November 14, 2010

Weight Loss: The Honest Truth

I've been using a lot of colons lately: colons are awesome. So that's alright

With Thanksgiving imminent, looming and inevitable weight gain is upon us. As such, the public consciousness goes into precisely how to get rid of the 'turkey weight', diets begin to spring out of the woodwork: the Atkins diet, the Caveman Diet, South Beach Diet, Mediterranean Diet, Liquid Diet, the Cookie Diet, Dye it diet and the Di tit diet (the last two are fake). This is even including the latest news article that touches on a very plain truth.

The news story going through the media lately has been that Mark Haub, professor of human nutrition at Kansas State University lost 27 pounds (around 12.25 kg) in ten weeks eating only Hostess and Little Debbie snacks once every three hours. Not only that but his LDL cholesterol and triglycerides went down, while protective HDL cholesterol (the good kind) went up.

So what's the take away here? Does this fly in the face of all of the conventional wisdom about diets? Do Twinkies have some hidden health benefits? Do I love asking rhetorical questions?

No, big no, and yes.

Very simply, take in less energy than you use. And since energy and mass are connected (see equation to the right) you will therefore lose mass, this is fundamental physics we're talking about here, regardless of the newest fad. Dr. Haub in total consumed about 1,800 calories as a day versus the 2,600 he consumed before. In taking in less energy (and that is what a calorie is, a unit of energy) he could no longer support the same amount of mass, thus losing weight (most likely fat AND muscle). About 3,500 kcal (kilocalories... which is frequently abbreviated to simply cal for most calculations) is required to lose one pound of body fat. Getting rid of 800 kcal a day for 70 days (10 weeks) represents a calorie deficit of 56,000 kcal. That would be enough to account for a loss of 16 pounds of body fat (56,000/3,500=16)

As for his cholesterol changes, this could just be a side effect of losing weight again, as losing fat overall will make one lose cholesterol in the blood stream, even with the rather fattening substances entering his body.

However as Haub himself is quick to point out, this is NOT a diet to follow. While it is possible to lose weight with Little Debbie and Hostess products, the long term affects are less than advantageous. I'm going to use the Twinkie as an example, for no other reason than it's gotten the most press out of this, and it's fun to say. As we can see from the nutrition facts, (found via the Hostess Website) the common Twinkie is not in fact, that bad for you in terms of pure caloric intake. However, the amount of fat and saturated fat is pretty high. Add that there is no fiber, no protein, and no appreciable amount of any vitamins, except iron, will very quickly lead a person to SEVERE malnutrition.

The stomach itself does not recognize 'calories taken in', it is rather based solely on volume that it determines whether one is full or not. This is the basis behind surgeries like stomach stapling, limiting the amount of food one eats before becoming full.  This is why low calorie things like vegetables, whole grain, lean meats and fruit are important, you will lose weight, get all the necessary amount of vitamins and minerals (which will help weight loss) and will make you feel full.... Something I imagine one Twinkie every three hours would be unable to do.

That and exercise. As said, if you use more energy than you consume, you lose mass.... Works even better when you increase the energy you use while decreasing the energy you consume. Of course sometimes you get hungry BECAUSE you exercise but that gets into a fun recursive loop

So there you have it. It's not especially sexy, nor is it particularly complicated. It is, however hard work...Perhaps that's why we don't get the straight truth about it...

Though I have heard about this new one called the News Diet... You watch the news and feel nauseous, so you don't WANT to eat. I have high hopes for it.

Thanks for reading as always,


November 8, 2010

A Species in Decline: Sperm

Got your attention? Good.

A warning, this is one of my...less family friendly posts.  
Viewer discretion advised

Now, onward

So this isn't about the so called 'War on Men'. This is, simply put, about how our current methods of business (and life really) aren't particularly friendly to the little swimmers. Chemicals of all sorts (whether intentionally taken in or not) and environment are detrimental to the little fellas. As with most phenomena that occur in life,  multiple reasons lie behind it.

