Stargazing

March 25, 2016 at 2:14 pm | Posted in Online services, Science, Space | Leave a comment
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We’ve developed the bad habit of leaving the lights on all night. On streets, on porches and in yards, on stores and in offices. A world that never sleeps and never sees the Milky Way.

“Stargazing is extinct in cities like New York City and London, but it’s also endangered in places all over the world because of urbanization. We rounded up the most incredible places to see the night sky, and a few places that need to be preserved.”

The Weather Channel has set up images from various low light locations around the world that are ideal for watching the night sky. Does the night sky above you look like this? Best is on New Moon nights, so they offer a calendar too.

Light pollution ruins star gazing but also restful sleep, natural rhythms and thus health. Blackout curtains can help but then you can’t wake with the sun. Motion detectors can make a big difference on your property.
David

Gravity Waves, Part 2

March 9, 2016 at 8:39 pm | Posted in Science, Space | 1 Comment
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A couple of years ago, I wrote a short bit about gravity waves. It’s the last prediction of Einstein’s General Relativity that hadn’t been directly experimentally verified – after 100 years. Last fall, a major 3 year upgrade was completed on the Ligo detectors in Louisiana and in Washington state. Just after they where turned back on, they detected a merger of 2 black holes that happened long ago and far away.

That event released more energy than 1 billion, trillion suns – that’s more than we have in the known universe. So the event made waves in space-time. Such an event is expected about once every 10,000 years, so it was fortuitous timing.

After rigorous verification, that discovery has been officially announced and the last prediction is experimentally verified.

The upgraded equipment can also detect other sources of gravity waves. This opens a new window on the universe. We can now explore the universe not just with light waves (electromagnetic spectrum) but with gravity waves.

Here Brian Greene reviews the discovery:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=s06_jRK939I

For more background, you may enjoy these:
Rumour of the discovery and more detail on gravity waves.

The follow-up on the discovery

David

Eating for Life

December 10, 2015 at 4:27 pm | Posted in Economoney, Health, Science | 1 Comment
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Eating based on beliefs or special diets that are not designed for your specific body can have unintended consequences. Variety is what makes food interesting and ensures we get the diversity of nutrients required.

Readers of this blog know I did a series on the CHIP program. This included some of the science for shifting to a more plant-based diet, minimizing cancer risk, and overall self care. The program was originally designed for heart patients but was expanded to the whole population.

I quite liked the approach as it looked at how and what we eat, fitness, emotional health, and more. CHIP recommends a primarily plant-based diet but suggests you move in that direction rather than mandating anything.

The weakness however is not differentiating recommendations by body type. For myself I’ve found Ayurveda adds some useful extras. For a start, they begin with your body type and make dietary recommendations accordingly. They recognize that not all of us will respond to the same vegetables or other foods in the same way. Each of us needs a certain emphasis or balance of food types.

Ayurveda favours a vegetarian diet that includes dairy, but they allow for the full range and can recommend some occasional fish or white meat. They have a food as medicine approach. Dairy is also prepared in specific ways. Clarified butter, soft cheeses, and boiled milk, for example.

Ideally, we begin with initial recommendations and then experiment. Pay attention to how foods make you feel afterwards. But be very careful where sugar is involved. Sugar confuses the bodies intelligence so it messes up the signals and creates craving. Also, you may find dietary needs change with age and life, so we may need to tune up choices periodically.

But if we can learn to take the bodies lead in our eating choices rather than some dietary rules or beliefs, we’ll do much better and enjoy life more.

Science is beginning to catch on to this. Programs are being developed (as yet far too expensive) that make science-based diet and exercise recommendations that are specific to your body. By combining DNA, blood, and other tests, we’ll soon be offered more personalized recommendations.

Meantime, enjoy the experiment.
David

Cowspiracy – The Sustainability Secret

November 8, 2015 at 6:42 pm | Posted in Economoney, Health, Media, Movies, Science | 4 Comments
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Gumby
I’ve written several articles on this blog on the CHIP program and the many health benefits of shifting to a more plant-based diet – including reduced cancer risks. Recently, the World Health Organization announced that processed meats are carcinogenic and red meat probably also is. This is based on hundreds of studies.

