Category: Chemistry

All about garlic

All about garlic

The garlic bulb is a really unusual plant. Each clove in the garlic head is actually a single swollen leaf, according to Harold McGee. Garlic’s strong taste and smell is actually a protection the plant evolved: when an animal bites into it, the strong taste is released, repelling the animal.

A whole garlic clove has only a mild taste and aroma, but when you cut into it, the enzyme alliinase is released from one part of the bulb and reacts with the compound alliin (a derivative a the amino acid cysteine) in another part of the bulb to form allicin, which has the characteristic garlic aroma and taste. Note that the plant evolved this defense to keep away animals, and garlic is actually quite toxic to dogs and cats: you should avoid letting any get into their food.

The alliinase enzyme is quite sensitive to temperature. Students of Professor John Milner at Penn State carried out a simple experiment where they placed garlic cloves in a microwave oven for one minute. While the garlic cloves appeared unchanged, analysis showed that the enzyme had completely disappeared after heating. They noted that other types of heating are sure to give the same results.

So this means that you need to chop the garlic before heating or cooking it, and that you should let the chopped garlic stand for a few minutes before adding it to the food you are preparing, to allow time for the enzyme to work to develop the flavor.

Garlic has much more sugar in it (fructose) than onions do, and is thus more prone to burning. Cook it at low temperatures when sautéing it, or add it directly to a liquid.

These two facts explain why dishes like Chicken with 40 Cloves of Garlic are so mild. The garlic cloves are never cut up: and the alliinase is destroyed by heating soon after the cloves are added to the pot.

Always buy fresh heads of garlic. Avoid the ones in little boxes, as they may be very old. You should also avoid bottled peeled garlic cloves in oil, as they are prone to develop botulism, according to McGee. And do not refrigerate garlic, which also will reduce the flavor.

Garlic peeler

When peeling garlic, you can use the simple rubber garlic peeler tube shown above, or you can use Jacques Pepin’s technique, and just cut a small slice from the root end of the clove. This will free the skin and it will just about come apart in your hand.  You can also just crush the garlic and pick out the peel from the rubble.

And how do you get that garlicky smell off your hands? Rub them with salt and then wash as usual.

See also

  1. The chemical weapons of onion and garlic
  2. Is garlic toxic to pets?
  3. Science News: Garlic benefits- it’s all in the preparation
  4. Chicken with 40 Cloves of Garlic
  5. Harold McGee: On Food and Cooking
  6. Jacques Pepin: Essential Pepin
Ten products you can skip –as seen on TV

Ten products you can skip –as seen on TV

Cable news, even when its reporting is sound, is rife with advertising of products you never heard of. And for good reason, advertising is relatively cheap on cable news and anyone can flood the news with “wonderful new products” that probably aren’t that great.

Prevagen does not improve your memory, as explained in this Harvard Health blog. . You have probably seen Prevagen ads everywhere. Targeted particularly at seniors who may experience normal word finding difficulties, the claims may mention “studies,” but not “doctors,” because no doctor recommends. It. Allegedly extracted from jellyfish (apoaequorin) actual studies have shown no significant effect, although by rearranging their data (called p-hacking) Quincy Biosciences has claimed it does. The FDA does not agree as explained in this Science Based Medicine article. The Global Council on Brain Health concludes that  “there is no convincing evidence to recommend daily dietary supplements for brain health in healthy older adults.”

The ASPCA does not help your local animal shelter. Despite their tear-jerking ads, the ASPCA is a New York City organization, and is not an umbrella organization for your local SPCA. Give to your local animal shelter instead. Further the ASPCA has been criticized for euthanizing pets rather than saving them.

Zerowater is a water filtering pitcher which takes about six minutes to filter a quart of water. Consumer Reports rated it Very Good and the competing Britta filter Excellent. It takes only about 1:15 to filter a quart of water. However, the Zerowater seems to removes 98% more contaminants. Unless your tap water has an unpleasant taste or smell, these may not  be that valuable.

Mr Clean Magic Eraser.  These products look like a good idea and have positive reviews, although it is not clear how they improve on a damp paper towel and some SoftScrub.  According to reviews at The Spruce, “Because the eraser works by scrubbing at the surface with tiny but extremely hard threads, you should not use on highly glossy or satin finishes….it is not appropriate for paneling or wood finished surfaces. It will strip away the surface and create damage and the sponge does begin to break down after [several] uses.

Tac Shaver by Bell and Howell. The reviews of this shaver are mixed, but according to this review apparently it didn’t last long and the beard trimmer didn’t do much. The Bell and Howell company you may remember from years back essentially got out of the technology business in the 2000’s and is now just a name owned by Westview Capital Partners.

COQ10 with Turmeric – If you are taking statins, a COQ10 supplement won’t do much of anything more. And turmeric is mostly good in curries.

Flex Seal is one of those As Seen on TV pitches you probably are skeptical of. You should be. It works for some things, but has a cumulative review of 1.5 out of 5 stars.

Yoshi Copper Grill MatIt “sort of works” but can’t be placed over an open flame. You could use it on a gas grill with covered burners, though.

Spin Power – is a multi-outlet charging station for your cordless devices. It does not include any spot for phones that can be charged by induction. It has mixed reviews on Amazon as you might expect from anything from ASOTV.

