Misology: The hatred of reason and argument deprives us of truth and knowledge

In Plato’s Phaedo, the great philosopher Socrates has been sentenced to death for “corrupting” the youth of Athens. As he awaits his execution, he begins to discuss the afterlife with his students: Socrates believes the soul is immortal, while his students are sceptical. Arguments fly backwards and forwards, and it soon seems like they will never reach an agreement, when Socrates offers a warning.

“What we must beware of,” he said, “is becoming ‘misologists‘, hating arguments in the way ‘misanthropists’ hate their fellow men.

He goes on to argue that a hatred of people, and a hatred of reason, arise much the same way.

Misanthropy creeps in as a result of placing too much trust in someone without having the knowledge required: we suppose the person to be completely genuine, sound and trustworth, only to find a bit later that he’s bad an untrustworthy, and then it happens again with someone else; when we’ve experienced the same thing many times over, and especially when it’s with those we’d have supposed our nearest and dearest, we get fed up with making so many mistakes and so end up hating everyone and supposing no one to be sound in any respect.

Similarly, we may sometimes find that our cherished beliefs were baseless, without evidence: this is an inevitable consequence of thinking and learning. The rational behaviour would be to update our knowledge and learn from our mistakes. But the misologist instead begins to distrust everything – even the true and verifiable facts that appear before his eyes.

Wouldn’t it be quite a pitiable thing if there really were some true and stable argument, and yet because a person mixed with the sorts of arguments that now seem true, now false, he failed to blame himself, and his own lack of expertise, and instead eased his distress by happily shifting the blame from himself to his arguments, thus living out the rest of his life not only hating and abusing arguments but deprived of the truth of things and of knowledge about them?

Although recent scientific research hasn’t explicitly examined “misology”, Socrates’s term perfectly describes the growing distrust of expert judgement and reasoned debate. The sentiment is perhaps best encapsulated in Michael Gove’s statement that the people of Britain “have had enough of experts from organisations with acronyms saying that they know what is best and getting it consistently wrong.” This isn’t an isolated phenomenon: as The Atlantic recently reported, trust in various institutions such as the government, the media, or NGOs, has consistently declined over the last couple of years.
I especially like Socrates’ definition of misology since it helps us to understand his “intellectual humility”. By declaring that “I am wise because I know I know nothing”, he wasn’t claiming that we should reject all expert judgement (like Gove). Instead, he was arguing that we should learn to question and update our own beliefs in the face of new evidence – to keep a healthy balance between scepticism and open-mindedness. As I’ll be discussing in my book The Intelligence Trap, robust psychological evidence has demonstrated a multitude of benefits to this mindset.

Socrates points out “there’s nothing worse that can happen to anyone than coming to hate arguments”, since it eliminates any chance of living a rational life. If Plato’s account is correct, he was willing to die rather than be forced to foresake that philosophy.

Letter to doctors: It’s time to redefine ‘EMF sensitivity’

Even though I too am hypersensitive to EMF, I am concerned that the terms EMF Sensitivity and Hypersensitivity may be too compartmental, when the ramifications are so profound and universal. By identifying our symptoms as somehow unique to us alone, we are separating ourselves from the rest of humanity. We become “those” people, different from all the rest. However, there are at least two other categories: Those who are experiencing symptoms, but neither they nor their doctors are aware of the issue, and there could be millions of them. Then there those who are aware, but are not experiencing symptoms, so they feel free to ignore the issue, thinking it’s just “those” people who have a problem.

Unfortunately, EMF Sensitivity is not the same as an allergic reaction. Without intervention, those allergic to peanuts would likely die, while others can eat peanuts to their hearts content, with no ill effects, ever. But with EMF, the reality is that every living thing on the planet suffers damage when exposed to non-ionizing Radio Frequency radiation, whether you experience symptoms or not, whether you know it or not. If you are exposed, the damage is happening.

The first known study of EMF Sensitivity was published in the German Medical Weekly, 1932, by German physician Erwin Schliephake. He compiled scientific data about patients who were experiencing unusual symptoms around radio towers. He called this condition “microwave sickness” or “radio wave sickness.” The symptoms he observed were, in his words: Headaches to the point of intolerability. Severe tiredness and fatigue during the day. Fitful sleep at night. And high susceptibility to infection. The patient numbers, at that time, were few. However, by the 1950s, ’60s, and ’70s, the numbers, and list of symptoms, had grown enough to alarm scientists and militaries around the world. Numerous studies were undertaken, all showing biological harm from non-ionizing RF radiation.

By the 1990s and early 2000s, a new wave of patients, and an even longer list of symptoms, spurred independent institutions, scientists, and physicians to initiate their own studies, studies that continue to this day, and most of which result in an appeal to every government, industry and regulatory body on the planet to stop the proliferation of microwave radiation technologies. The biological effects result in life-threatening illness. Period.

