Ruminations

Blog dedicated primarily to randomly selected news items; comments reflecting personal perceptions

Saturday, January 20, 2018

Giving Lungs Breathing Room

"This study shows that diet might help repair lung damage in people who have stopped smoking."
"It also suggests that a diet rich in fruits can slow down the lung's natural aging process, even if you have never smoked. The findings support the need for dietary recommendations, especially for people at risk of developing respiratory diseases such as COPD [chronic obstructive pulmonary disease]."
"Our study suggests that eating more fruits on a regular basis can help attenuate the decline as people age, and might even help repair damage caused by smoking. Diet could become one way of combating rising diagnoses of CPOD around the world."
Vanessa Garcia, Johns Hopkins University Bloomberg School of Public Health


New research, allied with the Aging Lungs in European Cohorts Study (ALEC) has been published in the European Respiratory Journal, suggesting that ex-smokers with a diet focusing on fruit and tomatoes, and particularly on apples, experience a slower decline as they age, in their lung function. As a corollary to the research is the potential restoration of lung tissue damaged by smoking, resulting from the nutrients found in those foods.

Accordingly, the researchers collaborating in this study concluded that those adults who consumed over two tomatoes or three portions of fresh fruit daily had a slower decline in lung function on average than people who tended to eat less than a tomato or fewer than one portion of fruits daily. It was only fresh fruits and vegetables with which this lung-protective effect has been associated. Tomato sauce, as an example, or fruits that have been processed fail to produce the same protective effect.

Moreover, the highest tomato consumption was linked to a more gradual decline in lung function among all adults, inclusive of ex-smokers and those who had never smoked. This is a critical finding, given the fact that inadequate lung function leads to morbidity risks from diseases including chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, heart disease, and lung cancer. The team, led by Vanessa Garcia-Larsen, assistant professor of international health at the Bloomberg School of Health, followed 650 adults living in Germany, Norway and the United Kingdom.

The 650 participants had their diet and lung function assessed in 2002 by the researchers. Then repeated lung function tests took place a decade later with the same participants, where researchers measured how much air could be expelled from each person's lungs in one second, and how much conversely, they could inhale in six seconds, controlling for age, height, sex, body mass index, socioeconomic status, physical activity and caloric intake.

An obviously slower decline in lung function was noted among former smokers who consumed a diet high in tomatoes and fruit, apples in particular, suggesting that nutrients in the diet aid in the repair of damage to human physiology, according to Dr. Garcia-Larsen.

12_21_2017 Fresh tomatoes could reverse lung damage in both smokers and nonsmokers, according to new study. Christopher Furlong/Getty Images

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Friday, January 19, 2018

Aging Gracefully

"When we started this project, we weren't really sure we could find these individuals ["SuperAgers"]. Part of the goal is to characterize them -- who are they, what are they like."
"It's likely there are a number of critical factors that are implicated [in their superior memories and distinctive brain features]."
"Social relationships are really important [to this group, possibly aiding their cognition]."
Emily Rogalski, associate professor,/Cognitive Neurology and Alzheimer's Disease Center, Northwestern Feinberg School of Medicine, Chicago

"I have a smile for everybody. I try to learn someone's name as soon as they come in [to the senior living retirement community], and if I see them, it's 'Good morning, how do you do'?"
"[I] show people I care."
"[Friends who are no longer mobile and with impaired brain health need comfort] so I fix her [95-year-old Mary] a basket about once a month of jelly and little things I make and send it over by cab."
Edith Smith, 103, SuperAger study participant

"Men aren't usually inclined to talk about their feelings, and I was a keep-things-inside kind of person. But opening up to other people is one of the things that I learned to do [on retirement]."
"We learn people aren't alone in the problems they're dealing with."
"You really get a sense of still being alive. You get a sense of not being alone."
William "Bill" Gurolnick, 86, SuperAger study participant
Elderly people with good memories (stock image) may be benefiting from having much younger brains than their age suggests. Researchers found so-called super-agers with the powers of recall of those in the 20s also have brains similar to those  decades younger

Researchers at Northwestern University embarked on a study hoping to derive an understanding of what it is in their lives and lifestyles that grace some seniors with excellent brain health and memory recall. They set out to discover whether maintaining friendships had a part to play in seniors' brain health. The researchers have spent nine years examining "SuperAgers"; men and women over age 80 with memories as good as or better than those of people 20 to 30 years their junior.

