peristaltor: (Orson "Approves")
Many, many years ago I noted that the hyper-sanitary paradigm of health, the mantra that Cleaner is Always Better, might be making us sicker. Specifically, researchers have been doing things that totally trigger the Icky! factor in us, notably administering feces to patients as a cure for their conditions.

I first heard about this on the Scientific American podcast Science Talk, which now seems to be transcripted. As journalist Mary McKenna explained back then on the topic of poop chute infusions to combat C diff:

It's better than any drug we have. And yet what's so interesting about it is that it works, just unquestionably works in a clinical sense—there is case series after case series that now shows this; a couple of dozen case series—but it doesn't work in a regulatory sense. It hasn't been approved by the FDA and because it hasn't been approved by the FDA, NIH can't figure out a way to fund further research, because feces are not any of the things that the FDA licenses. They're not a device, they're not a drug, they're not what we call a tissue, really—they're not something like a replacement joint or replacement tendon or the replacement lens of an eye. So they're caught in this kind of regulatory no man's land.

Well, that paradigm is happily changing, and fast!

SEATTLE — Conventional wisdom says it takes 15 years for a medical therapy, once proven safe and effective, to be widely accepted by the medical profession.

In the case of one particular treatment, however, a growing cadre of doctors and patients turned conventional wisdom on its head, enthusiastically adopting a procedure before the evidence was in — so enthusiastically, in fact, that the Food and Drug Administration was recently forced to rescind its restrictions.

The treatment, now widely employed against recurrent attacks by a nasty intestinal bug known as Clostridium difficile and tested on Crohn’s disease and colitis, is one you’ll likely never see advertised on TV: the fecal microbiota transplant, politely known as the FMT.

No more bowing to the Icky! Observation has trumped!
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Remember this guy?

I used him recently to give a face to my rant about how cows are not to blame for global warming, no matter what the vegan jihadists claim. I'll accept some criticism from activists bent on reducing or eliminating meat from our human diet; yes, there is a lot of disease being spread in meat and milk, much of it harmful. Head over to the Centers for Disease Control and a list of Escherichia coli outbreaks over the last 5 years alone should give you a reason to pause before biting that burger.

Ah, but here's a question: Lots of us eat the meat brought from the wild during and after hunting season. Deer, elk, moose; it's all pretty darned tasty, and those wild critters are similar to cows. Why do our domestic cows seem to produce more disease-bearing meat than those beasts grazing in the wild? The answer really, really sucks. )

X-Posted to [ profile] talk_politics.
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Many years ago, I heard a tidbit passed as fact that sounded about as full of, well, bullshit as anything I'd heard in my life. Just google "cows as methane sources" and see the citations of this phenomenon pop up. Don't get me wrong; I'm not anti-science, and the scientists who have done these studies need to know that I mean them no harm. Their data is valuable, but only if it is applied in ways that don't get hijacked by philosophical forces on a crusade against the cow itself.

Mooo-ve to the rant proper! )

X-posted to [ profile] talk_politics.
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PZ Myers railed today against the anti-choice league, and made me laugh:

The argument is about whether that living thing is a person requiring extensive legal and moral protection, and it’s entirely clear that “life” is not a sufficient criterion, or people would be lobbying for the protection of turds and tonsils.

Huh, huh. He said "turds."

Yup. I'm forever 14.
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Are the intestinal flora that have evolved to symbiotically keep us healthy going extinct?

The human body has some 10 trillion human cells — but 10 times that number of microbial cells. So what happens when such an important part of our bodies goes missing?

With rapid changes in sanitation, medicine and lifestyle in the past century, some of these indigenous species are facing decline, displacement and possibly even extinction. In many of the world's larger ecosystems, scientists can predict what might happen when one of the central species is lost, but in the human microbial environment — which is still largely uncharacterized — most of these rapid changes are not yet understood. "This is the next frontier and has real significance for human health, public health and medicine," says Betsy Foxman, a professor of epidemiology at the University of Michigan (U.M.) School of Public Health in Ann Arbor.

