BEST OF THE WEB: ‘Bad advice’: Group of doctors in Canada lobby to change Food Guide, calling for more meat and fat in diet and less carbs and sugar

Allen Bradshaw, a pathologist from Abbotsford, B.C., is part of a group of doctors from across the country who have been on a crusade to change the way Canadians are told to eat.

For the past two years, she and her colleague Dr. Carol Loffelmann, an anesthesiologist in Toronto, have spent much of their free time travelling the country, urging colleagues and regular Canadians alike to eat fewer carbohydrates than what’s recommended by the government and indulge in fat from sources such as steak and cheese – even if that flies in the face of conventional wisdom.

It’s all they can do as they wait to see whether Health Canada will heed the message from their grassroots campaign.

Since 2016, the women, who founded Canadian Clinicians for Therapeutic Nutrition, a national non-profit, have lobbied the government, with letters, an Ottawa meeting and a parliamentary petition signed by nearly 5,000 Canadians, to reconsider the diet advice they believe Health Canada plans to deliver in the next iteration of the Food Guide, which is due out in early 2019, according to a Health Canada spokesperson.

Allen Bradshaw and Loffelmann, who works at St. Michael’s Hospital, say some of the new recommendations may not be based on the most current, relevant scientific evidence and could continue to make Canadians overweight, reliant on medication and suffer from diabetes, fatty liver disease and metabolic syndrome.

In an email to the Star, Health Canada said that as the new advice is finalized, it is also updating its evidence base with the latest nutrition science and that too will be released to the public in early 2019.

“The Food Guide has benefited from the input of many stakeholders,” the email said. “We are taking all feedback into consideration.”

Over coffee on a recent morning in downtown Toronto, the women, who met online, said the coming recommendations, which are based, in part, on evidence reviews released by Health Canada in 2015, will likely tell Canadians to limit added sugar and encourage them to eat whole, rather than processed foods. Those are good things, they said.

But, they said, Health Canada continues to hold strong on evidence that’s outdated and incomplete. For instance, they said some studies show that diets low in saturated fat, from sources such as beef and butter, are associated with heart disease.

But the jury of science is still deliberating on the full impact of saturated fat on health and so, the women said, in those cases and others, the Food Guide should remain “silent.” Or, conduct a rigorous, independent review of the research.

The women’s crusade began several years ago with their own, quiet struggles to lose weight.

After giving birth to her second child, Loffelmann dutifully followed the diet advice, informed by the Food Guide, that she learned in medical school. She ate whole grains, substituting whole wheat for white pasta, and leaned off the butter. Heeding the guide’s deeper advice to move more and eat less, she took up high-intensity exercise. But over time, her waistline expanded.

On the other side of the country, Allen Bradshaw, who was on the same kind of diet, struggled to lose weight and overcome gestational diabetes during her third pregnancy.

Independently, the two women began a search for answers diving deep into the scientific literature. What they found was that much of the Food Guide’s advice was not supported by the most current science.

So they started experimenting. Eating the opposite of the country’s nationally sanctioned advice by indulging in full fat yogurt and ditching the bowls of rice and pasta, they both lost weight. And stopped feeling hungry all the time.

The two took to the internet, sharing their successes with a small group of mom physicians across the country, who, to their surprise, were receptive. The small group grew as the women shared their results. Over time, they heard from doctors across Canada who began prescribing the same type of anti-food guide diet to their patients.

“All of a sudden, doctors are seeing their patients get off medication, losing weight and their markers of disease are dropping and their disease is going away,” Allen Bradshaw said.

That was a turning point for the women.

Armed with a letter signed by 190 physicians, they sent it to Health Canada in 2016, saying that in the 35-plus years since the government entered the country’s kitchens, the population has grown fat and sick.

Their letter urged the bureaucrats, who were at that point relying on evidence available in 2014, to consider the most current studies available. The letter added: “Stop using any language suggesting that sustainable weight control can simply be managed by creating a caloric deficit.”

The response was a form letter. The women answered it with a more detailed version of their initial correspondence, this time citing the current, relevant studies and signed by 700 medical professionals including doctors, nurses and pharmacists. They received a deeper response from federal Health Minister Ginette Petitpas Taylor.

It said her ministry was relying on “high quality reports with systematic reviews of associations between food and health” from federal agencies in the U.S. and around the world. And that it continued to monitor for more evidence.

After more of a back and forth, the physicians were invited to Ottawa for a meeting with Health Canada.

It was a warm May morning this year when the women, along with three others, including Dr. Andrew Samis, a critical care and stroke physician from Kingston, Ont., stood outside the parliamentary building that houses Health Canada’s headquarters. They took a deep breath. Within minutes, they were spirited to a boardroom.

Over two hours, they explained their position, including, Samis said, that science on saturated fat remains incomplete and the government should reconsider the evidence it uses and how it evaluates what evidence to use for its recommendations.

He also told the bureaucrats, including Hasan Hutchinson, director general at Health Canada’s Office of Nutrition Policy and Promotion, that Canadians, a multicultural lot, should be given several diet options, rather than a one size fits all. To varying degrees, he said, the research supports five legitimate diets, including plant-based, low fat, Mediterranean, ancestral paleo – fruits, vegetables and lots of protein – and keto, meaning low carb, high fat. Samis said: “We felt they were really listening.”

But shortly after the meeting, Samis heard Hutchinson on the radio plugging the old, tired advice. “It was disappointing,” he said.

The group’s last attempt at persuading lawmakers was a parliamentary petition signed by 5,000 Canadians and presented on Sept. 26 in the House of Commons urging lawmakers to conduct an external review of the evidence before unleashing new, potentially harmful advice on the public.

With that, the doctors have been left to wait. And spread their message in webinars and talks large and small across the country.

At CFB Trenton, Allen Bradshaw, who spent 14 years in the Canadian army as a medic, drank in the atmosphere and relished the nostalgia of her time in the reserves, where she assisted army doctors in tending to injured soldiers. The crowd, she said, ate up her anti-diet advice especially the edict that society has to stop blaming patients who follow the Food Guide and fail to lose weight, she said. “It’s not their fault.”

