Eating right for better nutrition

The Dorito Effect

Eating on the Wild Side: The Missing Link to Optimum Health

I just listened to these audio books. I had seen” Eating on the Wild Side” by Jo Robinson, and had meant to read it, a while back, but the other book, “The Dorito Effect” by Mark Schatzker was just one that jumped out at me while I was browsing at the library. The books seemed very different at first, but then it was apparent that they are telling very much the same story.

The main difference is that Robinson talks about the important nutrition available in certain varieties of vegetables, helping us to pick and maintain via storage the most good. Mark points out how goodness was bred out of food, both vegetable and meat, to deliver the best in terms of convenience and tastiness.

I strongly recommend both these books

Engaging story about the immortal cells of Henrietta Lacks

I loved The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacksby Rebecca Skloot. It concerns culture cells that have been of critical importance to research around the world.

Immortal Cells

Most cells are very difficult to maintain alive in petri dishes for the purpose of performing research. Researchers were spending most of their time maintaining the cultures instead of doing research. A particular line of cells labeled HeLa (years ago the first initials of the donor’s first and last names were applied to the sample) thrive in the lab and grow on and on. Even though they are from a cancer specimen, they have been used to develop a multitude of treatments and procedures and to add a wealth of information to our understanding of  biology. For just under $500 you can order a frozen sample of the HeLa cells for research.

Compelling Human Story

Even more interesting is the human interest story where we learn about Henrietta’s family, who did not know of her contribution to the progress of science until 20 years into the existence of a thriving market, trading her cells around the word. Henrietta’s children were young when she fell ill and they had a hard time when a cruel relative stepped in to help raise them (more like abuse them). Another relative (I had to return the book to the library so I cannot recall all the details) kindly stepped in to rescue them, but still it was difficult growing up poor and poorly educated in Maryland. They had a hard life , challenged with health issues possibly due to the families’ practice of intermarrying with close relatives.

Whose tissues are they anyway?

There is also extensive discussion of the controversies surrounding the ownership and patenting of tissues and cells, and the tests and treatments derived from them. The courts have gone back and forth about the issue, but the current law has your tissues being out of your control when they have been left behind in the doctor’s office or the hospital. The doctor should inform you if he has a financial interest with regards to your tissues.

I enjoyed learning about the biology of cell cultures and why Henrietta’s cell continued to live while other cells die after about 50 divisions.

I strongly recommend this book for the knowledge and understanding it imparts.

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What books have you been reading?

A Fascinating yet Creepy Read about Psychopaths

I just had a riveting read of The Psychopath Test: A Journey Through the Madness Industry by Jon Ronson.

Jon is an engaging author and he shares as he foolhardily jumps into the world of Psychopaths. He reports on the historic efforts to cure psychopathic criminals in prison (using LSD). and the tragic results when releasing criminals that are “cured”.

Recognizing psychopaths is not easy and the current state of the art is the Hare PCL-R checklist, twenty characteristics that the patient gets scored on. It includes qualities such as “Grandiose sense of self-worth” and “Failure to accept responsibility for own actions.”

Jon talks to prisoners and psychologists as well as a ruthless ex-CEO whom he grills to determine his psychopath test score. The results were ambiguous. He interacts with the Church of Scientology that has an ax to grind against the psychological profession.

One downside is that this book has you seeing psychopathic behavior in others. There is a belief that the highest levels of companies has a disproportionally high number of psychopaths, maybe 3%. In the general populations it is expected to find 1 in 100 and in prison amongst violent offenders the range is 40-60%. These numbers are approximate because I was using a library book and I could not highlight the interesting bits as I went. Also, there is no index.

I think that Jon could have gone deeper on this topic. We are never introduced to a top executive of government or private industry that is clearly psychopathic. He goes on to other topics of controversy and politics within the industry. It is all interesting as we learn about how disorders are added to the DSM ( Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders).

Despite the fascinating stories shared in this this book, there are important issues raised. This is includes the rising number of autism cases diagnosed, and the issue of diagnosing bipolar disorder in young children.

All in all it is worth a read.




The Mother Lode of Medical Data

I might be exaggerating in my title here, but this is very good news for everyone*.