Firstly, even at the best of circumstances, a man's sperm has only 50-70% viability due to the process...that is why males have literally millions at any one time, sort of a quantity over quality production process. For an explanation of 'environment' the thing I am referring to in this case are laptops. Sperm exist best about 2 degrees Celsius below body temperature (so 35 degrees, or 94.8 F, about 4 degrees below body temperature in Fahrenheit). The body itself is fairly good at maintaining this temperature, and has many means in place to keep it at this temperature. Anything above or below this temp results in a decrease in sperm production or killing the sperm period, which is a problem because it takes 72 days to produce a single sperm. Now, why bring this up? The increased use of laptops. A study done at Cornell in 2007 showed that the average laptop user's lap can reach 105 degrees Fahrenheit, well above what is ideal. As a result, males who use laptops in the study were shown to have a smaller sperm count than the norm.

So, just put a laptop on a table right? Problem solved. Wrong. This is merely one of the many things that's killing off the little guys. So let's hit the next thing I discussed: Diet

The average male American takes in about 250 mg of caffeine a day. And most Americans (and most of the world) have a solid caffeine addiction. Caffeine has several known side effects (dehydration, possible impairment of memory and heart problems) but a study in Copenhagen has found another: decreasing sperm count. The study finds that, with Cola specifically, it can decrease your sperm count up to 30% if you drink up to a liter of soda. Now a liter sounds like a lot all at once, however statistics have shown that the average American drinks about 216 liters over the course of a year, so every day the average American drinks approximately .6 liters of soda a day, enough to skill affect the little guys.

It should come as little surprise that alcohol and tobacco, especially in conjunction, have been know to limit sperm count. Unlike alcohol and tobacco, however, there is little evidence that a heightened BMI decreases sperm count, in spite of my rants about the subject. At the other end of the scale, a 'healthy' food can also cause of lowered sperm counts as well.What I'm speaking of is soy products. While a reasonably healthy alternate method to get protein, soy products contain isoflavones, a type of phytoestrogens. Phytoestrogens, as the name implies, act much like estrogen in the body.As a result the male body responds to it in kind, down-regulating the production of male hormones needed to produce sperm, specifically if consumed during childhood when such chemical interference can interfere in the later years.

Now for the REALLY fun one.

What is the biggest scam of the twentieth and twenty-first century? Survey says.... Bottled water! Ignoring the fact that most bottled water does not in fact come from a spring but from a tap (if you're lucky its filtered at some point), there is another rather frightening fact about the stuff.

The bottles have chemicals that leech into the water. These chemicals are called xenoestrogens and are found in most plastic bottles. Much like phytoestrogens as above, when they enter the body they act very much like estrogen, down-regulating male processes (and causing girls to develop more at a younger age).

One specific chemical is called Bisphenol-A (or BPA). BPA is used widely to make plastic harder and watertight tin cans. It is found in most food and drink cans ( including tins of infant formula milk), plastic food containers, and the casings of mobile phones and other electronic goods. It's often referred to as a 'gender bending chemical' and has been linked to increased male infertility. And is toxic in its own right.

Of course pollution and malnutrition also are common factors towards a decreased sperm count as well.

So what do we come to with all these factors? Is infertility on the rise? Recent studies are saying the answer is... yes some places. In the US, signs seem to point to no, though the topic has become far more prominent, causing a perceived increase in infertility due to a larger public awareness. At least that's the answer so far, without taking into account the many new chemicals flooding the market

Abroad though, for example in China and Britain,  there seems to be a greater indication that infertility is beginning to become a greater problem. For both of these locations there has been a great deal of pollution, as well as an increase in the use of other substances described above

Death by SNOO SNOO!
So what now? Do we think that men will slowly die off, leaving women to rule the earth, searching for men to trade as currency to trade about?

Probably not.

What's more likely is that industrialized nations will continue to have smaller populations while 'third world' nations will continue to balloon up in population. This is exacerbated by industrialized nations having fewer children per couple by choice anyhow. That and the phrase 'third world nation' is becoming an ever increasing misnomer these days anyhow (TED talks are awesome)

The really fun bit is I know some guys who will take these stats as advice to get their sperm count lower...