Plant hallucinogen Ayahuasca shows promise for diabetes treatment

For centuries, some indigenous groups in South America have relied on a brew made from the parts of a local vine and a shrub. The effects of this drink, called ayahuasca, would begin with severe vomiting and diarrhea, but the real reason for drinking the tea was the hallucinating that followed. These visions were thought to uncover the secrets of the drinker’s poor health and point the way to a cure.

Modern techniques have revealed that one of the compounds underlying these mystic experiences is the psychoactive drug harmine. What these first users of ayahuasca couldn’t have known was that, one day, this ingredient in their enlightening brew would be positioned as a key to treating diabetes.

Such a cure is a long way off, but researchers took another step toward it when they combined naturally occurring harmine with a compound synthesized from scratch in a lab. Together, the pair can coax the insulin-producing pancreatic cells, called beta cells, into replicating at the fastest rates ever reported, according to findings published December 20 in Cell Metabolism.

Type 1 diabetes arises when the body turns on these cells and destroys them. Type 2 diabetes develops when these same cells wear out and can no longer make insulin. Either effect is a point of no return because the beta cells we make in early life are the only ones we’ll ever have.

If this pair of compounds eventually inches into the treatment toolbox, refreshing a faded cell population could become a reality and a possible treatment for diabetes. “Looking back 10 years or so, we questioned whether human beta cells could even be coaxed into dividing,’ says Justin Annes, assistant professor of medicine and endocrinology at Stanford University, who also works on beta cell proliferation, with a separate investigator group. “But what began as a fantasy has become aspiration, and perhaps in the coming years, will be a reality.”

One stop on the trip to that reality was a 2015 study showing that harmine treatment of beta cells in a dish promoted their increase at a rate of about 2 percent per day. A promising beginning, says study author Andrew Stewart, scientific director of the Diabetes, Obesity, and Metabolism Institute at the Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai, but a little too slow for someone who needs a replacement population.

In this newest study, Stewart and his colleagues show that combining harmine with a synthetic inhibitor of another molecule kicks up the rate to 5-8 percent on average, and as high as 18 percent using some growth recipes. The one-two punch of this chemical pair isn’t the only possible combination, and other groups also are working on various pairings, Stewart says. Annes and his colleagues have identified several compounds that hold similar promise for pushing insulin-producing cells to reproduce.

“Basically, we’re all competing, but we all know each other so we share reagents and ideas,” says Stewart. “Different people have identified different drugs that make beta cells replicate.” His lab chose harmine because it’s the one they pulled out of their screening of 100,000 compounds in 2015, but “I don’t think harmine is especially better than any other one,” he says.

In 2006, another group of researchers plucked harmine from a molecular haystack in a search for chemicals that interact with a protein associated with Down syndrome. Studies that followed showed harmine’s role in many body systems, including the gut and the brain, explaining in part the effects of ayahuasca on its earliest adopters.

Harmine interferes with an enzyme called dual-specificity tyrosine-regulated kinase 1A, or DYRK1A. Like harmine, DYRK1A operates in a host of tissues. It helps, for one, in shaping the central nervous system during embryonic development. First identified because of its key involvement in Down syndrome, its routine duty is to add chemical tags to molecules to switch them on or off.

The other molecule in the synergizing pair is an inhibitor of a group of proteins in the transforming growth factor-beta superfamily (TGFβSF). As with DYRK1A, these proteins are active in a large number of body processes, including cell proliferation.

Stewart and his team homed in on TGFβSF and DYRK1A after probing the secrets of cells from benign pancreatic tumors called insulinomas. They reasoned that if they could pinpoint what made these tumors grow, they could co-opt that information to encourage growth of normal beta cells. Their exploration uncovered DYRK1A and TGFβSF-related targets.

Inhibiting these molecules in human beta cells in a dish shuts down the cell regulators that usually keep the brakes on cancer’s out-of-control cell growth. Because harmine and TGFβSF inhibitor release this brake and DYRK1A and TGFβSF are active in many tissues, any treatment involving the pair of inhibitors must be closely targeted. “Certainly, we have a long way to go before these medications can be used in humans,” says Annes, calling the concern about cancer risk “reasonable.”

Adding to that concern is that harmine affects other cell types, says Klaus Kaestner, professor of genetics and associate director of the Penn Diabetes Research Center at the University of Pennsylvania, who was not involved in the study. In 2016, his group reported that harmine triggers many types of hormone-producing cells to divide, including other cells in the pancreas.

Stewart and his colleagues are sorting through a number of potential chemical tags that might help guide the inhibitors to the right location. But for now, says Stewart, “we are Amazon and have a bunch of parcels, and we know that they’re for you, but we don’t know the address.”

Type 1 diabetes poses another hurdle. Although the immune system targets and destroys these cells in this form of diabetes, a small pool of beta cells often remains, Stewart says. What’s unknown is if a new population grown from these cells would simply attract further immune destruction. Stewart says that if the harmine-TGFβSF inhibitor combination ever makes it to trials, the population it might initially suit best are those who have type 2 diabetes. Then the journey from a South American rainforest to a clinical treatment would be complete.

Emily Willingham is a science writer and co-author with Tara Haelle of The Informed Parent: A Science-Based Resource for Your Child’s First Four years (TarcherPerigee, 2016). She writes at the intersection of brain research and society.

Only the tip of the iceberg: How toxins cause disease

Although the word toxin sounds scary, most people don’t grasp precisely how toxins interact with human physiology and how long this has been a problem for humans. Doctors noticed almost two hundred years ago that toxins like mercury were causing “mad hatter disease.” It was also known that toxicity from leaded water pipes was a major cause of the decline of the Roman Empire. But in the past, these toxins were largely limited to occupational exposure.

Only people who performed certain specific tasks- coal miners, who inhale coal dust, for example-were known to be casualties. Doctors didn’t consider the rest of the population to be at risk. But with the explosion of industrial activity and products, that has changed. Following more research, scientists and perceptive clinicians now better understand that toxicity affects most-if not all-of the population. The more research I look at and the more patients I care for, the more convinced I am that we are seeing only the tip of the iceberg.

How toxins damage our bodies

Basically, there are eight ways toxins damage our bodies.

Toxins poison enzymes so they don’t work properly.

Our bodies are enzyme engines. Every physiological function depends on enzymes to manufacture molecules, produce energy, and create cell structures. Toxins damage enzymes and thus undermine countless bodily functions-inhibiting the production of hemoglobin in the blood, for example, or lowering the body’s capacity to prevent the free-radical damage that accelerates aging.

