Monday, May 9, 2011

The Dizzying World of Dieting

I received a really interesting series of questions from a good friend of mine today. A common friend of ours had adopted a low-carb diet with apparently great results, and now my friend has a bunch of questions, largely concerning how insulin relates to our bodies' metabolism. I nearly started hyperventilating from the prospect of a captive audience interested in biochemistry ;)

Specifically, my friend had been directed to an author, whose main thesis is...well I can't seem to find a coherent thesis to summarize his post, but I want to make a few observations about it.

I will confess that he articulates a lot of potentially difficult information in a way that any reader can understand. He's good at providing real world analogies, and he uses descriptive terms and simple ideas that summarize his points well. The world can definitely use more people who are good at making these things easier to understand. Also, the basic physiological and biochemical ideas he's describing are pretty sound.


He rambles, a lot (I admit, I'm just as bad), and took a billion words to state the same concept a million different ways. He also has an odd habit of standing up for fat people who are undeservedly maligned, while in the same post accusing people who don't agree with his views of being fat and ignorant. wtf?

Most importantly, this guy is basically saying that he's solved the problem of overweight/obesity. Trust me, people, if someone ever tells you that they know the answer to a question that has been plaguing science for decades, feel free to pat them on the head and go find an adult to talk to. This is probably not a problem that's going to have a simple solution. Even if it does, you're not going to find it on some guy's blog--even if he's an MD. After all, I'll be an MD in two weeks, and sometimes I wear my shirt inside out without realizing it. LAWL

SO! What were those questions my friend (let's call him Tim) was asking? They are thusly:
1. How does fat get stored in our cells? Is it indeed insulin which triggers it?
2. Given 1, Is it true that even if there is fat available in the bloodstream, it won't be stored in our body without insulin? (ie without insulin, the body will flush out the excess fat without storing it)
3. What is insulin resistance?
4. Does insulin resistance actually affect liver cells before other cells? And does our liver actually secrete sugar into the bloodstream?
5. Does consumption of sugar and carbohydrates trigger an increased production of insulin?
6. Do obese people tend to have elevated insulin levels? (even when not eating)
7. Does glucagon actually counteract the effect of insulin?
8. Given 7, and given the rest of the low carb theory, why can't an injection (or pill) be created for glucagon to be administered after eating? That way as I understand (in my limited reading), wouldn't insulin levels reduce, allowing the body to consume the stored fat, providing energy between meals?

Amazing. Delicious. The thought of answering these questions makes me salivate. Let's dig in.

We need to start with a very cursory overview of basic nutrition. Our energy comes from 3 different macronutrients: carbohydrates, fat, and protein. Carbohydrates are sugars of varying complexity. You can make complex carbohydrates from combinations of the basic sugars. The fundamental basic carbohydrate in the human body is glucose. Fructose is another basic carb. A glucose molecule attached to a fructose molecule makes sucrose. Glycogen (which is almost the same thing as starch) is a huge molecule of hundreds of glucose molecules attached together. Glucose is stored as glycogen in the liver. Fats consist of different types of fatty acid chains and are stored in adipose (fat) tissue. Protein is made up from amino acids, and is the major structural component of all our cells, including muscle. The body can bascially turn any macronutrient into either of the other two (except certain amino acids, which we can't make on our own).

Questions 1, 2, 4, 5, and 7 can all be answered this way: yes. lol. To be more specific, refer to the image with all the blobby stuff. Basically, in fasting states, when you're hungry and your blood sugar is low, the pancreas releases a hormone called glucagon. This acts on the liver to release stored sugar and to create new sugar from scratch. That way, you don't die in between meals. Evolution win!

In "fed" states, after you've consumed a meal, your blood gets flooded with all the sugars from the food you ate. Blood glucose levels rise, which tones down glucagon and turns up insulin. Insulin promotes sugar uptake into the liver (and all cells, really) for storage, and promotes fat intake and storage in fat cells. Your body is always producing both insulin and glucagon, but their levels are balanced so as to keep your blood glucose levels at a constant level. (NB question 2 will be discussed in more detail with question 8 at the end of the post.)