Can't WAIT to see the ads that pop up with this one


A few other things, we broke over 100 views this month! Woo
And also, as you can see I did some editing of the overall layout. Look good?

Thanks for reading,


November 6, 2010

The Lies of Thanksgiving: Tryptophan

In a world, filled with corruption (and stuffing), one man looks to peel back the lies and deceit of this holiday season. In my quest for truth about this holiday season I have stumbled upon the BIGGEST CONSPIRACY since the invention of the aglet (for their purpose is sinister indeed). I stared at the radio, the television, the internet, all feeding me the same horrific lie:

Possibly the best picture I've ever found
Turkey makes you sleepy

I knew the truth, I had to tell it to the world. But I knew THEY would try to stop me. THEY, the old wives tales and embedded ideas of the past that led people astray. I needed to show the truth, to uncover....The Lies of Thanksgiving!

Cue title drop

Yeah, I'm getting weirder... Anyway.

So we hear the same thing every year: its Tryptophan in turkey that makes one sleepy during this gluttonous holiday.

This is, of course, Grade A bull. The truth isn't that simple, and doesn't fit into a single line like "Tryptophan in Turkey causes sleep". There is another reason for sleep, that is directly correlated to this holiday.

Before I get into the details of why, let's first talk about Tryptophan and what it is

What we're talking about: pretty isn't it?
Tryptophan is an amino acid, which, for those of you who don't know, are the building blocks of proteins and enzymes within the body. Tryptophan is one of several amino acids that is 'essential'. In other words we cannot produce these amino acids on our own, we have to take them in through protein (meat, beans, seeds etc...). This is also true of about half of all amino acids (the other half are either produced from amino acids, or are made via other mechanisms).

Firstly, tryptophan is not the most common amino acid within protein. There simply just isn't that much there. I've attached a brief graph below
And I made it myself too!

As you can see, while Tryptophan IS present in turkey, it is no more so than, say beef, chicken or pork, all of which are of comparable content. So then, why do we not associate eating meat (or eggs, or seeds) with being drowsy?

Serotonin and melatonin pathway from Tryptophan

There is some truth behind the myth, Tryptophan is used to produce serotonin. Serotonin is a well known contributor for 'well being' and being 'calm', and in fact an abundance of the stuff WILL make you fall asleep, so there is some credence to this myth. Eating turkey on turkey day WILL make you content and happier. Which is good because the opposing force of your family will try to bring you down.

In fact, serotonin is a very important little chemical, as its deficiency has been linked with sudden infant death syndrome, as well as depression. As a result, it is used as an anti-depressant and will make you fall asleep in high enough dosages... but not the dosage we're talking about when it comes to turkey.

Sleep itself is a complex mechanism, associated with many different chemical neurotransmitters. This includes Melatonin, which also is synthesized from Tryptophan. Melatonin itself does not actually 'cause' sleep. It has far too many other uses in the body as an antioxidant and for the immune system. Another of the key chemicals (and one many people know about) committed to sleep is dopamine, which isn't made from Tryptophan at all but instead from another amino acid called Tyrosine (which turkey, again, has about an average level of).

No, in fact the turkey itself has little to do with why we find ourselves in a veritable coma while watching football (bonus points for  Detroit Lions game "watchers"). The cause is actually the sheer amount of food that we eat. Thanksgiving is, after all, perhaps the most gluttonous holiday of the year

This occurrence is called Postprandial somnolence or, as it's more commonly called, a food coma. This is caused by two things: a lowered state of energy, and general sleepiness caused by neurochemical and hormonal changes in the body, related to the rate glucose (what we get energy from) enters the body.

So let's break this down.

When you eat a lot of food and it hits your stomach and small intestine, it causes a shift in your body's priorities. The activity in your sympathetic nervous system (which controls eyes, heart lungs etc) is down regulated while the activity in your parasympathetic nervous system (which controls the glands and organ for digestion) is up regulated. This shift results in the body being at lower energy and having a desire to rest. The bigger the meal, the more this affects the subject.