Toxins displace structural minerals, resulting in weaker bones.

People need to maintain healthy bone mass for lifelong mobility. When toxins displace the calcium present in bone, there is a twofold effect: weaker skeletal structures and increased toxins, released by bone loss, which circulate throughout the body.

Toxins damage the organs.

Toxins damage nearly all your organs and systems. My book, The Toxin Solution, focuses specifically on the detox organs. If your digestive tract, liver, and kidneys are so toxic they are unable to detox effectively, your detoxification will backfire and your body will remain toxic.

Toxins damage DNA, which increases the rate of aging and degeneration.

Many commonly used pesticides, phthalates, improperly detoxified estrogens, and products containing benzene damage DNA.

Toxins modify gene expression.

Our genes switch off and on to adapt to changes in our bodies and the outer environment. But many toxins activate or suppress our genes in undesirable ways.

Toxins damage cell membranes so they don’t respond properly.

“Signaling” in the body happens in the cell membranes. Damage to these membranes prevents them from getting important messages-insulin not signaling the cells to absorb more sugar, for example, or muscle cells not responding to the message from magnesium to relax.

Toxins interfere with hormones and cause imbalances.

Toxins induce, inhibit, mimic, and block hormones. One example: Arsenic disrupts thyroid hormone receptors on the cells, so the cells don’t get the message from the thyroid hormones that cause them to rev up metabolism. The result is inexplicable fatigue.

Last but not least, toxins actually impair your ability to detoxify-and this is the worst problem of all.

When you are very toxic and desperately need to detoxify, it’s harder to do than when you are not toxic. In other words, just when you need your detox systems most (to address health issues), your hard-working detox system is most likely to be functioning below par. Why? Because the heavy toxic load you already carry has overwhelmed your detox capacity. That’s right. The more toxins you have burdening your body, the greater the damage to your body’s detoxification pathways.

That’s why restoring your detox organs-and with them your detox pathways-is such an important challenge (and why I devoted an entire book-The Toxic Solution-to the subject). The net result is that you then can readily release toxins from your body.

Dr. Joseph Pizzorno is the founder of Bastyr University and the co-author of The Encyclopedia of Natural Medicine. This article was excerpted from his latest book, THE TOXIN SOLUTION: How Hidden Poisons in the Air, Water, Food, and Products We Use are Destroying Our Health and What We Can Do To Fix It. Copyright 2017 by Dr. Joseph Pizzorno.

Reprinted with permission by HarperOne, a division of HarperCollinsPublishers.

Photo by Drew Hays on Unsplash

Clean your room! The problem with completing household chores in a timely manner

Chores are the worst.

I’m trying to construct an alternative theory of myself in which I’m a tidy person. It’s not going well. Walking my recycling from my apartment to the trash room down the hall takes me anywhere from two minutes to a month. I hate looking at broken-down boxes and empty LaCroix cans in my apartment, but studies say humans are bad at prioritizing long-term goals over instant gratification, and I apparently find doing anything else much more gratifying.

It doesn’t take a scientist to explain why I might put off other things, such as doing my dishes. Those are annoying and kind of gross, and the primary reward is just being able to use them in the future. Still, at a certain point, the anxiety of not having done these tasks surpasses the annoyance of doing them in the first place. That’s an entirely predictable cycle that many otherwise productive people find themselves in when it comes to simple household jobs: A chore that I could feel good about completing in 10 minutes instead stresses me out for days or weeks.

It can be hard to understand why this behavior is so common. The topic is tempting fodder for self-styled gurus wielding empty motivational platitudes, but the underlying cause is complex-an odd cocktail of emotional and psychological dynamics, all conspiring to let my bedding remain dirty for another week.

According to the DePaul University psychology professor Joseph Ferrari, there are two distinct types of people who have a problem completing household chores in a timely manner: task delayers and chronic procrastinators. The scientific distinction between the two is hazy, but it comes down to pervasiveness. You might feel overwhelmed by your aversion to housework, but on its own, it’s not enough to be indicative of a chronic problem. All people procrastinate sometimes, Ferrari says, but for chronic procrastinators, it happens in all areas of life and has a negative impact on a person’s health and relationships. It’s a “lifestyle of avoidance,” he says.

Ferrari’s research finds that description applies to about 20 percent of people. Simple task delayers are more common, but they usually have a much easier time building better habits than their chronic counterparts, which is good news for people whose primary problem is chore procrastination. We’re not that bad!

Part of the reason task delayers are lulled into their bad habits in the first place might be the time of the day or week when chores often occur. “Doing those tasks takes some self-control, and if you’ve made a lot of choices already that day, it’s harder to exert self-control,” says Roy Baumeister, a social psychologist and Florida State University professor. Baumeister is referring to a somewhat contested theory called “decision fatigue,” which holds that people’s brains get worn out by the necessity of being decisive and exercising restraint, usually at work. If you could sit at your desk and play Candy Crush all day like you might want to, washing some plates when you get home might not seem as onerous.

As any good chore procrastinator knows, the drama doesn’t simply end with deciding to do something later. For Gloria Fraser, a caretaker from Massachusetts, that’s where it just begins. She’s always considered herself a prompt, efficient person in her professional life, but the emotional baggage of housework makes personal chores more difficult. “There’s the negative tape going on in my head that I should have done something, and why did I wait until it got this bad,” she says. “So that’s piling up, and instead of doing it, I’m thinking about all the times I should have been. So I end up kind of catatonic over not doing stuff instead of doing that stuff.”

Guilt and shame can be big parts of procrastination if the procrastinator begins to internalize the desire to avoid dirty dishes as indicative of larger moral failings. “We bring other things to this besides the task itself, and we tell ourselves stories about who we could be if we just buckled down and did that thing,” says Liz Sumner, a life coach who helps older women break bad habits and be more productive. Sumner recommends breaking tasks into small, manageable steps, but those efforts can still be thwarted when people worry they aren’t changing or progressing quickly enough.

“A big problem people have is they attack themselves and not their behaviors,” Ferrari says. If task delayers can depersonalize their aversion to, say, vacuuming or litter-box changing, he believes, they stand a better chance at being able to evaluate it rationally, avoiding the shame cycle that can calcify negative behaviors into bad habits.

