Blog dedicated primarily to randomly selected news items; comments reflecting personal perceptions

Saturday, December 31, 2016

Brain Boosting

"Everyone is trying to get ahead and compete, stay awake and do well."
"[Brain health is a] murky area. Honestly, I think it's very under-substantiated [nootropics support]. . . and I don't think anybody should be taking anything [drugs to improve intellect] that hasn't been investigated to ensure it doesn't have long-term consequences."
Dr. Sandra Black, director, brain sciences program, Sunnybrook Research Institute

"I was looking for things to take outside of prescription meds."
"[Nootropics have become a] helpful tool [to manage his ADHD symptoms, reducing reliance on medication]."
"You have to get the dosage just right."
Simon, Toronto-based entrepreneur

"We know that it [Alzheimer's drug] has adverse effects. Period. End of story."
"We are more sure of the adverse effects than the benefits."
"If you are buying something online, you are assuming that it is what they say it is. But what it says on the label may not be what's in the bottle."
Dr. Jose Lanca, professor of pharmacology, University of Toronto
Nootropics for motivation written on a blank piece of paper next to a phone and a cup of coffee

There's a cure for everything, people like to believe. Even stupidity. Oops, perhaps that's a bit too harsh. Let's say, even the lack of acute intelligence? Awareness? Self-motivation? So  the newest thing on the market is taking a combination of drugs, self-administered and self-selected for optimal personal effect, to boost brains. And young professionals appear to be in the forefront of this hot new fad. Eager to become quicker at assimilating information, resulting in a heads-up leading to a leg-up in career trajectory.

Or so the story goes. So a new market has opened up edging itself sideways between drug use and supplemental aids. Called cognitive enhancers, they are also called nootropics presenting in an array of substances obtained most frequently in a powdered form. Allowing those wishing to use them to play at being their very own chemist; home their pharmacy. Since the object is to mix and match ingredients to discover the formula just right for their personality.

The goal being to reach their critical aspirations leading to success through performance through enhanced memory, learning, concentration, alert state, mood and creativity, banishing laziness and complacency in the very thought that one is more than adequately equipped by nature and good fortune in genes. These are substances, the nootropics that Health Canada has not swivelled around to approving, much less classifying.

But whatever is illegal in Canada can be found through other means, and online sales are increasingly the route of mass-approved alternatives. Imported for personal use, these substances have found favour in the self-absorbed who are always anxious to get on board the next new sensation. Silicon Valley gave birth to this new trend and it has arrived in Canada.

It had a perhaps less controversial initiation as a trend developed originally in the treatment of cognitive impairment, but vendors now state the increasing use of nootropics by healthy, ambitious young professionals to boost productivity has overtaken the process and the purpose. Dr. Black, a professor in medicine who has 25 years of experience in research in dementia and neuroscience is not impressed.

Hand Holding Brain

She does feel, however, that nootropics may prove to be less harmful to users than amphetamines, used to abuse status for the very same end-result. The benefits, side effects and instructions on use, where to obtain them and other details form a hot topic on online forums. Simon, who withheld his identifying last name tested five different substances in a trial and error process to find what best worked for him. "It was a gamble."

The impact can be different each time, depending on the user's mood, on the time of day, or other factors unknown. In Simon's experience the increased level of focus is invariably followed by an intense burnout where a multiple-hours nap in the middle of the day can be a needed consequence. Although little testing has been conducted on healthy patients, one of the most commonly used nootropics is one used by Alzheimer's patients.

Dr. Andrew Hill describes the newly opened field of nootropics as the "Wild West of people manufacturing and selling white powders". He is himself a cognitive neuroscientist and proponent of nootropics. And he sells the product that he has engineered, online with a cost of about $125 on a monthly basis. But it's up to consumers to do their own research and use the product with caution.

Still, there's a resource for that, too, a startup from Irvine California which developed a platform meant to assist consumers to measure the nootropics effect. "We are guiding customers through unchartered territory [preventing them from] relying on their own scientific interpretations", said the startup vice-president Nicholas Perkins, whose company's app will collect and analyze health data, including heart rate, weight, anxiety and energy levels.

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Wednesday, December 28, 2016

Moderation: The Golden Rule

"We only have three things to eat: carbohydrate, protein, and fat. For some reason, we've chosen in the last few decades to focus on how bad fats are in general. Your whole body depends on fat. All of our membranes are made of phospholipids. Your hormones depend on the types of fat and the amount of fat that you eat."
"When you eat a diet really rich in things that promote those inflammatory responses, then your body really doesn't know how to shut that down anymore. If we had a mixed diet, a combination of all these fats together, then it probably wouldn't be a problem. But people today have diets that are very rich in Omega 6 and are deliberately avoiding saturated fat. That's when it becomes really problematic."
Dr. Deanna Gibson, immunologist, microbiologist, associate professor of Biology, University of British Columbia

"I've been studying fat for twelve years. In earlier studies I found that sunflower oil was worse than palm oil, and people couldn't believe it. But I'm convinced, and I think other people now understand, that saturated fat is not as bad as we thought."
"It happened with trans-fats [dietary advice instructed by social, political and economic forces]." We've known they were bad since the 1980s, and 20 years later the government finally agreed. But then all the big food companies said, 'Hey, we can't change our oil so fast. We need time, because the new oil changes our flavour profile [of pre-prepared convenience foods]."
"In the 1950s and 1960s, the North American oil crop farmers were getting hammered by the Malaysian and Indonesian imports of coconut oil. Essentially, no saturated fat containing plants can grow properly in North America. What we do grow is sunflower, safflower, canola, corn, etc. So from the 1950s on, saturated fat was considered to be bad."
"Our saturated fat intake has not increased over the last 30 years. So why is heart disease still rising? If saturated fat was causing this, logically it should drop if we take it out of the diet. But it's still going up."
Dr. Sanjoy Ghosh, nutrition researcher, University of British Columbia

