Monday, March 25, 2013

Drs. Francisco Cervantes and Marivic Torregosa, and the 2013 Ancestral Health Symposium

Last year I traveled to South Korea to give presentations on nonlinear structural equation modeling and WarpPLS (). These are an advanced statistical analysis technique and related software tool, respectively, which have been used extensively in this blog to analyze health data, notably data related to the China Study.

I gave a couple of presentations at Korea University, which is in Seoul, and a keynote address at a conference in Gwangju, in the south part of the country. So I ended up seeing quite a lot of this beautiful country, and meeting many people. Some of my impressions regarding health and lifestyle issues need separate blog posts, which are forthcoming.

One issue that kept me thinking, as it did when I visited Japan a few years ago as well, was the obvious leanness of the South Koreans, compared with Americans, even though you don’t see a lot of emphasis on dieting there. Interestingly, this phenomenon also poses a challenge to many dietary schools of thought. For example, consumption of high-glycemic-index carbohydrates seems to be relatively high in South Korea.

The relative leanness of South Koreans is probably due to a combination of factors. A major one, it seems, is often forgotten. It is related to epigenetics. This term, “epigenetics”, is often assigned different meanings depending on the context in which it is used. Here it is used to refer to innate predispositions that don’t have a primarily genetic basis.

Epigenetic phenomena often give the impression that acquired characteristics can be inherited, and are frequently, and misguidedly, used as examples in support of a theory often associated with Jean-Baptiste Pierre Antoine de Monet, better known as Lamarck.

A classic example of epigenetics, in this context, is that of a mother with type II diabetes giving birth to a child that will develop type II diabetes at a young age. Typically type II diabetes develops in adults, but its incidence in children has been increasing lately, particularly in certain areas. And I think that this classic example is in part related to the general leanness of South Koreans and of people in other cultures where adoption of highly industrialized foods has been relatively slow.

In other words, I think that it is possible that a major protection in South Korea, as well as in Japan and other countries, is the cultural resistance, particularly among older generations, against adopting modern diets and lifestyles that deviate from their traditional ones.

This brings me to Drs. Francisco Cervantes and Marivic Torregosa (pictured below). Dr. Cervantes is the Chief Director of Laredo Pediatrics and Neonatology, a pediatrician who studied and practiced in a variety of places, including Mexico, New Jersey, and Texas. Dr. Torregosa is a colleague of mine, a college professor and nurse practitioner in Laredo, with a Ph.D. in nursing and a research interest in child obesity.

As it turns out, Laredo, a city in Southwestern Texas near the border with Mexico, seems like the opposite of South Korea in terms of health, and this may well be related to epigenetics. This presents an enormous opportunity for research, and for helping people who really need help.

In Laredo, as well as in other areas where insulin resistance and type II diabetes are rampant, there is a great deal of variation in health. There are very healthy folks in Laredo, and very sick ones. This great deal of variation is very useful in the identification of causative factors through advanced statistical analyses. Lack of variation tends to have the opposite effect, often “hiding” causative effects.

Drs. Cervantes, Torregosa, and I had a presentation accepted for the 2013 Ancestral Health Symposium (). It is titled “Gallbladder Disease in Children: Separating Myths from Facts”. It is entirely based on data collected and analyzed by Dr. Cervantes, who is very knowledgeable about statistics. Below is the abstract.

Cholesterol’s main role in the body is to serve as raw material for bile acids; the conversion of cholesterol to bile acids by the liver accounts for approximately 70 percent of the daily disposal of cholesterol. Bile acids are then stored in the gallbladder and secreted to aid in the digestion of dietary fat. It is often believed that high cholesterol levels cause gallbladder disease. In this presentation, we will discuss various aspects of gallbladder disease, with a focus on children. The presentation will be based on data from 2116 patients of the Laredo Pediatrics & Neonatology. The patients, 1041 boys and 1075 girls, are largely first generation American-born children of Hispanic descent; a group at very high risk of developing gallbladder disease. This presentation will dispel several myths, and lay out a case for a strong association between gallbladder disease and abnormally high body fat levels. Gallbladder disease appears to be largely preventable in children through diet and lifestyle modifications, some of which will be discussed during the presentation.

Many people seem to be unaware of the fact that cholesterol production and disposal are strongly associated with secretion of bile acids. Most of the body's cholesterol is used to produce bile acids, which are reabsorbed from the gut, in a cyclical process. This is the reason behind the use of "bile acid sequestrants" to reduce cholesterol levels.

The focus on gallbladder disease in the presentation comes from an interest by Dr. Cervantes, based on his many years of clinical experience, in using gallbladder disease markers to identify and prevent other conditions, including several conditions associated with what we refer to as diseases of affluence or civilization.

Dr. Cervantes is unique among clinical practitioners in that he spends a lot of time analyzing data from his patients. His knowledge of data analyses techniques rivals that of many professional researchers I know. And he does that at his own expense, something that most clinical practitioners are unwilling to do. Dr. Cervantes and I will be co-authoring blog posts here in the future.