Saturday, December 24, 2011

Merry Birth of the Sun!

by Chris Masterjohn

In 46 BC, Julius Caeser reformed the Roman Calendar, making December 25 the date of the winter solstice.  In the northern hemisphere, this day marks the progressive increase in the length of days, and thus marks an annual celebration of light coming into the world.

Friday, December 16, 2011

When Standing At the Brink of the Abyss, Staring Into the Great Unknown, We Randomize

by Chris Masterjohn

In any experiment, randomization is the central criterion necessary to make an inference about cause and effect.  This is true whether we are studying inanimate objects, isolated proteins, cells, animals, or people.  

Randomization helps us remove the influence of both known and unknown confounders.  The ultimate confounders are choice and the passage of timePeople (or animals) who choose one thing may be constitutionally different in myriad known and unknown ways from people (or animals) who choose another thing.  As a result, "self-selection" or choice acts as a super-confounder.  The passage of time also acts as a super-confounder because of its association with a near infinitude of both known and unknown time-dependent trends that can irrevocably mangle our interpretation of any observation if they aren't somehow accounted for.  The principle reason that randomization is such a useful tool is that it can account not just for the known confounders but even for those unknown.

The Great Unknown

There is unfortunately no way to quantify how much we don't know, but humility, wisdom, and scientific caution all require us to assume that the unknown is likely to vastly exceed the known in breadth, depth, and importance.  We can imagine that the total pool of truth looks something like this:

Sunday, November 27, 2011

I'm Thankful for Wise Traditions, Past and Present

by Chris Masterjohn

Last year around this time, I culled a few pearls of wisdom from folks much wiser than I am to provide a reflection on the holiday of Thanksgiving and the actual practice of giving thanks, for which the holiday is named.  I can't top that this year, so if you missed it or you'd like to read it again, I'll just provide you with the link:


One thing I can do this year is give my account of something I'm very thankful for: the annual Wise Traditions conference, and all the wonderful people it has brought into my life.

Friday, November 25, 2011

Good Lard, Bad Lard: What Do You Get When You Cross a Pig and a Coconut?

by Chris Masterjohn

New post over on Mother Nature Obeyed:

Good Lard, Bad Lard: What Do You Get When You Cross a Pig and a Coconut?


The post follows up on the revised fatty acid profile for Research Diets D12492, and discusses the effects of grass-guzzling and coconut-gobbling on the fatty acid profile of lard.

Read more about the author, Chris Masterjohn, PhD, here.

Saturday, November 19, 2011

This Just In: The Infamous Lard-Based High-Fat Rodent Diet Is Twice as High in PUFA as Previously Reported

by Chris Masterjohn

Hi folks!

It's certainly been a while.  Up until this past weekend I was preparing for Wise Traditions, and this week I've been playing catch-up after taking a few days off from work for that conference.  It was a blast, and I'll write more about it soon.

One of the things I love about measuring glyoxalase activity is that although the assay takes all day, it has a lot of short incubation steps that leave me with a multitude of five-minute breaks.  If I'm not feeling too lazy, that can give me time to write a blog post or two, as long as they're short and not too data-heavy.  

So here's a short one.  

Wednesday, October 12, 2011

Wheat Belly -- The Toll of Hubris on Human Health

by Chris Masterjohn
 
Dr. William Davis, Milwaukee-based "preventive cardiologist" and Medical Director of the Track Your Plaque program, argues in his new book, Wheat Belly: Lose the Wheat, Lose the Weight, and Find Your Path Back to Health, that "somewhere along the way during wheat's history, perhaps five thousand years ago but more likely fifty years ago, wheat changed."  And not for the better.

William Davis, MD, hosted at The Wheat Belly Blog

According to Dr. Davis, the introduction of mutant, high-yield dwarf wheat in the 1960s and the misguided national crusade against fat and cholesterol that caught steam in the 1980s have conspired together as a disastrous duo to produce an epidemic of obesity and heart disease, leaving not even the contours of our skin or the hairs on our heads untouched.  Indeed, Dr. Davis argues, this mutant monster we call wheat is day by day acidifying our bones, crinkling our skin, turning our blood vessels into sugar cubes, turning our faces into bagels, and turning our brains into mush.  

