If that is a question you have, the answer may be in the fifth and current edition (2018) of Compendium of Scientific, Medical, and Media Findings Demonstrating Risks and Harms of Fracking, by Concerned Health Professionals of NY. Continue reading Is Fracking Bad For You?
As a science blogger, I hear a lot of interesting questions, and this is one of the more interesting questions I’ve heard in a while. It is, I’m sure, rather disconcerting to notice that your feces are the color of a corroded penny, and not know why. Or, if your feces are the usual brown color that our species tends to produce, perhaps you’d like to know how to make your poop green for Saint Patrick’s day. Either way, read on:
Continue reading Why is my poop green?
A common concern people have is the outcome of eating food that is moldy. This happens when you are not paying attention to what you are eating and suddenly realize that you just ate half a sandwich made with bread that has some mold on it. Then you go “Oh, crap, I just ate some mold” and then you google it to find out if you are going to die ….
Continue reading What happens if I eat mold?
Two or three thoughts about the current crisis.
When there is a major climate disaster in the US, people move. Since the US is big and has large gaps in population, it looks different than when a disaster happens in some other places. Five million (or more) Syrians leaving the Levant left a major mark across the globe. A half million leaving the Katrina hit zone was barely noticed on a global, or even national, scale, not just because it was one tenth the amount, but because of our size and space as well.
Something close to half the 400K or so displaced by Katrina (over half of them from NOLA) have returned to the vicinity they formerly lived in, and only a third to the same original location. The others are all over the place, distributed with a rapidly decreasing distance decay function. So these displacements, in the US, tend to be very long term and can thus affect demography and politics far afield.
An exodus from Puerto Rico will likely have a different decay function than seen for Katrina because it is, and apparently few people know this, an Island! But anyway, it is likely that there will be an exodus from Puerto Rico and it is starting to look like it will be sufficient to make Florida less Purple and more Blue, and specifically, more anti-Trump.
Note that in the past, New York was the most likely destination for a person from Puerto Rico to move, which is funny given Trump’s statements about all his Puerto Rican friends. For those not from that region, Puerto Ricans have long been hated by white supremacists in the greater NY metro area. But I digress. Anyway, over recent years, Florida has become a growing center of the US Mainland Puerto Rican community.
For context: There are about 3.5 million people living in Puerto Rico who identify as Puerto Rican, and about 5.3 million self identified Puerto Ricans in the lower 48. Currently there is somewhat under one million in Florida, somewhat over in NY, but Puerto Ricans are everywhere in the US, with the fewest in the upper plains and the most in the greater NY area (as far out as Penn) and Florida.
We are concerned that cholera will spread in Puerto Rico. You may remember the ca 2011 epidemic that mainly struck Haiti (see chart above). There was another ten years earlier. There is some interesting research out there linking cholera to climate change. The pathogen, Vibrio cholerae, lives in coastal waters where it has a keystone commensal relationship with copepods and other microinvertebrates. We think of cholera as a highly contagious pathogen among humans, but it starts from its natural reservoirs in water. In some areas of South Asia, cholera was significantly attenuated by the discovery that simply passing well water through common cotton cloth filtered out the disease enough to make a difference, at least in some contexts.
For historical context, there was a huge cholera epidemic in the Caribbean in the 19th century, and I understand this event, which killed something like 30,000 in Puerto Rico alone, is still a traumatic memory in the region. From a 2011 summary of the historic epidemic, written I suspect in response to the re-emergence of the problem about six years ago:
The Caribbean region experienced cholera in 3 major waves… The 3 periods of cholera in the Caribbean that we have identified are 1833–1834 (with, according to Kiple , possible lingering cholera in outlying areas until late 1837 or early 1838) in Cuba; 1850–1856 in Jamaica, Cuba, Puerto Rico, St. Thomas, St. Lucia, St. Kitts, Nevis, Trinidad, the Bahamas, St. Vincent, Granada, Anguilla, St. John, Tortola, the Turks and Caicos, the Grenadines (Carriacou and Petite Martinique), and possibly Antigua; and 1865–1872 in Guadeloupe, Cuba, St. Thomas, the Dominican Republic, Dominica, Martinique, and Marie Galante.
