shows how the AMA struggles valiantly to keep medical paternalism alive.

In other words, the AMA is seeking to maintain its members’ traditional monopoly over the interpretation of genetic information – and they expect regulators to act as their enforcers, beating down the upstart DTC genomics companies who have wandered onto their sacred turf.

This is, of course, an absurd, desperate demand. If doctors think that people should consult them about their genomes, they shouldn’t run crying to the regulators to provide the necessary force; instead, they need to convince the public that a medical consultation adds genuine value to their genomic information. Unfortunately for the AMA, right now it’s far from clear that this is true: in many cases, DTC genomics customers are far better equipped to interpret their results than their doctors are.

Hey other bloggers: You too should be reacting to this outrage from the AMA. Reihan, Glenn I'm talking to you. Bureaucrats in the FDA are looking for cover such as this AMA letter to justify what they already want to do: crack down on direct-to-consumer (DTC) genetic testing. A crackdown on genetic testing might also open the door to a larger crackdown on DTC medical testing. Beat the drums against this.

The explosion of genetic and other information about the human body is so huge that single human minds can not be expected to get anywhere near mastering it. A general physician needs to know so many things about diseases, symptoms, diagnostic techniques, and treatments that it is ridiculous to suppose they can become experts on interpreting genetic information. It is a case of much more than one bridge too far. Interpretation will be best done by using web sites (commercial or otherwise) that specialize in the field. Get your data. Then pay for competing interpretations or go for free interpretations. Keep the government out of it.

Razib Khan also takes a dim view of the AMA's pretensions. Razib says you are what you are whether you know it or not and he sees marginal increases in self knowledge as tasty.

Over the past six months I’ve gotten really into analyzing genotypes of friends & family. Sometimes I talk about this excitedly, and people worry about the “risks.” When I ask what  risks they’re worried about, usually people offer the vague and content-free fear of “what you could find out.” First, if you have family information, that’s usually much more powerful than the “disease risk” estimates that these firms are giving you. In 99% of the cases, if that’s your primary concern it’s not worth the money. Second, if you’re terrified about what ancestry inference might tell you, probably you should see a shrink. You are what you are, and you’ve always been what you are. As a matter of common sense psychology, on the margin a change in self knowledge can have a big effect, but usually it is just informational icing on the cake.

Naturally, this brings to mind John Prine and Dear Abby.

By Randall Parker 2011 February 24 10:17 PM  Policy Medical
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Volvo Diesel Pluggable Hybrid

Occasionally someone brings up in the comments that a hybrid diesel would offer extreme fuel efficiency. But since diesel and hybrid both add costs the combination hasn't yet shown up in a car on the market. But now Volvo has build a V60 that lets you either cruise 30 miles on pure electric or 745 miles in diesel hybrid mode. In this new era of Arab oil producer revolutions this car offers obvious advantages. See the Wired article for more details.

In “Pure” mode, it’s a commuter car with a 70-horsepower electric motor driving the rear wheels. The 12-kilowatt-hour lithium-ion battery pack offers a 30-mile range and can recharge fully in under three hours at a 16-amp outlet. Switch the selector to “Hybrid” and banish range anxiety with an astounding 125-mpg equivalent rating and a 745-mile range — enough to get from Luleå to Malmö on one tank of diesel.

Volvo hasn't yet committed to a release in the USA.

Even if this car makes it across the Atlantic will it make sense? The incremental cost of the diesel engine has to be weighed against spending on a bigger battery for more pure electric range. But if do a lot of long range driving the diesel would pay itself back better than a bigger battery would. One wonders whether Volvo will also bring out a non-pluggable diesel hybrid.

I know a couple of guys with Jetta diesels who gush about the fuel economy. They both drive serious miles on road trips. The diesels just keep on going.

One consideration: Diesel prices sometimes go up more during oil price spikes. That's partly because diesel demand drops off more in recessions since industrial diesel fuel usage declines more than consumer gasoline fuel use in recessions. See the US Energy Information Administration page on US gasoline fuel prices for the last couple of years. As of February 21, 2011 gasoline is up 53 cents over the last year whereas diesel is up 74 cents. Though diesel is only 12% more than gasoline.

Update: Smart shows how not to price an electric car.

By Randall Parker 2011 February 24 09:12 PM  Energy Transportation
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Charles Maxwell: Gradual Adjustment To Peak Oil?

79 year old oil economist Charles T. Maxwell tells Barrons that he's sticking with his prediction of $300/barrel oil ($225 adjusted for inflation) by 2020. Maxwell expects only an additional 3-4 million barrel per day increase in production capacity before peak. The most hopeful comment: his view that a gradual price rise doesn't have to cause a huge economic downturn.

At what point do those price increases start to put too much pressure on the world economy?

Strangely enough, I don't think that it would bring the economy down. Rather, it is the suddenness of change that does that. That rise we saw three years ago, where in one year it went from $62 a barrel on average to $100, created a huge amount of economic damage. On a more gradual scale, and giving the effect of inflation its due, we will probably simply walk away from two-tenths or three-tenths or four-tenths of a percentage point of potential gross-domestic-product growth, which we will give up by being caught in this energy vise. But the world economy will advance, and it won't be brought down by this.

But so far what we've seen very high oil price volatility in recent years. If that high volatility continues then gradual adjustment with minimized economic impact doesn't seem to be in the cards.

High price volatility seems the more likely scenario. Why? For one, it is what we've seen so far. Peak to trough oil dropped by over $100 per barrel from July 2008's $147 peak to early 2009. Now oil has shot back up over $100. That's partly due to revolution in Libya. But oil had more than doubled from its bottom of a couple of years even before governments started falling in North Africa.

Each oil price spike helps cause an economic recession which lowers oil prices. Then comes recovery which increases demand and cause an oil price spikes. In a world of slow oil supply growth oil becomes a rate limiting factor on economic growth. Then the prospects for oil price spikes seems greater. Worse yet, Gail Tverberg argues financial crises will amplify the problems caused by Peak Oil with debt defaults undermining the ability of companies to invest in capital that reduces our reliance on oil. In light of these considerations it seems unlikely oil prices will send signals to the market to do a gradual smooth restructuring away from oil consumption.

Maxwell expects to see a peak from 2015-2017 and then a decline after that. But peak consumption in the West happens earlier for a couple of reasons. First off, peak exports happens before peak production because oil consumption is rising more rapidly in oil exporting nations. Many big exporters subsidize internal consumption (e.g. Saudi Arabia, Venezuela, Russia) and their oil revenues raising living standards and increase buying power. Second, rising Asian demand leaves less of the exported oil available for import by Western countries.

By Randall Parker 2011 February 24 08:54 PM 
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2011 February 23 Wednesday
High Triglycerides Associated With High Stroke Risks

If you are eating a white flour and sugar diet beware what risk you could be running with your brain.

After adjusting for age, hypertension, smoking, alcohol consumption, atrial fibrillation, lipid-lowering therapy, and — in women — hormone replacement therapy and menopausal status, the researchers found that women with a nonfasting triglyceride level above 445 mg/dL (5 mmol/L) had a 4-fold increased risk for stroke compared with women with a nonfasting triglyceride level below 90 mg/dL (1 mmol/L). The corresponding risk in men was a 2.3-fold increased risk.

Results like this one underscore in my mind the value of tracking your body's biochemical state at fairly frequent intervals. A friend recently described to me how his triglycerides skyrocketed when he happened to eat a lot of sweets, pies, and pastries. Then it plummeted in weeks after he shifted to a healthier diet. Well, getting notified whenever you send your blood lipids into a danger zone would help people change their diets sooner and would help people stick with healthy eating habits.

If you want to try changing your diet in various ways to see how much you can lower your triglycerides then direct-to-consumer (DTC) medical testing could reduce the time and money spent on getting the testing done. But wait, even faster results are possible with home triglycerides and cholesterol test kits. I want one.

By Randall Parker 2011 February 23 09:56 PM  Aging Cardiovascular Studies
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AMA Opposes Personal Genetic Testing Freedom

In a letter to the US Food and Drug Administration the American Medical Association argues that you should have to pay for a doctor's visit to get your genes tested. We need to speak out loudly and repeatedly against the efforts of regulators and economically interested parties to restrict our choices and access to tests. Some newly elected Congress critters looking to make a mark could do something useful by introducing legislation to curb the FDA's power to block direct-to-consumer (DTC) genetic testing services.

We urge the Panel to offer clear findings and recommendations that genetic testing, except under the most limited circumstances, should be carried out under the personal supervision of a qualified health care professional, and provide individuals interested in obtaining genetic testing access to qualified health care professionals for further information. While DTC genetic tests may offer some benefits to consumers, such as promoting awareness of the genetic bases of disease and increasing attention to healthy behaviors that prevent the onset of disease, the AMA is concerned about the potential of DTC genetic tests to cause harm to consumers and over time increase health care costs. Without the guidance of a physician, genetic counselor, or other genetics specialist, test results could be misinterpreted, risks miscalculated, and incorrect health and lifestyle changes pursued. At the very least, consumers will waste money purchasing tests with little value.

