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Dr. Mary Newport, Coconut Oil, Ketones, and Dementia

Originally emailed to family, I want to share this here, as well.

[H]ere’s a pdf file that talks about Dr. Mary Newport’s experimentation with coconut oil and her dementia/alzheimer’s suffering husband and the improvements she’s seen as an apparent result of this experimentation (File size ~700KB).

The gist is that coconut oil has a shorter length saturated fat that gets converted by the liver into ketone bodies. Ketones are used by our bodies for energy and our brains and heart both apparently like ketones a lot. The tie-in to dementia is that it may be the case that dementia is being caused by our brains losing the ability to burn glucose (the metabolic unit created from carbohydrates) for energy; therefore, over time our brain cells start starving and dying. In these cases, ketones subvert the busted glucose metabolic pathway and get the nerve cells the energy they require.

Obviously, it’s hard to say for sure based on her anecdotal research alone if this is a true ‘cure’ or preventative measure for Alzheimer’s, but really, given there is no particularly effective cure or treatment for the disease, giving a couple tablespoons of coconut oil a day to someone suffering from dementia is easy to do and worth a shot. Spread the word.

H/T Seth.

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Can Blogging Make You Happier? [Research]…ke-you-happier/

I can’t say any of this comes as a surprise — some recent (2009) research has found that blogging can result in greater feelings of connectedness and social bonding which can improve one’s sense of well-being.

Yeah, that sounds about right to me (See my post on the power of blogging).

The researchers found support for deeper self-disclosure from bloggers resulting in a range of better social connections. These included things such as a sense of greater social integration, which is how connected we feel to society and our own community of friends and others; an increase in social bonding (our tightly knit, intimate relationships); and social bridging — increasing our connectedness with people who might be from outside of our typical social network.

They also hypothesized and found support from their data that when these kinds of social connections increase or grow deeper through blogging, a person will also feel a greater subjective sense of well-being or happiness.

H/T to Seth Roberts.

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Choosing Vegetarianism is Ignoring Human Biology


I heartily enjoy eating meat. I consider animal products to be the ultimate human food where “ultimate” means that for me to recognize a food-pairing as a meal, it must contain meat.

My feelings on food are typical even as they are no doubt heavily-influenced by American culture. Nevertheless, I suspect that most humans feel similarly. It’s for this reason that most of us meat-eaters raise a brow, groan, or otherwise strike a perplexed pose when encountering friends, family members, or acquaintances who choose not to eat meat. We intuitively don’t get it. I believe this is because avoiding animal products fundamentally goes against our biologically-formed nature.

For sake of discussion, I lump all non-meat-eaters into the category vegetarians recognizing this fails to recognize any number of distinctive differences!

Though some meat-heads can be intolerant of vegetarians, for the most part us carnivorously-inclined humans simply resign to rolling our eyes and not asking too many questions. Live and let live, so to speak.

However, even as we can all be tolerant to differing viewpoints on nutrition and food, as we learn more about our evolutionary past, which is to say our own biological predisposition, certain conclusions become unavoidable. One of those conclusions is that human beings have been selected via evolution to eat animal products. How do we know this? Well, it merely takes looking at our evolutionary preceptors and acknowledging that if they were omnivorous or carnivorous, it’s highly probably that we should be, too.

What do we see in our past? The second closest ancestors to modern humans, the Neanderthals, managed to “stick around” (not die out) up until around 30,000 years ago — these were the now-extinct neanderthals. Did they eat only plants? No. Neanderthals “were basically carnivorous” (See Stephan’s in-depth write-up, partially quoted below). Furthermore, you have to go a very long ways back to find any preceptor to Homo Sapiens that came close to being a vegetarian — chimpanzees branched off from the Homo genus some five million years ago!

Whatever reason for choosing vegetarianism, it really doesn’t matter to the following conclusion: choosing vegetarianism requires ignoring or rejecting human biology. This doesn’t make it wrong to choose vegetarianism; it just doesn’t jive with our genetics. Avoiding animal products in your diet may put your health at risk.

The question vegetarians should ask themselves is: is it worth risking their health to maintain adherence to a life-paradigm or morality that is in direct conflict with their biological nature?

I believe we will achieve considerably more coherence within our chosen morality if that morality is built with a firm grasp of human nature. That we are intended* to eat animals is part of that nature.

If you look at the chart above, Homo rhodesiensis (typically considered a variant of Homo heidelbergensis) is our closest ancestor, and our point of divergence with neanderthals (Homo neanderthalensis). Some archaeologists believe H. heidelbergensis was the same species as modern Homo sapiens. I haven’t been able to find any direct evidence of the diet of H. heidelbergensis from bone isotope ratios, but the indirect evidence indicates that they were capable hunters who probably got a large proportion of their calories from meat. In Europe, they hunted now-extinct megafauna such as wooly rhinos. These things make modern cows look like chicken nuggets, and you can bet their fat was highly saturated.