WATCHMAN – is an implant from Boston Scientific for stroke prevention. It is FDA approved and in wide use, But it was criticized in a handful of studies cited by Dr David Becker from Chestnut Hill Temple Cardiology and by Dr John Mandrola of Baptist Medical Associates of Louisville. If you are a candidate for this implant, discuss these objection with your cardiologist. The product has been generally  successful.

Spurtles – I never heard the word outside of the commercials from Lucinda’s Kitchen. They seem to be a set of wooden kitchen utensils made of acacia wood. Lucinda claims these exactly fit pans and jars and are more useful than what you have now. (I seriously doubt that.) You must hand wash them rather than tossing them in the dishwasher. This review calls them low-quality, not durable and having delayed delivery.

Flameout- the story of why IBM Instruments crashed and burned

Flameout- the story of why IBM Instruments crashed and burned

In the summer of 1978, a group of IBM executives met in Armonk to form the Instrument Systems Task Force and explore IBM’s entry into the chemical analytical instrument business. The IBM PC was not yet even a glimmer in Don Estridge’s eye, and the only well-known personal computers were the Apple II, the Tandy TRS-80 and the Commodore Pet.

By October, IBM’s Corporate Management Committee had approved the venture and IBM Instruments was soon formed. This book explores and memorializes the rise and successes of IBM Instruments and its eventual demise, only about 6 years after it was announced. To many, this was a shocking failure from one of the greatest computer companies in the world, and it is worth taking some time to examine how the Instrument Division grew and how it finally was shut down.

It tells the never-before written full story of IBM Instruments and why everyone who worked there misses it.

nr80 announce

This corporate Greek tragedy details the ideas for great products like a redesigned NMR spectrometer console that concealed obsolete electronics, to a desktop computer far ahead of its time that received far too little support.

Successes included an excellent AF series NMR spectrometer and an IR spectrometer based on new PC-AT, as well as a satellite PCNMR workstation package for the PC-AT that revolutionized the organization of NMR labs.

But eventually, IBM’s Instrument business unit was shut down and we all went off to other jobs. What they did wrong was mostly management-based, not technical and the book explains it in detail.

Flameout: The rise and fall of IBM Instruments- a business study wad just published and is a great book for anyone interested on how small businesses grow and sometimes do not. Early readers have called it

  • “A must-read! “
  • “I think the book deals with some important issues still relevant today.“
  • The value of writing these things up is huge”.

The book is available on Amazon.

Will CBD oil help you?

Will CBD oil help you?

CBD oil is the abbreviated name for cannabadiol, an extract of one of several cannabinoids found both in marijuana plants (cannabis sativa) and in hemp. CBD oil is not psychoactive and won’t get you “high,” but if extracted from marijuana plants, there may be trace amounts of THC (tetrahydrocannabinol), the active component in marijuana in the extract. Usually, “CBD oil” is made by extracting CBD and then dissolving it in neutral carrier like coconut or hemp seed oil.

It is a popular “natural” remedy, and has been suggested as treatment as a pain reliever, treatment for depression, cancer-related symptoms, acne, neurological disorders, heart health, substance abuse and diabetes protection.

However, there are just about zero studies of CBD oil’s actual effectiveness in the published medical literature. This extensive review of CBD oil and marijuana by David Gorski in Science Based Medicine explains that CBD oil has only been found to be helpful and is approved for treatment of two rare forms of epilepsy. There are no other documented benefits.  Wilkerson and McMahon discuss how CBD oil seems to work in this one case

One problem is, the CBD oil is not a consistent mixture. Depending on how it is extracted, its concentration will vary, as will the number of associated impurities, which may include traces of THC. So possible benefits (if any) are not going to be consistent. Essentially this is herbalism, treatment with herbs where the exact concentration of possibly beneficial components are unknown.

The summary in WebMD says that other than as treatment for some forms of epilepsy, the benefits are “largely unproven.” And Christie Aschwanden’s article in fivethrityeight.com says much the same thing.

An interesting article by Richard Freedman, MD was published in the NY Times last December in which described CBD-based candies as a “fruit flavored placebo.” But more to the point, he cites a 2017 study in JAMA that only 26 out of 84 samples of CBD oils, tinctures and liquids contained the amount of CDB claimed on the labels. Eighteen of them contained THC, which could lead to impairment or intoxication and a quarter contained less CBD then specified. The FDA has also issued warning letters to producers whose products  did not contain the amount specified.

In 2017, the National Academies of Science, Engineering and Medicine published a review of some 10,000 studies on the health effects of cannabis and cannabinoids. The review is over 400 pages, but here is the summary chapter. They found only a few small, randomized trials of CBD and concluded that there was insufficient evident that CBD was effective in treating insomnia, Parkinson’s, and smoking addiction, and only limited evidence that it was useful in treating anxiety.

And to move directly into utter quackery, there is now a CBD infused sports drink being promoted by retired NFL player, Terrell Davis.

That’s it. There are no other substantive studies on CBD except the one finding it helpful as an adjunct in treating two uncommon forms of epilepsy.

Other than that, there is simply no evidence that CBD is effective for anything except profit margins!