Questions 3 and 6 get a little more complicated. It is based on a cellular molecular process called down-regulation. It's a negative-feedback process. The best example would be topical nasal decongestants. When someone is suffering from allergies, the blood vessels in the membranes of their nose get "leaky". Fluid seeps out and drains out the nose, producing some of the symptoms of allergy. Nasal decongestants work by spraying a drug into your nose that constricts the nasal blood vessels and stops the leaking. BUT! If you continue to use the spray regularly for a few days, the cells in the blood vessels get tired of being bombarded with drug. They then start to get rid of the receptors on their cell surface that bind the drug. So you end up needing more of the drug to get the same effect!

Insulin works the same way, but the response is much slower--it takes years, rather than just days. People who run their blood sugars high all the time (presumably by eating too much unhealthy food) have constitutively high levels of insulin in their blood. Eventually, the cells in their body get sick of listening to insulin's constant nagging, and they stop listening--by decreasing the expression of insulin receptors, so the insulin has less effect. So the body has to produce more insulin to keep glucose levels under control. Which leads to more down-regulation of insulin receptors. Eventually, the body can no longer produce enough insulin to keep up, and glucose levels go through the roof, leading to increased risk of cardiovascular disease, kidney failure, and blindness. This process is referred to as Type II Diabetes Mellitus, and it's one of the biggest medical problems facing our society today.

Questions 2 and 8 are sort of plausible/true in theory, but impractical for a number of reasons. Low insulin levels lead to high glucose levels, which is a trigger for insulin release. The only way to avoid a compensatory surge in insulin is by having a defective pancreas that can't produce insulin. Unfortunately, that's the pathological basis for Type I Diabetes Mellitus. People who can't make insulin get impossibly high blood levels of glucose, but the glucose can't get into their cells, so they actually think they're starving. This causes the body to synthesize ketones from stored fat, which eventually turns the blood to acid and causes death. :(

Conversely, giving a person an injection of glucagon might indeed lower their insulin levels, but it will still cause an increase in blood glucose levels. That's the stuff that leads to the cardiovascular disease and kidney failure and blindness :(

Now, the whole point of all these questions, I think, is probably related to the very common question: will the Atkins diet make me look like Megan Fox? I've done a little research into it, and I'd like to write about it, but I did promise my fiancé I'd clean the bathroom today. So let me get to that, and I'll see if I can extrapolate some of this sciencey stuff into practical stuff later.

Friday, April 22, 2011

Tories in the Lead...

The Tories are leading the polls and appear likely to finally take home a majority in early May. This bothers me for a number of reasons.

  • By far the key theme to much of the legislation passed by the Conservatives over the past years has been focused around their "tough on crime" agenda. This despite the overwhelming evidence that "tough on crime" doesn't work--and might actually make things worse.
  • The "tough on crime" agenda is supposedly justified by the Conservatives perceptions of Canadians' perceptions of crime rates. They're dependent on that kind of hearsay because the actual data shows a decline in crime rates from 1990 to 2004. It's obvious from the data in the previous link that Canadian crime is much worse in very particular regions, and therefore is likely more related to local socioeconomic factors than national crime policy. The Conservatives claim that the crime rate is actually increasing because people are not reporting crimes to police; this is provably false, since StatsCan shows that reporting to police actually increased from 2004 to 2009. (NB the most common reason for not reporting was that the event was "not important enough.")
  • The Conservatives are going to be a lot more dependent on hearsay now that they've scrapped the utility of the Canadian census. They claimed their reason was that forcing people to participate on pain of jail was wrong. A sensible Government would have just done away with the threat of jail; but they threw the baby out with the bathwater, causing the head of StatsCan to resign in protest.
  • While championing a program to improve maternal health worldwide, the Conservatives have cut funding from the International Planned Parenthood Foundation completely. The IPPF is one of the world's largest providers of maternal and sexual health care to underprivileged women in the world. Anyone who thinks this decision isn't really about abortion needs to get real.
  • People who support the Tories for their fiscal policies should give their heads a shake. Harper's governments have spent money like spoiled teenagers with Daddy's credit card. Then, when Canadians were truly beginning to suffer from the global recession, the Conservatives came up with a brilliant plan: cut spending, deny pay equity, and cut funding to political parties. The Opposition essentially revolted, causing Harper to freak out and prorogue Parliament. Only after proroguing in the middle of a recession did his government do anything to help Canadians (i.e. stimulus).
  • Despite the deficit from that stimulus, these so-called fiscal conservatives plan on spending billions of dollars on bigger prisons, and their "tough on crime" agenda is outrageously expensive but still being pushed forward in spite of all the evidence (see above) that it's counterproductive. They wasted hundreds of millions of dollars on security for the G8/G20 summits (Britain did the same thing for a fraction of the cost just a couple years prior, and all our security did was illegally detain a bunch of hippies and bystanders.)
  • All that talk of Senate reform that conservatives used to love to talk about? What reform?
Then there are the ideas of principle:
  • Harper prorogued parliament TWICE, once in the middle of a recession, and the other because of charges of complicity with torture in Afghanistan. He also called an election, violating his own law requiring 4-year terms.
  • This whole election is because of the Conservatives' contempt of parliament.
  • This government muzzles scientists and distorts facts.
  • Harper kicks his own cronies out of cabinet without any justification.
  • Harper constantly pretends the other parties are on the verge of taking over Canada via a coalition, despite the fact that he proposed the same friggin thing when he was opposition leader.
  • Harper actually circulated an instruction booklet to Conservative MP's on how to disrupt and obstruct Commons committees.
There are probably other things I could include, but my blood is already boiling. Conservative policies don't work, and they're going to harm our economy and social well-being. Harper is a shrewd leader who cares not a lick for the Canadian people, or even reality for that matter. Say what you will about the other parties or leaders, no one has shown such utter contempt for our country as Harper and his governments.