Fat derived from animal sources are identified as dairy, eggs and meat, along with tropical plants like coconut and palm. These are fats that represent a platform for many traditional diets world-wide, and have done for centuries. But the prevailing opinion of nutritionists and doctors turned away from these fats, called saturated fat, in the belief that they were the cause of atherosclerosis and heart problems. And the zeitgeist in health hasn't notably changed; people are still being warned off consumption of saturated fat.
The worst type of dietary fat is the kind known as trans fat
The American Heart Association, as an example, feels justified in recommending that saturated fats in the diet be restricted to no greater amount than five percent of total diet. "Decades of sound science", it declares on its website, has proven beyond doubt that saturated fat "can raise your 'bad' cholesterol and put you at higher risk for heart disease". Yet researchers are increasingly coming around to the opinion that this bias against saturated fat as a health threat should be questioned.

Dr. Gibson, for example, speaks of human biology requiring the consumption of quality fat on a daily basis to ensure satisfactory brain function and along with that, a healthy body. Several social-cultural currents have led to our aversion to fat in our diet, one of which is the prevailing culture of 'thin' as being fit and attractive. And the thought of deliberately adding saturated fat to one's diet resulting in increased weight and an altered body silhouette is anathema to many people, quite apart from the health aspect.

And yet, people are drawn to fat; subconsciously the palate craves it, as it does sugar and salt. The consuming public has become accustomed to slavishly considering saturated fat to be inimical to good health, and has accepted food manufacturers' claims of trans-fats as a healthy alternative, enabling people to bypass any feelings of guilt, preferring to believe that the adulterated food that ends up in convenience form loaded with trans-fat, salt and sugar represents healthy eating. When in fact, those choices represent one of the reasons why we have become an overweight and ill society.

Some common foods containing saturated fat
to be eaten in sensible, moderate amounts
beef fat (tallow, suet)butterchicken fat
coconut oilcreamhydrogenated oils**
milk fatpalm and palm kernel oilspartially hydrogenated oils**
pork fat (lard)shorteningstick margarine

Up until the 2000s, trans-fat was promoted as a breakthrough alternative for good health as compared to the negative effects on the body of saturated fat. At the present time, dietary guidelines issued by government recommend vegetable-sourced fat ... soy, corn, sunflower and canola ... in place of meat and dairy fats. "We base our hypotheses on previous literature or previous assumptions, and it turns out wrong when you do the studies" observed Dr. Gibson. "I'm often shocked about how little is known scientifically in nutrition."

Dr. Gibson recently published her latest study in the Journal of Infectious Diseases. The study, conducted in laboratory rats, concluded that saturated fat is far more digestible and efficient than most vegetable oils that we are led to believe are healthier dietary choices. An exception was monounsaturated olive oil for intestinal health, but saturated fat outperforms the vegetable-based oils that are high in polyunsaturated fatty acids (PUFAs) and Omega 6.

Good sources of monounsaturated fats are olive oil, peanut oil, canola oil, avocados, most nuts, high-oleic safflower and sunflower oils
Another trial is set to be undergone to test different fats on humans with inflammatory bowel disease. Conflicting studies exist favouring PUFA oils over saturated fat, a conclusion whose evidence Dr. Gibson fails to be impressed with. "We have to be more critical about the studies that we interpret. Most of the nutrition clinical trials that are out there are very poorly done, and most of the rodent studies never led to a clinical study. It doesn't inform the next step", Dr. Gibson explained.

Most modern-day diseases appear to have their basis in chronic inflammation. Dr. Gibson believes that Omega 6-heavy diets are in part to blame, based on the evidence she has studied. And a study that Dr. Ghosh published in 2015 found that vegetable fats contribute to sedentary behaviour along with creating a predisposition to insulin resistance, reflective of hormonal dysfunction that leads to Type 2 (insulin-resistant) diabetes (once called 'adult onset', commonly striking overweight, middle-aged sedentary individuals).

And Dr. Ghosh believes that the ill reputation that is attributed to saturated fats arose from industry-based benefit, and not science-based fact. A food advocacy group, the Weston A. Price Foundation, published their findings in an article titled The Oiling of America, which offers a detailed history of marketing of vegetable oils in America, pointing out the unscientific rationale for claims that saturated fat should be shunned.

"In the last 30 years", noted Dr. Ghosh, "North American fat consumption has changed drastically. People used to cook with lard, but nobody does this today. Everything in the market has consciously taken saturated fat out." Yet, according to the American Heart Association's statistics for 2015, cardiovascular disease remains the leading global cause of death, accounting for over 17 million deaths annually, expected to increase to 24 million by 2030.

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Tuesday, December 27, 2016

Treating Society's Most Vulnerable

"It's when you're in these chains of errors that things are very dangerous. Usually these are very complicated patients and they are much more likely to have errors . . . [but] it was still very valuable for us to recognize this is the reality, that this is happening."
"[A more collegial, open work environment developed] where nothing can be swept under the carpet."
Dr. Ed Hickey, paediatric surgeon, Hospital for Sick Children, Toronto
Courtesy of SickKids  UHN
Courtesy of SickKids UHN      Two Hospital For Sick Children surgeons
Dr. Hickey was the lead author in a study published recently in the Annals of Thoracic Surgery which investigated 524 operations with their related post-operative care over the period of several days, which the paper describes as "flights". Described that way because these surgeries were seen to be metaphorically analogous with air flights and for which Dr. Hickey and his hospital colleagues have decided to use a "threat and error" heads-up-awareness NASA-developed safety protocol for pilot use before take-off.