A friend recommended the film Cowspiracy, a surprising documentary about the meat industry. Not only is excess meat a health issue but it’s also the number one cause of global warming. Simply because of volume, cows and their processing produce well over twice the greenhouses gases than all forms of transportation. Really?

“Livestock and their byproducts account for at least 32,000 million tons of carbon dioxide (CO2) per year, or 51% of all worldwide greenhouse gas emissions.”
Goodland, R Anhang, J. “Livestock and Climate Change: What if the key actors in climate change were pigs, chickens and cows?”

“Livestock is responsible for 65% of all human-related emissions of nitrous oxide – a greenhouse gas with 296 times the global warming potential of carbon dioxide, and which stays in the atmosphere for 150 years.”
“Livestock’s Long Shadow: Environmental Issues and Options.” 2006.

“Even without fossil fuels, we will exceed our 565 gigatonnes CO2e limit by 2030, all from raising animals.”
Oppenlander, Richard A.

“Agriculture is responsible for 80-90% of US water consumption.”
US Department of Agriculture Economic Research Service, 2013.  54% is for growing feed crops.

Conservatively, 2,500 gallons of water are needed to produce 1 pound of beef. Eating a single hamburger will negate any individual efforts you can make to conserve water.

“Animal agriculture is responsible for up to 91% of Amazon destruction.”
World Bank, 2003

“Today, humans and the animals that we raise as food make up 98% of the zoomass.” (animal biomass on earth)
Vaclav Smil, Harvesting the Biosphere, 2011

“We are currently growing enough food to feed 10 billion people.” But half of it goes to feed animals, even in countries with starving children.

much more, with references      An infographic

Meat production is the largest cause of deforestation, water consumption, ocean pollution, and desertification. A third of the planet is now desert. And yet the film-maker found that most environmental organizations refused to talk about it. His primary funder suddenly backed out over the “controversy”.

Turns out it’s illegal in the US to speak against the meat production industry. There is now an “Animal Enterprise Terrorism Act”. In other words, speaking about this in the US can be considered a terrorist act. In South America, people are shot for protesting against agribusiness.

Yet – on a given land area, we can produce 15x the protein with plants rather than animals.

“A person who follows a vegan diet produces the equivalent of 50% less carbon dioxide, uses 1/11th oil, 1/13th water, and 1/18th land compared to a meat-lover.” Just with diet.

A little more effective than a low-flow shower head, biking to work, and turning out a few lights. And if we’re actually serious about addressing climate change, we need to address the elephant in the room…
David

How the Solar System Actually Moves

August 27, 2015 at 7:29 pm | Posted in Science, Space | 2 Comments
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You may have seen those animations of the planets circling the sun. Maybe even one of those mechanical devices illustrating it. However, this leaves us with the erroneous impression that the sun is standing still.

As I noted on Quite Enough, “the sun is moving at about 810,000 kph. The earth is not orbiting, it’s spiralling through space, following the sun. We’re not only matching the suns speed to keep up, but spinning and going around as well. So we’re going even faster…”  We also never return to the same point in space in our annual orbit.

I saw a decent animation of the process but it had the plane of the ecliptic (planetary orbits) perpendicular to the sun’s movement, which is incorrect. This one is more accurate. However, it’s also worth noting that the sun is not moving in a straight line either. We’re moving relative to other area stars, and orbiting the galaxy which is moving with our galactic cluster, and so forth.

https://i.imgur.com/rLr8Swh.mp4
David

Minimizing Cancer Risk

May 13, 2015 at 10:40 pm | Posted in Health, Science | 3 Comments
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Our bodies are naturally self-healing if we give them the right nutrition, activity, and environment. This doesn’t have to be perfect – just within reasonable ranges.