Yes, this is the hygiene hypothesis yet again. Love the hundred trillion happy campers in your body. Put down the stinky hand sanitizer. Get dirty. Live, and live longer.
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I'll first make an up-front declaration of bias: I hate the anti-vaccination crowd.

For those of you unfamiliar with actress, comedianne and centerfold model Jenny McCarthy's hobbies, she has been probably the most visible and outspoken celebrity to endorse the vile lies that childhood vaccines, especially those containing mercury-based preservatives like Thimerisol, cause autism.

I call her positions on vaccine "vile lies" for good reason: At least four peer-reviewed studies have failed to show a connection. That doesn't stop folks -- including celebs like McCarthy and her boyfriend Jim Carrey, Robert Kennedy, Jr., Bill Mahr and a raft of others -- from flogging the Thimerisol horse corpse.

Ms. McCarthy, of course, has reason to be angry at autism; her son suffers from the condition. In this case, though, she has gone completely off the deep end attacking vaccines, even going so far as to suggest that the inevitable preventable deaths that follow people refusing to immunize their own children are a price worth paying to avoid an autism connection that (once again) has been debunked.

Let's really add to evidence of her dissonance. Though she has on more than one occasion likened vaccines to "poison," take a gander at what she had to say about one of the most deadly poisons known to man:

“I love Botox, I absolutely love it. I get it minimally so I can still move my face. But I really do think it’s a savior.”

Anyhoo, I'm not posting this just to rant. I was responding to [ profile] alobar the other day. I think the Hygienic Hypothesis might be a more likely culprit, and said so. He asked a good question: Why now? Why are we facing an explosion of autism? )

Edit: Link and floppy verbiage corrected October 8, 2009.
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I'm stoked. Radiolab has covered the parasite thing! They did a darn fine job, too, interviewing (among others) Carl Zimmer from The Loom, one of my fave blogs and author of the definitive introduction to parasitism, Parasite Rex. I've convinced two doctors and my own mother to read that book.

They also interviewed David Pritchard, someone I mentioned here, who cured own his allergies with a dose of worms.

There was also a guy who infected himself and thus shed his allergies, but who is going one step further; he's selling his worms to anyone who wants them. I'm sick of sneezing, sick of drugs which, if strong enough to dampen the sneezes, make it illegal for me to drive and thus work.

I'm on board with the Hygenic Hypothesis. I might wait until spring when the fun usually begins, but I'm ready. I am so ready.

Worm me.

Addendum, some minutes later: Here's Jasper Lawrence's website. He's the one who's selling the fruits of his butt. He also demonstrates the value of associating any business with a hot chick in pearls and furs.
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So, years ago The Wife and I win a new paper shredder at a picnic raffle, a "cross cut" shredder. It was much nicer than the old $10 special, but cut differently; instead of just slicing the paper into full-length ribbons, it both ribboned the paper and cut the ribbons lengthwise every few inches. I further noticed something on the recycling bin -- no cross cut paper allowed. Long cut, yes; but cross cut paper fibers, I read, were too small, on average, to be of much use when the paper is re-pulped, mixed and pressed.

So I thought of this the other night during one of The Wife's commercial TV bouts when some product or another comes out with the promise of "fiber." Thing is, they showed the fiber being added to the product (a clear beverage, IIRC) with a spoon. Fine, seemingly granulated stuff hit the surface of the product and was stirred into the mix only to disappear. No visible strands!

Ah, but . . . years ago, I was told the benefit of fiber in one's diet was biomechanical, not chemical. The long fibers in fibrous foods kept their length, more or less, through the digestive process. Imagine the intestines. Peristalsis squeezes food downwards like fingers squeezing a toothpaste tube. Many foods, especially rich, doughy foods like cheeses and breads, tend to both stick together and stretch, thus confounding the peristaltic process. Blobs of these foods stretch under peristalsis only to rebound when pressure relaxes, at least until the foods chemically break down. Extreme cases can cause constipation.

