Saturday, October 31, 2015

Frankenfurter Is 40

Has it really been 40 years?  Say it isn't so!  Get your spooky on, all you old people! Here's a little Rocky Horror Picture Show to warm up your Halloween...

Are You Gonna Eat That?

Is bacon really as bad for you as cigarettes? Will coffee give you a heart attack? Do wheat-eaters suffer “brain fog”? BBC Future examines the foods, the fears – and the facts.   

BBC  By David Robson  30 October 2015 

Food was once seen as a source of sustenance and pleasure. Today, the dinner table can instead begin to feel like a minefield. Is the bacon on your plate culinary asbestos, and will the wheat in your toast give you “grain brain”? Even the bubbles of gas in your fizzy drinks have been considered a hazard.
Worse still, the advice changes continually.  As TV-cook Nigella Lawson recently put it: “You can guarantee that what people think will be good for you this year, they won’t next year.”

This may be somewhat inevitable: evidence-based health advice should be constantly updated as new studies explore the nuances of what we eat and the effects the meals have on our bodies. But when the media (and ill-informed health gurus) exaggerate the results of a study without providing the context, it can lead to unnecessary fears that may, ironically, push you towards less healthy choices.

We’ve tried to cut through the confusion by weighing up all the available evidence to date. You may be pleased to learn that many of your favourite foods are not the ticking time bomb you have been led to believe.

The WHO warns against bacon, but how worried should you be? (Wendy/Flickr/CC BY-ND 2.0)

The food: Bacon  The fear: Processed meats are as dangerous as cigarettes.

The facts: While the World Health Organisation has announced overwhelming evidence that bacon (and other kinds of processed meat) can contribute to colorectal cancer, the real dangers are not quite as worrying as the subsequent headlines would have us believe.

As Cancer Research UK points out in an astute blog, colorectal cancer is itself relatively rare. If you eat barely any meat, there is a 5.6% risk of developing the disease over your lifetime; even if you pig out on bacon and ham every day, it only rises to about 6.6%. In other words, for every 100 people who stop eating bacon, only one will have avoided cancer. To put that in perspective, consider the figures for tobacco: for every 100 smokers who give up, 10-15 lives may be saved. The two are hardly comparable.

Even so, you may want to reconsider a 20-rashers-a-day habit. The UK government advises that an average of 70g a day is still healthy – about three rashers, or two sausages.

In a nutshell? The odd English breakfast may not do you as much good as a bowl of granola – but nor is it gastronomic asbestos.

Should you avoid a daily cup? (Guwash999/Flickr/CC BY 2.0)

The food: Coffee The fear: Our caffeine addiction will drive us to a heart attack.

The facts: There is very little evidence that a cup of Joe will send you to an early grave; in fact, the opposite may be true. In 2012, the New England Journal of Medicine reported on the health of 400,000 Americans over the course of 13 years. The scientists found that people who drank between three and six cups a day were around 10% less likely to die during the 13-year period, with lower rates of heart disease, stroke, diabetes and infections. Considering a string of studies examining the health of more than a million individuals, a review in 2014 painted a similar picture: people who drank four cups a day were around 16% less likely to die at any one time.

Note that these were only observational studies. Although they tried to account for other factors, there’s no way of knowing if the coffee itself was protecting the heart, or if there’s some other, hidden, explanation. Perhaps healthier people are just more likely to be drawn to coffee. But as “addictions” go, it’s pretty harmless.

In a nutshell? It’s probably not the elixir of life that some claim, but based on this evidence, you can at least savour that morning espresso with impunity.

 We've been eating wheat for 10,000 years (Glory Foods/Flickr/CC BY 2.0)

The food: Wheat  The fear:  So-called “grain brain” could contribute to Alzheimer’s disease.

The facts: First things first: a very small number of people – around 1% of the population – do have a genuine gluten allergy known as celiac disease, that can damage their intestines and lead to malnutrition. Others may not suffer from celiac disease, but they may instead be “sensitive” to wheat; although they don’t suffer symptoms if they only eat a small amount, they may experience some discomfort if they eat too much bread.