H. heidelbergensis was a skilled hunter and very athletic. They were top predators in their ecosystems, judged by the fact that they took their time with carcasses, butchering them thoroughly and extracting marrow from bones. No predator or scavenger was capable of driving them away from a kill.

Our closest recent relative was Homo neanderthalensis, the neanderthal. They died out around 30,000 years ago. There have been several good studies on the isotope ratios of neanderthal bones, all indicating that neanderthals were basically carnivores. They relied both on land and marine animals, depending on what was available. Needless to say, neanderthals are much more closely related to humans than chimpanzees, having diverged from us less than 500,000 years ago. That’s less than one-tenth the time between humans and chimpanzees.

I don’t think this necessarily means humans are built to be carnivores, but it certainly blows away the argument that we’re built to be vegetarians. It also argues against the idea that we’re poorly adapted to eating animal fat. Historical human hunter-gatherers had very diverse diets, but on average were meat-heavy omnivores. This fits well with the apparent diet of our ancestor H. heidelbergensis, except that we’ve killed most of the megafauna so modern hunter-gatherers have to eat frogs, bugs and seeds.

*As much as a blind or natural process like evolution can “intend” anything.

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Superfluous Fluids: Don’t Drink Calories (But milk may be ok)


Lyle McDonald of consistently puts out in-depth, even-keeled analysis on exercise and nutrition. I don’t always buy his conclusions, but he clearly knows his stuff and shares a great deal of knowledge freely on his site. His frank take can be funny, too.

Lyle has previously gone into great detail on milk as a sports drink. Milk has protein, fat and carbohydrates, which makes it more of a liquid food than a drink. Mother nature concocted the mix, so it has that going for it as far as the biological “benefit of the doubt.” Whether humans are evolutionarily designed to drink cow milk is another question. Suffice to say that it’s a hotly debated topic amongst the Paleo crowd.

I still enjoy cheese and (occasionally) ice cream.

In this particular article, Lyle discusses a paper that examined the impact on the human body of consuming “milk, beer, wine, tea, coffee, distilled alcoholic beverages, juice and soft drinks.” The big takeaway is simple: Don’t drink your calories except maybe milk.

Why? Apparently our bodies aren’t good at accounting/adjusting for the energy. This failure causes two problems: not only do our bodies fail to adjust overall caloric intake to account for the consumption of a Coke or Snapple, drinking these “empty calories” may result in overconsuming other foods! Talk about a double-whammy to your waistline!

Even though Lyle often goes middle-of-the-road where others end up more extreme (I.e. low-fat, or low-carb diets), this is one of the few times where he actually more or less makes an outright nutrition rule, which is that sugary drinks have no place in the human diet. He couples this thought with the tangential point that the demonization of HFCS is a distraction: raw sugar (i.e. diluted in water), no matter the form (glucose, sucrose, whatever), is the problem.

And honestly, how is this conclusion not obvious? Don’t drink sugar!

Other thoughts outside of Lyle’s take: I’m reminded of Seth Roberts of Shangri-La diet fame. Shangri-La asserts that the stronger the flavor/calorie association by our bodies, the more weight we will put on. I wonder if this is coming into play here in that sugary beverages typically are drank in concert with a meal. This results in more flavor and more energy density, heightening the Pavlovian association and raising “set point” (this is all based on my rudimentary understanding of Shangri-La). On the other hand, it makes it harder to explain how flavorless sugar water can cause appetite suppression if our bodies generally fail to register the calories. My hunch is that there is a more complex relationship here.

And one other thought: Lyle notes that for most of human existence the only liquids known to man were breast milk and water. Makes sense. Only one problem: human beings drank what, for lack of a better term, I’m going to call “wild water.” I have no idea what wild water was composed of as far as bacteria, nutrients, and minerals. However, I’m confident that it was not like the water we get from the tap or the filtered Brita stuff.

So maybe Coca-Cola should look into a new bottled water market — and yes, if they call it “wild water” I will seek royalties!

Looking globally, drink patterns have shown massive growth with soda products being consumed at a rate in excess of one billion drinks per day (makes you wish you’d bought stock, huh?). Beer consumption has shown the greatest increase with tea showing a slight increase. Wine and milk consumption have fallen globally, presumably due to the introduction of all the drinks that have made America rich, proud and very fat (my comment, not theirs).

The next section of the paper got into what is arguably the most important issue of the paper: the simple fact that for all but the last 11,000 years, the predominant fluids consumed by humans were water and breast milk and nothing else. Now, they go out of their way to point out that milk is a complete beverage containing protein, carbohydrate, fat and water. Water is, of course water which provides no calories. This is important because numerous studies have shown that humans show poor compensation for fluid calories.

