Saturday, October 31, 2009

Fast Food Plus Sweet-Flavored Beverage Equals Damaged Liver

image by greekgod,

An Interesting Research Presents Evidence

What happens when you consume fast food and a bottle of some sweet-flavored beverage for lunch? And then follow it up with a similar kind of meal for dinner? And then repeat this for the rest of the week? And then the week after that? And continue doing this for one whole month? And what if it is all paid for? Somebody else picks up the tab right through. Sounds crazy, doesn't it?

image by hisks,

Well, this paid-for craziness is what a bunch of 18 people from both genders in Sweden indulged in about two years ago. They were recruited for an experiment by a team of nutritionists and hepatologists, from different disciplines of the Linkoping University, who wanted to observe the impact of this "hyper-alimentation" on the body. Rather than observing how this particular lifestyle-diet influences the body spread over a long period of time (say, one year or more), they sought to accelerate it. And what did they find?
image by bigevil600,

As expected, the experts discovered the BMI had jumped radically - by as much as 15%. Close friends could no longer recognize that it was the same person they had known for so long. The participants could no longer get into their earlier clothing by the end of the fourth week, and had to go buy new clothes for themselves. Further, the body's resistance to insulin had come down, making these 18 people highly susceptible to type 2 diabetes. And third and very important - and which was the real focus of the experiment - the level of an enzyme secreted by liver, known as Alanine Aminotransferase (ALT), shot up. Correspondingly, the volume of triglyceride in the hepatic cells (HTGC) too more than doubled.

image by jayhoc,

The significance of this rise in ALT can be gauged by the fact that this biomarker becomes prominent in a medical condition known as liver steatosis, which is a technical buzzword for excess absorption of fats by the liver cells. Steatosis is a precursor to Non-Alcoholic Fatty Liver Disease (NAFLD), which is a hop away from end-stage liver disease. The conclusion derived from this study was -
a combination of fast-food and sweetened beverage equals obesity, type 2 diabetes and liver damage. The experiment and its findings are published here, in case you want to know more:

image by altoburgo,

There are a couple of points about this experiment worth mentioning. One is that the study unequivocally states (in the "Discussion" section) that (I quote) "... fat intake was (found to be) unrelated to increase in ALT while sugar and carbohydrate intake at week 3 clearly related to ALT increase." It bolsters this statement by referring to another research which virtually absolves fast-food of the blame of causing steatosis but accuses coke to be the real culprit. However, read the details of this other research (available here), and you find that this other research's subjects were morbidly obese patients on the verge of undergoing bariatric surgery. Not only was this other research's approach to investigation different (they previewed the dietary habits of the patients and compared it with their biopsy reports), but the histopathological profile of the two sets of subjects is also totally different. It appeared to be a case of comparing apples with oranges. So was the absolution of the role of fast-food in elevating ALT justified?

image by clix,

Another interesting point was the way the media handled this study when its outcomes first came to light. One section of the media, obviously taken in by the title under which the research was published, and obviously not having read the paper in toto, hailed the report as yet another evidence of how evil fast-foods are. A second section pounced upon the former, pointing out that the real culprit was not fast-food but the beverage, silly! And from another corner came a third section that sang praise of how fast foods had been found to increase HDL (good cholesterol) levels (which any ways happens when you gorge on such quantity of fast-food, a positive albeit trivial side-effect). [Google on the words "steatosis", "fast-food", "ALT".] In the midst of this cacophony, the findings of the experiment - higher BMI, higher resistance to insulin, and elevated ALT and HTGC levels caused by the fast-food-sweetened-beverage combo - got lost and were not projected to the lay reader in the proper light. Which is a pity, for this is after all what the role of the media is - to cut to the chase and lay the bare, essential truth in black and white.

image by rovaro,

Anyway, in case you weren't aware already, now you know. If you are a habitual consumer of the fast-food-sweetened-beverage combo (and it is doesn't really matter who the real perpetrator among the two is), then beware! Your dietary habits may not be doing you any good.

image by cristgr,

[We go out to eat junk-foods not only because they are convenient and easily within reach. Look around, and you will find more joints selling junk-foods than fresh fruit and vegetables! This is how economics works. No, convenience and easy reach are not the only reason. We also go out to eat junk-foods because somewhere during the process of living, we decided to punish ourselves, and abusing the body became one form of atonement. May be this article will shed more light on this perspective? "Do You Have A Bit Of Dobby In You?"]

