What does “dead” mean?

Should death be defined in strictly biological terms — as the body’s failure to maintain integrated functioning of respiration, blood circulation, and neurological activity? Should death be declared on the basis of severe neurological injury even when biological functions remain intact? Or is it essentially a social construct that should be defined in different ways?

❝ These are among the wide-ranging questions explored in a new special report, “Defining Death: Organ Transplantation and the Fifty-Year Legacy of the Harvard Report on Brain Death,”…The special report is a collaboration between The Hastings Center and the Center for Bioethics at Harvard Medical School.

Sometimes, these days, I think of death and dying. Some of us must. The old ones. I think of Dylan Thomas. I must needs think of science. Most of me pretty worn; but, I may provide a jot of knowledge simply for what I have experienced and survived.

Not exercising kills you sooner than smoking, diabetes or heart disease

We’ve all heard exercise helps you live longer. But a new study goes one step further, finding that a sedentary lifestyle is worse for your health than smoking, diabetes and heart disease.

Dr. Wael Jaber, a cardiologist at the Cleveland Clinic and senior author of the study, called the results “extremely surprising.”

“Being unfit on a treadmill or in an exercise stress test has a worse prognosis, as far as death, than being hypertensive, being diabetic or being a current smoker,” Jaber told CNN. “We’ve never seen something as pronounced as this and as objective as this.”

Jaber said researchers must now convey the risks to the general population that “being unfit should be considered as strong of a risk factor as hypertension, diabetes and smoking — if not stronger than all of them…It should be treated almost as a disease that has a prescription, which is called exercise…”

Jogging, walking at a good pace, cripes just walking steadily is better than sitting on your butt. Get your heart working faster than a leaky faucet.

A-Maize-ing Maize


photo ©Boxcar Farm, Llano, NM

❝ Corn is one of America’s favorite vegetables in the garden and on the plate. From the rainbow-colored ‘Glass Gem’ flint corn to the classic ‘Golden Bantam’ sweet corn, corn is grown in many backyards. Buttery corn on the cob is part of almost every child’s summer memories. Popcorn and movies are inseparable. Corn chowder with oyster crackers warms us in winter. Cornbread, succotash, and taco shells are a few other common ways we heartily consume corn.

❝ Corn (Zea mays subsp. mays) is known as “maize” in Mesoamerica and many places outside the U.S. and has its origins in a wild grass from Mexico called “teosinte.” Only five genes keep teosinte and corn from being genetically identical, and teosinte is the closest relative of today’s corn. All research and hypotheses point to the domestication of one of the four species of teosinte, Zea mays spp. parviglumis, about 9,000 years ago in Oaxaca by the Mayan people…

❝ No matter how domestication began, over thousands of years, the indigenous people of Mesoamerica bred a vast genetic diversity into maize that most crops never undergo. Maize was invented. Without human intervention, it would not be what it is today, and it would not continue to survive. Those ancient farmers were brilliant geneticists!

RTFA. Fascinating stuff. Reflect on your diet and nutrition; but, also other directions possible with this complex vegetable.

The Unrelenting American Disease

❝ The U.S. is big, and getting bigger. Since the 1980s, American adults’ obesity is at epidemic proportions, and there does not seem to be an end in sight…

The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention looked at data from the National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey…which takes various measures of the health and nutrition of children and adults in the U.S…using interviews and physical exams.

❝ The CDC results were mixed: in the young, the prevalence of obesity was 16.8 percent in 2007; it was 18.5 percent 10 years later.

There were no significant differences when looking at age or gender, but that’s still nearly 2 out of every 10 kids weighing in as obese. Our youth aren’t in the clear just yet.

For adults, it was a more stark story: obesity increased from 33.7 percent to 39.6 percent over 10 years — it stood out most in women, and in adults over 40. That’s a shocking 2 out of 5 adults.

If you can find the right switch to turn on in your personality, I believe you can turn this around. Yes, you need all the tools: better nutrition, exercise – many levels and qualities of exercise – support from folks most important to your personal life [my wife makes more difference than anything]. But, if I can make changes at my advanced age, anyone can. I took off 60 lbs in the last 16 months. I now weigh what I did in 1955.

