Saturday, September 26, 2009

The Big Egg

By Diana Hsieh

This "big egg" video is either a wonderful spoof or a freak of nature:



(Via Faye.)

Update: Four of the six farm eggs that I cracked this morning for breakfast were double-yolkers! (Click for the full-sized image.)

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Giving Up Before Starting

By Diana Hsieh

Over the past year, quite a few friends from Front Range Objectivism have adopted a more paleo diet, often with excellent results. As you might imagine, I'm delighted! This week, yet another FRO member asked some of us about it. I sent links to my two main blog posts about my diet: The New Diet and What I Eat. I also gave the following general advice:

The key is to change the big things about your diet first. Eliminate all grains, sugars, modern vegetable oils, and soy. Eat full-fat dairy. Eat fatty meats. Eat nuts. Eat eggs. Moderate fruit intake. Then, once you're comfortable with those big steps, you can refine your diet.
The person e-mailed us back with the following remarks:
Sugar's out. Does this mean I can never eat another Snickers Bar again? I'd rather shoot myself.

Eliminate all grains - even whole grains, then? I suppose this means wheat, rice--are beans grains? Are potatoes in? I'd rather fall on a newly sharpened blade than to never eat potatoes. No matter how you cook' em, they taste damn good! Boil 'em, fry 'em, mash 'em, bake 'em, bake 'em again. Damn, they're good. Please don't tell me they're out.
Amusing, yes -- but I can't help but see problems. Here's what I wrote in reply:
You've started by telling us the various foods that you refuse to give up. If that's going to be your approach, then you might as well not bother attempting to change your diet.

The fact is that certain foods are objectively good for you. They are conducive to health, beauty, and strength. Other foods -- namely most of what people eat today, including what they regard as healthy -- are self-destructive to varying degrees. So if you want the good effects of a truly proper diet, you're going to have to enact the requisite causes by actually eating that diet. Indulging your desires for certain foods simply because you've trained your mind and body to crave them will only frustrate your ends.

It can be somewhat hard to wean yourself off a carb addiction. Your body has to adjust itself to running on proper fuel, primarily fats. That can take few days to a few weeks. Also, you'll find that your tastes change over the course of months. However, if you're like almost everyone I know, you'll soon find that you like your new diet much, much better. You'll relish food in a new way. You'll feel better. You'll look better. You'll think the foods that you used to like are simply gross. And, if you're carb-sensitive, you'll find that any significant deviations from the diet will produce unwelcome effects.

If you "cheat" from the get-go, you'll likely never experience those benefits. Then you might wrongly suppose that the diet just didn't work for you. (That's like blaming capitalism for the failures of the mixed economy!)

Of course, if you discover that you hate a paleo diet, then you can always quit. But I think you should try it in earnest. Focus on finding good foods that you love to eat, rather than on whatever you're not eating. Allow yourself to experience what the diet has to offer. Then you can try deviating from it on occasion as a kind of experiment; that's actually very informative.

I was a major sugar addict for as long as I can remember. I loved candy, bread, and pasta with a passion. Before, I couldn't imagine giving all that up -- yet I have for over a year, happily. The health and energy benefits have been tremendous for me. More than that, I've not sacrificed one iota in terms of my pleasure in food. I enjoy food more now than I used to, precisely because I'm not feeding my carb cravings.

I never could have gotten to that delightful point if I'd declared that I'd rather poke myself in the eye with a sharp stick rather than give up Jelly Bellies.
The person in question wrote me back, in part:
Screw it.

I'm in 100%. You're right about everything you wrote to me, Diana. Thank you. ...

I needed the kick in the ass you just gave me. Thank you.
I love people who can take a much-needed kick in the rear! And I love people willing to give such kicks to me when needed, even though I might grumble a bit at the time.

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Friday, September 11, 2009

Medical Alert: Women and Thigh Fractures

By Paul Hsieh

[This is a change in pace from my usual blogging, but Diana and I thought it was important enough to post to NoodleFood.]

Last week I attended a medical conference which included an update on the radiology of skeletal and orthopedic disease.

Although most of the lectures were intended for health professionals, there was one lecture which included information that would be of interest to the general public because it involved the common condition known as osteoporosis.

After women undergo menopause, many of them start losing bone mineral at a significant rate -- enough that they are at increased risk of developing fractures of the hip, spine, and other bones from relatively minor trauma. This condition of abnormal low bone density is known as "osteoporosis". In particular, hip fractures can be devastating to older women, and can often result in permanent disability or premature death.

