Saturday, July 31, 2010

2- Enriched environment, stress, inhibits cancer?

In a previous post I mentioned the new research showing how an enriched environment can markedly impede the development of cancer. This research, the abstract of which is available here. (This research is concordant with research I earlier addressed, you can read it here.)The results of this current research indicate that a key variable is leptin. Leptin is a hormone released by fat cells(and other cells) that suppresses appetite. When writing up that previous post I was in a hurry so did not have time to think about it. As I driving over to a friend's place I had a petit epiphany, realising that there could very well be a linkage between the findings of this study and another post I put up on the same day that indicated regular coffee consumption is associated with cancer reduction. The typical assumption is that coffee confers this protection because it is extremely high in antioxidants, but together with the above research we can see another way in which coffee exerts its anti-cancer effects. There are some important lessons here, both in relation to the dangers of extrapolation when dealing with complex adaptive systems and the need to constantly re-evaluate our assumptions. I know, whilst thinking about this during the week I made some silly logical errors.

Friday, July 30, 2010

Bad Science by Ben Goldacre

bad science
Dr. Ben Goldacre
Fourth Estate - London, 2008
Website: Bad Science

Purpose of this text: to inform the general public about how to better understand modern biomedical news and in particular health related news. He is a British doctor and keeps his focus on the British scene but his lessons are universal and badly needed. In an earlier post  I  made some comments on the chapter in this text "Professor Patrick Holford".

This is a very important book. If you have never read a text on how to read and understand biomedical literature yet read biomedical literature you should read this text.

Saturday, July 24, 2010

Professor Patrick Holford - Nutrition Nonsense

The other day I picked up this text and late last night decided to read the chapter Professor Patrick Holford because I read a book of his some years ago. Ben Goldacre is a British doctor who writes regularly for the Guardian and has taken up the challenge of addressing all the kookiness out there in relation to health advice. Good on him, high time the medical profession put some effort into attacking the multitude of spurious nutrition advice out there. I may provide a full review of "Bad Science" later but for now I will focus on this Patrick Holford character.

Coffee and Cancer

Coffee used to be regarded as a dangerous substance. The research is now clearly pointing out that coffee can confer a great many benefits. This video from Healthday puts forward the results of some surprising research showing that regular coffee consumption is protective against a range of cancers.

Enriched environment, stress, inhibits cancer?

This report from the Ohio State University Medical Center presents some challenging ideas in relation to stress and cancer. It has been assumed that cancer patients should avoid stress, this advice being predicated on the common presumption that any stress suppresses the immune response. That idea is not correct, it is sustained stress that inhibits the immune response, but mild intermittent stress can have a positive effect on the immune response. I have previously addressed this issue in this post. This recent research again highlights the complexity of immune responses and how we still have much to learn.

For an excellent overview of their research these neuroscientists have provided a good video which you can view below. It is great to see scientists using these resources to communicate their findings to the public. We are witnessing a revolution in the dissemination of scientific information.

I have some other ideas I wish to follow up with this study so I may edit this post later. For now though, read the news article above and watch the video. Good stuff.

The Universe: A Biography

The Universe: A Biography

John Gribbin
Allen Lane, 2006


Cosmos Review
New Statesman Review

John Gribbin is an astrophysicist with an uncanny ability to communicate his love for cosmology in an accessible and entertaining manner. If you are not familiar with cosmology then this book is an excellent starting point. Unlike Re-inventing Gravity which addresses the specific issue of gravity and goes into some technical detail, this text takes you along for the ride in a non-technical explanation of cosmology. If you are not familiar with the subject matter, it is better to start with this text before moving on to Re-inventing Gravity.

The Modern Mind: An Intellectual History of the 20th Century

The Modern Mind: An intellectual history of the 20th Century
Peter Watson
Perennial, London, 2001


Wiki entry on the author

This work is a remarkable scholarly achievement. The author admits he cannot cover in detail all the relevant ideas of the last century yet he does an excellent job in providing the reader with a sweeping panorama of 20th century thought.

The writing is lucid and entertaining, though at times I found some of the material covered tedious. That is to be expected, a coverage of this extent is bound to leave the individual reader with pages tedious to read. That is not the author's fault, it is just a function of human behavior. This is a valulable text, one that should be read in its entirety and then kept handy as a reference source.

Saturday, July 3, 2010

The Intelligent Universe by James Gardner

I have long toyed with the idea that intelligence is embedded in the universe, it is not an emergent property but an intrinsic property. Materialists will resile at that idea but they can eat my shorts. As I like to say, how is it that in this materialist universe our most powerful tools are ideas?

