Wednesday, June 29, 2011

Kabul Graffiti, Black Dog Day, Streetwise Opera and What's a Dying Man got to Sing About?

Photograph: Omar Sobhani /Reuters
Subtle spraycan art attack on public spaces in capital is trying to prod Afghans into asking questions 
My black dog is not like any black dog it belongs to me and I live with it.
Once I thought it was very scary and I wondered what was happening to me to make me feel so sad and lonely, all alone. I spoke to a friend who I could trust with my inner most thoughts, and what a sense of relief.
It was not as scary as I thought it would be to open up and share my black dog moments.

The story is that today I am able to get through periods I call the black dog, surrounded with people who understand. People who may also have been touched by their own black dog.
I take each day as it comes and say to myself "feeling blue", "don't be scared" and "it will pass".

One Black Dog is lose in the North West. It could be in the hills, or it could be in the gutter. Keep your eyes open for it and report its findings. 

Fables - A Film Opera
Thursday 30th June at the Zion Arts Centre 
I'm going to see this, and I can't wait

‘Streetwise Opera is something else. It teases, surprises, takes risks, and tackles the unexpected… it lures you where you haven’t been before and sends you home enriched.’ Independent
What's a Dying Man got to Sing About?
An intesting awareness raising project by the Motor Neurone Disease Association 

Monday, June 27, 2011

Boring is another word for satiating

Satiety is a common topic of discussion on this blog. In the last few posts it came up several times in the comments’ sections. Also, in my interview with Jimmy Moore, we did talk a bit about satiety. I told him what has been my perception and that of many people I know, which is that the least satiating foods tend to be foods engineered by humans.


There is another component to satiety, which applies to natural foods, or foods that are not man-made. That other component is the nutrition value of those foods, and whether they meet our nutrition needs at a given point in time. If our body needs certain essential amino acids for tissue repair, subconscious mechanisms will make us crave those foods from which those amino acids can be extracted. In this context, eating is generally a good idea.

The problem is that we have not evolved mechanisms to differentiate “true” from “fake” nutrient starvation; one example of the latter would be fat starvation due to transient hyperinsulinemia induced by refined carbohydrate-rich foods.

Foods engineered by humans tend to lead to overeating because humans are good engineers. In modern society, business drives everything. Food business is predicated on consumption, so engineered foods are designed so that one person will want to consume many units of a food item – typically something that will come in a box or a plastic bag. There is no conspiracy involved; the underlying reason is profit maximization.

When we look at nature, we typically see the opposite. Prey animals do not want to be eaten; often they fight back. Eggs have to be stolen. Plants do not want their various parts, such as leaves and roots, to be eaten. Much less their seeds; so they have developed various defense mechanisms, including toxins. Fruits are exceptions to this rule; they are the only natural foods that are designed to be eaten by animals.

Plants want animals to eat their fruits so that they can disperse the plants’ seeds. So they must be somewhat alluring to animals. Sugar plays a role here, but it certainly is not the only factor. The chemical composition of fruits is quite complex, and they usually contain a number of health-promoting substances, such as vitamins. For example, most fruits contain vitamin C, which happens to be a powerful antioxidant, and also has the ability to reversibly bind to proteins at the sites where sugar-induced glycation would occur.

Many modern fruits have been bred to be resistant to diseases, more palatable, and larger (usually due to more water retention). But, fundamentally, fruits are products of evolution. So how come we don’t see fruits that are pure sugar? Watermelons, for example, are often referred to as “bags of sugar”, but they are only 6 percent sugar. Ice cream is 25 percent sugar.

Two things must be kept in mind regarding fruits and their evolution. One is that dead animals do not eat fruit, and thus cannot disperse seeds. Sick animals would probably not be good candidates for fruit dispersion either. So the co-evolution of fruits and animals must have led fruits to incorporate many health-promoting attributes. The other is that seed dispersion success is correlated with the number of different animals that consume fruits from a plant. In other words, plants do not want all of their fruits to be eaten by one single animal, which must have led fruits to incorporate satiety-promoting attributes.

Often combining foods, adding spices, and so on, is perceived as making those foods exciting. That is so even with natural foods. If you read the descriptions of the foods consumed by healthy isolated populations in Weston Price’s Nutrition and Physical Degeneration, you will probably find them a bit boring. A few very nutritious food items, consumed day in and day out, frequently without heavy preparation. Exciting foods, requiring elaborate and time-consuming preparation, were consumed in special occasions. They were not eaten regularly.

