Skip to content
Home » Medicine » Nutrition » Page 13

Nutrition

About that tryptophan and turkey making you sleepy–not so fast

turkey-dinnerA tiny handful of countries, most notably the US and Canada, celebrate a holiday called Thanksgiving. In the USA, the holiday is held on the fourth Thursday in November and more or less starts the so called holiday season which ends with New Year. In most of Canada (excluding the Atlantic provinces), the holiday is held on the second Monday in October.

For trivia purposes only, the other places that celebrate a similar Thanksgiving are Liberia (which is populated by descendants of freed slaves who returned to Africa from the US), Grenada (a small English-speaking island in the Caribbean), Puerto Rico (a Spanish-speaking territory of the USA), and Norfolk Island Australia. Australia?

Generally, the holiday celebrates white English settlers arriving in North America. The tales usually include some peaceful sharing of food between the white settlers and native Americans (a nice myth without much actual historical support) prior to the first winter. Canada’s back story on Thanksgiving is much more complicated, including ships getting stuck in ice and other legends.

In both Canada and the USA, the celebration includes tons of food (per person) including a roast (usually) turkey. Other foods may include mashed potatoes, yams (sweet potatoes), other meats, pies, corn, stuffing, and more food. It is a high calorie meal of epic portions!

There’s a legend that eating this meal, specifically the turkey, fills your body with tryptophan, and you fall asleep.

Nice story, but the science of eating, sleeping and turkeys doesn’t support this myth. Not even close.Read More »About that tryptophan and turkey making you sleepy–not so fast

Arguments that GMO opponents should delete from their brains

keep-calm-gmo-safe-1From my perspective as a trained scientist, skeptic and observer of political debates, there are four scientific issues that have wandered into the realm of political debate: evolution, climate change, vaccines and genetically modified organisms (GMOs) generally with regards to food and agriculture.

Evolution and human caused climate change (or sometimes called anthropogenic global warming, AGW) are scientific facts supported by literally mountains of data. The arguments presented by evolution deniers is easily refuted. And the myths pushed by global warming deniers are also quickly debunked. Both of these have become a part of the political conversation, with the evolution and climate change deniers being almost exclusively made up of conservative political groups, including Republicans in the USA. There is no debate about these two facts from a scientific point of view, unless someone cherry picks scientifically weak papers published in bad journals to confirm a bias against these scientific facts.

Vaccines aren’t really a scientific principle per se, but the support for the safety and effectiveness of vaccines is pretty much settled by the vast majority of scientists who actually have experience, research and education in the key fields of science related to vaccines, such as epidemiology, immunology, microbiology, virology, etc. etc. The fact that about 95% of children in developed countries (including the USA and most of Europe) indicates that there isn’t even a “political debate” except some blathering and noise from a tiny lunatic fringe. And the 5% of children who aren’t vaccinated don’t exclusively represent active vaccine deniers–most of these unvaccinated children either cannot be immunized for some health reason, have procrastinating parents, or have parents who may be too poor to get their children vaccinated, even if it’s free to most people in developed countries. The only reason most of us get worked up about the approximately 1-2% of parents who actively resist vaccines is because we think all children should be protected from vaccine-preventable diseases.

On the other hand, GMOs, at some levels, should have some level of public discourse and debate. For example, glyphosate (Monsanto’s RoundUp) resistant crops have raised public concerns, and despite some awful scientific evidence that has been solidly ridiculed in the scientific community, along with solid scientific studies that show no correlation (let alone causation) between human health and glyphosate exposure (see this, this, and this), excessive use of pesticides frighten people.

Personally, I can buy into certain arguments against GMOs. For example, I think that monoculture agriculture is extremely susceptible to an introduced or novel pest, which could be devastating to our food supply. I am also concerned about certain unintended consequences such as evolved pest resistance (but then again this has been a war since the first day genetic modification occurred 10,000 years ago), lower crop productivity, or other issues. So far, science hasn’t uncovered any problems so far, so there’s that.

