Saturday, August 12, 2017

Learning about the CNMI

We learned about the CNMI these past two weeks. Unfortunately, there is very little available about the Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands. Not too surprising, since its population is barely over 50,000, but still I was sad that almost all the video footage I could find was about the Second World War Battle of Saipan, which is grim viewing for children.

The CNMI is land belonging to the United States of America, but because it only has commonwealth status, it maintains a greater degree of flexibility in some of its laws. Because of its tropical location and proximity to Asia, it is a relatively popular tourist destination and is allowed to parole in (allow entry of non-US-visa holders) tourists from Russia and China for periods up to 45 days.

The food offerings there seem to be a mix of Spanish, Filipino, Chamorro, Russian, Japanese, Korean, Chinese, and other Asian cuisines. The most interesting geographical thing about the CNMI is its proximity to the Marianas Trench, the deepest part of the world's oceans. In 2009, President G.W. Bush issued a proclamation making 95,000 square miles of the trench and its surroundings a protected U.S. National Monument.

Tuesday, August 8, 2017

New school year

It's time to head back to school. I'm a homeschooling parent who sends her children to school in the afternoons. It has turned out to be a wonderful way to make sure core academics are covered in a solid, personalized way for each of our children and also give our children the experience of classrooms, fellow students, parties, and non-core-academic instruction by subject specialists. Going for a partial day helps my children feel privileged to be at school rather than "trapped," and they love their school and teachers. Funnily enough, they still sometimes tell me that their favorite thing about school is recess. Kids will be kids.

This year I've been asked to teach part-time at their school, so my schedule flexibility just evaporated. Mornings will be roughly as they were, but field trips won't be happening. Sigh. I'll miss them. And just when my youngest got out of diapers, too.

I'll also miss having as much time to do research. It has been great fun researching along medical/nutrition/cuisine rabbit trails and occasionally finding some real treasures of answers. This isn't the field I studied. My degrees are in math and law. Problem solving and efficient researching are valuable skills that carry over to many other fields, and having learned about the way people eat in different parts of the world has helped me see interesting connections between regional cuisines, nutrition, and human health.

Let me review some of my favorite discoveries and how they affect my life:

  • Molybdenum(!) - Element #42 appears to help stop nausea/vomiting and migraines, especially if sulfiting agent-containing food and drink are avoided. Stomach bugs no longer take a week or two away from our lives when they visit our home, for powdered molybdenum glycinate has thus far proven itself very effective at ending nausea and vomiting. Even for the toddlers, so it's not just a placebo effect.
  • Nutritional support of the two homocysteine-to-methionine enzymatic pathways - We keep folic acid intake low since high intake of it appears to cause a pseudo-MTHFR defect, which negatively affects the availability of MTHFR for methionine synthase. We instead consume a lot of food/drink with naturally occurring folate. We also drink glycine betaine, which is needed by betaine-homocysteine S-methyltransferase, in our milk/juices to make up for the way the western diet tends to dispose of the easily absorbed glycine betaine in cooking water. Doing these things seems to ameliorate some negative Asperger's traits in our family.
  • Zinc - My husband didn't like me to cook much with onions before because of the embarrassment of the smelly gas it brought on afterward, but now that I know zinc binds with hydrogen sulfide--the most smelly element of flatulence--I put zinc in onion-containing dishes and he can handle the dishes. 
  • Peroxidases - Out of curiosity about which foods can best combat oxidative stress from hydrogen peroxide, we regularly test for peroxidase activity* in all kinds of raw fruits and vegetables now as a family. I hope my children ask me for science fair project ideas because I have a lot of hands-on research questions I would like to offload on them. :) I suspect that making sure my husband and I eat active peroxidases regularly will help delay a host of aging-related ills, including heart disease, stroke, dementia, cataracts, and diabetes. We two also started sipping some catalase mixed in water yesterday to see how it might affect us. I teased my husband as I handed him his glass that "this is the water Ponce de Leon was looking for." Will the catalase water reverse any obvious signs of aging? Who knows? We're both at the stage where we consistently get some gray hairs at our temples, and gray hair apparently is a result of oxidative stress, so it's the perfect time for us to see if we can stop our bodies from sliding down the oxidative stress slope that leads to excessive cell death. Catalase turns hydrogen peroxide into oxygen and water, so I don't think we have to worry about side effects, but we'll stop our experiment if we experience any negative ones.
* That sounds fancy, but it just means putting thin slices of the produce in with 3% hydrogen peroxide from the store. Mini sweet peppers created a lovely pinkish-orange foam quite quickly, while cactus pear flesh was a rather nonreactive disappointment.