The members of those healthy isolated populations were generally thin and yet lacked no important nutrients in their diet. They were generally free from degenerative diseases. Their teeth were normally strong and healthy.

Just before writing this post, I took six whole sardines out of the freezer to thaw. I will prepare them as discussed on this post, and eat them with a side of steamed vegetables for lunch. (I tend to eat fruits only on the days I exercise; typically 3 days out of 7.) This lunch will be very nutrient-dense. I will be very hungry before lunch, since I’ll have been fasting for 16 hours, and after I’ll not be hungry until dinner. Frankly, eating the sardines will not be very exciting, since I’ve been doing this for years.

Boring is another word for satiating.

Saturday, June 25, 2011

Can we get any smarter? (A conversation with my boy about neuroscience)

A PET image showing energy consumption in the hungry brain. Credit: Wiki
"Can we get any smarter?" That is the question that piqued the interest of a 14-year-old boy yesterday when he saw it on the cover of the July issue of Scientific American. 

What came next was a reading of Douglas Fox's fascinating "The Limits of Intelligence," some heavy thought in a young teenager's head, and a surprised father who rarely has a conversation with his son about neuroscience.

Plus, that same father is rarely met when he comes home from working all day to a welcome like this, "Hi dad. Do you want to go see a cool movie?"

The movie my boy wanted to see (with me!) was Limitless, a science fiction flick he'd seen before about a man who takes a drug that unlocks his ability to use the "other 80 percent of his brain." We went to see it and, as my son pointed out after the movie, all of what was portrayed was just impossible.

Why? I asked. And that's when my boy started telling me that any drug taken wouldn't work because "we cannot get much smarter." That is, without either:

  • "enlarging are brains" to contain more neurons
  • adding more connections between the neurons,
  • increasing speed of which neurons signal each other -- the latter of which my boy said would be hardly an improvement because "it would exhaust our energy." 

With my mind totally blown with these sensible arguments, I asked, "How on Earth do you know all this, boy?"

"I was reading your magazine, Dad."

*Awww... proud dad feelings* Anyway, I decided to read Fox's article and was delighted to find all of the arguments my son was giving in it.

Plus, I found this gem in a paragraph quoting Mark Changizi (@markchangizi), a theoretical neurobiologist, on why bigger brains (as in elephants) and their specializations (through compartmentalizations of functions) doesn't always equate to greater intelligence:
As you go from a mouse brain to a cow brain with 100 times as many neurons, it is impossible for neurons to expand quickly enough to stay just as well connected. Brains solve this problem by segregating like-functioned neurons into highly interconnected modules with far fewer long-distance connections between modules. The specialization between right and left hemispheres solves a similar problem; it reduces the amount of information that must flow between the hemispheres, which minimizes the number of long, interhemispheric axons that the brain needs to maintain. "All of these seemingly complex things about bigger brains are just the backbends that the brain has to do to satisfy the connectivity problem" as it gets larger, Changizi argues. "It doesn't tell us that the brain is smarter."
We like to think that our brains are pretty amazing, which they are. But, in short, Fox's entire article with Chiangizi's quote touches on a point we may not like to think about: our brain's evolved limits.

And it was this message that my son came away with after reading the article, phasing out any dream he might have had of altering his brain for supreme intelligence and power after his first viewing of the sci-fi flick.

Being the father I am, my advice to my son was this:

"You're right, you can't really do much with what we got despite whatever drugs people might say do wonders. Maybe, maybe, one day humankind will be able to create tiny microchips or something to implant in our brains that will expand our minds. But, what then? Once our brains possess the capacity to do all that is Google, will we then be happy? Probably not."

The fact is that our brains, despite all their glory, remain hard-wired with another evolved limitation that intelligence can't help, I argued. It's our need to seek out survival, food and health, shelter, and passing on of our genes.

Fox's fascinating article about intelligence aside, I told my boy that perhaps it's also time to look beyond what is intelligence, to what drives humankind's sense of purpose.

Have humans reached the limits of how complex our brain can be? Perhaps. But we know that within these limits, humans appear to have unlimited capacity of expression of creativity, be it through writing, music, or art.

