Tuesday, 20 September 2011

Make do and mend in the Philippines

What do you do when there's no electricity and you're poor?

In the Philippines they've started generating power with simple plastic bottles:

Litre of Light is an initiative to make solar bottle light in a country where energy prices are high.

In parts of Africa they've leap frogged the development cycle by jumping straight into mobile phone technology. Landlines and universal secure power supplies aren't necessary for telecommunications. This has also enabled many people to run businesses from their mobiles, handling payments electronically rather than having to visit a bank.

The project in the Philippines may point the way to a leap straight into sustainable energy supplies.

Saturday, 17 September 2011

Peace One Day

At regular intervals the media announce that today is International ***** Day (insert worthy cause in the gap.) It's easy to be cynical and assume that a committee of retired bureaucrats have devised this as make-work activity. Little seems to change.

The same reaction occurs when emails circulate about World Peace Day on 21 September. The story of how this came about is intriguing.

Actor and filmmaker Jeremy Gilley decided to campaign for the idea of one day of peace and non-violence. Gilley was frustrated at the relentless level of conflict in the world. He was influenced by the early death of his grandfather, who, as a prisoner of war, witnessed the bomb in Nagasaki and had lasting health effects from the radiation. Gilley chose the date because 21 was his grandfather's favourite number.

Gilley had no money. He wrote to everyone he could think of to promote the idea. He travelled all over the world filming and listening to ordinary people in war zones and the difference that peace might make to them. He decided to build a case and make it stronger and more detailed.

Finally UK and Costa Rica proposed a motion to the UN General Assembly on 7 September 2001 and it was passed unanimously. Kofi Annan invited him to a press conference at 8am on 11 September, but the attack on the twin towers make it impossible.

Gilley persisted and toured with his film. People in Israel sneered that it's just symbolism, after watching Gilley's film. He recognised that he needed tangible results to convince people.

He came to understand the 4 pillars of success:

- A great idea
- A constituency
- Finance
- An ability to raise awareness

His profile was too low to make an impact, so he recruited the actor, Jude Law. Together they went to Afghanistan and spoke to all organisations involved in the conflict. A major problem was the safety of humanitarian workers in the country. After Gilley returned home, a letter came from the Taliban agreeing to a ceasefire on 21 September.

On that one day of peace 1.6 million children were vaccinated against polio as a result.

Later it was announced that there was a 70% reduction in violence on that day.

Gilley then aimed for a Global Truce on 21 September, with the idea that a 70% reduction in violence could be possible everywhere if it had been achieved in such an intractable situation as that facing Afghanistan.

One of his mentors told him that it's not going to come from the action of governments. 'It's all about individuals - you and me, partnerships, local businesses - working together.'

In Pinchot's terms Gilley has followed most of the commandments, particularly doing any job necessary, finding people to help him, running in his own race and being true to his goals.

Lowering blood sugar

Those concerned with weight loss, diabetes and heart disease have found that blood sugar levels are one of the keys to making positive changes. Specialists such as Dr Richard Bernstein and Dr William Davis recommend lower levels than typical Department of Health guidelines (indicated here).

Bernstein, Davis and others recommend eliminating sugars from the diet and starches (easily converted to sugars). Fats and proteins, as well as non starchy vegetables and berry fruits are helpful in maintaining blood glucose at optimum levels.

Blood sugar can also be affected by drugs, raising, lowering or causing swings in levels. The list includes caffeine, which can contribute to hyperglycemia (high blood sugar), so coffee, tea (including green tea) and chocolate may cause a spike. If caffeine is consumed with sugars or starch the blood sugar spike can be followed by a dramatic drop to hypoglycemia (low blood sugar). This may be dangerous for diabetics on insulin.

Each person responds differently to food and may tolerate more carbohydrate/fat/protein than others without raising and maintaining blood sugar above the recommended levels. Dairy products can raise blood sugars and increase weight, for example. Some people struggle to limit food intake and reduce their appetite, in spite of curbing addiction to sugars and carbs.

Dr Gundry recommends increasing levels of raw vegetables in the diet to increase the feeling of fullness, which encourages us to stop eating. The diet includes high levels of fibre to help regulate how the body processes food and maintains an even blood sugar level.

These are healthy blood sugar targets recommended by Jenny Ruhl:

Fasting under 83 mg/dl or 4.6 mmol/L

1 hour after food under 120 mg/dl or 6.6 mmol/L

2 hour after food under 100 mg/dl or 5.5 mmol/L

Bernstein and Davis advise people to aim for lower levels, but this may be difficult to achieve, particularly when losing weight.