Finding that link would go a long way to explaining how it is, for example that a 103-year-old woman like Edith Smith mentors and comforts her friend aged 101 with whom her relationship dates back 70 years, and another who is 90, whom Ms. Smith visits at her retirement facility along with a 95-year-old friend who no longer leaves her house. In addition to which this woman remembers the birthdays of others in her senior community, recognizing those milestones with a card and a treat to ensure they know they're not forgotten.

She was a perfect fit for the study, given her lively interest in others and commitment to keeping in touch with them. Every few years the group participants were asked to complete surveys relating to their lives, and they were also exposed to a battery of neuropsychological tests, brain scans and a neurological examination, as well as other types of related evaluations. In the process the researchers discovered 31 people with exceptional memories located in Illinois and next-door states.

Northwestern researchers had undertaken research on previous occasions which revealed potential clues that SuperAgers' brains have features that set them apart from the ordinary; thicker cortexes, a resistance to age-related atrophy and a larger left anterior cingulate (part of the brain linked to attention and working memory). The researchers, however, felt that it was not brain structure alone fully accounting for the unusual mental acuity of SuperAgers.
Graphic of brain lifting weights
Image: The Guardian

Theirs was not the only study that found links between positive relationships with others and a reduced risk of cognitive decline, mild cognitive impairment and dementia. There was a gap, however, where researchers had failed to examine how these relationships are sustained and whether the experiences of SuperAgers might represent a life-lesson for others in their age groups. Edith Smith's cheery outlook on life and ability to communicate her welcoming attitude to others represented a case in point.

Another was William Gurolnick's realization that if he allowed his defences to melt away he could find common issues with others and expand his friendship base to benefit himself and others. He co-founded a men's group, Men Enjoying Leisure -- with a current membership of 150 which has motivated the presence of four similar groups in the suburbs of Chicago where monthly meetings take place and personal issues are discussed as a kind of group support therapy.

Mr. Gurolnick bicycles 20 to 30 miles once weekly with over a dozen older men, mostly from his men's group and on another day of the week there is a walking group. Mid-week he participates in several hours of water volleyball at the Bernard Weinger Jewish Community Center, and the following day he returns to play a racquet sport, pickleball.

Yet another of the SuperAgers, 88-year-old Evelyn Finegan, hard of hearing and with macular degeneration, is otherwise healthy. "It's very important to keep up with your friends -- to pick up the phone and call", she explains, speaking with a good friend on a daily basis and chatting intermittently with four others from high school. She attends church, goes out to a monthly book club, volunteers at a resale shop, and socializes in her building, as well as belonging to a club of Welsh women.

"It's so nice to spend time with Evelyn", her upstairs neighbour, 91-year-old June Witzl says, who  often drives Finegan to doctor appointments. "She's very kind and very generous. And she tells you what she believes so you really feel like you know her, instead of wondering what's on her mind." Proving, indelibly, that when we think of others, communicate with other people, do things with others, we reinvest in our own good mental and physical health, while aiding them in doing the same.

With so much to think about outside of our own introspective functions, we enliven our lives and brighten our thought processes, adding value to our everyday lives, with the additional bonus being that in the process of doing so, refresh our brains. What's not to like?

There are things the average person can do to stay sharp: As we age, our brain's gray matter — the stuff we rely on for seeing, hearing, processing emotions, exerting self-control, learning new information, and more — shrinks and degrades. So too does our brain's white matter, which contains the complex web of twisting fibers (wiring, essentially) that carries information across different parts of the brain.
A small 2014 study published in the journal Nature Communications suggested that in some older people, white matter may act as a sort of backup generator that can fire up when gray matter reserves run down. If that doesn't happen, however, people experience the typical effects of aging — fuzzier memory, a harder time paying attention, and difficulty learning new skills.
Super-agers and people gifted with extra-flexible white matter are rare, but some research suggests there are things the average person can do to stay keen with age as well. These include getting regular exercise, maintaining strong bonds with friends or family, quitting or not starting smoking, and learning new things or being intellectually challenged. So if you've been meaning to meet up with some old friends or have been putting off joining that yoga studio, there's no time like the present.
Business Insider, Erin Brodwin, November 2017