Yes, my iPhone, iPad, Apple’s Health Kit – along with linked software and a Bluetooth scale all helped. I’ve always been a geek. 🙂

Why are these countries obese? Let’s start with walking

❝ A recent study found that more than 2 billion adults and children globally are overweight or obese and suffer health problems because of that — but this is nothing new.

There are, however, pockets of the global population who remain somewhat unaware of this public health crisis, despite the growth of waistlines all around them, and this lack of awareness is just one of the underlying problems, according to Frank Hu, professor of nutrition and epidemiology at Harvard…

Different countries have different issues,” Hu said. “You need to mobilize (their) whole society to tackle the problem. … it’s not just a medical problem.”

❝ The Pacific Islands, Middle East and Americas lead the way in terms of regions with the greatest obesity rates. In 2014, more than 48% of the population of the Cook Islands was classified as obese. Qatar led the way in the Middle East with 34%, followed closely by the United States at 33%, according to the World Health Organization…

❝ When assigning blame, two factors are common: diet and physical activity, namely poor diets and a lack of physical activity. But a number of smaller factors combine to fill these two large umbrellas, and those need to be understood to truly tackle the problem, Hu believes.

RTFA. Pretty halpful analysis, methods of analysis that can be appreciated by pretty much anyone.

I’m not making recommendations. I can only speak to what works for me – and it’s exactly what I’ve known all my life. Good nutrition reducing sugars, easily accessible exercise – and for me, tracking meal-by-meal, day-by-day. The health app built into the operating system of Apple iPhones works fine for me. I combine it with a daily calorie tracker that has a ginormous database.

Taking a look, right now, year over year, I’ve averaged 3.1 miles per day walking, 9146 steps per day. That’s every day – averaging in high summer temperatures or the occasional blizzard mid-winter. Not too many of either at our altitude in northern New Mexico. Being an ancient creaky old Leftie is no copout.

I’m happy about weighing what I weighed in 1956 – and aiming for less.

America, you can eat gluten again!

❝ In fact, most of you always could. That isn’t stopping the food industry from making a mint on gluten-free products.

❝ Only 1 percent of the U.S. population has been diagnosed with celiac disease, yet gluten-free products are still filling up—and flying off—grocery store shelves. U.S. sales reached $1.57 billion last year, up 11 percent over 2014, according to data from Packaged Facts.

Sure, that growth has slowed — it was at 81 percent in 2013. But it still runs laps around the grocery sector’s overall growth of 3 percent. In the cereal aisle, for example, where sales have been declining for the past decade, claims such as “gluten-free,” as well as “GMO-free” and “no high-fructose corn syrup” have made for one of the few bright spots, according to a recent Nielsen report…

❝ Avoiding gluten while dining out is also getting easier. Although some restaurants are now celebrating grain, others are touting their gluten-free options. “Gluten-free” was on 23.6 percent of menus this year, beating out “organic” (21 percent), “locally” (14.2 percent), and “all natural” (8.9 percent), according to DataSsential Menu Trends. That’s a big jump from 2014, when it was on only 15 percent of menus, and organic was still the health term to beat, appearing on about 19 percent of U.S. menus…

❝ For those diagnosed with celiac disease or a gluten sensitivity, the sudden boom in tasty, sort-of-affordable gluten-free foods is a “blessing”…But only 15 percent of consumers make these purchases because a member of the household has a gluten sensitivity, and only 9 percent make them for a member with celiac disease…

❝ The top reason for purchase? Thirty percent responded that “some products that I buy for other reasons are marked gluten-free.” Nearly as many — 29 percent—said they buy them because “gluten-free products are generally healthier,” and 20 percent said they make the purchase to manage their weight. Other surveys confirm these findings. NPD Group found that about one in four consumers thinks “gluten-free is good for everyone.”

Healthcare professionals say this is a misconception — people without a related diagnosis don’t need to avoid gluten.

I didn’t have to sit around waiting for Bloomberg to publish this little article. As is my habit, when I see food purveyors ramping up production of something that reads like a fad diet, I start looking for articles from recognized sources of medical and nutritional information based on science – not profit or popularity.

