Saturday, May 29, 2010

Expendables - beyond badass

Vitamin D takes the front page on The Lancet Neurology.

The editorial looks at vitamin D and MS, and calls for more research:

Vitamin D supplementation in healthy individuals is emerging as a promising approach for MS prevention, with a strong suggestion that vitamin D concentrations during late adolescence and young adulthood have a major effect in determining MS risk.

• A large randomised trial is needed to establish the safety and efficacy of large-scale vitamin D supplementation in prevention of MS, although this would require the administration of relatively high doses of vitamin D to hundreds of thousands of young adults for several years.

• Evidence supporting a therapeutic effect of vitamin D in modifying the course of MS is less compelling than evidence of a preventive effect. However, there is sufficient evidence to support the need for large randomised trials to determine whether vitamin D supplementation could delay the time to progress from a first demyelinating episode to MS or to MS treatment.

• Screening of serum 25-hydroxyvitamin D concentrations is likely to identify a large proportion of patients who are vitamin D deficient or insufficient, who might benefit from vitamin D supplementation for prevention of osteoporosis and other complications.

The authors of an accompanying commentary comment that trials are required to address the numerous questions that remain in this area. In the meantime, they suggest that taking steps to tackle vitamin D deficiency in high-risk populations seem warranted. They say that “Because any benefits for MS in particular will take decades to emerge, a long-term outlook is needed from policy makers, but future health and financial benefits have the potential to make this investment highly rewarding.”

Sunday, May 23, 2010

Vitamin D: finally a note of caution ... or the opposite?

Looks like you can have too much of a good thing.

JAMA has just reported on a well controlled study, where a decent sized sample group were given mega doses of vitamin D. The results may come as a bit of a surprise:

"Among older community-dwelling women, annual oral administration of high-dose cholecalciferol resulted in an increased risk of falls and fractures."

I had to do a double take when I read that annual doses of 500,000 IU were given to the subjects. That's right, half a million IU, the equivalent of 500 of my vitamin D tablets in a single sitting.

My first thought was that the body produces a much smaller amount of vitamin D from the sun before the vitamin D factory shuts its doors - I think it's around the 10,000-20,000 IU mark. If the body's self regulating system is accustomed to accumulating and storing amounts around these levels, should we be surprised to see negative effects at doses of half a million IU? Not really, me thinks. If anything, this report provides even less reason to worry about toxicity around the saner levels.

Update: I've just found this comment from another medical study: "Total-body sun exposure easily provides the equivalent of 250 µg (10000 IU) vitamin D/d, suggesting that this is a physiologic limit."

Thursday, May 20, 2010

Market mayhem

You know that 'flash crash' that took place a few Thursdays ago and wiped around $1trn of the US markets before staging a turnaround? Well, we are almost there again. Flash in the pan? I fear not.

Tuesday, May 18, 2010

Golf ... truly a beatiful game

Just found this pic on the WSJ site, and had to snag it for my own keeping.

Sunday, May 16, 2010

BP - ignorance is bliss?

This is from the New York Times:

BP has resisted entreaties from scientists that they be allowed to use sophisticated instruments at the ocean floor that would give a far more accurate picture of how much oil is really gushing from the well.

“The answer is no to that,” a BP spokesman, Tom Mueller, said on Saturday. “We’re not going to take any extra efforts now to calculate flow there at this point. It’s not relevant to the response effort, and it might even detract from the response effort.”

Thursday, May 13, 2010

Nice comment from Taleb...

re the comment in the previous blog post:

“When a bridge collapses, you don’t look at the last truck that was on it, you look at the engineer,” Taleb said in an interview with Bloomberg Television today. “You’re looking for the straw that broke the camel’s back. Let’s not worry about the straw, focus on the back.”

Wednesday, May 12, 2010


Um, the bailout rally didn't last very long. That little kick up at the end is when the markets opened on Monday and news spread that Europe was saved from the abyss. Alas, it is a day later and the we are back to where we were on Friday. Where next is anyone's guess. The short-term trend in the currency is down, and the long term outlook for the union not good at all.

UPDATE - This is good. It looks like Taleb's Black Swan may have played a self-fulfilling role in the grand Thursday debacle.