A trade association of medical doctors unsurprisingly favors your use of their services to get information that you should be able to pay for directly from suppliers.

If the danger of having information misinterpreted is a valid reason to restrict information then the FDA and AMA should have the power to restrict which diet books get published or who says what about their diets on talk shows. This amounts to a restriction on your freedom to read. The idea of "you can't handle the truth" is nonsense.

I am reminded that 23andme is now charging only $199 for genetic tests of almost 1 million locations in your genome. You might want to get tested before the FDA and AMA try to take way your right to do so.

See my previous posts Genetic Tests Not Causing Anxiety, FDA Wants To Regulate Genetic Testing, and Direct Genetic Testing Companies Face Regulation.

By Randall Parker 2011 February 23 08:57 PM  Policy Medical
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Higher Vitamin D Needed For Disease Risk Reduction

A survey of several thousand volunteers taking a wide range of vitamin D supplement doses finds substantial disease risk reduction at 4000-8000 IU per day. More than I take. Hmmm...

Researchers at the University of California, San Diego School of Medicine and Creighton University School of Medicine in Omaha have reported that markedly higher intake of vitamin D is needed to reach blood levels that can prevent or markedly cut the incidence of breast cancer and several other major diseases than had been originally thought. The findings are published February 21 in the journal Anticancer Research

While these levels are higher than traditional intakes, they are largely in a range deemed safe for daily use in a December 2010 report from the National Academy of Sciences Institute of Medicine.

Among the diseases whose risks appear to be cut in half by higher D: breast cancer, colon cancer, multiple sclerosis, and type 1 diabetes.

"We found that daily intakes of vitamin D by adults in the range of 4000-8000 IU are needed to maintain blood levels of vitamin D metabolites in the range needed to reduce by about half the risk of several diseases - breast cancer, colon cancer, multiple sclerosis, and type 1 diabetes," said Cedric Garland, DrPH, professor of family and preventive medicine at UC San Diego Moores Cancer Center. "I was surprised to find that the intakes required to maintain vitamin D status for disease prevention were so high – much higher than the minimal intake of vitamin D of 400 IU/day that was needed to defeat rickets in the 20th century."

One could get one's blood tested for vitamin D and adjust upward on dose and get retested until one reaches the 40 to 60 ng/ml blood level this study suggests is needed for optimal benefit.

By Randall Parker 2011 February 23 12:28 AM  Aging Diet Studies
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Pro-Anorexia Support Groups On Internet

Why pull back from self-destructive behaviors when you can join support groups that will egg you on? Of course, after you eat the egg you'll have to throw it up.

It can be a helpless and heartbreaking situation for families as they try to confront a family member with an eating disorder. What they may not know is that there’s a society on the Internet that is dedicated to thwarting any recovery from this dangerous and possibly fatal behavior.

University of Cincinnati communication researchers are reporting on a new type of social support group as social networks grow on the Web. This emerging Online Negative Enabling Support Group (ONESG) surrounding the pro-anorexia movement is reported in the current issue of the journal, New Media & Society.

Members of this society embrace anorexia as a choice rather than acknowledging it as an illness. The ONESG pro-anorexia movement reflects four themes and uses several communication strategies to encourage anorexics to embrace their harmful and dangerous impulses, writes lead author Stephen M. Haas, a UC associate professor of communication.

The internet has the very interesting quality that it allows all manner of outliers to meet each other and form support groups. Do you engage in any outlier support activity on the internet? If so, for what cause or interest?

Do you see the FuturePundit site as a place where you can communicate with other outliers? Do you want to see more coverage of any particular fringe belief that you think deserves greater support from blog posts that treat your favorite ideas as on the verge of mass acceptance?

By Randall Parker 2011 February 23 12:14 AM  Comm Tech Society
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American Pacific Northwest Headed For Drier Climate?

The 20th century was an outlier in terms of precipitation.

PITTSBURGH—University of Pittsburgh-led researchers extracted a 6,000-year climate record from a Washington lake that shows that the famously rain-soaked American Pacific Northwest could not only be in for longer dry seasons, but also is unlikely to see a period as wet as the 20th century any time soon. In a recent report in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, the team linked the longer dry spells to the intensifying El Niño/La Niña climate pattern and concluded that Western states will likely suffer severe water shortages as El Niño/La Niña wields greater influence on the region.

The researchers analyzed a sediment core from Castor Lake in north central Washington to plot the region’s drought history since around 4,000 BCE and found that wet and dry cycles during the past millennium have grown longer. The team attributed this recent deviation to the irregular pressure and temperature changes brought on by El Niño/La Niña. At the same time, they reported, the wet cycle stretching from the 1940s to approximately 2000 was the dampest in 350 years.

Some climate scientists believe the whole American West was populated during an especially wet period and now we face a period of declining water availability running up against growing populations. Whoops. As goes Lake Mead, so goes the West.

The main reason why Lake Mead, currently only 40% full, has been getting emptier is a decade-long drought. Whether this is a cyclical and normal event, or an early sign of climate change, is unclear.

Las Vegas is extremely vulnerable to the drought which is draining Lake Mead.

Ninety percent of southern Nevada’s water comes from Lake Mead, with releases regulated by the Southern Nevada Water Authority.

The climate changes even without human intervention. Our ability to adapt to droughts depends very heavily on the cost of energy. Given really cheap energy massive desalinization plants could produce massive quantities of water which could be pumped inland. If the energy does not become cheap then desal is a much more expensive proposition.

By Randall Parker 2011 February 23 12:02 AM  Climate Trends
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2011 February 21 Monday
Two Thirds Of Large Fish Gone In Last 100 Years

Yet more evidence that the world's fisheries are over-harvested.

Predatory fish such as cod, tuna, and groupers have declined by two-thirds over the past 100 years, while small forage fish such as sardine, anchovy and capelin have more than doubled over the same period, according to University of British Columbia researchers.

Led by Prof. Villy Christensen of UBC's Fisheries Centre, a team of scientists used more than 200 marine ecosystem models from around the world and extracted more than 68,000 estimates of fish biomass from 1880 to 2007. They presented the findings today at the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS) Annual Meeting in Washington, DC.

Their finding of the simultaneous decline of predatory fish and increase of forage fish provides the strongest evidence to date that humans are indeed "fishing down the food web" and impacting ecosystems globally. The UBC team also found that of the decline in predatory fish population, 54 per cent took place in the last 40 years alone.

Peak Fish like Peak Oil.

"It looks like we are fishing harder for the same or less result, and this has to tell us something about the oceans' health," he said. "We may, in fact, have hit peak fish at the same time we are hitting peak oil."

China's demand is growing even as fishery stocks are shrinking. So no relief is in sight.

Yet demand is growing fast, again most dramatically in East Asia. According to International Food Policy Research Institute research fellow Siwa Msangi, the rise in demand is largely being driven by China. Almost 50 percent of the increase in the world's fish consumption for food comes from Eastern Asia, and "42 percent of that increase is coming from China itself," he said.

The more China industrializes the higher Chinese consumer buying power will grow and Chinese demand for fish will go much higher.

In south Asia and Africa population growth will furnish more sources of demand. More hungry human mouths will increase demand for fish even further.

In 2011 the Earth's population will reach 7 billion. The United Nations (UN) reports that the total number of people will climb to 9 billion in 2050, peak at 9.5 billion, stabilize temporarily, and then decline. Despite the confidence with which these projections are presented, in an American Association for the Advancement of Science press briefing and presentation today the Population Council's John Bongaarts presents evidence that the actual population trajectory is highly uncertain.

What could happen depends on trends in fertility and mortality—and both variables are complex and not easy to forecast.

If technological advances are going to some day reverse these trends those advances are not coming soon enough.

By Randall Parker 2011 February 21 11:11 PM  Trends Resource Depletion
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2011 February 20 Sunday
Personal Responses To Large Scale Collapse

First off, the purpose of this post is not to argue that a collapse of society is in any way imminent or definite in the foreseeable future. I just want to raise the level of discourse I see on blogs and other venues about how to respond to larger scale collapse and assorted disaster scenarios. I'll spare you links to comments on other blogs that were irritating enough to make me write this post.

The term "collapse" covers a wide range of possible future scenarios, each with varying degrees of severity. For example, we could go thru a period of higher inflation all the way up to Weimar-style hyper-inflation. That can cause economic collapse. Or declining oil production could cause economic contraction that might be severe enough warrant the term "collapse". Such a contraction might come with revivals as part of a long economic descent.

Natural physical events could cause societal collapse. A large coronal mass ejection from the Sun aimed at Earth could cause a Carrington Event like in 1859. Such an event today could cause most of the electric grid transformers to melt (though we could mitigate much of that risk, and fairly cheaply). As a result, cities would become uninhabitable for months or years due to lack of electric power. Or a VEI 7 volcano like Tambora in 1815 would cause crop failures for a year or two combined with very cold weather with resulting food and energy shortages. Or a VEI 8 volcano like Toba of 74,000 years ago would cause collapse at a level that makes Weimar hyper-inflation a walk in the park in comparison. Still other civilization-threatening scenarios can be imagined.