Let me explain that a bit. Compensation means that the body will adjust caloric intake at other times of the day (or days later) for a given caloric load. So say you eat a bunch of candy earlier in the day and it provides 450 calories. What you might see is that, later in the day, folks eat a few hundred calories less than they’d normally eat. The body ‘compensates’ for the food you ate earlier. The problem is that most liquid calories aren’t compensated for well and figuring out why is of some interest to researchers.

This is also a big part of why all of the furor over HFCS is mis-placed in my opinion: the problem isn’t with the HFCS per se, it’s the form that people are getting it which is liquid calories. Which the body doesn’t compensate for well. But the body wouldn’t compensate any better for a sucrose containing drink, a glucose containing drink or any other caloric drink. Get it?

It’s got nothing to do with the HFCS content, it’s got to do with how the human bodyhandles non-milk caloric fluids. . . .

Of some interest (especially to me since I like jelly beans) one study compared the intake of 450 kcal or jelly beans to 450 kcal of a soft drink. the jelly bean consumers actually reduced their food intake by slightly more than the 450 calories in the jelly beans (Coming soon: the Jelly Bean Diet) later in the day.

The carb containing soft drink group not only failed to compensate for the drink but also increased their intake of other foods slightly. That is, not only did they get the added calories from the soft-drink, they ate more food as well; a double whammy in terms of weight gain. . . .

The sight and smell of foods also affects hormonal response, there is something called the cephalic insulin response for example, insulin can go up when people smell or taste sweet foods, long before it hits the bloodstream. Someone in the comments of one of my articles asked about sugar free drinks and it’s relevant here as they can stimulate insulin response in some folks; I’ll have to do a full feature on this at a later date [JNO: See Artificial Sweeteners and Energy Disregulation for a little more]. . . .

Carbohydrates alone stimulate the least number of appetite blunting factors, protein and fat stimulate the release of more. So you’d expect much less of a compensatory response to a drink containing protein and fat (think lowfat milk) as compared to one containing only carbohydrate (think fruit juice or a high sugar soda). Which is exactly what the studies have shown. Milk shows a nice normal compensation to intake; it’s effectively a liquid ‘food’. Sugar sweetened soft drinks show no compensation.

So folks living on sugary drinks are causing themselves major problems. Not only do the drinks themselves have scads of calories, the body doesn’t compensate for their intake. So all of those calories essentially end up being ‘added’ to the normal food intake (which is just as often awful in folks who drink lots of soda). In some people, the sweet taste seems to drive intake of other sugary foods so it’s a double whammy.

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The Scientific Method Simplified…simplified.html

Brad Pilon of brings a simple reminder that I should challenge my beliefs.

I understand the tendency towards confirmation bias (See Confirmation Bias and the Internet). Yet awareness isn’t quite enough, I don’t think. I should actively seek out the destruction of my own beliefs if I really care about knowing anything.

Here’s Brad:

. . . one of the best ways to grow intellectually is to take things you believe to be right, and methodically and logically try to prove them wrong. . . .

. . . you will see amazing growth in your understanding and knowledge if every once in a while you systematically and logically try and disprove the things that you believe to be right, instead of always trying to reaffirm their correctness.

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Keys’ Lipid Hypothesis “Made Out of Whole Cloth”


Gary Taubes (Good Calories Bad Calories) and Tom Naughton (Fat Head) both pointed it out, as have others I’m sure, but Peter’s charts add a nice crescendo to the chorus. What am I talking about? Nothing less than the biased, incompletely used data upon which Ancel Keys built his infamous, notorious, and utterly bogus lipid hypothesis. It’s a solid example of confirmation bias and scientific chicanery reigning supreme.

As if that wasn’t bad enough, just imagine how many people have been sick or gone to an early grave because they were following the resultant bogus advice that comes out of the lipid hypothesis, which is to say nothing of the wealth that has been utterly wasted trying to support both research into a bad hypothesis and the healthcare of an increasingly sick population paranoid about eating fat (While getting fatter every day eating more and more “whole grains”)!

Rant over.

The gist is that Ancel Keys ignored the entirety of a study and handpicked the data that would support his lipid hypothesis. You can read about it in Taubes’ book. You can watch a great, animated snippet illustrating the legerdemain compliments of Tom Naughton (youtube: ) or you can dive into the charts from Peter.

Here’s a snip from the latter:

OK, this is the graph of heart deaths plotted against fat intake, produced by Ancel Keys in 1953. It’s a beautiful curve, utterly convincing to any Congressperson looking to find fame by funding a cure for heart disease:

. . . Slightly less convincing is when the choice of different countries from the same data bases suggests that dietary fat has nothing to do with heart disease and that heart disease is very rare anyway . . .