It is thought that Cholera is more likely to be abundant and to spread into human populations with warmer waters, and possibly the range over which cholera is a lingering constant threat in coastal waters is likely increasing. Also, increased air temperatures and rainfall can increase growth or spread of cholera in the wild. This is a relationship first identified in the 1990s, and that has been demonstrated through several studies. The next few weeks and months in Puerto Rico are an accidental and potentially horrific experimental laboratory to test the science that has been percolating along over the last 20 years.
We do not know if the airing of “13 Reasons Why” caused an increase in suicide or not, and that in and of itself is astonishing. In the world of very advanced techniques for collecting and monitoring data, and in a world that we are led to believe is on the edge of the next epidemic, you would think the suicide rate could be estimated on the fly, with minor corrections later. Climate scientists are able to assimilate tens of thousands of data readings taken multiple times a day around the world into estimates of global surface temperatures. There is a daily ongoing estimate that I assume uses only part of the data, and at the end of every month, the data are crunched and the estimate spilled out, and only rarely is there a correction needed.
Anyway, we don’t have that information but there are two pieces of information we do have. One is from an older study.
There is evidence to suggest that some of the variation in suicide rates is accounted for by some of the variation in internet search rate. (This is not a causal statement, but a statistical statement.) From the abstract of the study:
… a set of suicide-related search terms, the trends of which either temporally coincided or preceded trends of suicide data, were associated with suicide death. These search factors varied among different suicide samples. Searches for “major depression” and “divorce” accounted for, at most, 30.2% of the variance in suicide data. When considering only leading suicide trends, searches for “divorce” and the pro-suicide term “complete guide of suicide,” accounted for 22.7% of variance in suicide data.
A recent piece by Madhumita Murgia in the Washington Post reported the connection between that older work and a current study showing that Internet search activity in relation to suicide spiked at the time that the Netflix series “13 Reasons” (based on this book) was released.
The 13-episode series, which was released all at once, chronicles 13 tapes that Hannah sends to those she blames for her actions. The series has captured the imagination of kids across the country. In April, it set a record for the most-tweeted-about show in 2017, when it was mentioned more than 11 million times within three weeks of its March 31 launch.
The jump is documented in a study published in JAMA by John Ayers, and others, called “Internet Searches for Suicide Following the Release of 13 Reasons Why.: The study results:
All suicide queries were cumulatively 19% (95% CI, 14%-24%) higher for the 19 days following the release of 13 Reasons Why, reflecting 900?000 to 1.5 million more searches than expected (Figure). For 12 of the 19 days studied, suicide queries were significantly greater than expected, ranging from 15% (95% CI, 3%-32%) higher on April 15, 2017, to 44% (95% CI, 28%-65%) higher on April 18, 2017.
Seventeen of the top 20 related queries were higher than expected, with most rising queries focused on suicidal ideation. For instance, “how to commit suicide” (26%; 95% CI, 12%-42%), “commit suicide” (18%; 95% CI, 11%-26%), and “how to kill yourself” (9%; 95% CI, 4%-14%) were all significantly higher. Queries for suicide hotlines were also elevated, including “suicide hotline number” (21%; 95% CI, 1%-44%) and “suicide hotline” (12%; 95% CI, 5%-19%). Last, public awareness indicative searches, such as “suicide prevention” (23%; 95% CI, 6%-40%) or “teen suicide” (34%; 95% CI, 17%-52%), were elevated.
Additional surveillance will clarify our findings, including estimating changes in suicide attempts or calls to national suicide hotlines. Nonetheless, our analyses suggest 13 Reasons Why, in its present form, has both increased suicide awareness while unintentionally increasing suicidal ideation.
So, yes, “13 Reasons” may have had the effect in spiking suicide rates for a short term, but until we know we should not make too much of it. But generally I would like to see mortality and morbidity data more frequently updated.
I’ve not read the original article, but it certainly looks interesting.
On the other hand it also brings up several difficult questions. Which, I’m sure, you immediately see.
The benefits of vaccines far outweigh the minuscule risks, but some parents still question their safety. John Oliver discusses why some people may still feel uncertainty about childhood vaccinations.
Well, not my placenta exactly, but … well, someone’s?
