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Seedy business in grape seed extracts

Our OSS Blog - Sat, 12/13/2014 - 11:56

A modest amount of red wine reduces the risk of heart disease, possibly because of the polyphenols it contains. Grape seed extract contains the same polyphenols as found in wine and has therefore been widely marketed as a dietary supplement with claims of having a beneficial effect on the human cardiovascular system. The problem here, though, is that the studies that have explored the effects of grape seed extract on human subjects have shown either none or minimal benefits. One study showed a slight increase in the resting diameter of the brachial artery in the arm, a finding of unknown clinical significance.

A meta analysis of nine randomized controlled trials concluded that grape seed extract had no effect on blood cholesterol, inflammation as determined by C-reactive protein levels, or triglycerides. There was a slight decrease of 1.5 mm Hg in systolic blood pressure, which is minimal when compared with what can be achieved with medication.

Overall there does not seem to be much evidence for taking grape seed extract supplements, although given that there is a great variety in supplement composition, it is possible that some specific supplements may be more effective than others. Unfortunately there are no quality control standards, as is clearly demonstrated by a recent analysis of 21 extracts purchased from a variety of outlets. Compared with authentic grape seed extract, there was great variability in chemical composition of the commercial extracts, but on average they all contained significantly less polyphenols than the authentic samples.

That, though, was not the only problem. Six of the samples contained no detectable quantities of grape seed extract, but were instead composed of peanut skin extract. Peanut skin does contain a variety of polyphenols similar to that found in grape seeds but the presence of peanut extract raises the issue of allergenicity. It is certainly possible that people with a peanut allergy may react to the adulterated extract. The motivation for such adulteration is financial, since peanut skin extract is much cheaper than authentic grape seed extract. Adulteration and lack of reliable data about composition is not the only problem. Let’s remember that even with authentic grape seed extract there is no compelling evidence of health benefits. And what about that glass of red wine with dinner? Drink it because you like it, not because of the polyphenols it contains. And we won’t even mention that ethanol is a carcinogen.

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Les nosodes-vous connaissez?

French Blog: Coin Francophone - Sat, 12/13/2014 - 11:52
Récemment l'émission de consommateurs de la  chaine anglophone de Radio Canada, "Marketplace" a révélé que certains praticiens de "médecine alternative" suggèrent aux parents  d'utiliser des nosodes à la place de vaccins pour des maladies infantiles telles que la rougeole, la coqueluche  ou la polio.   Pour ceux d'entre vous pour qui le terme est nouveau,  les nosodes  sont des concoctions homéopathiques préparées à partir de  tissus ou de secrétions d'individus souffrant d'une pathologie que le nosode est sensé prévenir.  Par exemple, le nosode pour se protéger de la polio nécessite  le  liquide céphalorachidien obtenu par ponction lombaire sur des patients atteints de la maladie.  Comme les principes de de l'homéopathie l’exigent  ces extraits sont dilués; dans ce cas particulier  une dilution de 12 CH. C’est-à-dire que chaque dilution se fait par un facteur de cent et que l'opération est répétée 12 fois. Après chaque dilution la solution est "dynamisée"   en la secouant vigoureusement. Heureusement à ces niveaux de dilution, la possibilité qu'il reste dans la solution finale une quantité mesurable de pathogène est essentiellement nulle.  Mais comme l'a révélé l'émission  "Marketplace", le danger n'est pas là. En caméra cachée on peut voir les homéopathes recommander les nosodes comme substituts  aux vaccins en affirmant qu'ils offrent un niveau de protection comparable. D'autre part, certains d'entre eux minimisent les dangers de maladies contagieuses comme la rougeole qui pourtant tue plus de 1 000 enfants chaque année à travers le monde. La raison pour laquelle maladies infantiles sont rares aujourd'hui au Canada provient du fait que suffisamment d'enfants sont immunisés pour prévenir la contamination chez ceux qui ne le sont pas. Malheureusement, les craintes injustifiées au sujet d’un lien entre le vaccin ROR (rougeole, oreillons, rubéole) et  l'autisme ont provoqué  un déclin du taux de vaccination.  Au Canada, dans  certaines communautés jusqu'à 40% des enfants n'ont pas les vaccins requis pour leur âge. D’autre part, les vaccins sont tellement efficaces pour prévenir de sérieuses maladies, comme la polio, que le public a tendance à relativiser les dangers que ces  maladies posent. Lorsque j'étais enfant en France les épidémies de polio étaient courantes et je me souviens combien nous étions pétrifiés à l'idée que nous pourrions en être victime.  Plus de 150 nosodes sont approuvés à la vente au Canada en tant que préparations homéopathiques. On peut se demander comment il est possible que des produits qui n'ont pas prouvé leur efficacité puissent être approuvés par une instance gouvernementale. Tout simplement parce que contrairement aux médicaments "classiques" les préparations homéopathiques n'ont pas à prouver qu'ils sont efficaces; il est suffisant d'indiquer  qu'ils ont été déjà utilisés en homéopathie. Santé Canada insiste que les nosodes ne sont pas approuvés comme substituts  et que ceci doit être indiqué par une étiquette d'avertissement sur le produit.  Cela n'a pas l'air d'avoir un grand effet chez les tenants de médecine alternative qui font la promotion de "vaccins homéopathiques, sans produits chimiques".  Pour en savoir plus

Chickens, toads, and gluten sensitivity

From Our Contributors - Sat, 12/13/2014 - 11:48
By: Laurie Laforest Keratosis pilaris is one of the many symptoms attributed to non-celiac gluten sensitivity in alternative medicine circles.  Keratosis pilaris - or "chicken skin" - is a benign skin condition reminiscent of permanent goose bumps.  I first heard the term keratosis pilaris on a episode of The Dr. Oz Show about gluten sensitivity [1], the premise being that keratosis pilaris results from fat malabsorption caused by gluten-induced intestinal damage.  Since my family and I have little patches of this on our elbows and knees, I was eager to learn what was really behind it. It turns out that the link between "chicken skin" and gluten sensitivity is one of mistaken identity.  Keratosis pilaris is a type of follicular hyperkeratosis where excess keratin - a key protein in our outer layer of skin and in our hair and nails - plugs the hair follicule, sometimes trapping a small hair inside. [2]  Enlargement of the follicule and the presence of the hard keratin plug produces the characteristic rough and bumpy appearance; reddening may also occur.  Keratosis pilaris is quite common - it affects around 50% adolescents (80% of females) and 40% of adults - and seems to have a strong hereditary component. [3] Phrynoderma - or "toad skin" - is another type of follicular hyperkeratosis that is typically related to malnutrition in developing nations.  Phrynoderma is what alternative medicine folks are actually thinking of (or they should be) when they speak about a diet-related bumpy skin problem.  The exact nutrient deficiency behind phrynoderma is not known, but the condition can be reversed by supplementation with essential fatty acids, vitamin A, vitamin E, or B-complex vitamins; different people seem to respond to different nutrients. [4-7] So "chicken skin" (keratosis pilaris) is common and benign, while "toad skin" (phrynoderma) is uncommon in the developed world and a sign of a serious problem.  But could it still be possible that gluten sensitivity is at the heart of these conditions?  Most likely not.  Keratosis pilaris is not related to diet, although it does seem to occur more often in people with a high body mass index. [8,9]  Hormones could also play a role, since keratosis pilaris is more common during adolescence.  Still, keratosis pilaris can come and go throughout adulthood and may worsen during the drier winter months. Even for phrynoderma, the gluten connection doesn't pan out.  Let's first consider celiac disease, an autoimmune reaction triggered by gluten that damages the small intestine.  Celiac disease is the worst-case scenario when it comes to gluten sensitivity - fat malabsorption is a classic symptom of untreated celiac disease, and there is a risk that celiac sufferers could be deficient in fat-soluble vitamins like A, D, and E.  But even though it might seem like celiac disease could produce the kind of malnutrition that leads to phrynoderma, phrynoderma is not one of the skin conditions seen alongside celiac disease [10], and fat-soluble vitamin deficiencies are also not found in newly-diagnosed celiac patients as often as one is led to believe on TV [11-13].  Now consider that non-celiac gluten sensitivity is not supposed to involve the characteristic intestinal damage (and, hence, the potential vitamin deficiencies) found in celiac disease [14,15], and you have no reason for the average person to suspect that their rough skin is related to gluten. If you do have "chicken skin" or other roughening or reddening of the skin, it is best to talk to a dermatologist to properly identify your skin condition or to your doctor if you do suspect that you have celiac disease.  Most people with keratosis pilaris don't even realize that they have it, but others may be plagued by large, unsightly patches of skin.  Mild cases can be improved by over-the-counter moisturizers; more severe cases can be treated by medicated creams that soften keratin and help remove the outer layer of skin.  Even though there is an abundance of advice on treating keratosis pilaris on the Internet, ask a doctor or pharmacist to direct you to the right products to use. Read more