In the past, women with osteoporosis (but who had not yet developed a fracture) were often treated with hormone replacement therapy in order to reduce their risk of these fractures. (Hormone replacement therapy was also widely used to alleviate the uncomfortable "hot flashes" associated with menopause). But because recent research has shown that these hormones can also increase the risks of certain cancers of the female reproductive system, this is no longer commonly done.

Instead, starting 4-5 years ago, many primary care physicians started treating such women with a different set of drugs designed to help protect and restore bone mineral density. One commonly prescribed family of drugs is known as bisphosphonates, and some examples include Fosamax, Boniva, and Actonel. These drugs have proven effective in halting (or even reversing) the mineral loss, and have also reduced the risk of these potentially devastating hip fractures.

However, in recent years there have been reports that these drugs can also paradoxically increase the risk of a certain type of upper thigh fracture (known as "subtrochanteric proximal femur fractures"). Although physicians and scientists don't fully understand the cause, it appears that women who have been on these drugs for a few years start developing tiny stress fractures in the upper femur bone (below the level of the hip joint), which gradually increase in size. Eventually, a certain percentage of these turn into complete fractures, and often the triggering event might be a relatively minor fall or bump.

This has only been recognized in the past year or so, as more women reach the point where they've been on these drugs for the (apparent) requisite time of 4-5 years.

So if you are a post-menopausal woman who has been diagnosed with either "low bone density" or "osteoporosis", and you are currently taking one of these drugs, then you need to be on the lookout for any new pain in the upper thigh region. This could be an early warning sign of a developing stress fracture.

Here is an example of an early stress fracture in the right femur (thigh) bone:



Here is an example of a late (completed) fracture:



(Both images are from "Subtrochanteric Femoral Insufficiency Fracture in Woman on Bisphosphonate Therapy for Glucocorticoid-Induced Osteoporosis", Lisabeth A. Bush, M.D., and Felix S. Chew, M.D., Radiology Case Reports, January 1, 2009.)

Your physician can then order various radiology tests (x-ray, MRI, or nuclear medicine bone scan) to see if you are developing a stress fracture. These can often affect both sides, even if you only feel the pain on one side. If you have one of these fractures, then your doctor can recommend the appropriate treatment.

For the time being, the benefits of these drugs are still felt to outweigh the potential drawbacks. Hence, physicians are not currently recommending that women who are taking them should discontinue them. And a lot more effort is being focused on this problem, now that doctors and scientists have become aware of it. The exact guidelines as to who should (or should not) be on these medications will undoubtedly undergo refinement as the research develops. As usual, if you have specific concerns, you should discuss them with their own personal physician.

Summary:

If you are taking a bisphosphonate drug such as Fosamax, Actonel, or Boniva, and you start experiencing upper thigh pain, get it checked out immediately. It could be an early stress fracture, which needs to be detected and treated before it becomes a complete fracture. This is especially important for women who are athletically active (e.g., running, tennis, etc.)

Even if you personally don't take these drugs, it's very likely you will know someone in your family or circle of friends who does.

(Obligatory disclaimer for any lawyers out there: This should not be construed as personal medical advice. If you have any questions about your specific situation, please consult your personal physician.)

Additional References:

"Subtrochanteric Femoral Insufficiency Fracture in Woman on Bisphosphonate Therapy for Glucocorticoid-Induced Osteoporosis"

"Atraumatic Bilateral Femur Fracture in Long-Term Bisphosphonate Use"

"Atypical fractures of the femoral diaphysis in postmenopausal women taking alendronate"

"More on Atypical Fractures of the Femoral Diaphysis"

Wikipedia entry on bisphosphonates

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Saturday, September 05, 2009

The Flame Game, Geek Style

By Greg Perkins

A note titled "Alright Men" arrived in my inbox from an old friend, cluing me in to a local tradition which was apparently gaining some fame:

You haven't got a hair on you a$$ unless you've done Flying Pie's double habanero pizza. "Man vs. Food" (on the Travel Channel) is doing it this Friday ... not to be outdone, I did it tonight (4, count 'em, four slices) while my co- challenger (not-to-be-named) managed only 2. So, the question is are you man enough?
He went on to challenge all comers to meet him at Flying Pie any time during the month and give it a go (August is the only time of year they serve this monstrosity). Another recipient quickly replied:
What a load of crap. Were you wearing a pink skirt when you did that?

I bet I wouldn't even break a sweat.

Unfortunately, I am busy any night that you want to do the competition, so I guess I will have to pass. Although, the record books should show that if I wasn't already scheduled for something I haven't thought of yet, that I would eat 5 with no ice cream.