Wednesday, August 2, 2017

Oxidative stress, the pancreas, diabetes mellitus (type 2 diabetes), and proposed dietary helps

Time to make a couple suggestions, which partly grew out of considering the Navajo people, who now experience an extraordinarily high prevalence of type 2 diabetes on their reservation. (http://www.nbcnews.com/id/5233093/ns/health-diabetes/t/navajo-families-battle-diabetes-epidemic/#.WYIkx9RuIdU) The Navajo are closely related to the native Americans in the interior of Alaska, and it has been noted for some time that the traditional diet in the far northern parts of North America appears to protect against type 2 diabetes. (http://discovermagazine.com/2004/oct/inuit-paradox/, https://scholarworks.alaska.edu/handle/11122/3485)

Over in Hungary, researchers have made an interesting discovery about catalase (an enyzme in our bodies that breaks hydrogen peroxide into water and oxygen): people who are genetically deficient in catalase develop type 2 diabetes more frequently and earlier. (http://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S0140673600032384, https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/25726767) Hydrogen peroxide is one of the reactive oxygen species that cause oxidative stress, and oxidative stress is currently being looked at as a possible cause of people developing type 2 diabetes. (https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC1448694/) Hydrogen peroxide in excess can induce cell death, and it travels readily through the extracellular matrix because it is a small molecule with a neutral electrical charge. (http://www.cell.com/biophysj/abstract/S0006-3495(09)01228-4) What if excessive hydrogen peroxide (H2O2) is inducing death of the beta cells in the pancreas and bringing on type 2 diabetes? Recently published findings show that this could be exactly what is occurring:

Title: Chemistry and biology of reactive species with special reference to the antioxidative defence status in pancreatic β-cells.
Author: Lenzen S
Publication: Biochim Biophys Acta. 2017 Aug;1861(8):1929-1942. doi: 10.1016/j.bbagen.2017.05.013. Epub 2017 May 17.

Abstract
BACKGROUND:
Diabetes mellitus is a serious metabolic disease. Dysfunction and subsequent loss of the β-cells in the islets of Langerhans through apoptosis ultimately cause a life-threatening insulin deficiency. The underlying reason for the particular vulnerability of the β-cells is an extraordinary sensitivity to the toxicity of reactive oxygen and nitrogen species (ROS and RNS) due to its low antioxidative defense status.
SCOPE REVIEW:
This review considers the different aspects of the chemistry and biology of the biologically most important reactive species and their chemico-biological interactions in the β-cell toxicity of proinflammatory cytokines in type 1 diabetes and of lipotoxicity in type 2 diabetes development.
MAJOR CONCLUSION:
The weak antioxidative defense equipment in the different subcellular organelles makes the β-cells particularly vulnerable and prone to mitochondrial, peroxisomal and ER stress. Looking upon the enzyme deficiencies which are responsible for the low antioxidative defense status of the pancreatic β-cells it is the lack of enzymatic capacity for H2O2 inactivation at all major subcellular sites.
GENERAL SIGNIFICANCE:
Diabetes is the most prevalent metabolic disorder with a steadily increasing incidence of both type 1 and type 2 diabetes worldwide. The weak protection of the pancreatic β-cells against oxidative stress is a major reason for their particular vulnerability. Thus, careful protection of the β-cells is required for prevention of the disease.

https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/28527893

How do we protect the pancreas's beta cells from an excess of hydrogen peroxide? The pancreas is right in the middle of the abdomen, just under the stomach and flush against the duodenum. The duodenum is the first section of the small intestine and is the first location transited by food and digestive liquids after they leave the stomach.