When I first heard Joseph Campbell say, "Follow your bliss," I took that to mean that we can be accepting of what genetic predispositions our ancestors gave us, whether it be smarts, physical attractiveness, or an athletic body, and work with it toward something great, within or beyond our means.

The secret to life, if there be any, may be to just enjoy and develop our own talents to bring us all a bit of fun while we're all still around here.

How Diet and Lifestyle Influence Telomere Length

Telomere length has a proportional and linear relationship to omega-3 fatty acids.
With all the attention surrounding telomere length as a biomarker of biological aging, it’s worth pointing out that one nutrient may make a lot of difference: fish-derived omega-3 fatty acids.

The higher the blood levels of fish-derived omega-3 acids in patients with coronary heart disease, the longer the telomeres. This was what was found by researchers recently from University of California, San Francisco.


The study (Farzaneh et al. 2010), published in the January issue of JAMA last year, showed that leukocyte telomere length (LTL) was positively associated with higher blood levels of omega-3 fatty acids (see Figure).

“Omega-3 fatty acids may protect against cellular aging in patients with coronary heart disease,” the authors wrote.

This longitudinal study followed 608 patients with stable coronary artery disease for five years. LTL was measured at baseline and again five years later. The baseline levels of omega-3 fatty acids were then used to compare the rates of telomere attrition over the five-year period.

“Association of omega-3 fatty acids with decelerated telomere attrition may lie in the paradigm of oxidative stress, a powerful driver of telomere shortening,” the authors wrote.

Omega-3 fatty acids have been shown to increase levels of catalase and superoxide dismutase (enzymes that serve important antioxidant roles in the body). The researchers hypothesize that omega-3s may even increase the activity of existing telomerase, the enzyme responsible for the addition of base pairs to DNA during replication.

Citing other work, the authors write that “the adoption of comprehensive lifestyle changes, which included daily supplementation with omega-3 fish oil, was associated with a significant increase in telomerase activity.”

Vitamin D
Associations of vitamin D (25-HO-vitamin D) and leukocyte telomere length stratified by C-reactive protein (CRB) concentrations.

Another factor in telomere length is vitamin D. In 2007, researchers (Richards et al) from the London School of Medicine have also found that vitamin D may help mediate the immune system and assist in supporting leukocyte (white blood cell) telomere length.

The study, published in 2007 in American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, comes at a time of widespread vitamin D insufficiency.

Affected by habits and conditions ranging from smoking to obesity, the authors state that leukocyte telomere length (LTL) may also reflect levels of chronic stress and inflammation. Results from this study showed LTL was shorter in women with lower levels of vitamin D and when markers of inflammation increase (see figure).

The influence on telomeres by the sunshine vitamin is likely due to a possible "inhibitory effect" on inflammation, the researchers report.

The researchers analyzed C-reactive protein (CRP), a marker of inflammation, LTL and vitamin D concentrations in 2,160 women with an average age of 49. They found that the women who had higher blood levels of vitamin D (25-OH-vitamin D) had longer telomeres after adjusting for age, season, life-stage, use of hormone replacement therapies and physical activity level.

Negatively correlated with CRP and positively correlated with vitamin D, the researchers demonstrated that LTL varied with levels of inflammation.

“The present study further supports the concept that LTL may serve as a cumulative index of an individual’s lifelong burden of oxidative stress and inflammation,” the authors conclude.

Fiber and BMI

Relative effect of body composition and dietary factors on telomere length (change in z score).

Both vitamin D and omega-3 studies add to other evidence that diet and lifestyle factors that influence telomere length are those associated with inflammation and oxidative stress. For example, a study in 2010 (Cassidy et al.), published in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, analyzed data from 2,284 women who are part of the Nurses Health Study—an ongoing prospective study that has been following 121,700 nurses since 1976 to see how their diets are impacting their health status.

This study evaluated blood samples from the participants and compared dietary components, body composition and lifestyle parameters gathered from self-reporting or questionnaires administered in 1990.

The found that women with the highest intake of whole grains, specifically of insoluble (cereal) fiber, and vitamin E had the longest telomeres. Conversely, women with a high fat intake (predominately from linoleic acid, the major polyunsaturated fatty acid (PUFA) omega-6 from corn, safflower and soy oils), increased waist and higher BMI had the shortest telomeres (see Figure above).