Koch, Pasteur, une rivalité avec des microbes comme figurants

French Blog: Coin Francophone - Sat, 12/06/2014 - 15:54

 Les antagonismes entre scientifiques n'est pas quelque chose de rare mais dans le cas de Louis Pasteur (1822-1895) et Robert Koch (1843-1910) cela a été particulièrement virulent.  Il y a plusieurs raisons qui pourraient expliquer l'animosité féroce qui s'est développée entre ces deux fondateurs de la microbiologie. Pasteur était un fervent patriote et ne pardonnait pas aux Allemands d'avoir arraché à la France l'Alsace-Lorraine après la guerre de 1870. Pasteur retourna, en 1871, le doctorat honorifique qu'il avait reçu de l'Université de Bonn. Koch, qui était vingt ans plus jeune que Pasteur, avait servi dans l'armée allemande en tant que médecin, ce qui n'aidait pas.  Pasteur, un fervent de la chimie appliquée n'avait pas la même approche que celle de Koch qui elle, était plus théorique. Mais surtout aucun des deux ne parlait le langage de l'autre ce qui rendait les communications difficiles.

L'intérêt de Louis Pasteur pour les maladies infectieuses découla naturellement de ses travaux démontrant que  la "génération spontanée" n'existe pas si  les germes sont exclus du médium étudié.  Une observation impliquant que la présence de germes est la cause de contamination, et de maladie, et non la conséquence comme on le pensait. Cette découverte, en fin de compte  changea complètement les pratiques médicales de l'époque avec l'introduction de la stérilisation et de l'asepsie.

À partir de 1860 Pasteur étendit son champ d'action pour étudier les liens qui existeraient entre différentes maladies infectieuses et certains microbes. C'est à cette occasion que son parcours croisa celui de Koch. En 1873 ce dernier, grâce des techniques de microscopie innovantes qu'il avait développées, avait observé des structures en forme de bâtonnets dans le sang de moutons qui étaient morts de la maladie du charbon (anthrax en anglais). Après avoir obtenu des cultures pures de bactérie "bacillus anthracis" il les injecta dans des souris saines qui développèrent ensuite malade; la preuve de la relation de cause à effet entre la bactérie et la maladie fut ainsi établie.

Entre 1878 et 1880 Pasteur publia plusieurs articles sur la maladie du charbon en particulier sur le concept d'immunisation. Il démontra qu'il était possible de protéger des moutons de la maladie du charbon en les injectant avec des formes "atténuées" de la bactérie. Un concept développé cent ans plus tôt par Edward Jenner avec son "vaccin" contre la variole. Mais l'idée que l'on pouvait changer la nature d'une bactérie était complètement inacceptable pour Koch. En 1881 lui et ses étudiants publièrent plusieurs articles attaquant violemment Pasteur. Ils l'accusèrent d'avoir utilisé des cultures bactériennes impures et, n'étant pas médecin, d'avoir improprement inoculé les animaux. Entre autre ils y déclarèrent "…au sujet des causes de la maladie du charbon il y a peu de nouveau dans les travaux de Pasteur et ce qui est nouveau est erroné … on peut dire que jusqu'à présent les travaux de Pasteur sur  la maladie du charbon ne valent absolument rien. "

Pasteur répondit en détail aux critiques de Koch au 4ième Congrès international d'hygiène et de démographie qui s'est tenu à Genève en septembre 1882. Koch, auréolé de sa découverte récente du bacille de la tuberculose était au premier rang lorsque Pasteur présenta son discours sur l'atténuation des bactéries. La réaction de Koch fut particulièrement agressive mais cette fois il y avait une raison supplémentaire. Le professeur Lichtheim qui était assis à côté de Koch traduisait au fur et à mesure le discours de Pasteur. Dans son discours Pasteur  avait décrit l'ensemble des travaux de Koch en les présentant comme un "recueil allemand".  Ce que Lichtheim, ayant mal compris, avait traduit comme "orgueil allemand"!

Pasteur et Koch avaient deux visions différentes sur les moyens nécessaires pour protéger les populations des maladies infectieuses.  Pour Koch cela passait par des mesures d'hygiène rigoureuses alors que Pasteur lui préconisait surtout la vaccination. Avec le recul du temps on peut voir que les deux scientifiques avaient raison. La vaccination a permis de contrôler de multiples maladies comme la variole et la polio; la situation avec l'épidémie d'Ébola qui fait rage en Afrique Occidentale souligne l'importance de l'hygiène…en attendant qu'un vaccin soit développé.

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Strange Treatments

Our OSS Blog - Sat, 12/06/2014 - 15:45

Today we have a pretty good grasp of what causes illness. We know about infections, carcinogens, pollution, genetics, anatomical abnormalities and the consequences of a poor diet. We also have effective pharmaceutical and surgical treatments, albeit not always as effective as we would like. But at least they are based upon science. But that has only been the case since we’ve had a good grasp on how the body functions, which is basically the last hundred or so years. Before that desperate people resorted to some pretty wacky treatments, at least wacky in retrospect. At the time I suppose they seemed rational. The ancient Greeks introduced the idea of “like cures like,” later adopted by homeopaths. A poisonous snake was unaffected by its own poison, so Greek physicians believed snakebite should be treated by applying the flesh of a snake, or a concoction made by boiling a snake, to the wound.

This same principle was used in the fourteenth century when Europe was struck by the Black Death. This plague which killed about a million and a half people in Britain alone was believed to be spread by bad smells. That of course was not the case. The plague is a bacterial infection that is spread by fleas which live on rodents such as rats. Rodents are more likely to inhabit filthy areas which smell so there may actually be an association between the plague and smells but the smell does not cause the disease. Nevertheless, the belief was that the disease was caused by deadly vapors, and in the spirit of like cures like, the foul vapors could be warded off by other evil smells. Some physicians even recommended keeping goats inside homes to produce a therapeutic stink. Even more bizarre was the suggestion of using human flatus which was supposed to be stored in a jar and inhaled when the plague struck. How people were supposed to make the collection isn’t clear.