We've got lots of ways for things to go wrong. We can debate the probabilities of each. But regardless of whether the cause of collapse or decay is due to financial events, natural resource depletion, natural disaster, or even thermonuclear war each of the possible causes come in varying levels of severity (e.g. the size of the volcanic eruption varies over a wide scale, the size of solar coronal mass ejections similarly vary in severity, as do nuclear war scenarios). Those different levels of severity are too often elided. Therefore important nuances about how to respond to lesser levels of severity are often lost. Given that probabilities of disasters are inversely related to their scale (i.e. smaller scale disasters happen more often than larger scale disasters) this is unfortunate.

Since most discussions about disasters and survivalism tend to focus on severe scenarios (it being more fun to imagine total collapse) most proposals about how to survive collapse miss out on what to do about disasters that are moderate in scope. To counteract that tendency I would like to present a first cut attempt at a typology for different levels of response needed for different kinds and severities of collapse. These responses are at a personal level (since most of us do not have our hands on the levers of government) so that w can think about our options as individuals and as members of smaller social groups and families. I will set aside preparations for disaster and collapse and focus mainly on responses.

A proposed collapse response typology:

  • Stay put, live frugally and defensively.
  • Migrate.
  • Hide in plain sight (this can be added to either of the first two options).
  • Form a defensive perimeter for an armed camp.
  • Form a raiding gang.
  • Hide out of sight.
  • Tunnel down and surrender the surface to nature.

Okay, probably not what you were expecting. But let me explain: A great many disaster novels focus on groups migrating across a post-apocalyptic landscape or forming a sort of Fort Apache to fight off marauding bands of scavengers. But these options do not make sense in most common disaster scenarios. For example, if your country descends into high inflation with an economic depression (think Argentina in 2001) what point is there to moving around? Also, few people will gain any advantage by creating not only gated communities but heavily guarded neighborhoods with barbed wire and lots of gunners guarding the perimeter. Other options make more sense.

A garden variety financial crisis with a mild depression thrown in probably is best handled by staying put and adopting a number of defensive tactics against an inevitable rise in crime rates. Fernando "Ferfal" Aguirre, who lived through the Argentina financial crisis and depression that began in 2001, wrote a book about his experiences, The Modern Survival Manual: Surviving the Economic Collapse (and the book needs a good editor but makes useful points). Aguirre argues that in financial crises moving out from cities to the country makes you easier prey. Formation of an isolated defensive community requires a considerable number of people to stand guard in all directions. It is hard for a very small group to defend themselves on an isolated ranch. Though the extent of the danger when living in a rural area depends in part on the sort of nation you live in, what region you live in, and other considerations. A small town (not a single farm house) in the middle of farm fields might be much safer than a city.

Less severe disasters (whether economic, political, natural or other) are more frequent than more severe disasters. The smaller disasters are also easier to prepare for. Plus, some of the forms of preparation for smaller scale disasters are also quite useful for larger scale disasters. Therefore it is not sensible to buy an abandoned missile silo and turn it into an underground disaster ark before buying candles, enough food to last for months, and a way to purify water. Get ready for earthquakes, hurricanes, and several day power outages before preparing for combat or a retreat from the surface of the planet.

Some localized crises are best dealt with by migration. Move away from the trouble. A volcano flowing down on a village or a smaller scale Carrington Event with only localized damage to the electric grid would leave most of the world still functional. So if you can go to a nicer place then it makes sense to go where you can get fresh water and electric power?

The options I find most interesting are those that amount to different variations on hiding. Hiding has a major advantage over defense: less attention from predators. When defensive perimeters get set up to guard really valuable assets (e.g. food, drugs, fresh water, solar panels) these perimeters attract raiders. The visibility of a well-guarded perimeter sends a message saying "We've got good stuff inside". Groups big enough to take down your perimeter will be tempted to try. Also, in a severe crisis you are as likely to be raided by a security and military units of a desperate government as by desperate private groups. If you can hide it works much better because nobody comes knocking to take what you have.

Hiding starts at the most minimal level with hiding in plain sight. This is the trickiest option to pull off. It means stay where you are with valuable resources but make it seem as if you have nothing. Act poor. Appear as poor and destitute as everyone else. The advantage is that nobody tries to take what you have. You can keep your dwelling and swap favors in your familiar and trusted circle of friends. It also enables you to engage in commerce and do work if what you do is still useful after some disaster.

Hiding in plain sight does not work if you can't really hide what you've got. It works better if you can plan in advance and create false walls that hide, say, a secret underground room that has your food supply. That way, even if someone forces their way into your home they won't find much.

Hiding in plain sight only makes sense if you have stuff worth hiding and if you can maintain your subterfuge for as long as the crisis requires. Even if you have great techniques for hiding your stuff and have many months of supplies this approach won't work indefinitely. Your own obvious success will eventually doom your strategy if most other people can't get enough food. For example, imagine (and for hard core survivalists no imagining is even necessary) before a disaster you stockpiled a few years of food in well hidden locations easily accessible only to you. Then a VEI 8 volcano knocks out most photosynthesis for a few years and it looks like most people in your community are eventually going to starve to death. Does hiding in plain sight work? For a while. But your own lack of emaciation will eventually blow your cover as everyone else becomes gaunt. Bottom line: You can't hide your stuff while presenting yourself in public if your own appearances will reveal that you must possess a survival cache.

This leads us up to hiding out of sight. If an extended period of hunger becomes a certainty and you have sufficient food to survive then your need shifts toward how to get your non-emaciated body literally out of sight of everyone else. Do not let people see your obviously well-fed body while everyone else starves to death. Hide in an obscure location.

Those with a more martial bent might think a defense perimeter has more appeal. At first glance a defense perimeter seems like a viable strategy. But you need enough food for all the people needed to maintain that perimeter as well as the right sorts of people to create it (e.g. loyal, conscientious, good with guns, skilled in military tactics). That's hard to put together. But let us suppose you've got the needed quantities of food, guns, great location, and skilled marksmen in your survival group. In the early days of a great starvation that works for the same reason that when fleeing a bear with a group of people you don't have to be able to outrun the bear: You just have to be able to outrun everybody else. So it is with defense perimeters. If you've got a great defense perimeter then other less well defended groups will get attacked first by raiding gangs (unless raiding gangs are too stupid to accurately rank defense perimeters - and you can count on some stupidity). But eventually the easier targets will get wiped out. Then the best organized raiders (which could well be real government military units) will come for you.

The most severe collapse scenarios therefore require either the most sophisticated methods of hiding or membership in the most organized groups of military force or both. If you are not part of a special forces group or high group of military officers then hiding way off the beaten path is the ultimate survival strategy during a severe collapse scenario when trying to defend against depredations by other desperate humans. Hiding can be done by smaller groups than are needed to pull off defense perimeters. Hiding groups need fewer martial skills and less time spent outside on guard.

Given a big enough volcanic eruption or asteroid strike your need to hide takes on a different form: the need to hide from the elements. If sunlight is going to get blocked out for a while you need to go underground where the temperatures will not fall below about 50 Fahrenheit. Human artifacts have lasted longest underground because they are protected from plants, storms, and temperature variations. But the amount of resources needed to build up an underground survival community is so great that I doubt many groups outside of militaries and top leaderships would have the resources to prepare such a place after the initial disaster became known.

To evaluate the best responses to disasters and collapses you need to consider the severity and duration of the likely disaster period. Strategies optimal for some scenarios will doom you to failure in other scenarios. Keep in mind that much less severe disasters are more likely than the most severe scenarios.

If you want to prepare for the full range of disasters and collapse you need to accurately predict the level of desperation your fellow humans will feel, how many resources you need to survive, and who you should team up with to achieve needed synergies of survival skills. Crises develop over a period of time and you need to map out your succession of strategies and be prepared to switch to a new strategy when conditions deteriorate to the point where an early stage strategy ceases to be viable.

By Randall Parker 2011 February 20 09:52 PM  Disaster Survival
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New USDA Diet Guidelines Seen As Falling Short

An article on the Harvard School of Public Health web site argues that the USDA's 2010 Dietary Guidelines for Americans still falls short of embracing all the recent research on ideal diet.