People living to 100

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Thursday, January 18, 2018

Proactively Anticipating the Next Influenza Pandemic

"We have to do better and by better, we mean a universal flu vaccine. A vaccine that is going to protect you against essentially all, or most, strains of flu."
"It's folly to predict [what a potential next pandemic might result in]. We just need to be prepared."
Dr. Anthony Fauci, U.S. National Institutes of Health

"We've made some serious inroads into understanding how we can better protect ourselves. Now we have to put that into fruition."
"Say a pandemic came along and you didn't have time to make vaccine. You'd want something to block infection if possible."
Ian Wilson, flu biologist, The Scripps Research Institute, La Jolla, California

"[The Chinese H7N9 bird flu] worries me a lot. For a virus like influenza that is a master at adapting and mutating and evolving to meet new circumstances, it's crucially important to understand how these processes occur in nature."
"How does an avian virus become adapted to a mammal?"
Dr. Jeffery Taubenberger, pathologist, NIH
Biologist Jason Plyler prepares to test how immune cells react to possible flu vaccines at the Vaccine Research Center at the National Institutes of Health, Tuesday, Dec. 19, 2017, in Bethesda, Md.  As scientists mark the 100th anniversary of the 'Spanish' influenza pandemic, labs are hunting better vaccines.
Biologist Jason Plyler prepares to test how immune cells react to possible flu vaccines at the Vaccine Research Center at the National Institutes of Health, Tuesday, Dec. 19, 2017, in Bethesda, Md. As scientists mark the 100th anniversary of the 'Spanish' influenza pandemic, labs are hunting better vaccines. (Carolyn Kaster/Associated Press)

To Dr. Taubenberger, the 1918 influenza outbreak represents the mother of all pandemics. Little wonder he would designate it in that category. That pandemic turned out to be one of the world's most catastrophic outbreaks of a disease which at that time had no antidote, no vaccine tailored by science to overcome its dread symptoms and even more dreadful conclusion. That year, influenza was responsible for the deaths of tens of millions of people across the globe.

Its trajectory from onset to final morbidity was swift. Its victims felt no symptoms of adverse health in the morning and by the time night fell they were dead, their faces turned a ghastly blue and they coughed up blood before they left this mortal coil to join the bodies of others for whom there were insufficient coffins to service funerals. And that 1918 outbreak of almost instant death consumes the minds of present-day scientists hoping they may succeed through research in overcoming the threat of another deadly outbreak.

There were no defences back then, a century ago, and though there are some now, in yearly-produced formulae of serum to inoculate against the upcoming strain of influenza, the formulae represent informed guesswork more than positive certainty as to the strain that will evolve and the efficacy of the vaccine produced on the basis of knowledge about the strain before its appearance. Invariably when the strain is finally identified the vaccine meant to inoculate against it fails to fully reflect a defence against the type of virus presenting.

Dr. Taubenberger led the team working for the military as a pathologist that succeeded in identifying and reconstructing the 1918 virus that was so globally deadly, and now extinct. With the use of traces unearthed in autopsy samples from First World War soldiers along with samples taken from an individual felled by the 1918 virus, discovered buried in the Alaskan permafrost of the flu that turned the world into a killing zone (paraphrasing John M. Barry's The Great Influenza: The Story of the Deadliest Pandemic in History), the molecular structure of the virus was identified.

There is a good degree of confidence among historians that the pandemic began in early 1918 in Kansas; a year later, in winter of 1919 the virus had succeeded in infecting one third of the entire global population, destroying the lives of an estimated 50 million people. The latter-day AIDS epidemic in comparison, has taken 35 million lives over a forty-year period. Since there is no known way to predict what strain of the flu virus might be capable of triggering another pandemic, science badly needs a defence.