The space agency's model has been used as a template with obvious appropriate alterations which surgeons operating on patients in the cardiac surgery unit of the busiest children's hospital in Canada, could use in the interests of preventing human error resulting in a chain of mistakes leading to compromised health and even death suffered by children post-surgery. In studying over 500 consecutive heart operations on children the investigators discovered that most patients who died or who suffered brain injuries did so as a consequence of error sequences.

They judged that sequences beginning in the operating room were often amplified by subsequently emerging problems in intensive care, post-surgery. While stressing that the death rate and complications that emerged from the challenges faced by heart surgeons already exists at an "exceptionally low" level, the aviation-type reviews used to make such operations even safer might preserve even some of those few lives that are typically lost; the result of extremely complex conditions exacerbating operative and post-operative survival.
Doctors are looking towards and entirely different industry to test out safety procedures
Getty Images   Doctors are looking towards and entirely different industry to test out safety procedures
Interest in the survey and the conclusions, however tentatively reached after application of the safety protocol, has been expressed by international colleagues considering the adoption of similar practices. Largely because the number of cardiac arrests among the smallest of very ill patients appears to be diminishing even as a more collegial, open environment in which health workers operate has also developed.

Checklists have been developed and they have now become standard procedures in the operating room, based on checklists of a type done in plane cockpits before take-off. Concomitantly, a surgeon operating out of yet another Toronto hospital has developed a "black box" whose purpose is to record what happens during operations for forensic purposes. No longer, using these methods, do individuals solely bear blame when things go awry; errors are now viewed as a systemic problem.

Weekly meetings take place where the entire cardiac team discusses each surgery, whether successful or less so, in contrast to the hitherto typical practise of holding "morbidity and mortality" rounds, sessions meant to dissect only those cases that ended badly. When the NASA model was applied where a threat could be pinpointed as an unusual feature of a patient's heart condition or even a malfunction of vital equipment, it led to a more useful type of procedure.

Errors occurred, it was found, in 49 percent of cases and slightly over 1.3 percent of children, representing seven patients in total, died. Another 13 suffered brain damage, while 68 went on to develop "hemodynamic lesions", like a weakened heart muscle, or an abnormal heart rhythm. Harmful outcomes were seen to have resulted from chains of errors, with one event leading on to another.

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Monday, December 26, 2016

What's For Dinner?

"It's an experiment."
"No one can tell you the long-term effects [of supplementing/replacing natural protein food sources with protein powders], and that's what worries me as a physician."
Dr. John E. Swartzberg, chairman, editorial board, University of California Berkeley Wellness Letter

"One of the benefits and concerns about high protein intake, especially animal protein, is that it tends to make cells multiply faster."
"That's good in early life, when you're a growing child. But in later life, this is one of the fundamental processes that increase the risk of cancer."
Dr. Walter Willett, chairman, department of nutrition, Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health

"The body only digests and absorbs a certain amount of protein at every meal."
"Nothing beats real food. With many supplements, you just don't know exactly what you're getting."
Jim White, registered dietitian

What's in your protein drink

Here are the average amounts of metals we found in three servings of these protein drinks. The maximum limits for them in dietary supplements proposed by the U.S. Pharmacopeia are: arsenic (inorganic), 15 micrograms (µg) per day; cadmium, 5 µg; lead, 10 µg; mercury, 15 µg. Amounts at or exceeding those limits are in bold. Experts said three servings a day is common.
Product (powder unless otherwise indicated) Amount in 3 servings Protein (g/3 servings) Test results
      Arsenic (µg/3 servings) Cadimum (µg/3 servings) Lead (µg/3 servings) Mercury (µg/3 servings)
BSN Core Series Lean Dessert Protein Shake Chocolate Fudge Pudding 105 g 63 3.3 3.7 2.5 0.3*
BSN Core Series Syntha-6 Ultra Chocolate MilkShake 132 g 66 4.2 2.6 5.4 1.1
Designer Whey 100% Whey Protein Chocolate 78g 54 3.9 1.6 2.4 0.9
EAS Myoplex Original Rich Dark Chocolate Shake (liquid) 1,500 mL 126 16.9 5.1* - -
GNC Lean Shake Chocolate 144 g 27 7.0 3.9 4.9 -
GNC Pro Performance AMP Amplified Wheybolic Extreme 60 Chocolate 237 g 180 5.4 2.5 2.5 -
Jillian Michaels Natural Whey Protein Vanilla Cream Shake 81g 45 1.9 - 1.2 -
Muscle Milk Chocolate 210 g 96 12.2 5.6 13.5 0.7*
Muscle Milk Nutritional Shake Chocolate (liquid) 990 mL 66 14.3 - 6.8 -
Muscle Milk Vanilla Crème 210 g 96 11.2 2.0 12.2 -
MuscleTech Nitro-Tech Hardcore Pro-Series Vanilla MilkShake 96 g 75 1.2 - 0.4* 0.9
Optimum Nutrition Gold Standard 100% Whey Extreme Milk Chocolate 96 g 72 2.5 1.7 1.0 0.2*
Optimum Nutrition Platinum Hydro Whey Velocity Vanilla 117 g 90 1.5 - - -
Six Star Muscle Professional Strength Whey Protein French Vanilla Cream 117 g 78 2.3 - - -
Solgar Whey to Go Whey Protein Powder Natural Vanilla Bean 60 g 48 0.6* - - -
Clarification: (-) Element was not measurable in all samples tested.

