The turkey tryptophan myth – Uncle George keeps repeating it

turkey tryptophan myth

Every year, on the fourth Thursday in November, the United States celebrates a holiday called Thanksgiving. Part of the tradition, along with watching football (the American version), is eating mountains of food, including a roasted turkey. And this is where Uncle George regales the guests with the turkey tryptophan myth – that is, eating a mountain of turkey, which he claims is high in tryptophan, makes you sleepy.

Because I know the average reader of this blog is pro-science and snarky, I post this article for you to embarrass Uncle George.  And you just know that Uncle George denies climate change and thinks vaccines are dangerous. But let’s get back to that to Thanksgiving and the turkey tryptophan myth.

Only a few countries celebrate Thanksgiving, and just a handful of countries eat turkey in any amount, other than the USA and Canada. Surprisingly, 87% of English holiday dinners will include turkey, a bird that is native to North America. So maybe your British Uncle George will tell the same turkey tryptophan myth during dinner. Or supper, I suppose. 

Anyway, in case you want to impress friends and family, the other places that celebrate Thanksgiving, similar to the USA and Canada, 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, an Australian territory of like 1500 people.

The only thing I thought that was on Norfolk Island was the Norfolk Island pine. Apparently, American whaling ships would stop there and celebrate the holiday

For Americans, 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 backstory on Thanksgiving is much more complicated, including ships getting stuck in ice and other legends – it is very Canadian.

In both Canada and the USA, the celebration includes several tonnes of food (per person) which a roast 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!

Just because this is my blog, let me state one simple fact – pumpkin pie is garbage. I hate that thing.

Generally, everyone, after finishing this dinner, would want to take a long nap. Thus, we find the origin stories of the turkey tryptophan math. However, the science of eating, sleeping, turkey, and tryptophan doesn’t support this myth. Not even close.

Well enough cultural history. This is a science blog, let’s talk about the science that debunks the turkey tryptophan myth. And because I think Uncle George is a blowhard. 

Continue reading “The turkey tryptophan myth – Uncle George keeps repeating it”

Did a recent poll claim that 45% of Americans doubt vaccine safety? NO

You’ve probably seen the clickbait headlines across the press that, in a recent poll, 45% of Americans doubt vaccine safety. At first, such a poll would make me think that the anti-vaccine zealots were gaining some sort of traction with their fear, uncertainty, and doubt campaign against the settled science of the safety and effectiveness of vaccines.

Then a friend of mine, a pro-vaccine nurse in northern California, gave me a heads-up as to the actual data.  And it wasn’t even close to that number doubting vaccine safety.

Even the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS), which is one of the leading American science organizations, which generally casts a very critical eye toward this kind of data, kind of got it wrong. 

Let’s take a moment to review the polling data, and show that the poll actually said that only 8% of Americans doubted vaccine safety, which feels about right. Clickbait headlines that never examine the data do a disservice to all of us. Continue reading “Did a recent poll claim that 45% of Americans doubt vaccine safety? NO”

Predicting US measles outbreak – vaccine uptake and international travel

The locations of the current US measles outbreak (or epidemic) was predicted by researchers in an article recently published in Lancet Infectious Diseases. The amazingly prescient predictions were not based on magic, but on a scientific analysis of two factors – the vaccination rate and international travel tendencies by county in the United States.

And the statistical website, Five Thirty-Eight, took the predictions and listed out what happened during this US measles outbreak. The predictions were spot on.

Time to look at this study and its predicted results.

Continue reading “Predicting US measles outbreak – vaccine uptake and international travel”

Traditional Chinese medicine kills dolphins

Traditional Chinese Medicine kills dolphins

I am not a fan of Traditional Chinese medicine (TCM). Very few of its medical claims ever amount to anything. Most of it isn’t very traditional and doesn’t work, like acupuncture. Worse yet, TCM is involved in the destruction of rare animals like the African rhino and other endangered animals. Now, we find that Traditional Chinese Medicine kills dolphins – just to push a “medicine” that has no evidence supporting its use.

Let’s look at this recent story where purveyors of TCM have indirectly lead to the collapse and near extinction of a beautiful ocean going mammal. Per usual with TCM, it’s a tale of greed and junk medicine.  Continue reading “Traditional Chinese medicine kills dolphins”

Good news – more Americans accept evolution as a fact

Way before I started snarking on vaccine deniers and anti-GMO activists, I fought the good fight against creationism, and it’s more pseudoscientific cousin, intelligent design. Although there’s still a long way to go, more and more Americans accept evolution as a fact.

The religiously based anti-evolution forces are still alive in the USA (and some other parts of the world), but they are on the precipice of being relegated to the Moon Landing Hoax crowd. Yes, that is a thing.

Evolution denial isn’t exclusively an American issue – according to some polling, the creationist view was most popular in Saudi Arabia (75%), Turkey (60%), and Indonesia (57%), with the United States ranking 6th (40%), between Brazil (47%) and Russia (34%). Most European countries, which have long ago removed religion out of science education, have huge majorities of their citizens who accept evolution as a fact.

I have found that the ignorance of Americans towards the fact of evolution is about one of the most annoying anti-science attitudes in this country (although, vaccine denial and anti-GMO pseudoscience comes very very close).

Although progress is frustratingly slow, it’s still encouraging that things are starting to change in the USA.

Continue reading “Good news – more Americans accept evolution as a fact”

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. Continue reading “About that tryptophan and turkey making you sleepy–not so fast”

Worldwide vaccine uptake-2014

vaccines-saves-live-cloud

I make it a point to update this blog with the most current CDC analysis of vaccine uptake in the USA for kindergarten children (usually around 5 years old). Generally, the numbers have stayed stable, at around 95% vaccinated, although there is high variance from state to state, and locality to locality. The weakness in the vaccination uptake in the USA is that some areas may approach 100% vaccinated, but then other areas may be 50%, which makes those areas with low vaccine uptake susceptible to a quick spread of diseases that are not endemic to the USA (such as measles, polio, and others) through that unvaccinated population.

Given the 95% vaccine uptake rate, it begs the questions of why I push so hard for vaccination–because I want to protect the lives of children, and those 5% who aren’t vaccinated are at risk of serious disease and even death. And vaccines are the safest way to protect a child–protect them from death.

Nearly 55% of the readers of this blog are not American (a couple of years ago,this blog got a regular reader from Iran, which meant that all countries were represented amongst this blog’s readers). I have been accused of being a bit American-centric, but at the same time, I was also curious about vaccine uptake worldwide.  Continue reading “Worldwide vaccine uptake-2014”