One therefore had to eat "roughage," as it was called back then by folks like my parents and grandparents. Think of bits of hempen rope added to the intestinal Silly Putty that used to be a cheese pizza. The fibers don't stretch. When mixed with the pizza-esque goo, that added structural cohesion forms globs of mixed digesting foods that don't stretch and rebound, and thus do move along when the rings of intestinal muscle squeeze them on down the line.

But what good would tiny bits of non-stretchy foodstuff be? Uninterrupted lengths make a rope; little chunks make a mess. Don't believe me? Try tying a bundle using string cut into 1" bits.

Such chopped fibrous material would, at best, simply mix with the dough and mozarella. It would be like adding sanding grit to taffy, creating an infinitely stretchy blockage-in-the-making with a sandpaper surface.

So what's going on?

I suspect the FDA has allowed use of "fiber" as a beneficial additive without considering the minimum length of any given fiber needed for digestive efficacy. After all, most truly digestive fiber comes from natural sources -- greens, roughly-cut whole grains and brans -- all with random (but mostly longer) lengths. Without being able to quantify those lengths, there must be no body of peer-reviewed medical research showing any quantifiable efficacious qualities (or lack thereof). Therefore, that same fiber that helps truly move the poop train along can be legally cut into useless lengths -- but far smoother, far more tasty and digestible lengths -- and added to foods legally allowed to tout their "Fiber!" as a beneficial supplement.

Then again, I'm not a doctor, medical researcher, nutritionist, or anything professional or medically trained who can render a decision. I'm just some guy who thinks enough about peristalsis to name his LJ handle (and most of his Diablo characters) after the snake-squeeze of digestion. Anyone know if this notion is in the medical reality ballpark or not? [ profile] alobar, got your ears on?
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Today I need to rant about what an abysmal direction I feel our society is going, specifically when it comes to how we interact with each other and our environment. The "with each other" is pretty easy to codify. Just watch the telly.

A woman wanders through her home at night. A noise from downstairs startles her. She runs up the stairs and hits the panic button, alerting the alarm company. A siren sounds, scaring the prowler in the low-budget balaclava ninja outfit. He takes flight through the window he just smashed and escapes. Though panicked, the woman is safe because of that alarm and the service the company provides. A blanket of 1s and 0s surround the house like a digital shield against intrusion.

Since 9/11, I've noticed several commercials like this one with a simple message: There are people out to get us. We need to protect ourselves against them.

While I cannot disagree that there are indeed people who break into homes and cars for personal gain, how much of a threat does this really pose to the average person? Does it justify the expense this alarm service no doubt incurs?

That's people. It gets much worse. Now our fears of intrusion are getting focused on smaller and smaller critters. )
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I started writing the Deist Miasma series with high hopes, but little else. I was missing something, a crucial piece of evidence (as opposed to suspicion) that may have finally surfaced. It's a preliminary study that requires some expansion, but it reinforced the niggling thoughts that started this series enough to motivate me to finish it. Onward, interested parties! )
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About a year ago I posted about a link between intestinal auto-immune disease and worms. Turns out some diseases just disappear if you have worms in your gut. Really.

Well, David Corcoran of the New York Times Science Podcast Science Times just interviewed Dr. David Pritchard about his use of intestinal hookworms to treat hay fever. That's right, worms in your tummy might just suppress your body's overreaction to pollen and dander:

“The allergic response evolved to help expel parasites, and we think the worms have found a way of switching off the immune system in order to survive,” he said. “That’s why infected people have fewer allergic symptoms.”

To test his theory, and to see whether he can translate it into therapeutic pay dirt, Dr. Pritchard is recruiting clinical trial participants willing to be infected with 10 hookworms each in hopes of banishing their allergies and asthma.

Never one to sidestep his own experimental cures, Dr. Pritchard initially used himself as a subject to secure approval from the National Health Services ethics committee in Britain.