Since 1932, when there were just radios and electric lights, the estimates for those with EMF Sensitivity have risen from statistically insignificant, to 2-5%, to 10-20%, to as much as 30% today. The obvious reason is that exposure to microwave radiation has grown exponentially, and has given rise to new dangers, such as pulsed, non-ionizing RF radiation, or modulated microwaves, produced by smart meters, as well as dirty electricity, which studies have shown to be just as harmful as the smart meters themselves.

Dirty electricity comes primarily from two sources, Solar System Inverters, converting DC power to AC power, and smart meters, which send pulsed, non-ionizing RF radiation to the powerlines, and send customer data over the powerlines, by adding additional frequencies. In addition, we now have a proliferation of WiFi gadgets, cell towers, and small cells on every empty surface imaginable, sometimes clusters of them. And as we speak, 5G and over 200 orbiting satellites are preparing to saturate the entire planet in microwave radiation. It’s frequency mayhem.

Every living thing, the earth itself, is an electromagnetic being, and functions optimally via a narrowly defined, predictable and consistent set of frequencies. In the human body, brain and heart function, chemical reactions, and cell communication are dependent on a defined set of frequencies. You cannot bombard it, with aberrant frequencies, every nano-second of every single day, without consequence. There is no Conspiracy Theory too outrageous to explain the monumental stupidity that is upon us.

It appears that EMF Sensitivity is not limited to a few “sensitive” people, but rather, the numbers are dependent on the amount of exposure, and the increasing distribution throughout the population at large. Also, EMF Sensitivity may not be a discrete affliction at all, but a precursor to serious illness, dependent as well on the cumulative effects of ever-increasing exposure to microwave radiation. Certain cancers, and cancer clusters are on the rise. And according to one mother, where a cancer cluster emerged, the students at San Diego State University, in California, suffered symptoms of EMF Sensitivity prior to a diagnosis of brain and breast cancer. And another mother stated that the children at Weston Elementary, in Ripon, California, experienced symptoms of EMF Sensitivity prior to their diagnosis of cancer. EMF Sensitivity is a warning sign, not an anomaly. What is also alarming about these two incidents is the rapid onset of illness after exposure to cell towers.

Studies done on cellphones and cancer show a duration of ten to twenty years before diagnosis. Yet the children, students, and teachers cited above were diagnosed in less than ten years after exposure to cell towers. No doubt most of these victims were exposed, at home and elsewhere, to a plethora of RF devices; smart meters, smart phones, laptops, Alexa, Echo, street lamps, utility poles with small cells, etc. So the cell towers simply accelerated the onset of illness.

It is my hope that physicians, across America, across the world, will incorporate EMF Sensitivity into their protocol, and perhaps even call it what it is, RF Radiation Sickness, which without remediation, can lead to serious illness. Health records could include a section titled EMF, asking-Do you have a cellphone, a smart meter, etc., are you wired or wireless? Another section could specify EMF symptoms, asking – Are you experiencing headaches, heart arrhythmia, eye problems, insomnia, brain fog, etc.? Then, for those suspected of EMF Sensitivity, instead of prescribing Excedrin or a sleeping pill, offer a booklet on how to mitigate EMF exposure, just like you would with a smoker, or a weight problem. You are our first line of defense. I would also hope that physicians establish a register that identifies EMF Sensitivity patients, by number, not name, as well as one that tracks their medical history going forward. Based on recent studies, microwave radiation has an impact on an array of illnesses, from Adrenal Exhaustion and Diabetes, to Parkinson’s Disease. The statistics will be invaluable.

Of course, above all, my prayer would be that physicians, across the board, speak out, in one voice, “Stop! Stop smart meters. Stop 5G. Because this is insanity! We are not dealing with a “sensitivity,” but an emerging pandemic with devastating consequences.”


Study finds red meat as part of a healthy diet linked to reduced risk of multiple sclerosis

People who consume unprocessed red meat as part of a healthy Mediterranean diet may reduce their risk of multiple sclerosis (MS), new research led by Curtin University and The Australian National University has found.

The research, published in The Journal of Nutrition, examined data from 840 Australians who took part in the Ausimmune Study to determine whether there was a link between consuming a Mediterranean diet that includes unprocessed red meat, such as lamb, beef and pork, and a reduced risk of a first episode of CNS demyelination, a common precursor to MS.

Lead author Dr. Lucinda Black, from the School of Public Health at Curtin University who completed the research as part of her MSWA Postdoctoral Fellowship, said the number of people being diagnosed with MS was increasing globally, suggesting that environmental factors such as low sun exposure, low vitamin D, and poor diet may be contributing factors.

“Previous research suggests that a Mediterranean diet can help to reduce the risk of certain health issues, including cardiovascular diseases, diabetes, cancer, Alzheimer’s disease and dementia and improve overall life expectancy. However, there is inconclusive evidence to suggest a Mediterranean diet also reduces the risk of developing MS,” Dr. Black said.

“Our research found that consuming one daily serving (65 g) of unprocessed red meat as part of a healthy Mediterranean diet may be beneficial for those at high risk of developing MS.

