NY Times’ “The Biggest Loser” article light on key facts

It would be great if an acclaimed — and more importantly, extremely widely read — U.S. newspaper could boast “Health” and “Science” sections that boasted consistently impressive articles. This one is getting a lot of attention, and with good reason: something like two-thirds of adult Americans are considered overweight, millions of them are trying to shed pounds, and Gina Kolata’s article in effect conveys the message that they are screwed.

I’m going to assume that anyone reading this has read the article and the study it draws from or at least has tabs open to these, because I am not going to review it in depth.

A couple of very quick, seemingly obvious, and (perhaps deliberately) underemphasized or omitted points:

Continue reading “NY Times’ “The Biggest Loser” article light on key facts”

A short quiz for the “milk is bad for you” crowd

A guy I hang around with is convinced that milk is about the worst thing a person can ingest, save for red meat, which he sees as a virtual guarantee of colon cancer (there is probably an association, but he takes the issue to an extreme). Of course, this same fellow is a “truther” (thinks the U.S. government was behind the 9/11 terror attacks) and has paranoid tendencies across the board. And when he says milk is bad, he’s not referring to the hormones people are concerned about; he means milk per se, at least cow’s milk and other milk derived from animals. Continue reading “A short quiz for the “milk is bad for you” crowd”

Blue Healer: Ellie’s rough road

So lately I’ve been helping to take care of a dog that has proven to be a remarkable, and damned near heartbreaking, challenge. (Well, considering we all live indoors and have plumbing and electricity and stuff. I don’t want to get too high-flown here. A Jack London story this ain’t.)

Ellie is a 12- or 13-year-old Australian Cattle Dog mix, weighing in at about 60 pounds. (An alternative name for this breed is “Blue heeler.”) I first became acquainted with her toward the end of last year. A friend of mine does a lot of house-sitting and pet-sitting, and I often lurk nearby when she does; Ellie’s family is a frequent client. My initial meetings with Ellie were on the turf of her owner Jil’s parents, who live less than a mile from Jil and her husband and own a similarly aged, better sighted, more arthritic pooch named Mollie. Mollie’s owners are also frequent clients of my friend the sitter. When Jil is out of town, Ellie usually stays at Mollie’s, and when Jil and her parents are both out of town (which happens more often that you might think, not that I’m reading your mind), the dogs and my friend all stay at Mollie’s. Which is a hell of a nice house, since you asked.

With that burst of irrelevant details out of the way, I’ll describe the problem and the (apparent) (re)solution. Continue reading “Blue Healer: Ellie’s rough road”

They had to get hamsters drunk to figure this out?

File this one under “No shit, Sherlock”:

A new study of the relationship between alcohol intake and wheel-running in hamsters has found that exercise may provide an effective alternative for reducing alcohol intake in humans.

[S]aid Alan M. Rosenwasser, professor of psychology at the University of Maine, chronic alcohol abuse and circadian disruption become reciprocally destructive and result in negative effects on physical and emotional health.

“Dopamine is the primary chemical released within the brain in response to any type of reward, including exercise, drugs, food, and sex,” [study corresponding author J. David Glass] said. “For humans, exercise may be an effective, beneficial, and naturally rewarding substitute for any type of addiction.”

To be fair, all of this may actually be news to addiction researchers even though drinkers with a running problem themselves have been aware of these things for decades, and the research team did establish a common link–circadian rhythm regulation–offering insight into why, other than the variously triggered dopamine-reward system that was elucidated a long time ago, exercise helps keep people on the wagon. Still, the fact that scientists are just now catching on to the vital role exercise plays in managing chemical dependency underscores a greater clinical reality: All too often, exercise is never mentioned by psychiatrists treating all manner of substance-abuse problems and mood disorders, with the primary and typically sole intervention being a prescription drug with or without the suggestion to attend support groups.

Survey: Depressed Americans prefer pills to therapy

This is not surprising. A Consumer Reports survey of over 1,500 Americans with clinical depression suggests that far more people embrace pills than embrace talk therapy, despite the fact that those who attended at least seven therapy sessions reported as much symptom relief as those who relied on drugs alone. Four in five respondents, in fact, replied that they would rather go the pharmacological route.

This is understandable, given that taking a pill as a lot less work and, in many cases, is a lot cheaper than visiting a therapist. But this doesn’t take into account efficacy, and many people have spent years trying to find an SSRI or other drug that produces the desired effects.

Of course, this is a false dichotomy, since many people on medication are also in therapy. But it’s clear that people are hungering for a magical solution to a complex problem, and it’s unlikely that clinically depressed people will ever fully return to baseline using pharmacotherapy alone.

Of ancillary note: More and more people who seek help for mental-health problems report anxiety as one of their symptoms, and the type of therapist people employ (psychiatrist vs. psychologist vs. social worker, etc.) does not appear to have an effect on the efficacy of therapy.

Bipolar disorder: a slideshow

What I find interesting is how people who share some distinct trait, belief, or status–however rare–seem to gravitate toward one another without any conscious effort whatsoever. If agnostics and people who believe in some amorphous “higher power” are not included, the percentage of atheists in the U.S. apparently ranges from around 5% to around 15%, depending on the parameters of the survey. Yet well over half of the people I associate with are atheists by any measure. Similarly, this Web MD slide show cites the 2% figure I have seen elsewhere with respect to the fraction of the population believed to be afflicted with bipolar disorder; I’d have to say that a far greater fraction of my friends and associates have been diagnosed as bipolar.

Anyway, the slide show is a great overview. The curse of bipolar disorder is that people with it, especially in its less explosive forms, usually find the manic or hypomanic phases not only tolerable but enjoyable, and may often be more productive in some areas of their lives (or at least believe that this is the case). So when the depression hits, they find it easy to believe that their moods are under conscious control and that if they simply fight to reclaim the high of days and weeks past, it can happen. Since this is not how things work, people already experiencing “organic” depression excoriate themselves for their perceived weakness and incompetence, perpetuating a very nasty cycle within a population already apt to have alienated most everyone in their lives and thus operating largely in isolation.

Humans break so damned easily.

More empty bluster about ESCR from the religious right

Some time ago, some playful rapscallion signed me up to get daily e-mail updates from OneNewsNow.com, a site representing the truly demented and prevaricating arm of U.S. Christianity. I was tempted to cancel “my” subscription, but after reading a few of these updates and visiting the site, morbid fascination and a longstanding personal propensity for finding reasons to become tweaked over the doings of idiotic liars won out over common sense, so I continue receiving messages housing all manner of laughable bullshit about homosexuality, abortion, and everything else that the religious right has uniquely mangled in its antiheroic insistence on infecting mainstream society with its worthless take on social and medical issues.

The latest crapburst is a post about the supposed lack of merits of embryonic stem-cell research, and it’s more of a joke than the usual mindless litanies churned out by this vile band of backward souls. I realize that the reason this site exists is to raise money for the American Family Association by pandering to the lowest common denominator of cross-happy dolts in this country and that its writers are not quite as stupid as they appear, but nevertheless, “articles” like this one are inexcusable and could be drolly dismantled by any eighth-grader with a handle on scientific and general reality.

Anyway, the skinny: Continue reading “More empty bluster about ESCR from the religious right”