Teatime reading (3rd September 2014)

Here’s what I have been reading recently.

Food and Diet
I enjoy my food but knowing what you should (not) be eating and what is bad for you these days can be confusing – a low fat diet, or maybe fat is ok after all, low carbs, no sugar and salt, gluten-free, or even a palaeo diet. It seems a new set of (contradictory) recommendations and dietary regimes is said to be THE answer to our worries of obesity, diabetes, a long and healthy life almost every month. But how much good science are these diets actually based on?

A gluten-free diet and lifestyle seems for many to be the answer to weight issues and an all round feeling of well-being. Melinda Wenner Moyer’s article looks at the history of low carb diets and how much evidence and science actually back up the claim that carbs are to blame for obesity and chronic disease.

The trending so-called Palaeo diet is based on the claim that we are not sufficiently evolved to deal with carbs such as wheat, but should stick to what our hunter-gather ancestors ate in order to stay feeling fit and well. After all they did not seem to be effected by our modern day illnesses while our ancestors who later settled and farmed the land did. But can we say for sure that their diet was the clue to their better health? This article from the National Geographic looks at the diets of modern day hunter-gathers to see if the issue is quite so clear cut.

So if there really is not that much sound, conclusive science behind all these claims, what are we going to do about it? Wired talks to two men who decided that it was time to set up a project to look at what really does make us fat. An ambitious and timely endeavour.

Dietary fads and trends come and go and collect a number of followers along the way. But who decided we needed to be told what (not) to eat in order to feel better? Sarah Laskow writes how the church started telling us how and what to eat, but how now America’s food fads are in themselves a religion.

Anorexia is a terrible and poorly understood disease. This article looks at the scientific understanding of the disease, how it has traditionally been treated and whether deep brain stimulation, as used in cases of Parkinson’s disease, can help patients.

Medicine and Health:
Like Carl Zimmer says, you don’t forget the first time you hear about faecal transplants. I read about them for the treatment of C. diff here for the first time and while my initial reaction was ‘eeegit!’ after consideration it does all make good sense. But it is still a rather inexact science and maybe a pill full of bacterial spores is a better alternative? Or there is always bacteriophages 😉

Life expectancy of patients with Cystic Fibrosis has increased greatly over the years thanks to developments in treatment and drugs. This article from Mosaic discusses drugs currently being developed which show promise in improving patients’ lifestyle further and highlights how a well connected community of patients and care givers can be important for scientific research.

But what do you do if you or your children have a disease that is new to science and there is no patient community to support you? This family used social media to find other patients and so help scientists to learn more about the disease.

This woman appeared to have such a unique list of conditions that no-one seemed to know what to do. So she taught herself genetics and got stuck into the literature to learn more.

This may not seem the most upbeat article to end with, but death shouldn’t be a topic to shy away from as this article shows. Talking about death and dying is difficult for everyone involved but as this article shows it is very important to do so and accepting and dealing with the inevitable rather than grasping at straws and trying every last experimental cure may actually improve the living standard of those last days and weeks. Well worth a read.

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