Tuesday, May 11, 2010

Vitamin D: International Osteoporosis Foundation updates its recommendations for older people

Here is the press release:

IOF has released a new position statement on Vitamin D for older adults which makes important recommendations for vitamin D nutrition from an evidence-based perspective.

Vitamin D is important for bone and muscle development, function and preservation. For this reason it is a vital component in the maintenance of bone strength and in the prevention of falls and osteoporotic fractures.

The objective of this statement, published in the leading bone journal, Osteoporosis International (OI DOI 10 1007/s00198-010-1285-3), was to use and examine all available evidence to support new recommendations for optimal vitamin D status.

The best available clinical indicator of vitamin D status is serum 25OHD and vitamin D intake and effective sun exposure are the major determinants of this level. Serum 25OHD levels decline with ageing but the response to vitamin D3 supplementation is not affected by age or by usual calcium dietary intake.

Preventing vitamin D deficiency has a major impact on falls and osteoporotic fractures. Vitamin D deficiency is associated with decreased muscle strength in older men and women and supplementation improves lower limb strength and reduces risk of falling. Vitamin D affects fracture risk through its effect on bone metabolism and on falls risk.

Key recommendations:

  • The estimated average vitamin D requirement of older adults to reach a serum 25OHD level of 75 nmol/l (30ng/ml) is 20 to 25 µg/day (800 to 1000 IU/day).
  • Intakes may need to increase to as much as 50 µg(2000IU) per day in individuals who are obese, have osteoporosis, limited sun exposure (e.g. housebound or institutionalised), or have malabsorption.
  • For high risk individuals it is recommended to measure serum 25OHD levels and treat if deficient.

I'm taking 500% of the European RDA, and this still just only comes in at 1000 IU a day.

Monday, May 10, 2010

EU bailout - it just lengthens the dynamite cord

I'm just back from a day of accounting so I don't know the details. What you read is ignorant comment at its finest!

Okay, so it seems that the mammoth EU bailout package has averted a crisis which would have decimated the markets and the euro. In the short-term, this is a very good thing. Everyone pat yourselves on the backs. However, I can't see what good this does in the long run. For now it wards off the speculators betting on a euro breakdown. However, by providing a safety cushion again fiscal laxity, surely this fund just encourages continued reckless spending, and when the chickens come home to roost the problem will be a hell of a lot worse (it's what economist's call 'moral hazard').

In the meanwhile, will the UK's weaknesses move to the center of the radar?

Four Lions

Started off a little shaky, but it got better and better, and funnier and funnier. There's been nothing quite like this before.


Great quote about Greece, the EU and the markets

“We are seeing wolfpack behaviour in the markets, and if we don’t stop these packs, they will tear the weaker countries apart,” said Anders Borg, Sweden’s finance minister.

Saturday, May 08, 2010

Thirty Days Down - One year later

A year ago, I completed an extreme diet and blogged about it here. Well, it's a year later to the day, so it's a good time for a quick review. How much weight have I put on since? A big fat zero kg. I'm as surprised as anyone.

The diet was extremely simple: ignore all the psuedo-science and mumbo jumbo and commit to eating a lot less (by dint of doing what works best and experimenting with different foods, you should gravitate to healthy eating).

Here are some general comments I made a while back about my experience:

- I found that after a few days of self-torment, skipping breakfast and lunch paid dividends. For sustenance and brain function I had more sugar of all things. Sugar in some dried fruit, sugar in tea, etc. I found a little sugar goes a long way to correcting the energy deficit. However, if I ate anything substantial in the day I desired more food a few hours later. By going without something happened to my body (still not sure what) that simply stopped wanting breakfast or lunch. I guess you can train your body and mind to new habits in this way. Also, to get my nutrients I had no room for any empty calories. I had zero chocolates, crisps etc over the period and piled in the vegetables. Also had cod liver oil tablets.

- Exercise proved largely counter effective as it simply increased appetite, making abstinence more difficult.

- I normally like to take a moderate approach but by going extreme I put my body and appetite on a new pattern and when I had my first chocolate biscuit after the project ended it was like an explosion of sugar in my mouth - not nice, although I adapted back to normal after a few days.