I have long been sceptical of the strict materialist position because I have always found the probabilities of life emerging, let alone the marvellous complexity and diversity of life, as being so improbable that Hoyle's famous comment about life arising by chance being akin to a hurricane going through a junkyard and creating an aircraft in the process to be a reasonable argument. There is an important caveat here and it is this: when confronted with mysteries don't embrace ghosts to deal with the mystery. Acknowledge the mystery but don't second guess it.

Re inventing Gravity: a Physicist Goes Beyond Einstein

Physics is something I read for fun because I'm too ignorant to analyse it. I love it though, the research is fascinating and hats off to the physicists who labor so hard and long to uncover the mysteries of the universe.

For a preview of this work you can refer to this website of Prof Moffat.

Full credit to John Moffat for presenting very complex arguments in a highly accessible literary style that kept me going at a cracking pace. The man is not only a brilliant intellectual but an excellent communicator. If you are not familiar with the issues concerning gravity you will find this text difficult but if you are someone like myself who has held a life long fascination with physics and cosmology you'll find this text to be a hoot of a read.

Butterflys and Brains

Can you believe that your brain is intrinsically unreliable? I can't, I implicitly trust it. I have no choice. In this news release they address one of the great mysteries of nervous function: is "noise" a byproduct of nervous function or does it serve some fundamental purpose?

I used to become very annoyed at people who likened brains to complicated computers. The analogy is so stupid it is hardly worthy of serious consideration yet Artificial Intelligence bods adopted it as a working assumption. They should stick to designing computer games because I'm bored with ones I've got.

As an "information processing" device, and I have great difficulty with that phrase but I won't go there, the brain represents a formidable challenge in understanding its function. This is because......

Inhibition and Depression: GABA a hidden player?

Initially I was pleased to see this news release because it appeared concordant with my earlier post wherein I explored the angle of depression and arousal. Upon further reflection I realise there are some serious problems with the conclusions put forward in the news item.

Nonetheless this study represents a novel approach to the issue of depression. What they did was create a mouse with a defect in GABA A receptors. GABA A receptors are key receptors in inhibition. GABA is the major inhibitory neurotransmitter in nervous function and is strongly implicated in the etiology of epilepsy. Many drugs for epilepsy aim to increase GABA levels, though there is some recent research which suggest astrocyte release of glutamate may also be implicated in the condition. In relation to depression and arousal though the loss of GABA suggests the potential for excessive arousal. Most anxiety drugs also target GABA. Interestingly, depression and anxiety are often co-morbidities so perhaps GABA does play a role.

The problem I have with this study though is that knock out gene studies are very crude instruments. There is value in such studies but we need to be very careful in drawing too many conclusions from such studies. Why? Because we know next to zilch about how nervous systems function as a whole, so when we introduce such a gross morphological deficit there are potentially any number of possible reasons for the observed effects. So we must rely on the old scientific demand: more research is required.

Friday, July 2, 2010

Oils Aint Oils: EPA for Depression

One of the more remarkable features about depression is the number of therapies that have proved beneficial. I explored that issue in this post. This latest study highlights the importance of prostaglandin regulation in depression. This latest study, the largest ever trial on omega 3 fats in treating depression, demonstrates a careful delineation that helps clarify the role of omega 3's in treating depression. The nutshell is this: they focused on EPA, typically at 120mg in your fish oil tablets, and boosted that intake to a big 1000mg per day. That's a lot but given the role of EPA in regulating prostaglandin pathways makes good sense.

Thursday, July 1, 2010

Beatroot Juice for Blood Pressure?

Not really sure that eating lots of nitrates to control blood pressure is a good idea. As the news item states the nitrates are converted to nitric oxide, which is very important in inducing relaxation of the blood vessel muscles, thereby reducing blood pressure. There are 3 major enzymes for producing nitric oxide, iNOS,nNOS,eNOS. i=inducible, typically associated with inflammatory events, n=neuronal, nitric oxide being very important for neural transmission, 3=endlothelial NOS, that which helps the blood vessels relax. Nitric oxide concentrations are tightly regulated and with good reason: it is a potent free radical. Nitrates are a substrate for boosting nitric oxide, perhaps generally, so while it may help with blood pressure it may also upset nitric oxide regulation, induce inflammation, cause free radical damage, and over activate the immune responses, thereby setting the stage for atherosclerosis ... . I suspect it would be better to focus on arginine intake(esp. vs. lysine?) and the let the body work it out. The effect in the below study was within 24 hours, which suggests a strong response. All the more reason to worry.