“It is unclear why consuming red meat combined with a healthy diet may lower the risk of MS, but red meat contains important macro and micronutrients including protein, iron, zinc, selenium, potassium, vitamin D, and a range of B-vitamins, many of which are important for healthy neurological function.”

To ensure that the risks do not outweigh the benefits, Cancer Council WA recommends eating only a moderate amount of unprocessed lean red meat, which equates to no more than one daily serving, where a serving is 65 grams of cooked meat.

Co-author Professor Robyn Lucas, from The Australian National University in Canberra, said the research highlighted the importance of educating people who are at a higher risk of MS about the impact of their diet and other environmental factors.

“We know very little about how people can reduce their risk of developing MS, but previous research has shown that not smoking and ensuring people get sufficient sun exposure to maintain adequate vitamin D levels may contribute to this,” Professor Lucas said.

“This new work provides valuable information on another way that people at high risk of MS might reduce that risk, which includes eating a healthy, Mediterranean diet that includes moderate amounts of unprocessed red meat.”

The Ausimmune Study, funded by the National Multiple Sclerosis Society of the United States of America, the National Health and Medical Research Council of Australia, and Multiple Sclerosis Research Australia, was conducted during 2003 and 2006 in four regions of Australia, including Brisbane, Newcastle, western Victoria, and Tasmania. The study investigated the link between environmental risk factors and early symptoms of MS.

More information: Lucinda J Black et al. A Higher Mediterranean Diet Score, Including Unprocessed Red Meat, Is Associated with Reduced Risk of Central Nervous System Demyelination in a Case-Control Study of Australian Adults, The Journal of Nutrition (2019). DOI: 10.1093/jn/nxz089

Journal information: Journal of Nutrition

The vagus nerve is the key to well-being

Have you ever read something a million times only to one day, for no apparent reason, think “Wait, what is that?” This happened to me the other day for “the vagus nerve.”

I kept coming across it in relation to deep breathing and mental calmness: “Breathing deeply,” Katie Brindle writes in her new book Yang Sheng: The Art of Chinese Self-Healing, “immediately relaxes the body because it stimulates the vagus nerve, which runs from the neck to the abdomen and is in charge of turning off the ‘fight or flight’ reflex.” Also: “Stimulating the vagus nerve,” per a recent Harvard Health blog post, “activates your relaxation response, reducing your heart rate and blood pressure.” And: Deep breathing “turns on the vagus nerve enough that it acts as a brake on the stress response,” as an integrative medicine researcher told the Cut last year.

I liked this idea that we have something like a secret piano key, under our skin, to press internally to calm us down. Or like a musical string to pluck. At this point I was envisioning the vagus nerve as a single inner cord, stretching from the head to the stomach. In reality, the vagus nerve is a squiggly, shaggy, branching nerve connecting most of the major organs between the brain and colon, like a system of roots or cables. It is the longest nerve in the body, and technically it comes as a pair of two vagus nerves, one for the right side of the body and one for the left. It’s called “vagus” because it wanders, like a vagrant, among the organs. The vagus nerve has been described as “largely responsible for the mind-body connection,” for its role as a mediator between thinking and feeling, and I’m tempted to think of it as something like a physical manifestation of the soul. Also: “When people say ‘trust your gut,'” as one Psychology Today writer put it several years ago, “they really mean ‘trust your vagus nerve.'”

I became increasingly enchanted with this nerve, even as it felt like I understood it less and less. How does this all work? How does activating a nerve calm us down? Is this why I get so needlessly upset about things?

“Stimulating the vagus nerve to the heart has a really powerful effect on slowing the heart rate,” said Lucy Norcliffe-Kaufmann, associate professor of neurology at NYU-Langone. And this, specifically, is what relaxes us. The vagus nerve is basically listening to the way we breathe, and it sends the brain and the heart whatever message our breath indicates. Breathing slowly, for instance, reduces the oxygen demands of the heart muscle (the myocardium), and our heart rate drops.

The vagus nerve is essentially the queen of the parasympathetic nervous system – a.k.a. the “rest and digest,” or the “chill out” one – so the more we do things that “stimulate” or activate it, like deep breathing, the more we banish the effects of the sympathetic nervous system – a.k.a. the “fight or flight,” or the “do something!” stress-releasing adrenaline/cortisol one.

Put another way, “Your body senses your breathing and adapts its heart rate in response,” Norcliffe-Kaufmann told me. When we breathe in, she explained, the sensory nodes on our lungs (“lung stretch receptors”) send information up through the vagus nerve and into the brain, and when we breathe out, the brain sends information back down through the vagus nerve to slow down or speed up the heart. So when we breathe slowly, the heart slows, and we relax. Conversely, when we breathe quickly, our heart speeds up, and we feel amped, or anxious.