It's been observed that visceral fat (fat around the internal organs of the abdomen) increases the risk of type 2 diabetes (http://www.medscape.com/viewarticle/771168), and it turns out that fat cells increase oxidative stress (https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/23213032, https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5507106/). So the low-hanging (but hard-to-pick) fruit in the quest to not develop type 2 diabetes is to not be fat. Easier said than done, I know, but that's no reason to give up on working toward needed weight loss.

Another thing that can be done is to supplement the body's natural ability to break down hydrogen peroxide with consumption of active catalase and peroxidases (another kind of enzyme that breaks down hydrogen peroxide).

Catalase is in many plants and animals and is found in bovine liver; in fact, bovine liver is the source from which catalase was first isolated from back in 1937. (http://science.sciencemag.org/content/85/2206/366) Guess who ate raw liver and other organ meats? Yes, the circumpolar people's traditional diet included raw and dried organ meat (https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/15776992), meaning they consumed active catalase regularly and possibly helped protect their pancreatic beta cells from excessive hydrogen peroxide. If this connection I've just drawn has any merit, it cries out for a real study, for catalase now can be easily purchased as an inexpensive supplement which is purported to survive the low pH of the stomach. (https://www.amazon.com/Catalase-500mg-Supplement-Antioxidant-Neutralize/dp/B01MU8OZN4) In general, I'm doubtful of claimed benefits from enzymatic and probiotic supplements because of absorption and inactivation issues, but for the narrow purpose of using catalase to protect the pancreas from hydrogen peroxide, catalase supplementation looks like a plausible prophylactic.

While writing my recently published hypothesis paper on horseradish and radish peroxidases (http://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S0306987717301238), I read a lot about vegetable and fruit peroxidases. The longer peroxidase enzymes sit in an acidic environment, such as that of the stomach, the more the peroxidase enzymes become denatured and ineffective at breaking down hydrogen peroxide. The speed at which they become inactive varies amongst plants, but green beans seem to have more persistently-active peroxidases than several other plants. (http://hortsci.ashspublications.org/content/28/1/48.full.pdf, http://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/10.1002/jsfa.2740360918/abstract) (Unfortunately, people usually cook green beans before eating them, although they taste fine raw.) Sometimes acid-denatured peroxidase enzymes can become regenerated to an extent after being removed from the acidic environment. (http://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/10.1111/j.1365-2621.1991.tb07977.x/abstract) Happily for us, the duodenum pH is neutral or slightly alkaline, meaning that it might provide an environment in which acid-denatured peroxidases can become temporarily active again.

Image from Allegheny Nutrition: The Enzyme Specialists; http://www.alleganynutrition.com/index.php?Human%20body%20pic

Therefore, the active plant peroxidases we eat have a chance of being active to some extent in the duodenum where they can help break down hydrogen peroxide before it damages pancreatic beta cells. This possibility fits with the reported link between low intake of fruit and vegetables and an increased risk of developing type 2 diabetes. (http://www.news-medical.net/news/20160629/Diet-rich-in-vegetables-and-fruit-may-decrease-type-2-diabetes-risk.aspx) So eat fresh--because many forms of preservation use heat and acids specifically to inactivate peroxidases--and reconstituted-after-being-dried fruits and vegetables to avoid developing type 2 diabetes.

The Navajo Nation did the right thing in in 2013 when it tried to remove sales tax on fresh produce, but unfortunately that legislative effort was vetoed. (https://www.abqjournal.com/369402/navajo-nation-should-reverse-health-act-veto.html) Last week I purchased food on the Navajo reservation, and they taxed my graham crackers and my tomatoes at the same rate. The health act veto was unfortunate and short-sighted, in my opinion, and is likely continuing to depress sales of fresh produce on the Navajo reservation; even my young children noticed how out-of-the-way the small produce section was in reservation grocery store compared to our huge, at-the-entrance produce sections of supermarkets in urban Colorado. The traditional Navajo diet included uncooked plants and dried meat--likely sometimes liver meat with high catalase content--and modern Navajos are not getting enough of these foods.