As quoted from USA Today “For the first time since the 1970s, the Center for Medicare Services has released Medicare reimbursement information by doctor and procedure, creating a portrait of the average Medicare payment per doctor and how much of the charge was reimbursed in 2012.”

I have talked about medical transparency (see here) and this will be great for researchers. I just listened to this being discussed on NPR and I still need to look things over.

*Of course there is always two sides of the story and there are those that favor continuation of the status quo. I heard that the American Medical Association opposed this because of possibility for misinterpretation. That is true, but I think that my opinion of the AMA was probably not very high, and this news will not cause any movement in the upward direction. (I just noticed that with access to the data I need to agree to an AMA license with regard to the Current Procedure Terminology (CPT) used within the data set.

I am just downloading the provider data for doctors with last name starting with O,P and Q. It looks like a 115MB excel file.  This is so interesting I am tempted to have a web site and blog just around this data release. I think that some people will be kept busy sleuthing through all this data available here.

Shocking Truth that Money CAN make You Happy

I enjoyed reading Happy Money: The Science of Smarter Spendingby Elizabeth Dunn and Michael Norton. It is very light and accessible, and full of good natured humor.  In their book, Dunn and Norton share 5 simple guidelines to receive more enjoyment and satisfaction for your hard-earned dollars.

Buy Experiences

First of all, we should buy experiences instead of things! We are prone to feel that acquiring things will make us happy but Dunn and Norton report on the many studies that show that it is experiences that we are more likely to receive happiness from. If an experience is particularly dificult we are even more likely to find it increases our happiness.

Make it a Treat

Just as we become acclimated to the smell of the air freshener in our home, our happiness declines with each successive dose of whatever it is that gives us joy. When we ration out our enjoyments we are more likely to gather the greatest satisfaction from them. This is related to the odd behavior that many long time residents of London have never visited some of the local landmarks that most people visit when in England for only a week or two. When we expect something to be around for a while, we do not feel the need to take advantage of it. “Seize the Day” seems to be the appropriate motto, whereby we make a treat of something that would otherwise seem always available.

Buy Time

While this chapter was complicated, that bottom line is that where we can gain time by spending the extra money (by purchasing a roomba to do our vacuuming or by spending more on gasoline at a conveniently local, but slightly more expensive station), we will experience more happiness.

This gets more complicated depending on how we decided to spend the extra time. If we decide to spend the extra time watching excessive television we are not going to receive much happiness. Some television can be enjoyable, but the benefits diminish with the time spent. Also, If we spend more time at the office to pay for the grand home that we bought to benefit our family, we will find that we might have been better served by choosing a  more modest home that would allow us to spend more time in socializing with family and friends.

Furthermore, thinking in terms of time, instead of money makes us more likely to socialize with others and enjoy the moment, rather than think we should be doing something else that is more worthwhile.

Pay Now, Consume Later

Dunn and Norton remind us of the satisfaction we feel as we anticipate and prepare for a future vacation, or the purchase of a luxury item. The feeling we have as we imagine ourselves enjoying the coveted item or experience is partly due to the fact that the future is at best cloudy. We can fashion our own experience and savor it, until we actually arrive at that future and find that is might be less than we had anticipated.

The authors share a number of studies that show how our thinking is biased toward things in the present, and biased against future events. We think that we will happier if we get something now, when the actual experience is the same regardless of when we receive it, and we thus can append all the pleasurable anticipation that we would not otherwise have experienced. Where possible we can improve our satisfaction by paying first and delaying consumption.

Invest in Others

Lastly, we are happier when we give to others. In a study two groups of people were asked to participate in an experiment. If willing they were given an envelope which contained a $5 bill and instructions on how to proceed, they were also asked their current level of happiness on a sliding scale. Some received $20 instead of $5. Half the people were instructed to spend the money on themselves and half were to spend it on someone else or give it to charity. Later in the day they were contacted and asked how they felt in general, and what they had done with their money. The results showed that the amount of money did not significantly change their happiness. However those that used the money to benefit others were much more happy than those that spent it on themselves.

Dunn and Norton go further and specify that the biggest happiness bang for our prosocial buck is achieved when we have take advantage of three strategies:

  • Make it a Choice – we contribute of our own accord, not when pressured by others
  • Make a Connection – we make a personal connection with the recipient (think serving in a soup kitchen)
  • Make an Impact – we choose a cause where we can see the clear benefit that the donation provides.

