Archive for September, 2016

For those who rely on science and research for everything, here is proof that even research can be fallible, seeing how it is done by humans!

Sugar industry documents accessed by a researcher at the University of California, San Francisco show that the industry paid three Harvard scientists in the 1960s to suppress the link between sugar and heart disease and play up the role of saturated fat. Using their position and research the scientists influenced the national dietary recommendations, which went on to paint saturated fat as the villain while letting sugar go unchecked.

This kind of influenced research continues even today, reports NYT citing research funded last year by Coco-Cola to play down the role between soft drinks and obesity. Similarly candy makers were funding studies claiming children who eat candy tend to weigh less than those who do not.

The documents published this week in JAMA Internal Medicine suggest that five decades of research into the role of nutrition and heart disease was intentionally misled by the sugar industry.

The Sugar Research Foundation paid the Harvard scientists the equivalent of today’s $50,000 to publish a 1967 review of research on sugar, fat and heart disease. The studies used in the review were handpicked by the sugar group, and the article was published in the prestigious New England Journal of Medicine. Journals back then did not require disclosure of funders.

Avoiding eggs, butter and meat will not help lower blood cholesterol as the science relating diet to heart diseases is most probably flawed. A report issued last year by the Dietary Guidelines Advisory Committee of the US Department of Agriculture shattered the decades old belief that a diet rich in cholesterol has to be avoided. In fact, a low-carb, high-fat diet may be safer than a low-fat, high-carb one. At least till the next research or expose breaks that contention.

The processed food industry, especially sugar industry, was accused to have contributed to the burgeoning obesity and related diseases by covering up the ill-effects of consuming sugar.

In 2013 a review by the American Heart Association and the American College of Cardiology discovered that there was no significant link between dietary cholesterol and blood cholesterol. There have also been accusations against the drug lobby for perpetrating the cholesterol ‘myth’ that high blood cholesterol causes atherosclerosis, coronary heart disease, etc.

Cholesterol in blood is an essential ingredient required by every cell membrane and is processed and recycled by the liver. It helps to produce cell membranes, hormones, vitamin D and bile acids that help digest fat. Cholesterol is also vital for neurological function.

Enter the superfood Coconut

One of the saturated fat foods that took a big fall back then was coconut oil. Now coconut is being touted as a ‘superfood’ loaded with vitamins, minerals and fibres that cure everything from skin blemishes to excess weight and cancer!

Compared to the polyunsaturated fats found in most vegetable oils, coconut oil contains 92 per cent saturated fat and is full of medium chain fatty acids or triglycerides which help burn fat and are more easily absorbed into the body than other types. The MCTS also have therapeutic benefits in certain brain disorders, epilepsy, etc.

In island populations where people tend to eat a lot of coconut researchers found that vascular disease is uncommon. Another study on 40 women found coconut oil increased HDL and lowered LDL to HDL ratio while decreasing waist circumference.

However, there are the critics who insist that larger studies are required before concluding beneficial effects of coconut oil on the heart.

Meanwhile, for those who prefer to go by what granny subscribed to, a word of caution. Conditions then and now are very different. A generous dose of fat consumed was accompanied by vigorous physical activity. So perhaps it is wise to strike the middle path and go by a balanced diet and not overdo on the saturated fat. Eat lesser than a full stomach, eat healthy food and give your system a break now and then. Joyful eating rather than mindless stuffing is the way to a blissful state.


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Bored just a bit, I was rummaging my cupboard for some book to read. But for some reason the lot in store did not enthuse me. I had my collection of thrillers rubbing shoulders with classics and non-fiction. I picked a time-tested Agatha Christie, always an assured boredom chaser. But no, this time murder refused to send a chill. How about a Chase, the master pulp novelist with his plots of crime, passion and cold-blooded revenge? I agree even today that James Hadley Chase was a genius peddler of crime stories, unparalleled. His insight into human avarice, greed and passion as also the well-thought out plots cannot be denied. But no, not today.

As my hand ran through the lot, my brain kept saying no. And I was wonderstruck at how my tastes have changed down the years. Finally I settled for Cronin’s Citadel, the trials and growth of a young, idealistic doctor in a mining town of Wales. My mind recalled vaguely the story but the characters were no strangers. Good, cultured, sensitive, shy, hard-working, god-fearing. Some familiarity is reassuring. It comes with years of reading an author.

Cronin could still be read after so many years. The memory of Hatter’s Castle and The Stars Look Down warm the cockles of my heart, bringing with it a trust in humanity. Yes, Citadel it is for now.

But before Cronin there had been others.

Once upon a time in my teens, it was the legacy left behind by a few uncles that first set me and my siblings blazing off on the Western trail. Max Brands, Oliver Strange, Zane Grey … so coveted, so much fought over. Stories of the Wild West where a horse is a horse, and man is a man, and the faster one draws his gun from the holster, higher his chances of survival. Every word of the alien world was sucked in, every vista of the wide plains and high ranges travelled in the mind.

Today, as I gaze over a few lines from one of the books, I wonder what the hell! Who cares about them darned cowboys and their cruel games of branding cattle and taming wild horses, duh! How could I have gone gaga over them ruddy, brutish he-men??