Though he has just finished Phase I of his clinical trials and moving on to Phase II, he is insistent that people wait for his research to run its course before more of them do what many have started doing -- traveling to Tijuana to buy and ingest the worms.

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My Wife is sick.

Don't worry. I'm not asking anyone for ASCII hugs or good thoughts or prayers or any of that superstitious garbage. If it makes you feel better, please, by all means, think yourself a raft of good thoughts and float it down the aether. What will do both The Wife and I a world of good, though, would be for someone to buckle down and figure out why she has been sick for all these years.

And here's the reason for this post: I think I might have figured out at least one part of the mystery on my own. )
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Once again, I'm going to tout my new favorite book, Parasite Rex from the author of my new favorite science blog, The Loom. It wasn't the writing that got me (though that was good), or the science (most readable). . . it was the content.

Dear Readers, parasites are far more than mere pests.

They are a part of human life. They may, in fact, be a necessary part of human life.

Meaning, when they are removed from human life, bad things may happen. )
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Last July, I attempted to take Stephen Colbert to task for some subliminal suggestions in one of his pieces.

He has so far ignored me.

Last month, I stumbled upon a possible and disturbing origin for the caduceus of Asklepius in Carl Zimmer's Parasite Rex:

The quivering strings of flesh . . . now known as guinea worms . . . couldn't be yanked out at one go, since they would snap in two and the remnant inside the body would die and cause a fatal infection. The universal cure for guinea worm was to rest for a week, slowly winding the worm turn by turn onto a stick to keep it alive until it had crawled free. Someone figured out this cure, someone forgotten now for perhaps thousands of years. But it may be that that person's invention was remembered in (today's) symbol of medicine. . . . (Zimmer, Parasite Rex, Touchstone, 2000, p. 2.)

That got me to thinking. The old caduceus, with the twining serpents, was often found in medical books, but referred to the Hermetic arts of medicine. Could there be a parasitic connection?

Intestinal tapeworms, for example, sometimes grow to 60 feet, and rarely dwell alone. Perhaps purveyors of efficacious herbs used two serpents as a symbol to indicate an infestation. Rex cites the right spice in abundance as a convenient way to flush such nuissances from the bowels.

Back to Dracunculus medinensis, that nasty guinea worm: Those easily grossed out probably should avoid seeing guinea worms extracted in color. )

World Health Organization
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I fully intend to send this to him, once I figure out his address.

Dear Mr. Colbert,

I am concerned by one of your piece regarding marriage to snakes. The logic of your argument and the precision of your presentation had me convinced -- up until you said the lady wife snake would be "wrapped around your healing staff like a caduceus," simultaneously showing a caduceus image in the background.

As everyone knows Asklepius, deified as the Greek god of medicine, carried the healing staff. However, your background image showed not the proper Asklepius caduceus (bearing one snake on a simple staff), but a winged staff with two snakes.

The winged staff, as everyone knows, represents Mercury, the messenger of the gods; the two snakes clearly denotes those following Hermes, god attributed to the hermetic arts. Though for centuries confusion as to the accurate symbol existed, this confusion has been well cleared. Heck in a handbasket, Stephen, the new AMA symbol adequately reveals this.

A simple error? Something you could blame (pardon the pun) on your staff? I very much doubt it. Your investigative research thus far shows a mind finely tuned to detect such trivial minutea.

I believe you showed that "incorrect" staff intentionally. By including the wings of Mercury, you intended the two staff-twining snakes send a message; legalize herpetological polygamy now.

I find that idea offensive. Clearly God intended man to marry only one snake at a time!

Once your propoganda becomes known, your subtle slippery-slope polygamous plea will earn you a proper tongue lashing -- and not the good kind. Mark my words: the jaws through which the lashing tongues inflict their wrath will remain fixedly hinged.

Concerned. . . .

If anyone out there can find an address to which I might send the letter, I would be grateful. Stephen needs to read this!

Update July 15

I found his address through Blue Gal:

Stephen Colbert
c/o Comedy Central
1775 Broadway
New York, NY 10019

It shall go out in today's mail.


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