I was surprised by the idea that it’s specifically the exhale that triggers the relaxation response, but Norcliffe-Kaufmann confirmed: “Vagal activity is highest, and heart rate lowest, when you’re exhaling.” She mentioned that the ideal, most calming way to breathe is six times a minute: five seconds in, five seconds out. She also noted that in the study that determined this rate, researchers found that this style of slow breathing is also what practitioners naturally lapse into during meditation with mantras, and during the Ave Maria prayer with rosaries. “Each time you do either the rosary prayer or a meditation mantra,” Norcliffe-Kaufmann said, “it naturally synchronizes your breathing at six times per minute.” (“That’s fascinating,” I said. “It is!” she said.)

It made me wonder if there are ways of measuring the quality of the vagus nerve, or “vagal tone,” as Norcliffe-Kaufmann described it. This is basically how healthy, strong, and functional the nerve is. One way, she said, is to measure heart rate variability (HRV) – it’s a sort of “surrogate” for measuring actual vagal tone (barring open chest surgery). Heart rate variability is the amount that the heart rate fluctuates between a breath in (when it naturally speeds up) and a breath out (when it naturally slows down). That is, heart rate rises on the inhale and falls on the exhale, and the difference between those two rates essentially measures vagal tone. Athletes are known to have higher vagal tone, for example, whereas people who experience extended periods of bed rest – and astronauts in no-gravity situations – are known to have lower vagal tone. (How quickly your heart rate slows after exercising is also a good marker of vagal tone.) Vagus nerve stimulation has also been proposed as a way to treat addiction (some heavy drinkers, for instance, have low vagal tone).

Certain devices measure HRV – and I’ve personally tried a chest strap and a wristband, but I got stumped on what to do with the data – although Norcliffe-Kaufmann is skeptical about their reliability. “Those technologies are coming,” she said, “but it’s more important to focus on breathing and feeling calm and balanced, rather than on a number.” Some other practices believed to improve vagal tone (beyond deep, slow breathing) include laughing, singing, humming, yoga, acupuncture, and splashing the face with cold water – or having a full-body cold rinse. (Stimulation of the vagus nerve, both manually and with electricity, has also been used to control seizures in epilepsy patients, reduce inflammation, and treat clinical depression.)

Writing this story, and after talking with Norcliffe-Kaufmann, I found myself breathing more slowly and feeling calmer. Not necessarily happy, but steady. Slow breathing is boring, but it’s almost sad how effective it is. I’d usually rather spend hundreds of dollars to get a gadget to track myself than do this free and more-effective thing.

“If you’re in a stressful situation,” Norcliffe-Kaufmann said, “and you’re like, How do I respond, how do I respond? – if you consciously slow down your breathing just for one minute, or even a few seconds, you can put yourself in a calmer state, to be able to better communicate.”

Jordan Peterson: ‘Jesus was the only true Christian – Catholicism is as sane as people can get’

Jordan Peterson, a clinical psychologist and university professor, first came to international prominence after his refusal to use special pronouns for transgender people in his native Canada and went on to become arguably one of the world’s most influential public intellectuals.

University of Toronto professor Jordan Peterson, a public speaker and internet sensation, has praised Catholicism as the “sanest” religious concept out there.

“I think that Catholicism – that’s as sane as people can get,” Peterson told conservative writer Dennis Prager at the PragerU summit in California last week.

He conceded that nevertheless, the Catholic doctrine is “eerie, complex and surreal”, as is the case with the apocalyptic Book of Revelation.

“Broadly speaking, we need a narrative metaphysic to hold us together, and it has to be predicated on something that’s transcendent and absolute. If you lose that, then you’ll fall for something else – or you’ll fall for nothing which is no better,” he added, saying that this idea was inspired by the writings of Nietzsche and Dostoevsky.

Peterson took a slight dig at public thinkers Sam Harris and Richard Dawkins, two of the apostles of “New Atheism”, who have called for emancipation from religious superstition.

He claimed that atheism does not necessarily equate to rationalism. “They believe that if we dispensed with our superstitions, we’d all become Harris and Dawkins,” Peterson quipped, provoking a burst of laughter from the audience.

He explained that, from his point of view, humans can’t fully embrace rationalism because they are “deeply irrational”, and that there has to be something of “fundamental worth” in our lives.

Peterson, who has emerged as a modern-day prophet of a sort, is frequently asked whether he believes in God.

In the same conversation with Prager, he said he actually didn’t like that question and explained why:

“Who would have the audacity to claim that they believed in God if they examined the way they lived? Who would dare say that?” he asked rhetorically.

From his perspective, Jesus Christ was “the only Christian”, because to believe, in the Christian sense, “means that you live it out fully and that’s an unbearable task, in some sense.”

Peterson’s apparent non-alignment with any confession, as well as his idea of embracing God without intermediaries, has drawn outrage from clerics.

Last month, a US-based Lutheran pastor accused him of swaying people toward “faux” communities provided by social media platforms, instead of professing their beliefs through traditional religious institutions.