Explanations for this “non-celiac gluten sensitivity” are controversial: rather than the gluten in wheat specifically, it may instead be caused by a range of sugars and proteins that are also found in many other foods, including fruit and onions. If so, simply cutting wheat would not relieve the symptoms.

Then there are the people going gluten-free even without experiencing definite symptoms at all, because wheat itself is seen as being toxic. As Peter Green at Columbia University commented recently: “People who promote an anti-grain or anti-gluten agenda sometimes cite our work in celiac disease, drawing far-ranging conclusions that extend well beyond evidence-based medicine.”  One popular claim, for instance, is that wheat-based foods trigger inflammation throughout the body, which could contribute to “brain fog” and increase the risk of serious conditions like Alzheimer’s. But while diets heavy in carbohydrates and sugars may, over time, lead to neural damage, whole wheat is still better than other energy sources, such as potatoes, since it releases its sugars more slowly.

In a nutshell? Humans have been eating wheat for at least 10,000 years – and unless you have been tested for an allergy, there seems little reason to stop until we have far more evidence.

Cheese is bad for your heart, right? Not so fast (jeffreyw/Flickr/CC BY 2.0)

The food: Butter, cheese and full-fat milk  The fear: Dairy products will clog up your arteries and contribute to heart disease.

The facts: For decades, the message has been simple: “saturated” fats from cheese, butter, and full-fat milk will raise the cholesterol in your blood and put you in danger of a heart attack. For this reason, many health organisations had encouraged us to lubricate our diets with margarine and vegetable oils, replacing the saturated fats with “poly-unsaturates” typically found in the (famously healthy) Mediterranean diet.

Yet over the last few years, we’ve seen a stream and then a torrent of deeply puzzling findings that contradict the accepted wisdom. Taking all the evidence into account, one major review in the Annals of Internal Medicine recently concluded that “high levels of saturated fat intake had no effect on coronary disease”. Again, these were only observational studies, but one team decided to put it to a test with a carefully planned intervention, feeding their participants 27%-fat Gouda cheese every day for eight weeks. At the end of the trial, they had lower cholesterol than controls asked to stomach a zero-fat alternative.

The oddest finding? Despite the fact that full-fat milk and butter are packed with calories, people eating full-fat dairy were no more likely to be obese than those drinking semi-skimmed milk; 12 separate studies have in fact found them to be leaner. It’s possible that the fat itself could help regulate the metabolism, meaning that you burn off energy more efficiently; or it could be that full-fat dairy keeps our hunger locked away for longer, making us less likely to fill up with unhealthy snacks later on.

In a nutshell? We still don’t understand why, but “full-fat” may be the new “skinny”.

Pasteurisation of milk has many benefits (Intrinsic-Image/Flickr/CC BY-NC-ND 2.0)

The food: Pasteurised milk The fear: Pasteurisation could contribute to eczema, asthma and other immune disorders.

The facts:  It’s not just full-fat milk that has come under fire. A common assumption is that the more “natural” a food is, the healthier it must be, and this has led some to shun pasteurised milk. Proponents claim that pasteurisation damages many of the useful nutrients in milk, including proteins that may protect us from allergies. The process of pasteurisation, they believe, also kills “friendly” microbes in the milk that could add to the microbiome in our gut, aiding digestion, strengthening the immune system and even protecting against cancer.

Many doctors, however, believe this is premature. The mild heating involved in pasteurisation should leave almost all the nutrients intact, and it seems unlikely that the friendly bacteria in raw milk will bring many benefits: its colonies would need to be thousands of times bigger for enough of the bacteria to survive digestion and make their way to the intestine. And although there is some tentative evidence that people who drank raw milk as children tend to have fewer allergies, it’s hard to be sure this was caused by the milk itself, and not just the fact that many of these children mostly grew up on farms. Living among so many animals, their body may have been trained to deal with allergens at a young age, making them less likely to suffer as adults. What’s more, drinking raw milk could be potentially dangerous: we pasteurise the drink for good reason, to kill microbes that could cause serious disease, like tuberculosis, Salmonella and E coli.