The strength of the associations were modest (p = 0.05), but support the hypothesis that dietary factors and body composition are related to telomere length.

“Telomere shortening is accelerated by oxidative stress and inflammation, and diet affects both of these processes,” the authors report.


Farzaneh-Far R et al. Association of Marine Omega-3 Fatty Acid Levels with Telomeric Aging in Patients with Coronary Heart Disease. JAMA 2010; 303(3):250-7. doi: 10.1001/jama.2009.2008

Richards JB et al. Higher serum vitamin D concentrations are associated with longer leukocyte telomere length in women. Am J Clin Nutr 2007; 86: 1420-5.

Cassidy A et al. Associations between diet, lifestyle factors, and telomere length in women. Am J Clin Nutr 2010;91:1273-80. doi:10.3945/​ajcn.2009.28947

Thursday, June 23, 2011

Blasting and Bombardiering...

A National Alliance for Arts, Health and Wellbeing
A big thank you to everyone who came back to me with comments, ideas and suggestions around the REPORT on these national developments that were posted last month. I’ll be posting the slightly re-worked recommendations shortly and for now just wanted to tell you that at the meeting we agreed a few significant points. To avoid being London-centric, Chairing of the meeting will be rotational and undertaken by regional representatives. We are going to undertake a series of regional events to further stimulate debate and engagement and feed into a Charter for Arts and Health. This in part, will build on the groundswell of interest generated through the  m a n i f e s t o work.

Having worked with a huge cross-section of people across the North West Region on the m a n i f e s t o, next week sees the coming together of lots of these ideas and the beginning of the next stage, where words and thoughts come together to influence action. I’ll be working closely with international visitors who are contributing to the process and particularly with Pioneer Projects at the Looking Well to transform some of our ideas into art forms.

Alison Clough (Jones)
Head-to-Head in Arts and Health
This free event is fully booked and you should have received notification of your place by now. Sorry to anyone who’s on the waiting list. A summary of the event will be put online.

Music in Hospitals
An exciting new concert series is taking place in these hospitals in central Manchester. It will showcase musicians from the Royal Northern College of Music and from Music in Hospitals. The concerts will take place on the first Wednesday of each month for six months from June 2011 within the various hospital atrium spaces between 11am -12.30pm. Please drop in at any time for a mid-week boost of beautiful live music! 6th July 2011 11am Royal Manchester Childrens Hospital Robin Sunflower Duo (Music in Hospitals) Harmonica & guitar. 3rd August 2011 11am Royal Eye Hospital Astrum Guitar Duo (RNCM). 7th September 2011 11am Saint Marys Hospital Oscar Bernhardt Ensemble, Charleston Charlies (Music in Hospitals). 5th October 2011 11am Royal Manchester Childrens Hospital Deli Babies (RNCM) The two RNCM musicians in residence at Manchester Childrens Hospital. 2nd November 2011 11am Royal Eye Hospital Kora Melody (RNCM) West African songs.

Monday, June 20, 2011

Maybe you should stop trying to be someone you are not

Many people struggle to lose body fat, and never quite make it to their optimal. Fewer people manage to do so successfully, and, as soon as they do, they want more. It is human nature. Often they will start trying to become someone they are not, or cannot be. That may lead to a lot of stress and frustration, and also health problems.

Some women have an idealized look in mind, and keep losing weight well beyond their ideal, down to anorexic levels. That leads to a number of health problems. For example, hormones approach starvation levels, causing fatigue and mood swings; susceptibility to infectious diseases increases significantly; and the low weight leads to osteopenia, which is a precursor to osteoporosis.

In men, often what happens is the opposite. Guys who are successful getting body fat to healthy levels next want to become very muscular, and fast. They have an idealized look in mind, and think they know how much they should weigh to get there. Sometimes they want to keep losing body fat and gaining muscle at the same time.

I frequently see men who already look very healthy, but who think that they should weigh more than they do. Since muscle gain is typically very slow, they start eating more and simply gain body fat. The reality is that people have different body frames, and their muscles are built slightly differently; these are things that influence body weight.

There are many other things that also influence body weight, such as the length of arms and legs, bone density, organ mass, as well as the amount of glycogen and water stored throughout the body. As a result, you can weigh a lot less than you think you should weigh, and look very good. The photo below (from is of Donald Cerrone, weighing in at 145 lbs. He is 6 ft (183 cm) tall.