What about CBD with THC?

pot plant1

In his somewhat critical New Yorker article on medical marijuana, Malcolm Gladwell points out that all of the studies on marijuana effects were done using older strains of marijuana. All such studies were required to use the same plants, grown for research at the University of Mississippi. Modern breeding techniques have allowed the development of newer strains with about 10 times higher concentrations of THC. And we have simple no idea what the effects of these higher concentrations might be. We don’t know if the body responds linearly to this drug, or whether it responds more than that. We don’t know if there are new side effects or any indications of additive properties. We just don’t know.

National Academies Study

The complete summary of the National Academies study is actually rather disheartening to medical marijuana advocates.

  • There is strong evidence that cannabis or cannabinoids are effective
    • for the treatment of chronic pain,
    • as anti-emetics for treatment of nausea induced by chemotherapy.
    • For improving patient-reported multiple sclerosis spasticity symptoms
  • There is moderate evidence that cannabis or cannabinoids are effective in improving short term sleep outcomes
    • associated with obstructive sleep apnea syndrome, fibromyalgia, chronic pain, and multiple sclerosis
  • There is limited evidence that cannabis or cannabinoids are effective
    • Increasing appetite in HIV/AIDS patients
    • Reducing symptoms of Tourette’s disease
    • Improving social anxiety symptoms in people with that disorder
    • Improving symptoms of PTSD
  • There is limited evidence that cannabis or cannabinoids are ineffective for
    • Dementia
    • Glaucoma
    • Depressive symptoms
  • There is no evidence that cannabis or cannabinoids are effective for
    • Cancers
    • IBS
    • Epilepsy
    • ALS
    • Huntington’s chorea
    • Parkinson’s
    • Dystonia
    • Addiction treatment
    • Schizophrenia

Negative effects of cannabis

The same National Academies study found associations between cannabis use and

  • Lower birth weight (substantial)
  • Development of schizophrenia and other psychoses (substantial)
  • Increased symptoms of mania and hypomania in bipolar disorder (moderate)
  • Increase suicide ideation (moderate)
  • Pregnancy complications for the mother (limited)
  • Later outcomes in the offspring (not refutable)
  • Cognitive impairment in learning, memory and attention (moderate)
  • Impaired academic achievement (limited)
  • Increased rates of unemployment (limited)

41xF+Ugrf4L._SX324_BO1,204,203,200_And, in Alex Berenson’s new book Tell your Children the Truth about Marijuana, he also draws connections between marijuana use and mentally ill criminals. Essentially, he asserts that they are all pot smokers.

What is disturbing to me is that despite the very low level of medical value of both CBD oil and actual cannabis, and the very high amount of risk it seems to present, the “marijuana industry” has been very successful in promoting their products as beneficial, when objective evidence simply does not support these conclusions.

Nothing could be more indicative of this slippery slope than the fact that the Wilton Continuing Education department was offering a class in the benefits of CBD oil taught by a woman from a marijuana dispensary, whose bio clearly shows how strongly she believes in the medical benefits of cannabis, but who has very little actual scientific training. When I pointed out the articles showed how little benefits actually existed, they did not cancel the class.

 

 

Why homeopathy is hokum

Why homeopathy is hokum

There are lots of faux drugs on the shelves of many shameless drugstore chains that are labeled “homeopathic.” These are useless nostrums marketed to the gullible.  Usually they are labelled as something like “200C.” This is not a temperature, but the number of dilutions of the original substance.

The completely unsubstantiated hypothesis behind homeopathy is that “like cures like,” and that a very small diluted amount of some “natural substances,” such as plant extracts can stimulate the body to repair itself. There is no evidence that this 18th century idea actually works.

The way homeopaths work is that they select some substance or substances they believe might be helpful and dilute them with shaking, which they call potentization. The word has no actual meaning. Then after many dilutions and shakings, they sell some to you for treatment.

Well now, how much is “some”?

Let’s assume that table salt is a substance that can be used for treatment. It has a molecular weight of (23 + 35.5) of 58.5. We know, from the work of Loschmidt and Avogadro that if you weigh out the molecular weight of any substance in grams (in this case 58.5 g) it contains one  mole of particles, or 6.02 x 1023 molecules.

1 mole saltSo let’s dissolve that mole of salt on one liter of water. Now we have a one molar solution containing those 1023 molecules.  And now, lets dilute 10 ml of that liter by 100, to again make one liter.  This new liter will have 1/100 as many molecules in it, or 1021 molecules.

Well the “C” in that “200C” designation means that has been diluted by 100. And the 200 means that this has been repeated 200 times!

So lets see what happens after each dilution:

  1. 1021 molecules
  2. 1019 molecules
  3. 1017 molecules

…..

  1. 105 molecules
  2. 103 molecules
  3. 101 molecules

 

After 11 dilutions, you have only 10 molecules of salt left in your solution.  What happens when you dilute it 100:1 another time? If you take 100 10 ml samples of that last liter, 10 of them could have one molecule of salt!

And after that, the chances of there being even one molecule of our “medicine” are vanishingly small. All of the salt (or any other substance) is lost in the dilution process! There isn’t any left after 12 or so dilutions. And by 200 there is absolutely no chance you’ll encounter even one molecule!  It’s gone down the drain, just as the entire homeopathic hypothesis has. There are no active ingredients at all!

