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High fructose corn syrup makes you fat

This well designed and well executed study provides rather conclusive proof that High Fructose Corn Syrup, the sweetener most commonly used in North America, makes you gain weight in a way not explained by calories alone. These rats gained more weight on HFCS compared to a sucrose (regular sugar) diet even though they were fed the same calories. The effect was seen in the short term and in the long term, and abdominal fat increased the most. Gut fat, if you did not know is related to the infamous metabolic syndrome, causing diabetes, hypertension, coronary disease, etc.

High-fructose corn syrup (HFCS) accounts for as much as 40% of caloric sweeteners used in the United States. Some studies have shown that short-term access to HFCS can cause increased body weight, but the findings are mixed. The current study examined both short- and long-term effects of HFCS on body weight, body fat, and circulating triglycerides. In Experiment 1, male Sprague–Dawley rats were maintained for short term (8 weeks) on (1) 12 h/day of 8% HFCS, (2) 12 h/day 10% sucrose, (3) 24 h/day HFCS, all with ad libitum rodent chow, or (4) ad libitum chow alone. Rats with 12-h access to HFCS gained significantly more body weight than animals given equal access to 10% sucrose, even though they consumed the same number of total calories, but fewer calories from HFCS than sucrose. In Experiment 2, the long-term effects of HFCS on body weight and obesogenic parameters, as well as gender differences, were explored. Over the course of 6 or 7 months, both male and female rats with access to HFCS gained significantly more body weight than control groups. This increase in body weight with HFCS was accompanied by an increase in adipose fat, notably in the abdominal region, and elevated circulating triglyceride levels. Translated to humans, these results suggest that excessive consumption of HFCS may contribute to the incidence of obesity.

Miriam E. Bocarsly, Elyse S. Powell, Nicole M. Avena, Bartley G. Hoebel. High-fructose corn syrup causes characteristic of obesity in rats: Increased body weight, body fat and triglyceride levels. Pharmacology Biochemistry and Behavior, 2010; DOI: 10.1016/j.pbb.2010.02.012

For a more layman friendly summary of the article, read the sciencedaily release.

Do reconsider your food habits to avoid HFCS. Note that this whole corn syrup boondongle is made possible by the US government’s insistence on providing billion dollar subsidies to its farmers to grow corn while imposing tariffs on cane sugar from the tropics to make it less attractive. Free trade, my A$$.

Thanks to Tom Laskawy at grist for the blog post.


Sugar Pills, now more effective!

Well, all sugar is not bad for you. Apparently, when given to you in pill form by someone wearing a white coat with a pleasant demeanour, it can cure all kinds of ills.

It’s not that the old meds are getting weaker, drug developers say. It's as if the placebo effect is somehow getting stronger.The fact that an increasing number of medications are unable to beat sugar pills has thrown the industry into crisis. The stakes could hardly be higher. In today's economy, the fate of a long-established company can hang on the outcome of a handful of tests.

Via Wired

An interesting article that takes the reader through a recent history of placebos, why they seem to work better now than they used to, and tangentially, why the competitive research paradigm of the pharmaceutical industry delayed recognition, and continues to delay possible fixes and therapies.

A few things about the placebo effect:

  1. There appears to be a physiological and neurological basis to the effect, something that can actually be turned off by deactivating the body’s natural production of opioids.
  2. This effect is triggered by various patient stimuli, including exposure to advertising, faith in the medicine, doctor bedside manner, etc. It appears that for minor ailments, these effects could be as strong as the medication prescribed.
  3. It is not short lived, the effects can linger well after consumption of sugar pills.
  4. Despite all this, the article states that we are no closer to finding the most appropriate way to administer placebos (Hmm, or are we? Read on!).

Pharmaceutical companies conduct hundreds of clinical trials every year. They are not required to publish them in most countries, so negative results, failures, etc. which reflect badly on the company’s stock price are routinely hushed up. This means that the mounds of data that show tested drugs as no better than placebo are not accessible for research. This is one of the greatest drawbacks of competitive research paradigms, the lack of cooperation, the inefficiency that comes from duplication of negative results, and the lack of statistical power that comes from inability to use all the data available. In a milieu where knowledge = stock price, this is the logical approach, but something to note next time an Ayn Rand acolyte comes bleating to you about the beauty and perfection of the market. You might ask “What are some options to the current patent exclusivity driven regime”? My favourite economist Dean Baker of the Center for Economics and Policy Research has written extensively about the drug development process and alternatives in his excellent (and free to download) book The Conservative Nanny State, I suggest reading at least the chapter on drug development and patents!

Anyway, back to placebos, what to do? How to administer sugar pills in a quasi-official setting for minor ailments. It’s almost like you need a parallel paradigm of medicine that dispenses sugar pills that did not have to go through double blind randomised clinical trials. it would help if this paradigm uses vaguely scientific terminology while doing very little harm. It would work in conjunction with the conventional approach, not in competition so there is little danger of people taking sugar pills for malaria!

I give you, Homeopathy!!! This blog(ger) is no stranger to this wonderful form of medicine, involving concepts such as the memory of water, similars, dilution, etc. When I wrote about homeopathy last year, it was more in relation to the psychological aspects of my experience with it. I (and I assume you did not click through to read!) wrote about my parents’ great and enduring relationship with their homeopath, and the benefits it brought them. Back in India this time around, it was suggested that I take some homeopathy for a cold I was developing, which I did (yum, sugar!). The cold went away in a few days 🙂 There was some swine flu medicine being passed around as well (I did not partake), which worked too, nobody at home got swine flu 🙂

So, how to make it work? It already works in India because belief in the efficacy of homeopathy is well established. As long as the homeopath is well qualified in basic diagnosis, and crucially, knows when to punt the patient into conventional therapy, the system works to a certain extent. But what about a society with no such foundation? Do you go to a clinic with both an allopath and a homeopath, and if your ailment is one where placebo works about as well, let the homeopath make some well diluted similars for you to consume? How to settle turf wars? Would it be better for the allopath to feign develop an expertise in homeopathy and make that work for her in treating the patient? Would they apply the most important lessons in homeopathic treatment, Listen, Empathise, Soothe?

I don’t know. It is not my nature to believe in sugar pills, faith, or advertising. So it is hard for me to say what would work. But given that sugar pills work well, it is vital for society to find a way.


Soda = Fat

Sodat Fat

From The New York Department of Health

Try this experiment at home: Take two and a half cups of water, add 15-20 teaspoons of sugar and stir to dissolve. If you haven’t broken your wrist with all this action, take a sip or two, or gulp it down. No worries, you’ve just had all the nutrition in a typical soda!

That’s the message the NY Department of health is sending out with its new PR campaign against soda. Pretty gross and effective, I must say, though I would go one further and put it on every label of Coke, now wouldn’t that be nice!


Smoking ban for N.C. Bars and Restaurants

The bill approved Wednesday falls short of how it began: a total and sweeping ban on smoking in all public places. But the House's original bill left a wide loophole for bars, an exemption that worried restaurant owners who feared bars would steal late-night customers.

via House approves smoking ban for N.C. – Politics – News & Observer.

The bill (soon to become law) still contains the giant “private club” loophole I had mentioned earlier, so, 1.5 cheers. And strange exemption for cigar bars (where smoke is emitted), but not for hookah bars (where water filters quite a bit of the smoke).

Critically, as Laura Leslie pointed out, the law will allow local health officials to go above and beyond state law. So, a floor was established, not a ceiling, which is good. They were previously forbidden to enact any smoking bans. Now Chapel Hill/Carrboro can do what it has been wanting to do for years and finally kill smoking in all public places.