Medical laboratories are on the hunt for a proposed super-shot capable of eliminating the annual fall vaccination, to produce one that might require only one shot in five or ten years. Even more ambitious would be a vaccine to be taken once in a lifetime as a childhood immunization. Dr. Fauci has focused on a universal flu vaccine for NIH's National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, as a primary priority. Scientists are attempting to dissect how the virus is disguised so the immune system fails to detect its presence.

The problem with the flu vaccines as they are produced today is that they are never more effective than at a 60 percent level at most, and fall in efficacy to 19 percent when new viral strains erupt and the vaccine fails to match the viral composition. Once a new flu strain comes into being it consumes months of research to tailor a new, appropriate vaccine, and in the interval another strain entirely can be manifested. Animal flu strains that have the potential to become the next human threat is one focus of Dr. Fauci's search.

The foremost concern at the present time relates to a lethal bird flu that leaped species from poultry to infect over 1,500 people in China in the last four years. That strain produced a mutation rendering millions of just-in-case vaccine doses in storage in an American stockpile fairly useless. There were three additional flu pandemics that arose since the 1918 event. The second in 1957, another in 1968 and a final one to date, occurring in 2009 which spread widely but turned out to be minimally deadly in comparison to the original.

In 2009 a discovery was made that there are occasions when people produce a limited number of antibodies in response to the circulating virus invading their bodies targeting the virus elements that don't mutate. "These antibodies were much broader than anything we've seen" heretofore capable of blocking multiple subtypes of flu, according to The Scripps Research Institute's Dr. Ian Wilson. Leading scientists to attempt various methodologies in hopes of spurring production of those antibodies, among other strategies.

The 1918 flu pandemic killed an estimated 50 million people
The 1918 flu pandemic killed an estimated 50 million people    Photo Researchers via Getty Images

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Wednesday, January 17, 2018

We are such stuff
As dreams are made on, and our little life
Is rounded with a sleep

Most people don’t get enough sleep. We are a society that burns the candle at both ends, a nation where people stay up all night to study, work, or have fun. However, going without adequate sleep carries with it both short- and long-term consequences.
In the short term, a lack of adequate sleep can affect judgment, mood, ability to learn and retain information, and may increase the risk of serious accidents and injury. In the long term, chronic sleep deprivation may lead to a host of health problems including obesity, diabetes, cardiovascular disease, and even early mortality.
Healthy Sleep: A resource from the Division of Sleep Medicine at Harvard Medical School
"The fact that extending sleep led to a reduction in intake of free sugars -- the sugars that are added to foods by manufacturers or in cooking at home as well as sugars in honey, syrups and fruit juice -- suggests a simple change in lifestyle may really help people to consume healthier diets."
Dr. Wendy Hall, Department of Nutritional Sciences, King's College London

"Sleep duration and quality is an area of increasing public health concern and has been linked as a risk factor for various conditions."
"We have shown [through research] that sleep habits can be changed with relative ease in healthy adults using a personalized approach."
"Our results also suggest that increasing time in bed for an hour or so longer may lead to healthier food choices."
Haya Al Khatib, lead researcher, study


We all know that sleep deficits make us cranky and prone to malfunction, both physically and mentally. Missing sleeping hours occurs to most people on occasion, and there are always plans to 'make it up' at a later date, possibly in the days following that night when lack of adequate rest made us feel groggy and ill-tempered as morning dawned and we wrested ourselves out of bed to face the day.

The medical community is fairly firm, the conclusion beyond doubt, that lack of sleep leads to a dissatisfying day in the short term and health consequences in the long term. Now, a new study out of King's College London has found that people who sleep for longer periods at night are less likely to reach for sweetened foods or comforting carbohydrates. Sleep deficits were acknowledged previously to represent a risk factor for obesity, altering hormone levels which control appetite.

What this study concluded was that by getting more sleep -- an additional 90 minutes of it optimally -- people tended to select healthier food choices within a week, ending up consuming an average ten grams less sugar daily. The study trial enlisted twenty-one volunteers who slept for fewer than the recommended seven hours a night, who were exposed to counselling in a bid to help change their sleep habits.