Did you now that the placenta that is born out of a female primate’s body is an organ of the infant also being born? It is the first body part you lose. I use the term “primate” here because, even though all the “placental mammals” as we are called share some basic reproductive gestational anatomy, there are major categories across the mammals in this area, and primates are distinct from, for example, carnivores. These differences are of course very important when one is considering placentophagy. I mean, you wouldn’t confuse a walnut with an orange when picking a snack, why would you confuse a dog placenta with a monkey placenta?
In humans and mice, and presumably therefore in all mammals, the placenta and the rest of the embryo/fetus have growth patterns that are controlled at some basic level by two distinct developmental genes, each of which has the property of methylation. This is an epigenetic phenomenon for those who like to see that word in use. Here’s what happens. The gene that engenders growth of the placenta is turned on by dad’s allele, turned off by Mom’s. The gene that engenders growth of the rest of the embryo is turned on by mom, off by dad.
The idea here is that mom and dad have difference interests in the outcome. Mom wants to have an optimal (not maximal) number of offspring, so she parses out energy appropriately. Dad wants to have more offspring than mom, using a number of different moms if possible. Thus, he wants the growing embryo and fetus to suck as much energy out of each mom as it can.
The Placenta is the energy-sucking organ. It insinuates itself greedily into the blood supply of the mother, like an alien internal parasite. The mother’s body resists the introduction of placental tissues into her blood supply, the placenta fights back, and the result is a compromise which usually works out. Part of that compromising system, over long term evolutionary time, has been them other’s systematic turning off of the gene that she provides instantiating the growth of the placenta. Dad counters by turning off the fetus/embryo gene. And so on.
Anyway, should I eat my placenta or not?
Across cultures, there are many different practices associated with child birth that have to do with the placenta. Among one group I worked with in the Congo, the Placenta is buried under the threshold of the hut in which the birth happens. This is done by the father. That, and having a sharpened arrow handy to cut the cord, are his only jobs during child birth. But nobody eats the placenta.
I normally don’t pay a lot of attention to the “complementary and alternative medicine” literature, thought I am sent regular notices of various publications. Today, though, something came across my desk that I thought you’d be interested in. I’ll give some of the basic results, you can draw your own conclusions. Feel free to comment below. The topic is, of course, placentophagy.
Schuette Stephanie A., Brown Kara M., Cuthbert Danielle A., Coyle Cynthia W., Wisner Katherine L., Hoffman M. Camille, Yang Amy, Ciolino Jody D., Newmark Rebecca L., and Clark Crystal T.. The Journal of Alternative and Complementary Medicine. January 2017, 23(1): 60-67. doi:10.1089/acm.2016.0147.
Two cross-sectional surveys with questions regarding placentophagy practice were distributed to healthcare providers and patients. The provider survey was distributed via email listservers to international perinatal professional organizations and to obstetrics and gynecology, nurse midwifery, family medicine, and psychiatry departments at three urban hospitals. Patient surveys were administered in person at an urban hospital in Chicago, Illinois.
Key results that jumped out at me:
Higher income, higher education, and whiteness seem to be associated with a higher likelihood of engaging in placentophagy, with various degrees of effect.
The most likely kid of provider to suggest considering this practice are midwives, with all the other kinds of providers (physicians and nurses, mainly) being in the main unlikely to suggest it. Sample sizes are small, but 100% of the 66 OB/GYN’s asked said no, they would not suggest this. For nurses, with only 16 in the sample, two thirds said no, they would not, and one third were neutral. Non said they would suggest it. Among Midwives, only 17.6% said they were unlikely, and 29.4% said likely, the rest being neutral.
The survey looked at multiple locations but with enough in Denver and Chicago to identify a vague pattern: A provider in Denver is slightly more likely to thing this a good idea.
The study looked at history of mental health diagnosis. 7.4% of those with no such history said they would consider placentophagy. 24.3% of those with such a history said yes. Across the board, asking about what form they would consider eating the placenta in, or if they thought there was this or that benefit, those with a history of mental health diagnosis generally thought it was good, low risk, and they would try a variety of methods.
There is no evidence that placentophagy has a benefit.
It is the time of year that we talk about drowning. I’m focusing here on the US, and for the most part, recreational drowning, as opposed to being drowned in a flood. Also, I’m using mainly information from Minnesota as an exemplar. It turns out that analyzing drowning data, and social behavior related to drowning, at the state level (as a proxy for the media market level) is important, because, I contend, the likelihood of a child drowning in a given media market is roughly inversly proportinate to the number of children who have drown or nearly drown in that same media market over the previous two years.