Taking homeopathic preparations can act as a placebo, or if they dilute the substance in alcohol instead of water, a quick drunk, but there just can’t be any benefits in the absence of any medicine.

Unfortunately homeopathic preparations are poorly regulated, and some dangerous substances may remain in significant quantities. In some cases, heavy metals have been found.

513minrbq9l._ac_us436_fmwebp_ql65_Studies of the famous quack medicine oscillococcimnum have shown no significant effect. And studies of some 68 treatments have found that they have no effect either.

These are quack medicines that improve the bottom line of unethical pharmacies, but can’t do you any good. Any they may do some harm.

Sifting and measuring flour

Sifting and measuring flour

If you look at nearly any baking recipe, you will see something like “sift together the dry ingredients,” usually flour, baking powder and maybe sure and salt. Why do they do that? Well, because someone clear back to Fanny Merritt Farmer, in her Boston Cooking School Cookbook (you can read a digital copy here) said to. Flour in 1896 was probably much lumpier than today, and she said to sift all ingredients before measuring them.

Nowadays, flour isn’t usually very lumpy and we usually use it right out of the bag.

But we thought we’d try sifting some paprika into flour to see how well it mixes. This is about 1.5 Tb of paprika in 2 cups of flour.

 

 
 

As can see, it doesn’t really mix all that well. In fact, you could do better just using a wire whisk. But, if you are making a batter for baking, the mixing of the dry ingredients with the liquid will distribute them just as well.

Now about that cup

A measuring cup measures 8 fluid ounces: it is really for measuring liquids like milk or water. Flour, not being a liquid can be a little variable about how much fits in a cup. Fanny Farmer said you should scoop out the flour and level off the cup with a knife, and that works for 1 cup of flour. But for 2 ½ cups of flour, it gets messier and it soon becomes easier to weigh out the flour. We have an inexpensive kitchen scale, Ozeri kitchen scale (it cost $15.95), we keep right with our bowls and dishes, and can easily weigh anything we want.  If you don’t have one, ask someone to give it to you for Christmas.

So how do you weigh out flour? We found that 1 cup of King Arthur All Purpose Flour weighs 142 g (see above). We use grams because then there aren’t any pesky decimal pl aces to confuse you.

weighing



But what about sifted flour? The only thing sifting commercial flours does is to aerate them a bit so a cup of sifted flour weighs less. Sifted King Arthur flour weighs 126 grams, or about 8% less.

Cake Flour

Cake flour is made from a mixture of lower protein wheats that will give a light and tender crumb in cakes. According to Harold McGee in On Food and Cooking, all purpose flour has about 11-12% protein (mostly gluten) and cake flour about 7-8% protein. And U.S. cake flour is bleached as well, which causes “the starch granules to absorb water and swell more readily in high sugar batters.” Need less to say, cake flours weigh less per cup:

 All purposeCake flour
Scooped142 g120 g
Sifted126 g112 g

These weights are useful when you need some off amount of flour. For example, my waffle recipe requires 2 ¼ cups of sifted cake flour. It’s easiest to just quickly weigh about (2.25 x 112g) or 252g in a dish and mix it into the waffle batter. I keep this table posted inside my cupboard door, and write the weights into any recipes I use frequently.

So, get your scale out and you can do your baking quickly without getting a lot of measuring cups dirty. Happy holiday baking!

For Trump: Science is hard

For Trump: Science is hard

According to the Onion, a National Science Foundation Symposium concluded that Science is Hard. It really isn’t any harder than governing or public speaking or performing arts. Each has their own vocabulary and courses of study. But somehow, the general public thinks it is hard.

This has been borne out for years by our Congress, where only two members have degrees in any sort of science.  So it is not surprising that the Congress makes poorly informed decisions or assertions, like Senator Imhofe, who brandished a snowball in winter to assert that global warming is not real. Even worse, he cited biblical references to support his view, a book in which many people find comfort, but which was written by bronze age goatherds and unlikely to cover climate change.

So it is not surprising that incoming President Trump has dubbed climate change a “Chinese hoax.” To the contrary, Beijing is actively participating in policies to reduce carbon emissions, as are most countries.

You cannot expect a President to be an expert in all fields of endeavor, but you can expect him to appoint advisors who are experts in these fields, and it is here that the 28 appointments Mr Trump has made (out of about 660 that require Congressional approval) fail to support or understand science.  As we noted earlier, science is not a branch of politics, where many views may seem to be correct. Science is the result of rigorous experimentation, study and peer-review, and far less debatable than politics is. Or, to quote NGT, “Science is true, whether or not you believe  in it.”

In this context, it is deeply disappointing that Scott Pruitt, the nominee to head the EPA told Congress that “the extent of [human] impact [on climate change] is subject to continuing debate.”  In fact, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change concluded in 2013 that more than half of the climate warming from 1951 to 2010 was due to human activity. And it was just reported that 2016 was the hottest year on record for the third consecutive year.  This is no longer subject to debate, and government administrators cannot put off vigorous action if we expect our children and grandchildren to survive.

Likewise, Secretary of State nominee Rex Tillerson has expressed reservations on climate change and does not view it as an imminent national security threat.