Saturday, October 8, 2011

Denmark Came For Your Sugar and Trans Fats, Now They Are Coming For Your Saturated Fat. When They Come for You, Will There Be Any Macronutrient Left to Object on Your Behalf?

by Chris Masterjohn
O Solid Fat, turn not thy face from thy Lord, for my budget is in trouble.
In "Fructose, Public Policy, and the Low-Fat Reeducation Camp," I made the following prediction:
If they come for our fructose, they will come for our fat next.
It seems that Denmark has provided some evidence for this postulate by enacting what is believed to be the world's first tax on saturated fat.  Here is the timeline, according to a CBC News article:
  • 2004 — Tax on trans fats.
  • 2010 — Tax on sugary junk food.
  • 2011 — Tax on all foods containing more than 2.3 percent saturated fat.
This type of legislation raises the question of just what the role of government should be in the determining the foods we eat.  Those of us in the ancestral health movement are faced with a strange dilemma: we live in a society wherein we have almost unlimited destructive food and lifestyle choices lying within our immediate grasp, while the preeminent solutions to all of life's problems invariably lie on a spectrum between libertarian individualism and collectivist bureaucracy.  Neither the problem nor the popular solutions have solid foundations in our ancestry.

Friday, October 7, 2011

Where Do Most AGEs Come From? O Glycation, How Thy Name Hast Deceived Me!

by Chris Masterjohn

I've written a few posts about advanced glycation endproducts (AGEs) in the past, which can be found here.  These posts include a refutation of the common belief that the "receptor for AGEs" (RAGE) is actually a receptor for AGEs, and a refutation of the implausible and unreliable data suggesting that butter is a major source of dietary AGEs.  People have recently been asking me to write more about AGEs (see here and here), especially about the role of high blood sugar in promoting the formation of these compounds and thereby contributing to cellular dysfunction and disease.

There are a lot of misconceptions about AGEs, and one of them is that they are mostly formed from glucose directly glomming on to proteins.  The term "glycation," which is clearly derived from "glucose," certainly contributes to this misconception, but the situation is actually much more complex than this.  Glucose does indeed have the hots for proteins, but the high school glycation prom has a sexy chaperone named fructosamine 3-kinase who's kicking carbonyls and taking names, and if the two dance too close, F3-K steps in the way.  

It is instead the sneaky dicarbonyls (pronounced like "DIE-carb-o-NEELS") that escape the attention of our otherwise striking chaperone.  They are on average 20,000 times more reactive than glucose, and they emerge from the broken pieces of glucose, protein, and fat — and not just PUFAs.  Nevertheless, they do no harm unless they slip past our good friend glutathione, who polices the streets at night and renders the balance of these creepy would-be criminals as impotent as the mythical sorcerer lurking in the shadows of Maasai-land.  

In future posts, I will explain why I believe that AGEs formed within our bodies do indeed contribute to disease but are nevertheless likely to emerge as essential components of cellular communication, and why they add further colors to the portrait being painted in which disease is seen as communication gone wrong.  In this post, I will simply attempt to explain what we do and don't know about where the AGEs within our bodies come from.

Wednesday, October 5, 2011

The Trouble With Measuring AGEs -- Butter and More

by Chris Masterjohn
 
This post is basically a technical footnote to my next post on advanced glycation endproducts (AGEs) and all subsequent posts on AGEs explaining why I will give preference to certain studies that use what I consider reliable methods for measuring these compounds.

Saturday, October 1, 2011

A Saturday Salad


by Chris Masterjohn

The difference between a Wednesday salad and a Saturday salad?  A little cheese. :)

Ingredients: romaine lettuce, cherry tomatoes, carrots, celery, scallions, strawberries, orange bell peppers, raw sauerkraut, unpasteurized Greek olives from Mt. Athos with Sicilian herbs, barrel-aged feta from Mt. Vikos (not raw, unfortunately), macadamia nut oil, raw coconut vinegar.

But alas, the sun has set in his tomb, and the moon has arisen to mourn her betrothed and proclaim her hope of his arising in the hours yet to come.  Shall we honor the moon and call it Sunday, or dwell in the past and continue calling it Saturday?

And thus even my salad ponders the meaning of its identity. 

p.s. Don't worry I've also eaten meat and eggs today. ;-) 

Read more about the author, Chris Masterjohn, PhD, here.