Note that the statistics keepers distinguish between accidental drowning related to boats and accidental drowning not related to boats, so keep that in mind.
Last month, we had one of those deadly weekends in Minnesota, where a bunch of people died or were injured because they were playing with boats. That happens every few years, and suddenly, people start getting more careful with boats, and then there are fewer accidents for a few years. I imagine that this is happening separately in every news market. A bunch of boat accidents happen, everyone who listens to that local news finds out, people get careful in that news market for a few years. Meanwhile, elsewhere, nobody gets the cue so nobody gets a clue.
Around that time, by the way, we had a near-death experience out in front of the cabin, but everything turned out OK because of the quick and effective action of one of the boaters. But it was a close call.
Then, over the last several days, a whole bunch of people died or nearly died from drowning around here. One was a homicide, so that does not count as accidental recreational drowning. One person died at the beach but apparently of non drowning related causes, but since it was at the beach people will associate beaches with danger (in this case, it was being about 90 years old, outside, during a heat wave, that did her in, most likely). But one adult and several children were pulled from under the water, non-responsive, and a few of them lived but most of them did not live.
So, like I said, it is time to talk about drowning a bit.
The most important things you need to know about drowning is this: People who are drowning don’t look like they are drowning. They don’t say “help help” and they don’t stick their fingers up in the air, indicating how many times they’ve gone down, like in the cartoons.
If you are lucky, they simply slip away into the water and die. I say lucky because maybe, since you see them slip under water, you can figure out that they are not just rinsing their hair, but are in trouble, and you can react. But you probably won’t because you won’t think they are drowning.
If you are unlucky, the drowning is simply not visible to anyone and you find the non-responsive probably deceased person at a later time.
The second thing you need to know about drowning is that nine out of ten adults present during the drowning of a child claim to have been carefully watching the children at the time one of the carefully supervised children died from drowning. While being carefully supervised.
Put together, this means that people generally think they know what they are doing to prevent drowning, but don’t. (Or to some extent, one simply can’t prevent a drowning in many cases, an idea that 100% of people will not likely accept even if it is true.)
As is the case with so many areas of life, people have a higher opinion of their own abilities than they should. They firmly believe that they won’t let something happen, but this Strong Sense of Won’tness (SSW) does not in fact give them knowledge or ability, or change the plain reality that certain accidents will happen.
This is why public pools empty out every hour or so. Everybody out of the pool. Check for bodies. If there are no bodies, you can all go back into the pool. Even professional life guards who generally do, probably, know what they are doing, don’t trust themselves.
I have no advice to offer you about this, other than STAY AWAY FROM ALL WATER ALL THE TIME!!!11!!
I know, that is not helpful advice. My role here is not to teach you what to do about water safety. It is to scare you into realizing that whatever you are doing now is insufficient, and you need to do more. Seek expertise.
There is a third thing you need to know which may actually be the first thing. I don’t care what you do, but any kids you have with you on or near the water need to be wearing a life vest. Wearing. Not just having one nearby. Not only wearing it when they are in the water, but when they are on the boat or on the dock, etc. At least one recent drowning or near drowning this year in Minnesota, and several over the last several years, involved a kid falling into the water, not being in the water to play.
Also, the life vest should fit properly. If you can pick the kid up by the life vest, that’s a good sign. If you try to pick the kid up by the life vest and the kid slips through, check your SSW because you’re doing it wrong.
The overall rate of death generally and in Minnesota in particular has gone down over time. See the chart:
This is attributed to a number of factors, including safer equipment and advanced rescue and trauma care. But if you look at the chart, you’ll see two other patterns. One is the effect of a series of state wide and national boating and water safety regulations and laws, mainly beginning in the late 1950s and early 1960s, but with important events as recently as 2005.
This is why Libertarians suck, by the way.
Second, notice the up and down wiggle in the data. That is what we expect for random data, or in this case, data that has a steady long term trend, but within that trend, internal variation that isn’t of any special interest.