Sunday, February 28, 2010

I'm so PROUD to be a CANADIAN!!!!!

Tonight we did it! We beat the USA in Olympic men's hockey! And I swear, all of Canada was there with them, sharing in their fight. All I could see all over FB were people's status updates about how they were watching the game. It was like the whole country's attention was finely tuned onto this one issue! Never before have I seen a whole nation come together in solidarity to cheer for something they hold dear.

I mean, it was just so much more exciting than following the Afghan detainee fiasco--and I bet you'll be hard pressed to divert our attention from this win as quickly as we were diverted from that! I'm so glad that our Prime Minister unnecessarily shut down our government for months; that way, we had saved up enough energy to really root on our team to the win!!!

And man, people are so proud now! Everyone's talking about how proud they are to be a Canadian, and how awesome we are as a country. And that's exactly what we need right now, cuz people were starting to feel a little low about themselves when they found out that their brothers and sisters are dying overseas just to prop up a sham, theocratic dictatorship. But now we can sleep a little easier at night because we OWN THE PODIUM!!! :D

Sure, the euphoria will pass, and Monday morning will shake us all out of bed and nudge us out the door to work. But this Monday will be different. Because now, we don't have to feel bad that our Minister of Science and Technology is a freakin' creationist Chiropractor, that our governing party is focused on passing counterproductive legislation, and that the Prime Minister is secretive as hell and thinks it's cool to shut the government down whenever he damn well pleases.

That's right. Tomorrow will be different. Because now, we have something we can be really proud of!!!! Something we can all get excited about! GO CANADA!!!

Monday, January 4, 2010

Get Off the Cross, Honey. Somebody Needs the Wood

In a piece of news that I'm sure will surprise you, a Christian group (Christian Anti-Defamation Commission) is lying about persecution it claims to have faced during the year of 2009. Towleroad reports the group's "Top 10" instances of anti-Christian persecution.

10. Pro-life Pastor Reverend Walter Hoye of Oakland, CA was jailed for exercising peaceful, pro-life speech.

9. Rev. Fred Winters was murdered while preaching in his pulpit in Maryville, Illinois.

8. HBO's program "Curb Your Enthusiasm" aired an episode where the main actor urinates on painting of Jesus. When confronted HBO would not apologize.

7. The overt homosexual participation in Obama's presidential inaugural events by "Bishop" Vickie Eugene Robinson, the Gay Men's Chorus of Washington D. C., and a homosexual marching band.

6. Police called to East Jessamine Middle School in Lexington, Kentucky to stop 8th graders from praying during their lunch break for a student whose mother was tragically killed.

