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Breakfast Cereals are Highly Processed Foods

2-methylnaphtalene in your cereal

Kellogg's Froot Loops cereal is a very popular breakfast food that is actively marketed to children in cartoon television commercials. For some time, it has been known that artificial food dyes from these colorful cereals can impair the performance of hyperactive children.[1] Recently, Kellogg recalled 28 million boxes of Froot Loops, Apple Jacks, Corn Pops and Honey Smacks cereals because of chemical contamination by 2-methylnaphthalene. 2-Methylnaphthalene is a chemical derivative of naphthalene which is a primary ingredient of mothballs.

The cereals were recalled after consumers reported a strange taste and odor, and some complained of nausea and diarrhea. Kellogg hired some experts who said that there was "no harmful material" in the products. The Food and Drug Administration has no scientific data on the impact of 2-methylnaphtalene on human health, and the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) also lacks the basic health data, even though the agency has been seeking that information from the chemical industry for 16 years.

The EPA information for 2-methylnaphthalene indicates that the substance causes pulmonary alveolar proteinosis which is characterized by an accumulation of phospholipids in the alveolar lumens and white protuberant nodules in the lungs. The best guess that the EPA can make is that the oral Reference Dose (RfD) of a daily exposure to the human population (including sensitive subgroups) that is likely to be without an appreciable risk of deleterious effects during a lifetime is 0.004 mg/kg-day.[2]

Breakfast cereals are very convenient for busy parents, but there is a price to pay. The dyes and the high sugar content do not provide the best nutrition for our children. There are better alternatives to the highly processed foods, but you have to read labels carefully.

[1] Swanson JM, Kinsbourne M., Food dyes impair performance of hyperactive children on a laboratory learning test, Science. 1980 Mar 28;207(4438):1485-7. PMID: 7361102

[2] 2-Methylnaphthalene (CASRN 91-57-6) [link]

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Dangerous Prescription Drugs

The TV advertisements by lawyers always seem to be at the forefront of news about bad side effects of prescription drugs. Like buzzards circling over a carcass, lawyers are following the news that the diabetes medicine Avandia was associated with increased risk of heart attacks. The interesting thing is that drug companies sometimes market drugs which can cause harm to recover their research costs and make a profit. They figure that by the time the customers and the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) find out about the side effects, they will have made a lot of money even if they have to pay some claims for injuries caused by their product. Many of the late night commercials by lawyers are targeted at the following three drugs.

Avandia (Rosiglitazone) is used along with a diet and exercise program and sometimes with Avandryl and Avandamet to treat type-2 diabetes, also known as adult-onset diabetes. Avandia is made by the pharmaceutical company SmithKline Beecham which found as early as 1999 that the medicine posed risks to the heart, but the information was never made public. On May 21, 2007, the FDA issued a Safety Alert regarding Avandia. A study concludes that patients taking Avanida face a 43% increased risk of heart attack, and a 64% increased risk of dying from heart related (cardiovascular) disease, such as congestive heart failure.

Reglan (metoclopramide) is used to relieve heartburn and speed the healing of ulcers and sores in the esophagus (tube that connects the mouth to the stomach) in people who have gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD). Reglan is also used to treat nausea and vomiting, and to facilitate gastric emptying in patients with gastroparesis. Another use for Reglan is as a treatment for migraine headaches. On February 25, 2009, The FDA required the manufacturers of metoclopramide-containing drugs to add a "Black Box" notice warning about an increased risk of the development of Tardive Dyskinesia which is characterized by repetitive, involuntary, purposeless movements such as lip smacking, tongue protrusion, tremors, rapid eye blinking, and seizures.

Accutane (isotretinoin) is used to treat severe acne that has not been helped by other treatments, such as antibiotics. Isotretinoin is in a class of medications called retinoids. Accutane has been linked to a variety of severe, life-threatening side effects including birth defects, depression, suicide, inflammatory bowel disease, Crohn’s disease, and ulcerative colitis. On June 26, 2009 Roche Holding AG, the manufacturer of Accutane initiated a nationwide recall of the popular medication after stating that they have awarded over $33 million in lawsuits directly related to bowel disease claims.

Before taking any prescription drugs, we should always think very seriously about their side effects and whether we really need the medicines. It seems that sometimes the cure is worse than the disease.

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Alli diet pills

Orlistat is the active ingredient of alli

In 2007, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) approved over-the-counter sale of the diet pill alli for use by overweight adults in conjunction with a reduced-calorie, low-fat diet. The FDA also recommended that exercise should be part of the program. The alli diet pill is a reduced strength version of the prescription weight loss drug Xenical, also known by the generic name orlistat. GlaxoSmithKline, the marketer, claims that "alli helps people lose 50 percent more weight than with diet alone".