“Christians hoping Peterson will offer an assist to an ailing Western church are like a married couple looking to porn to reinvigorate their marriage. Peterson is brain porn for Christians disenchanted with the institutional church, when they should be working on their churches instead,” pastor Peter Burfeind wrote in a web blog.

Bye-bye superbugs? Scientists discover compound toxic to antibiotic resistant bacteria

Deadly, drug-resistant superbugs that endanger millions every year could soon be knocked out after scientists have discovered a compound that is toxic to the dangerous bacteria but not to humans.

Gram negative bacteria is a multi-drug resistant bug that threatens hospitals and nursing homes with deadly illnesses like pneumonia and bloodstream infections. It is an incredibly difficult infection to treat and is top of the World Health Organization’s list of priority pathogens that need new medicines. No new treatments have been created in 50 years.

However that looks set to change after researchers from Sheffield University tweaked the structures of metal-based compounds found in anticancer drugs. “We ended up with something that was toxic towards bacteria, particularly gram negative bacteria, and not toxic towards humans,”said Jim Thomas, professor of bio-inorganic chemistry at Sheffield University.

The compound killed antibiotic resistant gram-negative bacteria, including E. coli, during tests. After testing the compound on larvae, researchers now need to test it on mammals and humans.

“This breakthrough could lead to vital new treatments to life-threatening superbugs and the growing risk posed by antimicrobial resistance,” Thomas said.

Poster girl for the meat-free revolution, Virpi Mikkonen: ‘My vegan diet brought on early menopause’

Early last year, Virpi Mikkonen was alarmed by the appearance of a rash on her face.

There were other problems: a bout of flu that was hard to shift; crumbling nails; feeling low; and, most worrying, her periods stopped. A blood test revealed her follicle-stimulating hormone (FSH) levels had sky-rocketed to the level at which women hit the menopause. Virpi was 37 and having hot flushes.

‘I thought, what’s wrong with me? I am healthy, I exercise,’ Virpi says. ‘I was really scared.’

At the time, Virpi believed herself to be eating the healthiest of all diets: gluten-free, grain-free, dairy-free, meat-free, refined sugar-free. And what’s more, she’d built a career inspiring others to eat it, too.

As ‘Vanelja’, Virpi is an award-winning blogger and entrepreneur championing plant-based eating. She has written four cookbooks, which include vegan alternatives for ice cream, pizza and cakes, and has 164,500 followers on Instagram.

Though based in Finland, she writes her blog and best-selling books in English, and this, together with pretty photos of her recipes on Instagram, has earned her a sizeable following among British foodies. Vogue called her ‘social media gold’.

Think of her as the Finnish equivalent of Deliciously Ella, the British food writer and creator of the coconut-and-oat energy ball which costs £1.79 a piece. Virpi’s version: Dreamy Blueberry Thyme cake, a ‘raw cheesecake’ made from dairy-free oat milk.

Yet the ‘clean’ vegan diet that she was promoting as a route to health was making her sick. She sought help from a specialist in Chinese medicine, who diagnosed a ‘yin deficiency’ (health depends on a balance of yin and yang, according to traditional Chinese medicine). She said Virpi should stop eating so much raw food – yet salad, juices and smoothies were the backbone of her diet.

Breakfast, for instance, consisted of a cold-pressed juice of celery, cucumber, fennel and parsley. Lunch was a salad of spinach leaves, watercress, cucumber, fennel and chickpeas with a sprinkle of sunflower, pumpkin and sesame seeds.

‘She said everything had to be cooked, warming and earthy,’ Virpi recalls. Even more radical, the specialist said Virpi had to start eating animal products – daily. Virpi hadn’t eaten meat for 15 years, apart from when pregnant with her daughter Alva, now seven.

She admits she was ‘shocked’. But now she’s given up veganism, she feels much better.

‘I felt I had run out of fuel, totally,’ she says. ‘I was empty.’ She is now particularly fond of bone broth, a bone stock she has as a hot drink or adds to stews and soups. She’s also eating eggs, which is a major departure because she used to refer to them as ‘miscarriages of chickens’.

The effects have been dramatic. ‘It’s amazing. I feel energetic, motivated. I’m sleeping better, the hot flushes and aching in my body have stopped.’ Best of all, her periods have returned. She was so relieved she danced round her flat. ‘I thought, OK, now I am back on track.’

The vegan movement continues to grow, with demand for meat-free food increasing by 987 per cent in 2017. But Virpi is keen to highlight veganism has drawbacks.

‘It doesn’t work for everyone. It didn’t work for me,’ she says. The problem was not being vegan, per se, ‘it was the vegan diet and my stressful lifestyle.

‘I was working a lot, I had produced four books in two years. It was crazy. No wonder I had burn-out.

‘Some people need animal products for them to be healthy,’ she continues. ‘No one diet is going to suit everyone.’

For example, she once ate nothing but raw food for six months and now shudders at the memory. ‘If you live in Northern Europe, you can’t do raw food. You need something to warm you.’