- The only side-effect is that my taste buds were heightened over the period and everything tasted amazing, and I am now obsessed with food!

- I don't necessarily recommend this approach and it requires almost military discipline in the first few days, but after that, it's all too easy (perhaps dangerously so).

- Admittedly with a sample size is 1, it is arguably a bit low, but I was still surprised at my results and my prescription for losing weight which is no or little fresh fruit, no exercise during the weight loss period, more sugar, loads of veg but less carby, starchy stuff, and no breakfast or lunch.

People say crash dieting doesn't work, but for me it has given me a much deeper self-knowledge and appreciation of the food and the body.

I tested my cholesterol at the end of the 30 days and for the first time in my life and to my knowledge, my good cholesterol was nicely above the recommended level, and total cholesterol about 20% lower than earlier in the year. Body fat also fell from 16% to around 11%.

Friday, May 07, 2010

BBC: How to live a Simple Life - Rev Peter Owen Jones

I just caught the last five minutes of this programme. When I read about it earlier today, I thought it sounded kind of cool, the premise of it being that Peter gives up money and tries living the simple life. As someone with little money and who lifes a pretty simple life, I thought it would chime well with my broad outlook.

Alas, based on the last five minutes, it didn't mesh very well at all. In the clip I saw, Jones barters for a box of cornflakes and a loaf of bread with a large box of home grown tomatoes and a sack of walnuts, a wholly inefficient exchange. Now, living from barter and charity is all fine, and it can bring society together (although I guess it helps if you have a camera crew around you), but the idea that money is all about pointless, hedonistic consumerism and that we have lost our way gets my goat. Money is an efficient medium of exchange, and prices determined in competitive markets produce gains that simply cannot be produced elsewhere, and it leaves everyone for the better (in most instances).

I think it's about time the BBC makes a documentary praising the free market, perhaps combining it with a reality programme where they put a group of people on an island and only allow barter, and a group on another island where they introduce money. They could run a series of experiments where they highlight the benefits of free market.

Here are some more ideas for the documentary:

- People harp on about airmiles and locally produced foods. Compare low air mile, British ingredient based foods against imported food and assess how this improves the standards of the people abroad who are busting a gut to sell it to us to improve their living standards.
- Go wider, and calculate how much money we save each year from trading in goods we could make at home and how this benefits us in other ways. We can consume more items at a cheaper price and this allows us to direct our scarce resources to more productive uses.
- Look at government policies such as subsidies to various industries and highlight how much this is costing all us and that while it makes for nice headlines, it's just a transfer of wealth from the poor and deserving to the inefficient.
- Explore our system of property rights and how other countries can't get off the ground because this key buliding block isn't in place.
- Look back at other systems and philosophies such as communism, and show how the free man in an open society is the happiest of all!

The list is endless. Somebody needs to stand up for the free market, as it's getting smothered day by day. Tim Harford...are you listening? I think it's time for another economics show!

Wow ... now that's some action

Fortunes made and lost in a day. Dow was down 9% at one point in the day.

Iron Man 2

There's a bit much going on, but it's action packed fun all the way. Sam Rockwell (aka Hammer) steals the show by a mile.

**** - I'm rounding up because I've been on a bit of an egg eating frenzy of late and in the film Tony Stark serves up a spinach and egg omelette in one scene, and he mentions omelettes again near the end (when I got home at just after midnight, I made my own Iron Man omelette in honor of the film!).

Wednesday, May 05, 2010

Egg on a fish

This is good revision food - high in protein, pretty low in carbs (to avoid the energy dip), and quick to make.

Recipe: Chop up an onion and fry for a minute or so. Chuck in a tin of mackeral in tomato sauce and break up the pieces a little. Add a smigeon of chili powder, salt and pepper, and a splash of soy sauce. Cook for two minutes. Drop an egg in the middle. Cook for two minutes longer. Chuck a pitta bread in the toaster and place the pan under a grill to heat the egg from the top down. Empty into a plate and enjoy.

I really surprised myself with this. The flavours balanced out just right, and it had major umami-ness going on.

The dish was supposed to be a pre-dinner snack, but it's four hours later I'm still feeling nicely filled up. Om nom nom.