If the anti-GMO environmentalist community wants to engage in a reasoned conversation about GMOs with those of us who have scientific evidence supporting our discussion points, then they have to quit using five bad arguments, which they seem to pull out of the manual of science deniers everywhere. Because anti-GMO arguments use the same ridiculous “debate” strategies as those who deny vaccines, evolution and climate change. As I’ve joked more times than I care to remember, I feel as all the science deniers attend the same convention to discuss tactics and strategies. It seems ironic to me that those who are anti-GMO make the same exact points as the climate change deniers, yet those two groups have nothing in common except they are both humans.

So what are these five bad arguments? Glad you asked, so here we go.Read More »Arguments that GMO opponents should delete from their brains

The Food Babe, high fructose corn syrup, and your beer

I know that 90% of my articles are about vaccines. I know that I’ve shown over and over again that vaccines are effective and about as safe as anything in medicine. And I know that vaccines don’t cause autism. Obviously, I never have to write another article about vaccines. Hah.

OK, it’s never going to happen.

So let’s talk about beer. Everyone loves beer. Maybe not everyone, but good beer can be really good.

The arrogantly named food blogger, Food Babe (real name–Vani Hari), who passes along anecdotes like they were real data, and who invents pseudoscience faster than a homeopath, has recently been on a warpath about beer ingredients. She’s gone after the breweries for adding GMO grains (who cares, they are safe), coloring, and that evil chemical, high fructose corn syrup (HFCS). She never quite explains what she has against HFCS, but based on her amateurish and unscientific review of food ingredients, it’s obvious that she thinks that HFCS is an “evil chemical” and must not be consumed. If someone named it “extra sweet corn syrup,” it’s quite possible she would have ignored it.

I’m also offended by her referring to herself as the “Food Babe.” When “babe” is used as a self-descriptor by a woman, it negates any other characteristic that woman has. It implies that the important reason to listen to her drivel (and it would still be drivel) is because she’s attractive. “Babe” promulgates a sexist attitude, a perspective that needs to be changed. The “Food Babe” may have something important to say, but arrogantly referring to one’s self as “babe.” That’s offensive on so many levels.

beer-hfcs-chemical
GMO Dextrose? Seriously Food Lady? Dextrose is D-glucose, just the natural form of glucose everywhere on the planet. Wow, you really need to get into a real chemistry class sometime.

Give anything a chemical name, and panic ensues. MSG, or monosodium glutamate, is nothing more than the precipitated salt of a simple amino acid, glutamic acid, which is one of the basic building blocks of every single protein in the body. Being sensitive or allergic to MSG is so ridiculous–you’d be allergic or sensitive to every single protein in your body then. It’s one of the dumbest food fads on the planet, and there are plenty from which to choose!

Let’s talk about HFCS and beer. Doesn’t really matter if it’s beer or soda or your favorite chocolate candy, but she went after beer. And like anything written by any pseudoscience pushing blowhard, I’m going to take down her junk science.

Read More »The Food Babe, high fructose corn syrup, and your beer

One hour of research on Google–obviously all science is wrong

I’ve been told that I need to quit relying on the peer-reviewed journals for my scientific knowledge, because they are paid for by Big Government, Big Pharma, Big Agra, Big Hebrew and Big Whatever. They’re all just big with every single person involved dedicated to providing information to fool the people of earth. 

Science is obviously wrong about everything. Including unicorns. Obviously wrong about unicorns.
Science is obviously wrong about everything. Including unicorns. Obviously wrong about unicorns.

Apparently, the only acceptable type of research is doing it yourself using Google. Or in a pinch, Bing. 

Because I wanted to be more open-minded and to learn the Truth™ about everything. And here’s what I found.Read More »One hour of research on Google–obviously all science is wrong

Despite the meme on Facebook, bananas do not cure cancer

a-ripe-banana-a-day-keeps-cancer-infection-at-bay

This article was published on 29 July 2012, and has had over 70,000 views. This is the number one article I’ve ever written, I enjoyed writing it, but I never thought it would be such a big hit. It basically arose from a meme I saw on Facebook that claimed that bananas with dark spots had anti-cancer compounds in it. And it was all based on a misreading of a published article, a lack of knowledge about tumor necrosis factor, and a complete misunderstanding of human physiology and immunology. And this is my number 1 favorite, and number 1 most popular article for 2013.