Of course, veganism is great for animals and the planet, she says, and the rise in meat-free cookery is an important development. But she worries young people in particular might get swept along by the trend and ‘not know how to do it right’. You can be vegan and still have a poor diet, she says, especially with the growth in mass-produced vegan junk food such as pizza, burgers, and even ‘sausage’ rolls.

Virpi has yet to tell her followers the whole story, though recently posted about yin deficiency and ‘burn-out’. Her reluctance is more out of wanting to find the right time to bare her heart than fear of receiving irate messages, but she admits: ‘Vegans can be really judgmental.’
She’s right to be nervous. Dana Shultz, who lives in the U.S. and runs Minimalist Baker, a vegan recipe blog, was inundated with criticism when she announced she was going back to animal products after suffering digestive issues and hair loss.

Jordan Younger, aka The Blonde Vegan, received virulent attacks on social media, including death threats, after she wrote a blog post revealing an eating disorder and her decision to give up veganism.

Understandably, Virpi is keen to point out she is not the only high-profile vegan influencer to give up on a plant-based diet for health reasons. This year has seen a series of vegan vloggers confess they are now eating animal foods, including Londoner Tim Shieff, 31, a YouTuber known as the ‘vegan prince’, who revealed he’d abandoned his plant-based diet because it was making him ill.

‘I had some joint issues, chronic fatigue, and mild depression,’ he said. ‘My whole body felt like it was shutting down.’

He immediately felt better for eating meat: ‘I was so shocked . . . My depression lifted, joints feeling better, energy back in my body.’

London-based hormone specialist Dr Marion Gluck believes diet-induced low hormone levels could lie behind Virpi’s health issues.

‘There are lots of reasons for an unexpected early menopause – stress, trauma, lifestyle changes,’ she says.

But diet can also be a factor. ‘Cholesterol,’ Dr Gluck adds, is ‘the building block for all our hormones. Only animal products and fish contain cholesterol and it’s very, very important.

‘Our body does produce some cholesterol, but a big part comes from our food.’

A plant-based diet could result in very low levels of cholesterol. ‘That is probably what happened and why her periods stopped,’ says Dr Gluck. ‘When she started eating animal products she could make hormones again.

‘For some people, vegetarianism and veganism suits them well, and for others it doesn’t. Genetic factors mean some people produce enough cholesterol and others don’t. Most people need to top it up from food, especially women in their reproductive years.’

I meet Virpi in her flat in Helsinki, where she lives with her partner, Finn, a director, and their daughter, Alva. She offers me herbal tea in a delicate china cup (she never drinks coffee) and some oat biscuits with wild blueberries.

She only moved in two weeks ago, but her flat is looking beautiful and feminine: cream floorboards, soft cushions, calming tones, lovely flowers. Virpi admits she is a girlish 38 and says the lurch to menopause was devastating.

‘It was a huge thing to think, this is where my fertility stops,’ she says, her eyes filling with tears. ‘You think you’re still young and then suddenly the doctor says, “You are in the menopause! You have to start taking HRT”!’

She didn’t follow the doctor’s advice because her mother took HRT when she had the menopause at 46 and developed breast cancer. ‘That was 15 years ago and she’s fine now, but I didn’t trust it. I like to follow the natural approach.’

She grew up, an only child, in Oulu, northern Finland, and reminisces happily about the ‘Finnish diet’: meat, potatoes, bread – though she put her foot down aged two.

‘My mother was explaining where milk came from and how it comes from cows’ teats and I was like, OK, not for me.’ She’s refused to drink milk ever since.

She became a vegetarian at 14 after reading an expose of how animals are treated in the food industry. But it was hard being a veggie in Nineties Finland, and her mother worried she wasn’t getting enough to eat. She took it up again at 22, and moved to Helsinki in 2009 after being offered a job as beauty editor for Trendi, one of the leading lifestyle magazines in Finland.

‘Work got stressful and I started to have heath issues. My stomach was bloated all the time and I had red blotches on my face.’

Hospital tests came back negative. ‘They said “there’s nothing wrong with you”.’

But then she came across a series of online gurus offering messages of reassurance: eat this way and I will make you healthy again.

Virpi entered the realm of ‘clean eating’ – a diet which promotes eating food in its purest form: ‘natural’, ‘real’, unprocessed. It was a reaction against a ‘toxic’ food world: convenience foods; salty, oily, sugary snacks; cheap, sweetened drinks; and meat from inhumane battery farms, which brought warnings of ill health: anything from allergies to cancer.

Virpi began following the raw eating espoused by David ‘Avocado’ Wolfe, from San Diego in the U.S. She also took to New York author Kimberly Snyder, famous for her supposedly radiance-bestowing smoothies and juices.

‘These online experts seemed healthy, inspiring, and challenged the old way of thinking: doctors know what’s best for you.’

Soon Virpi was grinding cauliflower into tiny pieces to make gluten-free pizza and spiralising courgettes to create gluten-free ‘spaghetti’.