But it is of interest, potentially. At least two, I suspect more, of the more recent peaks followed by lows are likely related to the process I mentioned above. In 2005 or thereabouts, there was an alarming number of drownings in the state, and this lead to new legislation, and I assume, general awareness that water can kill you and yours. In 2011 and 2012 there were some dramatic and horrific events involving boats and human bodies, drunk people acting like idiots and killing innocent bystanders in a most gruesome manner, etc. One of the 2011 events re-entered the regional consciousness in 2012 because it was written up again in time for summer, to remind people. I’m pretty sure people started being more careful again just because of the overall horror of high speed multiple death boat accidents.
Notice the uptick in 2015.
That uptick is due, in part, to a larger number of individuals (though just a few, these numbers are all generally pretty small on an annual basis) going through the ice. It is possible that an increase in death or injury from falling through ice in recent years will keep the line, much reduced from the middle of the 20th century, steady. The thin ice is, of course, a result of global warming, but death on the ice is not. That is just stupidity. All the ice is measured and often marked. It is impossible to die on the ice in Minnesota without being an idiot, or being a child being driven around by an idiot.
Check this out:
Most people who drown in Minnesota drown in lakes, with rivers being second. But, if you know Minnesota, look at this graphic until the strange fact it demonstrates becomes apparent.
There are very few rivers in Minnesota. Most of the water is lakes, most of the recreation is on lakes. And, when you recreate on a river, like the Mississippi river, it is almost always in what is locally known as a “basin,” a part of the river that is exactly like a lake, owing to a dam downstream.
The apparent and interesting fact is that when Minnesotans go near a River, they die!
Well, not exactly, but… I think most Minnesotans have very little direct exposure to rivers, and know little about river safety. Rivers are, in fact, extremely dangerous. They are way more dangerous than lakes. I suspect that if the right data could be obtained, it would be possible to demonstrate that Minnesota rivers take a disproportionate share of Minnesotans to watery graves, adjusting for how much time is spent on or in them, compared to regions of the country where there are lots of rivers and relatively few lakes.
Swimming and drowning is a racial justice issue, it turns out. African American kids, and Latino kids, but to a somewhat lesser extent, have on average relatively little experience or training in swimming. And, also, have dramatically higher risks of drowning. Way higher. Swimming while black is probably double or triple the risk, for death, as swimming while white. There has been recent effort to address this problem, which is mostly one of access to swimming places and swimming lessons, two things that are matters of privilege. Putting this another way, the “white – black – latino” data show up so starkly because that is how morbidity and mortality data are collected, but really, this is matter of socio-economic status.
When out it the water, keep an eye on each other, and obey the safety rules. If you don’t know what the safety rules are, step away from the water!
Helpful and interesting resources:
<li><a href="https://www.minnpost.com/health/2016/06/how-often-do-people-drown-minnesota">How often do people drown in Minnesota?</a></li> <li><a href="http://www.cdc.gov/homeandrecreationalsafety/water-safety/waterinjuries-factsheet.html">Unintentional Drowning: Get the Facts</a></li> <li><a href="https://www.minnpost.com/learning-curve/2014/02/few-pools-little-swim-teaching-minneapolis-issue-equity-and-safety">Few pools, little swim teaching: In Minneapolis, an issue of equity and safety</a></li> <li><a href="http://www.dnr.state.mn.us/safety/boatwater/statistics.html">MN DNR Drowning Stats</a></li> <li><a href="https://www.cdc.gov/mmwr/preview/mmwrhtml/mm6319a2.htm">Racial/Ethnic Disparities in Fatal Unintentional Drowning Among Persons Aged ?29 Years — United States, 1999–2010</a></li> <li><a href="http://rockcenter.nbcnews.com/_news/2012/07/25/12948839-olympic-swimmer-on-mission-to-reduce-drowning-deaths-among-african-americans">Olympic swimmer on mission to reduce drowning deaths among African-Americans</a></li> <li><a href="http://minnesota.cbslocal.com/2012/07/15/dnr-pushes-life-jacket-safety-after-increased-drownings/">DNR Pushes Life Jacket Safety After Increased Drownings</a></li>
Some sort of Hops Flowers Substance is a common dietary supplement used by post-menopausal women. A recent study looks at one molecule extracted from hops to see if it could help reduce the chance of getting breast cancer.