Beyond the benefits in satisfaction, people who spend time to benefit others feel that they have more time. We are also healthier when we give to others.

I encourage you to buy or borrow Happy Money: The Science of Smarter Spending(follow the link to or buy whatever book captures your fancy. Thanks to all that visit  Amazon through my affiliate link, your purchases help support this blog.

Please leave a comment and share how you get the most happiness benefit from your dollars spent!


Avoid these willpower mistakes

I was pleased when I found The Willpower Instinct: How Self-Control Works, Why It Matters, and What You Can Do to Get More of It, by Kelly McGonigal. There has been a plethora of books about the science of willpower with this book brings us up to date with the state of the art.

This book was created from a popular course that Kelly taught at Stanford University. There is so much useful information here that I will only touch upon only a few points

Maintain your Willpower Energy

Kelly explains that self control is like a muscle, and as such can be built up, but also can be exhausted. Will power is based in the higher functions of the brain, so if our glucose levels are in decline, so does our ability to exercise will power. I think this is one of the reasons we should not go grocery shopping hungry. Maybe all we need is a healthy snack or drink. our body does know if we are drinking a real energy source or a diet drink that does not provide real energy.

We should also realize that this weakness is a mental limitation and not a physical one. Can we train ourselves to push through this weakness and exercise control. By understanding this book we can be more aware of when we are weakened.

Focus on our Good Goals, not the “Goodness” of Our Actions.

Studies have found that we want to feel good about ourselves. If we feel good about an action we have taken, we are more likely to make a bad decision immediately after. We feel good about ordering a healthy salad, so we finish it up with a fat filled dessert.

In a reported study a group of people was asked to indicate whether they agreed or disagreed with a pair of discriminatory statements. Another group did the same for a pair of pretty neutral statements.  Both groups were then asked to choose between a male or a female candidate to fill an executive position in a traditionally male industry.

The study found that those individuals that had the opportunity to object to a sexist statement were more likely to discriminate against the female candidate.

The bottom line is to focus on why we were good (to achieve our goal) rather than on the “goodness” of our actions.

Train Ourselves to Recognize Real Happiness

If you are like me, you have heard about societies where people have very little of the niceties of life that we have, yet they are very happy. We are a victim of years of advertising that tells us how happy we will be only when we have acquired the latest toy or trinket. We have to recognize that the promise of reward can be very enticing and yet will lead to regret and remorse (think Las Vegas).

Leverage those experiences that get your dopamine flowing to make yourself do those things that will provide lasting happiness and satisfaction. Maybe use the prospect of a modest shopping trip to encourage us to continue our exercise routine.

Avoid Guilt When We do not Live Up to Our Expectations

Related to the earlier point about feeling good about our actions, we will also behave poorly when we feel bad about ourselves.  We maybe slip and eat a cookie and then feel so guilty that we splurge and eat an entire half a cake. Often this is because we were very optimistic about how we would perform and then when we disappoint ourselves we throw in the towel. It is better to assume that we will be tempted and think through how we will respond to the temptation when it presents itself.

If you still slip up take it easy on yourself and avoid labeling yourself as a loser. Understand that everyone makes mistakes and you need to prepare yourself to avoid those mistakes next time.

There is much more fascinating advice in this book. There is the study that shows how chimpanzees are better than grad students in delaying gratification in order to achieve a greater reward. The reason that we fail to make the best decision shows that we are too smart for our own good.

Please pick up a copy of the book The Willpower Instinct: How Self-Control Works, Why It Matters, and What You Can Do to Get More of It at Any of your purchases made at Amazon after clicking through from my site helps support my blog. Thanks!


The value of stress, and why you should know about it.

I just listened to a fascinating TED talk by Kelly McGonigal.

Her research showed that if we are in stressful situations, we only have ill effects if we believe that the stress is harmful. If we believe that our body’s reactions are beneficial, energizing and supportive, that our stress will not have any effects.

This reminds me of the finding that when hotel maids believed that their activities were like a good physical workout, then they benefited from improved fitness outcomes!

Something to think (positively) about!

What do you think about this idea?

BTW, Kelly does have a book (that might be related to her talk). The Willpower Instinct: How Self-Control Works, Why It Matters, and What You Can Do To Get More of It
And thanks for visiting through my site.