After she gave up gluten and sugar, her symptoms improved. ‘I gained a lot of energy, I wanted to run down the street, I was so excited – this is a new world!’

Her editor-in-chief asked her to blog about her diet transformation for Trendi magazine’s website. She read books and online articles. She trained as a health coach (with the Institute of Integrative Nutrition, a U.S.-based online company) while on maternity leave, and in September 2014 she set up her blog, Vanelja, rather than return to her magazine job.

If the blog laid the groundwork, Instagram did the rest. She started sharing her rainbow-coloured smoothies and sweet potato pizzas. In 2015, she was picked by Instagram as an account to follow. ‘When I went to sleep I had around 5,000 followers; the next morning I had 70,000. It was crazy.’

Her ‘clean’ diet segued into veganism, though she says she was never 100 per cent vegan.

But then in February 2018 she started feeling weak and was troubled by headaches, dizziness, and an irregular heartbeat. Rosacea, swollen red bumps, broke out on her nose and cheeks.

‘But the most alarming thing was my period stopped,’ she recalls. ‘I was like, OK, what is going on? I’d never had any problems.’

She didn’t think her diet could be to blame as previously a change in diet had transformed her health.

‘It’s much harder to get enough protein on a vegan diet, and lack of protein can make someone ill,’ says Jane Clarke, nutritionist and founder of Nourish, a website offering dietary advice and recipes for people with health problems.

‘Protein is the basis of every living cell. Lack of it can compromise your ability to fight off disease and make you feel depleted. It’s also hard to get enough omega-3s, essential fatty acids that reduce inflammation and are usually found in fish.’

‘Another reason you might feel unwell on a vegan diet is that you don’t take in enough creatine. This is only found in meat and fish and our body uses it to help generate energy in our muscles. Without it you can feel exhausted.’

Lack of iron is yet another potential problem. ‘While you can get iron from green leafy vegetables, you have to be very careful about not having enough.’

I ask Virpi if she feels let down after putting such faith in the diet. ‘No,’ she replies. ‘I’ve always been someone who likes to find out the truth, likes to know myself better. It’s just a learning experience through trial and error. Besides, I’ve never promoted any one diet.’

Virpi’s daily diet now includes an omelette for breakfast; meatballs or chicken made from organic meat with cooked vegetables for lunch; and a meat soup for supper.

She eats butter and goat’s cheese, but still only drinks oat milk, and avoids gluten, starch and refined sugar. Animal rights are still important to her, so she only eats organic or ‘wild’ meat.

‘Maybe if I’d had a super-relaxed lifestyle somewhere in Hawaii I wouldn’t have had any problems being vegan. But in this life I am living, the diet didn’t work for me and that is totally OK.’

New neurons form in the brain into the tenth decade of life

In a new study from the University of Illinois at Chicago, researchers examining post-mortem brain tissue from people ages 79 to 99 found that new neurons continue to form well into old age. The study provides evidence that this occurs even in people with cognitive impairment and Alzheimer’s disease, although neurogenesis is significantly reduced in these people compared to older adults with normal cognitive functioning.

They publish their results in the journal Cell Stem Cell.

The idea that new neurons continue to form into middle age, let alone past adolescence, is controversial, as previous studies have shown conflicting results. The UIC study is the first to find evidence of significant numbers of neural stem cells and newly developing neurons present in the hippocampal tissue of older adults, including those with disorders that affect the hippocampus, which is involved in the formation of memories and in learning.

“We found that there was active neurogenesis in the hippocampus of older adults well into their 90s,” said Orly Lazarov, professor of anatomy and cell biology in the UIC College of Medicine and lead author of the paper. “The interesting thing is that we also saw some new neurons in the brains of people with Alzheimer’s disease and cognitive impairment.” She also found that people who scored better on measures of cognitive function had more newly developing neurons in the hippocampus compared to those who scored lower on these tests, regardless of levels of brain pathology.

Lazarov thinks that lower levels of neurogenesis in the hippocampus are associated with symptoms of cognitive decline and reduced synaptic plasticity rather than with the degree of pathology in the brain. For patients with Alzheimer’s disease, pathological hallmarks include deposits of neurotoxic proteins in the brain.

“In brains from people with no cognitive decline who scored well on tests of cognitive function, these people tended to have higher levels of new neural development at the time of their death, regardless of their level of pathology,” Lazarov said. “The mix of the effects of pathology and neurogenesis is complex and we don’t understand exactly how the two interconnect, but there is clearly a lot of variation from individual to individual.”

Lazarov is excited about the therapeutic possibilities of her findings.

“The fact that we found that neural stem cells and new neurons are present in the hippocampus of older adults means that if we can find a way to enhance neurogenesis, through a small molecule, for example, we may be able to slow or prevent cognitive decline in older adults, especially when it starts, which is when interventions can be most effective,” Lazarov said.