*In some samples of this product, this metal was below measurable levels and could be as low as zero. For those products, the average was calculated using zero as the value for samples in which metal could not be measured by the analytical method used.  


According to Dr. Stuart M. Phillips, professor of kinesiology at McMaster University in Hamilton, Ontario, "There is a distinction between what is absolutely minimally required and a more optimal intake level". In which case, he recommends that adults consume 30 to 50 grams of protein with every daily meal to address the very real issue of aging which leads to the loss of muscle mass.

As for using protein supplements such as an array of protein products, their users should be aware that consumer groups have issued alerts regarding contaminated substances found in them through laboratory testing. Sixteen protein powders tested for the substances included revealed, along with similar drinks, that arsenic, lead, cadmium and mercury were discovered to be present in some of those products.

As far as Dr. White is concerned, the best course of responsible decision-making about how to fuel the human body is to eat whole foods. Doctors are concerned about the potential long-term effects of a high protein diet where studies indicate that protein-rich diets, while seen to be promoting weight loss and preserving lean muscle in the process, do not preserve muscle mass over the long term.

Moreover, while eating excess protein does aid in tamping down hunger while avoiding carbohydrates, large population studies point to an association between high protein intake and a heightened risk of acquiring diabetes. Add to that the fact that doctors also caution that habitual high-protein consumption can also lead to kidney damage for those unaware that they harbour the propensity for kidney disease. Strain on the kidneys for those with diabetes accelerates the process of eventual kidney failure.

Flavoured protein powers have seen a surge in popularity by people interested in enhancing health by picking up the flavour-of-the-day diets that publicity geared to the bottom line for the producers claim lead the way to better health and physical conditioning. When, in fact, nothing could be further from the truth. Doled by the scoopful for smoothies, the ease and convenience of believing that one is pampering one's body positively generates enthusiasm for the product.

In the process, people end up consuming protein amounts exceeding health recommendations. Where a protein drink can be comprised of almost as much protein as a 225-gram steak, and snack bars can have the equivalent of greater macronutrient content than a three-egg omelet, people are deluding themselves into believing they are adopting a healthy diet.

What doctors and nutritionists know and consumers may not, is that protein powders and supplements derive from animal products like whey and casein (byproducts of cheese manufacturing) or from plants such as soy, rice, pea or hemp with no scientifically rigorous studies to inform whether too much protein is being absorbed, let alone what constitutes too much protein for the body to absorb and benefit from.

Protein is indispensable in the human diet for amino acids that our bodies are unable to synthesize on their own. Protein provides the building blocks required for the production and maintenance of muscle, bone, skin and other body tissues along with vital hormones and enzymes. The average female requires 46 grams of protein consumed daily, and males 56 grams of protein on a daily basis.

Consuming moderate amounts of protein-rich foods like meat, fish, dairy products, beans, nuts each day more than suffices to ensure that we obtain the protein required to keep us healthy, with an emphasis on whole foods and moderate intake. A serving of Greek yogurt provides about 20 grams of protein, while 40 grams of protein is made available with the consumption of 125 grams of ground chicken.

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Sunday, December 25, 2016

Cuba Prospering From Tourism . . .

"The government has consistently failed to invest properly in the agriculture sector. We don't just have to feed 11 million people anymore. We have to feed more than 14 million."
"In the next five years, if we don't do something about it, food will become a national security issue here."
Juan Alejandro Triana, economist, University of Havana

"It's a disaster. We never lived luxuriously, but the comfort we once had doesn't exist anymore."
Lisset Felipe, 42, Havana

"We cannot sit with our hands crossed before the unscrupulous manner of middlemen who only think of earning more."
Cuban President Raul Castro

"I don't even bother going to those places [private restaurants]. We eat rice and beans and a boiled egg most days, maybe a little pork."
Yainelys Rodriguez, 39, Havana
Workers in a lettuce field this past week at a farm in Alamar, outside Havana. Credit Mauricio Lima for The New York Times
Cubans are recipients of government food subsidies in the form of ration books to aid them in accessing certain staples like rice, beans and sugar. When it comes to food items such as fresh produce however, Cubans are on their own. And there has arisen a reality in Cuba where fresh produce is increasingly unavailable and what is available is priced too steeply for most ordinary Cubans to afford. But not for the 3.5-million tourists who arrived in Cuba last year.

The shortage of fresh produce has several causes, the most obvious, now that the United States has eased its decades-old sanctions and moratoriums on travel by Americans to Cuba with the recent lifting of the trade embargo, is that tourists have been streaming into the island-nation known for its sunny climate and beautiful beaches. And those tourists look for good food at restaurants catering to tourists and at holiday resorts whose kitchens scoop up what is available in agricultural products.

Cap that off with inefficiency in the use of arable lands and their production, bureaucratic red tape and corruption all of which tie up productivity, and add in a lack of fertilizer, leading to a reduced yield. Price hikes have been instituted for foods once considered staples: onions and peppers, pineapples and limes, and people can no longer afford them. The island's private sector in agriculture views the influx of tourists and the money they bring in as a boon to their business.

