Thanksgiving Resolution - Yearly health check up
Once a year, it is good to have a physical check up. The purpose of the check up is to determine if something is not quite right, and if so, to take steps to correct it. The most common thing that people find out from a yearly checkup is that their weight has increased.
Gaining a few pounds each year may not seem like a big deal, but over time it can lead to obesity. An increased amount of fat tissue starts releasing hormones that change the metabolism, and obesity is associated with high blood pressure, diabetes, and cardiovascular diseases.
Over the last year I gained two pounds. Two pounds may sound trivial, but an increase of two pounds per year over 10 years would be 20 pounds. By reducing my food by 100 Calories per day, I should be able to lose those two pounds in about two months while maintaining my current level of activity. Life is full of choices. Should I give up my daily slice of home-made bread with raw honey or the dark chocolate square? Maybe I will just cut my portions in half.
We always have to sacrifice for what we want. In the past, I have been overweight, but I feel healthier when I am lean. I have to seek the right balance between asceticism and hedonism. In any case, by next year I expect to be at my normal weight. That's my Thanksgiving Resolution.
Effect of SIRT1 genes on neurodegenerative diseases and cancer
Dr. Leonard Guarente
Today, I attended a lecture at the National Institutes of Health by Dr. Leonard Guarente of MIT. Dr. Guarente has dedicated his career to the study of the molecular mechanisms that affect life span and the development of the diseases associated with aging. One of his particular interests is the study of mammalian SIRT genes that are involved in changes in stress resistance and metabolism known to be associated with Calorie Restriction (CR). The CR diet not only extends life span in rodents, but also protects against many diseases of aging, including diabetes, cardiovascular disease, neurodegenerative disease, cancer and osteoporosis.
Dr. Guarente described recent findings in his laboratory regarding SIRT1 function in specific mammalian tissues and in specific disease models. Dr. Guarente's lab has recently shown that genetic interventions that enhance the activity of the mammalian sirtuin SIRT1 can mitigate major diseases of aging in mice, such as neurodegenerative diseases and cancer. Increased expression of the SIRT1 gene in experimental animals was able to decrease cancer, decrease the formation of beta amyloid plaque in the brain, and decrease osteoporosis, but overexpression of the gene was fatal. It seems that there is an optimum amount of gene expression which promotes health, and that too much is actually worse.
Dr. Guarente posed with me for this photograph. When I told him that I was a member of the Calorie Restriction Society, he said: "You don't look too thin." I answered that I was not an extreme dieter, and that I only restricted about 10 percent.
Fraunhofer diffraction - Bending light rays with your ears
In optics, Fraunhofer diffraction is a type of wave diffraction which occurs when field waves are passed through an aperture or slit, causing the size of an observed aperture image to change due to the far-field location of observation and the increasingly planar nature of outgoing diffracted waves passing through the aperture.
In the image above, the vertical blinds in a window form slits which bend the rays of the sun and influence the shapes of the shadows projected on the wall. The vertical blind acts like a diffraction grating with a set of parallel slits. As the ears approach the shadows of the vertical blinds, the shadow of the ears stretches toward the shadow of the vertical blind to produce elongated ear shadows.
Fraunhofer diffraction is named after the German physicist Joseph von Fraunhofer (1787-1826), the inventor of the diffraction grating. Fraunhofer started the field of stellar spectroscopy and transformed it into a quantitative science by measuring the wavelength of light accurately. He discovered the absorption lines in the optical spectrum of the Sun which are named after him. The Fraunhofer absorption lines can be used to determine the chemical composition in the upper layers of the Sun and the stars because each chemical element absorbs light at specific frequencies.
Watered down milk in the dairy section
Last weekend I visited a friend who had unwittingly bought a carton of what he thought was 2% Reduced Fat Milk. When I poured some of the product on my cereal, I noticed that the liquid did not have the smooth texture of milk. It appeared to have small lumps like milk that is starting to curdle from spoilage. Since he had just bought it, I looked at the label more closely. It was not milk. It was a "dairy beverage".
The first ingredient in the Ingredient List of the label was water, followed by ultrafiltered fat free milk, cream, inorganic calcium and phosphorus salts, and emulsifiers (mono- and diglycerides), thickeners (carrageenan, locust bean gum), and artificial sweeteners (sucralose and acesulfame potassium). Food labels are required to list the ingredients in decreasing order of concentration. Since water is listed before the fat free milk, this means that the product contains more water than milk.
What scared me about this product was that the label said that a one-cup serving had 8 grams of protein -- the same as skim milk. If the product is half water and half skim milk, I would expect it to have half the protein. Where is the extra protein coming from? The ingredient list did not say. This made me think about the recent scandal in China where watered down milk was adulterated with melamine to fool the standard tests for protein.