Take a lesson from Weird Al Yankovic, and love your pancreas to lessen your risk of type 2 diabetes.* Don't surround it with extra adipose tissue, and give it lots of help breaking down hydrogen peroxide by consuming catalase and peroxidases (especially ones that are resistant to denaturing by acidic environments).

"Pancreas" - Weird Al Yankovic (you'll thank me later)

* I know some who read this are going to think that I'm far too optimistic about the above suggestions making a difference in type 2 diabetes, but it's relatively uncontroversial that exercise (which leads to loss of abdominal fat--https://www.health.harvard.edu/staying-healthy/abdominal-fat-and-what-to-do-about-it) and improving one's diet can "reverse" type 2 diabetes. (http://www.webmd.com/diabetes/type-2-diabetes-guide/reversing-type-2-diabetes#1) My Hispanic grandmother successfully put her type 2 diabetes in remission decades ago and ended up dying much later from dementia after decades of staying active and following the advice in Prevention magazines (of which she had a lot lying around her house). Don't be fatalistic. Diabetes mellitus is not a destiny you can do nothing about.

Saturday, July 29, 2017

Learning about the Navajo (Diné)

For the past two weeks, our family has been learning about the Navajo, AKA Diné ("the people"). We live in Colorado, so we went all-out with a multi-day family field trip to visit sites on the Navajo reservation in New Mexico, Utah, and Arizona.

The children saw Shiprock, Four Corners, Canyon de Chelly, and Window Rock (which has a great little zoo of animals that live on the reservation). They saw hogans, dirt roads, sheep, horses, a roadside flea market, gorgeous scenery, and cliff dwellings. They ate fry bread tacos and lots of corn and beans; blue cornmeal mush is on the menu for today, our last day before moving on from learning about the Navajo.

We listened to the beautiful, haunting music of R. Carlos Nakai. We learned about sand painting, southwest pottery, and Navajo rugs. We met Navajo dancers at a canyon overlook who were doing a photo op preparatory to a trip abroad to educate about US indigenous cultures.

We went to Mesa Verde National Park, too, although that is outside the Navajo reservation. Who knew that the Navajo are descendants of Native Americans who came from Alaska around 600 years ago? They have been influenced by the other natives who were already living in the southwest, but they weren't the people who built the Mesa Verde cliff dwellings.

Tuesday, July 18, 2017

Newly-published hypothesis on horseradish and radish peroxides being partially behind the sometimes observed association between fish consumption and delayed cognitive decline

Yesterday, my newly-published hypothesis on horseradish and radish peroxides being partially behind the sometimes observed association between fish consumption and delayed cognitive decline went live online.

Here's the link: http://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S0306987717301238  I believe the full article will be free online for the next 49 days.

And here's the title and abstract:

Horseradish and radish peroxidases eaten with fish could help explain observed associations between fish consumption and protection from age-related dementia

Medical HypothesesVolume 107, September 2017, Pages 5–8

Abstract
A juxtaposition of regional cuisines and recent prospective studies of fish consumption in China and Japan points to fresh horseradish and/or radish (HRR) as possible contributors to delaying age-related dementia. The hypothesis is that the inverse association found sometimes between fish intake and cognitive decline is partially due to exposure of the oral cavity to active peroxidases from HRR served in conjunction with fish. This hypothesis can be tested by specifically looking at whether HRR is consumed with fish and whether such HRR is prepared in a way that preserves activity of HRR peroxidases. It is possible that by putting active HRR peroxidases in their mouths, elderly people supplement their age-diminished salivary antioxidant capacity and break down additional hydrogen peroxide (H2O2) in the oral cavity before it can migrate into the brain, thus decreasing the incidence of brain cell death induction by chronically-elevated H2O2. Intentional exposure of the oral cavity to active HRR peroxidases could be a prophylactic for delaying dementia. Because vegetable peroxidases are inactivated by gastric juices, it will be difficult to obtain benefit from HRR peroxidases’ antioxidant effect via ingestion in encapsulated dietary supplements.