Government has instituted price ceilings but that patchwork doesn't appear to have filtered down the chain for affordable produce to be available for the Cuban table. Goods have transitioned to commercial markets where vendors and farmers can anticipate higher prices to compensate for their growing efforts. At state-operated markets shelves are full of sweet potatoes, yucca, rice, beans and bananas, a small amount of watermelons. But tomatoes, green peppers, onions, cucumbers, garlic or lettuce, avocados, pineapples or cilantro remain scarce.

At a co-op market close to the state-operated markets, vendors set their own prices and there fruits and vegetables absent from state-run stalls are stacked in abundance. Grapes, celery, ginger and spices are all there -- for a price that Cubans generally cannot afford. Where buyers representing private restaurants [some 1,700 exist in Havana] daily buy up fruits, vegetables and nonperishable edibles on budgets that bear no relation to those of the average household. "Almost all of our buyers are paladares" [the Cuban word for private restaurants. explained one vendor.

Cubans point out that the price of half a kilo of onions and half a kilo of tomatoes at the inflated prices charged for private restaurants would take fully ten percent of a government salary for a family, of around $25 monthly. "We have to be magicians [to prepare decent family meals]", said Leticia Alvarez Canada. "The prices have just gone crazy in the last few years."

It seems that Cuban entrepreneurs prefer the economic advantage of the U.S.-style capitalist free market system to that of collectivism championed by social-conscience communism....?

In this Feb. 27, 2016 photo, Raul Valdes Villasusa, 76, smokes a cigar as he collects tobacco leaves on his farm in Vinales in the province of Pinar del Rio, Cuba. Farmers earn money from the government for their tobacco crop, and keep a small portion for their own use. (AP Photo/Ramon Espinosa)
At least tobacco isn't in short supply. (AP Photo/Ramon Espinosa)

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Saturday, December 24, 2016

Just When You Think . . . .Global Warming  . . "The New Little Ice Age Has Started"

"The average temperature around the globe will fall by about 1.5 C when we enter the deep cooling phase of the Little Ice Age, expected in the year 2060. The cooling phase will last for about 45 - 65 years, for four to six 11-year cycles of the Sun, after which on the Earth, at the beginning of the 22nd century, will begin the new, next quasi-bicentennial cycle of warming."
"Deep cooling in the new Little Ice Age in the middle of this century would make it almost impossible to exploit offshore fields and pump oil and gas tens to hundreds of kilometres from the coast at depths of hundreds of meters."
"The world must start preparing for the new Little Ice Age right now. Politicians and business leaders must make full economic calculations of the impact of the new Little Ice Age on everything -- industry, agriculture, living conditions, development. The most reasonable way to fight against the new Little Ice Age is a complex of special steps aimed at support of economic growth and energy-saving production to adapt mankind to the forthcoming period of deep cooling."
Russian Academy of Science Pulkovo Observatory, St. Petersburg study: The New Little Ice Age Has Started
 Temperatures across the world in the 1880s (left) and the 1980s (right).
Imagine that. The world was placed on notice over a decade ago by environmental scientists, confirmed by no less an authority than NASA that we were in the critical throes of Global Warming  whose galloping oncoming presence was giving us all manner of atmospheric one-of-a-kind natural calamities in storms-of-the-century, runaway wildfires, volcanic eruptions, mind-shattering earthquakes and tsunamis, and the spectre of rising oceans as ageless ice caps at the top and bottom of the world melt, ensuring that island-states and oceanic coastlines would be engulfed.

When some of the warning fizzled out as wait-for-them weather catastrophes failed to materialize as models suggested, the tune on the dial was changed from Global Warming to Climate Change. When it was pointed out by geologists, environmentalists and others that climate is always in flux and moves in cycles, that extraordinary natural weather phenomenon leading to insecurity has always vexed humankind, frustrating its ability to predict natural occurrences as regular, synchronized events staged by Mother Nature, the leading theory of human-activity-based environmental degradation waned.

Now, this newly published study by lead researcher and study author, astrophysicist Habibullo Abdussamatov, head of space research at Pulkovo Observatory, informs the world that the study of the Sun's various cycles and solar activity resulting therefrom, as long suspected, is responsible for the arrival of another little ice age. The model upon which the study was based no other than Planet Earth's 18 earlier such ice ages over the period of 7,500 years, six of which occurred in the past thousand years, led to the conclusion that the next ice age would present between 2012 and 2015.


This world class scientific head of space research in St. Petersburg has succeeded in having his predictions affirmed by the occurrences of actual climatic events, not merely predicted occurrences; irradiation sent earthward by the sun among them, measured and accounted for. He is now prepared to state with confidence that in 2014 to 2015, Earth was launched upon the entry into its 19th Little Ice Age event. Which will lead not to the anticipated opening of the Arctic and melting of Antarctica's massive glaciers, but a continued deep freeze.

That deep freeze will place a skidding halt to exploiting the known vastness of the energy riches existing under the Arctic Ocean which geological surveys identify as the source of more petroleum that exists anywhere else on Earth or under its seas. The recent declaration by the President of the United States and the Prime Minister of Canada that permission to exploit those riches in their geographic zones of the Arctic will  be denied appear coincidental. They are not, however, risking much when the near future will make such exploitation practically impossible, while sounding bravely authoritative, cleaving to Global Warming.

So manmade factors do not enter into Dr. Abdussamatov's calculations, while his prolonged cooling spell is seen to be conclusively resulting from solar factors. Sunspots are disappearing from the hydrogen-rich face of our Galaxy's sun. It was noted on a previous occasion, the Little Ice Age of the late 1600s, when Henry VIII was able to skate on the frozen-over Thames, that sunspots and solar flares had disappeared. Validation of this theory has been shared by the National Astronomical Observatory of Japan.