I’d already learned the size of the legitimate market. I was able to compare that to what I saw in the markets where I shop. Fortunately, folks working in local stores belonging to national chains specializing in natural and organic foodstuffs have an obvious sense of humor. Signs appeared in both stores for gluten-free water, gluten-free carrots, and on and on.

Yes, they carried a chunk of the newly-expanded catalogue of wheat-free, gluten-free products. Some folks need them. Provide useful access for those who benefit and you may as well sit back and get your share of the fad from the rest.

RTFA for more details. Think you have a problem with nutrition? Consult a good doctor. Hopefully, you already have one. There are plenty around, at least, it feels like it in my neck of the prairie.

We’re getting healthier, living longer – and no one really knows why!

evolution_of_woman

Something strange is going on in medicine. Major diseases, like colon cancer, dementia and heart disease, are waning in wealthy countries, and improved diagnosis and treatment cannot fully explain it.

Scientists marvel at this good news, a medical mystery of the best sort and one that is often overlooked as advocacy groups emphasize the toll of diseases and the need for more funds. Still, many are puzzled.

Of course, these diseases are far from gone. They still cause enormous suffering and kill millions each year.

But it looks as if people in the United States and some other wealthy countries are, unexpectedly, starting to beat back the diseases of aging. The leading killers are still the leading killers — cancer, heart disease, stroke — but they are occurring later in life, and people in general are living longer in good health.

Colon cancer is the latest conundrum. While the overall cancer death rate has been declining since the early 1990s, the plunge in colon cancer deaths is especially perplexing: The rate has fallen by nearly 50 percent since its peak in the 1980s, noted Dr. H. Gilbert Welch and Dr. Douglas J. Robertson…in a recent paper…

Screening, they say, is only part of the story. “The magnitude of the changes alone suggests that other factors must be involved,” they wrote. None of the studies showing the effect of increased screening for colon cancer have indicated a 50 percent reduction in mortality, they wrote, “nor have trials for screening for any type of cancer.”

The discussion is ongoing throughout the scientific world. Physicians, researchers, pharmaceutical types – of course. Most specialists are trying to discover if their specialty gets credit. I’m of the school that presumes a truly complex dialectic of improvements in lifestyle provide the base for this change.

I look at this over the span of 60 years or more. What I’ve witnessed in my adult life:

Causes outside of lifestyle innovation include vaccines – removing the stresses of illnesses from diphtheria, measles, mumps, scarlet fever, influenza, etc.. Add in fluoridation of water – fewer dental stressors, removing lead from gasoline, diminishing acid rain, ending coal in home heating.

Causes within lifestyle personal choice include aerobic exercise – especially jogging and walking – fitness including lifetime sports [this more so outside the US excepting racquet sports], myriad of diets – even fad diets – all mostly increase dietary fibre.

The sum of all this is a healthier lifestyle in the United States. A change taking place over a longer scale than most examinations. While other smaller countries may surpass the US model – for the same reasons – medium and large educated nations are fast accomplishing the same. And we affect each other – again, reinforcing the dialectic sum.

Fruit and veggies lead to happiness

This study is one of the first major scientific attempts to explore psychological well-being beyond the traditional finding that fruit and vegetables can reduce risk of cancer and heart attacks.

Happiness benefits were detected for each extra daily portion of fruit and vegetables up to 8 portions per day.

The researchers concluded that people who changed from almost no fruit and veg to eight portions of fruit and veg a day would experience an increase in life satisfaction equivalent to moving from unemployment to employment. The well-being improvements occurred within 24 months.

The study followed more than 12,000 randomly selected people. These subjects kept food diaries and had their psychological well-being measured. The authors found large positive psychological benefits within two years of an improved diet.

Professor Andrew Oswald said: “Eating fruit and vegetables apparently boosts our happiness far more quickly than it improves human health. People’s motivation to eat healthy food is weakened by the fact that physical-health benefits, such as protecting against cancer, accrue decades later. However, well-being improvements from increased consumption of fruit and vegetables are closer to immediate.”