In addition, when eating foods with a high glycemic index (so something high in carbs), glucose is absorbed rapidly in the digestive tract and then sent into the blood stream. For people without diabetes, this then sends a massive burst of insulin out to try and keep the blood glucose levels maintained. The sudden burst of insulin induces many other non-charged amino acids to be taken into the muscles...except for tryptophan. This lowers the ratio of these other amino acids in the bloodstream to tryptophan, making tryptophan more preferable to cross the blood brain barrier. Once inside the brain, tryptophan indeed becomes serotonin and melatonin. The increase of both of these substances in the brain directly correlates with sleepiness and can be measured. But correlation does not equate to causation. The serotonin and melatonin levels result from overeating, not the the quantities of tryptophan in the turkey

So, there we have it. The Tryptophan in the turkey is not the trigger that makes people tired. It is the amount of carbohydrates and sheer amount of food consumed that does it.

Thanks for reading,


Have a good, restful, Turkey Day


November 1, 2010

Cognitive Dissonance, Why the World is screwy

Going back to the OSU for this research here.

Cognitive dissonance
, for those who don't know, is the ability to hold two conflicting ideas at the same time. An old example of this idea (and how the expression "sour grapes" came to be) is in the fable The Fox and the Grapes (ca. 620–564 BCE). In the story, the fox sees some high-up grapes and wishes to eat them. When the fox is unable to think of a way to reach them, he surmises that the grapes are probably not worth eating, as they must not be ripe or that they are sour. This example follows a set pattern: one desires something, finds it unattainable, and reduces one's dissonance by criticizing it. This of course is just one example. Overall, cognitive dissonance is holding an idea in spite of evidence to the contrary, and then trying to make peace with it, such as dismissing one idea (for instance, saying 'the grapes are probably bad anyway' or 'that second bits clearly not true')

As an example
I am a true Viking. Vikings died out more or less in the 11th century. It is now the 21st century

Clearly Vikings are still alive, and I am the last!

Evidence to the contrary!

The study specifically was targeting the 'Ground Zero mosque' controversy in the news. Everyone remember that? Was all there was on the news back in September? Anyway, they found that only one third of the people who had previous ly heard (and believed) the rumors regarding it changed their minds after overwhelming evidence to the contrary.

The false rumor used to this study was that Feisal Abdul Rauf the Imam that's backing the Islamic cultural center who is a terrorist sympathizer who's refused to condemn Islamic attacks on civilians this in spite of the fact that he DOES like here, go to 5:36). The problem with this little tidbit is the fact that there's NO EVIDENCE to support it.

The two professors Kelly Garret and Erik Nisbet found 750 people via online survey and exposed all of them to various rebuttals against the rumor, including different pictures next to the question. For some, no picture was including while in others, a picture of Rauf surrounded by people in western style business attire. Leading to 1 in 4 people changing their minds that the rumor was in fact false. But what actually is interesting about the study is how little it took to discredit the rest of the information. For instance, when the picture had the Imam surrounded by people in traditional Arab clothing, the rebuttal was ineffective.

In addition, having other texts in the rebuttal could also change opinion, such as Rauf's statement that America was partially to blame for harm it's policies have caused the Middle East, though still emphasizing that terrorism is not an answer to the problem.
This leads to a disturbing thought that tradition journalism (which tries to get 'both sides of a story') will actually hinder persuading people to the truth

Garrett and Nisbet did emphasize that, while the 750 people surveyed represented a broad range of adults, it was not a representative sample size adequate for all Americans . This means that the actual numbers may be taken as trends rather than as precise measurements...though this does little to help me sleep at night
So where's this leave us? The data SUPPORTS giving a one sided opinion, because any evidence to the contrary will have people keep their previous view. This leads to some difficult moral dilemmas as well, since most of the time the 'facts' are not truly established until later, and in the nation we support the 'all opinions are valid' stance.
Well, I could go into a heartfelt and deeply philosophical discussion about the nature of right and wrong and what should be done about this

Or, just end on a comic

I think I'll end on a Dilbert comic (credit to Scott Adams)

Everything is fine....

Thanks for reading