Alli is a lipase inhibitor that works by partially blocking the breakdown and absorption of fat in the intestines. This means that it also inhibits the absorption of fat-soluble vitamins, such vitamins A, D, E, and K. One supplement tablet containing these vitamins should be taken daily, at bedtime, when using alli. The primary side effects, or treatment effects, of alli are oily, loose stools with excessive flatulence due to unabsorbed fats reaching the large intestine. Fecal incontinence and frequent or urgent bowel movements are also common.

Although alli appears to be safe for long-term use, most of the weight loss occurs within the first six months of using the drug, and the majority of users regain weight when they discontinue using alli. The reason for regaining weight is that users depend on the pills and do not learn to reduce their calories sufficiently to maintain a lower body weight. To lose weight and keep it off permanently, it is necessary to eat smaller portions while maintaining proper nutrition.

Learn more about weight control

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Some sunscreens may increase skin cancer risk

Retinyl Palmitate

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 53,919 people in the United States were diagnosed with melanoma skin cancer in 2006, and in the same year 8,441 people died as a result of this disease. The rates of skin cancer are increasing as the result of unprotected sun exposure and the use of tanning beds.


Sunscreens can prevent skin cancer as well as wrinkles and skin discolorations. Sunscreens, also known as sunblock or sun creams, are lotions, sprays, gels or other topical products that absorb or reflect some of the sun's ultraviolet (UV) radiation and help protect against sunburn.

In addition to the sun-blocking chemicals, sunscreens often have retinyl palmitate, a form of Vitamin A, which in theory should be good for the skin. Vitamin A is an ester, primarily retinyl palmitate, which is converted to an alcohol (retinol) in the small intestine. Vitamin A is needed by the retina of the eye for night vision and color vision. Vitamin A deficiency is estimated to cause approximately 250,000 to 500,000 cases of blindness per year in children of developing countries. Retinoic acid, the oxidation product of Vitamin A, acts as an important hormone-like growth factor for epithelial and other cells.

Retinyl palmitate, or vitamin A palmitate, is the ester of retinol (vitamin A) and palmitic acid. Retinyl palmitate is a source of vitamin A added to low fat milk and other dairy products to replace the vitamin content lost through the removal of milk fat. Retinyl palmitate is a constituent of many topically-applied skin care products, including most popular sunscreens. After its absorption into the skin, retinyl palmitate is converted to retinol, and ultimately to retinoic acid, the active form of vitamin A.

However, a possible link has been found between retinyl palmitate in sunscreens and skin cancer. One study found that tumors and lesions developed up to 21% faster in lab animals coated with cream containing retinyl palmitate compared with cream that did not contain it. This may be due to the formation of free radicals that are created when retinyl palmitate is exposed to ultraviolet light.[1]

Learn more about vitamins

[1] Qingsu Xia, et al., Photoirradiation of Retinyl Palmitate in Ethanol with Ultraviolet Light -
Formation of Photodecomposition Products, Reactive Oxygen Species, and Lipid Peroxides, Int. J. Environ. Res. Public Health 2006, 3(2), 185-190, PMID: 16823091
"Our results demonstrate that, similar to irradiation with UVA light, RP can act as a photosensitizer leading to free radical formation and induction of lipid peroxidation following irradiation with UVB light."

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Mulberry trees and silkworms

Late May and Early June is the season for mulberries in the United States. Mulberry trees thrive in warm temperate and subtropical regions of Asia, Africa, Europe, and the Americas. Mulberries are widely distributed because the berries are a favorite food of the birds who scatter the seeds in their droppings.

A mulberry tree is not very distinctive, but if it is close to a sidewalk, the sidewalk will be covered with berries that fall from the tree. The immature berries are white or light green, and they turn red and then dark purple as they ripen. The berries can be harvested individually from the low-hanging branches, but it is easier to put a sheet under a branch of a tree and then shake the branch. Some of the berries will bruise and the sheet will be stained with purple spots, but this is the best way to gather enough berries to make a pie or some preserves. Wine can also be made from the berries. Mulberries are rich in anthocyanins which are colorful pigments with beneficial health effects that may include the prevention of cancer.

There are many varieties of mulberry trees. Silkworms will only eat the leaves of the white mulberry tree (Morus alba). Silk production, or sericulture, has been practiced in China for at least 5,000 years. Domesticated silkworms are entirely dependent on humans and no longer occur naturally in the wild. Domesticated silkworm moths cannot fly. They have been bred selectively for improving the quality of the cocoon and silk production.