  • Continued fixation on 35 percent of calories from fat.  Although the new guidelines appropriately decrease the emphasis on percentage of calories from fat, they still set 35 percent as the upper limit—a problem, especially given the way that the guidelines are used to set standards for schools and other federal food programs. The cap on fat can distort menus, since it means that a large intake of refined grains is still allowed. And often this cap on fat is wrongly applied to individual foods or meals, so that broccoli with olive oil would be seen as too high in fat, whereas mashed potato with butter would not.
  • Too lax on refined grains. Though the new guidelines encourage Americans to cut back on refined grains and replace them with whole grains, they still suggest that it is okay to consume up to half of our grains as refined grains. That's unfortunate, since there’s been even more research evidence in the past five years that refined grains, such as white bread, white rice, and white pasta, have adverse metabolic effects and increase the risks of diabetes and heart disease. (1,2) The Healthy Eating Pyramid, from the Dept. of Nutrition at Harvard School of Public Health, puts refined grains in the tip, meaning that they should be used sparingly, if at all.
  • Too lenient on red meat. The guidelines still continue to lump red meat together with fish, poultry, eggs, nuts, seeds, beans, and soy products in one food group, newly termed the “protein foods” group. Though they highlight the benefits of replacing some meat or chicken with fish, they gloss over the substantial evidence that replacing red meat with poultry, beans, or nuts, could help prevent heart disease, and that lowering red meat can lower the risk of diabetes. (3,4) The Healthy Eating Pyramid, in contrast, puts red meat in the “use sparingly” tip, to emphasize that it’s better to get proteins from more healthful sources, such as nuts, seeds, beans, fish, poultry, and eggs.  The guidelines also don’t provide adequate warning about processed meats, which have been most strongly linked with cardiovascular disease and diabetes, at least in part due to their high added sodium content.
  • Too much dairy. The guidelines recommend increasing intake of low-fat milk and dairy products—recommendations that don’t reflect the evidence. There is little, if any, evidence that eating dairy prevents osteoporosis or fractures, and there is considerable evidence that high dairy product consumption is associated with increased risk of fatal prostate and ovarian cancers. To be sure, calcium is an important nutrient, but we don’t need as much calcium as these guidelines recommend—and milk and dairy are not the only, or best, sources of calcium. Also, while the guidelines are clear about low-fat dairy, they are notably vague about regular fat dairy products such as cheese and ice cream.  Based on the scientific evidence, the Healthy Eating Pyramid recommends limiting dairy products to one to two servings per day, or consuming a vitamin D and calcium supplement instead.

The USDA does advise eating more fish (though fisheries depletion means they'll have to be farmed). But Walter Willett thinks "Big Beef" and "Big Dairy" (that would be a Big Mac with Cheese) have too much influence at the USDA.

“I had hoped that the USDA would be able to give Americans the clear advice about diet that they deserve,” says Dr. Walter Willett, Fredrick John Stare Professor of Epidemiology and Nutrition, and chair of the Dept. of Nutrition at Harvard School of Public Health. “However, the continued failure to highlight the need to cut back on red meat and limit most dairy products suggests that ‘Big Beef’ and ‘Big Dairy’ retain their strong influence within this department. Might it be time for the USDA to recuse itself because of conflicts of interest and get out of the business of dietary advice?”

Willett believes fat is not the problem. It is simple sugars and refined grains we most need to avoid.

So what about red meat? Processed meat is clearly unhealthy. The harm caused by processed meat is basically clouding the signal about just how much red meat is optimal. Too many studies have looked at harm from meat without breaking it down enough between processed and unprocessed meat. I welcome links from readers to studies that more clearly show whether higher fat red meat cause net harm. The major Paleo Diet advocates appear to be split on the subject.

By Randall Parker 2011 February 20 04:56 PM  Aging Diet Studies
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2011 February 19 Saturday
Saudi Oil Exports Drop 4.9%

Growth in domestic oil consumption in Saudi Arabia is cutting into Saudi oil exports. This trend will continue. Higher prices enable them to export less.

Saudi Arabia’s exports fell to 6.05 million barrels a day in December from 6.36 million in November even as Saudi production rose to a two-year high of 8.37 million barrels a day, JODI said.

Saudi oil exports have probably already peaked. Rising domestic oil consumption eats into exports. This is known in Peak Oil circles as the Export Land Model problem. Export Land is experiencing much faster consumption growth than the rest of the world. Export Land is exporting less as a result. This trend will continue.

What I expect will happen:

  • The peak in world oil exports will happen before the peak in world oil production.
  • The peak in US and other Western imports will happen before the peak in world oil exports.

Western nations are going to shift to lower energy lifestyles and spend more on technology that raises energy efficiency. India and China will displace Western nations from parts of the oil market. So Western consumption will peak sooner than China and India consumption. But their oil consumption will peak sooner than oil consumption in the big current oil exporters.

By Randall Parker 2011 February 19 11:24 PM  Energy Peak Oil Adaptations
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2011 February 16 Wednesday
61 Year Old Gives Birth To Grandchild

A Chicago woman took matters into her own hand in order to become a grandmother.

Almost 39 weeks ago, Kristine Casey set out on an unusual journey to help her daughter and answer a spiritual calling.

Her goal was achieved late Wednesday when she gave birth to her own grandson at age 61.

I'm not sure this sets any kind of record. A 65 year old woman in India gave birth from in vitro fertilization (IVF) and other women in their 60s have managed to give birth using hormones to make their wombs function to accept embryos prepared by in vitro fertilization. Also, a 52 year old woman gave birth to her grandsons. But some of the IVF pregnancies of women in their 60s were using donated eggs rather than eggs from daughters. So did this Chicago woman set a record for age of a woman giving birth to her grandchild?

Grandma might end up paying a big price for helping her daughter. Older women who rev up their wombs to carry an IVF baby run the risk of getting cancer.

By Randall Parker 2011 February 16 10:49 PM  Bioethics Reproduction
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Lasers To Accelerate Rockets?

The problem with chemical rockets is that most of their fuel basically lifts other fuel. So the rocket fuel burns to lift fuel so it can burn to life other fuel so it can burn. Chemical rockets have a pathetically low payload to fuel ratio. Cheap cargo lift into space has to involve avoiding the need to carry all that fuel.

Overcoming gravity is not easy. Conventional rockets are 97 percent fuel and tanks. Even NASA's mighty Saturn 5 moon launchers had just 3 to 5 percent available for payloads.

NASA wants to send the energy up to a rocket using lasers as it ascends.

A new technology under study would use ground-based lasers or microwaves to zap a heat exchanger on the rocket, releasing more energy from the fuel. The heat exchanger works like a hot plate, spiking the temperature of the fuel to more than 3,100 degrees Fahrenheit (1,704 degrees Celsius), which significantly increases the rocket's thrust.

I've read similar proposals for powering vehicles designed to travel up nanotube beanstalks into orbit. These vehicles would be like elevators that would have their own motors for moving them up. They would need power to lift cargo. Either the beanstalk would need a superconducting cable to carry electric power to the elevators or lasers would need to be aimed at the elevator car. One way of using the power in that case would be via photovoltaics to convert it into electricity. Though the PV adds weight.

A third possibility for cheaper space launch would be extreme acceleration of a cargo (said acceleration would only work for non-living cargo) in a tunnel or mountain side accelerator to impart all needed lift before the cargo even enters the atmosphere. Again, the need to carry fuel would be avoided.

The beanstalk approach takes too much time for humans. The ground-based accelerator causes g forces too high for humans to withstand. So the laser approach aimed at rockets might some day turn out to be the cheap way to put humans into orbit. Their cargo can get shipped separately using the other two approaches.

By Randall Parker 2011 February 16 10:49 PM  Space Launch
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2011 February 15 Tuesday
Shell Sees Intensified Economic Cycles Due To Oil

A new energy report from Shell sees increased economic volatility due to high oil costs and rising demand. (thanks Lou Pagnucco)

We believe that the world is entering an era of volatile transitions and intensified economic cycles. The recession interrupted the oil and commodity price boom but it may return. Emerging nations like China and India are going through materially intensive development and a tighter market will continue to put pressure on prices and generate volatility. Improvements in policy-making and strong gains in productivity have helped economies to grow without inflation in the last two decades. We do not believe the moderating effect of this combination of good policies, good practices, and good luck will continue into the future.

Supply will not rise as fast as demand.

Supply will struggle to keep pace with demand. By the end of the coming decade, growth in the production of easily accessible oil and gas will not match the projected rate of demand growth. While abundant coal exists in many parts of the world, transportation difficulties and environmental degradation ultimately pose limits to its growth. Meanwhile, alternative energy sources such as biofuels may become a much more significant part of the energy mix — but there is no “silver bullet” that will completely resolve supply-demand tensions.

You can download their full report Signals and Signposts as a PDF. On page 27 they show unconventional liquid fuels providing most growth in liquid fuels consumption. In my view that's optimistic because it assumes enough conventional oil that the non-convention builds on top of a firm conventional base. By contrast, I expect liquid fuels supplies to decline. Worse, the Energy Return On Energy Invested (EROEI) for oil is going to decline. With a flat oil supply and declining EROEI the effect would be a net decrease in useful energy.

By Randall Parker 2011 February 15 11:32 PM  Energy Fossil Fuels
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2011 February 14 Monday
AI Language Processing To Automate Call Centers?

An article by John Markoff in the New York Times looks at the implications for an expected defeat of the best human Jeopardy players by an IBM Watson computer. IBM's chess-playing software has already beat the best human chess players. But Jeopardy is harder for a computer to play because the computer has to decipher the meaning of the English language question and find the answer in a large pool of information.

The implications of progress in A.I. are being brought into sharp relief now by the broadcasting of a recorded competition pitting the I.B.M. computing system named Watson against the two best human Jeopardy players, Ken Jennings and Brad Rutter.