 

Note: this article was rewritten and revised–please read and comment on the updated version of this article.

 

Last year, I wrote an article about how to critically analyze pseudoscience and misinformation to get at the scientific evidence which may help you accept or reject something you might read on the internet, even if it appeared to be accurate. On Facebook, Twitter and many internet sites (including Wikipedia), there is an amazing tendency of individuals to accept what is written as “the truth” without spending the effort to determine if what is written is based on accurate science. Twitter, of course, limits itself to 140 characters, which means you either have to click on a link to get more information, or just accept that the 140 characters are factual. And if you can make a complex scientific argument in 140 characters, I’m impressed.

Facebook is filled with false memes on just about everything from politics to medicine. The anti-vaccination crowd fills Facebook with their amusing and highly inaccurate memes. For more than a year, there have been dozens of  photos of bananas with a few words that some Japanese scientists claim that ripe bananas have high levels of “tumor necrosis factor“, so eat bananas to cure cancer and maintain a healthy immune system. Facebook is famous for these things, little pictures with a few words, no sources of the information, and broad conclusions. Eat bananas. Cure cancer. And people share them with a click of the button and move on to the next cute cat picture. It’s really the lazy person’s way of learning. Although who doesn’t enjoy the cute cat pictures?Read More »Despite the meme on Facebook, bananas do not cure cancer

Vitamin supplements do not lower risk of cancer and heart disease

pile-of-supplementsVitamin and mineral supplements are important to maintaining proper levels of these nutrients when they aren’t obtained from the diet. Generally, if a human consumes a diet of broad based foods, there is little need for supplementation, unless they are afflicted with a chronic medical disorder which requires additional nutrients.

Vitamins and minerals do not have an impact on the immune system. Numerous articles have been published in peer-reviewed journals that have found very little evidence that supplements can lower risk of heart disease or one of the over 200 forms of cancer. What we need next, in the hierarchy of scientific evidence, is a systematic review published in an important journal.

And we got one.Read More »Vitamin supplements do not lower risk of cancer and heart disease

Aspartame is safe according to the scientific consensus

This article has been completely updated with new information and can be found here. Comments are closed on this article, but please comment on the new one.

Aspartame (brand name Nutrasweet) is a popular artificial sweetener, approximately 200 times sweeter than common table sugar known as sucrose. Aspartame is a dipeptide of the natural amino acids Laspartic acid and Lphenylalanine–these amino acids or peptides are consumed regular with nearly any animal or plant protein.

When aspartame is ingested, it is hydrolyzed (broken down by water molecules) into its constituent components: aspartate, phenylalanine and methanol, in an approximate 4:5:1 ratio. No aspartame has been found in the bloodstream, since it is so quickly hydrolyzed in the gut, and only the constituent components are absorbed.

To be absolutely clear, there is no difference between aspartic acid and phenylalanine that form aspartame than all “natural forms” of those amino acids that are contained in the proteins of food sources.Read More »Aspartame is safe according to the scientific consensus

Does bacon harm your sperm quality and quantity? Doubtful!

whipped-vodka-candied-baconDuring the past couple of days, there have been a half dozen news articles (they all make the same claims) that have flown across my news feeds recently. They all say, “bacon is associated with lower semen quality,” or variations on that theme.

This can’t be so, because it’s BACON!!!

Bacon is the perfect combination of fattiness and saltiness, and has moved from a strictly breakfast food into mainstream high-end cooking, possibly promulgated by the reverence it’s given by Food Network chefs. There’s a whole subculture of bacon desserts, including bacon cheesecake. Bacon ice cream. Bacon chocolate dipped roses. Let’s not even salivate over all of the savory dishes made better by bacon; and until you’ve had bacon mac & cheese, you’re missing an important part of your life. OK, I might be exaggerating, but not by much.

So, does bacon really have an effect on a man’s sperm quality, and as a result, on his fertility? The answer isn’t as clear cut as these so-called science journalists are claiming, and certainly not as definitive as is claimed in some of the bad science websites.

Read More »Does bacon harm your sperm quality and quantity? Doubtful!