Silk moths lay their eggs on the mulberry leaves, and the worms hatch after fourteen days. The worms feed on the leaves continuously, and they molt as they grow. After molting four times, the larvae enclose themselves in a cocoon of raw silk produced by their salivary glands. Silk is basically a protein consisting of the amino acids glycine (60%), alanine (20%), and serine (20%). Inside the cocoon, a silkworm transforms into a pupa that emerges as a moth in about three weeks. The moths reproduce and die within five days, but in this time the female manages to lay from 200 to 500 eggs to continue the life cycle.

Silk is harvested by dipping cocoons in boiling water to kill the pupa and help unravel the thread. Each cocoon contains a single silk thread that is about 300 to 900 meters long. Silk from China was known to the ancient Greeks and Romans. The silk road toward the west was opened by the Chinese in the 2nd century AD. Large caravans carried huge quantities of beautiful textiles to the coasts of the Mediterranean. Although silk has been displaced from many applications by synthetic fabrics, more than 80,000 metric tons of silk are produced yearly, principally by China and India.

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What is moderate exercise?

To estimate the number of calories that you should eat, you also need to know your level of activity. If you are very active, you will need more calories than if you are sedentary. While it is relatively easy to estimate the number of calories in your food by weighing and measuring, it is a lot harder to estimate the number of calories burned by exercise. People often overestimate their amount of activity and consequently they eat more calories than they burn, and gain weight over time.

The Calorie Restriction Calculator estimates the Basal Metabolic Rate, and then uses an activity factor to obtain the total number of calories needed per day. Using the wrong activity factor alters the estimate of daily calories substantially.

A paper on metabolism used a definition of "vigorous exercise" as expenditure of 14.1 to 16.3 kcal/kg of ideal body weight per day.[1] Using the rounded figure of 15 Calories per kilogram of body weight, then "vigorous exercise" for a person weighing 150 pounds (68 kilograms) corresponds to 1020 Calories per day. If walking at 4 miles per hour burns about 300 Calories per hour, then you would need to walk 3 hours and 24 minutes to burn off 1020 Calories.

The activity factors for the Calorie Restriction Calculator are:

The activity factor lightly active corresponds to walking 2 hours per day, moderately active corresponds to walking 3 hours per day, very active corresponds to walking 4 hours per day, and extra active corresponds to walking 5 hours per day (20 miles). More strenuous exercises, such as climbing stairs or running, burn more calories per hour. Most people who exercise from 30 minutes to 45 minutes per day are in the "lightly active" category. You can use the CR calculator to determine the number of calories for each level of exercise for your particular weight by subtracting the calories for a specific activity level from the calories for the sedentary option.

See the chart listing the calories for various activities

[1] Thissen JP, Ketelslegers JM, Underwood LE., Nutritional regulation of the insulin-like growth factors, Endocr Rev. 1994 Feb;15(1):80-101. Review. PMID: 8156941

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Stages of life by decade

Although a lifetime may seem long, it does not seem so when we examine it in terms of decades rather than years. Only one person in 10,000 lives beyond their tenth decade.

First Decade (age 0 to 9) - Age of dependency. Our mothers must feed us and clean us. We learn to walk and talk. We start our education.

Second Decade (age 10 to 19) - Discovery of sexuality. Raging hormones awake our awareness of the opposite sex. We have to learn to channel our primal impulses within the rules of society. Our ability to think logically starts to develop.

Third Decade (age 20 to 29) - Early adulthood. We feel independent. We try to find a comfortable niche within society with our first real job and our own partner and family.

Fourth Decade (age 30 to 39) - The prime of life. We have figured out how the world works. We think that we know what we want. We raise our children, and we plan for our future.

Fifth Decade (age 40 to 49) - Middle age. Although we don't feel old during this decade, the chances of living to twice this age are not very good. We may have a mid-life crisis that forces us to evaluate our life and try to make it better, but it is not easy to change because we have to live within the constraints of our work, family structure, and social environment.

Sixth Decade (age 50 to 59) - Age of biological decline. We become aware of wrinkles, gray hair, arthritis pains, menopause, and decreased libido. We listen more carefully to advertisements about Cialis and Viagra. We become eligible for membership in AARP. We need reading glasses.