The flatus treatment sounds just about as crazy as a doctor’s recommendation in 1728 for curing coughs with snail syrup. Take garden snails, early in the morning while the dew is upon them, he said, take off their shells; slit them; and with half a pound of sugar, put them in a bag and hang them in a cellar and the syrup will melt and drop through, ready to be swallowed when a cough appears. That recommendation is about as hard to swallow as the snail juice. Modern science hasn’t wiped out all outlandish therapies. In Hong Kong snake soup remains the remedy for a cold with venomous snakes like the king cobra being the most highly prized ingredient. Sometimes a living snake is skinned and the gall bladder removed to be used as a cure-all. The treatment does have a dangerous side effect. Escape of snakes from shops is a problem.

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You Asked: Blueberries and Milk

You Asked? - Tue, 12/02/2014 - 21:04

“I put blueberries and milk on my cereal in the morning. Which one should I give up?” That was the question I received via email. A reference was included to a study about the antioxidant activity of blueberries being impaired when consumed with milk, as well as one about milk consumption being linked to greater risk of bone fractures and to earlier mortality. While both these studies appeared in the peer-reviewed literature and are interesting, their practical significance is questionable. The milk study focused on people drinking more than three glasses of milk a day and could not rule out “reverse causation,” namely that some subjects were drinking more milk because they already had risk factors for osteoporosis. As far as earlier mortality goes, the authors suggest it may be linked to an inflammatory effect attributed the galactose, a breakdown product of lactose, the sugar found in milk. But this is pure conjecture. It is also possible that people who drink a lot of milk have a higher calorie intake or a lower vegetable intake, or exercise less, all of which can be confounding factors. Milk may not be as important a dietary component as Canada’s Food Guide suggests, but there is no need to avoid it. Moderation is the key. Blueberries are widely perceived as “healthy” based upon their content of antioxidants. These naturally occurring substances are found in numerous fruits and vegetables and are thought to be responsible for the benefits attributed to a diet that contains lots of plant products. Laboratory investigation can determine the antioxidants present in food but to what extent they are absorbed into the bloodstream is a more difficult question. We don’t eat single food components, we eat food. Studies have shown, for example, that polyphenols, a family of antioxidants found in tea, are more poorly absorbed when milk is added to tea because proteins in milk bind to the polyphenols. The blueberry study aimed to investigate the fate of two particular antioxidants, namely caffeic and ferulic acid when consumed with or without milk. Eleven subjects, a very small number in terms of scientific studies, consumed 200 grams of blueberries either with 200 mL of whole milk or 200 mL of water. For two days prior, the subjects were asked to abstain from foods containing antioxidants including all fresh fruits and vegetables as well as tea, coffee, juices, wine and chocolate. This unrealistic eating pattern already adds confusion to the study. In any case, analysis of the subjects’ plasma indicated a somewhat reduced antioxidant content when the blueberries were consumed with milk. This has little relevance to health. Blueberries are not commonly consumed with milk, except perhaps when they are eaten together with cereal. And there is no compelling evidence that the antioxidant content of plasma is a determinant of health. Furthermore, the plasma’s antioxidant potential is determined by the overall content of the diet and is not going to be affected to any significant extent by the handful of blueberries added to cereal whether consumed with or without milk.

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You Asked: Blueberries and Milk

Our OSS Blog - Tue, 12/02/2014 - 21:04

“I put blueberries and milk on my cereal in the morning. Which one should I give up?” That was the question I received via email. A reference was included to a study about the antioxidant activity of blueberries being impaired when consumed with milk, as well as one about milk consumption being linked to greater risk of bone fractures and to earlier mortality. While both these studies appeared in the peer-reviewed literature and are interesting, their practical significance is questionable. The milk study focused on people drinking more than three glasses of milk a day and could not rule out “reverse causation,” namely that some subjects were drinking more milk because they already had risk factors for osteoporosis. As far as earlier mortality goes, the authors suggest it may be linked to an inflammatory effect attributed the galactose, a breakdown product of lactose, the sugar found in milk. But this is pure conjecture. It is also possible that people who drink a lot of milk have a higher calorie intake or a lower vegetable intake, or exercise less, all of which can be confounding factors. Milk may not be as important a dietary component as Canada’s Food Guide suggests, but there is no need to avoid it. Moderation is the key. Blueberries are widely perceived as “healthy” based upon their content of antioxidants. These naturally occurring substances are found in numerous fruits and vegetables and are thought to be responsible for the benefits attributed to a diet that contains lots of plant products. Laboratory investigation can determine the antioxidants present in food but to what extent they are absorbed into the bloodstream is a more difficult question. We don’t eat single food components, we eat food. Studies have shown, for example, that polyphenols, a family of antioxidants found in tea, are more poorly absorbed when milk is added to tea because proteins in milk bind to the polyphenols. The blueberry study aimed to investigate the fate of two particular antioxidants, namely caffeic and ferulic acid when consumed with or without milk. Eleven subjects, a very small number in terms of scientific studies, consumed 200 grams of blueberries either with 200 mL of whole milk or 200 mL of water. For two days prior, the subjects were asked to abstain from foods containing antioxidants including all fresh fruits and vegetables as well as tea, coffee, juices, wine and chocolate. This unrealistic eating pattern already adds confusion to the study. In any case, analysis of the subjects’ plasma indicated a somewhat reduced antioxidant content when the blueberries were consumed with milk. This has little relevance to health. Blueberries are not commonly consumed with milk, except perhaps when they are eaten together with cereal. And there is no compelling evidence that the antioxidant content of plasma is a determinant of health. Furthermore, the plasma’s antioxidant potential is determined by the overall content of the diet and is not going to be affected to any significant extent by the handful of blueberries added to cereal whether consumed with or without milk.

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Let’s preserve rational thinking when it comes to preservatives

Our OSS Blog - Fri, 11/28/2014 - 22:28

Open a box of old crackers or potato chips and a smell emerges. It isn’t pleasant. The same goes for that bottle of oil that’s been sitting in the cupboard for months. It’s the smell of rancid fat. Technically speaking, the smell, which consists of numerous compounds, is the result of oxidation. Simply put, that means fats have reacted with oxygen in the air causing them to break down into smaller molecules. Not only are these malodorous, detectable at an unbelievably low concentration of 1.5 picograms per liter of oil, they can have nasty health consequences. It is not a good idea to eat foods in which the fat has gone rancid. Annoyingly, it is the healthier, polyunsaturated fats, that are more prone to rancidity. These fats have multiple double bonds in their molecular structure, a feature that enhances reaction with oxygen. Initially the fats are converted to hydroperoxides which are unstable and decompose to yield compounds like vinyl ketone, nonadienal and malondialdehyde. On top of having very low odour thresholds, some of these, malondialdehyde specifically, can cross-link proteins and DNA molecules and that is bad news. Such an affront to DNA can trigger cancer.

Knowledge of the mechanism of such oxidation reactions has led to the use of “antioxidants” that react with hydroproxides and prevent their breakdown. The most effective ones have the tongue twisting names of butylated hydroxytoluene (BHT) and butylated hydroxyl anisole (BHA) which are added to foods containing solid fats or oils such as shortenings, baked goods and cereals. These chemicals are not just randomly added, like all other food additives, their use is strictly regulated. Manufacturers can add BHA or BHT up to 0.02% of the weight of the fat in a food which is an amount determined by extensive studies on animals.

Of course if you give enough of any chemical to a test animal something will eventually happen. For example, BHA can cause carcinomas in the forestomach of rodents at a dose of 230 mg per kg per day. Internet bloggers can parlay that into scaring consumers who are unaware of the principles of toxicology and species differences. Humans do not have a forestomach and human exposures are actually less than 0.1 mg/kg/day. So while BHA can indeed be declared to be an animal carcinogen, this has no relevance to humans. On the contrary, studies have shown that at concentrations of 125 ppm which is close to food additive levels, both BHA and BHT have anticarcinogenic properties. Not only have there been no studies correlating these additives with human cancer, rates of stomach cancer have ben significantly decreasing possibly due to the use of preservatives.

