health

BPA can cross the placenta from mother to fetus

I've previously reported on Bisphenol-A (BPA), the ubiquitous endocrine-disrupting chemical found in water bottles and many other forms of packaging and linked to breast cancer, insulin resistance, miscarriage, obesity, prostate enlargement, early onset of sexual maturation, and other problems.

The latest: new research shows that BPA can cross the placenta from mother to fetus, where it can affect development during a particularly vulnerable period. And other new research suggests that fetal exposure to BPA and other endocrine disruptors can increase the risk of breast cancer later in life.

More and more I suspect that future generations will look back at our cavalier use of endocrine disruptors the way we look at the Romans' use of lead, and wonder: WTF were they thinking?

GM corn contains pesticides that -- surprise! -- might be harmful

Research published in the International Journal of Biological Sciences looks at the effects of feeding three strains of genetically-modified corn -- two of which produce Bacillus thuringiensis derived pesticides ("Bt"), and one of which is "Roundup ready", meaning that it contains derivatives of this herbicide -- to rats.

Looking at data that was actually provided by Monsanto (though in some cases, only after disclosure was mandated by courts), they found that

...in the three GM maize varieties that formed the basis of this investigation, new side effects linked to the consumption of these cereals were revealed, which were sex- and often dose-dependent. Effects were mostly concentrated in kidney and liver function, the two major diet detoxification organs, but in detail differed with each GM type. In addition, some effects on heart, adrenal, spleen and blood cells were also frequently noted. As there normally exists sex differences in liver and kidney metabolism, the highly statistically significant disturbances in the function of these organs, seen between male and female rats, cannot be dismissed as biologically insignificant as has been proposed by others. We therefore conclude that our data strongly suggests that these GM maize varieties induce a state of hepatorenal toxicity. This can be due to the new pesticides (herbicide or insecticide) present specifically in each type of GM maize, although unintended metabolic effects due to the mutagenic properties of the GM transformation process cannot be excluded. All three GM maize varieties contain a distinctly different pesticide residue associated with their particular GM event (glyphosate and AMPA in NK 603, modified Cry1Ab in MON 810, modified Cry3Bb1 in MON 863). These substances have never before been an integral part of the human or animal diet and therefore their health consequences for those who consume them, especially over long time periods are currently unknown.

Monsanto, of course, being one of the finest examples of pure concentrated evil on the planet, looked at this same data and applied weaker statistical methods to say that everything is hunky-dory.

corruption in H1N1 pandemic declaration

I've previously reported on the bad science around flu vaccine recommendations, and how the flu in general and H1N1 specifically have apparently been overblown as health threats.

(Please note that my considerations here are limited to the flu. This is not an "anti-vaccine" rant; I got a Tdap shot a few months ago -- and felt like crap for a day or two, but given the seriousness of diphtheria, pertussis, and tetanus and the effectiveness of those vaccines, it was worth it.)

Now, the BMJ reports on the conflicts of interest and lack of transparency around the World Health Organization's declaration of the H1N1 pandemic and its recommendations for responses.

Most shockingly, the WHO actually changed the definition of a pandemic in May 2009 so that H1N1 would qualify, removing the qualification that an outbreak must cause "enormous numbers of deaths and illness". And it estimated that 2 billion H1N1 cases were likely -- 1 out of 3 human beings on the whole planet -- even after the winter season in Australia and New Zealand showed that only about one to two out of 1000 people were infected.

It did this while taking advice from people with financial and research ties with Big Pharma companies that produced antivirals and vaccines; one researcher who wrote key guidelines had been paid by Roche and GlaxoSmithKline.

California set to ok soil-sterilizing pesticide

From the really-really-dumb idea department: California;s Department of Pesticide Regulation has proposed allowing the use of methyl iodide -- a chemical so toxic that even chemists are reluctant to handle it.

"This is one of the most egregious pesticides out there," said Sarah Aird, the state field organizer for Californians for Pesticide Reform, a coalition of watchdog groups opposed to the use of potentially harmful chemicals. "It is really, really toxic. It is actually used in the laboratory to induce cancer cells."

Methyl iodide was approved by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency in 2007 for use as a fumigant over the protests of more than two dozen California legislators and 54 scientists, including five Nobel laureates, who signed a letter opposing registration of the chemical.

What makes this such a stunningly bad idea is not just the notion of using toxic chemicals to grow food, with the obvious health risks that entails, but that this stuff is purposefully used to sterilize soil. But that would mean destroying the beneficial microorganisms that make soil fertile. Of course, that means you'll need more fertilizer -- conveniently supplied, no doubt, by the same company that sold the methyl iodide.

eat dirt, get smart

Here's another good reason to go outside: exposure to dirt may make you smarter.

PhysOrg reports on research suggesting that ingesting Mycobacterium vaccae, a soil bacterium, stimulates neuron growth, increases serotonin levels, decreases anxiety, and increases learning ability -- at least, in mice.

"This research suggests that M. vaccae may play a role in anxiety and learning in mammals," says Matthews. "It is interesting to speculate that creating learning environments in schools that include time in the outdoors where M. vaccae is present may decrease anxiety and improve the ability to learn new tasks."

summer refresher

Tom's Summer Refresher: To about one pint of water, add one teaspoon of blackstrap molasses and a dash of orange juice. Adjust the mixture to your taste. Just the thing after a street-festival day of hot sun, beer, and dancing in the street.

Blackstrap molasses is rich in iron, calcium, manganese, potassium, and copper. (Another great thing is to mix it with maple syrup and drizzle over fresh strawberries. Try it, you will not regret it.)

