Friday, September 22, 2006


There is a very good reason the Mormon crickets of western North America keep advancing, like a well-rehearsed marching band, across the landscape. These crop-eating insects are driven by a need to consume a fixed amount of protein. And the best source is the cricket in front of them. "Stop, and you get eaten," says Professor Stephen Simpson, a Federation Fellow at the University of Sydney. Cannibalistic crickets may appear to have little to do with the world's obesity epidemic. But Simpson's research on these pests, as well as on locusts, cockroaches, rats, minks - and human volunteers kept in a Swiss chalet for almost a week - suggests people have a similar need for protein.

Ballooning waistlines are the result of consuming too much low-protein, high-energy, processed foods in a bid to get our daily dose, he says. Simpson's research on caterpillars, on the other hand, shows that today's high-fat, high-carbohydrate diet may not always make us overweight. Our species could eventually evolve, like the caterpillars in the lab, to become less prone to obesity. This would occur if those with a propensity for stacking on the kilograms cannot reproduce or they have less healthy children, while the lean survive to pass on their skinniness genes.

Signs of this are emerging. Children are developing type 2 diabetes. Overweight women are having difficulty conceiving. "For the first time we are seeing obesity-related health problems affecting significant numbers of reproductive aged and pre-reproductive aged humans," Simpson says. Fat people now outnumber the world's starving. Studying why insects, with brains the size of a pinhead, are better than humans at balancing their food intake has given Simpson a fresh perspective on the issue.

He hit on the importance of protein after finding that insects given a diet low in protein but high in carbohydrates gorged themselves until they reached their protein target. With colleague Professor David Raubenheimer, of the University of Auckland, he devised an experiment to find out if humans did the same. "We incarcerated 10 people in a chalet for six days." For the first two days they could eat what they wanted from a buffet. For the next two days, one group was restricted to high-protein foods, such as chicken and meat, the other to fatty, sugary, low-protein foods, such as croissants. The first group consumed exactly the same amount of protein as on the first two days. "The second group went way off the mark and just kept on eating until eventually, through their over-consumption of carbohydrate-rich foods, they managed to fill their protein intake."

Source. For more on the wicked Atkins, see here.

Coffee 'doesn't deserve bad rap'

Bad for the heart, heavy on the stomach and even cancer-causing - coffee has been the target of years of negative press, but scientists now say many of those criticisms are unfair. Not only are some health fears misguided but coffee can actually reduce the chances of developing illnesses such as Parkinson's disease or diabetes, a meeting of the International Association on Coffee Science was told in Montpellier, France. Up to six mugs of the beloved pick-me-up beverage a day will not in fact lead to heart or digestive damage in a healthy person, experts say.

The myriad misunderstandings about coffee stem from the fact that for nearly two centuries, medical studies about it have been confined to the effects produced by a key component - caffeine. "For a long time research has been too simplistic, by largely being centred on just caffeine, while coffee is an extremely complex drink," said Astrid Nehlig, a leading French specialist on the link between coffee and health.

The drink's benefits far surpass the lift it brings to the morning routine of its devotees, experts believe. Coffee contains chlorogenic acids and melanoids which trap so-called free radicals, or atomic particles which damage DNA, and are also powerful antioxidants, involved in the prevention of cellular damage. Coffee can also cut the risks of cirrhosis by up to 80 per cent, according to Carlo La Vecchia, of the Milan-based Mario Negri Institute for Pharmacological Research.

Bertil Fredholm, of Stockholm's Karolinska Institute, highlighted at the conference,which wraps up today, "strong epidemiological evidence" that coffee consumption can prevent Parkinson's disease in men. And diabetes expert Jaakko Tuomilehto, from Helsinki University, said the risk of type 2 diabetes, linked to poor eating habits and a lack of exercise, can be halved by drinking five to six cups of coffee daily. Indeed, 10 cups a day - nothing unusual in Finland which tops the world's coffee consumer list - can cut the risk by 80 per cent. Coffee is more efficient than fruit and vegetables in preventing the oxidation of DNA, the source of a number of serious illnesses, especially cancers, notes Siegfried Knasmueller of the Medical University of Vienna.