The widely varying costs of medical operations

I mentioned in a previous post that transparency will be important to reforming healthcare. This article by the Washington Post shows that, based on 2010 data, the same procedure can cost wildly different amounts. It was interesting that those hospitals that charge the most to medicare often receive lower reimbursements.

It is very complicated because many times the hospital will help uninsured patients, while in other cases private insurance companies will require the patient to cover a percentage of the total sticker price. Makes you think…

A thoughtful primer of introversion (part 1 of 3)

As I have read and then reread Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can’t Stop Talking by Susan Cain, I am struck by the density of good information in it. Susan starts out by tracing the development of the “Culture of Personality” of the preceding “Culture of Character”. The importance of the qualities of Duty, Honor and Integrity were deprecated in favor of the qualities of Attractiveness, Dominance and Energy. Even Lux detergent got into the act of assuring us that by using their product the unpopular Joan could gain a “deep, sure, inner conviction of being charming”.

The Extrovert Ideal took a toll on the introverted among us, and by 1960 one third of prescriptions from U.S. doctors was for anti-anxiety medications, one of which was “FOR THE ANXIETY THAT COMES FROM NOT FITTING IN”. Susan goes on to give us a view into a Tony Robbins event, where participants are taught to be more outgoing. She goes on to share research that the Charismatic leader is not the best choice in all leadership situations.

One of the most useful sections of the book is clearly titled “When Collaboration Kills Creativity”. In the brainstorm picbusiness environment the latest fad is innovation and the workhorse of innovating is still brainstorming. The idea is that synergy abounds when a group gathers to have thoughts that have never been thought before. Despite all the hype the results are less than stellar, one organizational psychologist is quoted that “evidence from science suggests that business people must be insane to use brainstorming groups”.  There are a number of explanations for the suboptimal results. One that I have seen is production blocking, where since there can only be one thread of discussion in a group, most people are sitting idly. The best approach is working up ideas independently and then bringing them together. Online brainstorming seems to enjoy the benefits of both approaches.

In the upcoming weeks I will review more about this book.The next installment talks about the deep differences between introverts and extraverts. Find out what squirming babies have to do with it. In the meantime, leave a comment about how whether you see yourself as in introvert or extravert and thanks to those who click through to and buy things. I do appreciate it.

The Importance of Medical Transparency

I read a book by Thomas Friedman about America. That Used to Be Us: How America Fell Behind in the World It Invented and How We Can Come BackI recall that some of it had to do with solving the healthcare crisis. He made the case, I believe for medical transparency. I believe that this would be an important step toward taming the steeply increasing cost of healthcare. I think that there are a number of ways that this could be helpful.

First, it could highlight fraud and waste. I read recently about how the hospitals in a given health network were diagnosing a epidemic of Kwashiorkor, a malnutrition condition normally associated with famine in developing countries. Some newspaper, I think, reported on the practice and then just as suddenly the diagnoses stopped. Under medicare, the inclusion of the Kwashiorkor diagnosis doubled (or so) the reimbursement that the hospital was entitled to.

About a year ago, Yahoo had a video of an otherwise spry 70 or 80-year old woman who was having a doctor visit. She passed with flying colors, but the clinic submitted her medical bills, with several ailments that she did not suffer from, like diabetes and high blood pressure. The doctor squirmed when confronted with the hidden video and medical submission paperwork.

Another benefit would be to highlight those individuals that are not being properly served by the healthcare system. Atul Gawande had a column where he talks about a finding where 1 percent of the patients in Camden NJ account for 30% of the cities medical costs. This was not a case of fraud (mostly) but was simply where individuals were inefficiently being served by the system. It might be someone that cannot afford their meds, so they stop taking them, and then have multiple emergency room visits to stabilize their health. Or the specific treatment is not right for their condition. Intervention by social workers led to reduced cost in the long run, even though some medical professionals fought against the efforts.

Their are some very high obstacles to medical transparency, first of which is medical privacy. People are of course very concerned about how their data will be used. Also, there is push back from those who are on the receiving end of medical payments. I looked at bills in congress that address transparency, and saw that most if not all never made it out of committee. I am sure that there will be the same posturing about medical transparency as there will be about other laws that affect someone’s bottom line. What do you think?