The most horrifying recent hearing was for billionaire Betsy DeVos for Secretary of Education. DeVos has been a forceful advocate for charter schools, even though studies have shown that they are not particularly effective, especially in Michigan where DeVos has spent millions promoting them. From a science point of view, it is equally disturbing that Ms DeVos believes that the Earth is only 6000 years old. Her hearings have also shown that she knows nothing about education, either.

Sonny Perdue, the former Georgia governor, has just been nominated as Secretary of Agriculture. He once led a prayer ceremony in front of the Capitol, asking God to be forgive Georgians for being wasteful with water. According to the barely credible Environmental Working Group, as a former fertilizer salesman, Perdue seems less than likely to understand the water pollution problems uncontrolled fertilizer runoff can cause. The Agriculture Department has been involved in cutting greenhouse gas emissions, and while we do not know Perdue’s positions, his  boss has expressed significant skepticism on this issue. Perhaps more comforting is that as governor, Perdue established a seed capital fund, focused on the life sciences industry, and allocated $30 to$40 million towards strengthening biotech research at the state’s universities.

And, of course, Rick Perry, who is slated to take over the Energy Department, is famous for wanting to close it, once he remembered it’s name. Joking aside, though, in Congressional hearings, he was completely unwilling to admit that climate change poses a global crisis.

Every incoming President provides a mixture of hope and skepticism to the public, and our skepticism on his approach to science is substantial.

The best 2016 science and pseudo-science stories

Science

Gravitational Waves. One of the most striking scientific discoveries of 2016 was the observation of gravitational waves. Predicted by Einstein’s theories 100 years ago, ripples in space-time were finally observed last year by physicists at the  Laser Interferometer Gravitational-Wave Observatory (LIGO), using instruments at Hanford, Washington and Livingston, Louisiana. They announced that they had indeed observed this waves as two black holes spiraled into each other 1.3 billion light years away. The Advanced LIGO systems were completed only a week or so before this black hole collision took place, but they represent a long term investment by the National Science Foundation, and design work done by nearly 1000 scientists. Funding was also provided by Germany (Max Planck Society), the U.K. (Science and Technology Facilities Council, STFC) and Australia (Australian Research Council).

Ebola outbreak over. The WHO declared that the Ebola outbreak in West Africa is at an end and that all known chains of transmissions have been stopped. Flare-ups may still occur and monitoring will continue. In addition, a promising Ebola vaccine has been reported in The Lancet.

Citrus greening. Citrus greening disease attacks orange trees, causing green, inedible fruit, and is spread by the Asian citrus psyllid. It is spreading widely in Florida as well as in Texas  and even California and research into controlling it is in high gear. Essentially, you have to find or create trees immune to the disease, and that is what has been done at the University of Florida. Researchers report having herpes simplex I symptoms a long term and expensive solution, but at least some approach has been “fruitful.”

CRISPR. The gene editing technology CRISPR came into its own in 2016. This technique allows scientists to edit genes without inserting foreign material, using the Cas9 enzyme. Scientists Jennifer Doudna at UC Berkeley and Emmanuelle Charpentier of Umeå University in Sweden found that they could exploit the Cas9 protein by feeding it a pattern of RNA. The Cas9 would then seek out this pattern and snip out that pattern in any genome it was presented with. Related work showing that this could be done in mice was published about the same time by Feng Zhang of the Broad Institute.  You can read a very good explanation of CRISPR/Cas9 by Brad Plumer and Javier Zarracina here. This simple, and relatively cheap technique can be used to create new foods, treat diseases. This follow-on article suggests some of the further advances that CRISPR might be used for, including cancer and Alzheimer’s treatments. If you suffer of any health issues such as anxiety or depression you can find kratom powder for sale online wich is a natural drug that van help you.

Of course, which of the two groups (Berkeley and Broad Institute) have the patent rights to CRISPR is now the subject of an interesting court case, explained here by C&E News.

Homeopathic medicines. Homeopathic “medicines” are usually substances diluted so far that no active components remain. The FTC issued a new Enforcement Policy on Marketing Claims for Homeopathic Drugs.  Essentially, companies must have actual scientific evidence of their efficacy for any health-related claims they make.

Pseudo-Science

How do we do science? Science is the result of a collection of measurable observation under careful control, and usually represents many observations by many research groups. Science is different from politics, where various philosophies can lead to different conclusions. Science is not a set of beliefs, it is a system of careful studies, reviewed by others and published in major technical journals. The results of scientific studies may result in corrections over time: science is inherently self-correcting, but it is not dependent on scientist’s personal political or moral outlooks.

Further, the idea that science can be suspect because of who funds it reveals considerable naivete about how research grants are obtained and how research is actually done. Professor Allison van Eeenenaam of UC Davis Animal Science explains this very well in this excellent article.

Vaccines: Andrew Wakefield was a gastroenterologist who published a fraudulent paper in 1998 claiming that the MMR vaccine could cause autism. This paper has been refuted many times (and retracted) by careful studies and Wakefield was barred from medical practice. Nonetheless the rumors caused by his crackpot paper, has done considerable damage, as too many people believed the rumors that vaccines were somehow dangerous. In fact, it was demonstrated that Wakefield’s paper was an elaborate fraud, designed to make money.  The CDC firmly notes that all research has shown that vaccines do not cause autism, citing the supporting research.