I’ll second that emotion.

Scholars at the University of Warwick, England and the University of Queensland, Australia performed the research – in Australia. Their best guess this early on is to conduct further study on antioxidants which indicate a potential link between optimism and carotenoid in the blood.

Go for it. I’ve noted before the benefits I’ve accrued from the wonderful life I lead with my wife. A student of many disciplines, she’s succeeded in moving my daily diet up to seven portions of fruit and veg – while I’ve been working at returning my exercise level to that of a period 35-40 years ago.

I wonder if love counts as a nutritional benefit, as well.

Study confirms fresh fruit associated with lower risk of heart attack and stroke

People who eat fresh fruit on most days are at lower risk of heart attack and stroke than people who rarely eat fresh fruit, according to new research published this week in the New England Journal of Medicine. The findings come from a 7-year study of half a million adults in China, where fresh fruit consumption is much lower than in countries like the UK or US.

Researchers from the University of Oxford and Chinese Academy of Medical Sciences conducted a large, nationwide study of 500,000 adults from 10 urban and rural localities across China, tracking health for 7 years through death records and electronic hospital records of illness. The present study was among people who did not have a history of cardiovascular diseases or anti-hypertensive treatments when first joined the study.

Fruit is a rich source of potassium, dietary fiber, antioxidants, and various other potentially active compounds, and contains little sodium or fat and relatively few calories. The study found that fruit consumption (which was mainly apples or oranges) was strongly associated with many other factors, such as education, lower blood pressure, lower blood glucose, and not smoking. But, after allowing for what was known of these and other factors, a 100g portion of fruit per day was associated with about one-third less cardiovascular mortality and the association was similar across different study areas and in both men and women.

The senior author, Professor Zhengming Chen, University of Oxford, UK, said “It’s difficult to know whether the lower risk in people who eat more fresh fruit is because of a real protective effect. If it is, then widespread consumption of fresh fruit in China could prevent about half a million cardiovascular deaths a year, including 200,000 before age 70, and even larger numbers of non-fatal strokes and heart attacks.”

The parallel to Pascal’s wager on theism is sharply relevant. I’d rather bet on healthful eating, better nutrition, resulting in a longer life than worry about superstition and an afterlife. There’s more than enough science supporting the former. Zilch, zero, nuttin’ honey about the latter.

That desert you just ate may shape your eating habits

Findings, published online in the journal Hippocampus, show that neurons in the dorsal hippocampus, the part of the brain that is critical for episodic memory, are activated by consuming sweets. Episodic memory is the memory of autobiographical events experienced at a particular time and place.

In the study, a meal consisting of a sweetened solution, either sucrose or saccharin, significantly increased the expression of the synaptic plasticity marker called activity-regulated cytoskeleton-associated protein (Arc) in dorsal hippocampal neurons in rats. Synaptic plasticity is a process that is necessary for making memories.

“We think that episodic memory can be used to control eating behavior,” said Marise Parent, professor in the Neuroscience Institute at Georgia State. “We make decisions like ‘I probably won’t eat now. I had a big breakfast.’ We make decisions based on our memory of what and when we ate.”…

Forming memories of meals is important to a healthy diet. A London-based study shows that disrupting the encoding of the memory of a meal in humans, such as by watching television, increases the amount of food they consume during the next meal. Researchers have found that people with amnesia will eat again if presented with food, even if they’ve already eaten, because they have no memory of the meal.

To understand energy regulation and the causes of obesity, scientists must consider how the brain controls meal onset and frequency, Parent said.

Studies have found that increased snacking is correlated positively with obesity, and obese individuals snack more frequently than people who aren’t obese. Research also shows that over the past three decades, children and adults are eating more snacks per day and deriving more of their daily calories from snacks, mostly in the form of desserts and sweetened beverages.

In the future, the research team would like to determine if nutritionally balanced liquid or solid diets that typically contain protein, fat and carbohydrates have a similar effect on Arc expression in dorsal hippocampal neurons and whether increases in Arc expression are necessary for the memory of sweet foods.

Good thing my brain works well enough that I don’t volunteer for studies about food.