If a problem can be understood, maybe it can be fixed. Betsy Burroughs, a Silicon Valley branding executive turned neuroscience researcher, used to have a hard time keeping her home tidy. “It was just a disaster all the time,” she says. “But then I noticed that if I was having people over, not only would I clean the place up, but I’d actually enjoy cleaning it.” Her solution was to start a monthly conversation salon at her San Francisco loft, which ran for more than 12 years. Starting your own event series might be a little extreme for most people, but the idea of recognizing what you dislike and recontextualizing it as an element of something positive can be applied to most housework.

Being conscious of your habits does seem to have an impact on procrastination, but in ways more complicated than I had first assumed. In 2011, the Stanford University researcher Carol Dweck published findings that suggest decision fatigue more negatively affects people who already expect their willpower to be low. People who expect themselves to fail toward the end of the day, in other words, often do. Maybe task delayers could all be better around the house if we simply stopped granting the premise that “bad” is the default with which we are stricken. Procrastination researchers, it should be mentioned, all seem to answer their emails in a timely manner.

Still, a certain level of delay might just be an inescapable part of the human brain, especially when the task is tricky. When I asked Ferrari what the inflection point is between being a task delayer and a chronic procrastinator, he told me that was a complicated question. “Every two years, researchers on procrastination have an international meeting. We’ve been doing it for 20 years,” he says. “After each of these meetings, we walk away saying that we’ve got to get people to understand the difference between delaying and procrastination.” They haven’t arrived at an answer yet. Maybe the time for it, like the time for my recycling, will come soon.

Information overload: Attention is not a resource but a way of being alive to the world

We are drowning in information, while starving for wisdom.’ Those were the words of the American biologist E O Wilson at the turn of the century. Fast forward to the smartphone era, and it’s easy to believe that our mental lives are now more fragmentary and scattered than ever. The ‘attention economy’ is a phrase that’s often used to make sense of what’s going on: it puts our attention as a limited resource at the center of the informational ecosystem, with our various alerts and notifications locked in a constant battle to capture it.

That’s a helpful narrative in a world of information overload, and one in which our devices and apps are intentionally designed to get us hooked. Moreover, besides our own mental wellbeing, the attention economy offers a way of looking at some important social problems: from the worrying declines in measures of empathy through to the ‘weaponisation’ of social media.

The problem, though, is that this narrative assumes a certain kind of attention. An economy, after all, deals with how to allocate resources efficiently in the service of specific objectives (such as maximizing profit). Talk of the attention economy relies on the notion of attention-as-resource: our attention is to be applied in the service of some goal, which social media and other ills are bent on diverting us from. Our attention, when we fail to put it to use for our own objectives, becomes a tool to be used and exploited by others.

However, conceiving of attention as a resource misses the fact that attention is not just useful. It’s more fundamental than that: attention is what joins us with the outside world. ‘Instrumentally’ attending is important, sure. But we also have the capacity to attend in a more ‘exploratory’ way: to be truly open to whatever we find before us, without any particular agenda.

During a recent trip to Japan, for example, I found myself with a few unplanned hours to spend in Tokyo. Stepping out into the busy district of Shibuya, I wandered aimlessly amid the neon signs and crowds of people. My senses met the wall of smoke and the cacophony of sound as I passed through a busy pachinko parlour. For the entire morning, my attention was in ‘exploratory’ mode. That stood in contrast to, say, when I had to focus on navigating the metro system later that day.

Treating attention as a resource, as implied by the attention-economy narrative, tells us only half of the overall story – specifically, the left half. According to the British psychiatrist and philosopher Iain McGilchrist, the brain’s left and right hemispheres ‘deliver’ the world to us in two fundamentally different ways. An instrumental mode of attention, McGilchrist contends, is the mainstay of the brain’s left hemisphere, which tends to divide up whatever it’s presented with into component parts: to analyse and categorize things so that it can utilize them towards some ends.

By contrast, the brain’s right hemisphere naturally adopts an exploratory mode of attending: a more embodied awareness, one that is open to whatever makes itself present before us, in all its fullness. This mode of attending comes into play, for instance, when we pay attention to other people, to the natural world and to works of art. None of those fare too well if we attend to them as a means to an end. And it is this mode of paying attention, McGilchrist argues, that offers us the broadest possible experience of the world.

So, as well as attention-as-resource, it’s important that we retain a clear sense of attention-as-experience. I believe that’s what the American philosopher William James had in mind in 1890 when he wrote that ‘what we attend to is reality’: the simple but profound idea that what we pay attention to, and how we pay attention, shapes our reality, moment to moment, day to day, and so on.

It is also the exploratory mode of attention that can connect us to our deepest sense of purpose. Just note how many noninstrumental forms of attention practice lie at the heart of many spiritual traditions. In Awareness Bound and Unbound (2009), the American Zen teacher David Loy characterises an unenlightened existence (samsara) as simply the state in which one’s attention becomes ‘trapped’ as it grasps from one thing to another, always looking for the next thing to latch on to. Nirvana, for Loy, is simply a free and open attention that is completely liberated from such fixations. Meanwhile, Simone Weil, the French Christian mystic, saw prayer as attention ‘in its pure form’; she wrote that the ‘authentic and pure’ values in the activity of a human being, such as truth, beauty and goodness, all result from a particular application of full attention.

The problem, then, is twofold. First, the deluge of stimuli competing to grab our attention almost certainly inclines us towards instant gratification. This crowds out space for the exploratory mode of attention. When I get to the bus stop now, I automatically reach for my phone, rather than stare into space; my fellow commuters (when I do raise my head) seem to be doing the same thing. Second, on top of this, an attention-economy narrative, for all its usefulness, reinforces a conception of attention-as-a-resource, rather than attention-as-experience.

At one extreme, we can imagine a scenario in which we gradually lose touch with attention-as-experience altogether. Attention becomes solely a thing to utilise, a means of getting things done, something from which value can be extracted. This scenario entails, perhaps, the sort of disembodied, inhuman dystopia that the American cultural critic Jonathan Beller talks about in his essay ‘Paying Attention’ (2006) when he describes a world in which ‘humanity has become its own ghost’.