Tuesday, May 04, 2010

The futility of voting (or 'Why I disagree with Stephen Fry')

He comes back from the wilderness and says:

I really do not mind how you vote, but I think you should. The ‘I can’t make a difference’ assertion is neither true, nor impressive, nor amusing, nor worthy, nor dignified. It is lazy, cowardly and inane. In Australia and some other countries voting is compulsory. Maybe it should be here too.
I agree with the good Fry on most matters, but on this topic we go in different directions. My rebuttal:

- Principal point: My vote does NOT make a difference, in the rational sense. Google 'Public Choice Theory' and the 'Paradox of Voting' for more on voting as a fundamentally irrational pursuit from an expected value perspective. As a headline grabber, here's a quote from an economics paper by Andrew Gelman (and other) 'On average, a voter in America had a 1 in 60 million chance of being decisive in the presidential election.'

- Okay, so if I did have the swinging vote the impact and value of that vote could be massive. However, with little separating the political parties, the alternatives are all much of a muchness, imo.

- What about the utility or satisfaction of casting my vote? I consider it a chore and have better things to do. Like watching tv or making an omelette, or eating a good piece of cheese. One man's cheese is another man's vote, and I like cheese.

- Cliche response 1: 'If everyone took that view and didn't vote then ...' Um, everyone doesn't take that view. It's a bit like saying 'If pigs flew, then ...' only stupider because the less people vote, the greater will be the impact of my vote, and thus the greater will be the likelihood of me going to the polling booth.

- Cliche response 2: 'If you don't vote, you have no right to complain about the government' Okay, so I have no right to complain about anything outside of my control? Rubbish.

Will I fight tooth and nail for the right to vote? Probably. Am I choosing an outlook that supports my inherent lazy bias? History suggests this could be true. But the above points all stand and I will remain sitting. I haven't cast a single political vote in my short life to date, and I feel all the cleaner for it.

Dubai gigapan

Wow...I was able to zoom in to near my sister/brother-in laws flat in great detail on this site. Great technology.

Monday, May 03, 2010

Watch out for

They basically did a psuedo-shut down of my browser, saying viruses and other malware had been detected and asking me to download a piece of code/patch to fix the problem. The web-page imitates the Windows defense system and it's easy to be deceived. Do not download or activate anything if this happens on your machine. Just close down your browser, or the tab, and run a full scan (I use Microsoft Defender) to be sure they haven't polluted your machine any which way.

Cheeky monkeys!

A couple more vitamin d correlations (new stories)

  • "Women should take up to ten times the current recommended dose of vitamin D during pregnancy, experts have said after it was found to cut premature birth by half." - Story in the Telegraph.
  • "Among patients who have suffered a traumatic brain injury, vitamin D deficiency is associated with an increased likelihood of having chronic fatigue, Dutch researchers found." - Study cited by MedPage.
Just as a reminder, I'm basically typing 'Vitamin D' in to Google News every now and then to see if there are any negative findings warning me to stop supplementing. As of yet, it I haven't found anything of substance in that direction.

Fry me a river

I thought Stephen Fry's blog had gone in to a semi-disrepair. It turns out that he was in self-imposed isolation in LA, so he could write a book.

The guy knows how to put e-ink to digital display (i.e. modern pen to modern paper), so whatever he's been working on should be good reading. As for his early wake-ups, I may have to take a leaf out of Fry's book and see if it helps my studies:

'I write in the mornings, the very early mornings, from about 5am till lunchtime, which allows afternoons and early evenings for other things. Bed by nine if I can and then the same the next day and the next and the next until it’s done. A peculiar life, but it seems to be the only way to coax a book out of me.'

Saturday, May 01, 2010

Quick thought - protein carb debate and genotypes

There are many examples around the world of peoples who consume protein and fat and pretty much no fruit or vegetables, and they don't seem much the worse for it. Then there are other peoples who get by just fine on a diet of high GI carbs (e.g. starchy foods).

This makes me think that the current dietary advice dished out to us is not very useful, especially if our ancestoral background is not rooted in the same geographical region. Perhaps somebody somewhere should be looking into creating a nutrigenomic profiling start-up that send people a breakdown of foods that are best suited to their genetic profile.