Whoohooo! Winner.
In the end, there was just one fool taker for his challenge, so naturally my friend expanded his campaign of peer pressure:
OK, ladies, only [one of you] is man enough to take me up on this ... Once [he] and I get a time and place scheduled, I'll let everyone know so if you want to come by, you can see how men eat. And, who knows, maybe some of you will check your ovaries at the door and join us.
At this point several of us fell prey to his irresistible powers of persuasion (he's a lawyer). If I had to pick out what made mere words so effective, I would put testosterone poisoning at the top of the list, well known for its capacity to dampen volition. The better part of a dozen males signed on, but no females, which indicates a significant causal factor by Mills Methods of Induction. (As many females as males did attend, but only to mock the guys' idiocy.)

Alright, so Flying Pie will spread diced habanero on pizzas like it's just another flavor of cheese or something, and now we had a shared-strife male-ego-driven test of wills based on it. Being a certified geek, I reflexively broke out some research to see just how ugly this little adventure might turn... and what I might do to better survive it.

First Question: Just how hot are we talking? It turns out that habanero chilies have a Scoville hotness value in the 200,000-300,000 range. (My prior pepper experience topped out at the hotness of the jalapeno pepper, which lands in the comparatively wimpy range of 2,500-10,000.) The Scoville scale is based on dilution into sugar syrup until the heat can't be detected by a panel of five people, presumably selected by their high levels of testosterone. Bottom line? They are saying the heat of a teaspoon of habanero only stops being noticeable when you mix it into about 400 gallons of sugar syrup. Jesus.

Obvious Second Question: Can it harm me physically? The Scoville scale is basically a measure of the level of capsaicin in the peppers. Capsaicin is a chemical that binds to and stimulates nerve endings, especially in mucus membranes, creating that burning sensation. But it's only a sensation of burning -- the consensus seems to be that capsaicin does not itself cause any physical damage when you eat it, though exposure at high enough concentrations could cause irritation, which if great enough could bring "nausea, vomiting, abdominal pain and burning diarrhea." So I might hurl -- or come to more fully appreciate the lyrics to a certain Johnny Cash tune the next day, as the pizzeria staff was so helpfully suggesting we would -- but whatever hell my nerve endings might go through, I should come through it with at worst psychological scars.

Third Question: Any chance for a prophylactic... or failing that, an antidote? Sure, everyone has a prescription, and I vaguely remembered a Mythbusters episode that looked them over. Those guys can be pretty objective, so I looked up their results. The upshot? All the various methods, from drinking beer to tequila shots to coating your mouth with Vaseline (ugh) to eating wasabi (wtf!?) and so on are basically crap. They found that your best bet for putting out the fire is to simply drink milk. Others who study such things explain, "Milk contains casein, a lipophilic (fat-loving) substance that surrounds and washes away the fatty capsaicin molecules in much the same way that soap washes away grease." Sweet! I had my secret weapon: just swish and swallow a bunch of milk before, during, and after the ordeal! Maybe this would let me make it through an entire slice and demonstrate my extreme manliness.

So I called up Flying Pie to ask if they served milk. Then I asked, in my most virile tone, if they had a big, tough mug I could drink it from. Hooked. Up.

The evening arrived and we assembled around the table, eyes watering from just the smell of the peppers. I was still wondering just how much the milk could help... 300,000 is a big number. Then our official judge kicked it off! I was careful not to chew any more than necessary (why make a bad situation worse by spreading the capsaicin around?) -- so I was biting off and swallowing hunks of the deadly pie with my best horse-pill-eating technique. Hoo boy! The staff said that the "Man vs. Food" guy gave up in something like two bites, and now I appreciated why. Within about ten seconds I learned I should try to wash every bite down with milk, and to maybe do some extra swishing between slices.

And it was working! Two of us quickly left the others behind, downing slice after slice. He was doing the horse-pill thing, too, but he wasn't using milk. Damn, who is that masked man? Turns out he was none other than The Ringer -- a guy who apparently used to eat whole habaneros right off the plant while gardening. After I'd eaten about 8.5 slices, and just when someone was about to order yet another of the deadly concoctions, the fog of competition cleared long enough for me to see that he would surely go on matching me slice for slice (and staying ahead by one) until my already-full stomach burst.

So I gave my concession toast, ending the ordeal.

I could tell my stomach was none too pleased with me for this gastric offense, but I indeed suffered no ill effects. And I was finally in a position to verify that Johnny Cash was on to something... it's a fact: we don't digest all of the capsaicin we ingest.

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