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Popeye et les épinards

French Blog: Coin Francophone - Fri, 11/28/2014 - 21:54

Qui ne connait pas l'histoire de Popeye le marin qui doit sa force aux épinards, un aliment riche en fer. Ce qui est fascinant dans cette histoire c'est qu'en fait elle est basée sur pas une, mais plusieurs idées fausses. Tout d'abord lorsque Elzie Cryler Segar a créé le personnage de bande dessinée dans les années1930 il a choisi les épinards, non par pour son contenu en fer, mais à la demande du gouvernement, pour promouvoir la consommation de légumes en général. Dans aucune des bandes dessinées de l'époque Segar ne fait mention du fer comme étant la source de la force herculéenne de Popeye. Par contre dans plusieurs épisodes Popeye parle de la vitamine A (ci-contre) Les épinards sont riches en béta carotène, le précurseur de la vitamine A.

La réponse est plus mitigée quant à la teneur des épinards en fer. Il est vrai qu'une tasse d'épinards contient 6,5 mg de fer, ce qui est appréciable. Mais les épinards contiennent aussi de l'acide oxalique, un composé qui neutralise le fer et l'empêche d'être absorbé par le corps.

Mais alors d’où vient donc cette idée fausse sur le contenu élevé en fer des épinards? Elle viendrait d'une autre idée fausse qui, elle, serait associée à une faute de frappe. En 1870 le chercheur Allemand Emil von Wolff, dans un article publié sur le contenu en fer des épinards, aurait mal placé la virgule, créditant ainsi les épinards de dix fois plus de fer qu'ils n’en contiennent en réalité. C'est une bonne histoire que l'on retrouve partout sur le web et qui est citée pour illustrer l'importance de vérifier les sources. Le problème c'est qu'il n'y a pas de sources fiables qui supportent la véracité de cette histoire de virgule mal placée !

En 2010, le Dr Mike Sutton, un chercheur de de l'université de Nottingham en Angleterre, frustré du manque d'informations décida d'aller au fond des choses. Le fruit de ses recherches se retrouve dans un article de 34 pages publié dans Internet Journal of Criminology , article qui est un plaisir .à lire. Il nous apprend, entre autre, que malgré tous ses efforts il n'a jamais pu retrouver de traces de l'article en question. De plus, la preuve que cette histoire de virgule mal placée est sans fondement est que pour ses travaux Wolff n'a jamais eu à mesurer le contenu en fer des épinards et donc n'aurait pas pu publier un article à ce sujet. Malgré tout, l'histoire de la virgule mal placée comme étant responsable de l'explosion de la consommation d'épinards, continue à circuler. Mais vous au moins vous connaissez la vérité …grâce aux Manchettes d'Ariel Fenster!

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La petite histoire des calories

French Blog: Coin Francophone - Sat, 11/22/2014 - 21:56

Aujourd'hui la calorie fait partie du langage courant, surtout pour ceux qui cherchent à contrôler leur poids. Mais à la fin du 19 ème siècle la calorie était si peu connue, que dans un article où  le terme était mentionné,  on expliquait comment prononcer le mot ka-lo-ri. 

C'est surtout au chimiste américain Wilbur Atwater (1844-1907) que l'on doit que la calorie soit passée d'un terme de laboratoire, associé aux réactions chimiques, à une des constantes de la nutrition.  Atwater, après avoir obtenu son doctorat en agronomie en 1869 de l'université Yale, avait passé deux ans en Allemagne. C'est là-bas qu'il a commencé à s'intéresser aux valeurs énergétiques de divers aliments. À l'époque la calorie (écrite avec un c minuscule) était surtout associée à l'étude des machines à vapeur. Elle représentait la quantité de chaleur (comme forme d'énergie) requise pour élever la température de 1g d'eau de 0oC à 1oC. Comme l'unité est très petite elle était surtout exprimée en kcal (1 000 calories), qui se définissait alors comme la quantité de chaleur requise pour élever la température de 1kg d'eau de 0oC à 1oC. La calorie nutritionnelle, avec un C  majuscule, elle est l'équivalent d’une  kcal. Ce qui veut dire qu'une part de gâteau à 400 Calories est l'équivalent de 400 000 calories !

Pour Atwater il n'était pas suffisant de déterminer les valeurs en calories des aliments, il voulait aussi connaitre les besoins du corps humain pour différentes activités physiques. Un intérêt associé aux théories de Winslow Taylor (1856-1915) pour améliorer l'efficacité industrielle. Atwater développa un  aspect de cette approche qu'il appela "Nutrition scientifique". Il s'agissait de déterminer les quantités de nourriture requises par les ouvriers pour accomplir leur tâche. Des mesures qui étaient faites dans des pièces parfaitement isolées, qui agissaient comme des calorimètres géants (ci-contre). Atwater dans ses publications révélait, entre autre, combien de calories, et de grammes de nourriture  étaient requis "par brique" par un maçon pour compléter son travail. Pour les adeptes du Taylorisme les études d'Atwater devaient  permettre aux patrons de "promouvoir la production optimale de briques par employé au moindre coût pour l'employeur."

Mais ce n'est qu'avec la première guerre mondiale que la calorie quitta les pages des journaux scientifiques pour se retrouver dans le langage courant. Il était important pour l'effort de guerre de ne pas gaspiller la nourriture et on rappelait constamment à la population combien elle se devait "d’économiser les calories. " Des brochures étaient distribuées décrivant les besoins en calories en fonction de l'âge et du sexe ainsi que le contenu en calories de différents plats.  Manger plus que nécessaire était "antipatriotique". D'ailleurs beaucoup de restaurants, pour montrer qu'ils participaient à l'effort général, affichaient à côté du prix la teneur calorique de chaque plat.

Jusqu'au début du siècle dernier les canons de la beauté féminine impliquaient, en général, une apparence "ample."  Il suffit de regarder des tableaux de Rubens pour se rendre compte combien les choses ont changé.  A l’époque, il était commun pour les femmes qui se jugeaient trop minces de dissimuler des coussins sous leurs vêtements pour augmenter leur tour de taille. Mais à partir des années 1920, la silhouette féminine changea complètement. La mode passa de l'ample au filiforme avec une taille inexistante et une poitrine complètement plate (les soutiens-gorge de l'époque étaient plus conçus pour aplatir la poitrine que pour la soutenir).  Un idéal qui demandait des efforts constants de massages, d'exercices, de traitements médicaux mais surtout de contrôle de l'alimentation.

Si le nom de Wilbur Atwater est associé aux principes scientifiques de la calorie, c'est une  femme, Lulu Hunt Peters (1873-1930) qui l'a popularisé dans le cadre de régimes alimentaires. Dans son livre "Diet and Health – With Key to the Calories", publié  en 1918,  elle explique comment restreindre les calories est le meilleur moyen de se conformer à l'image du jour. Pour elle, ce n'était pas si important ce que l'on mangeait mais le nombre de calories que cela représentait. Une personne de sa taille pouvait manger n'importe quoi dans la mesure où cela se limitait à 1200 calories par jour. Pour elle, maintenir un régime alimentaire, était une forme de maitrise de soi, ce qui cadrait bien avec l'image de la femme libérée des années 1920.