So let’s stop playing and look at the whole database from which Keys carefully selected his six countries:

OK, there IS a correlation. It’s pathetic, especially compared to the original line swept in by Keys. Of course things get worse if you add in the Masai, the Inuit, the Rendile, the Tokelau and a few others, shown as red dots:

At this point you would have thought that the name Keys would have become a joke and people would simply have ignored him as a self publicising evangelist with scant respect for the truth. But Keys was nothing if not determined.

There’s even more chart-making sleight-of-hand if you’re curious. Sad “science.” We can only hope that one day the verdict of “guilty” on fat is overturned.

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A Comeback for Lamarckian Evolution?

Some studies indicate that there are traits that can get passed on from mother to offspring that are extra-genetic — meaning they aren’t in the DNA. These are called epigenetic changes.


In Feig’s study, mice genetically engineered to have memory problems were raised in an enriched environment–given toys, exercise, and social interaction–for two weeks during adolescence. The animals’ memory improved–an unsurprising finding, given that enrichment has been previously shown to boost brain function. The mice were then returned to normal conditions, where they grew up and had offspring. This next generation of mice also had better memory, despite having the genetic defect and never having been exposed to the enriched environment.

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Study: Do Women Like Men With A Stubble?

Makes sense to me — if not for the pronounced lower jaw, for the manly (read: non-juvenile) look a bit of stubble provides. Oddly enough, this thought had crossed my mind in a comment on Patri’s LJ almost right before I found this article. And of course, I’ve blogged on shaving before.

Women participating in the research rated men with stubble as tough, mature, aggressive, dominant and masculine – and as the best romantic partners, either for a fling or a long-term relationships. The findings of the experiment, carried out on British women aged 18 to 44, could explain the appeal of actors such as George Clooney and Brad Pitt who cultivate their unshaven look. The explanation for the preference is not clear, but experts in human evolution say that that facial hair may be a signal of aggression because it boosts the apparent size of the lower jaw, emphasising the teeth as weapons. Psychologists at Northumbria University who carried out the new study believe that stubbly men may offer women the best worlds – not too strongly masculine, but mature and with the potential to grow a full beard.


A Short History of Nearly Everything by Bill Bryson

A Short History of Nearly Everything by Bill Bryson

It took me a shamefully long time to complete A Short History of Nearly Everything by Bill Bryson — multiple months, in which I even put it down for long periods of time and read other books (For shame!).

The book is a monstrous undertaking that serves as an overview of all time (going back to the Big Bang and advancing to the present), covering all areas of science in the process.

Though an educational read, the book can drag on at times. One unexpected gem Bryson embeds in this book is in his ability to depict the discoverers and scientists as flawed, sometimes eccentric, often under-(if at all)-appreciated human beings. On one level, it is empowering to realize what amazing discoveries were made by self-taught, self-made scientists. Nowadays, it seems you have to go to school for half your life to study a subject and maybe publish a paper that is important outside the narrow niche of your own subject. This hasn’t always been the case, and Bryson illustrates that truth wonderfully.

This idea is what stuck with me the most. Degrees don’t make for original thought or observation. In conjunction with having read Gary Taubes’ Good Calories Bad Calories, I’m reminded that scientists can often get so caught up within their narrow focus that they fail to string together bigger ideas. We’d do well to remember that discovery, observation and original thinking springs from following our own interests even as we don’t know where they’ll lead and even if they are obscure and boring to most everyone else!


Strange dream coincidence (Huge moon)

I’m not very good at remembering my dreams. And even when I do remember my dreams, I usually don’t tell them to others or write about them. This isn’t because I think dreams are meant to be private, rather I just doubt anyone would find the random musings of my subconscious mind interesting.

So bear with me.

You may have noticed recently two bright spots in the sky — they are Venus and Jupiter. I’ve enjoyed seeing them floating out there, reminding me how vast our own solar system is.

For some reason, last night I dreamed that Venus was looming huge in the night sky — visible like the moon, but even bigger, maybe even 5 – 10x the size of the moon. It was a bit frightening (seemed awfully apocalyptic to see a planet so close to the earth) even as I justified its nearness in my dream by thinking, “It’s just in a closer orbit — totally normal.”

The punchline is that tonight the moon will be just about as close to the Earth as it ever gets in its orbit. Here’s an article on the event:

On 12 December, the Moon will enter its full phase, when its disc appears completely illuminated by the Sun, just four hours after reaching its closest point to Earth. This will make it 14% bigger and 30% brighter than other full Moons in 2008, though the difference will be hard to distinguish by eye (see the difference in the full Moon’s size in 2004).

It will be eight years before the Moon appears so big again. “This evening’s Moon is not only the largest for 2008 but also during the period 1993-2016,” says Anthony Ayiomamitis, who lives in Greece.

Just a coincidence, it still struck me as odd.

Our minds are funny.