The discrepancy between the ingredient list and the nutrition facts indicates that something is wrong with this product. Unfortunately, the FDA does not have enough resources to track down all labeling violations.
Cleaning up the Environment
Richard F. Yates
If you live in Bethesda or if you take the Friendship Heights Metro, you are likely to see the lanky Richard F. Yates carrying a plastic bag in his right hand and picking litter with his gloved left hand. He moves at a furious pace along miles and miles of streets as he picks up pieces of paper, discarded cups, candy wrappers, and many types of litter that people have carelessly discarded.
I saw Mr. Yates a few days ago as he came by my street and I stopped him to ask what motivates him. Basically, Richard F. Yates is waging a one-man crusade to improve the environment, although he would like more people to join him. He would like people to stop throwing trash in the streets and to care more about our neighborhoods. He has talked to corporations to enlist their help by cleaning up the trash on their own grounds, and he has talked to the Montogmery County Police department to try to get better enforcement of anti-littering laws.
Mr. Yates talks about how the pollution of our streets ends up being washed into the Chesapeake basin and the negative impact that this has on the aquatic life in the Chesapeake Bay. He would like to encourage people to care enough and volunteer to keep our neighborhoods free of litter and trash.
Be a good citizen. Put trash its place. Don't pollute.
Presidential Fashion - Michelle Obama's Black Widow Dress
The United States is headed in a new direction with the election of Barack Obama as the 44th president of the United States. During the campaign, Obama was able to unify voters with his aspirations for an America where everybody works to help each other. Obama's multiracial background, his foreign education, his Harvard education, and his great oratorical skills provided something with which everyone could identify. The campaign was notable for its length, its aggressiveness, and the gracious concession speech by John McCain in support of the new president-elect.
One of the missteps of the McCain campaign was the expenditure of $150,000 by the Republican National Committee for a wardrobe from high-end department stores for GOP Vice Presidential nominee Sarah Palin. The luxurious dresses looked fabulous on the former beauty queen, but her appearance did not help middle-class voters identify with the Republicans at a time when the economy had been taking such a serious downturn.
Michelle Obama, by contrast, dressed elegantly and modestly during the campaign, but her choice of dress for Obama's acceptance speech was a stunning black dress with a bright red design on the ventral portion. My first thought was "black widow" because some types of black widow spiders have a red hourglass design in their abdomen. I was not the only one to notice this similarity. There are already many internet discussions about Michelle Obama's Black Widow Dress, its ominous portent, and Barack Obama's repeated references to Abraham Lincoln.
Where is the Fashion Police when you need it?
Bethesda in the Fall
We have had a few frosts in the Washington, D.C. area and the leaves of the deciduous trees have started to turn yellow and red. The pines and magnolias retain their verdant hues and will stay green throughout the winter.
A favorite pastime of local residents at this time of the year is to take a day tour of the Shenandoah National Park which is about 75 miles from Washington. The park is in the Blue Ridge Mountains and has campgrounds, hiking trails, and many natural attractions. Along the crest of the mountains, the Skyline Drive allows visitors to drive through the woods and get a view of spectacular panoramas. The Appalachian Trail takes visitors through a wonderful wilderness that has been preserved for many generations. On previous occasions, I have seen fleeting glances of black bears crossing the road and groups of wild turkeys feeding along the roadside.
Today is a bright sunny day. The temperature is a crispy 58 degrees Fahrenheit, and the air is calm. I think I will go out for a walk and enjoy the view.
Is there a cure for Biological Aging?
Hairy and handsome at 21 vs. bald and gray at 65
I recently got an enthusiastic letter from a visitor to my web site who had read the pages about Calorie Restriction (CR) to slow down aging. He had some questions about resveratrol and other nutritional supplements. He also had these other things to say:
Do you really believe that the first person to live to 1000 years could be in their 60's today? (could it be you?)
I'm 22 and am pretty interested in anti-aging. I'd like to stay 22 for the rest of my life. I think with the help you give on your website and maybe even high doses of resveratrol within the next few years. I could stay young long enough to "cure" and maybe even reverse aging.
I believe there's so much to live for. Technological singularity, colonizing the moon, terraforming Mars, warping space and traveling light years within hours or minutes. We could occupy the Gliese's and beyond. Maybe map the whole universe! Isn't all of this worth trying to live to see?