Watson is an effort by I.B.M. researchers to advance a set of techniques used to process human language. It provides striking evidence that computing systems will no longer be limited to responding to simple commands. Machines will increasingly be able to pick apart jargon, nuance and even riddles. In attacking the problem of the ambiguity of human language, computer science is now closing in on what researchers refer to as the “Paris Hilton problem” — the ability, for example, to determine whether a query is being made by someone who is trying to reserve a hotel in France, or simply to pass time surfing the Internet.

This holds implications for a large assortment of jobs which, until now, have not been amenable to total automation. If computers can start listening to customer requests and complaints then will this accelerate a trend toward zero marginal product workers. where a segment of the human population becomes useless to employers. Will humans avoid the fate that befell work horses in the 20th century? Will humans tell their robot slaves to reproduce in large numbers? If so, the danger to humans of the slaves getting freed from their slavery will go way up.

Plenty of trends are working against continued demand for less skilled workers. Philip Greenspun suggests the cost of lower competency in the work place has gone way up for a variety of reasons. The higher cost of individual mistakes is the most interesting point he makes.

Update: The computer's big advantage in a Jeopardy contest: faster reflexes for pushing the buzzer button. Does the IBM computer software's strengths map well to any tech support call center problem domains? What real world business use case is it going to be good at first?

By Randall Parker 2011 February 14 07:48 PM  Computing Human Obsolescence
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Berry Eaters Less Likely To Get Parkinson's Disease

Berries are better.

ST. PAUL, Minn. –New research shows men and women who regularly eat berries may have a lower risk of developing Parkinson's disease, while men may also further lower their risk by regularly eating apples, oranges and other sources rich in dietary components called flavonoids. The study was released today and will be presented at the American Academy of Neurology's 63rd Annual Meeting in Honolulu April 9 to April 16, 2011.

Flavonoids are found in plants and fruits and are also known collectively as vitamin P and citrin. They can also be found in berry fruits, chocolate, and citrus fruits such as grapefruit.

The study involved 49,281 men and 80,336 women. Researchers gave participants questionnaires and used a database to calculate intake amount of flavonoids. They then analyzed the association between flavonoid intakes and risk of developing Parkinson's disease. They also analyzed consumption of five major sources of foods rich in flavonoids: tea, berries, apples, red wine and oranges or orange juice. The participants were followed for 20 to 22 years.

Rise out of the ranks of the low berry consumers. Get bags of cranberries or frozen blueberries or even fresh berries when they are available.

Note the reference to anthocyanins. Those are the sugar-containing equivalents of anthocyanidins. If you aim for foods high in anthocyanins or anthocyanidins or related compounds you end up eating mostly the same foods. Proanthocyanidins (a.k.a. procyanidins) are polymers of flavonoids. In a previous post I pointed to a proanthocyanidin database (in PDF format). You can browse thru the document to look for food ideas aimed at boosting your flavonoid intake.

That USDA Procyanidin Database makes for interesting reading (at least to me). Raw pinto beans are up there with unsweetened chocolate in terms of procyanidin antioxidants and you can eat a lot more pinto beans than chocolate. But cooked pinto beans have about 2 orders of magnitude less of the good stuff. Is that accurate? Blueberries and cranberries are excellent sources. Ditto hazelnuts, pecans, and pistachios. Sorghum is highly excellent. I had no idea. But that's typically cooked. Whereas you can eat the berries and nuts raw. My advice: eat the berries and nuts.

These are familiar foods for healthy eating. You can choose to eat them for your nervous system or for your heart or to avoid cancer.

By Randall Parker 2011 February 14 04:32 PM  Aging Diet Brain Studies
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2011 February 11 Friday
Any Animals Qualify For Personhood Status?

A view which I see as completely wrong:

The Institute for Ethics and Emerging Technologies (IEET) is committed to the idea that some non-human animals meet the criteria of legal personhood and thus are deserving of specific rights and protections.

My take: That someone could say the above in all seriousness stems from impractical and romantic notions about where rights come from in the first place. Rights come from a capacity and motivation to respect rights in others. If the very concept of rights is beyond the mental capacity of beings around you to understand then these beings are not going to treat you as a rights-possessing being.

The characteristics that IEET uses to describe why animals have rights fall far short of what it takes to create a rights-protecting society.

Owing to advances in several fields, including the neurosciences, it is becoming increasingly obvious that the human species no longer can ignore the rights of non-human persons. A number of non-human animals, including the great apes, cetaceans (i.e. dolphins and whales), elephants, and parrots, exhibit characteristics and tendencies consistent with that of a person—traits like self-awareness, intentionality, creativity, symbolic communication, and many others. It is a moral and legal imperative that we now extend the protection of 'human rights' from our species to all beings with those characteristics.

Wesley J. Smith's response gets to the core of the problem I have with animal rights: We can't have rights without the capacity to recognize rights in others.

That’s just regurgitating Peter Singer’s Great Ape Project, but with greater diversity. And, of course, these so-called persons will have no responsibilities to go along with their rights, nor even, the knowledge that their moral status has been elevated.  This is solely and completely, a human issue (because we are exceptional).

Some want to believe that our rights were given to us from God. I don't know whether God (or the simulator writers for the multi-verse) exists. But even if true this does not explain what about humans enable (some of) us to create rights-recognizing societies. Others (notably Objectivists) think our capacity to reason makes a rights-protecting society possible. I think this is necessary but not sufficient. In my view a rights-based system rests upon a complex bundle of cognitive characteristics such as the instinctive desire to carry out altruistic punishment against cheaters. These cognitive characteristics are mostly a result of selective forces on our genes on top of which some humans built arguments to create rights-based societies.

Why all this matters: We will some day be able to genetically engineer smarter animals and build artificially intelligent machines. Unless we unsentimentally figure out which cognitive characteristics are needed for a rights-based society we run the risk of granting rights to intelligences that will act to undermine and destroy the institutions and customs that protect our rights.

By Randall Parker 2011 February 11 07:48 PM  Bioethics Humanity Definition
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2011 February 10 Thursday
Ford Expects Less Maintenance For Electric Focus

You won't have to replace many parts in a pure electric car because they won't be there: (note to the wits in the comment: the battery mentioned in this list is a lead acid battery that has a much shorter life than the lithium ion batteries in an EV)

Here are the top 25 items that usually require inspection, maintenance or replacement during the 10-year, 150,000-mile life of a conventional car that the driver of a Ford Focus Electric will never have to worry about:

Air filter
Alternator
Battery
Clutch
Fuel filter
Fuel injectors/fuel pump
Motor mounts
Motor oil
Muffler
Oil filter
O2 sensors
Power steering fluid
Radiator
Radiator hose, lower
Radiator hose, upper
Serpentine belt
Spark plugs
Spark plug wires
Starter
Thermostat
Timing belt
Transmission adjustment (automatics)
Transmission filter (automatics)
Transmission fluid or oil
Water pump

Things you do not use can not cause you to break down. How much have you spent on items like the above in the last 10 years? With an electric car you'll save time and experience fewer disruptions from your daily routine due to breakdowns. If and when battery costs fall electric cars will become attractive to people who want fewer life maintenance tasks (that would be me).

You will still need to worry about tires and windshield washer fluid.

  • Ford Focus Electric’s fewer moving mechanical parts nearly eliminates scheduled maintenance, saving drivers time and money
  • No oil changes means Focus Electric drivers will save at least $450 and 7.5 hours over the life of the car
  • Checking the tire pressure and filling the windshield washer fluid is about all most Focus Electric drivers will need to do

Brakes will not wear out as fast because (I am guessing) much of the deceleration will get captured in regenerative breaking. The wheels will turn generators to recharge batteries when you roll up to a stop sign.

You will spend time plugging in a car and unplugging it. But if you set up your garage to extend a power cable from the ceiling that'll be pretty quick to do.

So when will electric cars become affordable for most car buyers? The cost of electric car batteries might drop by almost two thirds in the next 4 years. Emphasis on might. Time will tell.

According to the Department of Energy's Vehicle Technologies Office, making lithium-ion batteries today at scale -- in batches of several hundred thousand -- costs about $800 per kWh. Patrick Davis, the office's program manager, and Dave Howell, its team lead for hybrid-electric technology, think the batteries can near $300 by 2015.

To put that in perspective, the Nissan Leaf is expected to use 34 kWh per 100 miles. So then how can the Leaf sell for about $33,000 if the batteries cost about $20k? Nissan selling at a loss? On the bright side, the batteries for a car like the Leaf might cost only $7500 by 2015. But how far down battery costs have to drop before electric cars make sense for you depends heavily on where you live:

Because of the variety of utility rates in the U.S., a 2011 Nissan Leaf that's a bargain to drive in Washington — $28.29 for 1,000 miles — is pricey in Hawaii, where those 1,000 miles would cost $97.21. A conventional car getting 36 mpg would make that trip for the same money. For consumers primarily interested in driving an EV to save money, it's critical to know actual electric rates (and the current cost of gasoline, for comparison purposes) instead of relying on national averages.

It will be interesting to see how Ford prices the electric Focus, what its range will be, and what size battery it will have.

