Chance Wins

http://www.blog.sethrober…what-causes-it/

This bit by Seth Roberts reminds me all at once of Nassim Taleb’s work (Status quo, the fed turkey, works until it completely implodes), Seth Godin’s “This is Broken” idea, and the dinosaurs going extinct.

Who is flying this plane? Do they really know what they are doing? Does chance win over purpose?

Seth’s blog post is centered around the broken U.S. healthcare system — a system which suffers both from a burgeoning status quo as well as no means of introducing alternative solutions. In other words, it is entrenched.

And just like the dinos, when that entrenchment ultimately leads to social upheaval, the failure may be catastrophic.

A robust system must be dynamic.

“Their minds close and they turn around and go back to their lives.”

http://www.blog.sethrober…art-14-the-end/

I did a site search on Seth’s blog for “fructose” (On how to do these and improve your use of Google Search) as I was curious if Roberts had seen any negative impact to using fructose in his Shangri-La Diet. I wondered this because fructose is apparently sweeter than glucose, which per the SLD theory that flavor/calorie associations spur weight gain, might imply that ingesting fructose would actually cause weight gain (I was trying to tie this all together into Stephen at WHS’s recent post about sugar). Alas, apparently sugar-water using nothing but fructose works fine on SLD. I forgot that plain sugar water is tasteless regardless of the sugar used (I don’t understand how sugar is sweet, but sugar water is not, but it’s true)

Anyway, in a roundabout way I got to reading Roberts’ interview with Taubes (Only read the last two parts out of fourteen: need to find the time to read the rest!). It was at the end of this interview that Taubes made a fascinating comment about how people in the scientific community react to his research on insulin and carbohydrates. Specifically, these otherwise intelligent and reasoning folk tend to close their minds as soon as Taubes drops the “C word:” carbohydrates. One word shuts them down as they write off Taubes’ immense research by way of invoking the “Atkins diet” or any number of other “low-carb diets” that were all the rage a few years ago.

And I couldn’t help but think how this mental shutdown is what I’ve seen countless times with any person of religion — people who otherwise may agree with any number of points you make will completely shutdown on the invocation of certain words.

This is a fantastic example of rational people utterly failing to apply reason, and it is exemplified by scientists and people of faith, alike. Indeed, the common thread here is simply dogma. Interesting.

TAUBES I think that’s true, but there’s this contrary effect that happens. I said this in my lecture. The science I’m trying to get across can be accepted up until the point at which I say the the word carbohydrate, and then people shut down, and they think “Oh, it’s that Atkins stuff again.” Their minds close and they turn around and go back to their lives. Anyway, I look forward to seeing the interview and getting your book and reading it. I enjoyed this. Again, I like nothing better than talking about this stuff.

Seth Roberts and the Shangri-La Diet

I cite Seth Roberts’ blog a great deal over at Linked Down. Seth is a Psychology Professor at Berkeley and an avid self-experimenter. I’ve learned a great deal from subscribing to his blog.

For those who don’t know, Seth Roberts created the Shangri-La Diet, which is a diet centered around reducing the association between flavor and caloric load. I haven’t read the book, so this is an approximation of how it works, but the gist is that the more correlated taste is to caloric load, the greater hunger can be, the harder it will be to cut calories, and the higher your body’s set point for weight will be. “SLD” hacks this relationship via ingesting flavorless calories within certain windows of time. These flavorless calories reduce the brain’s association of high energy density and high flavor. Interestingly enough, the macronutrient source of the calories may be unimportant: you can do SLD with oil, sugar water (so long as it is flavorless), or nose-clipping while eating protein. If you’re skeptical about this diet, I suggest taking a trip over to the SLD Forums and be prepared to see plenty of evidence that SLD works.

Even as I have not tried SLD, it is a fascinating idea and it seems that anyone who is serious about better understanding why we gain weight and what regulates hunger and adiposity must take it seriously enough to figure out how it fits into the big picture of human health. Barring that gargantuan task, it’s at a minimum another way to try and hack weight loss if your current regiment isn’t cutting it for you.