But, at the same time, coffee harbours a number of potentially carcinogenic substances. US toxicology consultant James Coughlin has recorded about 30 such substances, though no study has so far established a definitive link between coffee and cancer. While research has tended to measure coffee consumption, it has been unable to distinguish what kind of coffee is being drunk, or, often, how it is taken - with or without sugar, milk, or even caffeine. Most of the studies presented here were based on an American-style cup of coffee, corresponding to trends in northern Europe and the United States, with 600 millilitres a day considered a reasonable amount.

Epidemiologist Cuno Uiterwaal, of the University Medical Centre of Utrecht, has studied the risk of heart attacks in coffee-drinkers and believes that based on current knowledge, a heavy consumer can safely continue to indulge. But he is less willing to suggest a recommended amount. "It's always very difficult to translate observational results into medical advice," he says.


WARNING: Living can increase the risk of cancer

With the latest calls by the Salvation Army to label another one of life's little pleasures with a grim caveat, perhaps it's time we just accepted this fact. Then I suggest we all have a quiet drink and get on with enjoying life. Because while I generally consider the Salvos to be a top bunch, on their latest campaign, I wish they'd just put a cork in it. They have called for warning labels on alcohol because, according to a study they've done, more than 60 per cent of Australians didn't know that drinking can increase the chances of breast, liver and larynx cancers. At the risk of proving their point, since when?

The last thing I remember reading about alcohol was that the odd glass or two could lower the risk of dementia. There was another report which said it could lower the risk of developing heart disease. Or something like that. Their call for the warnings comes as part of their latest alcohol awareness campaign, which also targets binge drinking and other forms of alcohol abuse. It has jumped on the findings of the World Cancer Research Fund that show even low levels of alcohol consumption can increase the risk of breast cancer and colorectal cancer.

The Salvation Army says about 3000 people die each year through excessive drinking and an estimated 65,000 people are hospitalised each year because of alcohol abuse. Alcohol is also a factor in about one in six fatal car crashes and it fuels violent crime. But that's alcohol abuse, not use, and it's hardly cause for a constant cancer scare every time, on those rare occasions, when I reach for a cold one.

The Australian Medical Association, while supporting the Salvation Army's calls to a degree, has no formal position on the connection between alcohol and cancer. The Cancer Council NSW recommends that to reduce the risk of cancer, avoid or limit alcohol consumption. Hardly a deafening condemnation from either body about the demon drink. So until there's a unanimous verdict, I'd like my cheeky chardies fear-free, thanks all the same. I've already reluctantly given up two of my favourite pastimes thanks to doomsaying medicos: Smoking and endless hours of sunbaking - which, when carried out simultaneously, would induce a state of bliss - are, sadly, habits of the past. I've been convinced that although both of those occupations are thoroughly enjoyable, even a small amount of either can give you cancer. Growing old also increases the risk of getting cancer, yet no one seems to be advising against that



Just some problems with the "Obesity" war:

1). It tries to impose behavior change on everybody -- when most of those targeted are not obese and hence have no reason to change their behaviour. It is a form of punishing the innocent and the guilty alike. (It is also typical of Leftist thinking: Scorning the individual and capable of dealing with large groups only).

2). The longevity research all leads to the conclusion that it is people of MIDDLING weight who live longest -- not slim people. So the "epidemic" of obesity is in fact largely an "epidemic" of living longer.

3). It is total calorie intake that makes you fat -- not where you get your calories. Policies that attack only the source of the calories (e.g. "junk food") without addressing total calorie intake are hence pissing into the wind. People involuntarily deprived of their preferred calorie intake from one source are highly likely to seek and find their calories elsewhere.

4). So-called junk food is perfectly nutritious. A big Mac meal comprises meat, bread, salad and potatoes -- which is a mainstream Western diet. If that is bad then we are all in big trouble.

5). Food warriors demonize salt and fat. But we need a daily salt intake to counter salt-loss through perspiration and the research shows that people on salt-restricted diets die SOONER. And Eskimos eat huge amounts of fat with no apparent ill-effects. And the average home-cooked roast dinner has LOTS of fat. Will we ban roast dinners?

6). The foods restricted are often no more calorific than those permitted -- such as milk and fruit-juice drinks.

7). Tendency to weight is mostly genetic and is therefore not readily susceptible to voluntary behaviour change.


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