Orange juice, of course, is famous for it's vitamin C content, and also contains limonin and other other protective phytochemicals.

perhaps the safest car ever build -- killed by the Reagan administration

Imagine, if you will, a four-passenger small car that got 32 mpg and could withstand a 50 mph impact -- front or side -- with only minimal injuries to passengers. Pretty cool, huh? A great counter-argument to bozos who claim that only massive gas-guzzlers can be safe.

Now imagine that such a car was built in the 1970s. By federal government contractors.

Jalopnik has the story of Minicar's Research Safety Vehicles, advanced prototypes that the Carter administration's National Highway Traffic Safety Administration created to demonstrate to automakers what was possible in auto safety and build the car of the future -- 1985. They "looked like an AMC Pacer worked over by the set designers of Battlestar Galactica" (original series, obviously) and featured run-flat tires, anti-lock brakes with crash-sensing radar, and dual-stage airbags. These were build by 1979, let me repeat.

With coming of the stupid ages -- a.k.a. the Reagan era -- the RSV's went the way of the solar panels on the White House roof, and our auto industry was set from from government meddling and pressure to make products that would get fewer of us killed:

Like other American inventions such as the VCR, the lithium-ion battery and David Hasselhoff, many of the RSV's technologies only prospered overseas. Anti-lock brakes and air bags were standard on European cars first; Japanese automakers put the first crash-sensing brake system on the market in 2003, nearly 25 years after the RSV sported it. Yet those five-star ratings from NHTSA that have become standard for front crash safety in U.S. cars come from tests at 35 mph, still 15 mph shy of the RSV bar.

Last year, traffic deaths fell to their lowest level since 1961 at 33,963, after remaining stuck at roughly 40,000 for decades, in part because a modern car has more in common with the RSVs than ever before. With smaller cars, tougher fuel rules and bigger worries about oil on the horizon, that 1985 target date for the program may have been set about 30 years too early.

The Bush I era NHTSB eventually destroyed the RSV prototypes -- to "destroy[] the evidence that you could do much better," suggests Minicars's project manager Don Friedman. Turns out, though, that they didn't succeed; two of the prototypes were still in Minicars' possession.

vegans who can go the distance

The New York Times profiles champion ultramarathoner Scott Jurek, who runs on the order of 140 miles a week training for races that are often 100 miles or more, sometimes through deserts or frozen wastelands or up and down mountains. Jurek is a vegan, consuming 5,000 to 8,000 calories of plant-based nutrition a day.

And Jurek is not alone as an elite vegan endurance athlete. There's Rich Roll, one of Men’s Fitness Magazine's 2009 “25 Fittest Guys in the World”, is a top Ultraman competitor. Ultraman is a "double Ironman" three day triathlon, with a 6.2 mile ocean swim followed by a 90 mile cross-country cycling race, a 170 mile cycling race, and then on the final day a 52 mile double marathon.

Or there's Brendan Brazier, a professional Ironman triathlete and two-time Canadian 50km Ultra Marathon Champion.

Or Ruth Heidrich, vegan for 24 years, holder of three world fitness records in her age group, six-time Ironman triathlon finisher, and holder of more than 900 gold medals for distances ranging from 100 meters dashes to ultramarathons, who credits going vegan with sending her breast cancer into remission. (This is certainly a controversial claim, and I am not suggesting that anyone discontinue medical treatment.)

If you think that a vegan diet can't give you the energy you need, I suggest you talk to these folks -- if you can catch them!

the Palins also like Canada's socialized medicine

We mentioned recently how Sarah Palin's grandson Tripp Palin Johnston -- and reportedly all of the Palin kids -- receive free federal health care through Indian Health Services and the Alaska Native Medical Center.

According to The Daily Telegraph, her family's love for socialized medicine extends to Canada as well: when she was a kid, the family would engage in a little medical tourism, and sneak over the border to get care paid for my Canadian taxpayers:

Mrs Palin, who moved as a child to the south-eastern Alaska town of Skagway, was speaking at an event sponsored by the Fraser Institute, a conservative Canadian think tank.

"Believe it or not - this was in the sixties - we used to hustle on over the border for health care that we would receive in Whitehorse [capital of Canada's Yukon Territory]," she said.

"I remember my brother, he burned his ankle in some little kid accident thing, and my parents had to put him on a train and rush him over to Whitehorse, and I think, 'Isn't that kind of ironic now'. Zooming over the border, getting health care from Canada."

Hypocrisy: a great luxury, or the greatest luxury?

Please, keep talking, Sarah; you're the greatest weapon those of us opposed to the wingnut faction of the GOP have.

who's got socialized medicine? The Palin kids!

Sarah Palin's husband Todd Palin has Native American ancestry, Yup'ik and Curyung. It recently came out that their grandson, Tripp Palin Johnston, is an enrolled member of the Curyung Tribal Council -- and receives free federal health care through Indian Health Services and the Alaska Native Medical Center. (Comments on that story claim that all of the Palin kids are enrolled and get taxpayer-supported health care, but I cannot confirm that at this time.)

Sarah Palin earned Politifact's "Lie of the Year" when she claimed that government-run health care would end up with "death panels" sending the elderly and disabled to their doom. But it looks like she just wanted to scare the rest of us off, make sure that there were plenty of government benefits to go around for her family and not let us riff-raff in on the deal.

Socialized medicine for the grandkids of the rich and powerful, while the rest of us get sick and go broke thanks to private health insurance. Yep, that's the greed and hypocrisy of the GOP we know and love.

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