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Weight-Loss Ring


I received in the mail a catalog of household goods and trinkets. The cover had an advertisement for a "weight-loss ring" that is claimed to target weight loss in specific problem areas such as the tummy, hips or buttocks. The adjustable ring is supposed to work on the principle of acupressure. The ad claims that the Japanese apply pressure on different fingers to target weight loss in specific areas. This miraculous ring costs only $3.99!

P.T. Barnum, the 19th century American circus entertainer, said "There's a Sucker Born Every Minute". His incisive bit of wisdom is still true in the 21st century. If you believe that you can lose weight by putting on a ring, and that it does not matter how much you eat, then you are a sucker. If you believe that you can lose weight in specific areas, then you are misinformed. Weight loss cannot be targeted.

The advertisement is selling a dream. Many people will pay $3.99 on the chance that the ring might work. The amount of money is small enough that customers will not complain if it does not work. The effort to try to get a refund will cost more than the ring itself, so probably none will be returned. The manufacturer makes a profit of about 1,500%, since a little piece of twisted wire that costs $0.25 can be sold for $3.99. Good business!

This is clearly a scam. Why doesn't a government agency stop it? The answer is that it is not clear which agency would have jurisdiction. The Food and Drug administration cannot do it because the ring is not a food or a drug. The Consumer Protection Agency probably will not get involved unless someone is injured. So the consumers are left to fend for themselves.

Learn how to lose weight

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2010-09-06 

Lava splash confirms impact origin of Aïr Massif in Niger


For many years geologists have considered the formation of the Aïr Mountains in Niger to be the result of magma accumulation. The area has no craters typical of meteorite strikes, and the circular features that hint that the formation could have been caused by meteorites have been explained as the result of complex tectonic activity.[1]

A new theory proposes that a large meteorite cluster melts the surface of the Earth thereby preventing meteorite impacts from forming craters. The interpretation of the geological features has to rely on the waves created by meteorite impacts on the molten surface. The theory states that the circular waves created by meteorite impacts on the molten surface and the resulting overlapping circular rings can be used to distinguish meteorite strikes from volcanic or tectonic events.

Application of the new theory has found a splash zone, shown above, that confirms that the Aïr circular formations are the result of impacts by a large meteorite cluster. The splash is typical of what you would find by the edge of a swimming pool after someone does a cannonball dive.

Read about the impact theory for meteorite clusters




[1] C. Moreau, D. Demaiffe, Y. Bellion and A.-M. Boullier, A tectonic model for the location of Palaeozoic ring complexes in Aïr (Niger, West Africa), Tectonophysics, Volume 234, Issues 1-2, 15 June 1994, Pages 129-146. //dx.doi.org/10.1016/0040-1951(94)90208-9

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2010-09-02 

Meteorite Craters near Agadez, Niger


There is a spot in the Niger Sahara Desert that looks like the surface of the moon, and for good reason. It appears that at least twenty meteorites struck this part of Africa millions of years ago. One crater is 60 kilometers in diameter, and another is 42 kilometers wide. The combined areas of all these impacts is probably greater than the impact that killed the dinosaurs 65 million years ago.

Considering that the impact features are relatively black compared to the desert sand, it is remarkable that the craters have not been recorded in the Earth Impact Database of the Planetary and Space Science Centre, University of New Brunswick. The largest of the circular areas is 60-kilometers wide with its center at Latitude: 18.820749, Longitude: 8.75553. The Northwest edge of the area is very distinct and located at Latitude: 19.072668, Longitude 8.602214. The Southeast edge of the area is at Latitude: 18.652018, Longitude: 8.980622.

These prominent features are considered to have been formed by lava flows because impact craters usually have features created by the shock of the impacts. However, the impacts of a dense meteorite cluster are so intense, that the surface melts and many of the meteorites fall on the surface that has been melted by previous impacts. Consequently, typical impact features like brecciation and shatter cones are not present in the Aïr Mountains of Niger. Instead, the surface has overlapping rings and splash zones that are characteristic of impacts on liquids.

Learn more about the Agadez craters

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2010-08-13 

Forest Fires in Russia and Floods in Pakistan


The Earth's weather patterns are changing. Floods in Pakistan have destroyed many villages and killed thousands of people. A heat wave in Russia has started forest fires, burned grain fields and filled the air in Moscow with smoke that has doubled the death rate from heart and lung ailments. These extreme meteorological conditions are examples of events that provide further evidence that global warming is a real threat in our lifetime.

Moscow in the Western part Russia typically has summer temperatures that average 75 degrees Fahrenheit, but this summer has been very hot and very dry with temperatures as high as 100 degrees. More than 500 forest fires have filled the air with smoke and ignited underground peat-bog fires. The smoke has filled many buildings, and the State Historical Museum on Red Square was forced to close because it couldn't stop its smoke detectors from going off. The cloak of smoke turned the picturesque spires of St. Basil's Cathedral into gray outlines. The pedestrians that had to be outdoors had their faces hidden by surgical masks and water-soaked bandanas.


The heat and smoke in Moscow have nearly doubled the mortality rate in recent days. The health minister, Andrei Seltsovsky, said that the daily death toll had risen from an average of between 360 and 380 to around 700. Ambulance calls were up by about 25% because of increases in heart and lung ailments and strokes. Many residents are leaving the Moscow area temporarily to escape the polluted air.


In 2009, Russia was the world's third-largest wheat exporter, but this year's severe drought has destroyed at least 20 percent of the harvest and the fires have burned many fields. Global commodity prices for wheat have been climbing since June as a result. Fearing domestic deficits, Russia has imposed a ban on wheat exports and this has pushed prices even higher.


While Russia is suffering droughts and sweltering record temperatures, Pakistan has been deluged by torrential rains that brought death and destruction to many villages. Millions of Pakistanis are affected by the worst floods to hit the country in decades, and the heavy rains make it very difficult to deliver supplies to communities in the Swat Valley that have been isolated by the high waters. According to UN estimates, as many as four million Pakistanis face food shortages after floods destroyed up to 570,000 hectares of crops in central Punjab province alone. The prices for fruits and vegetables were reportedly soaring throughout Pakistan.

Global warming is the increase in the average temperature of Earth's oceans and surface air. Most of the temperature increase since the middle of the 20th century has been caused by increasing concentrations of greenhouse gases, such as carbon dioxide which results from burning of fossil fuels. As warming continues, the tawing of the permafrost in the northern latitudes will release methane which is a more powerful greenhouse gas than carbon dioxide. The warmer temperatures will evaporate more ocean water and create more violent storms and more unpredictable weather patterns.

Learn more about Earth's Mass Extinctions

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2010-08-03 

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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2010-07-17 

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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2010-06-23 

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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2010-06-15 

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.

Melanoma


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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2010-06-08 

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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2010-06-06 

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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