Thursday, September 29, 2011

Forks Over Knives: A Pictorial Review


 My Dinner Tonight.  Typical Wednesday Fare.
(The salad is dressed in macadamia nut oil and coconut vinegar.)
The plantains I sauteed in coconut oil jumped ship and swam
to the bottom of my belly as soon as they saw the camera coming.

by Chris Masterjohn

I don't buy bacon very often, but when I went to Whole Foods this past Thursday, I couldn't resist.  After all, I was there to pick up the new Forks Over Knives DVD, and it lured me right over to the Campbell & Co. corner, where the complete works of Drs. Campbell, Esselstyn, Fuhrman, McDougall and friends lie directly perpendicular to all the most delicious meats.

Tuesday, September 27, 2011

How T. Colin Campbell Helped Prove That Protein Protects Us: Glutathione

by Chris Masterjohn

New over at Mother Nature Obeyed: a post celebrating the one-year anniversary of "The Curious Case of Campbell's Rats," taking a look at how glutathione can prevent and reverse liver cancer, and reflecting on the role of glutathione in Campbell's animal experiments.

You can read it here:


Enjoy! 

Read more about the author, Chris Masterjohn, PhD, here.



Tuesday, September 13, 2011

The Masai Part II: A Glimpse of the Masai Diet at the Turn of the 20th Century -- A Land of Milk and Honey, Bananas From Afar

by Chris Masterjohn

The next post in my Masai series is up over at Mother Nature Obeyed:

The Masai Part II: A Glimpse of the Masai Diet at the Turn of the 20th Century — A Land of Milk and Honey, Bananas From Afar


Indeed, the Masai eat much more than milk, meat, and blood.


Enjoy!

Read more about the author, Chris Masterjohn, PhD, here.

Saturday, September 10, 2011

How to Do a Proper Self-Experiment, and Why Your "N" Doesn't Technically Equal "1"

by Chris Masterjohn

Aravind recently suggested in the comments that I write a blog post about a discussion he and I had in the hallway at the Ancestral Health Symposium about "n=1 experiments."  The thrust of this discussion was that if you want to do a true self-experiment where you can definitively demonstrate cause and effect, you can actually conduct a randomized, controlled trial on yourself where your n is equal to the number of repeated observations rather than "1," although we can still casually call them "n-of-one experiments."  Anything less than this provides interesting information, but not necessarily a demonstration of cause and effect.

First I'll describe why we should perform self-experiments in this way (if we're going to perform them at all), then how to go about doing so, and finally what to do in the cases where such rigorous self-experimentation is obviously impractical.

Tuesday, September 6, 2011

Gary Taubes on Cherry-Picking and Paradigm Shifts (A Brief Thought on Science)

by Chris Masterjohn

Warning: A Serious Blog Post Occurs Somewhere Below

Some controversy recently erupted in the Twitter-sphere when a number of us including Dave Dixon and Dallas Hartwig were recently discussing Denise Minger's angular hypothesis of atherosclerosis, in which she proposed that increased concentrations of serum bananas and increased concentrations of other plasma constituents with pointy ends or sharp edges penetrate the blood vessel wall and initiate plaque development.  Andrew Badenoch's research showing that increased banana intake does not increase serum banana levels has made it difficult to base a dietary theory on this hypothesis, but we have tentatively concluded that picking cherries, because of their sphericity and resultant tendency to bounce cleanly off the blood vessel lining without incurring any injury, is likely to lengthen lifespan.  

After several of us observed that not chewing such fruits is likely to preserve their roundness, reduce their insulinogenic properties, and lower their effect on reward centers in the brain, I used the definition of cherry-picking recently put forward by Gary Taubes to suggest that dismissing studies demonstrating the benefits of not chewing your food might significantly increase lifespan.  In other words, if Mr. Taubes is seeking key experiments that are capable of distinguishing between competing hypotheses, and if he considers this "cherry-picking," then his approach to studies like the one I just linked to that support all three hypotheses are likely to lead to increased cherry-picking and thus increased immunity to heart disease. In suggesting that Gary was likely to outlive most of us, I was simply wishing well to a man that has introduced innumerable people to the work of Weston Price and to the paleo movement, an achievement Melissa McEwen recently emphasized, and infusing this wish with a little of the humor that has thus far characterized the bulk of this discussion.