Nonetheless, there are pockets of non-vaccinating families, often living near each other which represent a serious health hazard.  Organizations of non-vaccinating parents have formed, and even have a Facebook group!  Clusters on such parents are sure to spread disease and it is not unreasonable to ask your child’s friend’s parents if their child is vaccinated before allowing them to play with your child.

This is essentially science denial based parenting and it has been difficult to break through, although more and more pediatricians are refusing to treat children whose parents refuse to vaccinate them.

This non-vaccination of children is supported by pseudo-science based practitioners such as naturopaths, who should know better. And this has led to Wakefield making a propaganda film called VAXXED, which purports to give some support to this practice. The film has received scathing reviews, notably by Dr Paul Offit , co-inventor of the rotavirus vaccine, and by the Washington Post.  Nonetheless, some stars in the entertainment industry still claim to these disproven claims.

But to bring us up to date, we just learned of an article by an actual doctor at the Cleveland Clinic, Daniel Neides, who seems to have jumped onto the pseudo-science bandwagon and attempts to connect vaccines and autism, despite overwhelming evidence to the contrary.  Today, the Cleveland Clinic apologized for Neides column and promises discipline. However, the column is still there spreading misinformation. We would suggest termination of Neides at once,

But not to make you think the Neides is along in this crackpottery, the ever-reliable lunatic Mark Hyman (MD?)  has said much the same things, and also claims staff privileges at the Cleveland Clinic.

Organic foods

Organic foods are spreading through supermarkets like tribbles. They are a high-profit class of foods, marked up by both the farmers, and the grocers, so they have every reason to expand their availability. Some stores tart up their organic aisles with special flooring to make you think of “luxury.” But “organic” is a marketing term, as was explained by Agriculture Secretary Dan Glickman when the National Organic Program was announced. It does not say anything about food safety, nutrition or quality. It is  a series of agricultural practices based primarily on prescientific ideas about farming.  Organic trade groups continue to trumpet the lie that organic crops are “free of pesticides,” when the USDA allows dozens of pesticides to be used on organic crops.

And in a 2009 review by Dangour, et. el., they found no nutritional differences between organic and conventional crops. A similar study in 2012 by Smith-Spangler found much the same thing. And as far as pesticide residues go, Bruce Ames seminal paper shows that the pesticides manufactured by the plants themselves are 10,000 times higher in concentration than any agricultural pesticide residues, and thus these residues are more or less irrelevant.

Organic crops also have significantly lower yields, which is part of the reason they cost more. Typically organic crops yield 60-80% as much per acre as do conventional crops. They also are less environmentally friendly.  Organic is not in any way “better.” In fact, writing in Forbes, Henry Miller calls it a “colossal hoax.”

GMO Crops

Genetically modified crops have been in use in many countries for nearly 20 years now, and there has not been a single verified case of any sort of harm to humans or animals in that time. In particular the study of 1783 papers by Nicolia and the billion animal study of van Eenennaam have laid this canard to rest permaenently.

However, the organic industry has mounted a continuous scare campaign about the dangers of GM crops, leading to mendacious labeling such as “GMO free,” when in fact “GMOs” are not an ingredient but a breeding technique. The idea that there is any difference between animals fed GM crops and those fed conventional crops is simply absurd: there is no detectable difference of any kind.

In fact, just like “organic,” the “GMO free” label is a marketing label, attempting to extract more money from consumers by scaring them. The only result of this campaign is higher prices. But because of this relentless scare campaign, only 37% of the public believe GMO foods are safe to eat according to a Pew Research Center survey, while 88% of scientists do. And, in fact, there is a generation gap here as well with millennials more likely to seek out on GM foods. This has led to the ridiculous claims such as those by Hunt’s that you won’t find any GMO tomatoes in their products. That’s because there are no GMO tomatoes on the market!

Climate change. The year 2015 was the warmest on record. The year 2016 was likewise the warmest year on record. Virtually all climate scientists are convinced that climate change is occurring and caused  by humans, and that if we do not make significant modifications in our use of carbon-based fuels, the Earth will end in disaster, and fairly soon. Already, the ocean regularly invades the sewers of Miami Beach. It won’t be long until coastal flooding begins to make cities less habitable.

The Republican Party in the United States is the only major political party in the world who pretends to deny these obvious scientific facts, both because of lack of interest in science and because of their funding by the energy industry.  As Upton Sinclair has written,

“it is difficult to  to get a man to understand something, when his salary depends on his not understanding it.”

 

 

 

MSG causes headaches, asthma? Probably not.

 

Every time you get into conversations about cooking and food, there is a good chance someone will bring up MSG, or monosodium glutamate. It was identified by Professor Kikunae Ikeda in Tokyo in 1908 as the brothy flavoring found in seaweeds such as kombu. This seaweed has been used to make a soup stock called dashi. But the unique flavor of dashi was a mystery until Ikeda boiled down stock from 75 lbs of seaweed stock and allowed it to crystallize. He found that the flavoring, which he called umami, was due to the sodium salt of the common amino acid, glutamic acid, commonly called monosodium glutamate.