The paper is in the journal Chemical Research in Toxicology, and is called Hop (Humulus lupulus L.) Extract and 6-Prenylnaringenin Induce P450 1A1 Catalyzed Estrogen 2-Hydroxylation, by Shuai Wang, Tareisha L. Dunlap, Caitlin E. Howell, Obinna C. Mbachu, Emily A. Rue, Rasika Phansalkar, Shao-Nong Chen, Guido F. Pauli, Birgit M. Dietz, and Judy L. Bolton.
One factor that increases the risk of breast cancer is exposure to estrogen, which may be the result of hormone treatment in post-menopausal women (hormone replacement therapy, or HRT). The “natural supplement” made from hops is supposed to supply plant-originated hormones that, perhaps, are believed by some to be less likely to have bad side effects. I’m pretty sure there is no reason to think that. It might be, however, that a molecule found in hops extract, taken to supply phyotestrogen (as a “natural” alternative to industrially produced estrogen) could independently reduce breast cancer risk. This research is still in early stages.
From the press release that goes along with the paper:
Preliminary lab studies have suggested that certain active compounds from hops could have protective properties. Building on this lead, Judy L. Bolton and colleagues used an enriched hop extract to test its effects on estrogen metabolism, one of the processes in the development of breast cancer.
The researchers applied the extract to two different breast cell lines to see how they would affect estrogen metabolism. One particular hops compound called 6-prenylnaringenin, or 6-PN, boosted the cells’ detoxification pathway that studies have associated with a lower risk for breast cancer. Thus the results suggest that 6-PN could have anti-cancer effects, although more studies would be needed to further investigate this possibility, the researchers say.
I asked Dr. Bolton the obvious question, which I know people will want to know the answer to. “If a woman drinks a LOT of beer, is that going to help avoid breast cancer? And, if so, how much beer?”
Dr. Bolton only had bad news in this regard. She and her team used a byproduct of beer making that concentrated the hops extract, and further concentrated this. (I simplify a bit.) She guesses that the amount of 6-PN in actual beer would be very very low. So, no.
But putting that aside, this research does look promising. An anti-breast cancer dietary supplement that is easy to produce and inexpensive, and that has few or no side effects (other research has failed to show any serious side effects of this stuff) would be a very good thing.
This is great news if you are a mouse!
Here’s the summary of the paper:
NAD+ repletion improves mitochondrial and stem cell function and enhances life span in mice, by
Hongbo Zhang, Dongryeol Ryu, Yibo Wu, Karim Gariani, Xu Wang, Peiling Luan, Davide D’Amico, Eduardo R. Ropelle, Matthias P. Lutolf, Ruedi Aebersold, Kristina Schoonjans, Keir J. Menzies, Johan Auwerx, (here, if you subscribe to Science.)
The oxidized form of cellular nicotinamide adenine dinucleotide (NAD+) is critical for mitochondrial function, and its supplementation can lead to increased longevity. Zhang et al. found that feeding the NAD+ precursor nicotinamide riboside (NR) to aging mice protected them from muscle degeneration… NR treatment enhanced muscle function and also protected mice from the loss of muscle stem cells. The treatment was similarly protective of neural and melanocyte stem cells, which may have contributed to the extended life span of the NR-treated animals.
Writing in Science, Leonard Guarente notes:
NAD was discovered over a century ago, and its role in cells as a redox conduit in metabolism was subsequently established. More recently, its oxidized form, NAD+, resurfaced as a key molecule in aging in organisms ranging from yeast to mammals by the finding that the antiaging proteins, sirtuins, are NAD+-dependent deacylases. These proteins play a key role in mitochondrial function. Indeed, aging is also associated with loss of sirtuin and mitochondrial function.
As to whether NAD+ replenishment can improve health maintenance in humans, it has been reported that cellular NAD+ amounts decline during human aging (11). Also, the strict conservation in the relevant pathways of NAD+ synthesis, sirtuins, and PARPs suggests that NAD+ replenishment may also provide health benefits in people. Still, it will be important to test in humans whether dietary supplementation with NAD+ precursors will raise cellular NAD+ concentrations sufficiently to compensate for the loss due to aging. If so, it will also be necessary to test, in rigorously controlled trials, whether raising NAD+ concentrations improves health parameters, such as blood glucose and lipid profile, as well as inflammation. More expanded trials could measure effects on bone density, endothelial cell function, muscle mass, or even cognition. If NAD+ precursors can positively affect health parameters, it is reasonable to anticipate their place at the table alongside more traditional pharmaceutical drugs in the treatment of diseases.