Nevertheless, some found this comment to be "snarky." Dallas and I therefore decided that humor just doesn't come across that well in 140 characters, and that this issue deserves a serious blog post rather than a bunch of tweets.  I had written such a serious blog post at lunch yesterday (Monday), but duty called, more important things arose, and I never managed to finish it.  Given the issue's import, I have decided to finish and publish that post.  So here it is — a very serious post about the art of cherry-picking. 

Tuesday, August 30, 2011

Fat and Diabetes -- Bad Press, Good Paper, and the Reemergence of Our Good Friend Glutathione

by Chris Masterjohn

New blog post over at Mother Nature Obeyed:


Enjoy!

Read more about the author, Chris Masterjohn, PhD, here.

Saturday, August 27, 2011

The Central Role of Thyroid Hormone in Governing LDL Receptor Activity and the Risk of Heart Disease

by Chris Masterjohn

In "Genes, LDL-Cholesterol Levels, and the Central Role of LDL Receptor Activity in Heart Disease," as well as my most recent presentations at Wise Traditions and AHS, I described the overwhelming genetic evidence for the theory that LDL receptor activity centrally governs the risk of heart disease and the large amount of other evidence from human and animal experiments that offers further support for this theory.

If we look at the factors that govern how many LDL recpetors our cells make, we immediately begin to suspect that thyroid hormone may play a central role in providing immunity to heart disease.

Wednesday, August 24, 2011

Freedom From Monogamy Comes at a Price -- The Masai as an Illustrative Example

by Chris Masterjohn

Andrew over at Evolvify just linked to a new review of Sex at Dawn, a book that challenges our cultural standard of monogamy.  The review has been submitted to the journal Evolutionary Psychology:
The Human That Never Evolved
Although Andrew's post and the review itself inspired me to write this post, this post is not a response to the review or to Sex at Dawn.  I haven't read the book and I'm not familiar enough with the relevant literature to critique the book or assess the strength of the review.  Since I've been studying the Masai, however, I have a few thoughts to share about this non-monogamous culture.

First, I owe an apology to the authors of Sex at Dawn because when I had initially written this post last night I included some unnecessarily snarky remarks that could easily be construed as dismissive of or disparaging towards the book, and I gave the post a title that could at best be described as a headline grasping for attention at the expense of treating the authors and the book with charity and decency.  I intend my re-posting this with a new title and introduction to constitute a formal apology in that respect. 

In any case, I think when we consider challenges to monogamy we have to acknowledge that just as a cultural standard of monogamy requires the imposition of certain sanctions and the inculcation with certain ideas, polygamy and polyamory come with analogous but different requirements.

Some may see the prospect of a polyamorous cultural standard as one that would encourage carefree relations between men and women, a minimum of jealousy, and a broader network of support for children as they become children of the society at large rather than of a nuclear family.  I won't claim that the Masai represent all non-monogamous societies, and I won't claim that it is impossible for non-monogamous arrangements to produce this type of result, but I will at least say that to describe the Masai in this way would certainly be a fantasy.  Non-monogamous culture at least in this case doesn't come without its price.

Tuesday, August 16, 2011

Against Dietary Dogmatism

by Chris Masterjohn

According to the Online Etymology Dictionary, the word dogma comes from the Greek dogmatos, literally meaning "that which one thinks is true."  This dictionary further states that it derives from dokein, meaning "to seem good" or "to think," a root which also gave rise to the English word decent.

Basil the Great, a fourth-century bishop of Caesarea (modern-day Turkey) who is widely venerated as a saint by liturgical Christians and who some historians controversially credit with inventing the hospital, wrote a treatise toward the end of that century entitled On the Holy Spirit.  Therein, he defined dogma as that which is "observed in silence," and stated that the Church had such dogmas because the early fathers had "learned their lesson well" that "reverence for the mysteries is best encouraged by silence."  He contrasted this word with kerygma, which he defined as those things that are "proclaimed to the world."  