Le livre, qui à l'époque s'est vendu à plus de deux millions d'exemplaires, contient de nombreuses recommandations qui sont toujours valables. Elle suggère de s'abstenir de boire des boissons riches en sucre et surtout de ne pas utiliser de médicaments pour perdre du poids. Un conseil judicieux car beaucoup d'entre eux étaient à base de mercure et d'arsenic. Le livre est disponible sur le web et cela vaut la peine d'y jeter un coup d'œil pour se rendre compte que les choses n'ont pas tellement changé  depuis 1918.

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A Hot Potato

Our OSS Blog - Sat, 11/22/2014 - 21:52

The poor potato is being mashed by criticism.Too high a glycemic index, critics say, which means more sugar in the bloodstream for anyone concerned about diabetes. Forget about eating potatoes, say the proponents of low carb diets. French fries? Forget it. Loaded with fat. And supporters of California’s Proposition 65, which stipulates that any substance that has been linked to cancer must be clearly identified, clamor for potato chips to sport a label stating that they contain acrylamide, which is “known to the State of California to cause cancer.” Acrylamide forms when heat causes asparagine, an amino acid present in numerous foods, to react with starch. Potatoes have asparagine and starch, and when it comes to baking or frying, can indeed form acrylamide.

Technically this is a carcinogen because it can cause cancer in animals albeit only when they are treated with doses far greater than human exposure. No epidemiological studies have demonstrated that the traces of acrylamide to which we may be exposed in baked goods, coffee, cereals or potatoes play a role in human cancer. But California politicians argue that less exposure to a carcinogen is always better, and that people should know where such substances are found so they can take appropriate measures. This argument does not fly with most toxicologists who maintain that even with carcinogens there is a threshold effect below which there is no risk.

No matter whether the risk is real or not, reducing the possibility of acrylamide formation can be an effective marketing tool. So along comes the “Innate” potato, developed by the J.R. Simplot Company in the U.S. With its reduced asparagine content it will have less acrylamide when baked or fried. But there is an issue here that may not play so well in the marketplace. The new-fangled potato is a product of genetic engineering. The gene that codes for the production of asparagine, as well as one responsible for the browning of potatoes, has been silenced through a process known as “RNA interference.” This does involve the incorporation of novel genes into the Innate potato, but those genes come from other varieties of cultivated and wild potatoes. No genes from any other species are introduced.

Stll, there are critics who contend that RNA interference technology has not been studied well enough, and that asparagine may also play a role in defending the potato against disease causing organisms. And then there is the issue of implying that a “safer” potato has been engineered which can lead to less vigilance about eating fried potatoes. Realistically, the health concern about French fries is the amount of fat they harbour, not their acrylamide content. It is extremely unlikely that there is any health risk arising from consuming this genetically engineered potato, about as unlikely as there being any risk associated with the traces of acrylamide in foods we eat. Basically, though, this new potato is a solution to a problem that never existed.

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Seeds of Hope

Our OSS Blog - Fri, 11/21/2014 - 16:30

Why would anyone oppose a technology that dramatically increases crop yields and protects farmers from excessive exposure to pesticides? Because of irrational fears about the technology involved, which is of course genetic modification. A battle is now brewing in India and Bangladesh over the planting of eggplant that has been genetically modified to resist attack by insects. Eggplant is a staple in many dishes in India and Bangladesh but unfortunately the plant is susceptible to attack by the fruit and shoot borer and farmers have to spray to prevent infestation on a regular basis.

Most farmers are poor and are not well trained in pesticide use and put themselves at risk. But a gene from the soil bacterium Bacillus thuringiensis can be incorporated into the eggplant’s genome and the plant will then secrete a protein that kills insects but is harmless to humans. Activists have organized protests with people dressed up like giant eggplants carrying placards about Indians being lab rats and companies putting poison into the food supply. Their cause is championed by environmentalist Vandana Shiva who suggests that GMO means God Move Over. She also claims that with genetically modified seeds giant corporations are trying to control all of agriculture. In fact the genetically modified eggplant seed is being donated for free by Monsanto and farmers will be allowed to propagate Bt eggplant using seeds from plants they have grown without having to pay any royalties. It is estimated that the technology could raise yields by about a third through controlling pests and go a long way towards solving the malnutriton and hunger problems that plague India and Bangladesh.

Of course hunger isn’t limited to these countries. In Africa cassava is a staple crop for some 250 million people. But two viruses can ravage the crop. One destroys leaves, the other, called brown streak virus, destroys the roots, something that isn’t evident until harvest time. These viruses are transmitted by the whitefly whose range is expanding due to climate change. Researchers are working on developing genetically modified strains of cassava that are immune to the brown streak virus. Of course, nobody is suggesting that genetic modification is the only answer to the whitefly problem. Planting rows of Tithonia diversifolia, a wild sunflower that whiteflies prefer, can also draw these pests away from cassava. Modern farming technology should be based on using the best combination of practices and in many cases that means the appropriate use of genetically modified seeds. Why deter farmers from using methods based on sound facts by promoting mythical fears?

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Climate Change

Our OSS Blog - Fri, 11/21/2014 - 16:27

As we get ready for winter here and watch news reports of unseasonable plummeting temperatures in some parts of North America, it is hard to be concerned about global warming. But climate change is here and it comes with baggage. Yes, there are some scientists who argue that humans are not responsible, and claim that we have experienced natural warming and cooling trends throughout history. They, however, are in the minority. The vast majority of climate change experts are convinced that the release of carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases like methane and nitrous oxide are driving temperatures up with potentially a huge impact on wildlife, food production and the weather. Furthermore, when carbon dioxide dissolves in the oceans it forms carbonic acid which is detrimental to aquatic life.

The United Nations Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change has just released its final report, summarizing 13 months of work, not by a handful of scientists, but by more than 800 experts. Natural forces have virtually nothing to do with the rising temperatures, they say. And those temperatures are rising with the chance that 2014 may turn out to be the warmest year on record. Where is all the carbon dioxide coming from? Burning of fossil fuels is the number one cause, followed by cement manufacture and “flaring,” the burning of gases that are byproducts of oil and gas production. Methane emissions, mostly from natural gas and animal agriculture are also having a large impact with further contribution from nitrous oxide released from nitrogen based fertilizer.

The Panel noted that glaciers are melting, Arctic sea ice is disappearing, sea level is rising, permafrost is thawing and that the number of hot days and nights are increasing. They warn that most plants, small mammals and ocean organisms cannot adapt fast enough to keep up with changes, and that a global temperature rise greater than 2 degrees Celsius will compromise food supplies everywhere. If nothing is done, they warn, the temperature is likely to rise by 4 degrees C by 2100.

The situation though, is not hopeless. Keeping greenhouse gases in the atmosphere below the equivalent of 450 parts per million of CO2 can prevent excessive warming. But how do we do this? There is no single measure that will solve the problem, but there are many possibilities. They include low-carbon electricity sources such as solar, tidal and wind power. Nuclear energy will have to play a role. Technical solutions for storing carbon dioxide need to be found. And there are small things we can all do. Change to low energy LED lights. Improve insulation. Turn down the heat and AC a notch. Car pool. Eat less. That’s right. Food has a huge environmental footprint. That chicken was raised in henhouses that were lit and climate controlled with electricity, was fed on corn grown with the aid of fertilizers and pesticides and ended up being packaged and trucked to stores. All of that requires energy input. And while you are at it, consider giving up bottled water and soft drinks. The energy expenditure to produce these is horrendous. Think about this as we wait for the first snowstorm to strike. It may be cold outside but climate change is still a hot topic.