Some people struggle to bring blood sugar down, even when following these guidelines and may risk long term health effects from excess glycated haemoglobin. One challenge is coping with signs that the body is adjusting to a lower background level of sugar and getting through symptoms that seem to be hypoglycemia (low blood sugar) but are not:

'The symptoms you feel during a false hypo may include a pounding pulse, shakiness, a raised blood pressure and other symptoms very similar to those of a panic attack.'

One simple food seems to produce startling reductions in blood sugar, without first spiking or taking blood glucose down to dangerous levels. Chia seed comes from a plant, which is part of the mint family, native to Central and South America. The seed can be soaked in coconut milk to make a porridge or sprinkled on any food.

According to Dr Wayne Coates, who wrote 'Chia: Rediscovering a Forgotten Crop of the Aztecs' chia is 16% protein, 31% fat, 44% carbohydrate of which 38% is fibre. Most of its fat is omega-3 fatty acids including alpha-linolenic acid (ALA).

The high fibre content of chia, both soluble and insoluble, induces a feeling of satiety, which seems to last for some time, without converting to sugar and spiking blood glucose levels. On the contrary, blood sugar levels may drop to mid 4 or 3 mmol/L (85, 75 or 65 mg/dl).

Jenny Ruhl states: 'Doctors do not consider true hypoglycemia (low blood sugar) to begin until under 3.9 mmol/L (70mg/dl). It does not become dangerous until it reaches levels like 2.5 mmol/L (45 mg/dl).'

Dr Coates has collected research on his website, following the work he undertook at the University of Arizona. He gives sensible advice on choosing your seed for best results.

Some organisations are trying to patent strains of white chia seed, to make some money out of a simple, safe food that has many health benefits. Doctors are unlikely to recommend adding chia to the diet and may continue to prescribe medication to control blood sugar and blood pressure. Obese people might find chia helpful in controlling appetite and losing weight steadily without drugs or surgery.

The internet provides a medium for sharing information and research, so that individuals can choose a diet and lifestyle approach to avoiding surgery and unnecessary drugs. The Wiki Patient won't conform.

Friday, 9 September 2011

How to lose weight

Dr William Davis recommends this simple bit of kit (for example):

The simplest way is to check your blood sugar before food and then check it one hour after eating. The aim is to maintain a healthy level of 100 mg/dl or less (5.5 mmol/L) before and after food.

Youtube has several videos showing how to take blood for the test:

Jenny Ruhl runs a website dedicated to sharing accurate information about blood sugar.

She gives sensible, current guidance about 'normal' blood sugar levels. For optimum health, she recommends staying below 120 mg/dl (6.7 mmol/L). Blood glucose levels that are consistently in the 140 (7.8) range endanger health and indicate glycation and heart plaque build up.

OK where is the advice about counting calories? What are the restrictions?

This way of eating leaves everything up to you (ie it doesn't ask you to calorie count or avoid anything).

Use the glucometer to research which foods raise your blood glucose and which foods enable you to maintain optimum normal levels. Notice which quantities tip you into higher blood sugar levels (as too much protein, especially dairy, is alleged to do.)

We all differ. Some have genes that favour higher metabolic rates and lower fat accumulation around the middle. Others remain slim until middle age, when hormonal changes trigger visceral fat deposits around the internal organs. Some people have minimal effective beta cells in their pancreas, after years of high starch and sugar foods. They may have minimal insulin response and 'metabolic syndrome' combined with obesity. Others develop diabetes when young without dietary overload of insulin spiking foods.

Keep a note of all the food and drink you consume and quantities. Keep checking the blood sugar levels and eliminating foods and drink that raise the levels above 120.

Maybe this:

Or these:

Exercise, in moderation, seems to help insulin response, especially when the focus is on slow strength training.

The overall aim is to change eating habits and find a way of life that works to promote health and longevity. This isn't a diet, but a way of shifting from food and drink that damage us, while maintaining muscle mass and overall well being. It's a slow and steady march to control over our health and destiny. Gary Taubes has some interesting points to make about the impact of type of food intake versus the old model of 'calories in, calories out'. In this post he quotes recent research on sugar (high fructose corn syrup) and fructose.

This is easy for me to say, as I've never been grossly obese. One blogger points out the contrasting difficulties faced by people who became obese as kids and as adults. One of the challenges he faced was losing touch with the body signalling system.

One aspect he mentions, that I've seen in my work as a psychotherapist, is the difficulties kids face when adults control the food supply and continue to buy foods that 'sabotage' any attempt to control food intake and weight gain. We've recently had media coverage of kids being taken away from their parents and put into care because of obesity, though newspaper reports indicate that the children were of average weight.

This is hard to justify when Department of Health guidelines still emphasis low fat high carbohydrate diets, which, according to my glucometer, raise insulin and encourage weight gain.