5. Pro-life activist Jim Pullion was murdered in front of his granddaughter's high school for showing the truth about abortion.

4. An activist judge ordered a home school mom in New Hampshire to stop home schooling her daughter because the little girl "reflected too strongly" her mother's Christian faith.

3. The Federal Department of Homeland Security issued a report entitled "Rightwing Extremism: Current Economic and Political Climate" that labeled conservative Christians extremists and potential terrorists.

2. President Obama's appointment of radical anti-Christians like homosexual activist Kevin Jennings as the "safe school czar;" pro-abortion advocate Kathleen Seblius made Secretary of Human and Health Services, and Chai Feldblum, pro-homosexual and anti-religious liberty judge nominated for Equal Employment Opportunity Commission.

1. The Federal Hate Crimes Bill that attacks religious liberty and freedom of speech. For the first time in our history ministers are vulnerable to investigation and prosecution for telling the truth about homosexuality.

Right of the bat, #7, 2, and 3 are pure lies or exaggeration. I mean, come on, in #7 they're complaining that gay groups merely participated in Obama's inauguration. Apparently the mere acknowledgment of gay people as contributing members of society counts as Christian persecution. Cry me a river. (PS did you notice their inclusion of quotation marks around Bishop Robinson's title, and the inclusion of the name "Vickie" to make him sound more effeminate? How transparently patronizing.)

#2 is also an example of the mere inclusion of openly gay people as being seen as persecution. One might notice that the group makes no mention of Jewish, Buddhist, or atheist appointees as causing Christian subjugation (i.e. they really just don't like gay people). I have been following the actions of some of those appointees and to my knowledge they have done nothing that could be seen as anti-Christian other than advocate for the rights and safety of LGBT adults, children, and allies.

Finally, #1 is an affront to the reader's intelligence, since anyone with Google access knows that the 1st Amendment would make such a law unconstitutional. The Hate Crimes Bill does nothing other than provide federal funds to local authorities for investigating crimes that appear to be motivated towards a victims sexual orientation, gender identity, or disability. A violent crime has to have been committed in order for the law to come into play. It has nothing to do with speech. Also, these categories were simply added to the already existing categories including race and religion.

Aside from what follows, I leave the dissection of the other instances of "persecution" to you. It's quite possible that some of the others are true (and if so, should be condemned), but if I could find 3 out of the top 10 of 2009 without even trying...

I would though, like to briefly mention #8. When I first read it, I pictured some dude deliberately urinating on a Jesus painting to make a point, or to be deliberately insulting. I'll have to admit, I didn't really care. But then I tried to flip the situation, and so I wondered how I would have felt if the character had urinated on a pride flag, or a poster of a pink triangle. How would I feel if a deliberately anti-gay act of vandalism was portrayed on TV for millions to see?

Truth be told, I know that would hurt me. I know that that would make me anxious about the anti-gay sentiment it would help to propagate. Still...I'm not sure about hate speech laws, and I dislike the idea of censorship in any way. So in the end, I think I would have to side with the principle of free speech, and not try to take any action against HBO, as some Christian groups apparently did.

Of course, then I went and actually watched the clip, and in reality the character only accidentally urinates on the painting, and seems rather embarrassed about it. Showing someone feeling bad about accidentally peeing on a painting of Jesus isn't reeeeeally what I would call persecution...

UPDATE (07/01/2010): hehe, someone totally takes apart much of the rest of the "persecution" h/t Dispatches

UPDATE (10/01/2010): and now PZ Myers has covered it too.

Thursday, December 17, 2009

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

Karma's a bitch

While the name Michael Geist rings some bells, I'll admit I had no idea that this guy was a Law professor at Ottawa University. Anyway, his article from a little while ago makes for a very interesting read.

Apparently, the recording companies that whined and cried for years that internet file sharing was a violation of copyright laws were, themselves, violating the copyright laws. In a BIG way.

Tuesday, December 8, 2009

Two years later, a report tells us something everyone already knew

The whole idea of tasers was that they were supposed to provide a less lethal stand-in for the use of guns. Since they do pose a moderate risk for serious harm or death, users are only supposed to use them as they would use a gun.