I mention all of this because I stumbled on a 2008 interview between Roberts and Gary Taubes, author of Good Calories, Bad Calories, which I’ve blogged about exhaustively. What a great thing to find that two people I admire had a thoughtful discussion and, even better, said discussion has been made available to me?

Blogging, science and the internet FTW.

Back to trying to understand how SLD fits into the grand scheme of human physiology. An interesting comment was made at the bottom of Part 13 of Roberts’ Interview of Gary Taubes:

I’ve thought a lot about how consuming tasteless food could supress hunger. My favorite theory is that it is similar to what happens when an animal is hibernating. The “magical” appearance of calories fools your body into thinking it is living off its fat and then it actually does so.

This comment reminded me of how the metabolic pathways while fasted are the same as when we consume a diet of only fat and protein. One effect of low-carb diets is appetite suppression. Could the common theme here simply be that both SLD and low-carbohydrate diets and/or fasting act to “trick” our bodies into switching to a non-hungry state?

Obviously that can’t be the entire picture because insulin is the storage hormone that is unleashed by carbohydrate consumption (though less so with fructose).

This issue is worthy of further thought.

Natto: Another fermented food I probably should be eating

http://www.jafra.gr.jp/eng/sumi.html

Natto
How appetizing is this? Creative Commons License photo credit: jasja dekker

Prior to Seth Roberts mentioning it on his blog (here), I had never heard of the Japanese dish called “Natto,” which is a fermented soybean product. Apparently, it contains a great deal of Vitamin K2, is anti-bad-bacterial, and effectively lyses human thrombus. If you’re like me, that last bit probably made no sense to you, so below are some definitions until I paste liberally from an interview on Natto held with a Japanese expert on the food, Professor Hiroyuki Sumi, who has been nicknamed “Dr. Natto.”

  • Nattō – “A high protein food consisting of sticky, fermented whole soybeans cooked in Bacillus natto.”
  • lyse – “To dissolve or destroy.”
  • thrombus – “A clot within the cardiovascular system. It may occlude (block) the vessel or may be attached to the wall of the vessel without blocking the blood flow.”
  • fibrinolytic – “Fibrinolysis is the process wherein a fibrin clot, the product of coagulation, is broken down.”

The K2 angle on Natto is particularly fascinating, particularly in light of how expensive it is to supplement K2 via products like butter oil. I’ve been wondering in reading more into fermentation from sources like Seth Roberts when I would see a tie-in to Vitamin K2, which is produced by our own gut bacteria as noted below.

In an experiment conducted out of sheer curiosity, I found that natto contained a strong enzyme that lyses thrombus.

I am Japanese and regularly eat natto, so one day I took some natto to my laboratory. That was in 1980. I usually prepared thrombus in a laboratory dish and measured its strength by adding urokinase to it, but that day, I added natto instead. I found that natto contained a strong fibrinolytic enzyme, judging from the large area lysed. After coming back to Japan, I repeated various experiments, and first presented the results of my research in 1986. NHK and various newspapers reported my discovery of the enzyme named ’nattokinase ’,and before I knew it, I had become Dr. Natto. Originally, I was interested in fermentation. After I graduated from the Department of Fermentation Technology at Yamanashi University, I entered the Department of Medicine because I wanted to continue my study of enzymes further. In the field of fermentation, Japanese technology is the most advanced in the world. I think this is the field in which we achieve our most original results.

I studied more than 200 foods from all over the world, but none surpassed natto in terms of fibrinolytic activity.

――What are the functions of nattokinase and Vitamin K2, which are contained in natto?

Dr. Sumi: It is said that natto became a popular food in the Edo period, and that the voice of natto sellers was constantly heard in the city of Edo.Regarding the effects of natto,there are many anecdotes concerning its efficacy for stomachache, and flu, and for helping women give a birth. This is because natto has a high nutritive value and is easy for the body to absorb. In addition, natto has an antibacterial effect. In the old days, food poisoning was very common, and people used natto in order to prevent cholera, typhoid and dysentery.

Natto is highly antibacterial, and also contains di-picolinic acid, which suppresses O-157.