Don't believe me, test yourself (and keep testing.)

Banking pirates?

30 years ago Allied Dunbar financial advisers used to sit down with prospective clients and review their finances using a set of forms on a laptop. One of the first questions was about the level of risk the client found comfortable. Smiling indulgently at the baffled expression, the adviser would then talk about low, medium and high risk investments. High risk might be small cap shares, medium risk might be bonds or extra pensions and low risk could be banks.

The adviser would mention the Post Office account and the mattress as 2 of the lowest risk places to stash their money, pointing out that lack of interest earned would erode the value of their savings over time.

Safe banks?

In the UK we have seen queues of people outside branches of Northern Rock bank and other demutualised building societies, when it became clear that the banks couldn't meet their obligations.

Safe pensions?

Ordinary Equitable Life policy holders are still waiting for compensation years after being reassured by government that their savings were safe, only to find that the facts did not support that view.

Since the late 1980s and privatisation of many public sector organisations such as utility companies, the Great British Public have been encouraged to participate in stocks and shares and have a stake in the economy and wealth creation. Empowerment of ordinary people in this way was well meaning. Sadly the pace of globalisation and frequency of mergers and acquisitions has made it confusing to keep track of who owns what, particularly when the name of organisations is maintained as a brand.

The sell off of UK assets has attracted many foreign investors to our shores. That's fine when it's a company running busses or piping gas to our homes. It's more tricky when foreign firms by British financial institutions and then operate under non-UK regulations.

The most prominent example on the high street is of Abbey National building society, which demutualised, became a bank and was then bought by the Spanish bank, Santander. It looks the same as a British bank, but shares in the company are subject to Spanish withholding tax. Customers in 2011 have complained about poor service and have not been reassured by Santander's response.

Investors in BOI (Bank of Ireland) are nervous about the bank's ways of getting out of debt following the financial crisis in Ireland. Bond holders in the UK have been told that they face losing 80% of their money and that the UK regulatory body the FSA will do nothing about it.

As with Equitable Life, one way of overcoming negative publicity has been to characterise this group of investors as wealthy people who could easily bear the loss. Many are small investors, who invested their meagre savings with a local British building society, never suspecting that their money could be seized and the authorities would take no action.

(Thanks to Chattanooga Times Free Press for the above image.)

What about the post office?

Bank of Ireland has a 16% stake in the Post Office and takes over 50% of its profits. The Post Office relies on BOI for its banking licence granted by the FSA. It is not a member of the Government Compensation Scheme, so in 2010 account holders would not get their money if BOI had problems. It is alleged that the arrangement has changed so that investors would get some money back.

What's the worry?

Bank of Ireland has form. It acquired Bristol & West Building Society in 1997 when it was demutualised. BOI took over the renamed Bristol & West plc's banking business (but not the insurance side) using a banking transfer. 'BOI raided permanent investment bearing shares (PIBS), which are typically used by people with small savings to top up their pensions pots.' There was no meeting of bond holders and scant notice of the High Court hearing was given.

As one investor wrote:

'So what has effectively happened is that thousands of unsophisticated UK retail investors who invested in a UK Building Society have unwittingly, unknowingly and without consent or full information had their investment reclassified as subordinated bonds of a foreign bank and changed to foreign regulation and foreign law for the only remedy under the Trust Deed - being a winding up of the Issuer. And now, as a result, they are threatened with confiscation of their investments by a foreign finance minister using a foreign law.'

Who is responsible for protecting these people?

It seems that UK regulators and institutions stand aside.

Many elderly people in the UK rely on Post Office accounts for their pension and small savings. The branch is local and accessible.

The key issue is about trust between lender and borrower. If the 'lowest risk home for UK savings' is under threat in this way, then that only leaves the mattress.


Bank of Ireland is continuing to strengthen its position by plans to take money from 'subordinated bondholders'. Banks of other EU countries seem to be considering bondholders as a way of dealing with their debts. Beware.

Update 2:

Some success and an appreciation of the work of Mark Taber here (and an opportunity to donate).

Wednesday, 7 September 2011

Why don't we all get cancer?

This question is the title of a lecture by Craig B. Thompson, President and CEO of Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer. He's talking about the latest findings in cancer research.

The answer focusses on the state of our genes and specifically those responsible for glucose metabolism. A PET scan checks this.

Glucose is the trigger for dormant cancer cells to proliferate.

'It matters where your calories come from. We have good evidence that excess fat does not increase your cancer risk, excess carbohydrate does increase your cancer risk and protein is somewhere in the middle.'

As Tom Naughton comments, 1/3 of the student audience had misunderstood the lecture and still believed that dietary fat would increase the growth of tumours. Low fat health messages have taken hold on public perception.