Now, if you noticed a few RCMP officers shoot an unarmed man, then shoot him some more while he's on the ground, you might wonder if they were being a little over-zealous. That's what 4 RCMP officers did to a Polish man in Vancouver in 2007. Now a report is out saying that the officers used their weapons irresponsibly, that they did not follow proper protocols, and that the RCMP as an organization didn't respond properly either.

Response from RCMP Commissioner William Elliott? "No comment."

Forgive me for thinking that RCMP Commissioner William Elliott is a jerk.

Tuesday, December 1, 2009

Sweden Moving in a Positive Direction

Are you listening, Canadian Blood Services?
Sweden joins countries including Russia that have already changed their laws to allow gay men to donate blood. Meanwhile, the United States and England still bar men who have had sex with men from donating.
So does Canada, but it's time we opened our eyes to the fact that our ban on gay blood donors is ridiculously overbearing.

Saturday, November 28, 2009

"Thinking people need not apply"

Just yesterday I wrote a couple exams that required more preparation, blood, sweat, and tears, than any other exam of my life. They made the MCAT look like a 2nd grade spelling bee.

Now that that's all over with, I'm hoping that I can get back to blogging a little bit. Today we'll start things off easy (by letting someone else to all the writing). ;)

Via Canadian Cynic (who just recently linked to this blog, nearly making me crap my pants with excitement), Kathleen Parker of The Washington Post elaborates on how today's Republicans are more concerned with their outdated principles than adapting to the times.

My favourite part:

Most of us know that decisiveness isn't always a virtue, yet those pushing the purity test seem to view nuance as an enemy of conservatism. The old elite corps of the conservative movement, men such as William F. Buckley and Russell Kirk, undoubtedly would find this attitude both dangerous and bizarre. When did thinking go out of style?


Thursday, October 8, 2009


ZOMG this is funny.

When Galileo told the Pope
“Here, look into my telescope—
You’ll see much beauty there, I hope.”
His Holiness, the Pope, said “Nope.”

“Now kiss my ring, instead, and swear
That nothing of the sort is there—
I know you think it is not fair,
But I’m the Pope, as you’re aware.”

The Pope’s command was quite absurd,
But Galileo gave his word,
(Though some report him undeterred:
“E pur si muove” overheard.)

In hindsight now, with great delight,
We know, despite his Papal might,
That evidence would come to light
To prove the heretic was right.

With Urban’s ring already kissed,
The chance to get it right was missed,
Just one more error on the list—
But now, we find another twist!

What wonders will the cosmos bring?
Now Saturn sports another ring!
Much bigger than the Pope’s, this thing
Is interplanetary bling!

Four centuries have come to pass
Since Galileo ground his glass;
Far too much time for him, alas,
To tell the Pope to kiss his ass.

But now, the kids will learn in school:
That Saturn sports another jewel;
That telescopes are really cool;
One may be Pope, but still a fool.

Monday, September 28, 2009

Not that it's surprising anymore...

...but it never hurts to mention that gay couples make absolutely FABULOUS parents. ;)


Tuesday, September 22, 2009

Won't somebody think of the CHILDRENZ!?!???!1!

A favourite scare-tactic among anti-gay activists is the idea that gay rights are detrimental to children. For example, when dissing gay marriage, they often argue that children to better "when raised by a mother and father." This is a sneaky trick, since the research that this is based on actually compared two-parent vs. one-parent families.* That's not the same thing as saying that being raised by both biological parents is better than being raised by same-sex parents (or remarried parents or adoptive parents for that matter--but anti-gay activists never seem to consider those...).

This information should be considered by Mainers who will be asked to approve or REJECT Proposition 1 this November, barring gays and lesbians from marrying in that state.

In a much-appreciated memo today, the Maine chapter of the American Academy of Pediatricians urged voters to reject the ban. Cuz, you know, that's what would ACTUALLY be good for the children of Maine. From the press release:
"As pediatricians, we see how supportive parents -- whether gay or straight -- positively impact the development of children. That is why we oppose the referendum that would rescind the law that allows same sex couples to marry."

*Please note that there are also studies that suggest that single-parents can do just as well raising children.