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Posts Tagged ‘health

“You are what what you eat eats”*…

 

Fruit3-1396x1536

 

Eating is paradoxically completely normal and pretty weird at the same time, once you start to think about it. We eat other beings constantly, in order to remain ourselves. In modern Western logic, the potential oddity of this situation has been dealt with for the most part by assuming that the things we eat stop being themselves after ingestion, that they become fuel or building blocks for us.

However, deep in the detailed pages of journals such as Cell Host & Microbe and Nature Reviews Endocrinology, a profound transformation is occurring in scientific ideas about food and eating that promises to undo assumptions about the relationships between eaters and what is eaten. This transformation, which we might characterize as a shift from a “machinic” to a rather hallucinogenic model of food and its incorporation, endows foodstuffs with much more agency and potency than they ever had in the standard “fuel + building blocks” model, where they were just burned and redeployed.

Rather than mere nosh, provender or raw material, food and its components are now being investigated for communicative and informational properties and for roles in gene regulation, environment sensing, maintaining physiological boundaries and adjusting cellular metabolic programs. Food speaks, cues and signals. Bodies sense and respond in complicated processes of inner conversation only dimly intuited by conscious thought.

Eating as interlocution is a conceptual development that carries with it potentially disorienting new representations of human interiority and autonomy. It is at the same time an immensely practical development, with implications for nutrition and metabolism as sites of potential technological interventions in health and longevity…

Food is being reunderstood as a currency of communication– social (a la Instagram), but more impactfully, biological: “Eating As Dialogue, Food As Technology.”

With this as background, see also: “The Future of Our Food Supply.”

Tangentially related– but entirely fascinating: “Putting Order In Its Place.”

* Michael Pollan, In Defense of Food: An Eater’s Manifesto

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As we take a taste, we might spare a thought for William A. Mitchell; he died on this date in 2004.  A chemist who spent most of his career at General Foods, he was the inventor of Pop Rocks, Tang, quick-set Jell-O, Cool Whip, and powdered egg whites; over his career, he received over 70 patents.

MITCHELL source

 

“When I feel like exercising, I just lie down until the feeling goes away”*…

 

exercise

 

The oldest film included on the National Film Registry of the US Library of Congress features a pale boy calmly swinging a pair of wooden clubs, apparently as part of an exercise routine. Approximately twelve seconds long, Newark Athlete was directed by the Scottish inventor and early associate of Thomas Edison, William Kennedy-Laurie Dickson, in collaboration with cinematographer William Heise at Edison’s laboratory in West Orange, New Jersey, sometime in the late spring of 1891.

Though the wooden clubs brandished by the Newark athlete in this jumpy fragment are now a thing of the past, evidence of their influence can still be seen…

Though largely forgotten today, exercise by club swinging was all the rage in the 19th century.  Daniel Elkind explores the rise of the phenomenon in the U.S., and how such efforts to keep trim and build muscle were inextricably entwined with the history of colonialism, immigration, and capitalist culture: “Eastern Sports and Western Bodies– the ‘Indian Club’ in the United States.”

* Paul Terry (founder of the Terrytoons animation studio)

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As we revise our routines, we might send healthy birthday greetings to William Cumming Rose; he was born on this date in 1887.  After a grounding in the sciences at Davidson College, Rose became a biochemist and nutritionist whose work focused on understanding amino acids.  His research determined the necessity for essential amino acids (amino acids that the body cannot itself synthesize) in diet and the minimum daily requirements of all amino acids for optimal growth.  In the course of his work, he identified the amino acid acid threonine.

wrose source

 

“Civilization impairs physical fitness”*…

 

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American opera singer Roberta Peters (second from right, on table) works out on strength training equipment as her trainer, Joseph Pilates, stands on a table beside her. Also in the room are PIlates’ wife Clara (right) and her own, unidentified trainee (standing), February 1951.

 

By the early 1930s, Pilates was challenging the norms of physical culture in New York, advocating for holistic movement and upending ideas that athletic mastery — whether throwing a baseball or standing en pointe — could be achieved solely through those sports alone. He shaped a new vision of the body; abdominal muscles were not merely a source of core strength, he explained, but the basis of respiratory control, and while most trainers focused on major muscle groups, he sought to activate the equally important connective musculature to lengthen the entire body. At the same time, Pilates began teaching expecting mothers. Conventional medical knowledge long forbade exercise for pregnant women, but that started to shift as many women found the exercises helpful in regulating breath and regaining muscle tone.

On any given afternoon in his studio, you could find an eclectic crowd, from Broadway actors and ballet dancers to lawyers and housewives, all breathing rhythmically as Joseph or Clara led them through various exercises: the pulling of ropes atop structures that resembled patient beds at Knockaloe, measured twisting of the body, extensions of the arms and legs, and circular motions from the hips. For some, the practice was integral to their careers; for many, it simply offered a curious respite from the world, a place to feel their bodies engaged in measured, reciprocal movements at a time when the strains of the Great Depression, and later the terrors of the Second World War, fell over New York and the whole country. Indeed, there was comfort in the opportunity to tend to one’s body as an anatomical creation with underlying principles, and dubious clients were often convinced by Joseph’s playful analogies. “Take a horse,” he’d often say to patients. “If a man wants to race him, he keeps him in top form. He makes the horse move. Why not keep humans in top form, too?”…

Interned during WWI, circus entertainer Joseph Pilates used found materials and his fellow prisoners as his test lab, and imagined an exercise system that would captivate millions: “The Acrobatic Immigrant Who Invented Pilates in a Prisoner of War Camp.”