Thursday, 1 September 2011

The weight loss 'expert'

Fitness trainers at the gym often profess to be experts on nutrition and weight loss. Here's an example of one leaflet circulated on the topic.

Metabolism and why diets don't work includes a paragraph on body fat percentage and ratio of fat to lean, but does not distinguish between visceral fat (surrounding the internal organis) and body fat (under the skin.) The first is the main indicator of potential problems with heart disease and poses a greater risk than the second.

Guidance focusses on calorie restriction and increased exercise (calories in/calories out). Anyone who has exercised on machines in gyms, that show calorie expenditure, know that much exercise expends far fewer calories than we consume in food. It makes no mention of the effects of different foods (irrespective of calories) and how some people lose weight even when injured and unable to exercise, by changing what they eat.

The section on understanding food labels includes some sensible advice:

'What else to look out for

• Foods that have lots of artificial ingredients such as artificial flavours, sweeteners,
colours, stabilisers and preservatives
• Foods that have a lot of fat, sugar and salt
• Foods that contain “trans fats” or “hydrogenated fats”
• Foods containing very few natural foods, or foods that have been altered: “modified”, “hydrogenated”, “reconstituted”, etc
• Watch out for ingredients that you do not recognise, if in doubt leave them on the shelf
• Foods that have no nutritional information - “takeaways”'

Slipped in the middle of the list is the warning against: 'Foods that have a lot of fat'

Gary Taubes has demonstrated that saturated fat is important for most people, except the few with conditions such as hyperlipidemia, in his books: 'Good fats, bad fats' and 'Why we get fat'. Saturated fat, such as coconut oil, can be useful in working with dementia.

He also challenges the received wisdom about weight loss and exercise, though many acknowledge its role in maintaining insulin sensitivity.

Doug McGuff has some interesting views on exercise and the relative effectiveness of different types on human metabolism:

Petro Dobromylskyj makes a strong case for the central role of insulin in fat gain.

Tom Naughton points out that intelligent people in the West seem incapable of distinguishing good from bad science and the use and abuse of statistics. His lecture helps to explode some of the myths peddled by 'weight loss experts' and gym staff.

Science for smart people:


There's an interview at the end of Tom Naughton's lecture. He talks to an Ob Gyn, who wants to set the story straight about HRT and explain why one of Naughton's examples isn't so simple.

Questions: Who funds him and his research? What about links between HRT and breast cancer? Why should women take HRT anyway, when dietary and lifestyle changes can help them reduce and deal with natural signs of menopause?

Keep your brain switched on, when watching this segment.

Roaming ancestors standing still

Our ancient ancestors kept on the move. They hunted for animal protein and fish. Grains were gathered from wild grasses. Fruit, berries, leaves and roots supplemented the diet where available.

Disruptive innovation occurred when people stayed in one place, built permanent shelter and began to cultivate plants and grasses to crop for large parts of the year and store for winter. This enabled the development of settled communities, more sophisticated social structures and the eventual arrival of villages, towns and cities.

Welcome to civilisation.

Tall wheat was grown along with other grains and formed the basis for staples such as bread and pasta. Potatoes were a better option in places with poor weather and little sun to aid ripening. Domesticated grasses, like tall wheat, supplied fatter grains for a richer harvest.

Modern science and technology considered the challenge of poor yields, vulnerability to pests and diseases and loss of harvest from wind and rain damage. Plant breeding and genetic modification focussed on resistance to insect and bacterial/fungal infection. A major improvement to guarantee robust crops and easy harvesting was the development of modern short wheat.

This series of adaptive innovations in our staple food supply seemed sensible. An increasing population, less land for food cultivation, improvements in healthcare and increasing demand for food made this essential. Wheat was recognisably the same, it produced the same products and we focussed on other issues.

So what's the problem?

It seems that modern, short wheat is not the same. Bread and pasta produced from its grains are not the staff of life described in the bible.

Heart specialist, Dr William Davis, describes the role that wheat plays in triggering coronary arterial plaque and heart disease, in part by raising blood sugar levels higher than most other carbohydrates. When patients turn to him for help with heart problems, he recommends that they eliminate all wheat from their diet, with astounding beneficial results.

Further observation of patients and surveys of readers of his blog have shown that modern wheat is implicated in a wide range of health conditions from obesity, coeliac disease, arthritis, skin problems, accelerated ageing and brain damage. His latest book 'Wheat Belly' gives a detailed account of the issue.

'Diseases of civilisation' is a term widely used to refer to high fat, rich diets.

Wheat and sugar in its various forms seem to be the most ominous fruits of our ancestors' decision to stop and settle down.

If you visited this post from another site, you might like to browse other content on this topic by clicking on diet.