In a food dictionary of the Edo period, it is written that natto neutralizes poisons and stimulates the appetite.Neutralize poisons refers to an antibacterial effect. Recently, it has been found that natto contains di-picolinic acid, which suppresses O-157, and that natto has an antibiotic effect. Natto suppresses the growth of harmful bacteria while encouraging the growth of beneficial bacteria such as lactobacillus. The best-known component of natto is nattokinase, an enzyme that lyses thrombus. Recently, the Japanese diet has come to resemble the American one, and consequently, the incidence of thrombosis in Japan has increased. The incidence of thrombosis in the heart and brain is higher than that of cancer, if myocardial infarction and cerebral infarction are included in the total. Natto has attracted attention as a food that helps to prevent senile dementia, which is one type of thrombosis, because nattokinase lyses thrombus for a very long time when eaten directly instead of taken by injection.

Vitamin K2 in natto is essential for preventing osteoporosis.

Natto contains another useful component, named Vitamin K2. It is said that 60% of women over the age of 60 suffer from osteoporosis, which Vitamin K2 helps to prevent. In order to maintain healthy bones, a number of studies suggest that it is important to obtain Calcium and Vitamin D from milk. Recently, however, it was found that a protein named osteocalcin acts as a kind of glue that helps to incorporate Calcium into the bones, and that Vitamin K2 is necessary in order to produce this protein. Furthermore, according to the results of recent epidemiological research, the amount of Vitamin K2 in the body of people who suffer from osteoporosis is decreasing compared with that of healthy people.

Obtaining sufficient Vitamin K2 is not a problem for healthy people, because they have a colon bacillus that is constantly producing Vitamin K2 in the alimentary canal. However, when people become older, or take medicine containing antibiotics, this bacillus weakens and produces less Vitamin K2. It is becoming clear that Vitamin K2 produced by this bacterium is closely connected with the prevention of osteoporosis, and the Ministry of Health and Welfare has approved Vitamin K2 as a medicine for osteoporosis. Unlike natto, yeast, a lactobacillus, and Koji do not contain Vitamin K2 that comes from a bacterium. Bacillus natto is a unique bacterium throughout the world, and moreover people can ingest it in the raw. Therefore, natto is receiving considerable attention as the only food that contains Vitamin K2 from a bacterium.

Vitamin K2 has the chemical name menaquinone 7. At present, Vitamin K1, or menaquinone 4, is synthesized for use in the medicines approved by the Ministry of Health and Welfare. When the components of blood are analyzed, one vitamin that is found more often in healthy people than in osteoporotic people is menaquinone 7. A lack of menaquinone 7 causes osteoporosis. Because Bacillus natto produces menaquinone 7, eating natto helps to prevent osteoporosis. It is important to obtain the fundamental components of bones by consuming milk and Shiitake mushrooms, but Vitamin K2 is also necessary. Menaquinone 7 has only recently appeared in the analysis data of the Science and Technology agency, and samples are not on sale yet.

It is possible to obtain enough vitamin K2 from one packet (100 g) of natto.

One hundred grams of natto contains approximately 1,000μg of menaquinone 7. A normal person is supposed to consume 1μg per 1 kg of body weight each day, which means that a person of 60 kg should consume 60μg of menaquinone 7. Therefore, 10 g of natto supplies enough menaquinone for one day. If the colon bacillus is weakened, a packet of natto supplies a sufficient amount of menaquinone 7.

As a result of attempts to make natto more palatable, the amount of its effective components decreased.

Extremely undeveloped natto has been increasing as a result of attempts to make natto more palatable, especially for people in the Kansai area in Japan. Such natto has a weaker odor and is less sticky. When the US authorities occupied Japan in 1945, they prohibited the sale of natto because they thought that cholera and typhoid were often caused by such a rotten food. Since then, about three types of purely cultured bacillus have been used to make natto. As a result, natto became tastier and safer, but on the other hand, the amount of the anti-bacterial material, Vitamin K2, and nattokinase decreased. Comparing a 1936 report on the components of natto and its activity with current data, it is found that the anti-bacterial component has dramatically decreased.