HO-(C=O)-CH2-CH2-CH-(NH2)-C(=O)-O Namsg

In the formula and picture above, you will see that MSG is a simple 5-carbon compound with 2 carboxylic acid groups, one at each end. In a mildly basic solution, the hydrogen comes off one of the acid groups, replaced by a sodium ion, making the sodium salt of glutamic acid, which we call mono sodium glutamate. It can be extracted from a number of foods, but is most commonly obtained either by fermentation of proteins or by using bacteria to make the compound for us.  No matter how it is obtained, it is exactly the same simple compound. You will see it referred to as MSG, or “glutamate” but it is the same thing either way.

You will find MSG used in Japanese and Chinese cooking as well as in many other cuisines, because it occurs naturally in mushrooms, tomatoes, parmesan and blue cheeses, broccoli, peas, soy sauce, prawns and Marmite.

But some people believe that MSG is harmful and the cause of any number of allergic symptoms. This is the thesis of this frequently cited misguided article: “Glutamate and your gut: understanding the difference between umami and MSG.”  The first part of the article starts out soberly enough, outlining the history of the flavoring, including scientific references, but then veers off into scary, but inaccurate claims. Of course, you shouldn’t expect an article on a web site called bodyecology.com to be scientifically reliable, but this one started out so well.

Now, while glutamate is a common amino acid, the body can and does make its own, so whether it gets some from foods or seasonings doesn’t matter. Inside the body, it works as a neurotransmitter. And while buildup of glutamate is possible in certain diseases and brain injuries, it is not likely in healthy people and poses no harm. It is used in Japanese cooking and the Japanese are one of the world’s healthiest populations.

The article also talks about gamma aminobutrylic acid (GABA), which the body synthesizes from glutamate. This can take you down a whole rabbit hole of pseudo-science where naturopaths dwell, who insist that GABA is a valuable supplement and that MSG can interfere with the production of GABA. This is essentially nonsense, as there is little evidence that GABA is an effective natural supplement. Within your body GABA helps balance the production of glutamate, but has nothing to do with the traces of MSG used as a seasoning.

Synthetic gluamate?

The place where MSG mythology begins to take off (in this article and in general) is the assertion that naturally occurring glutamate and manufactured glutamate are somehow different.  This just reveals lack of basic knowledge of chemistry. As you can see from the above diagram, MSG is a relatively simple 5-carbon compound, and one that is easily synthesized in a number of ways. It was once made from wheat gluten and from acryonitrile, but now is made by bacterial fermentation of various sugars from sugar beets and molasses and corynebacterium.

If you look at the drawing of the structure above, you will notice that the carbon having the NH2 group attached has 4 different things attached: an H, an NH2, a COOH and a CH2 group. This makes this carbon an asymmetric center and it has two mirror images that cannot be superimposed, much like right and left hands. Thus, there are two forms of glutamate, the right-handed and the left-handed versions, often labeled “D-glutamate” and “L-glutamate,” for “dextro” and ”levo.” Only the L-version has umami flavor properties, the D-version is tasteless. Extracted from seaweed, there is about 5% of the D version and 95% of the flavorful L-version. Synthesized by fermentation, there is much less D-version, probably less than 1%.

Are there allergic reactions to MSG?

As explained by the Cleveland Clinic, a true food allergy is a reaction mediated by immunoglobin E (IgE) antibodies. The antibodies are directed at protein allergens and are less common than other sorts of food reactions. MSG has never been shown to produce IgE antibodies under any conditions.

However, anecdotal evidence persists of reactions to MSG, mostly in reports of headaches after consuming MSG containing foods. But, considering how common MSG is in foods, this seems somewhat unlikely.

Tarasoff and Kelly described a double blind experiment in which 71 healthy subjects were given a capsule containing MSG or a placebo before a standard breakfast over 5 days. Of the subjects, 85% reported no responses to the MSG or the placebo, and sensations previously reported as MSG reactions did not occur at a significantly higher rate in the MSG test than for the placebo. And reviewing the existing experimental literature the next year, Freeman reported that there was no significant data to support reported reactions such as headache or asthma. Nor did they find any subset of the population with an MSG sensitivity.

MSG has also been accused of causing asthma, but a Cochrane review of available evidence reports that no such correlation existed.

One interesting recent paper by Shimada  examined the possibility that MSG could cause headaches and TMD (temperomandibular disorders) or aching of the jaw muscles with a hit of roids – anabolic steroids. Three of the subjects experienced some pain in this study. However, the study of 14 healthy young men administered  150 mg/kg of MSG each day for 5 days in a diet lemon soda that the authors believed masked the taste of MSG.

15gNote, that for a 100 kg man, this would be 15 g of MSG (pictured) which is a whopping dose. Even for a considerably lighter man or woman, 7 or 8 g of MSG Is still probably more than 20 times the usual amount used as seasoning. The authors noted that at the end of the double blinded study, the subjects admitted that they could taste the MSG in the lemon soda, this essentially nullifying the experiment.