However, our modern lifestyle has lead to some poor habits that, over time, create imbalances in the body that gradually throw systems out of whack. That leads to a wide range of common illnesses, including Cancer. Yet, cancer itself is not actually an illness – it’s a symptom of an illness or imbalance that leads to an out-of-control healing (cell-replenishment) process, much as chronic inflammation leads to many other troubles.

If your immune system is in good shape, you won’t get cancer. The body will take care of naturally occurring problems, including malignant growth.

What is the largest influence on the risk of cancer? Lifestyle habits. Carcinogens have links to cancer but are a far smaller influence than lifestyle. And lifestyle is something you can control.

The World Cancer Research Fund International has been running an ongoing and continually updated meta-analysis of published papers on cancer research. They have reviewed over 9,000 studies of some 17 cancers.

Their recommendations to reduce the largest risk factors:

1) Loose Excess Weight and maintain a healthy weight (a BMI of 21) through a balanced diet and exercise.
2) Be Physically Active at least 30 minutes each day. As fitness improves, aim for 60 minutes. Limit sedentary activity, like being a couch potato.
3) Limit consumption of Energy-Dense Foods – these are foods high in fat and/or sugar and low in fibre. Avoid sugary drinks and limit fruit juices (some have more sugar than pop plus low fibre). Limit fast food and processed food. When foods are low in fibre, we don’t feel full and continue to eat, leading to weight gain. Not to mention that cancer lives solely on sugar. People who die from cancer effectively starve to death as the cancer consumes all the bodies energy. Energy-dense foods feed cancer.
4) Eat mostly foods of plant origin: vegetables, fruits, whole grains and pulses. Favour unprocessed cereals. These foods have lower energy density and higher fibre. They help fill us up and carry away toxins. They reduce cancer growth by reducing fuel.
5) Limit red meats and avoid processed meat.
6) Limit or avoid Alcoholic Drinks. Purple grape juice offers the same health benefits touted for red wine. But moderately as it’s also energy-dense.
7) Limit consumption of Salt (and salty foods and salt preserved foods). Check the labels on packaged and canned goods. Many have high amounts of sugar and/or salt, even “healthy” and organic foods. Also – avoid mouldy grains and legumes.
8) Don’t use dietary supplements to protect against cancer. Aim to meet your nutritional needs through diet.
9) Breastfeed – this protects both mother and child
10) Cancer survivors should also follow these guidelines: before, during and after treatment

Put simply – favour a whole foods, plant-based diet and get active. Again, this is research-based. Alcohol, sugary drinks, fat, and other energy-dense foods all produce sugars that feed cancer, add weight, and increase inflammation.

And of course, quit smoking. Whatever kind of plants you smoke.

This approach will also reduce inflammation, much as I noted prior. This means it will also help avoid high blood pressure, heart disease, and so much more. And it will improve not just your health but overall quality of life. And don’t forget to clean up inflammatory emotions. We have to take care of our emotional and mental health too or that will contribute to physical illness.

To your health and well being.
David

Some CHIP Science

April 13, 2015 at 11:57 am | Posted in Health, Psychology, Science | 8 Comments
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As I discussed prior, CHIP is one of the best researched lifestyle upgrade programs available. They lean on a lot of other research. Let’s see if I can explain the basics of the value proposition for health.

Essentially, the bodies immune system produces inflammation at an injury point while the healing is underway. But lifestyle factors like smoking, high fat or sugar in the diet, inactivity, excess alcohol, salt, obesity, poor sleep, and stress can all lead to chronic low-level inflammation. Similarly, the same lifestyle factors create more “oxidative stress”, an imbalance between damaging free radicals and the antioxidents that manage them. If free radicals get the upper hand, all sorts of problems can arise, including higher cancer risk.

We most notice inflammation in the joints when we have discomfort and pain. But one of the primary sites where chronic low-level inflammation develops is in blood vessels. Over time, this damages the vessel walls protection. LDL (“bad”) cholesterol influenced by free radicals becomes sticky and adheres at these points, causing narrowing of the arteries, atherosclerosis. That impedes the circulatory system and the distribution of oxygen and nutrients required by all areas.