First of all, I am not in favor of taking large doses of anything. I believe that evolution has fine-tuned the chemical processes in our body and that we can easily upset the balance that gives us life and consciousness. Also, although I am enthusiastic about technological progress, I am very disappointed about how we are treating the Earth and I think that this will eventually reduce the chance of human survival. I believe that our way of life will be significantly altered and all the societies on Earth will see dramatic changes due to global warming in 50 or 100 years. The sea level will rise, and an exodus of people from the coastal areas will begin. There will be scarcities, homelessness, and human tragedies in a scale that will dwarf what happened in New Orleans in the aftermath of hurricane Katrina. Some nations will completely disappear under water. Half of Florida will be submerged. The buildings in Miami will serve as reefs for tropical fish. In order to live to the age of 1000 years, we would first need to survive the man-made catastrophes that await us as a result of pollution, overfishing, and deforestation.
Last June, I wrote about Aubrey de Gray who is very optimistic about life extension and thinks of aging as a disease that can be overcome using Strategies for Engineered Negligible Senescence (SENS). These are some of his ideas about aging:
Biological aging is a progressive, degenerative process of decay, in which the healthy cellular and molecular order laid down in our youth slowly falls apart in the face of accumulating aging damage to its functional structures. This damage is a series of unintended biochemical side-effects of normal metabolism. As more and more of our cellular and molecular structures suffer this damage, functionality is lost, and health, resilience, and vitality are slowly taken away from us, leading to increasing age-related pathology.
This is Aubrey de Grey's Engineering Solution to Biological Aging:
Instead of interfering with the metabolic processes that ongoingly cause aging damage (the "gerontological" approach) or fighting a losing battle to keep badly damaged bodies from falling apart altogether (the "geriatric", conventional medical approach), the "engineering" strategy is based on the direct repair, replacement, or rendering harmless of the damaged structures themselves. In this approach, metabolism still causes ongoing damage, but the total burden of such damage is repaired well enough to prevent eventual pathology indefinitely.
As I look at myself in the mirror and I compare myself to my old photographs, I can see that my first signs of aging started at 25. Should a person start preventive senescence engineering at age 25? If not, how do you get back the hair that you have lost? Another sign of aging is when your hair starts getting gray. The body stops producing hair pigment. This means that something in your body has stopped working. I am not very optimistic about SENS, but if as a first step these scientists come up with a way of preventing baldness and gray hairs, then I will believe that the "engineering" strategy has further potential. Until then, I will remain highly skeptical.
Rwanda is switching from French to English
Emperor Napoleon using an Imperative Sentence
Rwanda, a small landlocked country in the Great Lakes region of east-central Africa, has decided to change instruction in schools from French to English. The French language was brought to Rwanda by Belgian colonizers. On July 1, 1962, Rwanda was granted full independence from Belgium.
Rwanda has been in the news in recent years because of the 1994 mass killing of hundreds of thousands of Rwanda's Tutsis by Hutu militia. Now that the country is gaining some stability, there is a new focus on agricultural development and international trade. Most Rwandans speak the local Kinyarwanda language or French, but fewer than five percent speak English.
The emphasis on trade has made Rwandans aware that French is only spoken in France, and small parts of Canada, Belgium, and Switzerland. Whereas English is spoken worldwide even in countries like China. Rwandan Senator Aloisea Inyumba said:
"Introducing English is just being realistic. English is the language of business"
All Rwandan government employees are now required to learn English.
Baking Bread in Ancient Egypt
The development of agriculture approximately 10,000 years ago gave rise to permanent settlements which grew into cities and civilizations. Emmer wheat (Triticum dicoccon), also known as farro, was one of the first crops domesticated in the Ancient Near East, which included the modern countries of Iraq, Syria, Iran, Turkey, Lebanon, Jordan, Israel, and Egypt. Emmer wheat is not cultivated today because it is a low yielding variety. Also, Emmer wheat is more difficult to mill into flour because the chaff does not come off through threshing.
Much of our knowledge about ancient Egyptian bread comes from archeological excavations that have found dessicated bread in tombs. The bread was placed as a funerary offering to nourish the dead during their journey to the afterlife. Some of these loaves of bread have been preserved since predynastic times by the arid Egyptian weather for as long as 5,000 years.
The illustration above is an etching from the tomb of Ramesses III, who reigned from 1186 BC to 1155 BC. It depicts the process of making bread at the royal bakery. Bread was baked in many shapes, including the shapes of animals. At the top left, there are two workers with poles. The poles were used as pestles to pound the grains and remove the chaff. On the top right, there are illustrations of two methods of baking. There is an oven with legs and a lid, and there is a brick oven into which a worker is sticking his hand. The open-top oven worked like the tandoor clay ovens which are used today to bake breads like lavash and naan.
Egyptian grain was turned into flour by milling it on a saddle quern, which functioned by moving the grindstone back and forth. Grit from the quern stones was released into the flour and was baked in the bread. Many Egyptian mummies show severe abrasion of the teeth from eating bread containing sand and particles from the grindstones.
 Ancient Egyptian cuisine
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