The Westerns had been followed by a spate of thrillers of the time – Irving Wallace, Alistair Maclean, Robin Cook, Sydney Sheldon, Crichton, et al. Or the romantics like Denise Robbins, Harold Robbins, Georgette Heyer, A J Cronin, Pearl S Buck, and others. I have tried recently to pick one of those and read. It was a dead end on page one with most. Something said from up there in my head ‘no, no, not again’ or a more placating ‘not now’.

There were the life savers like Wodehouse, Christie, Maugham, Heriott, Erle Stanley Gardner, Colin Dexter, et al. I then went on to non-fiction or semi-fiction like Jostein Gaarder’s Sophie’s World and more, Bill Bryson’s science and adventure trails, Mitch Albom and the likes, briefly flirted with Paulo Coelho, and onto Eckhart Tolle, Herman Hesse, Osho, Devdutt Pattnaik. Gaarder, Hesse and Tolle have stayed on. But one can’t read them on sunny and rainy days alike. The mind must be awake.

In the ocean of past books, some of the above alone survive the test. I can go back to them again and again. To me these are the true classics that stand the test of time.

Again, not all can be read any time. There is a time and mood to pick a Maugham – to savour the sombre tenor of life lived through the eyes of a passionate and sensitive Larry or Phillip. As also to delve into a whodunnit from Christie where one begins by placing bets on the most unlikely character — best read on a rainy, gloomy day with a cup of tea in hand and murder at hand. Wodehouse can bring a smile or a guffaw or a roll in the cot (depending on your nature being melancholic or sanguine) anytime for sure, but even that one prefers at a certain time, certainly not on a rainy day.

Some folks believe there is a time for everything. They wait for things to fall in place. I have not been much of a believer, but of late I realise it is true for some things. Among them, books.



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The Pope said it. The truth about media today, when he called journalism a form of terror being used to foment fear and hatred among people. He might have been referring to the situation in Italy and Europe in general, but one just has to look around to see what he means right here in India, all around us, all the time.

Look at the latest Cauvery water issue. Two states fighting for the most precious resource on the planet. Passionate protests on the streets, a suicide, threats and so on. As though there was not enough trouble a television channel in TN shows footage of locals in Kanyakumari beating up a driver of a Karnataka registration vehicle. As though that was not irresponsible enough, channels in Karnataka pick it up and beam it again and again.

What more does one need to whip up frenzy and anger? The ball has been set rolling by media and they can sit back and collect all the news they want for the rest of the day and more. Talk of creating news! Reminds me of an old Irving Wallace novel ‘Almighty’ with a similar plot where a media group head devises ways to set off news by simply creating it.

Whether it be a dalit issue or a more dynamite communal one, our media is ever so ready to pick a thread and make a rope of it, and then light it! It could be one of the many little incidents happening all the time in our country but by picking one, turning spotlight on it, stoking it in many ways by way of suggestions and applying not very subtle spin to it, the king and queen makers have their TRPs assured for a few hours.

We all know these issues are problems but by putting it on centre stage, throwing in some high decibel emotions, pitting one group against another, the issue turns into breaking news.  There is drama replete with tears, anger, revenge, pathos. There is bound to be a chain reaction set off somewhere as a result. Clashes,  deaths and injuries. What better name for media today than weapons of mass destruction?

But why are we the viewers being such sitting ducks? Why don’t we resist? We have seen enough to know the definitions of media today. Entertainment all the way. Sometimes it makes you laugh, at times enraged and also sad.

Can we do anything? Why do we continue to be informed and influenced by such an irresponsible media? Why not boycott them? Why not look for alternatives, for truth, for sources of authentic information? Why do we passively give in to the mischief mongers and their tactics?

Is it because we have got used to life with embellishments? We seek the gory, the dramatic, the violent because without all that life is ‘boring’? Or is it that we have become so polarised, so rigid we simply subscribe to anything that lends weight to what we believe. A sane, balanced voice has no audience. Just a thought, a doubt that came to my mind.

More than anytime, today there is need for all of us to keep minds open, think for ourselves instead of getting caught in the whirlwind of ‘public opinion’. Can we just allow our opponent to speak as we listen carefully? Can we see media for what it is today — live entertainment sources? And then watch all that is shown with a smile in our heads, of how well these entertainers do their job!

We would perhaps be a little more tolerant of each other, a little more forgiving and understanding. Instead of throwing stones and lighting buses afire, we could then talk to each other and see what best can be done to make everyone a little happy. After all, we are in this game of life together.

If for instance, Karnataka did not nurture the river by conserving the forests, there would not be much water flowing down. Do folks in TN realise that? Do they realise the harm from sand mining to the river bed? Are they doing enough with conserving water? Are the farmers in Mandya wastefully using water? Are we in Bangalore using water pumped up from Cauvery judiciously, or using it to wash cars and water lawns? More important, do we realise the damage we are doing to the Western Ghats as the biodiversity hotspot gives way to myriad power projects, eco tourism, etc?

And then if farmers in TN do not get water for their crops, it is the country that suffers. Not just a state. Why not call a third unaligned party to examine the practices and needs?

Why not joyfully share what little we have, instead of sparring over it?

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