Each was then asked to maintain a constant bedtime, to resist drinking caffeine before bedtime and not to eat anything close to retiring for the night. Instead, to just relax and be comfortable through the evening hours before heading to bed. An average of 90 minutes was added by each of the volunteers to their daily sleep patterns over the seven-day study period. By week's end, they were consuming less sugar and carbohydrates than they had at the beginning of the week.

As for the control group whose sleep failed to improve, no such change was seen; their sleeping patterns remaining the same deficit-laden events, ensured that they would also continue reaching for comfort foods high in carbohydrates, and sweetened 'treat' foods. Previous studies undertaken over the years had already observed the connection between short sleep periods and poorer quality diets.

Most of us need around eight hours of good-quality sleep a night to function properly – but some need more and some less. What matters is that you find out how much sleep you need and then try to achieve it.
As a general rule, if you wake up tired and spend the day longing for a chance to have a nap, it’s likely that you’re not getting enough sleep.
A variety of factors can cause poor sleep, including health conditions such as sleep apnoea. But in most cases, it’s due to bad sleeping habits.
National Health Services (NHS.UK) 

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Tuesday, January 16, 2018

Wasting the Environment

"It was also aluminum, drywall, wax paper. I have photos and you can actually read the cheese wrapper I found in the bird, and glass that you could read. Just big chunks, really."
"There were a lot of big things. I found rope. I found a piece of plastic knife. There's a lot of stuff in there for sure. They're [gulls at landfills] not selective."
"It's a small fragment [the photographs] of what the birds were actually eating."
Sahar Seif, Carleton University undergraduate student
Sea gulls fly at the beach in Germany In a newly published paper, Carleton University researcher Sahar Seif found gulls were gulping down everything from drywall to pointy bits of metal.  (Michael Probst/AP Photo)

Goats are known for their apparent lack of discrimination, in their proclivity to eat just about anything they come across. Presumably, their constitution as mammals is as iron-clad as that of gulls in the avian kingdom. And it was gulls in particular that Sahar Seif, an environmental biologist, and lead author of a paper recently published in the Archives of Environmental Contamination and Toxicology, was primarily interested in studying.

AP
Seagulls fly over garbage being dumped at a landfill site in Tokyo Bay in this April 18, 2000, file photo.
TSUGUFUMI MATSUMOTO/AP
Landfill sites attract the presence of gulls in huge, swooping populations picking among the garbage to feast on what to other species of birds and mammals would surely represent indigestible, unpalatable and nutritionless waste. Their presence is so ubiquitous at waste sites all over the world that the contents of their stomachs are often examined as a monitoring device to estimate the amount of plastic in the environment.
  Three gull species were examined by Ms. Seif and her co-authors, common to a landfill in St. John's Newfoundland. Plastic in excess was discovered through necropsies of 41 birds. Plastic foam appears to have been particularly attractive to the gulls, its presence accounting for over one-quarter of all the garbage discovered in stomach contents of the birds. Bits of metal and glass comprised another 20 percent of stomach contents, while building materials represented over five percent.

A fast-food plastic snack bag 13 centimetres from top to bottom was also discovered. Yet as Ms. Seif pointed out, gulls are capable of regurgitating any items happening to upset their stomachs, making it obvious that what the research team chronicled in contents might have been a mere snapshot of total contents. The researchers also discovered that the gulls did not appear to be physically suffering from their intake of garbage.
Trash found in the stomach of a gull that had been feeding at a landfill in Canada.
Sahar Seif

They could detect no links between the human detritus discovered in the stomachs of these birds and the appearance of ulcers or lesions in their stomach linings. "They are very tough in that regard", observed Ms. Seif. Who also pointed out that gulls evolved as functional scavengers who in any environment, including wilderness settings, are capable of expelling potentially dangerous tidbits like sharp bone fragments.

But while it seems likely that gulls can scavenge debris without obvious harm resulting, the same may not be true for other seabirds who are in all likelihood also taking in similar castoffs and since they don't have the same evolutionary protection, they do come to harm. Ms. Seif's acute observation should give second pause to society as a whole, in this regard; that every bit of the detritus that the researchers discovered present in the gulls was designed for a single use then discarded.