The Internet is making traditional advertising obsolete [The truth prevails again?]

http://www.blog.sethrober…er-joes-update/

The cheap ability to publish offered by the Internet is incredibly powerful (I wrote at lengthad nauseam about this yesterday in my The Power of Blogging post). In my analysis on blogging, I honed in on the ability of blogging to prevent idea obscurity, encourage idea generation, and amplify the spreading of good ideas. Substitute the word “truth” for “good ideas” and I think Seth Roberts is after the same point, when he discusses how a homemade Trader Joe’s ad posted on YouTube became wildly popular because it tapped into the truth. It captured the widespread feelings Trader Joe’s shoppers have about the positive experience they associate with the grocery store.

You just can’t buy that kind of advertising.

Every publishing mechanism (Twitter, YouTube, Reddit, blogging) that is catching on over the Internet is powerful because it amplifies the ability for good ideas/truth to spread.

Seth’s point about “when science was young” reminds me of what I took from reading Bill Bryson’s A Short History of Nearly Everything; namely, that some of the greatest discoveries in science came at the hands of enthusiasts/hobbyists who were just following their own interests. The decentralization and ease of publishing the Internet provides is bringing that sort of incentive structure back. Corporate-cronies and information protectionistas best take heed.

Here is Roberts’ take. Note the tie-in for self-experimentation:

I think Carl’s commercial is very important as a glimpse of the future. Long ago, only the powerful could speak to a mass audience — and they couldn’t tell the truth, for fear of losing their power. Then cheap books came along. Instantly a much larger group of people could speak to a mass audience — and, having little to lose, they could tell the truth. The truth, being rare, was an advantage. When science was young and many scientists were amateurs — Darwin, Mendel — they could tell the truth. As science became a job, a source of income and status that you could lose, scientists lost the ability to say what they really thought. For example, David Healy lost a job because he told the truth about anti-depressants. Self-experimentation is a way around this problem because, as I’ve said, no matter how crazy my conclusions I can keep doing it. I don’t need a grant so I don’t need to worry about offending grant givers.

Bacteria, saliva, and overall health

http://www.cnn.com/2009/H…ref=mpstoryview

First, Seth Roberts blogs on Oral Health, Heart Disease, and Fermented Foods here:

http://www.blog.sethroberts.net/2009/03/12/oral-health-heart-disease-and-fermented-foods/

A relevant snippet:

Epidemiologic data have shown a statistical association between periodontal disease and coronary heart disease and stroke. In a meta-analysis, the odds ratio increase for CVD in persons with periodontal disease was almost 20%. Poor oral health also seems to be associated with all-cause mortality.

Emphasis added. As I blogged earlier, during my last trip to the dentist I was told my gums were in great shape, better than the previous visit — and the only intentional change since the previous visit was a huge increase (a factor of 50?) in how much fermented food I eat. So perhaps fermented foods improve oral health. A reason to suspect that fermented foods reduce heart disease is that Eskimos, with very low rates of heart disease, eat lots of fermented food. If both these ideas are true — fermented foods improve gum health and reduce heart disease — it would explain the observed correlation between gum disease and heart disease. …

The shift to a diet high in sugar and refined flours has usually happened at the same time as a shift away from traditional diets. In other words, the increase in sugar and flour wasn’t the only change. I suspect there was usually a great reduction in fermented foods at the same time. Maybe the reduction in fermented foods caused the trouble rather than the increase in sugar and flour. The reduction in fermented foods is almost always ignored – for example, by Weston Price and John Yudkin (author of Sweet and Dangerous).

Cross-posting here a comment I made on Seth Robert’s blog post:

I saw a potentially relevant article on saliva and bacteria in CNN recently:

http://www.cnn.com/2009/HEALTH/03/03/saliva.spit.survey/index.html?iref=mpstoryview

A quote:

Since people have different eating habits in different places, you might think an American’s saliva might look a lot different from, say, a South African’s. But a new study published in the journal Genome Research finds that bacteria in saliva may not be as related to environment and diet as you might think.

In fact, researchers found that the human salivary microbiome — that is, the community of bacteria in saliva — does not vary greatly between different geographic locations. That means your saliva is just as different from your neighbor’s as someone’s on the other side of the planet.