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The oPhone

Our OSS Blog - Fri, 11/21/2014 - 16:23

Your cell phone wakes you up in the morning. No big deal. You reach over to turn off the alarm, touch another button, and suddenly the smell of freshly brewed coffee wafts into your nose. But no point reaching for the cup, there isn’t one. The scent is drifting out from the phone! If you would rather wake up to the odour frying bacon and toast, that’s possible too. Welcome to the wonderful world of the “oPhone.” And we are not talking science fiction here; the oPhone already exists and will be hitting the market soon. Not only will you be able to entertain your nasal passages with a multitude of fragrances, you will also be able to send scent messages. Imagine irritating your friends back home with the scent of tropical fruit along with a picture of yourself swinging in a hammock and sipping a pina colada somewhere in the tropics. Of course your friends will have to be equipped with an oPhone.

So what makes this magic happen? A set of eight replaceable chips, each containing four “building-block scents” that can be dispensed in response to an electronic signal. The 32 basic smells can be combined to dispense a fantastic array of aromas. Select “meaty,” “cheesy” and “grilled toast,” and you’ll conjure up the odour of a cheeseburger. And of course you can experiment. Who knows what sort of a whiff you’ll get by pushing the “cocoa beans” and “meaty” buttons?

It sounds like the oPhone could be a lot of fun, but can this technology be put to some useful purpose? Maybe. You just finished dinner and there is that delectable dessert staring you in the face. You know you shouldn’t indulge, but it looks so good. Perhaps you’ll whip out your oPhone, push a button and the unpleasant smell of rotting meat will kill your appetite. There is even the possibility of diagnosing early Alzheimer’s disease. The inability to recognize certain scents has been linked with the early stage of this disease. And maybe the oPhone can even deal with the situation by helping with memory. Studies have shown that reading something while being exposed to a scent can lead to improved recall in the presence of the same scent. Trigger a smell from your phone as you put down your keys. When you want to find them again, push the button for the same scent and you’ll remember where you put them. Maybe. Of course this method won’t work to find a lost oPhone.

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L’Eglise catholique et la science

French Blog: Coin Francophone - Thu, 11/13/2014 - 23:18

Quand le pape François a déclaré récemment dans un discours à l'Académie pontificale des sciences que l'évolution et le modèle du "Big Bang" ne sont pas contraires aux croyances catholiques, il a créé tout un émoi. Après-tout, nombreux sont ceux qui considèrent que l'Eglise est antiscience. Et ils peuvent citer de nombreux exemples pour étayer leur opinion. Galilée a été condamné par l'Inquisition pour avoir soutenu que le Soleil, et non la Terre, était le centre de notre système planétaire. Giordano Bruno, qui a été brûlé sur le bûcher pour ses idées iconoclastes, est considéré comme un martyr de la science.

Pourtant aujourd'hui, la position de l'Eglise catholique sur différents aspects scientifiques est beaucoup plus en ligne avec le consensus scientifique. Nombreux fondamentalistes protestants croient en un monde créé par Dieu dans sa forme actuelle, il y a moins de 10.000 ans (une opinion partagée par 40% des Américains). En revanche, l'Eglise catholique, elle, a eu une attitude beaucoup plus ouverte vis-à-vis de la théorie de l'évolution. Lorsque Charles Darwin a publié en 1859, De l'origine des espèces l'Église n'a pas condamné ses thèses, mais elle n’a simplement pas pris position sur le sujet (bien que le clergé local ait eu tendance à y être hostile). Après plus de cent ans, en 1950 le Pape Pie XII, dans son encyclique Humani Generis accepta l'évolution comme une "possibilité" (par opposition à une "probabilité") qui justifie d'être étudié plus en profondeur. En 1996 le Pape Jean-Paul II a déclaré dans une déclaration à l'Académie pontificale des sciences que l'évolution est "plus qu'une hypothèse". Il est intéressant de noter dans ce contexte qu'avant Darwin, Jean-Baptiste Lamarck (1744-1829), éduqué chez les jésuites, fut le premier à postuler que les espèces pouvaient développer de nouveaux traits nécessaires à leur survie et que ces traits pouvaient être transférés à leur descendance. Quant à la théorie du "Big Bang", elle fut d'abord proposée par le prêtre belge Georges Lemaître qui plus tard devint président de l'Académie pontificale des sciences. L'Académie pontificale des sciences a été justement créée en 1936 par le pape Pie XI pour conseiller le pape sur les questions scientifiques d'actualité. Elle est composée de 80 membres, tous scientifiques éminents avec de nombreux détenteurs de prix Nobel. Cela va du Canadien John Polanyi à l'Israélien Aaron Ciechanover. Le président est Werner Arber, prix Nobel 1978, pour son travail sur la technologie de l'ADN recombinant. Werner Arber est le premier protestant à occuper ce poste.

L'Académie n'a pas peur d'aborder des sujets controversés. En 2009, un groupe de ses membres, dirigé par Werner Arber, prit position sur les OGM en déclarant qu'ils étaient utiles pour combattre la faim et la pauvreté dans le monde. De plus, le groupe attaque les critiques de la technologie en indiquant que leur opposition est non fondée sur la science et qu'elle empêche ou ralentit, le développement de cultures qui pourraient profiter aux pays du Tiers-Monde.

Le pape François, qui a une formation scientifique avec un master en chimie, est un fervent partisan du "développement durable". Dans un récent discours, il a plaidé pour le «respect de la beauté de la nature ». Il a souligné la nécessité de « sauvegarder la Création, parce que si nous détruisons la Création, la Création va nous détruire."

L'ouverture de l'Eglise est beaucoup plus limitée sur ce qu'elle considère comme des questions de morale ou d'éthique. Il est largement admis que l'usage du préservatif est le moyen le plus fiable, en dehors de la méthode de l'abstinence irréaliste promue par l'Eglise, pour prévenir la propagation du sida. Pourtant, lorsque le pape Jean Paul II a visité la Tanzanie, un pays où le sida est endémique, il a déclaré que les préservatifs étaient "en toutes circonstances" un péché. Il sera intéressant de voir si l'Eglise catholique sous le Pape François va aussi évoluer sur cette question.

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La première guerre mondiale et le tabagisme

French Blog: Coin Francophone - Thu, 11/13/2014 - 23:13

«Si vous me demandez ce dont nous avons besoin pour gagner cette guerre; je réponds, du tabac autant que des balles ". C'est ainsi que le général John Pershing, commandant du corps expéditionnaire américain répond en 1917 à Washington. Une illustration du rôle que jouait le tabac dans la vie du soldat pour lui permettre de supporter l'enfer des tranchées

Lorsqu'on parle des millions de morts de la première guerre mondiale cela ne tient  pas compte de tous ceux qui sont décédées subséquemment à cause du tabagisme acquis justement dans les tranchés. Tabagisme associé entre autre au développement de l'usage de la  cigarette.

La cigarette a été découverte par les soldats français et anglais pendant a guerre de Crimée (1853-1856). Ils  y combattaient, aux côté des Turcs , les Russes. Les Turcs  avait l'habitude fumer leur tabac enroulé dans du papier et en transmirent le gout à leurs alliés*. Pourtant au début de la première guerre mondiale la plupart des soldats, surtout le "poilus" français, continuaient à fumer la pipe, moins chère d'utilisation que la cigarette.