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Saturday, October 24, 2009

Stop Your Teenage Daughter’s Drug Abuse

image by lightfusio,

Bond With Them

It has got to do with Nature. The surge of hormones that begins at the onset of puberty does things to the innards of the sweet little angel. Your little bundle of joy once used to believe in fairy tales and would rush into your arms whenever something scary showed up on the telly. Not anymore. Teenage and adolescence is the time to explore! Explore the world and explore all that it holds! So the same girl now does not think twice to fool her mother or other elder and dips her hands into the lock-box that stores the prescription drugs when nobody is around. She now enjoys inhalants and methamphetamines and drinking and smoking and marijuana and doesn’t mind lying and stealing to get her hands on them. Unprotected sex, date rape, unintended pregnancy, sexually-transmitted infections, HIV... aren’t they but just steps away, if she hasn’t walked them already?

The Family Context Of Adolescent Drug Use - Robert H Coombs and Fawzy I Fawzy,*

* ’The Family Context Of Adolescent Drug Use’ - Robert H Coombs and Fawzy I Fawzy,

Studies on family interaction say that these steps can be avoided - and if they have already been taken then they can be reversed - if the family steps in to foster parent-child attachment. Kids have been found to reduce and in certain circumstances even stop substance abuse when they begin to have warm, nurturing relationships with their parents and other elders. In the absence of any such relationship, the kids attach themselves to peers. It is not a surprise that the deviant ones attract them the most.

image by lightfusio,

One such study that practically demonstrated how mothers can pull their daughters back from the slide into the precipice was conducted by sociologists from the University of Toronto and Columbia University. 591 pairs of teenage girls (between 11 and 13 years) and their mothers from New York, New Jersey and Connecticut were recruited for this purpose and subjected to a year-long study. “Mothers” also included other women in the kid's life who assumed the role of mother, such as grandmothers, stepmothers, legal guardians, aunts, and the like. The intervention pairs were given training to handle their interpersonal relationships in a better manner so as to increase bonding. They were encouraged to plan and spend an entire, special day together as frequently as possible. The girls and mothers were asked to share with each other their difficult feelings.

image by trublueboy,

The outcome of this study showed clearly what parental love and affection can do to veer the child away from substance abuse. The awareness that parents are now supervising their discretionary time, plus the quality time they were spending together, along with the continued bombardment of negative effects of substance abuse through videos which the pairs were made to watch - had a salutary effect on the teenage girls’ attitude. At the end of the study, not only did the girls report lower consumption of alcohol, marijuana, prescription and OTC drugs, they also reported a stronger ability to refuse peer pressure. [Here is the paper, if you are interested in knowing more about the study.] Remember that during the progress of the study, the girls were already approaching 14, and the urge to explore the world must have been growing, too.

image by mama,

The significance of this study to us parents is very clear. Keep the channels of communication open. Spend as much quality time with them as is possible within the constraints. Make them feel special. And directly and indirectly show them what is right and what is not.

image by brierley,

[Had our kids sent in an application before they took birth in our family? "Dear Sir / Madam, Kindly accept me as a son / daughter in your family."? Whether it was planned or not, it was our choice, was it not? How good a parent have we turned out to be? Read about it here: "Pinocchio, Everything's Fine With Your Nose".]

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Friday, October 16, 2009

Elderly, And Depressed? Turn To The Internet

image by leroys,

A Positive Spin-Off Of This Communication Tool

The signs that you have reached “that certain age" become apparent when you discover that family members are unable to spend as much time with you as you would like them to. They are too busy with affairs of their own life to spare any time for you, and it is obviously natural, weren't you the same when you were in the prime of your age? Weren't you grappling with your own issues – job, relationships, the children – to really feel and understand and empathize what was going on in the lives of your own elders? So it is now, now the shoe is on the other foot. How happy you feel when your child calls you up long-distance or better still, when the grandchild rushes into your arms, not forgetting your birthday? But these golden moments are few and far between. Sigh.

image by ginnylynni,

Couple that with the shrinkage in the social circle. Once-close friends have either transited to the other dimensions or are themselves too ailing or bed-ridden to be by one's side. New friends are hard to come by, especially as the age advances. The faculties of hearing and vision and memory aren't too sharp enough to sustain relationships, you see. The shooting pains of arthritis pay put to whatever ambition one might have harbored to venture out of the house in search for scintillating company. Facilities where the elderly and the senior citizens can meet and socialize just aren't enough, as society has far more pressing concerns to invest the hard-earned taxpayer's money into. The senile is a spent force! Let's focus on the neonate and the youth and the middle-age, first. Sigh.