While such an outcome is extreme, there are hints that modern psyches are moving in this direction. One study found, for instance, that most men chose to receive an electric shock rather than be left to their own devices: when, in other words, they had no entertainment on which to fix their attention. Or take the emergence of the ‘quantified self‘ movement, in which ‘life loggers’ use smart devices to track thousands of daily movements and behaviours in order to (supposedly) amass self-knowledge. If one adopts such a mindset, data is the only valid input. One’s direct, felt experience of the world simply does not compute.

Thankfully, no society has reached this dystopia – yet. But faced with a stream of claims on our attention, and narratives that invite us to treat it as a resource to mine, we need to work to keep our instrumental and exploratory modes of attention in balance. How might we do this?

To begin with, when we talk about attention, we need to defend framing it as an experience, not a mere means or implement to some other end.

Next, we can reflect on how we spend our time. Besides expert advice on ‘digital hygiene’ (turning off notifications, keeping our phones out of the bedroom, and so on), we can be proactive in making a good amount of time each week for activities that nourish us in an open, receptive, undirected way: taking a stroll, visiting a gallery, listening to a record.

Perhaps most effective of all, though, is simply to return to an embodied, exploratory mode of attention, just for a moment or two, as often as we can throughout the day. Watching our breath, say, with no agenda. In an age of fast-paced technologies and instant hits, that might sound a little … underwhelming. But there can be beauty and wonder in the unadorned act of ‘experiencing’. This might be what Weil had in mind when she said that the correct application of attention can lead us to ‘the gateway to eternity … The infinite in an instant.’

About the author

Dan Nixon is a freelance writer whose work has appeared in The Sunday Times, The Economist and The Guardian, among others. He also leads Perspectiva’s initiative into the workings of the attention economy and is a senior researcher at The Mindfulness Initiative. He lives in London.

Multimillion $ industry: Colonoscopy found to be far more ‘dangerous and potentially deadly’ than previously thought

The procedure known as colonoscopies as a prophylactic for colon cancer is a multimillion dollar industry. Every year, over 14 million perfectly healthy individuals age 50 and up, submit themselves to this invasive procedure hoping to detect colorectal cancer. But is it really effective?

It’s a Painful and Dangerous Procedure

It’s actually far more dangerous-and potentially deadly-than they’d like to admit. According The Annals Of Internal Medicine’s report on colonoscopies, an estimated 70,000 (0.5%) will be injured or killed by a complication related to this procedure. This figure is 22% higher than the annual deaths from colorectal cancer itself – the very disease the device was designed to prevent.

According to the Telemark Polyp Study I, colonoscopies actually increase mortality by 57% . For every person saved by a colonoscopy, 56 people suffer serious injury. A person can live for decades with colon cancer, but if the doctor punctures a hole in your intestine, you can die in a hurry.

It is very possible, and clinically proven, that you can be infected by HPV (Human Papilloma Virus); HIV; Mycobacterium tuberculosis, Helicobacter pylori,; Hepatitis B and C; Salmonella; Pseudomonas and Aeruginosa; Flu Viruses and other common bacteria such as, E. Coli O157:H7 and Creutzfeldt- Jakob Disease.

Colonoscopy Does NOT Prevent Cancer

According to the American Cancer Society, up until 2009 “…there are no prospective randomized controlled trials of screening colonoscopy for the reduction in incidence of or mortality from colorectal cancer.”

From an article in the New York Times, dated 2006; “The patients in all the studies had at least one adenoma detected on colonoscopy but did not have cancer. They developed cancer in the next few years, however, at the same rate as would be expected in the general population without screening.”

Another research study published in 2006 concluded that the screened patients in all of the studies developed colorectal cancer “at the same rate as would be expected in the general population without screening” in the next few years, even though all found polyps had been removed.

Colonoscopy is a Scam

It is a scam to make pharmaceutical industry and doctors rich. The AMA has conspired to make colonscopy screening a policy for preventative care when it is an unnecessary invasive procedure. Radiation levels from a single virtual colonoscopy are similar to the atomic bomb exposure in Hiroshima, even though, according to The National Cancer Institute: “Whether virtual colonoscopy can reduce the number of deaths from colorectal cancer is not yet known.”

A non invasive test known as a fecal immunochemical test is just as effective.

References:

The Dangers Of Colonoscopies

Colorectal Cancer Screening; National Cancer Institute; Oct 2008; [link]

Seeff LC, et al.; How many endoscopies are performed for colorectal cancer screening? Results from CDC’s survey of endoscopic capacity. Gastroenterology. 2004;127: 1670-1677.

Study Questions Colonoscopy Effectiveness; The New York Times; G. Colata; Dec 14, 2006;

Source: Living Traditionally

Women who emotionally abuse men

We’ve all seen it. And heard it. You’re in a restaurant. There’s a man there with his girlfriend. As people are eating and socializing, you can’t help but notice. When the man tries to speak, he is cut off by his girlfriend. She mocks him when he tells a story that might make him look good, and finishes his jokes for him. When the waiter brings the menus, she makes fun of his selection. While she complains about spending money on him all the time, you can’t help but notice that he is paying for all of her drinks. By the end of the night she is berating him outright, and as they exit the restaurant, the woman is in a full rage spiral, yelling about something unrelated to anything that has happened in the last three hours. No one says anything.

It’s called emotional abuse. It’s well-documented when men inflict it on female victims. Less well known is when women do it to men. While the emotional abuse of women is discussed on Oprah, in bestsellers, and everywhere in pop culture and in academia, there are virtually no resources for men who have been emotionally abused. Google searches turn up very few resources. Books on the subject are mostly broadsides that have not been properly researched and substitute academic rigor for attacks on feminism.

And yet every person I know – and I’m betting everyone reading these words – knows a man who has been victimized by emotional abuse. All you have to do is ask around. I did just that recently when I was researching the epidemic of men and suicide, and what I found was disturbing. One man, a friend from childhood, told a story that seemed like a kind of slow emotional torture.

When he met his future wife ten years ago, he was captivated by her beauty, but also by her wicked sense of humor and ability to intelligently cut others, mostly pop culture figures, down to size. They were like a team, and had a child together. After a couple years, something changed. Her wit was now more often than not turned on him, first as sarcastic jibes and then as outright abuse. She complained that he didn’t make enough money, and soon he felt like nothing he did was enough. She began to withhold affection, and her mood was so unpredictable that he felt like anything he said or did would be attacked. The sarcasm that once brought him a jolt of joy now cut him apart. More than once his wife called him in an incoherent rage about something he didn’t understand. Strangest of all, she began to lie about certain things yet seemed convinced she was telling the truth. Weeks after a weekend in Las Vegas – which he had paid for – she complained that she was “tired of paying for our vacations.” After the divorce, she insisted on having their daughter on the days when he wanted to take her to play basketball, her favorite sport.