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Monday, January 15, 2018

The Impulse to Self-Disfigurement

"There is significant psycho-social damage."
"Depression is relatively common. People become very self-conscious, and self-esteem suffers. They start to avoid social situations in which people could notice the effects of their behaviour, and often spend tremendous amounts of time trying to cover the effects."
"The behaviours seem to be both a problem of a habit gone awry and a way of coping with emotional distress."
Douglas Woods, professor of psychology, Marquette University, Milwaukee, Wisconsin

"Why is this [that girls tend to react to body-focused repetitive behaviours and obsessive-compulsive disorders more than boys do]? We are not certain, but I suspect that many more females begin to pull [their hair out] around the age of puberty."
"Likely, there is a hormonal component that affects more females than males. Other hypotheses are that males are more able to cover hair loss, or maybe do not seek treatment as they can hide the results of their pulling."
"Some do it in response to emotion -- anger, anxiety, happiness -- while others in response to needing to feel a certain sensory sensation, while others pull or pick [at their skin] in response to certain environmental triggers, such as activities, places, mirrors."
"[ComB, as a treatment] looks at each person as an individual and evaluates [his or her] individual pulling/picking profile."
"Strategies are offered based upon their unique pulling/picking triggers. It is not a one-size-fits-all approach. It is quite tailored."
Suzanne Mouton-Odum, clinical assistant professor, Baylor College of Medicine, Houston, Texas


Most people are aware of some impulsive behaviours that afflict young people -- and old, of course. The focus is on critical awareness and dissatisfaction with one's body. Binge-eating might be included in this kind of dysfunction, but most certainly anorexia and bulimia are two conditions that do very well reflect an unhealthy regard of one's appearance and body weight. These are serious enough conditions to make anorexics and bulimics very sick indeed, and even threaten their very lives.

The human condition seems to provoke people to act in unorthodox, self-harming ways as a type of coping mechanism, to relieve stress, to satisfy an urge to be other than what they are, any number of issues that people find disturb their thoughts and their lives. It's unlikely that the general public has even heard of two of these disorders; hair pulling and skin picking, trichotillomania and excoriation/dermatillomania respectively, to give them their scientific names.

Each is known to the scientific medical community as body-focused repetitive behaviours (BFRBs). Repetitive 'self-grooming' habits capable of causing injury through pulling, picking or scraping, or biting the hair, skin and nails. There is a vast difference between most peoples' casual picking or nail biting, and the type of extreme behaviour that these more serious disorders represent. And the cause of that behaviour is linked to a mental state.

Compulsive Nail/ Finger Biting
Onychophagia or Dermatophagia?

BFRBs were once classified in medical literature along with other impulse-control disorders such a kleptomania and addiction to gambling. The most recent edition of the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, however, now categorizes BFRBs as obsessive-compulsive disorders (OCDs). "The  truth is", says Dr. Woods "they probably belong in an in-between category". 

Viewed by the scientific community as being on the same spectrum, the two conditions are quite different as it happens, with classic OCD occurring with uncontrollable, recurring thoughts; revulsive fear of germs as opposed to behaviour compelling the person afflicted to endlessly repeat motions, such as repetitively excessive hand-washing. Whereas impulse-control disorders involve an inability to resist a potentially harmful or self-destructive urge.

Hair or skin eating, lip and cheek biting, tongue chewing and compulsive haircutting, according to a non-profit based in Santa Cruz, California, are typical of other types of BFRBs. Among boys and girls hair pulling occurs equally before age twelve, while at a later age, it occurs mostly in girls, according to Dr. Moutom-Odum at Baylor College. There is a belief by researchers of a genetic component in the disorders since they tend to run in family groups, leading researchers to study genes of affected people in an effort to identify markers to provide clues to their origins.

One study found higher rates of OCD in immediate family members, with people demonstrating extreme cases of hair pulling, than in the general population. As well, a twins study suggested the existence of a higher occurrence of hair pulling in identical as compared to fraternal twins. Add to that, research that has detected differences in the brains of people with these disorders, compared to the brains of others who show no symptoms of like disorders.