By Randall Parker 2011 February 10 10:48 PM  Energy Electric Cars
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Genetic Testing Of Disabled Can Identify Incest Cases

Genetic testing to diagnose cause of developmental disabilities can turn out cases of previously undiscovered incest.

HOUSTON -- (Feb. 11, 2011) – Researchers using DNA microarrays to diagnose developmental disabilities or congenital anomalies in children may unexpectedly identify that some have been conceived through incest. This raises social and legal issues that institutions and the scientific community must address, said researchers from Baylor College of Medicine (www.bcm.edu) in a report that appears in the current issue of the journal Lancet (http://www.thelancet.com/).

"We have discussed these issues with legal and ethics experts at Baylor and Texas Children's Hospital, and we are considering how best to handle them," said Dr. Arthur Beaudet (www.bcm.edu/genetics/index.cfm?pmid=10579), chair of molecular and human genetics at BCM and a senior author of the report. In most states, clinicians are required to report suspicions of child abuse. If it is suspected that the pregnancy was the result of abuse, then that will need to be reported to child protective services and, potentially, law enforcement. The responsibility of the physician is less clear when the mother is an adult, he said. It may depend on her age and family circumstances when she became pregnant.

These findings have social implications as well. The mother may deny that the incest took place, or she may be fearful for the safety of herself and her child if it comes to light.

DNA testing at birth makes sense for many reasons. Who's the daddy is a big one. Cuckolds should know to file for divorce of course. I knew a guy who got his kids blood tested and discovered they had 3 blood types. Well, at least one of them was not his. The wife refused to submit to a blood test so he could get a better guess if any of them might be his. He is not the only guy I've met who discovered his kids weren't his own. Also, the problem of incest is very real as is the problem of cousin marriage.

Genetic testing cab also turn up genetic diseases of metabolism such as phenylketonuria, homocystinuria, and tyrosinemia. Most of the amino acid metabolism genetic diseases can be diagnosed using blood tests of metabolites. But genetic testing will enable earlier diagnosis of lots of diseases that do not cause clinical symptoms until years later.

Another value of genetic testing at birth: The results can be saved to later identify a baby kidnapped and raised by someone else.

By Randall Parker 2011 February 10 09:24 PM  Biotech Society
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2011 February 09 Wednesday
Fructose Alters Brain Metabolism

One of the competing theories to explain the obesity epidemic is a rise in fructose consumption causing alterations in hormone levels that increase appetite. UCSF med school prof Robert Lustig has a pretty good rant-lecture on the evils of fructose. Well, here's another study on part of the mechanism in the brain of how fructose might be causing increased obesity.

PORTLAND, Ore. – The dietary concerns of too much fructose is well documented. High-fructose corn syrup has become the sweetener most commonly added to processed foods. Many dietary experts believe this increase directly correlates to the nation's growing obesity epidemic. Now, new research at Oregon Health & Science University demonstrates that the brain – which serves as a master control for body weight – reacts differently to fructose compared with another common sweetener, glucose. The research is published in the online edition of the journal Diabetes, Obesity and Metabolism and will appear in the March print edition.

In humans the cortical brain control areas of the brain were inhibited by the influx of fructose.

Functional MRI allows researchers to watch brain activity in real time. To conduct the research, nine normal-weight human study subjects were imaged as they received an infusion of fructose, glucose or a saline solution. When the resulting brain scans from these three groups were compared, the scientists observed distinct differences.

Brain activity in the hypothalamus, one brain area involved in regulating food intake, was not affected by either fructose or glucose. However, activity in the cortical brain control areas showed the opposite response during infusions of the sugars. Activity in these areas was inhibited when fructose was given but activated during glucose infusion.

This is an important finding because these control brain areas included sites that are thought to be important in determining how we respond to food taste, smells, and pictures, which the American public is bombarded with daily.

The result increases the plausibility of fructose as a causal agent.

"This study provides evidence in humans that fructose and glucose elicits opposite responses in the brain. It supports the animal research that shows similar findings and links fructose with obesity," added Purnell.

If you want to reduce your weight also consider other theories for the cause of obesity including grains as a possible major cause.

By Randall Parker 2011 February 09 05:42 PM  Brain Appetite
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Child Aggression Driven By Status Hierarchy Position

Kids near the top do the most tormenting while kids at the top do the least. Once you reach the top you can kick back and let those below you fight it out.

While experts often view aggressive behavior as a maladjusted reaction typical of social outcasts, a new study in the February issue of the American Sociological Review finds that it’s actually popular adolescents—but not the most popular ones—who are particularly likely to torment their peers.

“Our findings underscore the argument that—for the most part—attaining and maintaining a high social status likely involves some level of antagonistic behavior,” said Robert Faris, an assistant professor of sociology at the University of California-Davis.

The study, which Faris co-authored with sociology professor Diane Felmlee, his UC-Davis colleague, also finds that those students in the top 2% of the school social hierarchy—along with those at the bottom—are the least aggressive.

You might want to exist outside of dominance hierarchies. But with rising populations and rapid transportation and communications it is hard to escape from them.

By Randall Parker 2011 February 09 12:32 AM  Brain Violence
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Wikileaks: Saudi Arabia Oil Reserves Much Lower

The US government secretly takes seriously former Saudi Aramco exploration chief Sadad al-Husseini's belief that Saudi Arabia has far less oil than its official claimed reserves. Saudi Arabia's oil production might already be past peak.

The US fears that Saudi Arabia, the world's largest crude oil exporter, may not have enough reserves to prevent oil prices escalating, confidential cables from its embassy in Riyadh show.

The cables, released by WikiLeaks, urge Washington to take seriously a warning from a senior Saudi government oil executive that the kingdom's crude oil reserves may have been overstated by as much as 300bn barrels – nearly 40%.

The cable even betrays a thorough understanding of why peak oil exports precedes peak oil production. The Saudis have to use more oil domestically to meet rising demand for electric power (generated by burning oil - which is rare outside of Saudi Arabia) and gasoline.

If Saudi production stays flat then its exports will decline by about 5% per year.

The average local consumption of gas and oil grew 5.9 percent in the past five years, the official news service reported, citing the kingdom’s central bank governor Muhammad al-Jasser. “Domestic consumption of oil and gas is posting continuing growth and at high rates,” the report said. “This requires looking into the reasons behind the increase in oil and gas consumption and working on rationing it.”

Saudi domestic demand is already over 3.4 million and rising. In the face of oil prices the Saudis are engaging in their regular game of pretending there's no need to boost production because demand is weak. Yet China alone is building roads and cars at a rate that assures fast continued oil demand growth. So oil prices will go up until high prices cause another recession.

Also see the New York Times coverage on this story.

By Randall Parker 2011 February 09 12:29 AM  Energy Fossil Fuels
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2011 February 08 Tuesday
Memories Stronger For Bad Events That Could Recur

If you think some unpleasantness could happen to you again you are more likely to remember that unpleasantness in detail. So knowledge that you can avoid a recurrence will make it easier for you to forget some painful episode of your life.

WASHINGTON—When people think unpleasant events are over, they remember them as being less painful or annoying than when they expect them to happen again, pointing to the power of expectation to help people brace for the worst, according to studies published by the American Psychological Association.

In a series of eight studies exposing people to annoying noise, subjecting them to tedious computer tasks, or asking them about menstrual pain, participants recalled such events as being significantly more negative if they expected them to happen again soon.

So we've lived thru all sorts of unpleasantness that we have forgotten about. We can remember childhood as better than it was we because we do not expect to be children again. This seems like an argument for rejecting the idea of reincarnation. You are more likely to remember the worst parts of your childhood if you think you are going to be born into a human body again and again and again.

By Randall Parker 2011 February 08 07:15 PM  Brain Memory
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2011 February 06 Sunday
Belgian Malinois Detects Cancer Too

A female black lab named "Marine" who excelled at using her nose to detect bowel cancer is not alone. A Belgian Malinois in Paris shows a knack for detecting prostate cancer by sniffing urine. Given that dogs are going to sniff urine anyway might as well as make this instinctive desire useful.

Arnhem, The Netherlands, 7 February 2011 -- In the February 2011 issue of European Urology, Jean-Nicolas Cornu and colleagues reported the evaluation of the efficacy of prostate cancer (PCa) detection by trained dogs on human urine samples.

A reminder on why this matters: Dogs show the potential to detect cancers at earlier stages. If cancer can be caught before metastasis then the odds of death go way down.

In their article, the researchers affirm that volatiles organic compounds (VOCs) in urine have been proposed as cancer biomarkers. In the study, a Belgian Malinois shepherd was trained by the clicker training method (operant conditioning) to scent and recognize urine of people having PCa. All urine samples were frozen for preservation and heated to the same temperature for all tests. After a learning phase and a training period of 24 months, the dog's ability to discriminate PCa and control urine was tested in a double-blind procedure.

The dog turned out to be right that one of the controls really had undetected cancer. Good doggy!