Americans in particular have a lot of amylase in their saliva because their diets are full of starch: chips, rice and baked potatoes. But the Pygmies of central Africa, for example, eat mostly game animals, honey and fruit. They have relatively little amylase in their saliva.

Dominy and colleagues found these differences at the genetic level, meaning natural selection has favored large quantities of amylase in populations with starchy diets.

But there is also evidence that amylase levels can rise and fall within an individual’s lifetime. A study on college students in Ghana, who typically eat a lot of meat at the university, found that students who had grown up eating traditional starchy Ghanaian home-cooked meals had lower levels of amylase after attending the school.

Finally, trying to get Stephan of WholeHealthSource hooked up with Seth Roberts as I’m willing to bet there might be some synergies in their research and experimentation on fermentation (particularly as examining the changing diets a la Weston Price’s research).

(H/T Nathan)

Kombucha Tea (Fermented Food)

http://www.blog.sethrober…#comment-275794

More from Seth Roberts in the self-experimentation with fermented foods (And satisfaction of umami/flavor cravings) comes discussion of using Kombucha Tea (a fermented tea) to test effects on overall health.

I’ve never had Kombucha tea, but apparently you can make it at home.

Anyone know how? As homemade fermented foods go, this sounds much more appealing to me than homemade yogurt.

4. My idea that we like umami tastes, sour tastes, and complex flavors so that we will eat more bacteria-laden food (which nowadays would be fermented food) is saying that we need plenty of these foods. Why else would evolution have tried so hard to make us eat them? The implication is they should be part of every diet, like Vitamin C. When someone deficient in any vitamin begins eating that vitamin, the deficiency symptoms go away very quickly, within a few weeks, usually. The changes are easy to notice. So the details of what Tucker observed – the speed and size of the improvements — support my general idea that there is a widespread deficiency here that can be easily fixed.

How to Eat Grains

http://wholehealthsource….eat-grains.html

Continuing the recent interest in fermentation (See discussion of Seth Roberts’ posts on Probiotics and Your Immune System and The Staggering Greatness of Homemade Yogurt) comes this post from Stephan at Whole Health Source discussing how to eat grains.

There are two ideas that seem to be repeatedly coming to the surface here:

  • Carbohydrates seem to be better for human consumption when fermented as fermentation reduces anti-nutrients and even introduces some new nutrition in the process.
  • Foods that don’t seem “paleo” at first blush maybe just need some fermentation, which is really just another way of saying they need to be pre-digested prior to eating.

Regarding that second point, our hunter/gatherer ancestors had little food storage tech. This has two implications in my mind:

  • Food is consumed fresh if at all possible, to the point of gorging. Our bodies have an amazing ability to store excess carbohydrate consumption efficiently as fat.
  • Food found but not readily consumed rots or ferments. Our bodies do well with this (Evolutionary luck or design?) by receiving immune system boosts from the introduction of bacteria, reducing toxins via fermentation and maximizing nutrient absorption.

Anyway, here is Stephan:

The second factor that’s often overlooked is food preparation techniques. These tribes did not eat their grains and legumes haphazardly! This is a factor that was overlooked by Dr. Price himself, but has been emphasized by Sally Fallon. Healthy grain-based African cultures typically soaked, ground and fermented their grains before cooking, creating a sour porridge that’s nutritionally superior to unfermented grains. The bran was removed from corn and millet during processing, if possible. Legumes were always soaked prior to cooking.

These traditional food processing techniques have a very important effect on grains and legumes that brings them closer in line with the “paleolithic” foods our bodies are designed to digest. They reduce or eliminate toxins such as lectins and tannins, greatly reduce anti-nutrients such as phytic acid and protease inhibitors, and improve vitamin content and amino acid profile. Fermentation is particularly effective in this regard. One has to wonder how long it took the first agriculturalists to discover fermentation, and whether poor food preparation techniques or the exclusion of animal foods could account for their poor health.