My friend had married an emotionally abusive person, and someone who may have even had a serious personality disorder. The effect on him was devastating. He was depressed and felt confused, and even mentioned suicide. He felt anxious whenever she was around. He’s still dealing with it years after the divorce.

One of the few people who understood him was Dr. Tara J. Palmatier, the author of a forthcoming ebook Say Goodbye to Crazy: How to Rid Yourself of that Crazy Ex and Restore Sanity to Your Life. Dr. Palmatier runs a website, Shrink4Men.com. She’s one of the few people in the mental health field talking about the emotional abuse of men. In one post on her blog, Palmatier itemized the ten behaviors characteristic of emotionally abusive women:

  • Bullying
  • Unreasonable expectations
  • Verbal attacks
  • Gaslighting (lying and then claiming he is crazy)
  • Unpredictable responses
  • Constant chaos
  • Emotional blackmail
  • Rejection
  • Withholding affection and sex
  • Isolating

The result?

You’re constantly on edge, walking on eggshells, and waiting for the other shoe to drop. This is a trauma response. You’re being traumatized by her behavior. Because you can’t predict her responses, you become hyper vigilant to any change in her mood or potential outburst, which leaves you in a perpetual state of anxiety and possibly fear. It’s a healthy sign to be afraid of this behavior. It’s scary. Don’t feel ashamed to admit it.

One of the difficulties with addressing the emotional abuse of men is that things today are so politically polarized it’s hard to have a calm discussion about it. Feminists have worked so hard over the last fifty years to turn men from ogres into enlightened companions that they feel any concession that women are also capable of abuse is a betrayal of the cause. There is a massive infrastructure in academia, politics, and pop culture that serves to support women who are abused by men. This is a good thing, as violence against women remains prevalent and a problem. Yet abuse experts have argued that emotional abuse can be worse than physical abuse. A punch to the face leaves obvious proof, evidence to use with the police to put the assailant behind bars. Emotional abuse, which men can tolerate and excuse away as normal, can go on for years, leaving a person weak, desperate, and profoundly suicidal. They have lost themselves.

On the other side of the political spectrum, conservatives tend to scream that feminism is to blame when the discussion of abusive women comes up. Every woman who gets off a funny line about men instantly becomes Medusa. This trivializes genuine emotional abuse, and often masks simple misogyny. (This, sadly, seems the case with Paul Elam, Dr. Palmatier’s co-author on Say Goodbye to Crazy. Palmatier is a brilliant analyst, but in video conversations with her, Elam comes across as angry and crude.)

Just as anecdotal evidence indicates that the emotional abuse of men is more widespread than the media reports, it also reveals that emotional abuse doesn’t have much to do with politics. The abused tend to become abusers, a terrible reality that has more to do with the soul and psyche than who’s running congress. Liberal and conservative women are caring and supportive partners. They can also – just like men – be pathological narcissists who torture their husbands and boyfriends.

How to recover from holiday feasting: Holiday fasting

It took a few years, but my friends and family are very supportive of my diet and fasting. In fact, most of them try to watch their intake of refined carbs and fast here and there throughout most of the year. Notice how I say MOST of the year. They rarely stick to it during the holidays, which makes it difficult for me when I’m trapped in a house full of gingerbread on Christmas Day.

Regardless of how supportive (or unsupportive) our family members are during the holidays, we are still bombarded with temptation. I often feel like my mother’s home is a crack house on Christmas Day, and I’m a recovering crack addict. Just replace the crack with crackers in my case. It can be really tempting to go off the deep end with carbs during this time of year when we’re surrounded by all these treats.

My biggest issue over the years has been the “all or nothing” syndrome. I either eat ALL the processed carbs or NONE of the processed carbs. Note how I say processed carbs. I’ve ever eaten enough brussels sprouts to kick me out of ketosis (fat burning).

If I caved and had one cracker, then I ended up eating the box of crackers. I would think “to hell with it!” A few hours later I would feel sick, tired and would be very upset with myself for what I had done. This would often lead to several days of bad eating before I would get back on track, often undoing a lot of the good progress I had made.

I had to come with terms that I couldn’t be all in with my diet 100% of the time. If I kept up that mentality, I would only yo-yo in weight and never really make any improvement in my health. Pizza is going to happen. Duck fat French fries are going to happen. Ginger bread cookies at Christmas are going to happen. Crackers are going to be at almost every party not hosted at my own home. These foods are going to be available until the entire world gets onboard with my lifestyle.

As soon as I changed my mentality, I started to shed the pounds and experience all the benefits of fasting and being in fat burning mode (ketosis) that I wasn’t experiencing before. It also made me “cheat” a lot less. I could have French fries if I really wanted them on occasion, they were no longer a completely forbidden food. This made it a lot easier to turn down subpar French fries or fries cooked in extra terrible fats during special feasts. Same with breads, crackers and ginger bread cookies. Also, I wouldn’t be as compelled to eat the entire box of crackers or cookies because I hadn’t “blown it”.

Switching to this mentality isn’t easy. It took a couple of years for me to embrace the idea that “all or nothing” wasn’t a sustainable way of living. In the meantime, I had to come up with strategies for myself to help me get back on track after a holiday meal that ended up in the consumption of too much sugar

Protocol for getting back on track after a few too many carbs: Fasting

*Make sure you always consult with your doctor before you do any sort of fasting

As we become more accustomed to this way of eating and receive more acceptance from our families, the more likely we’re going to be able to stick to it throughout the holidays. We may not be perfect nor do we have to be during times of celebration.

  1. Drink plenty of water before bed – hot, cold, room temperature, flat or sparking. Just drink water.
  2. Drink more water again in the morning.
  3. Have a large cup of home-made broth (I use chicken bone broth) or drink pickle juice first thing in the morning and then every three to four hours throughout the day.
  4. Drink two cups of water for every cup of tea and coffee you drink throughout the day but try to keep the tea and coffee consumption to a minimum.
  5. If you’re struggling to fast, then add some fat to your tea or coffee. Heavy cream, butter, ghee, coconut oil and MCT oil are great fats to include.