In a nutshell? Before you risk a nasty infection, you might want to wait for the evidence to match the extravagant claims.

 How many eggs is too many? (Tom Fassbender/Flickr/CC BY-ND 2.0)

The food: Eggs  The fear: A heart-attack in a shell.

The facts: Like full-fat milk, eggs were once thought to cake our arteries in cholesterol and increase the risk of heart disease. There may be some truth in these claims, but provided you are otherwise healthy, eating up to seven eggs a week seems to come with no ill-consequences.

In a nutshell? Besides the risk of flatulence and constipation, eggs are a safe and valuable source of protein.

Many fear the health effects of sweeteners in diet drinks (Ze’ev Barkan/Flickr/CC BY 2.0)

The food: “Diet” soft drinks  The fear: Artificial sweeteners can contribute to cancer risk.

The facts: We already know that too much sugar leads to obesity, diabetes and heart disease – but what about the artificial sweeteners we add to “diet” drinks to try to lessen the impact? One common fear is that they promote the growth of tumours. But as Claudia Hammond recently explained on BBC Future, the risks may have been exaggerated; a vast study conducted by the US National Cancer Institute found no increase in the risk of brain cancer, leukaemia or lymphoma in people consuming aspartame, the most common sweeteners, and the same seems to be true for other sugar alternatives. 

There is, however, a chance that they might contribute to glucose intolerance, and type 2 diabetes – though it has yet to be proven. (Incidentally, Hammond has also punctured the idea that the bubbles in soft drinks are themselves a hazard, debunking claims that it could harm your stomach and weaken your bones.)

In a nutshell? Artificial sweeteners may be the lesser of two evils – they may carry some risks, but are still healthier than the full-sugar alternatives.

David Robson is BBC Future’s feature writer.

Friday, October 30, 2015

Halloween Parade 2015

Today was the annual Halloween parade for the kids of Washington School.  Last year got rained out, so I was really happy it was sunny today.  Always fun, and some of the costumes are amazing.  The teachers get dressed up too, and other "minders" that come along to keep track of the hundreds of kids.  The parade is led by a motorcycle cop. 

Thursday, October 29, 2015

40 Years of Pain

Famous 'Napalm Girl' From Vietnam War Undergoes Treatment In U.S.

"So many years I thought that I have no more scars, no more pain when I'm in heaven. But now — heaven on earth for me!"

The Huffington Post  By Jennifer Kay Posted: 10/25/2015 04:54 PM EDT

MIAMI (AP) — In the photograph that made Kim Phuc a living symbol of the Vietnam War, her burns aren't visible — only her agony as she runs wailing toward the camera, her arms flung away from her body, naked because she has ripped off her burning clothes.

More than 40 years later she can hide the scars beneath long sleeves, but a single tear down her otherwise radiant face betrays the pain she has endured since that errant napalm strike in 1972.

Now she has a new chance to heal — a prospect she once thought possible only in a life after death.

"So many years I thought that I have no more scars, no more pain when I'm in heaven. But now — heaven on earth for me!" Phuc says upon her arrival in Miami to see a dermatologist who specializes in laser treatments for burn patients.

Late last month, Phuc, 52, began a series of laser treatments that her doctor, Jill Waibel of the Miami Dermatology and Laser Institute, says will smooth and soften the pale, thick scar tissue that ripples from her left hand up her arm, up her neck to her hairline and down almost all of her back.

Even more important to Phuc, Waibel says the treatments also will relieve the deep aches and pains that plague her to this day.

Nick Ut/AP

With Phuc are her husband, Bui Huy Toan, and another man who has been part of her life since she was 9 years old: Los Angeles-based Associated Press photojournalist Nick Ut.

"He's the beginning and the end," Phuc says of the man she calls "Uncle Ut." ''He took my picture and now he'll be here with me with this new journey, new chapter."

It was Ut, now 65, who captured Phuc's agony on June 8, 1972, after the South Vietnamese military accidentally dropped napalm on civilians in Phuc's village, Trang Bang, outside Saigon.

