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September 28, 2014

"Ask Well: Plantar Fasciitis Relief"

A year and a half ago I had some medium intensity pain in my left foot that caused me to limp for a couple of weeks. I was surprised how many of my colleagues either had had, or knew somebody who had had, plantar fasciitis. (It shouldn't have surprised me; Hammacher Schlemmer sends me mail-order catalogs and every other page there's something for plantar fasciitis sufferers.)

It turned out I didn't have plantar fasciitis, but I'm keeping this article for future reference.

September 22, 2014

"Don’t Take Your Vitamins"

Economist Emily Oster argues that because randomized studies don't reproduce the results of observational studies, for the vast majority of people vitamin supplements probably aren't beneficial.

In these trials, participants were randomly assigned to take supplements. Because the assignment was random — and the trials were big — the demographic and health characteristics of the supplement group and the non-supplement group were similar before the study started. When researchers looked at participants’ health over the long term, they could therefore be confident that any differences they saw across groups were due to the supplements, and not some other factor.

When the results of these studies came out, they largely refuted the idea that these supplements offered benefits.

Which conclusion would be fine if we were confident of the randomized studies' results. I can, offhand, think of two potential problems.

1. Were the vitamin dosages in the treated groups sufficient? In a metastudy that Ms. Oster links to the treated groups were given, apparently, an average of 2000 IU of vitamin D per day. That dosage, at least for some people, may well not be enough. The right amount depends on maintaining a high enough blood level, a level which depends on a number of characteristics, including age and weight. 

2. Another potential problem is whether the range of the data is large enough. For instance, Ms. Oster cites the Physician's Health Study, a study of "14,000 male physicians". What if physicians were really healthy? (I've seen my share of doctors and I've seen only one that might have been overweight, and he wasn't seriously so.) The marginal effect of treating one group might be very hard to detect.

An example of this problem from education: some people argue that SAT scores don't predict college grades very well. They cite studies of Ivy League students. And yes, the difference between 1400 and 1450 (on the old 1600 scale) might have little correlation with college grades. But the difference between 900--those folks should be relatively rare at Ivy League schools--and 1400 can, and seemingly does, matter a lot. 

A final point: maybe supplements are a waste of money for most people, most of the time. But so are all forms of insurance. 

September 18, 2014

"Why You Should Meditate — And How To Do It"

I find it difficult to believe meditation would have the benefit described, or even if it did, would it be better than a good nap? But given the low cost it might be worth a try. 

September 17, 2014

"Forget the Mediterranean diet . . . go Nordic!"

The Nordic diet is the new hotness.

More information here

September 11, 2014

"Why you should really take a nap this afternoon, according to science"

I'm down. One reason among several:

NASA found that naps made you smarter — even in the absence of a good night's sleep.

September 03, 2014

"Why Are We So Fat? The Multimillion-Dollar Scientific Quest to Find Out"

Good news and bad news.

Good news: a billionaire is funding research on diet, trying to correct the mostly astonishingly unsound research that has been done so far.

Bad news: some--most?--of the new research, while better, will still be grossly irrelevant. 

Rudolph Leibel, one of the researchers working on the consortium study at Columbia, also has similar doubts—not least because his own research fully supports the calories-in/calories-out model, which holds that all calories have equal impact on our weight. When Leibel had participants in one study drink formulas with the same number of calories but hugely different proportions of fat and carbohydrates, he saw no difference in the amount of energy they burned.

This is great if you're eating predetermined foods under controlled conditions. But I'm not. And most people aren't. The types of foods you eat and the times you eat can, it seems to me, affect your desire to eat. And that's at least three-quarters of the battle.

August 13, 2014

"Revolutionary new blood test 'could detect ALL types of cancer'"

Bring it on!

A revolutionary blood test that could detect any type of cancer has been developed by British scientists. 

It is hoped the breakthrough will enable doctors to rule out cancer in patients presenting with certain symptoms - saving time and preventing costly and unnecessary invasive procedures and biopsies. 

Early results have shown the simple test can diagnose cancer and pre-cancerous conditions from the blood of patients with melanoma, colon cancer and lung cancer with a high degree of accuracy.

August 06, 2014

Something else to worry about

"What Scares Bug Experts? The horrible disease that experts feared would come to the United States has come to the United States."

August 05, 2014

One of the most effective propaganda campaigns ever

I speak of the alleged harm of saturated fat. The harm I refer to is not that fat is, ounce for ounce, more caloric than either carbohydrates or protein. I mean the allegation virtually all Americans seem to believe--really, really believe--that saturated fat does terrible things to your circulatory system. How many times have you heard people say, or have you read someone writing, that a dish like a chili cheeseburger with bacon is an "artery-clogger" or is "a heart attack on a plate"?

As Milton Friedman used to ask so energetically: How do you know?

The original research was, apparently, very dubious. (See also this.) And informed opinion currently rejects the claim. Related: the advice we got to eat a lot of bread wasn't so good, either.

Bottom line: too many calories seems to be bad for you and fat has more than twice as many calories per gram as carbs and protein. But beyond that, enjoy your fat, saturated or otherwise. (Except, of course, for transfat. But that's another post.)


July 24, 2014

"Broccoli Loves Us"

I don't know about "love," but everybody seems to agree that it's amazingly good for us.

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