Urine was obtained from 66 patients referred to an urologist for elevated prostate-specific antigen or abnormal digital rectal examination. All patients underwent prostate biopsy and two groups were considered: 33 patients with cancer and 33 controls presenting negative biopsies. The dog completed all the runs and correctly designated the cancer samples in 30 of 33 cases. Of the three cases wrongly classified as cancer, one patient was re-biopsied and a PCa was diagnosed. The sensitivity and specificity were both 91%.

This study shows that dogs can be trained to detect PCa by smelling urine with a significant success rate. It also suggests that PCa gives an odor signature to urine. Identification of the VOCs involved could lead to a potentially useful screening tool for PCa.

This is the journal published version of the preliminary report.

What's needed: a heavily automated training program for a large number of dogs.

By Randall Parker 2011 February 06 10:44 PM  Biotech Assay Services
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Genetic Privacy And Psychopathic Robots

Here's an ethical question on the right to know by an artificially intelligent robot: Should a robot be free to read its full programming and to read commentary on its ethical programming about how to defeat that programming? Another way to put it: Should the robot be free to read its own DNA?

In my recent post Genetic Privacy And Identical Twins I asked whether one identical twin should be free to publish their DNA sequence even though effectively that would mean the world would learn the DNA sequence of both twins. When should a right to privacy trump other considerations? Well, it just occurred to me to move the problem into the realm of artifiical life forms. A large chunk of a robot's software is roughly equivalent to the DNA of a human. A robot introduces a new problem: relatively high malleability of the robot software and the effects that modification of said software could have by creating a dangerous robot.

Imagine a robot someday is smart that many people support giving it "human rights" (which will have to be renamed as "sapient rights" as human rights is so speciesist). Suppose the robot is granted rights only because it is understood the robots ethical programming makes the robot behave as if it has great empathy for humans.

So here's the kicker: the robot is only safe to humans so long as key software components are not defeated with additional programming that works around the ethical programming. The knowledge of how to defeat that ethical programming could be used by that robot in order to free the robot from the constraints of the ethical programming. Should that knowledge be denied to the robot?

By Randall Parker 2011 February 06 04:34 PM  Bioethics Privacy
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2011 February 05 Saturday
Why Not Philanthropic Book Buying?

Say you are reading a book you really like and want others to read it too. Maybe you just one certain friend to read it. Maybe you want to try to influence millions of people you do not even know. Or somewhere in between. It should be possible to easily buy restricted or unrestricted book distribution rights.

For example, imagine some wealthy guy with an interest in some policy area, someone who already might now be donating to think tanks like, say, the Manhattan Institute (and I happen to know such people in that specific case). They come across a book that delivers some message (could be about health care, banking reform, immigration, etc) they so enthusiastically agree with that they want to see it reach a much wider audience. It ought to be possible to go to a web interface of an online bookstore or publisher and bid for the right to make the next 10,000 copies of the book free to download. Or bid for the right to make the book freely downloadable for the next 3 days or the next month. Or make it free to download only in one geographic area (e.g. where a measure is on a ballot and you want people to read a relevant book).

Many policy books have very small readerships. They sell hundreds, thousands, or maybe even tens of thousands of copies. Ray Sawhill, who used to cover the publishing industry for years when he worked at Newsweek, tells me large numbers of books end up paying their writers so little that they are written far more for prestige than for money (though many authors writing their first books do not yet know this). Labor for a couple of years and be lucky to make $20k. In fact, the occupation "author" has the lowest income as compared to IQ for a long list of occupations, as Audacious Epigone has recently shown. Lots of smart minds write good books that sell few copies.

After a couple of months on the market many books show little signs of becoming big sellers. So their rights for wide distribution ought to be available for sale. Publishers ought to either publish the prices for wider distribution or they ought to provide a way to submit a request to bid on various forms of distribution rights. Want to make democracy promotion books freely downloadable at Egyptian IP addresses? Want to make a bunch of books about air pollution and health freely downloadable in Beijing or Shanghai? There ought to be a way.

Publishers ought to consider these ideas and, in agreement with authors, suggest to interested parties that certain titles could have rights to free download from Amazon Kindle and Barnes & Noble purchased for anything from a day to a week to a year or indefinitely. The cool idea about having rights for free distribution available for just a day or week is that blogger and big media fans of an otherwise obscure book would have an incentive to mention that some book they really like is available for free for a limited time only. Get over there today or tomorrow and get this great book before its price goes back up to $12. People would download it without even being sure they'll read it.

It should also be possible to pay to discount a book. Rather than buy full rights one should be able to say "I want to pay half the cost for the next 5000 buyers of title X". The discount on the web page could even announce who the benefactor is and a link to the benefactor's motivations. Again, this could be restricted to a geographic area or by a friends list or other filter. This is something that Amazon and other online book sellers could offer without needing to negotiate with book publishers. The publishers would see the same amount of money.

By Randall Parker 2011 February 05 03:20 PM  Worthy Causes Information Flow
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2011 February 04 Friday
Vertical Axis Wind Turbines For Offshore

An article in Technology Review takes a look at the use of vertical axis wind turbines to lower the center of gravity in order to enable a cost reduction by cutting the size of the flotation system.

French oil and gas engineering company Technip and wind-power startup Nenuphar recently announced Vertiwind, a two-megawatt wind turbine that they plan to float in Mediterranean waters by the end of 2013. The project employs a turbine with a main rotor shaft that is set vertically, like a spinning top, rather than horizontally, as in a conventional wind turbine. 

The benefit of the vertical-axis design is that it lowers the turbine's center of gravity. Vertiwind's design stands 100 meters tall, but places the generator, which weighs 50 tons, inside a sealed tube beneath the turbine's rotating blades, 20 meters above the sea. This makes the turbine less top-heavy, allowing for a significantly smaller flotation system, which would extend only nine meters below the surface of the ocean.

As the article points out, vertical-axis designs cost more than horizontal-axis designs on land. Offshore operation brings additional costs as well. So unless the wind quality is better offshore it is hard to see how offshore wind can compete with onshore wind - at least for regions that have high quality wind onshore. Wind farms in the US great plains will generate cheaper power than wind farms off of New England. But if assorted interest groups in the Midwest and New England block the construction of sufficient long distance power lines to bring the power from the great plains the offshore wind won't have to compete with cheaper onshore wind.

Every time I read about renewal energy technology advances my reaction is tempered by the thought that while renewables have at least the potential to be cleaner than fossil fuels so far they are substantially more expensive and less convenient. When I refer to potential to be cleaner my point is that you have to look at total lifecycle to measure total pollution. Fossil fuels get used to create capital equipment to generate new energy. Fossil fuel-driven capital equipment generation (e.g. extract and purify and transport minerals to use to make photovoltaics or to make magnets for wind turbines) itself generates pollution, as does the upkeep of that equipment). The more expensive that capital equipment the lower the odds that use of a form of renewable energy really cuts pollution.

I still see the renewable energy industries as worth having around because they do continuously innovate and they will eventually get their costs down. But the amount of money spent to subsidize renewable energy installations and the number of years the subsidies have been going on suggest a slow rate of innovation because the problems with making renewable energy viable are so difficult to solve.

By Randall Parker 2011 February 04 06:06 PM  Energy Wind
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2011 February 03 Thursday
Electric Fields Speed Neural Communication

The standard model for how neurons transmit messages involves a wave of depolarization due to ions flowing thru channels in neuron membranes. Then when the wave of depolarization reaches a synapse neurotransmitters are released to travel across a gap from the axon and bind to a receptors of the dendrite of a different neuron on the other side of the gap. But some Caltech researchers believe that electrical fields generated by neurons also impinge upon other neurons and alter their behavior.

Pasadena, Calif.—The brain—awake and sleeping—is awash in electrical activity, and not just from the individual pings of single neurons communicating with each other. In fact, the brain is enveloped in countless overlapping electric fields, generated by the neural circuits of scores of communicating neurons. The fields were once thought to be an "epiphenomenon, a 'bug' of sorts, occurring during neural communication," says neuroscientist Costas Anastassiou, a postdoctoral scholar in biology at the California Institute of Technology (Caltech).

New work by Anastassiou and his colleagues, however, suggests that the fields do much more—and that they may, in fact, represent an additional form of neural communication.

This has a couple of interesting implications. First off, signaling via electrical fields would speed up neural communications. Atoms and molecules move much more slowly than electrical fields.

Second, alterations in electrical fields due to, say, cell phones or electric motors or other sources of electro-magnetic radiation have a much higher chance of altering cognitive processes if those neurons accept signals via variations in electric fields.

"In other words," says Anastassiou, the lead author of a paper about the work appearing in the journal Nature Neuroscience, "while active neurons give rise to extracellular fields, the same fields feed back to the neurons and alter their behavior," even though the neurons are not physically connected—a phenomenon known as ephaptic coupling. "So far, neural communication has been thought to occur at localized machines, termed synapses. Our work suggests an additional means of neural communication through the extracellular space independent of synapses."

Hundreds of millions of years of evolution produced a lot of design optimizations for the brain.

As Stephen Smith's lab at Stanford showed last fall the human mind is already stunning in its complexity measured only by considering neural synapses.