image by dynamix,

Days roll into nights, which roll back into days. Every moment becomes a heavy burden. How do you pass the time? The feeling that the world has forgotten you, that you are no longer relevant, that the only task left before you is to wait for the moment of transition, drains away all cheer. Loneliness itself is not alone; it has several friends to give it company, and one of the closest pals of loneliness is depression. Is it any surprise therefore to find the once bubbly, vivacious individual now having to experience issues of mental well-being? Is it any surprise that the medical bill in the US alone has ballooned to USD 100 billion per annum, just to tackle the one condition of depression? Sigh.

image by lilgoldwmn,

In this backdrop, comes relief in the form of news that the internet is proving to be an excellent antidote for the elderly to not only pass their time, but also to give purpose and meaning to existence. Washington, D.C.-based Phoenix Center for Public Policy Studies recently conducted a breakfast workshop on the impact of internet usage on the mitigation of depression among the elderly.

image by bjearwicke,

The workshop focused on a
study carried out by its researchers on this subject involving over 7,000 individuals who have crossed the age of 55 and are retired and no longer actively working. Confined to the four walls of their dwelling, these individuals keep in touch with their near-and-dear using the webcam and the headphone. Though the communication can never replace the warmth of flesh-and-blood, at least the communication is happening. It is both amusing and heartening to respond to the anxious questions of the daughter about how she saw on the telly that there was heavy rain in your area last night, and whether you managed to sleep well; and to assure the grandson that the sapling he had planted in the garden during his vacation visit last summer is still standing.

image by hortongrou,

Once the dosage of interaction with these family members is over, then, oh, there is the entire world open to explore. There are so many forums, so many social-networking sites, so many chat rooms to visit. Subjects that you had always thought you wanted to read up on, now become available to you at the click of the mouse. A good enough handle / user-id and an email account are the only tools you need, and suddenly you are right there, in the thick of the action! According to the Phoenix Center, the elderly have reported a dramatic reduction in their depression episodes because of the hours they spend on the internet.

image by clix,

The take-home message therefore is: if the elderly in your circle are not already computer / internet enthusiasts, introduce them to the joys of the internet. Spend a few hours with them showing them the tricks of the game. Take them to sites that they vibe well with. And as the mouse and the keyboard grow over them, watch the continuous cribbing and complaining of this ache and that pain, disappear. Depression? Be gone!

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Friday, October 09, 2009

Depression - It Sneaks From Behind

image by pdufour,

Wears You Down, And Before You Know It...

When the tiny germs of some fever begin breaking down your defense shields, you recognize the symptoms. And instinctively, you reach out for remedies. So before the time comes for the doctor to be called in, you have already taken some or the other measures to bring the condition in control. These germs attack at the level of the body. The body whose protection is monitored by the mind which is (usually) alert and which can and does take action while there is still time. But what happens when the mind itself is under attack?

image by treefaerie,

The only way the mind can come under an attack, is through its own thoughts that are generated within itself. Unfortunately, while we are very careful of the weather around us, while we generally keep an eye on what food we are eating and what liquids we are drinking, we are not always alert about what thoughts we are thinking. And just as the wrong kind of weather conditions, the harmful kinds of foods and the improper kinds of liquids can damage our body, in the same way the wrong kinds of thoughts can damage the mind. Depression is but one of the manifestations of the wrong kind of thoughts consistently passing through the mind.

image by porah,

Talk to the people who have or are undergoing bouts of depression, and you will come across a consistent theme in their stories, including where the trait runs in the family: there is some stressful event in their life that has triggered it all. The stress may have been caused due to somebody passing away, or due to some failure in some or the other important relationships that they had invested a lot of cathexis in, or any of the umpteen reasons in areas that have held substantial meaning.

image by straymuse,

The source of stress is not important here. It is invariably beyond our control anyway. What is important is that we somehow let the feeling of loss or defeat or helplessness or sadness get to us. We keep on dwelling on the negative thoughts. Do we knowingly eat stale or fungus-laden food? We spit out the first morsel the moment the fungus touches the palate and the smell hits the nostrils. Do we drink water that we clearly see has lot of mud in it? We throw it away. Do we deliberately move around in inclement weather? We seek shelter first thing. The moment realization dawns that something wrong is happening, we move away from it, don't we? Without much ado. Unfortunately, this is not what we do with our negative thoughts. We continue to let the wrong kind of thoughts pass through our mindscape without let. In fact, we fall in love with these thought patterns, without our knowledge. This is how conditions such as depression get the chance to sneak from behind.