Nevertheless, Wikipedia, that veritable fountain of etymological wisdom, tells us that a dogma is "the established belief or doctrine held by a religion, or by extension by some other group or organization. It is authoritative and not to be disputed, doubted, or diverged from, by the practitioners or believers."  The article notes further that "the term 'dogmatic' can be used disparagingly to refer to any belief that is held stubbornly, including political and scientific beliefs."

I would like to state at the outset that I have no problem with people who ponder the hidden mysteries of their diet by observing them in silence.

Likewise, I think it is fine to think about diet, or for dietary things to seem good.  What really becomes a problem, however, is when one adopts the rigidity, inflexibility, and stubbornness that characterizes the modern concept of dogmatism.  

Friday, August 12, 2011

Installment 3 of The Masai Part I Is Now Up!

by Chris Masterjohn

This is the third and final installment of The Masai Part I: A Glimpse of Gender, Sexuality, and Spirituality in the Loita Masai over at Mother Nature Obeyed:


In this installment, we see a historical example where a contingent of women organizing a fertility ceremony stood up to the men in the counsel of elders and ultimately made them recant their initial decision to cancel the ceremony because of an open case of repayment for a murder.  The event shows that, although there is a sex-based authority structure in Masai society, the women are far from powerless.

I also describe the Masai fertility ritual itself, which is seen as a symbolic and in a sense very real, perhaps mystical, process of insemination.  It involves anointment with ox fat, which is tied to fertility and childbearing in Masai customs.

Read more about the author, Chris Masterjohn, PhD, here.

Monday, August 8, 2011

Reflections on the Ancestral Health Symposium 2011

by Chris Masterjohn

It was a great honor and privilege to be invited to speak at the first annual Ancestral Health Symposium at UCLA this weekend, and it was a wonderful experience to meet so many new friends, re-meet so many old ones I am rarely able to see because of geographical distance, and finally meet in person people I've long considered good friends despite theretofore never having formally initiated the friendship with a physical hug or handshake.  

I also feel an enormous debt of gratitude to Aaron Blaisdell, Brent Pottenger, and everyone else involved in putting on the conference for their hard work, appreciation of everyone's talents, and support.

The conference was a true success, and here are a few highlights.

Thursday, August 4, 2011

The Pursuit of Happiness Does Not Require Feet (A Brief Thought About Life)

by Chris Masterjohn

Those of us living in the United States have enshrined in our founding documents the inalienable right to the pursuit of happiness, a concept that has older roots in European philosophers such as John Locke.  These documents, of course, provide not the slightest bit of instruction about how to embark upon this pursuit, wisely leaving this conundrum to the individual and the communities to which he or she belongs.

There are two ways to pursue happiness.  One is external and one is internal.  They do not necessarily lie in conflict with each other, but I believe one of them deserves preeminence if the other is to succeed.

Saturday, July 30, 2011

Installement 2 of "The Masai Part I: A Glimpse of Gender, Sexuality, and Spirituality in the Loita Masai" is now up!

by Chris Masterjohn

New over at Mother Nature Obeyed:


This is the second installment of part I, covering divisions of labor, ownership rights, and authority by age and sex in Masai society.

Read more about the author, Chris Masterjohn, PhD, here.

Wednesday, July 27, 2011

"The Masai: Introduction" and "A Glimpse of Gender, Sexuality, and Spirituality in the Loita Masai" Are Both Now Up and Working

Unfortunately my two most recent blog posts on the Masai blacked out over at Mother Nature Obeyed shortly after posting the second one.  But they are now up and running!  Theoretically, the site error is permanently fixed.

Enjoy!


The Masai Part I: A Glimpse of Gender, Sexuality, and Spirituality in the Loita Masai (part 1)

Tuesday, July 26, 2011

The Drunken Prayers of a Masai Laibon

by Chris Masterjohn

Unfortunately, many parts of the WAPF site including the blogs are down.  The problem has been identified and is currently being fixed.  As a result, my recent post on gender, sexuality, and spirituality in the Masai is lost in cyberspace until the site is fixed, at which point it will magically reappear and I'll let you all know.

In the mean time, I thought I'd offer this tidbit.  