In Wales last year at the National Astronomy Meeting, European researchers produced a scientific model that predicted a "mini ice age" to occur from 2030 to 2040 reflecting a pause in solar activity. That freezing condition will bring a halt to energy development leading to a requirement for energy conservation of an increasingly scarce commodity, at a time when prevailing world temperatures will call out for greater need for warmth for populations huddling against a protracted cold they had little reason to anticipate when warmth was the prevailing prediction.

A planet that is the living quarters for billions of human beings, a vast variety of plant life and a Noah's Arc multitude of  other animals, all of which thrive in the current climatic conditions, will be hard pressed to prepare for an underheated planet. Dr. Abdussamatov urges that his conclusion and his prediction must be recognized and immediate steps taken to introduce measures that will aid all living organisms to survive a coming onslaught of dense freezing atmospheric challenges.

At a time when most governments are fully engaged in pledging action against global warming caused by human action. "The upcoming climate change will be the most important challenge and a priority issue for the world and define the main events in politics, the economy, and the most important areas of the whole of humanity in the coming decades."

Climate Depot

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Friday, December 23, 2016

Failing The Critical Service Grade

"Transition can be tough, but it can also create opportunities."
"We are excited about what will be offered in 2017. Ultimately we know these changes [in the way the Multiple Sclerosis Society of Canada operates] will better serve people living with MS."
"The model we used to provide services in Victoria [British Columbia] was unique, and very expensive, which unfortunately made it unsustainable. The needs of people with MS are complex and critical, and as a not-for-profit we do not have the capacity to fill every gap."
Tania Vrionis, president, B.C. Division, Multiple Sclerosis Society of Canada
Multiple Sclerosis Society of Canada
The MS Society of Canada's Victoria building on North Park street has been listed for $3.1M. (CHEK)

"The [MS] centre was somewhere safe where I could go with other people who were the same, who knew exactly how I felt when I said I couldn't do something. It was freeing. It freed us all to be ourselves."
River Grace, 67, Victoria, British Columbia

"Most people who use the centre don't have jobs. That's why they need it so desperately."
You've got somebody making $350,000 a year, and then you just took away services from a person earning $10,000 a year. There's something really wrong there."
To ask them to pick research over [alleviating] human suffering, you can't ask us to do that."
"A cure is not going to help the people who are suffering today [from multiple sclerosis]."
Susan Simmons, MS sufferer
MS Centre, Victoria, B.C.
For some reason that the medical community cannot understand, Canada has the greatest number per capita of people diagnosed with the central nervous system disease that the MS Society represents. One hundred thousand Canadians suffer from multiple sclerosis, the highest incidence of any country in the world. And the MS Society exists to serve that large demographic. To do so they have in the recent past offered to those whose interests they represent a venue for affordable physiotherapy and specialized exercise facilities.

The centre operated by the B.C. chapter of the MS Society operated as a template for what was assumed would be expanded services throughout the country. Now that template, in Victoria, B.C., is gone. The centre was closed last week leaving over 100 people in a province with 1,500 suffering from MS abandoned and the building that served them is now for sale. Simply put, the MS Society has decided to drop its emphasis on service to people with MS and focus instead on funding research into a cure for multiple sclerosis.

Along with deciding to focus on research funding, the MS Society made a decision to sell its properties and to use the proceeds of those sales for the funding of MS research. MS administrators have informed their members that they will lobby government at various levels to begin providing the type of services that the Society has been offering, instead. Which included physiotherapy services and grants funding housekeeping, snow shovelling, transportation and incontinence supplies.

Decades ago, the federal government announced that it would be cutting back on its funding of charitable medical organizations, to leave them with the responsibility to raise their operational funding from the private sector. Now, a charitable medical group is seeking to reverse that reality, unilaterally. With governments cash-strapped to provide the essential services they do maintain, how likely is it that they will obligingly take on yet another financial burden?

A reality that leaves the MS Society looking unctuously insincere. "We always assumed that the MS Society would roll this out [the type of services offered to MS clients in Victoria] across the country and start giving people the rehab that they need", complained another client of the Victoria centre. Typically, once local chapters close to consolidate operations, former clients find they can no longer afford the use of a gym. "It's more lonely. You don't get to get together with anybody", said Teresa Inger, in St. Thomas, Ontario. "It's sad", said the legally blind woman.

It is well worth noting that of the funding the MS Society receives, only 44 percent is used for charitable programs. Nine percent is spent on 'management' and administration, while 40 percent goes to fundraising costs. The latest MoneySense report on Canadian charities list the MS Society as having earned an overall grade of C+ for effectiveness, and a D for charity efficiency. Its top-paid executive earned over $350,000 in 2015, with eight other employees earning between $160,000 and $250,000. Nice work if you can get it....