Très rapidement la vie dans les tranchées changea la situation et amena au remplacement de la pipe par les cigarettes. Le fumeur de pipe devait  garder sa ration de tabac au sec ce qui n'était pas évident  dans les tranchées humides des Flandres. La pipe doit souvent être rallumée, pas très pratique et potentiellement dangereux, surtout la nuit lorsque cela peut attirer l'attention de l'ennemi en face. Finalement cela prend moins de temps de fumer une cigarette, un aspect important pour un soldat qui peut être amené à se déplacer très rapidement sous le feu ennemi.

Non seulement  les cigarettes faisait partie de la ration des soldats mais les compagnies de tabac encourageaient les familles, et les organismes sociaux, à envoyer des cigarettes aux soldats**.  Les compagnes de tabac se faisaient une lutte acharnée pour avoir une part de ce marché lucratif développant des techniques de marketing qui leur rendirent grand service par la suite.

Non seulement la guerre amena une augmentation dans la consommation de tabac mais aussi dans la manière de le fumer. Alors que le tabac pour pipe était trop irritant pour inhaler, ce  n'était pas le cas du tabac à cigarette beaucoup plus doux. Il pouvait être aspiré dans les poumons avec les effets nocifs en conséquence. Avant la première guerre mondiale le cancer du poumon était une maladie extrêmement rare en Amérique du Nord. Elle touchait moins de 400 personnes par an (surtout des ramoneurs). Aujourd'hui c'est de l'ordre de 150,000.

La première guerre mondiale encouragea aussi les femmes à fumer. De fumer la pipe aurait été  trop "macho" pour une femme à l'époque.  Mais les femmes voyant leur mari fumer des cigarettes à leur retour du front  décidèrent que cela leur convenait aussi. Les compagnies de tabac accélérèrent le mouvement  en lançant des campagnes de publicité ciblant les femmes en particulier. Phillip Morris en particulier fit la promotion de leur marque "Marlboro" comme des "cigarettes pour les femmes".

Les chiffres soulignent l'impact de la première guerre mondiale sur le tabagisme. Avant le conflit la consommation de cigarettes aux États-Unis étaient de 151 cigarettes par an et par personne. Après la guerre elle a plus que triplé pour passer 477.

Pour terminer je voudrais commenter la photo qui illustre cette manchette. Il s'agit d'un soldat allemand donnant tu feu à un soldat britannique. La photo a été prise le 25 décembre 1914 durant la fameuse "trêve de Noël"***. Pendant  quelques heures les soldats des deux bords ont arrêté de se battre et on fraternisé. Malheureusement cela n'est arrivé qu'une fois pendant tout la guerre, mais sur cette photo cela s'est fait autour d'une cigarette.

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*C'est de la guerre de Crimée que vient l'idée que cela porte malchance d'allumer trois cigarettes avec la même flamme. La guerre de Crimée était déjà une guerre ou les ennemis se faisaient face dans des tranchées. A la première cigarette le soldat en face vous remarquait, à la deuxième il visait et à la troisième…

** Étrange  mais vrai,  le YMCA avait engagé un chien, surnommé "Dobut", pour parcourir les tranchées  avec  des paquets cigarettes attachées au corps  pour les distribuer aux soldats. http://www.freewebs.com/cigpack/cigarettesmokingwwi.htm

*** Le très beau film "Joyeux Noël" est basé sur cette histoire.

http://fr.wikipedia.org/wiki/Joyeux_No%C3%ABl_(film)

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Dr Oz and phthalates

Our OSS Blog - Thu, 11/13/2014 - 22:39

The title of the segment on the Dr. Oz Show was “The Secret Ingredient Companies are Hiding in Your Food.” What could that be? Some opiate to keep you coming back for more? Tetrahydrocannabinol to increase appetite? No. The segment was all about chemicals called phthalates. And companies are not hiding their presence any more than they are “hiding” the presence of numerous substances that are not added to our food supply on purpose but can be detected through sophisticated analytical methods. These include pesticide residues, corrosion inhibitors, PCBs, detergents, chloroform, cadmium, radium, mercury, aflatoxins, bacteria and a host of others. Some of these are man-made, some occur naturally, but all are potentially toxic if present in a high enough dose. They end up in our food supply for the simple reason that if substances come into contact with each other, there will be a transfer of material from one to the other. If chloroform forms in water as a result of chlorination, which it does, some will be transferred to food that comes into contact with the water. Flourinated compounds used to produce grease-proof packaging can leave residues in food, aspergillus fungi can contaminate apple juice with their toxic metabolite patulin, wine may harbour residues of isinglass, a fish protein used to remove fine particles, and the potential carcinogen acrylamide forms when bread is baked.

None of these substances appears on food labels, not because there is some conspiracy to hide them, but because they are unavoidable. So it is with the phthalates. They do end up in our food supply because these chemicals have widespread applications. They lend flexibility conveyor belts, tubes used in milking machines and to plastic water pipes. They help the dispersal of pesticides, they’re found in caulking and in printing inks used on food packaging.

It’s no surprise to anyone familiar with chemical analysis that phthalates can be detected in our urine. Their presence, though, did come as a big surprise to the ten women Dr. Oz selected to have their urine analyzed for phthalates. None of the women had ever heard of phthalates before, which is quite surprising given the amount of publicity they have received. Their faces filled with panic when Oz revealed that they all tested positive for phthalates, chemicals that had been associated with endometriosis, weight gain, respiratory problems as well as brain and behaviour changes in children.

But here is the crux of the problem. Associations do not prove cause and effect. Just because women are more likely to suffer from endometriosis if they have higher levels of phthalates in their urine doesn’t mean that phthalates are the cause. Perhaps they have greater phthalate exposure because they eat more fatty foods like dairy and meat which are known to have higher amounts of phthalates. Perhaps they used more scented products most of which contain phthalates to inhibit the evaporation of the scent and they were somehow reacting to some of the numerous chemicals that make up scented products.

None of this is meant absolve phthalates from all blame because there are sufficient laboratory studies, animal experiments and human epidemiological data that suggest the need for further investigation. But there is no need for panic. There are numerous other substances that could be detected in our urine that could also be vilified in the same fashion as the phthalates. How many? At least 3,079 compounds can be detected, of which 2,282 come from diet, drugs, cosmetics or environmental exposure. Enough chemicals there for Dr. Oz to discuss and panic audiences for many years.

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Opioid peptides: the heroin within?

From Our Contributors - Fri, 11/07/2014 - 07:40

By: Emily Brown PhD

If you were to hear the words ‘opioid peptides’, they might not trigger much within your brain, other than that the former sounds a bit like opium and together they sound quite scientific. Opium (also known as poppy tears) is a dried substance or latex that originates, as the alternative name suggests, from the opium poppy. Beautifully intricate pipes of bamboo, ivory, silver, jade and porcelain have been carved over the centuries and used to vaporise and inhale the latex traditionally obtained by scratching immature poppy seed pods by hand. Numerous Empires including the Egyptian, Greek, Roman, Persian and Arab made widespread use of the drug, which was then the most potent form of pain relief available. This analgesic property is conferred by morphine, which constitutes approximately twelve per cent of opium and is chemically processed to produce heroin. Commonly known by the street names H, smack, horse and brown, among others, the effects of heroin will be well known by any ‘Trainspotting’ fans. What writer Irvine Welsh did not reveal, however, is that opiates such as heroin mimic the effects of naturally occurring molecules that can be generated inside our own bodies.

Opioid peptides are small molecules that are produced in the central nervous system (the brain and spinal cord) and in various glands throughout the body such as the pituitary and adrenal glands. These peptides can be divided into three categories (enkephalins, endorphins, and dynorphins), depending on the type of larger precursor molecule from which they are derived. Opioid peptides function both as hormones and as neuromodulators; the former are secreted in the blood system by glands and are delivered to a variety of target tissues where they induce a response, while the later are produced and secreted by nerve cells (or neurons) and act in the central nervous system to modulate the actions of other neurotransmitters.