Probiotics and Your Immune System

http://www.blog.sethrober…-immune-system/

More from Seth Roberts on fermentation and bacteria, specifically with regards to probiotics:

My take is that our immune systems need a steady stream of foreign pathogens (e.g., bacteria) and pieces of pathogens (e.g., bacterial cell walls) to stay “awake”;. When your immune system is working properly you fight off all sorts of bacteria and viruses without noticing. When your immune system isn’t working properly it overreacts (allergies) and takes too long to react (infectious diseases). Weston Price found twelve communities eating traditional diets whose health was excellent. Their diets varied tremendously but one thing they had in common was daily consumption of fermented foods, including cheese, kefir, sauerkraut, and fermented fish. This supports Amy’s story right down to the dosage. If you don’t eat fermented foods, you might use hookworms, which excrete a steady stream of foreign substances into the blood. (Thanks, Tom.) Hookworms definitely reduce allergy symptoms; I don’t think anyone has asked if they reduce colds and other infections.

The hygiene hypothesis.

The Staggering Greatness of Homemade Yogurt

http://www.blog.sethrober…omemade-yogurt/

I’m not sure why I waited so long to subscribe to Seth Roberts, self-experimenter extraordinaire and creator of the Shangri-La Diet, but after seeing enough shared items of his (H/T Patri Friedman), I finally did. And so far, I’m thoroughly enjoying his typical thought-provoking blog posts.

Recently, he’s been discussing how ice chewing is a sign of iron deficiency. Why is there a relationship here? Ice crushing is similar to bone-crushing, and bone marrow is high in iron. In other words, we are evolutionarily programmed to want to chew bones when we are iron deficient. More from Seth on that topic.

Of course, chewing ice provides us with no iron! That’s a problem.

Similarly, we may have desire for certain tastes out of a need for a certain type of nutrition. Seth has been wondering if the desire for taste is really a manifestation of a need for bacteria, as fermented foods tend to be very nutritious thanks to the bacteria and the neutralization of the bad stuff in the foods fermented (I.e. fermented soy reduces the toxin phytate. Dairy fermentation reduces lactose content.).

So where does that leave Seth? Super-fermented (read: sour!), sour yogurt of course!

I’m not ready to try this one out as it sounds kinda gross and I’m just not into yogurt at this point. The non-photogenic comment by Seth at the end makes it not so appealing, too.

However, I’m saving this down for posterity:

I had made yogurt dozens of times. This time, however, I wanted to get as much bacteria as possible so I incubated it about 24 hours instead of about 6 hours. It came out far more sour (due to lactic acid) than ever before. But it wasn’t just really sour (like vinegar); it also had complexity of flavor, creaminess, and a pleasant consistency. It was more sour (tart and tangy are the conventional terms) than any yogurt I’ve ever had. I couldn’t eat a bowl of it; I had to eat it with other food. This may be why commercial yogurt is mild: So you will/can eat more of it at one time.

The yogurt I made is essentially a condiment, although it can be mixed with fruit. It improves almost anything: soup, meat, fish, fruit, string beans, scrambled eggs. (Because almost nothing we eat is sour and almost nothing we eat is creamy.) It is better than other common condiments, such as mustard and chutney, because of its creaminess. It is also far cheaper than other condiments. A small bottle of mustard might cost $3. The same volume of homemade yogurt would cost about 10 cents. (You might need twice or three times as much yogurt to get the same effect.) It is far easier to make than other condiments. And, above all, I suspect it is infinitely better for your health. Mustard has few bacteria. If you complexify and sour your food with mustard, you are essentially chewing ice.

Recipe. I took a gallon of whole milk, mixed it with 2 cups of powdered milk, heated it at about 200 degrees F. for 10-20 minutes (I’m unsure if this step is necessary), cooled it down to 130 degrees F., added 1/2 cup of starter (from other yogurt), and then incubated it in my oven at about 110 degrees F. for about a day. I divided the mixture into four glass containers. Although the lowest possible setting on the oven is “WARM”, which was too hot, the thermostat actually works at lower temperatures. I set it below WARM and used a room thermometer to adjust the setting so that the temperature was about 110 degrees. (The photo above is not mine, incidentally. My yogurt is no longer photogenic.)