High fructose corn syrup causes diabetes-myth vs science

HFCS-toxic-politicalThis article has been substantially updated and republished. Please read and comment there.

Over the past few months, there has been a lot of baseless claims trying to link high fructose corn syrup (HFCS) and a variety of diseases, especially Type 2 diabetes. Like many of these medical myths, there is, at its core, some tiny bit of evidence that is generally misinterpreted or misused. But let’s take a close look at Type 2 diabetes, HFCS and the evidence that either supports or refutes the hypothesis that drinking HFCS is any more responsible for the disease than other sugars.

Just for background, the claimed link is between HFCS and Diabetes mellitus Type 2 (or Type 2 diabetes, T2DM), a metabolic disorder that is characterized by high blood glucose in the context of insulin resistance and relative insulin deficiency. In general, someone with T2DM produces low (or maybe even adequate) levels of insulin, but  various cells and organs become resistant to insulin, so cells don’t remove or store blood glucose. Although the cause of Type 2 diabetes is not completely understood, it results from a complex interaction between diet, obesity, genetics, age and gender. Some of the causes of T2DM are under a person’s own control, like diet and obesity, but many of the factors aren’t.

Because they are often confused, it’s important to note that T2DM has a completely different cause and pathophysiology than Diabetes mellitus Type 1 (T1DM, and once called juvenile diabetes). Type 1 diabetes results from the inability of the beta cells of the pancreas to produce insulin, mostly as a result of an autoimmune disease. Typically, T1DM begins in children, though there are forms of the disease that begin in 30-40’s that had been confused with the type 2 version in the past, but blood tests can determine if it is Type 1 or Type 2. As far as we currently know, T1DM is neither preventable nor curable, and there is only some conflicting evidence about what actually causes T1DM. Diet, including consumption of sugars, won’t cause T1DM. Furthermore, although there are numerous treatments and lifestyle changes that can change the course of T2DM, and there are several medical treatment regimens, Type 1 is a death sentence without regular daily insulin injections. However, over 90-95% of diabetes is the Type 2 form.

The consequences of both types of diabetes are almost the same. Complications of poorly managed diabetes mellitus may include cardiovascular diseasediabetic neuropathy, and diabetic retinopathy, among many other chronic conditions. I was intending to make this a quick explanation of diabetes, but I thought it would be beneficial to understanding the hype behind high fructose corn syrup.Read More »High fructose corn syrup causes diabetes-myth vs science

More evidence Vitamin D supplementation does not reduce breast cancer risk

vitamin-DPotential causes for cancer are numerous. InfectionsRadon gasCigarette smokingSun exposure. Obesity. With over 200 types of cancer, each with a different pathophysiology, there may be an equal (and probably greater) number of causes.

Although some cancers can be easily prevented, such as never smoking, which reduces your risk of lung cancer, one of the most prevalent cancers in the USA, by over 85%. Or getting the HPV vaccine (Gardasil or Silgard) which blocks HPV infections that are associated with several types of cancer, including cervical, anal, and penile cancers. Unfortunately, the sheer complexity and number of types of cancer means that there is probably not going to be any simple panacea to preventing (or even curing) cancer. In fact, some hereditary cancers, such as those individuals who carry genes that are implicated in breast and ovarian cancers, may not be preventable at all. 

Other than eliminating direct risks, are there things that can be done to actually prevent “cancer”? Once again, with over 200 types of cancer, this may be an impossibility, but the three most popular cancer prevention ideas are diet, vitamins and other types of nutritional supplements. Vitamins and other supplements are a $61 billion industry in the US. They generate these sales with minimal regulation, minimal quality control over the quality and dosage, and no requirement to actually provide evidence that the supplements do what is claimed by the supplement industry, aka Big Herbal. The FDA only gets involved with the industry if there’s some dangerous side effect, or when the claims of the industry are so outrageous that the FDA has no choice but to get involved.

Not too astonishingly, there just hasn’t been much evidence that cancer can prevented with supplements. Prostate cancer and fish oil? May actually increase risk, but generally no effect. Prostate cancer and soy? Nothing there either. Folic acid and cancer? May actually increase risk. Read More »More evidence Vitamin D supplementation does not reduce breast cancer risk