Neurons are electrically excitable cells that process and transmit information through electrical and chemical signals that travel via synapses, specialised connections with other cells. These signals are transmitted across a synapse from one neuron to another by neurotransmitters. By altering the electrical properties of their target neurons and making them difficult to excite, opioid peptides can influence the release of various neurotransmitters.

Through these two different mechanisms, opioid peptides can produce many effects including pain relief, euphoria and altered behaviour such as food and alcohol consumption. The apparent connection between exercise and happiness has been explained at least somewhat by the release of endorphins, for example. Exercise is commonly recommended as a strategy for stress-relief and mood improvement, but less widely accepted forms of therapy might also be connected to opioid peptides. Evidence suggests that pain relief induced by acupuncture results from stimulation of opioid peptides - these peptides act through receptors on their target neurons, and chemicals that inhibit opioid receptor function have been found to reverse acupuncture-induced analgesia. Painful, stressful or traumatic events or stimuli can induce the release of opioid peptides, with the resulting euphoria and pain relief making the sufferer less sensitive to noxious events. Opioid peptides have been reported to affect the release of specific neurotransmitters such as dopamine and serotonin, but the response of the neurons that receive opioid-peptide stimulation depends on their excitatory versus inhibitory nature, making the outcome difficult to predict.

The words ‘opioid peptides’ may not have left a dazzling feeling of recognition within your memory upon first encounter, but these peptides act within the brain and wider body to influence a number of important functions. Although it is not easy to predict the effect of neuromodulators that alter the release of other neurotransmitters, there is little question that opioid systems play a critical role in modulating a large number of sensory, motivational, emotional and cognitive functions. Alterations in opioid peptide systems may contribute to a variety of clinical conditions, including alcoholism, obesity, depression, diabetes and epilepsy. Many questions still remain, particularly those concerning the exact role of opioid peptides produced within the body in relation to addictive and emotional behaviour and psychiatric disorders. Since these disorders are typically of a complex nature, seeking the answers to these questions is not a simple feat. Advances in genetics and genomics research that aim to explain function by studying our DNA are helping to pave the way. But perhaps if there is one thing that can help motivate our talented scientists to reach their challenging goals, a healthy dose of opioid peptide might be just the thing.

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The Catholic Church and Science

Our OSS Blog - Fri, 11/07/2014 - 07:34

Pope Francis’ recent statement at the Pontifical Academy of Science that evolution and the Big Bang model are not contrary to Catholic beliefs created quite a stir. Afterall, for many people the notion that the Church is anti- science is a given. And they have many examples to support their opinion. Galileo was put under house arrest for claiming that the Sun and not the Earth was the center of our planetary system. Giordano Bruno, who was burned at the stake for his free-thinking ideas, is considered today to be a martyr to science.

However, the position of the Catholic Church on current scientific issues is much more in line with the scientific consensus. Many US Protestant denominations believe in a world created by God in its present form less than 10,000 years ago. This is a view shared by 40% of Americans according to a 2014 Gallup survey. In contrast, the Catholic Church has had a much more open attitude toward evolution.

For the first 100 years or so after the 1859 publication of Charles Darwin's On the Origin of Species the Church did not take an official position (although local clergy tended to be hostile). This allowed for a relatively open discussion of the topic among catholic scholars. It led Pope Pius XII, in the 1950 Encyclical Human generis, to accept evolution as a possibility (as opposed to a probability) which warranted further studies. Subsequently Pope John Paul II declared in 1996 in a pronouncement to the Pontifical Academy of Science that Evolution is "more than a hypothesis." It is interesting to note in this light, that before Darwin, the French Jesuit, Jean Baptiste Lamarck (1744-1829), was the first to postulate that species could develop new traits as needed for their survival and that these traits could be passed on to their offspring. And when it comes to the Big Bang it was first proposed by the Belgian priest Georges Lemaitre who himself was president of the Pontifical Academy of Science.

The Pontifical Academy of Sciences was established in 1936 by Pope Pius XI to advise the Pope on scientific matters. Its membership consists of 80 members and includes numerous Nobel Prize winners including Canadian John Polanyi and Israeli Aaron Ciechanover. The current president is Werner Arber, 1978 Nobel laureate, for his work on recombinant DNA technology. Werner Arber is the first Protestant to hold that position. The Academy does not shy away from controversial issues. In 2009 a group of its members, led by Werner Arber, released a statement praising GMOs as a useful tool to help the world's poor. The statement takes issues with objections made by critics and states that their misguided opposition prevents, or slows, the development of crops for the public good, especially in Third World countries.

The Pope, who has a scientific background with a master in chemistry, has come strongly in favor of sustainable development. In a recent address he has argued for the "respect of the beauty of nature." In his speech he stressed the need to "Safeguard Creation because if we destroy Creation, Creation will destroy us."

The openness of the Church does not extend to what it considers to be moral or ethical issues. It is widely accepted that the use of condoms is the most reliable way, outside the unrealistic abstinence method promoted by the Church, to prevent the spread of AIDS. Still when Pope John II visited Tanzania, a country where AIDS is rampant, he declared that condoms were a sin in any circumstances.  It should be interesting to see if the Catholic Church under Pope Francis will evolve on this issue as well.

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The Hippocrates Health Institute Dispenses Unhealthy Advice

Our OSS Blog - Sun, 10/26/2014 - 22:09

Do parents have a right to make a decision about how a minor’s cancer is to be treated? Or not treated? This is not just a hypothetical question, it is a very current one. Acute lymphoblastic leukemia is a bone marrow cancer that untreated leads to death but with appropriate chemotherapy has an over 90% cure rate. The parents of an eleven year old Canadian girl have decided to end the recommended treatment before it was completed in favour of a “natural” therapy, stating that this was more in line with their native traditions. They elected to have their child treated at the Hippocrates Health Institute in Florida which features alternative therapies based on the theories of Ann Wigmore, a Lithuanian émigré to the U.S. who had become convinced of the healing power of grasses after reading the Biblical story of Nebuchadnezzar, the Babylonian king who went through a seven year period of insanity from which he apparently cured himself by eating grass.

Wigmore reflected on this story, considered how dogs and cats sometimes eat grass when they feel ill, and came up with a theory about the magical properties of wheatgrass juice. Food rots in the intestine due to improper digestion, she maintained, and forms “toxins” that then enter the circulation. The living enzymes in raw wheatgrass prevent these toxins from forming and ward off disease. So she claimed. By 1988 Wigmore, who had no recognized scientific education, was even suggesting that her “energy enzyme soup” was capable of curing AIDS and cancer. Ann is no longer with us but her “live enzyme therapy” is still a mainstay at the Hippocrates Health Institute.

The term “live enzyme” is meaningless since enzymes are not living entities. They are not composed of cellular units, they cannot reproduce, they cannot carry on metabolism and they cannot grow. Ergo, they are not alive. Enzymes are specialized protein molecules that are essential because they catalyze the numerous reactions that go on in our bodies all the time that are necessary to sustain life. But our bodies make all the enzymes that are needed and enzymes present in food are not the same as the enzymes our cells need and in any case are broken down during digestion. Claims that cancer can be cured by live enzyme therapy are bogus and dangerous. Acute lymphoblastic leukemia requires treatment that has been worked out by decades of research, not concoctions based on folklore and wishful thinking. Should authorities step in and override the parents’ wishes? If this young girl is to have a chance at survival, yes.

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