Clomipramine, an antidepressant used to treat OCD, has been moderately useful, but the most effective therapy according to experts in the field, is behavioural modification, of which there are two frequently used protocols. Habit-reversal training, teaching patients to be more self-aware when they pull and pick, and recognition of cues trains those affected to make use of a 'competing response' when the urge rises; clenching the fist with the hair-pulling hand and pressing it to the body's side.

The other is called ComB or comprehensive behavioural treatment, explained by Dr. Mouton-Odum as enabling clinicians to design a treatment plan taking into account specifics related to an individual.

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Sunday, January 14, 2018

Stupidity As An Addiction

"We have to be aware that there are many species out there that are defecating, that are emptying the contents of their enteric tracts onto the land and into the water."
"There's a long human history of consuming raw water over millennia and centuries and that has resulted in numerous documented outbreaks of serious infectious diseases and fatalities."
Dr. Ray Copes, Public Health Ontario

We do have a tendency to think of fresh-water streams as crystalline pure. Dr. Copes reminds us that any water taken directly from nature is likely to contain bacteria such as E.coli, salmonella and campyilobacter, along with parasites like cryptosporidium and giardia, disease-causing microbes that farm animals, for example cattle and sheep, not to mention wild animals shed into the environment. All their shedding contaminates surface water.

When you take your companion pet to the veterinarian for an annual check-up and vaccination, you're given options to protect them against picking up any of these microbes occurring naturally in the environment that can be a threat to their health as well. Should they become contaminated they will become ill. Just as humans are likely to, and when that happens because a number of people have taken to a new fad the potential for disease outbreaks can shake our confidence in modern health science.

It's not that modern health science is in any way deficient, it is that people seem to have a tendency to cluster around any new idea that celebrates itself as 'green', or 'natural'. In this particular instance, it's 'raw water'. the rage among that demographic of environmentally aware/unaware people who believe that 'natural' means healthy. If they gullibly believe what promoters of the new raw water bottling assure them, it's because they haven't been responsible enough to themselves to educate themselves of the dangers inherent in the belief that 'natural' is superior for human consumption.

But guess what? Humans may be civilized to the point where we flush what we defecate down a toilet and do the same with the waste from our domestic pets and that waste is then processed at waste treatment plants, but animals in the wild consider nature itself to be their toilet. Everything gets washed by rainfall into streams and rivers and lakes. If you happen to be out enjoying nature by camping in a wilderness area, camping gear includes a vital piece of equipment, to render lake water sterile of most bacteria.

But now a new health craze appears to be sweeping the United States, the belief that raw water (read untreated) is "healthier" than water that pours out of a tap, or alternately bottled water. Healthier because it won't contain fluoride, retaining beneficial minerals and "good" bacteria otherwise removed by disinfection methods or through sanitary filtration. Remember what Dr. Copes explained? There's a kind of reverse psychology effect going on here.

But that scientific/health point of view doesn't appear to have given second thought to groups promoting living off the water grid such as Live Water, based in San Francisco, delivering untreated water to clients, water they source from Opal Spring in Madras, Oregon. The water that its promoters celebrate as 'raw' just incidentally, may be free for them to scoop and bottle, but they sell it for $70 a 9.5-litre jug. If it were freely given away, as a sweetly charitable act of public good after all, no one would be interested.

The great likelihood is that untreated water carries a host of micro-organisms that can cause severe illness and even death. Knowing human nature and the suspicion of science by those committed to a more 'natural', 'healthful' way of living and eating, however, some people are just hard to convince. Until such time as they become predictably ill and modern medicine aided by scientific protocols responds to rush in and save them from themselves.

It's a pretty safe bet that those people who love and respect nature and who make it an important part of their lives, searching out unspoiled areas of forest and mountain, lake and ocean to explore and simply enjoy the serenity and beauty of it all, have the knowledge it takes to ensure they don't become ill through that kind of exposure. They take precautions by carrying with them the gear required to make the most of their outdoor experience and closeness to nature while guarding against consuming or imbibing harmful organisms natural to the landscape.

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