Mr. Cerrone is a professional mixed martial arts (MMA) fighter from Texas; one of the best in professional MMA at the moment. Yes, he is a bit dehydrated on the photo above. But also keep in mind that his bone density is probably well above that of the average person, like that of most MMA fighters, which pushes his weight up.

A man can be 6 ft tall, weigh 145 lbs, and be very healthy and look very good. That may well be his ideal weight. A woman may be 5’5”, weigh 145 lbs, and also be very healthy and look very good. Figuring out the optimal is not easy, but trying to be someone you are not will probably be a losing battle.

Wednesday, June 15, 2011

Pandemic, Outside In, Head to Head, Print Auction, Artists needed and a 'flawed passion.'

Asia Europe Foundation... 

Some of you will know that I’ve been involved with the Asia Europe Foundation exploring approaches to Pandemic Preparedness. Some of the work is emerging online which you can find here:

Outside In
2012 Launch Plans are afoot to release the Outside In open art competition for marginalised artists to the waiting world out there......We will be launching during the Spring 2011 and our ambassadors will be out there promoting the cause across the country during the year. If you want to be involved, if you are an artist or know of artists, if you would like to host an exhibtion, offer a workshop or just find out more - get in touch!
You can either email us: or call: 07735568531 or to never miss a trick register for our bulletins:

Head to Head
Whilst the Head to Head event at MMU is fully booked, we are operating a reserve list for any cancellations that take place between now and the 30th.

On Thursday 30th June between 1:00 and 3:00 Arts for Health at MMU in collaboration with the Centre for Medical Humanities; Pioneer Projects and Open Art, will be hosting a once in a lifetime head-to-head, with some key international figures from the Arts and Health field. These include, amongst others Executive Director of Arts and Health Australia, Margret Meagher; Murdoch University's Dr Peter Wright; Executive Director of DADAA, David Doyle, Durban University of Technolgy's Professor Kate Wells and the Centre for Medical Humanities', Mike White.

UCH Macmillan Cancer Centre

Special Edition Print Auction in aid of the UCH Macmillan Cancer Centre

Anthony Burrill
Tim Joss, '...a story of flawed passion.'
I'd be interested to know peoples thoughts on this article.

Tate Liverpool and Mersey Care NHS Mental Health Trust Artist Recruitment
Tate Liverpool and Merseycare NHS Trust are seeking to recruit a specialist pool of artists/practitioners with at least three years experience in working within arts and mental healthcare settings. The artist will be expected to take on the role of facilitator/co-producer of the art works/interventions with service users, by working directly in consultation with adult and older adult service-users to inform and influence the design and outcome of future creativity and artworks. It is crucial that artists are able to work collaboratively and co-operatively with NHS professionals on and off site.
The next phase of activity will focus on environments as a theme and will involve transforming internal social spaces on the wards where service-users interact, socialise and eat. It is hoped that such interventions will alter the mood and feel of each space, encouraging service-users to exercise choice and control over their immediate environment. The theme of environments, (imagined, real and invented), will be explored through a devised programme of visual arts workshops that will take place within mental health care settings, but where appropriate service-users will be encouraged to visit Tate Liverpool.

Tate’s collections and special exhibitions will be used as stimulus/inspiration to inform the work, starting with Tate Liverpool’s summer exhibition ‘Magritte’ continuing with ‘Alice in Wonderland’ and ‘Turner, Monet, Twombly’ in 2012.

For more information and an artist’s brief please contact:
Alison Jones Tel: 0151 702 7454 Email:

The closing date for the return of applications is Thursday 30 June 2011 by 5.00 pm. Interviews will be held on Monday 11 July 2011.

Tuesday, June 14, 2011

Updated clinical vitamin D guidelines

Michael Holick, MD, Ph.D., told me in a phone interview nearly a year ago that vitamin D insufficiency and deficiency was "one of the most common medical conditions" and has implications on the health of bones, the heart, the immune system, and likely every cell in the body.

Dr. Holick added, "If a normal adult isn’t taking at least 1,500 to 2,000 IU from supplement and diet—and you can’t really get it from your diet—then we know you’re vitamin D deficient."