Thursday, July 14, 2011

Addiction to Noise and Stimulation (A Brief Thought About Life)

by Chris Masterjohn

Stephan provides some interesting insights about the ability for overstimulating food to dull our senses and contribute to addiction, in which he expands the concept to stimulation from other sources such as drugs and video games, and notes the powerful effect that meditation can have in reversing these effects:


I agree with Stephan that over-stimulation of all sorts, really of any of the senses, can contribute to addiction and dull our appreciation of the naturally sweet things in life.  

I think this applies to food, sex, music, television, and other sensually stimulating activities.  

I think there are several dimensions to this. While I think that overstimulation is itself a cause, I think seeking overstimulation is often a reflection of deeper issues inside of us that we have to face.

Thursday, June 30, 2011

The New Genetics -- Interlude: A Lot of What We Don't Know About Genetics Is Hiding in the Researcher's Trash Can

by Chris Masterjohn

Who would make a better scientist?

The know-it-all?
Or this curious little fellow?

One of the most pervasive human traits is perhaps one of the greatest scourges of mankind — the inability to say "I don't know."

Ned Kock Provides a Philosophical Breakthrough on Fruit

by Chris Masterjohn

In retrospect, I don't know why this wasn't obvious to me years ago, but my hindsight is really the only thing that didn't start failing me when I turned 17 and my opthamologist told me I was "just getting older."

Ned Kock recently provided me with a philosophical breakthrough on fruit, buried in a post about boring food.

Sunday, June 12, 2011

Understanding Weston Price on Primitive Wisdom -- Ancient Doesn't Cut It

by Chris Masterjohn

New post over at Mother Nature Obeyed:


Enjoy!

Read more about the author, Chris Masterjohn, PhD, here.

Tuesday, May 3, 2011

When Fat Burns In the Flame of Lean Muscle Mass -- Better Put That Butter Either on Steak or Potatoes

by Chris Masterjohn

My last post was political and got 17 comments just in the first six hours.  I suppose that means I'm due for another post about religion, or one about sex.  Given Stephan Guyenet's recent post about the dangers of hyperpalatability, though, I'm inclined to obey the proverb "don't take too much honey" and delicately sprinkle those sweet and enticing posts on the nourishing bulk of the usual biochemistry you get at this blog.  

I try to make this blog more like wine than grape juice -- you know, the adult flavors people enjoy in France where obesity rates are lower.

And besides, this post will answer the cliff-hanger I dropped at the end of Monday's post, "Let Us Honor Ancel Keys, Our Patron, As We Cherry Pick Studies to Bash Fructose." 

Peter Dobromylskyj over at Hyperlipid recently posted "Diabetic nephropathy and the lost Swede," wherein he discussed the ability of a ~95% fat diet to produce weight loss in mice.  

In this post, I'd like to take a look at what happened to food intake, hormones, and body composition in that study, and explain why eating butter with no steak, bread, vegetables, or potatoes under it isn't a very good idea.

And no, this is not just due to the "problems of traction presented by the butter-butter interface."  Though I admit that's a problem too.


Fructose, Public Policy, and The Low-Fat Re-Education Camp (Short Post)

by Chris Masterjohn

Here's another short post in honor of my readers with ADHD.

One subject that came up in Dr. Lustig's recent interview on "Sugar and Health" is the need to formulate public policy in order to reduce fructose consumption.

I think, as advocates of real traditional foods that will invariably have differing political dispositions, we need to make sure we don't become divided over politics, but the politics are still a reality that we need to deal with.

Thursday, April 28, 2011

Let Us Honor Ancel Keys, Our Patron, As We Cherry Pick Studies to Bash Fructose (Revised and Extended)


My apologies to anyone who received this in their RSS feed on Thursday as a teaser.  I have now revised and extended it to include several studies showing that diet-induced obesity can be achieved in rats and mice without using any sugar at all, and have included a clearer conclusion.

Ancel Keys is best known in the assorted real food communities, or at least the assortment of real food communities friendly to dietary fat, for his infamous cherry picking.


Keys had presented data from six countries, purporting to show a clear linear relationship between the amount of fat consumed in a country and its incidence of heart disease.  This graph is shown on the left below.  The one problem was that data was available for 22 countries at the time, and including that data demolished the relationship.  The "true" graph is shown below on the right.


December 22, 2011 Update:  It would be more appropriate to say that including the data "greatly diminished" the relationship than that it "demolished" the relationship because the positive relationship still exists.  See this excellent analysis by Denise Minger.