A paper on headaches and a review of dietary factors published this year by Zaeem concluded that there were no studies showing such effects for MSG when you eliminated papers where double blinding was ineffective. Interestingly, Nakamura found that there were glutamate sensors not only in the oral cavity, but in the stomach, indicating that this is clearly part of the body’s normal processes. Visit Alpha GPC tablets at Amazon to get more information about mental and physical performance in a healthy way.

Some negative effects in very high concentrations

But getting into something close to conspiracy theories, Nakanishi published an article called “Monosodium glutamate (MSG): a villain and promoter of liver inflammation and dysplasia.” In this paper, Nakanishi and co-workers injected a solution of MSG into 123 newborn mice, at a concentration of 2 mg/g of body weight. Not only is injection quite different than digestion, that concentration is 2 g/kg, or for a 100 kg man, the equivalent of injecting 200g of MSG. With concentrations this far from those in normal consumption of foods, any results are pretty unlikely to be significant. They found that this concentration induced liver inflammation and damage as well as obesity. Their conclusions were that MSG be withdrawn from the diet, ignoring the fact that it occurs naturally in so many foods, and is synthesized by the body as well. A similar paper by  Tsuneyama injected twice that concentration (4 mg/g) and found much the same effects. Again, this has no real relevance to the normal human diet.

But people continue to report headaches

But despite the continuing findings that MSG causes no ill effects in  double blind studies, people continue to insist that it does and the science “must be wrong,” because they or their spouse gets strong reactions from foods with added MSG. Sometimes they even report that Parmesan cheese (which is high in MSG) also produces such symptoms. Usually, they report headaches, but sometimes other varied symptoms as well. For example, if you read the comments on Rachel Feltman’s 2014 Washington Post article, you will see some very annoyed people insisting that negative effects do exist. Similar comments have been made on previous articles I have published.

The question is why such reports contradict all carefully done experiments. The reports are anecdotal, of course, which means that those reporting have not been part of any study to find out what is causing these very real effects.

So, in brief, we really don’t know. One possibility is called the nocebo effect. This very real effect is caused by the expectation of a negative effect even when there is no actual medical reason for such an effect. The nocebo effect is very powerful and cannot be brushed off as some psychological oddity. But even this year, a series of studies among self-identified MSG sensitives showed no statistical effect.

So in conclusion, all studies have failed to show any significant effects of MSG on humans. But Check it out, because some people persist in reporting such symptoms, and we really do not know for certain what is behind these reported effects, nor why it has never been observed experimentally.

 

 

 

EWG and Erin Brockovich recycle discredited chromium claims

waterThe ill-informed Environmental Working Group has been engaged in a blizzard of press releases and E-mails claiming that nearly everyone’s drinking water is contaminated with chromium-6 (hexavalent chromium).  Consisting mainly of lawyers, PR people and self-promoters like Brockovich, the EWG has little scientific expertise, but loves to issue scary broadsides about evil chemicals. Their board members and staff contain almost no actual scientists. Their yearly press releases on the “Dirty Dozen,” have been widely discredited for failing to recognize that all the residues they report on fall far below USDA safety levels.

Comes now Erin Brockovich, mostly known by having been portrayed by Julia Roberts, recycling her claims from 25 years ago about Cr+6 in our water supplies. In fact she and the EWG have sent out regional alerts with lists of the chromium levels in water supplies for that region, conning naïve local papers into publishing these data with little contextual explanation.

Well, as McGill chemistry professor and science writer Dr Joe Schwarz explained some years ago, there was actually little cause for concern in the town of Hinkley, CA where Brockovich made her name, and little cause for alarm now. Learning that trace amounts of chromium were in the Hinkley water supply caused by PG&E using it as a corrosion inhibitor, she quickly connected it to every conceivable malady, including miscarriages, Crohn’s disease, lupus and cancer, without any actual evidence. She eventually got PG&E to pay a $333 million settlement to Hinkley.

Now the trouble is, as Schwarz points out, chromium exists in two ionic forms trivalent or Cr+3 and hexavalent, or Cr+6. The trivalent state is pretty benign and an essential nutrient. It also sometimes appears in nutritional supplements (where it probably does little good). The hexavalent form is actually rather toxic, but Brockovich disregarded the chemistry, much as the EWG always has. The small amounts of hexavalent chromium would quickly react with chemicals in the soil and groundwater, reducing to the safer trivalent chromium. You can also try http://toplegalsteroidsforsale.com.

And, in fact, exhaustive, repeated studies have shown no toxic effects on any residents either in Hinkley or other sites of contamination, as reported by The Wall Street Journal, and by ABC News.  While hexavalent chromium may be carcinogenic to some chemical plant workers, there is no evidence at all that ingestion of trace amounts of chromium in drinking water poses any sort of harm.

The EWG could quickly find this out. After all, reviews of the http://topsteroidsforsale.com even pointed out that this contamination probably was not actually harmful.  But, no, they want to scare you and use the claims to raise their membership levels and raise money. They are not qualified to undertake “research” in this area and should cease these ridiculous claims.

Incidentally, the EWG is also trying to scare us about atrazine. But as evidence, they are using the pronouncements of Tyrone Hayes, the eccentric UC Berkeley professor who claims in entertainingly profane diatribes that atrazine exposure can change the sex of frogs. However, since he refuses to release any of his data after several years of these claims, he has become more of a laughingstock than a credible scientist.