The trick is – where that is occurring more is what leads to a chronic ailment in that area. The best known is of course coronary artery or heart disease. But in the brain, it’s senility or stroke. High blood pressure. Kidney disease. Hearing loss. And macular degeneration in the eyes.

The main point – “most chronic diseases have a common cause in chronic low-level inflammation linked to oxidative stress.” This is backed up by a lot of research.

For example, several long term studies, like the Adventist study and the China study, have demonstrated that every step closer to being a straight vegetarian you are, the lower your rate of chronic disease: by a 4 and 5 to one ratio to meat eaters. Meat eaters, for example, have a 5 times higher likelihood of developing high cholesterol (somewhat obviously). This means a 5 times higher likelihood of a lower quality of life. Spread that over multiple issues and you get the message.

CHIP feels these chronic diseases can be moderated and potentially corrected with diet, sufficient activity, emotional health and stress management. They hope to wean you off any related medications for symptoms.

I’ve been surprised how thorough they’re being. They want to really drive the points home. It’s completely your choice how far you want to take it on the diet and exercise scale. But they want you to understand the choices you’re making and their benefits.

And we’re not just talking a longer life but one of higher quality too.
David

The CHIP Program

April 13, 2015 at 11:39 am | Posted in Health, Media, Psychology, Science | 9 Comments
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I’ve been blessed with a robust constitution from a “successful” gene pool. But this has meant it was easy to be lazy about taking care of myself. Although I’ve been “reasonable”, my lifestyle choices have slowly caught up with me. I’ve gradually become more sedentary with a little too much fill the bucket eating.

I’ve tried several diets that made a lot of difference. Loved the Reboot program, for example, but didn’t make the long term changes to keep it off. Once I finished the juice fast, things gradually went back to the old habits. And because basic lifestyle patterns were not changing, things just slowly got worse. It finally started to catch up with me.

The basic problem is, our modern western “healthy” diet is very simply not. The major diseases of western countries are diseases of abundance and excess, ironically. But because it’s common, we see it as normal.

The western medical system is allopathic, designed to treat things like infections and broken bones. But MD’s are not typically well-trained in lifestyle and nutrition, nor are they set up to guide a patient through such changes. When people come to them with chronic issues related to lifestyle, they can offer some advice to loose weight or relax, then pills to treat the symptoms. But none of this addresses the cause. As a result, in most cases the patient does nothing or doesn’t find anything effective long term and fails. The chronic conditions get worse, the prescriptions climb, and people keep returning to their doctor for help. Yet they do little to help themselves, often because they don’t know how.

We need to change our thinking and recognize we have to take responsibility for our health. Often, we take better care of our cars than our bodies. It’s estimated that 70% of doctor visits are related to lifestyle issues they’re not set up to address. The major health issues of our time are dominated by lifestyle-related ailments like heart disease, diabetes, and cancer, developed over many years of bad habits.

Why is our diet so bad? In the 50’s, researchers determined that our western diet was too high in fat. They introduced lower fat recommendations. Not only did this lead to the low-fat craze but it also lead to far more processing of foods. Taking out the fat also took out the flavour. So they compensated with things like sugar and salt, massively increasing our intake. Food research sought the “bliss point” of sweetness to be appealing, even in baby food. They also discovered that sugar and caffeine could make a food addictive. Many foods became increasingly unnatural designer foods, made to appeal to our base tendencies. The long term result – a massive increase in obesity.

When someone begins to realize how their lifestyle is affecting their health and quality of life, they may look to make changes. Most visible is gyms and diets. If you’re lucky, you’ll find the right resources and motivation to make the changes needed before there’s a health crisis. But often, people end up trying a long list of fad diets and programs that have more of a yo-yo effect than long term benefit.

What many need is some support and filling in some of the gaps in our self-care skills. We need a dose of preventative medicine.

In my own case, I needed lifestyle changes, but an approach that was straightforward and real. This is when I ran into the CHIP program, recommended at the end of a health article.