Protocol for getting back on track after more than a few carbs: Meal timing

Sometimes we get a little carried away during the feast without going wild. You might think you’ll be safe to fast the next day but are really struggling with food cravings and headaches. You don’t need to jump into a fast right away after a feast. This is my preferred protocol to follow after I consume any excess carbs during a celebratory meal with friends and family.

  1. DO NOT SNACK! Get back to basics and focus on meal timing. Eat a low carb, healthy fat breakfast, lunch and dinner.
  2. Try to eat your heaviest meal at lunchtime.
  3. Try to eat your dinner earlier on in the evening if you can,
  4. Between meals stick to water, tea, coffee, broth and pickle juice.
  5. Drink two cups of water for every cup of tea and coffee you drink throughout the day but try to keep the tea and coffee intake to a minimum.

Protocol for getting back on track after A LOT of carbs: Fat fasting

One of the biggest problems I see is when people feel SO BAD about overdoing it with the carbs, that they decide they’re going to do a long fast after. Don’t. You’re likely going to get too dehydrated and feel miserable. This is where the fat fasting is your best tool to get you back on track. You’ll find that it takes usually between three and seven days to get you back on track. You’ll still drop those holiday pounds when you fat fast too!

Click here to review our protocol for fat fasting.

Happy Moo-Year: Dairy cows are the new therapy dogs, helping college students de-stress during finals

First, there were therapy dogs in local schools. Then there were yoga goats on local farms. Now, a herd of dairy farm cows has gone back to school – to help college students de-stress before their tests.

This month, the Lansing State Journal reported on a new program at Michigan State University allowing students to brush dairy cows to chill out during final exams week.

PEOPLE reached out to Andrea Meade, Farm Manager at the Michigan State University Dairy Cattle Teaching and Research Center, to learn more about this unique human-animal bonding experience. She had been looking for ways to get students outside the College of Agriculture and Natural Resources aware of the dairy farm. Meade was also particularly keen on finding “a new way to utilize the herd.”

“I have been following other trends in agriculture like ‘goat yoga’ and wanted to see if any MSU students would be interested in a similar experience,” says Meade.

Meade tells PEOPLE that about 50 students participated in the program, including MSU undergrads as well as a few PhD candidates. She says the animal group consisted of 35 cows, ranging in age from 2 to 10 years old, who were specially picked out for brushing sessions.

“We had Christmas music playing, and all of the students remarked how much they had enjoyed getting to meet the cows,” Meade tells PEOPLE. “The cows very much enjoyed this event; I would say they equally enjoyed brushing and petting. Social grooming is an important natural behavior for cows. You can always tell when a cow is relaxed because she will be chewing her cud … Rumination [cud chewing] is when the cow regurgitates the food she has stored in her first stomach [cows have four stomach compartments], chews it, and actually starts digesting it. We always look for cows that are chewing their cud as a sign that they are relaxed and feeling safe and comfortable. Many of the visitors got to see this as they brushed. Many of the cows were so relaxed, that they laid down and took a nap!”

However, not all of the cows were sleepy, and Meade says she encouraged students to talk to the cows, too.

“Cows are great listeners and you can tell how they are feeling by the way they hold their ears, much like a horse,” she says.

So, what’s the best technique for brushing cows? Meade says people should approach them slowly, staying out of their blind spot, which is directly behind them. The farm had two types of brushes available, so students were able to choose which brush felt best.

“I encouraged everyone to put their hand on the cows so the cows knew where they were at all times,” Meade explains. “From there, most people started on the top of the cow and worked their way down. It was interesting to see that some people picked one cow and worked on her the entire time, while others bounced around from cow to cow.”

Meade says that cows are similar to dogs, “because they are very soulful, calm animals.” She says this with the caveat that “they are not the world’s smartest animals, but [they’re] just smart enough to sometimes get in trouble. They are very social, group-oriented animals that hate to be alone, and they have very strong social structures, just like a pack of dogs.”

For Christmas, Meade says the cows will be up to their “normal” routine: eating, sleeping and making milk. And because work on a dairy farm doesn’t stop – not even for holidays – the team of dedicated full-time employees and student staff will be there throughout Christmas, into the new year (and beyond) to take care of the cows.

While this was the MSU dairy center’s first-ever cow brushing event, Meade and staff think it went very well overall; they hope to do it during next semester’s finals week, too. Although the team kept the cow therapy event small this time and limited to students, they may open it to the general public in the future so people can get a glimpse of where (and who!) their milk comes from.

The farm is open to the public from 7 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. every day, and self-guided tours are available all year around.

Happy Moo-Year from the Michigan State University Dairy Cattle Teaching and Research Center therapy cows!

Are people forgetting how to read?


Author of Solitude: A Singular Life in a Crowded World and The End of Absence: Reclaiming What We’ve Lost in an Age of Constant Connection.

Turning, one evening, from my phone to a book, I set myself the task of reading a single chapter in one sitting. Simple. But I couldn’t. There was nothing wrong with my eyes. No stroke or disease clouded my way. Yet – if I’m being honest – the failure was also not a surprise.

Paragraphs swirled; sentences snapped like twigs; and sentiments bled out. The usual, these days. I drag my vision across the page and process little. Half an hour later, I throw down the book and watch some Netflix.

Out for dinner with another writer, I said, “I think I’ve forgotten how to read.”

“Yes!” he replied, pointing his knife. “Everybody has.”

“No, really,” I said. “I mean I actually can’t do it any more.”

He nodded: “Nobody can read like they used to. But nobody wants to talk about it.”

For good reason. It’s embarrassing. Especially for someone like me. I’m supposed to be an author – words are kind of my job. Without reading, I’m not sure who I am. So, it’s been unnerving to realize: I have forgotten how to read – really read – and I’ve been refusing to talk about it out of pride.

Books were once my refuge. To be in bed with a Highsmith novel was a salve. To read was to disappear, become enrobed in something beyond my own jittery ego. To read was to shutter myself and, in so doing, discover a larger experience. I do think old, book-oriented styles of reading opened the world to me – by closing it. And new, screen-oriented styles of reading seem to have the opposite effect: They close the world to me, by opening it.

In a very real way, to lose old styles of reading is to lose a part of ourselves.