Lazarov and colleagues looked at post-mortem hippocampal tissue from 18 people with an average age of 90.6 years. They stained the tissue for neural stem cells and also for newly developing neurons. They found, on average, approximately 2,000 neural progenitor cells per brain. They also found an average of 150,000 developing neurons. Analysis of a subset of these developing neurons revealed that the number of proliferating developing neurons is significantly lower in people with cognitive impairment and Alzheimer’s disease.

Lazarov is interested in finding out whether the new neurons she and her team discovered in the brains of older adults are behaving the way new neurons do in younger brains.

“There’s still a lot we don’t know about the maturation process of new neurons and the function of neurogenesis in older brains, so it is difficult to predict how much it might ameliorate the effects of cognitive decline and Alzheimer’s disease. The more we find out, the better able we will be to develop interventions that may help preserve cognitive function even in people without Alzheimer’s. We all lose some cognitive function as we age – it’s normal.”

Matthew Tobin, Kianna Musaraca, Ahmed Disouky, Aashutosh Shetti and Abdullah Bheri of UIC; William Honer of the University of British Columbia, Vancouver; and Namhee Kim, Robert Dawe, David Bennett and Konstantinos Arfanakis of Rush University Medical Center are co-authors on the paper.

This research was supported by grants from the National Institute on Aging (AG033570, AG033570-S1, S2, AG060238, AG62251, AG061628, AG17917, AG34374, UH2NS100599) and the Canadian Institutes of Health Research (MT-14037, MOP-81112).

New study links Roundup weed killer to liver damage

The popular weed killer Roundup might be linked to liver disease, a new study suggests.

A group of patients suffering from liver disease had elevated urine levels of glyphosate, the primary weed-killing ingredient in Roundup, according to researchers at the University of California, San Diego.

“We found those patients who had more severe disease had higher levels of [glyphosate] excretion, which means they had higher levels of exposure, presumably through their diet,” said lead researcher Paul Mills. He is director of UCSD’s Center of Excellence for Research and Training in Integrative Health.

Until now, debate regarding the health effects of glyphosate has largely centered on fears that the chemical causes cancer.

Earlier this month, a California jury awarded $2 million to a couple who said long-term exposure to Roundup caused them to develop the same type of cancer — non-Hodgkin lymphoma — four years apart.

That happened days after the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency issued a draft conclusion that glyphosate poses “no risks to public health” and “is not likely to be carcinogenic for humans.”

Dr. Kenneth Spaeth is chief of occupational and environmental medicine at Northwell Health in Great Neck, N.Y. He said that the UCSD study findings regarding liver disease raise “a whole other area of potential reason to have concern about this product and its widespread use globally.”

Glyphosate is the most widely used herbicide in the United States, the researchers said. The weed killer was developed and patented by Monsanto in the 1970s, and accounts for about half of the company’s annual revenue.

Monsanto’s parent company, Bayer, issued a statement noting that previous research required to bring the product to market has shown that glyphosate is safe.

“All pesticides, including glyphosate, are tested for their potential to harm liver function in tests that rely on internationally accepted protocols and are conducted according to good laboratory practices,” Bayer said. “All of this testing demonstrates that glyphosate does not harm liver function.”

Mills said he became interested in glyphosate’s potential effects on the liver after studies showing that laboratory rats and mice fed the chemical tended to develop a form of fatty liver disease unrelated to alcohol consumption.

To see whether the weed killer might be linked to similar disease in humans, Mills and his colleagues examined urine samples from 93 patients who were suspected of having fatty liver disease.

Liver biopsies were taken to determine whether the patients had liver disease and the severity of their condition. Urine samples were taken to determine their exposure to glyphosate.

Glyphosate residue was significantly higher in patients with liver disease than in those with a healthier liver, the investigators found. There also appeared to be a dose-dependent relationship — the more glyphosate in the urine, the worse a person’s liver health.

In its statement, Bayer said: “While we are still examining this recently released study, the data indicates that the researchers failed to consider confounding factors including potential existing metabolic disorders in participants, which would make the results of the study unreliable.”

While the study could not prove cause and effect, the researchers said the findings remained significant even after accounting for age, race/ethnicity, body fat and diabetes status.

Mills said, “Given there are these questions, I’d love for the EPA to say ‘we’re going to take another look at this.'”

Glyphosate might harm the liver in a couple of ways, he suggested.

The chemical might interfere with the liver’s ability to process fats, causing them to accumulate in the organ. Or it might damage genes that regulate fat metabolism in the liver.

Glyphosate is used to improve commercial crop yields by killing weeds that would choke the plants, so much of a person’s exposure to the chemical is likely due to diet, Mills said.

The best way to protect yourself would be to adopt an organic diet, eating only foods that have not been grown with herbicides or pesticides, he explained.

Noting that his study was small, Mills hopes other researchers will follow up with larger-scale efforts to examine effects of glyphosate on the liver.

“I’m hoping some other labs around the country that have either liver centers or other samples available will take a look at this also and see what kind of signal they find,” he said. “That would help move us forward.”

The new study was published online recently in the journal Clinical Gastroenterology and Hepatology.