But before you do that you may want to check out some of the writing that comes up from the Skeptical Search Engine.
The story goes that if you do, it will stay in your digestive track for seven years. Is this true?
According to the Mayo Clinic,
Although chewing gum is designed to be chewed and not swallowed, it generally isn’t harmful if swallowed. Folklore suggests that swallowed gum sits in your stomach for seven years before it can be digested. But this isn’t true. If you swallow gum, it’s true that your body can’t digest it. But the gum doesn’t stay in your stomach. It moves relatively intact through your digestive system and is excreted in your stool.
On rare occasions, large amounts of swallowed gum combined with constipation have blocked intestines in children. It’s for this reason that frequent swallowing of chewing gum should be discouraged, especially in children.
The American Chemical Society has a nice video explaining what happens when you swallow gum:
Somebody just sent me this lyme disease infographic. It is too big to just display on a blog post, so here is the link to the full size graphic. It may come in handy this Spring/Summer!
Rotavirus vaccine is very effective in preventing this diarrhea inducing stomach illness in children in developed countries. But it appears that in certain poorer regions, i.e. Bangladesh, the same vaccine has a reduced effect, inducing sufficient immunity in fewer than half of the children who receive it. In the early days of the polio vaccine, a similar pattern was observed.
Why is this? What can be done about it? What does it all mean?
We interviewed Carina Storrs — who visited the affected areas and has been writing about it over recent weeks — here, at Ikonokast. Carina is a scientist-turned-science-journalist, and has done some excellent reporting on rotavirus vaccine. Have a listen.
See what I did there?
As you know, the UN WHO International Agency for Research on Cancer has listed Red Meat as Group 2A (probably carcinogenic to humans) and processed meat at Group 1 (causes cancer).
And everyone is upset. The most common reaction to these listings is to criticize WHO. The least common reaction to these listings is to learn what the listings are, what they mean, what they mean to you, to the meat industry, to cancer research, and all that. Here, I will try to provide some perspective on some of this.
WHO is probably more likely to list something as cancer causing
It is probably true that the WHO IARC is somewhat biased, in that they are more likely to attribute possible carcinogenic effects to things than other similar groups. There are many substances and behaviors listed by WHO as possibly or probably cancer causing that are not similarly identified by, for example, the US EPA. This does not mean that WHO IARC is more likely to be wrong. It just means that your reaction to a possible agent being listed by WHO should be to understand this bias, but not to assume you know what the bias means. If every single cancer-watching agencies was biased in one direction, we’d have a problem. If all cancer-watching agencies always drew the same exact conclusions form the disparate research, we’d have a conspiracy. If the range of cancer-watching agencies produces a reasonable range of decisions, we’d have real life.
Here is something you should keep in mind when comparing across agencies. Many US federal agencies are led and staffed by industry experts. Where do you get industry experts? From the industries these agencies regulate. Where did the industries get them? They got them from PhD schools, where they quite possibly paid for their higher education with grants from the industry and worked in labs paid for in part by those industries, while working on grants from the industry. This is likely more a thing in the US than in other countries that contribute expertise and do research. It is also true that US regulatory agencies are notably biased in the opposite direction of WHO.
US regulatory agencies will be staffed by well meaning well trained people who know a lot about how the industry works. That is a good thing. US regulatory agencies will be staffed by people who owe their careers to the industry, and are likely to have warm fuzzy feelings about the industry. That is likely to lead to some bias.
On the other hand, in other parts of the world, wooish thinking seems to permeate science and governmental agencies more easily. If you look at the research and regulations, related to EMF risks (like power lines and cell phones and such) you’ll see a gradient where some areas of Europe have both evidence (from research) suggesting EMF-health risks and regulations related to this, and other areas of Europe where the evidence shows now risk, to the US where we by and large don’t regulate EMF using these risks as factors. A sensible view of the research tells us that EMF does not have the alleged health risks.