* Joseph Pilates

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As we bear down on breathing, we might recall that it was on this date in 1930 that The Motion Picture Production Code was instituted, imposing strict guidelines on the treatment of sex, crime, religion, and violence in film in the U.S.  Popularly known as the Hays Code, after Will H. Hays, who was the president of the Motion Picture Producers and Distributors of America (MPPDA, AKA the Motion Picture Association of America) from 1922 to 1945, it had become largely unenforceable by the late 1960s, and was abandoned, replaced by the MPAA rating system.

Motion_Picture_Production_Code source

 

 

Written by LW

March 31, 2020 at 1:01 am

“Even bad coffee is better than no coffee at all”*…

 

caffeine-coffee

 

You’re reading this with a cup of coffee in your hand, aren’t you? Coffee is the most popular drink in many parts of the world. Americans drink more coffee than soda, juice and tea — combined.

How popular is coffee? When news first broke that Prince Harry and Meghan were considering Canada as their new home, Canadian coffee giant Tim Hortons offered free coffee for life as an extra enticement.

Given coffee’s popularity, it’s surprising how much confusion surrounds how this hot, dark, nectar of the gods affects our biology…

From drip coffee to pourovers to stovetop espresso, the variations in– and the effects of– coffee-based drinks are plenty: The Biology of Coffee.

[Image above, source]

* David Lynch

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As we take a sip, we might recall that it was on this date in 1976 that Sesame Street aired episode #847, featuring Margaret Hamilton reprising her role as the Wicked Witch of the West from the 1939 film The Wizard of Oz.  It scared children so badly that the episode has never been re-aired. (This, after she had appeared as herself in three episodes of Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood, between 1975 and 1976– because Fred Rogers wanted his young viewers to recognize the Wicked Witch was just a character and not something to fear.)

220px-Sesame_Street_Margaret_Hamilton_Oscar_The_Grouch_1976 source

 

Written by LW

February 10, 2020 at 1:01 am

“Law; an ordinance of reason for the common good, made by him who has care of the community”*…

 

vaccination

 

In the fall of 1713, measles struck the city of Boston, where Cotton Mather, a Puritan theologian and pastor, lived with his pregnant wife and numerous children. Within a month, his wife, their twin newborn babies, another child, and their maidservant had all died. On November 12, Mather wrote in his journal, “The epidemical Malady began upon this Town, is like to pass thro’ the Countrey. . . . it [might] be a service unto the public, to insert in the News-paper, a brief Direction for the managing of the sick. I will advise with a Physician or two.” On November 21, he wrote, “Lord I am oppressed; undertake for me!” On November 23, he wrote, “My poor Family is now left without any Infant in it, or any under seven Years of Age.”

Eight years later, when an explosive smallpox epidemic threatened Boston’s population of eleven thousand, Mather became an outspoken advocate for a new prophylactic against the virus: inoculation. Dr. William Douglass, one of the few doctors in town with a medical degree, rallied others to oppose Mather, claiming that the method was untested (which was true, at least in the new colony) and that it jeopardized the lives of all those who received it. In young Boston, the fight over inoculation tore at epidemic-addled nerves. In November 1721, a bomb was thrown through Mather’s window. A letter attached to it read, “Cotton Mather, you dog, dam you! I’ll inoculate you with this; with a pox to you.”

Douglass won out, quashing Mather’s plans for a systematic inoculation of the town’s population. Eight hundred and forty-four people died of the virus, accounting for 75 percent of all deaths in Boston that year. The unexploded bomb on Mather’s floorboards disabuses those of us living in 2019 of the impression—generated over the past two years by endless news stories about the current global measles outbreak—that inoculation controversies are a novel feature of our present hyper-mediated, hyper-politicized time.

Measles was considered to be eliminated in the United States in 2000. Still, the virus has regained extraordinary ground—and claimed an increasing number of lives—in recent years. Seven hundred and four cases were reported in the United States in the first four months of 2019, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. The count reached 1,077 by mid-June, occurring in twenty-eight states. More than six hundred cases have occurred in New York City alone since September of 2018.

In June, the CDC issued a warning to travelers planning to leave the country, by which point outbreaks were occurring in all the places you’d expect, countries beset by depressed economies, poor public health management, war, or extreme poverty, including Ethiopia, Madagascar, Kyrgyzstan, the Democratic Republic of Congo, the Philippines, Sudan, and Georgia (not the U.S. state, although cases have been reported there as well). But also, cases were appearing in countries where entrenched vaccination systems existed and where measles had been thought largely a disease of the past: Belgium, France, Germany, and Italy.

The grand cause for these infections—and for the 300 percent growth of reported measles cases around the world in the first quarter of the year over the same quarter the previous year—is precisely the absence of what Cotton Mather proposed for 1721-era Boston: systematic vaccination of the population. The more interesting question, beyond simple international vaccination logistics, is: What ideological and historical shifts have allowed the reemergence of a disease once believed to be under controlled decline?…

A history of the debates over vaccination that asks, can the social contract be protected from a measles outbreak?: “Herd Immunity.”

* Thomas Aquinas

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As we pull up our sleeves, we might send healing birthday greetings to Giovanni Maria Lancisi; he was born on this date in 1654.  A doctor (he was personal physician to three popes), epidemiologist (he made the correlation between mosquitoes and malaria), and anatomist (his study of the heart resulted in the eponymous Lancisi’s sign), he is considered the first modern hygienist.

He carried out extensive anatomical and physiological studies, also epidemiology studies on malaria, influenza and cattle plague.  Contrary to the then-traditional conception of “mal’ aria ” – literally, “bad air” – Lancisi observed that the lethal fever, malaria, disappeared when the swamps near to the city were cleared.  He concluded that injurious substances transmitted from flies and mosquitoes were the origin of the disease.

250px-Giovanni_Maria_Lancisi source

 

 

Written by LW

October 26, 2019 at 1:01 am

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