If we are going to criticize Keys for cherry picking, it behooves us to root out cherry picking from our own communities as well.  This requires constant self-criticism, because bias is human nature, and anyone who isn't engaged in a devoted battle to overcome their own bias will be its prisoner.  I myself cannot claim to always be victorious in this battle, but I do try.

I consider Dr. Robert Lustig an ally in the fight for real food.  He makes as his primary enemies junk foods rich in refined sugar and high fructose corn syrup, and I agree these should be targeted as likely the most important causes of chronic disease.  Dr. Lustig and many in the blogosphere, however, are circulating the claim that high-fat diets only induce obesity in laboratory animals if they are also high in sucrose.  This simply isn't true.

Let's take a look at these diets.

Thursday, April 21, 2011

New Fatty Liver Study Shows that Carbohydrate Restriction Causes Statistical Anomalies

by Chris Masterjohn

A new study claims to show that carbohydrate restriction is superior to calorie restriction at improving fatty liver disease:

Browning JD, Baker JA, Rogers T, Davis J, Satapati S, Burgess SC.  Short-term weight loss and hepatic triglyceride reduction: evidence of a metabolic advantage with dietary carbohydrate restriction.  Am J Clin Nutr. 2011

In this study the authors randomly assigned 18 people to spend two weeks consuming either a low-calorie diet (~1325 kcal/day) or a low-carb, (<20 g/day), high-protein (33% kcal) diet. The low-carb, high-protein diet led to a greater reduction in the amount of fat stored in the liver.

The authors begin their manuscript by stating as a matter of fact that insulin resistance causes fatty liver, without even acknowledging the competing hypothesis that fatty liver causes insulin resistance. 
 
After the holidays, I'll provide a more comprehensive post addressing whether it makes any sense to single out "carbohydrates" as causing fatty liver (hint: it doesn't), but for now let's take a brief look at this study.

Sunday, April 17, 2011

The New Genetics -- Part V: Is the Intestinal Microbiome Part of Our Genome?


Has the human genome project really been completed?  One could argue that in fact it will not be completed until its sequel, the Human Microbiome Project, is completed.  One set of authors referred to it as "another phase of the 'human’ genome sequencing project."

The available evidence suggests that intestinal microbes are inherited from parent to offspring, just like the biologically heritable components (not all of which are genetic) of our Homo sapiens cells are.  Just like the heritable components of our H. sapiens cells, these microbes appear to substantially contribute to our phenotype — that is, the overall end result of who we are.  

What is particularly fascinating, however, is that there is evidence that variations in our metabolism that could be induced by diet or environment, such as leptin signaling, can alter the relative abundance of certain gut microbes.  Thus, not only do these microbes drive our phenotype, but our phenotype drives the microbes!   

This highlights a huge problem of inferring cause-and-effect relationships into inheritance patterns.  While traditional "genetic" inheritance can be inferred in certain cases from solid mathematical patterns, the mere fact that a trait is heritable not only does not show that it is "genetic" but it does not even show that the inheritance is due to our H. sapiens cells, nor does it show that the trait cannot be changed by normalizing our metabolism through dietary, lifestyle, and environmental modifications.

Saturday, April 16, 2011

What Grad School and Professional Research Should Be Like


As I was traveling to Experimental Biology this past weekend with my lab mate and her boyfriend, who is a doctoral student in another health-related department, I shared my thoughts on what grad school should be like.  Naturally, the reaction was a laugh, and a "ha, that would be awesome."

Here's my idea.

As researchers in nutrition or exercise science or other health-related fields, we should first and foremost be setting examples of how to live a healthy life to the general population.  That means the priorities should be aligned as follows:

Friday, April 15, 2011

Highlights From Experimental Biology 2011

by Chris Masterjohn

I arrived in Washington, DC on Friday evening to meet with 13,000 other biological scientists for the Experimental Biology 2011 meeting and just got home Wednesday night.  

I was there to give a 15-minute presentation on how I fed an overdose of fructose to a couple dozen rats and it didn't do any of the nasty things I expected it to.  You'll be hearing lots more about fructose from me in the near future as I try to figure out what happened.