I first noticed the possible involvement of horseradish back in September 2016, which I discussed in the post "Down the research rabbit hole and finding a root." Afterward I kept coming across more evidence that supported that idea: evidence of the importance of hydrogen peroxide in oxidative stress, the often nonlinear nature of oxidative stress damage, plausible anatomical pathways for hydrogen peroxide in the mouth to affect the brain (especially via the cribriform foramina) in ways connected to age-related neurodegeneration, and differences in cooking methods and diet from country to country. So I decided to put it together into a medical hypothesis and submit it for publication in hopes that researchers would test the hypothesis.

The journal Medical Hypotheses is peer-reviewed, and one of the peer reviewers clearly hated my hypothesis initially. However, I revised it to include new evidence and explanations, and the reviewer grudgingly accepted that the hypothesis was adequately supported by reported evidence and approved it for publication. That's why it took over six months from submission to publication. However, I'm glad for the criticisms in the peer review process, for they made me address and resolve key issues in the hypothesis.

Monday, July 17, 2017

Photos of China in early 1900s - post 2

Here is a second batch of photos from China in the early 1900s.

Shanghai Street

Street Scene
Temple Entrance

Summer Palace



Sunday, July 16, 2017

Learning about Washington DC

The District of Columbia received insufficient attention from our family due to a family trip and a camp for one of our children, but at least we were learning about Washington DC on July 4!

For music, we listened to John Philips Sousa's "Stars and Stripes Forever," Duke Ellington's "Soda Fountain Rag," John Denver's "Country Roads, Take Me Home" (his breakout song was mostly composed by DC-based collaborators, who hadn't actually been to West Virginia beforehand and were describing a Maryland road near Washington DC), Elizabeth "Libba" Cotten's "Freight Train," and Sweet Honey in the Rock's "Run, Mourner, Run."

We also went to a baseball game, ate crab cakes and Philly cheesesteak sandwiches, ate pork with Chesapeake Bay seasoning (that was more a political joke than a nod to actual DC cuisine), and watched fireworks. We read books about the Smithsonian museums and watched videos showing DC monuments; our children now want to visit the DC museums, and the girls loved Season 1 of "Wonder Woman" with Lynda Carter, which is mostly set in DC.

Our nation's capital definitely deserves a family trip in a few years when all the children will be old enough to remember it.

Friday, July 14, 2017

Photos of China in early 1900s - post 1

My great-grandparents were missionaries in southern China around the turn of the past century, and I was recently able to scan in some of their old photos and postcards. I'm going to post a few on this blog because I think they're interesting. I haven't done a lot with photo editing software, so please bear with the slight rotations.

Bridge in City, somewhere in China around 1910

Street, somewhere in China around 1910

Tibetan Buddhist pagoda, somewhere in China around 1910

Teahouse, somewhere in China around 1910

Tuesday, July 11, 2017

Another reason to decrease ethanol consumption: transgenerational fetal alcohol syndrome might be occurring

One of the saddest moments of my young adult life was picking up a heavily pregnant friend from a bar one evening. She knew she wasn't supposed to be drinking, and she was embarrassed to be found imbibing solo and on the sly. My friend had her own mental deficiencies, and her baby ended up being taken away from her by the state child protective services after its birth. But much harm to the baby had already probably been done during the pregnancy. And if the recent findings in mice--fetal alcohol syndrome symptoms were found in the children and grandchildren of mice exposed to ethanol while in the uterus, even though those children and the grandchildren hadn't been exposed to ethanol in the uterus--hold true in humans, my friend harmed her potential grandchildren and great-grandchildren, too.