Now, The Endocrine Society has released new clinical practice guidelines intended to help curtail widespread vitamin D deficiency with extra focus on care for populations who are most at risk.

The guidelines follow on the coattails of last November's updated vitamin D recommendations by the Institute of Medicine (IOM), which several experts have condemned as conservative and inadequate. In response, a "Task Force," led by Dr. Holick, reexamined the evidence and compiled new recommendations to provide a more therapeutic emphasis.

The guidelines call for screening populations at risk for vitamin D deficiency and correcting deficiencies with supplementation at levels high enough to maximize effects on calcium, bone and muscle metabolism.

The Task Force recommends maintaining blood concentrations of 25(OH)2D (the active circulating form of vitamin D) consistently above 30 ng/mL. Circulating blood levels below 30 ng/mL are regarded as "insufficient" and below 20 ng/mL as "deficient".

To assist at-risk individuals with meeting blood levels above 30 ng/mL of circulating vitamin D, the Task Force issued new dietary intake recommendations that differ significantly from those given by the IOM:
  • Infants ages 0-1: 400-1,000 IU/day
  • Children ages 1-18: 600-1,000 IU/day
  • Adults ages 18+: 1,500-2,000 IU/day
  • Pregnant or nursing women under 18: 600-1,000 IU/day
  • Pregnant or nursing women 18+: 1,500-2,000 IU/day
  • Obese children and adults: at least 2-3 times the recommendation for their age group
  • Children and adults on anticonvulsants, antifungals and AIDS medications: at least 2-3 times the recommendation for their age group
The Task Force also increased Tolerable Upper Limits for vitamin D to substantially higher levels than what the IOM recommended last fall.

In addition, they recommend higher dosages of vitamin D as clinical strategies for patients with vitamin D deficiency, malabsorbtion syndromes, and patients on medications that may affect vitamin D metabolism. Patients with these conditions should work with their personal physicians to determine what dosage is right for them.

Acknowledging a gap in the clinical evidence, the Task Force suggested that more trials with higher intakes of vitamin D are "desperately needed" to more properly understand the potential health outcomes.

During an online news conference, Dr. Holick asserted that 30ng/mL should only be regarded as a minimum for maintaining a healthy body. The ideal range for circulating blood levels of vitamin D in both children and adults, he said, should be between 40 to 60 ng/mL.

Source: Holick MF et al. Evaluation, Treatment, and Prevention of Vitamin D Deficiency: and Endocrine Society Clinical Practice Guideline. J Clin Endocrinol Metab 2011; 96: 0000-0000. doi:10.1210/jc.2011-0385

Monday, June 13, 2011

Alcohol intake increases LDL cholesterol, in some people

Occasionally I get emails from people experiencing odd fluctuations in health markers, and trying to figure out what is causing those fluctuations. Spikes in LDL cholesterol without any change in diet seem to be a common occurrence, especially in men.

LDL cholesterol is a reflection of many things. It is one of the least useful measures in standard lipid profiles, as a predictor of future health problems. Nevertheless, if one’s diet is not changing, whether it is high or low in fat, significant fluctuations in LDL cholesterol may signal a change in inflammatory status. Generally speaking, the more systemic inflammation, the higher is the measured LDL cholesterol.

Corella and colleagues (2001) looked into alcohol consumption and its effect on LDL cholesterol, as part of the Framingham Offspring Study. They split the data into three genotypes, which are allele combinations. Alleles are genes variations; that is, they are variations in the sections of DNA that have been identified as coding for observable traits. The table below summarizes what they have found. Take a look at the last two columns on the right.

As you can see, for men with the E2 genotype, alcohol consumption significantly decreases LDL cholesterol. For men with the E4 genotype, alcohol consumption significantly increases LDL cholesterol. No significant effects were observed in women. The figure below illustrates the magnitude of the effects observed in men.

On average, alcohol consumption was moderate, around 15 g per day, and did not vary significantly based on genotype. This is important. Otherwise one could argue that a particular genotype predisposed individuals to drink more, which would be a major confounder in this study. Other confounders were also ruled out through multivariate controls - e.g., fat and calorie intake, and smoking.

Alcohol consumption in moderation seems, on average, to be beneficial. But for some individuals, particularly men with a certain genotype, it may be advisable to completely abstain from alcohol consumption. Who are those folks? They are the ones for whom LDL cholesterol goes up significantly following moderate alcohol consumption.