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Thursday, December 22, 2016

One-Industry Town Producing Light-Magic

"It's a magical, marvellous town. We are a people of artisans, musicians, pyrotechnics. It's a form of expression, of art, of making people happy."
"There are a lot of people who criticize this art, but we see it differently. It's our daily life."
Jose Guadalupe Solono Sanchez "Doc Pyrotecnia", Tultepec, Mexico

"It's incredible to see the work that people do here. It's what moves the town."
"[She heard  the sound of fireworks; a whistle, a pop and a crack] Then, it was no longer normal [when a loud blast shook the ground]."
Mary Rubio, resident of Tultepec, Mexico

"You couldn't see anything [through the flames and the smoke]."
"I've never felt something this sad [devastating loss of lives, destruction of the open-air fireworks market]."
"It's what sustained the municipality [its pyrotechnic industry]."
Solano Sanchez, Tultepec resident, Mexico
Fireworks explode from the San Pablito market in Tultepec, Mexico, on Tuesday, December 20. Authorities say dozens were killed in blasts at the market, which was especially busy with people buying fireworks for the holidays.
Fireworks explode from the San Pablito market in Tultepec, Mexico, on Tuesday, December 20. Authorities say dozens were killed in blasts at the market, which was especially busy with people buying fireworks for the holidays. CNN

"I came back and I helped her [his 83-year-old mother]. We were halfway the distance we had to cover to get out when I got hit by a large piece of brick and broke my hand and my hand was like hanging."
"I thought she was dead but no, thank God, no she wasn't. At that moment one of my nephews came in with other people and they carried us out, risking their lives because shrapnel was flying all over the place."
"Yes, we're going to keep on working. It's our livelihood,"
Miguel Urban Bojas, 49, injured fireworks vendor
Mr. Bojas the fireworks vendor was injured, along with his elderly mother, and both hospitalized. When they recover they will return to the livelihood they have been engaged in for all of their lives. Generation after generation in this Mexican town of 150,000 people located north of Mexico City, have been employed in the pyrotechnics industry, producing fireworks. The town is known for its spectacular fireworks displays that take place regularly in celebration of all manner of special occasions.

Those who produce the fireworks are master at the trade and take pride in their unique handicraft. These artisans consider themselves to be experts at the tradecraft they take such care with in imaginative and traditional design, supported by the town, and supporting the town. And the community in which they live cannot imagine themselves bereft of their fabulous, popular pyrotechnics events which can bring in tourists from all over Mexico and from abroad to witness for themselves the spectacular displays of colourful explosives.

Fireworks 'castles' waiting to be set off for a competition. Photo: Alejandro Linares Garcia

Mr. Bojas and his mother, though unfortunate victims of a fireworks display gone awry, were fortunate in that they came away with their lives intact. The death toll from that run-amok pyrotechnical event was 35, with many more others in the crowded market wounded from burns, from shrapnel, from smoke inhalation. There were eleven people reported as missing, somewhere in the remains of that conflagration waiting to be discovered.

The ear-splitting, multicoloured violence of the blast provided its own show, one that people of the town had experienced before in the relatively recent past when magic turned to tragic. The firestorm was the result of a powerful chain-reaction in the open-air fireworks market which also destroyed over 80 percent of the 300 stalls in the San Pablito fireworks market. The booths packed with firework merchandise on display and for sale, provided additional fuel for the run-amok fire to feed upon.

Tuesday's massively destructive explosion was the third such calamity to have occurred at this market since 2005. In the Gulf Coast city of Veracruz at a similar market, 29 people died in a 2002 explosion. An explosion of illegally stored fireworks destroyed part of the city of Celaya in 1999 when 63 people died. Another 58 people died in 1988 when a fireworks explosion at the La Merced market in Mexico City occurred.

It has been over two centuries that the people of Tultepec have specialized in the artisanal production of fireworks, skills handed down from generation to generation. The fireworks season lasts from August through to December and in that period of time the vendors of the town's fireworks expect they will sell 100 tonnes of fireworks. During fireworks festivals, music is matched to the pyrotechnical displays.

Elaborate "castle" contests take place where towers constructed of wood, reed and paper are festooned with fireworks that are set off, illuminating the towers and the atmosphere above in a spectacular display of fairyland showers of brilliant colour and scintillating light. Solano Sanchez's mother, father and grandparents all work in the production of fireworks. He is himself a specialized musician promoting the industry of the town's dedication to fireworks production.

Visiting survivors of the catastrophe that destroyed the market, burning it to the ground, and with it also damaging nearby houses, Mexican President Pena Nieto declared: "We made a commitment to support everyone, the 300 stall owners of that market to recover and support them so that they can continue their activities next year normally".

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Wednesday, December 21, 2016

Nuclear Medicine Testing

"We are saying that unless there is a very high level of brainstorming between the federal government, the provinces and the profession to tackle these issues, the risk is that Canadians will not get access to important tests for the diagnosis and treatment of their diseases."
Dr. Norman Laurin, past-president, Canadian Association of Nuclear Medicine

"For patients, it means hospitals have to make decisions in terms of which tests they can afford to provide to patients."
"The tests that they can afford are not necessarily the best tests."
Dr. Jean-Luc Urbain, former president, Canadian Association of Nuclear Medicine
Photograph of the NRU reactor building
Out of time: the NRU reactor at Chalk River
"A pioneer in nuclear medicine, NRU continues to make an important contribution to the world’s medical isotopes used in both the diagnosis and treatment of life-threatening diseases. Isotopes from NRU benefit thousands of people each day, millions of people internationally each year – an amazing contribution to world health."
"One of the NRU reactor's most important contributions to health is without a doubt the cobalt-60 it produces. Cobalt-60 accounts for 10 million cancer therapy treatments each year and was originally produced in the NRX reactor through which Canada launched the modern field of nuclear medicine. The first cancer treatments using cobalt-60 were delivered at hospitals in Ontario and Saskatchewan in 1951. Today, cobalt-60 from NRU treats cancer patients in countries around the world."
"Canada has made impressive contributions to world health care, and Canadian scientists continue to research nuclear medicine techniques and explore the vastly refined techniques of medical science."
Canadian Nuclear Laboratories website