For most of modern life, printed matter was, as the media critic Neil Postman put it, “the model, the metaphor, and the measure of all discourse.” The resonance of printed books – their lineal structure, the demands they make on our attention – touches every corner of the world we’ve inherited. But online life makes me into a different kind of reader – a cynical one. I scrounge, now, for the useful fact; I zero in on the shareable link. My attention – and thus my experience – fractures. Online reading is about clicks, and comments, and points. When I take that mindset and try to apply it to a beaten-up paperback, my mind bucks.

Author Nicholas Carr (The Shallows) writes that, “digital technologies are training us to be more conscious of and more antagonistic toward delays of all sorts.” We become, “more intolerant of moments of time that pass without the arrival of new stimuli.” So, I throw down the old book, craving mental Tabasco sauce. And yet not every emotion can be reduced to an emoji, and not every thought can be conveyed via tweet.

Even Eric Schmidt, the erstwhile chief executive of Google, was anxious about the mental landscape he was helping to cultivate. He once told Charlie Rose: “I worry that the level of interrupt, the sort of overwhelming rapidity of information … is in fact affecting cognition. It is affecting deeper thinking. I still believe that sitting down and reading a book is the best way to really learn something. And I worry that we’re losing that.” In fact, there’s a great deal of reporting now – from neuroscientists such as Susan Greenfield and Gary Small – to show that digital native brains do engage in concretely different ways from those of previous generations. Spend 10 hours a day staring at screens and – yes – your synapses will adapt.

For a long time, I convinced myself that a childhood spent immersed in old-fashioned books would insulate me somehow from our new media climate – that I could keep on reading and writing in the old way because my mind was formed in pre-internet days. But the mind is plastic – and I have changed. I’m not the reader I was.

When we become cynical readers – when we read in the disjointed, goal-oriented way that online life encourages – we stop exercising our attention. We stop reading with a sense of faith that some larger purpose may be served. This doesn’t mean we’re reading less – not at all. In fact, we live in a text-gorged society in which the most fleeting thought is a thumb-dash away from posterity. What’s at stake is not whether we read. It’s how we read. And that’s something we’ll have to each judge for ourselves; it can’t be tallied by Statistics Canada. For myself: I know I’m not reading less, but I also know I’m reading worse.

It’s no wonder why. Spend your life flashing between points of transitory data and a dog-eared novel begins to feel interminable.

Our sense of time has always been warped by our technologies. Church bells segmented the day into intervals. Factory whistles ushered workers. But the current barrage of alerts and pings leaves us more warped than ever. I’ve been trained not just to expect disruption, but to demand it. Back in 1890, William James wrote in The Principles of Psychology that “our sense of time seems subject to the law of contrast.” No kidding.

Marshall McLuhan believed that every technology “has the power to numb human awareness during the period of its first interiorization.” And it seems we have digested our devices; they can numb us, now, to the pleasure of patience. They can numb our enjoyment of that older literary experience.

The other day, I was spending time with a young niece – still a toddler – while she watched videos on her iPad. She was working her way through a YouTube playlist – in each video, a pair of hands opened a Kinder Surprise and assembled the toy inside. Thinking I was doing her a favor, I made the video full-screen. But this sent my niece into a panic. “Little TV!” she insisted. “Not big TV!” She needed the smaller screen format so as to monitor the lineup of videos still to come. Focusing, even for a minute, on a single video was no good. She needed the panoply, the stream, the comfort of attending entertainments.

The suggestion that, in a few generations, our experience of media will be reinvented shouldn’t surprise us. We should, instead, marvel at the fact we ever read books at all. Great researchers such as Maryanne Wolf and Alison Gopnik remind us that the human brain was never designed to read. Rather, elements of the visual cortex – which evolved for other purposes – were hijacked in order to pull off the trick. The deep reading that a novel demands doesn’t come easy and it was never “natural.” Our default state is, if anything, one of distractedness. The gaze shifts, the attention flits; we scour the environment for clues. (Otherwise, that predator in the shadows might eat us.) How primed are we for distraction? One famous study found humans would rather give themselves electric shocks than sit alone with their thoughts for 10 minutes. We disobey those instincts every time we get lost in a book.

Literacy has only been common (outside the elite) since the 19th century. And it’s hardly been crystallized since then. Our habits of reading could easily become antiquated. The writer Clay Shirky even suggests that we’ve lately been “emptily praising” Tolstoy and Proust. Those old, solitary experiences with literature were “just a side-effect of living in an environment of impoverished access.” In our online world, we can move on. And our brains – only temporarily hijacked by books – will now be hijacked by whatever comes next.

Victor Hugo once wrote that the book replaced architecture as “the great handwriting of the human race.” Is it so unreasonable to assume that our “great handwriting” will be scrawled by some other means tomorrow? How could it not?

What we’ll have to look out for is how cynical – how efficient and ruthlessly algorithmic – that next thing is going to be. “A book,” one author told me, “is really just a reverse-engineered TED Talk, right? It’s a platform that lets you do a speaking tour.”

For many writers, this is the new wisdom. A cynical style of reading gives way to a cynical style of writing. I’ve watched my own books become “useful” as they made their way into public conversation. I never meant them to be useful – in a self-help sense – but that was how they were often read. I say this with less reproach than surprise: Almost every interviewer has asked me for tips and practical life advice, despite the fact my books offer neither.

Meanwhile, I admit it: The words I write now filter through a new set of criteria. Do they grab; do they anger? Can this be read without care? Are the sentences brief enough? And the thoughts? It’s tempting to let myself become so cynical a writer because I’m already such a cynical reader. I am giving what I get.

In Silicon Valley, they have a saying that explains why an algorithm starts producing unwanted results: Garbage in, garbage out. The idea is that an algorithm can only work with the information you feed it. Aren’t writers – all creators – algorithmic in that way? Our job is to process what we consume. Beauty in, beauty out. Garbage in, garbage out.

So maybe that change into a cynical writer can be forestalled – if I can first correct my reading diet, remember how to read the way I once did. Not scan, not share, not excerpt – but read. Patiently, slowly, uselessly.

Books have always been time machines, in a sense. Today, their time-machine powers are even more obvious – and even more inspiring. They can transport us to a pre-internet frame of mind. Those solitary journeys are all the more rich for their sudden strangeness.