CHIP stands for Complete Health Improvement Program. It began some years ago as a heart-health program similar to  Healthy Heart. The second is mainly for people already with a serious health issue, often offered at hospitals and the Y. CHIP broadened the approach because the principles are true of many common chronic health issues, not just the heart. While Reboot had paid support programs, this was in-person groups working together.

CHIP is also one of the best researched programs available and arose out of a history of prior research. Large, long term studies have shown that the greater the amount of animal fats in the diet, the higher the risks of developing chronic illness. This science is well understood but not widely known. I’ll write more on this shortly.

What has really impressed me about such a mainstream program is that none of the advice I’ve objected to. I’ve studied traditional health systems like Ayurveda and the advice aligns very well with it. It is really good advice: whole, plant-based, unprocessed foods, variety, and plenty of exercise.

The principles are very straightforward but do ask for real change. And not temporary change either. This is not a diet to try but a change in lifestyle. Not a temporary fix but a long-term shift.

There is no calorie counting and no starving. You can eat lots and loose weight, if you choose the right whole foods. Without the addictive foods in your diet like sugar and caffeine, you won’t get the cravings that ruin many a diet.

But also, diets without exercise are not a solution. Your body is not designed to be a slug. We’re built to be active. Yet lots of exercise without changing what you put in your mouth isn’t a solution either. This is about improving your whole quality of life long term. When you get into the swing of exercise you like, it feels really good. And this doesn’t take long.

If you’d like a metric, under 5,000 steps a day is sedentary. That includes most of us. 10,000 steps brings you an “Active” status. Unforced, it also brings the yummy experience of stepping into “the zone”. The program comes with a pedometer. Worn throughout the day, it will easily track how you’re doing.

CHIP is 18 classes, packed with tips and research to back up the recommendations. A cookbook too. For me, I’ve lost weight, waist size, and feel quite a lot healthier than I have in awhile. And we’re only at class 4. Fun stuff like dancing isn’t exhausting now. I use the car much less. My food bill has dropped markedly. And many are telling me how great I look. While I’m still in the keener phase, I can heartily recommend the program. It’s taught all over North America.
David

Our Meaningful Universe

March 27, 2015 at 10:42 pm | Posted in Media, Nature, Science | 1 Comment

Modern evidence of natural “coincidences” that the Universe was designed for complex, intelligent life. The key mechanisms and properties that allow life as we know it.


https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=VoI2ms5UHWg

Of course having a privilege doesn’t make you special, it gives you a responsibility to do something useful with the gifts you’ve been given. And to have fun.
David

The Gut Brain

February 15, 2015 at 5:37 pm | Posted in Health, Nature, Science | 2 Comments

Scientists have come to view the Enteric nervous system (ENS) of the gastrointestinal tract as something of a second brain, the “gut brain”. Unlike other arms of the nervous system, it is capable of local autonomous function, and thus it’s own decision-making ability. It is however much more limited in scope than our actual brain.

However, it can have a profound effect on our cognitive functions – something we have all experienced if we get over-hungry or indigestion.

More fascinating still though is that the gut system is not a simple chemical digestion factory but “more like a super-complex ecosystem containing trillions of bacteria and other microorganisms.” “such microbiota, specifically within the gut, can greatly influence many physiological parameters, including cognitive functions, such as learning, memory and decision making processes.

Here we review evidence on the ability of the gut microbiota to communicate with the brain and thus modulate behavior, and also elaborate on the ethological and cultural strategies of human and non-human primates to select, transfer and eliminate microorganisms…

While some bacteria we work to control, there are a number of kinds we live with which are vital to our well-being and ability to digest some foods. We have trillions of cells in the body but actually carry a lot more bacteria. Though invisible to the eye, there are so many that it’s suggested they add between 2 and 9 lb to our body weight.

On the cellular level, we are not “a person”, we are a vast community. Add in the microbes and we are an entire ecosystem of life, broadly working for mutual enrichment. Take a city the size of London. Now add in 500,000 more of them. The population under your skin is much larger.
David

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