"A report from the US National Academies of Sciences, Engineering and Medicine (NAS) warns that the US could be facing severe shortages of the vital medical isotope technetium-99m once the ageing NRU nuclear reactor in Chalk River, Canada, stops producing molybdenum-99 next month. Technetium-99m, which is derived from the molybdenum-99 isotope, is widely used for medical imaging."
"Released this week, the report was commissioned by the US Congress and warns that there is a greater than 50% chance that severe shortages of molybdenum-99 and technetium-99m will occur in the US after the NRU stops production in October. Both isotopes have very short half-lives and cannot be stockpiled. While global supplies of molybdenum-99 are produced at six other reactors worldwide, most of these facilities are also very old and some are prone to unscheduled shutdowns."
CTV National News: Isotope reactor to shut down

Canada has, until recently, been the world's foremost supplier of medical isotopes. The National Research Universal reactor at Chalk River (NRU) was built in 1957. As the sole source of molybdenum-99 in North America, the suspension of production at the NRU will strike the entire continent hard. Medical isotopes will have to be brought in from abroad, from other aging reactors elsewhere in the world. In view of the fact that medical isotopes are of vital importance in the diagnosis of dire medical conditions, both Canada and the U.S. are developing more modern, accelerator-based facilities for production, but they will not be in production mode until 2018.

Hospitals are being left in a vacuum of critically short supply of a vital diagnostic tool whose constituents have a short lifespan and cannot be stockpiled. Nuclear medicine doctors have become alarmed at the sky-high cost of medical isotopes which, they warn, may impact on patient access to the sophisticated medical tests for cancer, heart disease and other illnesses that plague humankind. The soaring cost of some nuclear medicine has increased up to one thousand percent, partially resulting from the shutdown of isotope production at the NRU reactor.

According to Dr. Norman Laurin, this rapidly rising price is "significant enough that hospital budgets will either have to be revised or they will have to decrease procedures". The problem here is obvious enough; hospital budgets in Canada are already tight, with finite financial resources available to dedicate additional costs to manage these massive rising prices in the compounds used for diagnostic medical scans. A greater use of CT scans for diagnostic tests may result, producing less accurate measurements which can also expose patients to 25 to 50 percent more radiation.

The current president of the Canadian Association of Nuclear Medicine, Dr. Andrew Ross, warns that the situation will inevitably result in longer waiting lists for tests when the results they produce are required in much shorter time-spans for medical specialists to be able to respond in a timely manner to their patients' medical needs to ensure that their life-threatening disease does not progress beyond the capacity of medical science to deal with.

Medical isotopes are radioactive substances which in small amounts are used in the diagnosis of health conditions impacting the heart, the circulatory system and visceral body organs. The present situation surprises no one in the medical community, since experts had long warned of the inevitability of shortages and allied price hikes back in 2008 at a time that outages at the aging NRU reactor occurred and it was recognized that the reactor had an increasingly limited lifespan. A critical short-term upgrade was conducted and the reactor put back to work producing isotopes.

AECL plant in Chalk River
A warning sign is posted at the AECL plant in Chalk River, Ont. on Dec. 19 2007. (Fred Chartrand / THE CANADIAN PRESS)

But the NRU reactor situation clearly "highlighted [the] fragility of the supply chain that delivers medical isotopes . . . to patients in Canada and globally", stated Natural Resources Canada. At that time the government then in power announced that isotope production at NRU would be brought to a halt in 2016 and the reactor de-commissioned. That time has come for the world's oldest experimental reactor responsible for up to half of the world's medical isotope production, accounting for 80 percent of nuclear diagnostic procedures.

Plans are for the nuclear reactor to be placed on 'hot standby' for one and a half years so that it could in theory be restarted in short order, after which it will be shuttered permanently. It is not only the loss of one of the major producers of these critical diagnostic tools, but that the price of pharmaceutical agents that work in combination with the isotopes have risen sharply in price, as well. Suppliers in South Africa, Australia and elsewhere remain in production, but demand and scarcity add up to increased costs and decreasing availability.

What are medical isotopes and how are they used?

A medical isotope is an unstable (i.e. radioactive) atom derived from a stable one.
Molecular imaging – the imaging of molecules, biochemical processes, and physiological activity within the human body – is rapidly becoming one of the most powerful tools for the diagnosis and staging of disease. The main tools for molecular imaging are single-photon emission computed tomography (SPECT) and positron emission tomography (PET) scans that tag specific biomolecules (biologically active molecules) with medical isotopes. When medical isotopes decay, they emit particles that can be detected and used to pinpoint their location. By chemically connecting a medical isotope to a biomolecule and injecting that compound into a human body, clinicians can “see” where the body is using the biomolecule.
For example, if an incoming patient is thought to have had a heart attack, a doctor might inject a patient with Tc-99m attached to a biomolecule called teboroxime (this combination is called a “radiotracer”). The patient might then perform a rest-and-stress treadmill test. The Tc-99m will go to the heart because the teboroxime molecule is designed to accumulate there. When the heart is imaged with a SPECT camera, the picture will tell the doctor if the heart muscle has been damaged.
PET and SPECT scans differ by the type of decay of the isotope and therefore use different “cameras” to image or “scan” the patient. SPECT is better established, is prevalent in every hospital, and is presently cheaper than PET. PET is an emerging technology that offers higher resolution scans and access to more sophisticated biological information.

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