Saturday, June 11, 2011

Depression and telomeres

Reference: Wolkowitz et al. 2011 March.
People who suffer from major depression have a higher risk of age-related illness and earlier mortality (1 &2). Researchers from University of California, San Francisco (UCSF), investigated (1) telomere length in depressed individuals versus matched controls and assessed other biological factors associated with telomere shortening.

Led by Nobel laureate Elizabeth Blackburn, Ph.D., the team of researchers published their findings in the March issue of PLos One. Their hypothesis was that not all depressed subjects would show shortened telomeres equally because of a large variance in depressive episodes over a lifetime. However, they predicted that those who suffered from depression for long durations would have shorter telomeres due to longer exposure to oxidative stress and inflammation induced by psychological stress.

The scientists recruited 18 subjects diagnosed with Major Depressive Disorder (MDD), excluding those with psychosis or bipolar histories, as well as those with Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder to eliminate confounding variables due to interferences with stress hormone regulation. Results from depressed individuals were compared to those of the matched control group.

Blood samples were taken to measure leukocyte (white blood cell) telomere length, as well as oxidative stress markers (F2-isoprostanes and vitamin C) and inflammation (IL-6). The severity of MDD was determined using the standard Hamilton Depression Rating Scale and total lifetime duration of depression was estimated using a life history method interview. The history-taking and telomere assays were performed blind to each other.

The average age (ranging 36 to 47 years) of the depressed and control subjects in the study didn’t differ significantly, nor did the sex of the subjects, ethnicity distribution, or body mass index. The subjects also did not differ significantly in current or past consumption of alcohol or nicotine, marital status, or highest educational level or socioeconomic status.
The authors reported that, across the broad range of chronic depression types, the “depressed individuals did not significantly differ from controls in leukocyte telomere lengths. However, those individuals with longer courses of major depression had significantly shorter leukocyte telomeres than controls.

Additionally, regardless of depressed status, plasma vitamin C concentrations were significantly correlated with telomere length as was F2-isoprostane levels (a marker of oxidative stress).
“Importantly, the relationship between telomere length and lifetime duration of depression was significant after age was controlled, the authors wrote.

The researchers concluded that, since telomere length is a proposed biomarker of cell aging, their findings could explain why chronically depressed individuals are at higher risk of disease and mortality.

1. Wolkowitz et al. Leukocyte Telomere Length in Major Depression: Correlations with Chronicity, Inflammation and Oxidative Stress - Preliminary Findings. PLos One. 2011 March:6(3):e17837.
2. Brown et al. Association of depression and medical illness: Does cortisol play a role? Biol Psychiatry 55:1-9.

Monday, June 6, 2011

What is a good low carbohydrate diet? It is a low calorie one

My interview with Jimmy Moore should be up on the day that this post becomes available. (I usually write my posts on weekends and schedule them for release at the beginning of the following weeks.) So the time is opportune for me to try to aswer this question: What is a good low carbohydrate diet?

For me, and many people I know, the answer is: a low calorie one. What this means, in simple terms, is that a good low carbohydrate diet is one with plenty of seafood and organ meats in it, and also plenty of veggies. These are low carbohydrate foods that are also naturally low in calories. Conversely, a low carbohydrate diet of mostly beef and eggs would be a high calorie one.

Seafood and organ meats provide essential fatty acids and are typically packed with nutrients. Because of that, they tend to be satiating. In fact, certain organ meats, such as beef liver, are so packed with nutrients that it is a good idea to limit their consumption. I suggest eating beef liver once or twice a week only. As for seafood, it seems like a good idea to me to get half of one’s protein from them.

Does this mean that the calories-in-calories-out idea is correct? No, and there is no need to resort to complicated and somewhat questionable feedback-loop arguments to prove that calories-in-calories-out is wrong. Just consider this hypothetical scenario; a thought experiment. Take two men, one 25 years of age and the other 65, both with the same weight. Put them on the same exact diet, on the same exact weight training regime, and keep everything else the same.

What will happen? Typically the 65-year-old will put on more body fat than the 25-year-old, and the latter will put on more lean body mass. This will happen in spite of the same exact calories-in-calories-out profile. Why? Because their hormonal mixes are different. The 65-year-old will typically have lower levels of circulating growth hormone and testosterone, both of which significantly affect body composition.