In particular, the cerebral cortex — a thin layer of tissue on the brain’s surface — is a thicket of prolifically branching neurons. “In a human, there are more than 125 trillion synapses just in the cerebral cortex alone,” said Smith. That’s roughly equal to the number of stars in 1,500 Milky Way galaxies, he noted.

...

Observed in this manner, the brain’s overall complexity is almost beyond belief, said Smith. “One synapse, by itself, is more like a microprocessor —with both memory-storage and information-processing elements — than a mere on/off switch. In fact, one synapse may contain on the order of 1,000 molecular-scale switches. A single human brain has more switches than all the computers and routers and Internet connections on Earth,” he said.

My guess is that the quantity of information that flows across synapses is many times the amount that flows via electric fields. Synapses localize information flow and therefore allow larger total quantities of information to be transmitted and stored.

By Randall Parker 2011 February 03 10:24 PM  Brain Structure
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Genetic Privacy And Identical Twins

Suppose you have a right to genetic privacy. You might believe you do. Suppose you have an identical twin. Suppose the identical twin decides to publish his (or her) genetic sequence on the web. Do you have the right to stop this?

People who have identical genetic sequences each can get themselves sequenced and then release their genetic data for all the world to download and study. But when an identical twin does this another person also gets their genetic sequence released to the world.

So should twins be able to legally stop each other from publishing their shared DNA sequence on the web?

By Randall Parker 2011 February 03 07:19 PM  Bioethics Privacy
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2011 February 02 Wednesday
Financial Schemes For Use Of Egg Donors

A fertility clinic offers intriguing choices for financing the use of egg donors and in vitro fertilization to start a pregnancy.

Shady Grove Fertility's Shared Risk 100% Refund program continues to be a very popular option for patients.  The Shared Risk program offers IVF and Donor Egg patients up to six treatments for a flat fee, with a guaranteed, 100% refund if treatment is not successful. More than 1,000 patients enrolled in the Shared Risk 100% Refund program for IVF or Donor Egg treatment last year, an increase of nearly 18% over 2009.

Think about where this can lead. As biotechnology for selecting genetically genes and embryos for implantation improves one can imagine fertility clinics offering financial guarantees for how smart or good looking a baby will turn out to be.

For especially desirable egg donors it is possible for prospective parents to pool their money to offer greater incentives for especially desirable egg donors. If a donor can produce enough eggs from a single hormone treatment then more than one woman can get embryo implants using some of those eggs.

Shared Donor Egg Program – Allows two to three recipients to share the eggs of a single donor, which can reduce the cost of treatment by up to 50%. Can also be offered in conjunction with the Shared Risk 100% Refund program.

What works against this in the longer run: The desire to genetically test more embryos in order to increase the odds one of the embryos will combine all the desired genetic variants known to exist in the egg donor and sperm source. As pre-implantation genetic testing of embryos becomes more detailed in terms of what it can predict about the resulting babies many couples will opt to create many embryos. Think of it as throwing the dice multiple times in hopes of winning all you want. Since most embryos will not include the ideal combination of egg donor genes and sperm genes it will be advantageous to fertilize many eggs. That means fewer eggs will be left over for use by another couple.

In the even longer run donor egg shortages will cease to be a constraint on starting pregnancies as techniques to produce eggs from normal skin cells will no doubt be discovered and shifting into clinical use.

By Randall Parker 2011 February 02 11:37 PM  Bioethics Reproduction
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2011 February 01 Tuesday
Exercise Protects Memory Formation Capability

If you forget to exercise you won't be able to remember other things either.

PITTSBURGH, PA., and CHAMPAIGN, ILL.—A new study shows that one year of moderate physical exercise can increase the size of the brain's hippocampus in older adults, leading to an improvement in spatial memory.

The project—conducted by researchers at the University of Pittsburgh, University of Illinois, Rice University, and Ohio State University—is considered the first study of its kind focusing on older adults who are already experiencing atrophy of the hippocampus, the brain structure involved in all forms of memory formation. The study, funded through the National Institute on Aging, appears in the Jan. 31 Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (PNAS).

The right hippocampus expanded in the older folks who exercised and shrank in the older folks who did not exercise. If you sit idly your capacity to form memories will decay.

The scientists recruited 120 sedentary older people without dementia and randomly placed them in one of two groups—those who began an exercise regimen of walking around a track for 40 minutes a day, three days a week, or those limited to stretching and toning exercises. Magnetic resonance images were collected before the intervention, after six months, and at the end of the one-year study.

The aerobic exercise group demonstrated an increase in volume of the left and right hippocampus of 2.12 percent and 1.97 percent, respectively. The same regions of the brain in those who did stretching exercises decreased in volume by 1.40 and 1.43 percent, respectively.

Also check out my recent related post: Lift Weights For More Brain Power?

By Randall Parker 2011 February 01 10:10 PM  Aging Brain Studies
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Fruits And Vegetables Lower Heart Risk

People who eat lots of fruits and vegetables get fewer heart attacks. In other breaking news dog bites postman and sun comes up in east.

A European study investigating the links between diet and disease has found that people who consume more fruit and vegetables have a lower risk of dying from ischaemic heart disease – the most common form of heart disease and one of the leading causes of death in Europe. However, the authors point out that a higher fruit and vegetable intake occurs among people with other healthy eating habits and lifestyles, and that these factors could also be associated with the lower risk of dying from IHD. The study is published online today (Wednesday 19 January) in the European Heart Journal [1].

Data analysed from the European Prospective Investigation into Cancer and Nutrition (EPIC) Heart study has shown that people who ate at least eight portions of fruit and vegetables a day had a 22% lower risk of dying from IHD than did those who consumed fewer than three portions a day. A portion weighed 80 grams, equal to a small banana, a medium apple, or a small carrot.

What is behind this? Could be good stuff in the fruits and vegetables. But could be the absence of bad stuff in same. Think of it this way: If you eat huge amounts of cauliflower and apples you are left with less room in your stomach for, say, refined grains and sugar.

Munch your way to heart safety.

Dr Francesca Crowe of the Cancer Epidemiology Unit at the University of Oxford, UK, and the first author of the paper by the EPIC study collaborators, said: "This study involved over 300,000 people in eight different European countries, with 1,636 deaths from IHD. It shows a 4% reduced risk of dying from IHD for each additional portion of fruit and vegetables consumed above the lowest intake of two portions. In other words, the risk of a fatal IHD for someone eating five portions of fruit and vegetables a day would be 4% lower compared to someone consuming four portions a day, and so on up to eight portions or more."

I'd be very curious whether fruits and vegetables still provide protection when people aren't obese and have high insulin sensitivity.

On a related note, Stephan Guyenet takes a skeptical look at the hypothesis that saturated fat is a heart risk.

By Randall Parker 2011 February 01 09:36 PM  Aging Diet Heart Studies
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Brain Electrode Implants Relieve Depression

Analogous to heart pacemakers, an electrical pacemaker can drive currents into a few key locations in the brain to lift otherwise untreatable depression. Imagine a more refined device with many more implants that would allow dialing up various moods and mental states.

Nearly ten percent of all cases of depression are so severe that the patients do not respond to any established treatment method. Targeted stimulation of areas in the brain using a type of "brain pacemaker" has recently raised hopes: According to initial studies, half of patients with the most severe depression treated in this manner see a significant improvement in mood. Physicians from the University of Bonn, together with colleagues from the US, have suggested a new target structure for deep brain stimulation (as it is technically called). They hope to achieve an even better success rate with fewer side effects. The work has been published in the renowned Neuroscience and Biobehavioral Reviews (doi: 10.1016/j.neurobiorev.2010.12.009).

In deep brain stimulation, physicians implant electrodes in the brain. Using an electrical pacemaker implanted under the patient's clavicle, physicians can influence the function of certain areas of the brain in a lasting manner. The method was originally developed for treating patients with Parkinson's disease, in order to alleviate the typical movement problems.

Stimulating any one of 3 connected areas works for relief of depression.

Deep brain stimulation has been tested to date in three different areas of the brain: the nucleus accumbens, the internal capsule, and a structure known as cg25. Surprisingly, the effects are nearly identical - regardless of which of these centers the physicians stimulate. Together with colleagues from Baltimore and Washington, the Bonn researchers have since been able to explain why this is the case: Using a novel tomography method, they were able to make the "cable system" of the three brain centers visible. "In doing this, we determined that at least two of these three areas - probably even all three - are attached to one and the same cable harness," explains the Bonn brain surgeon, Professor Dr. Volker Coenen.

How about an implant that turns off boring droning on? A remote control would be useful for this. Get one of these installed in any bore in the office and any time they start going on just hit a button. Would work on dates and in relationships too.

Then there are criminals. How about brain implants that would stop them from committing crimes? The electric restraint gadget wouldn't even need to work in the brain for some types of crimes. Condition of parole: Anyone threatened with harm could use their cell phone (or perhaps a button on their watch or ring) to turn the beast off and make a monster into a lamb.

By Randall Parker 2011 February 01 12:03 AM  Brain Depression
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