The reason this is important is that WHO is an international body, so we are going to see a range of industry-fuzzy vs. woo-fuzzy fringes surrounding a hopefully larger and sensible scientifically oriented core. This is also important because of this: if every regulatory or research agency or institution in the world really were funded by the industries they study, and no other research was done by anybody, problems will arise. So go ahead and be annoyed at WHO, but also appreciate this relationship.
It is not about how bad the cancer risk is
As a substance or behavior moves from Group 3, through Group 2B and 2A, to Group 1, this does not mean that it is thought to be increasingly cancer-causing. What it means is that the certainty that the substance or behavior cases cancer, no matter how small the effect, has increased. A given agent may increase the risk of a certain kind of cancer by 50%, which sounds bad, but the original probability of cancer being caused by that agent may be tiny. So, in effect, a tiny risk has been increased to a tiny risk. According to WHO, “The classifications reflect the strength of the scientific evidence as to whether an agent causes cancer in humans but do not reflect how strong the effect is on the risk of developing cancer.”
This is not about your bacon
I find it amusing that the Internet Reaction to these listings is so widespread and negative, even angry, and at the same time so poorly informed. This is amusing because we are just coming off a way over the top Bacon Worship phase.
I stopped eating bacon about four months ago. Do you want to know why? Because of all the pictures of bacon, excessive bacon, things made out of bacon, bacon being fetishized and revered like it was a god or something, on Facebook and elsewhere. I got tired of bacon. I was reminded of a friend’s comment. He was raised in a Kosher household. He told me, “I don’t have any food taboos, I don’t keep kosher. But if I walk into a house where someone is cooking ham, I want to throw up.”
(OK, I did have a BLT the other day. But it was hard.)
The point is, do think about the nature and cause of your reaction, if you are having a hissy fit about WHO and meats. Are you objecting to the WHO IARC criteria, which you’ve carefully studied and understand, or are you simply being sensitive about your stupid bacon fetish? Think about it.
Some food research is probably inherently wrong
I just want to throw this in. If you feed human food, especially cooked food, especially food not made of raw grains, to rats and mice, they might get sick, while a human being fed the same things won’t. Why? Because humans invented cooking possibly as long as two million years ago, and have adapted to cooked foods which seem to cause nasty problems for some lab animals. And humans and their ancestors have always eaten at least some meat. And we are not rodent granivores. So, I don’t know how much animal evidence is being used to change the groups for meat and processed meat, but I personally prefer to disregard rodent data on human diet. It seems to be almost always misleading. Just sayin’
Just so you know, here are the IARD Groups
Group 1: The agent is carcinogenic to humans. This category is used when there is sufficient evidence of carcinogenicity in humans. In other words, there is convincing evidence that the agent causes cancer. The evaluation is usually based on epidemiological studies showing development of cancer in exposed humans. Agents can also be classified in Group 1 based on sufficient evidence of carcinogenicity in experimental animals supported by strong evidence in exposed humans that the agent has effects that are important for cancer development.
Group 2 This category includes agents with a range of evidence of carcinogenicity in humans and in experimental animals. At one extreme are agents with positive but not conclusive evidence in humans. At the other extreme are agents for which evidence in humans is not available but for which there is sufficient evidence of carcinogenicity in experimental animals. There are two subcategories, indicating different levels of evidence.
Group 2A: The agent is probably carcinogenic to humans. This category is used when there is limited evidence of carcinogenicity in humans and sufficient evidence of carcinogenicity in experimental animals. Limited evidence means that a positive association has been observed between exposure to the agent and cancer but that other explanations for the observations (technically termed chance, bias, or confounding) could not be ruled out.
Group 2B: The agent is possibly carcinogenic to humans. This category is used when there is limited evidence of carcinogenicity in humans and less than sufficient evidence of carcinogenicity in experimental animals. It may also be used when the evidence of carcinogenicity in humans does not permit a conclusion to be drawn (referred to as “inadequate” evidence) but there is sufficient evidence of carcinogenicity in experimental animals.
Group 3: The agent is not classifiable as to its carcinogenicity to humans. This category is used most commonly when the evidence of carcinogenicity is inadequate in humans and inadequate or limited in experimental animals. Limited evidence in experimental animals means that the available information suggests a carcinogenic effect but is not conclusive.
Group 4: The agent is probably not carcinogenic to humans. This category is used when there is evidence suggesting lack of carcinogenicity in humans and in experimental animals.