Seventh Decade (age 60 to 69) - Retirement age. We become eligible for Medicare. If we are lucky and have planned well, we can stop working and start traveling or doing community service. If we have not saved enough to afford retiring, we have to continue working. If our health is not good, we now take medicines for diabetes, high cholesterol, and high blood pressure.

Eight Decade (age 70 to 79) - Age of decreased mobility. The little pains of twenty years ago have increased so that now they impede what were normal activities. Visits to doctors become more frequent. We may need a cane, hernia surgery, or cataract surgery. Our age spots are harder to cover. Our circle of friends starts to shrink as they start to die. Heart attacks, strokes, and cancer take their toll.

Ninth Decade (age 80 to 89) - Age of assisted living. Even if we can still take care of ourselves, we may need somebody to help us clean the house, go shopping for us, or prepare our food. Health problems become more severe. We may become incontinent and have to wear adult diapers. Most people will not live beyond this decade.

Tenth Decade (age 90 to 99) - Pre-centenarian. Congratulations! if you have made this far, it means that you have good genes, fewer or less severe health problems than the average person, and good family support. If you are still active, you may live to be a centenarian. The life expectancy at age 90 is 3.8 years, and by age 99 the life expectancy drops to 2.1 years. Every day may be a struggle for life. There can be digestive problems, cardiovascular problems, mobility problems, or immune system problems on any given day.

Learn about Longevity Science

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Why ice cream makes you fat

For dessert, a friend brought a box of four ice cream sandwiches from Trader Joe's made with vanilla ice cream between chocolate chip cookies and rolled in mini chocolate chips. The sandwiches are actually delicious, but if you are used to low glycemic foods, you feel your blood sugar spike for about two hours after eating one of these sandwiches. The portion does not look too big. Each sandwich is about 3 inches in diameter and 1 inch thick, but it is packed with 440 calories.

The nutrition label says that each sandwich has 21 grams of fat, including 12 grams of saturated fat which is 60% of the daily value. In other words, this little ice cream morsel has more than half of the saturated fat that you should eat in a whole day. The amount of carbohydrate is also quite high, 60 grams of carbohydrate, of which 42 grams are sugars. This is more sugar than in a 12 oz (355 ml) can of Coca Cola.

Ice cream is high in fat and high in sugar. It takes one hour of strenuous exercise to burn off 400 calories, and it is a sure bet that you are not going to go jogging after eating an ice cream sandwich with this much sugar. You are going to feel sleepy, you are going to sit down on the couch, and your body is going to store the sugar as fat.

You could limit your calories by cutting a sandwich into quarters with 110 calories each, but who has the discipline to stop after eating four tiny bites? It is too much hassle to put the remainder in a container and back in the freezer, and it would be a waste to let the ice cream melt. So, you have to eat it all before it melts. Right?

These are the reasons why ice cream makes you fat:

Learn how to lose weight

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Optical illusion with three colors

The eye provides us with basic perceptions that are interpreted by the brain. Sometimes, these perceptions differ so much from reality that we understand that our senses are fooling us.

The image above consists of only three colors: a greenish blue (RGB 0, 255, 150), dark orange (RGB 255, 150, 0), and bright pink (RGB 255, 0, 255). When the greenish blue field is overlaid with pink lines, the blue color predominates, whereas the green color predominates when the greenish blue field is overlaid with orange lines. The figure appears to be made of four colors, rather than three.

Patches of color that are physically close to each other are interpreted by the eye as being a single color. This is the principle used for color halftone printing which overlays dots of several basic colors of different sizes to simulate a wide spectrum of colors. The technique is used extensively for cartoon illustrations.

An image of Charlie Brown in the Sunday comics page, when enlarged, reveals the pattern of dots that form the picture. The rows of tiny dots are oriented at different angles to avoid Moiré patterns.

Learn more about optical illusions

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Error C2664 LoadLibraryW cannot convert parameter to LPCWSTR

I recently used Microsoft Visual Studio 2008 to write a simple program to load a dynamic link library (DLL) module and invoke some of its entry points. I did not expect to get the error message C2664 from the simple LoadLibrary statement:

HINSTANCE hinstLib = LoadLibrary("azspellaid.dll");

Error C2664: 'LoadLibraryW': cannot convert parameter 1 from 'const char [15]' to 'LPCWSTR'

There are two ways of fixing this problem. The first one is to cast the quoted string with a Long Pointer to Const Wide String (LPCWSTR):

HINSTANCE hinstLib = LoadLibrary((LPCWSTR)L"azspellaid.dll");

The C2664 error can also be resolved by keeping the original code and changing the character set of the project defaults from "unicode character set" to "multi-byte character set" as shown in this image:

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