image by miguelima,

The manifestation of this consistent dwelling on the mental detritus is very subtle, and we ourselves are not conscious of it, unless some other, more perceptive and observant person close by detects the manifestation and points it out to us. We become sad, pensive, and break out into bouts of crying. Or we feel lethargic all the time, and want to lie down all the time. Or we may become angry and irritable, anxious and agitated. We no longer find ourselves enjoying the usual social banter, and would rather be left alone. Sadly, this is the time when we have been so worn down and so sucked in to the muck, that it is too late to realize that a state of depression has set in.

image by dreamjay,

Depression is unfortunately spreading over humanity like the plague very stealthily. The good news is that depression is very much treatable in a majority of conditions. Science has a number of arrows in the quiver today to shoot at this particular issue. Google on the word and millions of pages come up that provide help from diverse angles and perspectives.

image by irum,

But the most favor we can do to ourselves is to remain always alert about what we are thinking. We were taught hygiene in the school and at home: about how to distinguish between good and bad food, good and bad liquids, and in general about what is good and not good for us. I wish they had also taught us about how to distinguish between good and bad thoughts.

image by amy,

[Actually, our attitude towards our mind - the most important and the most precious of our possessions - has always been lackadaisical. While we give so much attention to the health of the body - look at all those fitness programs and the consciousness about food regime -, we unfortunately do not really do anything to nourish the mind. Here is an article that discusses the impact this has on our well-being: "Exploring The Fourth State Of Consciousness".]

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Friday, October 02, 2009

Smoking During Pregnancy ? Know The Effects On Your Offspring

image by p0psicle,

Don't Be Your Offspring's Worst Enemy

Some time back this blog carried an article that talked of the negative impact of alcohol consumption on the fetus developing in the gravida's womb. This article takes a look at how another of modern woman's vices - smoking - can similarly negatively impact the fetus.

image by atoy,

Have you been making the rounds of the IVF clinics lately? Is the prognosis of your likelihood of conception, less than encouraging? Take a quick inventory: is nicotine your favorite poison? A consistent causative relationship has been found between smoking and infertility. Habitually nicotine-inhaling and -ingesting women have been found to struggle more in order to conceive, in comparison to their non-smoker counterparts. Sadly, when the smoking-addict woman does conceive, there are high chances that the infant is stillborn.

image by zitherica,

Complications during pregnancy due to the mother's smoking habits are well-documented. Do you know that ectopic pregnancies have risen by four times in the past few decades? You now know who and what to blame this rise to. The innumerable chemicals and toxins that seep through the pores of the lungs into the bloodstream of the gravida reaches the placenta and contaminates it. So if the doctor tells you that "placental abruption" - or premature separation of a normally implanted placenta - has occurred before delivery, then it is those innocuous-looking nicotine sticks lying on the side-table that are the culprit.

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It is not the placenta alone that suffers damage. The quality of the body being shaped inside it too gets changed at the genetic, chromosomal level. Studies conducted over a thirty-year period have established the direct relationship between smoking during pregnancy and offspring's ADHD. Just like as in consuming alcohol during pregnancy, smoking too has the deleterious effect of instilling in the child disorders such as hyperactivity, learning disabilities, antisocial behavior and others. The poison does not stop at neurobehavior. The kids are known to have developed cancers such as brain tumors and leukemia and lymphoma. Obviously, the carcinogens that float into the gravida's body due to her smoking are going to make their influence felt, aren't they? And if the cancers don't get them, type 2 diabetes does.

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And here is something more to chew on. Kids who escape all this punishment at the hands of their smoking mother face another hurdle to their emotional happiness. The mother's addiction lowers the child's own fertility levels. When the child grows to be an adult, then irrespective of their gender, male or female, they will face problems when the time comes for them to think of conception. The females among them will most likely have to undergo the routine of doing the rounds of IVF clinics themselves in order to become a parent. All because their mother couldn't give up her addiction to smoking. Is the mother an angel to the child? Or its worst enemy?

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And to think how eagerly to-be mothers look forward to having their little bundle of joy in their arms. A healthy baby that will grow into a healthy adult.

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[Besides the neuro-physiological traits that the mother instills in the fetus as gravida, she - along with the other seniors in the household - also plays an important role in instilling values in the growing child. These values, delivered overtly and subtly, determine what shape the child's psyche will acquire as an adult. Here's how: "Pinocchio, Everything's Fine With Your Nose".]
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