One of the coolest presentations I saw was a talk Peter Friedl of the German Nijmegen Center for Molecular Life Sciences gave entitled "Dynamic imaging of cancer invasion, plasticity, and resistance."  This was the first talk I saw of the conference, on Saturday morning.  Friedl showed textbook images of cancer metastasis, which show isolated cells dropping off from a cancer and then making their lonely but merry way to invade other tissues.  Then he showed videos proving it was false.

His remarkable live streaming images showed that cancers actually send forth highly organized finger-like projections like these:





Those bright strands  are highly organized projections made up of individual and continuously dividing cells.  A minority of their expansion is due to the fact that they are traveling forward, led by a small cluster of a few cells or sometimes an individual cell at the tip, while the majority of their growth comes from the fact that they are actively dividing, pushing forward as they do so.

Sunday I gave my own talk and later I was student chair of the fourth Dietary Bioactive Components session, focusing on antioxidant and anti-inflammatory compounds.  Little did I realize that the job of the student chair would be to manage the twitter feed.

And of course there was way too much stuff going on at this conference for anyone to possibly see it all, so check out the #eb2011 hashtag on twitter to find other tweets and blog posts, or maybe search Google.

The best talk I saw was on Monday.  Paul Kubes of the University of Calgary gave a talk entitled "Sterile versus infectious inflammation... an identical immune response?"  Kubes has a hilarious sense of humor, which livened up the talk a bit, but the content was simply astounding.  In his presentation he showed that immune cells called neutrophils respond to bacterial infection by spilling out their DNA to form webs that catch bacteria.  

Here are some neutrophils:



When they are exposed to Staphylococcus aureus, they start spilling out their DNA, shown in green:




Over time, these nets greatly expand:



Through electron microscopy we can see that these DNA-nets form lattice-like webs that catch Staph aureus just like spider webs catch insects:





Other images show that these nets protrude out of a small bubble on the surface of the neutrophil's membrane, kind of like how Spider Man shoots webs out of his wrist.

What was particularly amazing was watching live streaming video of this process, where the denucleated neutrophils could be seen crawling around eating the bacteria they had caught in their DNA-webs.  

Conclusion?  Neutrophils are kind of like spiders.  Err, I guess they are kind of superheroes so maybe they are more like Spider Man.

And man, with all these live streaming photos of fluorescing molecules, who wouldn't want to get into this line of work?  Oh right, I almost forgot.  For a few hundred reasons why no one in their right mind would get into this line of work, check out PhD Comics.

Although, this Lady Gaga rendition sums it up rather succintly:



On Tuesday, I went to a special session put on by the Institute of Medicine's Food and Nutrition Board (FNB) about the new DRIs for calcium and vitamin D.  They focused mostly on vitamin D.  Presenters included the chair of the FNB, Dennis Bier, the director of the FNB, Linda Meyers,  the chair of the committee that wrote the vitamin D report, Catherine Ross, and several other people involved in writing the vitamin D report such as Christine Taylor, Patsy Brannon, and Susan Mayne.

Mayne, a cancer epidemiologist from Yale, discussed a list of what she considered myths floating around the internet and elsewhere about the vitamin D report:


You can click the picture to enlarge it.

And here are the facts, as she saw them:


I apologize the photos are kind of blurry.

Regardless of whether the IOM's FNB got the best estimate of the vitamin D requirement exactly right, I agreed with the gist of Payne's talk.  I got the impression as soon as I started reading the 999 page report that there was an awful lot of misunderstanding about the report and its purpose.

When I'm done reading it, I'll post my analysis on my other blog, Mother Nature Obeyed.

Unfortunately, I missed the Wednesday session entitled, "Exploring the Factors That Impact Blood Cholesterol and Heart Disease Risk: Is Dietary Cholesterol as Bad For You as History Leads Us to Believe?"  The director of our graduate program here at UConn, gave a talk entitled, "Rethinking Dietary Cholesterol: A Critical Review of Existing Lieterature."

She told me the moderated question and answer session produced quite a lively debate.

The best part of the conference was meeting new friends.  I met nutrition journalist David Despain on Saturday night.  Here's a picture of Melissa, David, and me parting at the subway after chowing down on some delicious Mexican food together:


Without love and friendship, science would be pretty boring.

Read more about the author, Chris Masterjohn, PhD, here.