Ut remembers the girl screaming in Vietnamese, "Too hot! Too hot!" He put her in the AP van where she crouched on the floor, her burnt skin raw and peeling off her body as she sobbed, "I think I'm dying, too hot, too hot, I'm dying."

He took her to a hospital. Only then did he return to the Saigon bureau to file his photographs, including the one of Phuc on fire that would win the Pulitzer Prize.

Phuc suffered serious burns over a third of her body; at that time, most people who sustained such injuries over 10 percent of their bodies died, Waibel says.

Napalm sticks like a jelly, so there was no way for victims like Phuc to outrun the heat, as they could in a regular fire. "The fire was stuck on her for a very long time," Waibel says, and destroyed her skin down through the layer of collagen, leaving her with scars almost four times as thick as normal skin.


While she spent years doing painful exercises to preserve her range of motion, her left arm still doesn't extend as far as her right arm, and her desire to learn how to play the piano has been thwarted by stiffness in her left hand. Tasks as simple as carrying her purse on her left side are too difficult.

"As a child, I loved to climb on the tree, like a monkey," picking the best guavas, tossing them down to her friends, Phuc says. "After I got burned, I never climbed on the tree anymore and I never played the game like before with my friends. It's really difficult. I was really, really disabled."

Triggered by scarred nerve endings that misfire at random, her pain is especially acute when the seasons change in Canada, where Phuc defected with her husband in the early 1990s. The couple live outside Toronto, and they have two sons, ages 21 and 18.

Phuc says her Christian faith brought her physical and emotional peace "in the midst of hatred, bitterness, pain, loss, hopelessness," when the pain seemed insurmountable.

"No operation, no medication, no doctor can help to heal my heart. The only one is a miracle, (that) God love me," she says. "I just wish one day I am free from pain."

Ut thinks of Phuc as a daughter, and he worried when, during their regular phone calls, she described her pain. When he travels now in Vietnam, he sees how the war lingers in hospitals there, in children born with defects attributed to Agent Orange and in others like Phuc, who were caught in napalm strikes. If their pain continues, he wonders, how much hope is there for Phuc?

Nick Ut/AP

 Waibel has been using lasers to treat burn scars, including napalm scars, for about a decade. Each treatment typically costs $1,500 to $2,000, but Waibel offered to donate her services when Phuc contacted her for a consultation. Waibel's father-in-law had heard Phuc speak at a church several years ago, and he approached her after hearing her describe her pain.

At the first treatment in Waibel's office, a scented candle lends a comforting air to the procedure room, and Phuc's husband holds her hand in prayer.

Phuc tells Waibel her pain is "10 out of 10" — the worst of the worst.

The type of lasers being used on Phuc's scars originally were developed to smooth out wrinkles around the eyes, Waibel says. The lasers heat skin to the boiling point to vaporize scar tissue. Once sedatives have been administered and numbing cream spread thickly over Phuc's skin, Waibel dons safety glasses and aims the laser. Again and again, a red square appears on Phuc's skin, the laser fires with a beep and a nurse aims a vacuum-like hose at the area to catch the vapor.

The procedure creates microscopic holes in the skin, which allows topical, collagen-building medicines to be absorbed deep through the layers of tissue.

Waibel expects Phuc to need up to seven treatments over the next eight or nine months.

Wrapped in blankets, drowsy from painkillers, her scarred skin a little red from the procedure, Phuc made a little fist pump. Compared to the other surgeries and skin grafts when she was younger, the lasers were easier to take.

"This was so light, just so easy," she says.

A couple weeks later, home in Canada, Phuc says her scars have reddened and feel tight and itchy as they heal — but she's eager to continue the treatments.

"Maybe it takes a year," she says. "But I am really excited — and thankful."


Spooky Japan

This is Halloween, Japan-style

The Japan Times  Oct 26, 2015 

Stumped for a costume idea this year? This selection of outfits from pre-Halloween parades on Sunday, curated from social media and Japan Times’s staff, might give you a few ideas for the big event this weekend.