As you can see, it is not all about insulin, as has been argued many times before. In fact, average and/or fasting insulin may be the same for the 65- and 25-year-old men. And, still, the 65-year-old will have trouble keeping his body fat low and gaining muscle. There are other hormones involved, such as leptin and adiponectin, and probably several that we don’t know about yet.

A low carbohydrate diet appears to be ideal for many people, whether that is due to a particular health condition (e.g., diabetes) or simply due to a genetic makeup that favors this type of diet. By adopting a low carbohydrate diet with plenty of seafood, organ meats, and veggies, you will make it a low calorie diet. If that leads to a calorie deficit that is too large, you can always add a bit more of fat to it. For example, by cooking fish with butter and adding bacon to beef liver.

One scenario where I don’t see the above working well is if you are a competitive athlete who depletes a significant amount of muscle glycogen on a daily basis – e.g., 250 g or more. In this case, it will be very difficult to replenish glycogen only with protein, so the person will need more carbohydrates. He or she would need a protein intake in excess of 500 g per day for replenishing 250 g of glycogen only with protein.

Sunday, June 5, 2011

Head to Head update; Case Studies; Boxed In; AfH Visiting Research Fellow and some thoughts on Melancholia

UPDATE on the free Head to Head event at MMU on Thursday 30th June
This event is part of the Critical Mass events being delivered with partners at the Centre for Medical Humanities, Pioneer Projects and Open Art and is open to people across the Northern Region. As we have limited places and are oversubscribed, we will be allocating places in the order we received them. Please note that we hope to contact everyone who’s shown interest next week, with details of venue and time if applicable.
Thanks everyone for your interest. 

Call for case studies on how culture and sport have helped tackle the social determinants of health - Deadline Friday 17 June 2011
LG Improvement and Development is commissioning a further series of case studies on how services supported by local government can help improve health and reduce health inequalities by tackling the social determinants of health. This time the case studies will focus on culture and sport. So if you have any good practice examples of health benefits arising from social, economic or environmental improvements as a result of arts, museums, libraries, heritage, outdoor recreation, sport or leisure activity, we would like to hear from you.

We’re interested in changes in the various factors that determine people’s behaviour and act as barriers to healthy living. They could be improvements in early child development and education, employment and working conditions, the built environment, social inclusion and social mobility. Examples could range from culture and sport activity that improves health in the workplace, gets young people into education or enables the development of social skills and networks. As long as you have evidence that the changes in behaviour resulting from participation in cultural or sporting activity have led to improvements in health, you may have just what we’re looking for.

The purpose of the case studies is to show decision-makers the value of culture and sport to health and wellbeing, and encourage more commissioning of cultural and sporting activity.
Please send a short summary of your potential case study and contact details to  or call 01827 714733.

We’ll follow up the selected case studies in more detail in July.
SUBMISSION DATE: by Friday 17 June 2011
For case studies published last year including on regulatory, planning and transport services see 
BOXED IN presents work from The Big Painting project by the Art to Life groups and other selected work from separate projects and groups across Manchester. Art to Life are weekly art and life skills groups for learning disabled adults from Manchester. During the week of the exhibition Art to Life groups will be holding their regular sessions in and responding to BLANKSPACE.

Click on the image below for more details.

Royal Society for Public Health
Arts and Health Awards
The Royal Society for Public Health Arts and Health Awards marking significant contributions to research and practice in the field of Arts and Health are now in their fourth year. Previous awards have recognised excellent work in the fields of music and health, arts and mental health and arts and health inequalities.

This year, the awards will recognise important contributions of outreach programmes undertaken by arts organisations (e.g. theatre companies, orchestras, opera companies, museums, art galleries, dance companies) to the wellbeing and health of their local communities. The award will recognize substantial achievements in:
  • Innovative initiatives undertaken by arts organisations to foster health and wellbeing in healthcare and community settings
  • Original contributions to research and evaluation focused on the contributions of music and arts organisations to health and wellbeing in healthcare and community settings
More details at: 

Visiting Research Fellow at Arts for Health
I am thrilled to announce, that Dr langley Brown has been awarded a Visiting Research Fellowship at Arts for Health and he'll be dedicating much of his time to the huge Arts/Health archive. I'll look forward to people meeting Langley.