How heartbreaking and unnecessary are the results of alcohol abuse in modern times. Ethanol--the kind of alcohol that gets us drunk without immediately poisoning us--has only two non-recreational benefits that I can see: 1) killing bacteria that can cause illness, and 2) dissolving compounds, both harmful and healthful, out of plant matter. The first benefit is now unneeded because humanity has learned the importance of drinking clean water. The second benefit is still a good one, but after the compounds have been dissolved, the ethanol is no longer necessary and can be removed. Studies on the health benefits of wine usually conclude that it's the polyphenols and other antioxidant molecules, not the ethanol, that are helpful. One study has even found that de-alcoholized red wine was of more benefit than regular red wine. (http://circres.ahajournals.org/content/early/2012/09/06/CIRCRESAHA.112.275636)

I know it's not especially popular to say "greatly diminish alcohol consumption." I live in Colorado, and many people here are in denial about what they are doing to their bodies and brains with legal marijuana because they like the recreational aspect of it. But I'll say it anyway: ethanol is unnecessary, unhelpful, and best avoided.

Friday, June 30, 2017

Learning about the Cherokee

For the past two weeks, our family has been learning about the Cherokee tribe.

We ate a lot of the "Three Sisters"--corn, squash, and beans--this week, as well as turkey jerky, nuts, dried fruit, and bacon. Because the Cherokee used to live near the ocean, before the awful forced relocation to Oklahoma in 1838 known as the the "Trail of Tears," the children also got to try oysters--cooked, not raw. I'm not that adventurous.

Current flag of the Cherokee tribe. The seven-point stars are used because of the symbolism of the number seven to the Cherokees. The black star is to memorialize the Cherokees who died on the Trail of Tears.

Last night, we invited a friend over who is 1/8 Cherokee and ate a dinner of whole baked trout, dried fruit, succotash (made of bacon, onions, lima beans, and corn), pumpkin pie, and cornbread. Her children showed mine how to shoot a bow and arrow; the younger ones used a Nerf bow, while the older ones tried out a real compound bow.

We learned about the Cherokee language, with its own unique syllabic script. We read about how the Cherokees had assimilated to European-American culture. Some Cherokees even were slaveowners in the antebellum South. One interesting and little-known fact is that the Cherokee language, along with other Native American languages, was used as "code talking" during WWI.

Friday, June 16, 2017

Learning about Hawaii

As we usually do in the summer, we are learning about other places. To be more patriotic, we chose US territories and tribes/peoples. For the first half of June, we learned about Hawaii. I've never been to Hawaii, but I know lots of people who have.

I bought the children a little ukulele, and two or three of the family (including me) have learned to play some simple chords on it. A friend whose mother was raised in Hawaii showed us the "Pearly Shells" hula actions this morning. We watched Lilo & Stitch, Moana (not specifically Hawaiian, but great at showing many aspects of traditional Polynesian life), and Blue Hawaii starring Elvis. We went swimming and tried an indoor version of ulumaika (rolling a stone disc through two stakes in the ground). I bought leis for the children, and we wore flowers in our hair. Everyone was taught to say "mahalo" and "aloha."

And the food...such tasty food. We ate shaved ice, donuts (sadly, not actual malasadas), kalua pork made with Hawaiian sea salt, Spam stir fry, Spam with ramen noodles, Spam musubi, haupia, mango, fresh pineapple, macaroni salad, Hawaiian sweet rolls, coconut, macadamia nuts, laulau fish (using spinach instead of taro leaves), and rice. I'm disappointed that I didn't make it to an Asian store to buy taro root for poi, but I'll try to buy some taro before the end of the summer, when we are scheduled to learn about the Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands.

Except for the fresh fruit and fish, Hawaiian food doesn't seem very healthy. Spam, pork, and fatty nuts? With lots of sugar, oil, and white rice? And where's the glycine betaine? (See my posts from the last two months if you're wondering why I care about that nutrient.) I found no evidence for any traditional Hawaiian plant staple being a good source of glycine betaine; it's a good thing that they ate a lot of marine animals--shrimp, mussels, oysters, clams, and scallops are glycine betaine sources--before they began receiving shipments of wheat from beyond the islands. (Update: I forgot about hibiscus, the state flower. Hibiscus plants contain glycine betaine-- http://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S0031942201002631--and are sometimes used in food and drink.)

Thursday, June 8, 2017

Web page translation

As I research new cuisines, I often surf onto websites written in languages I don't know. My browser has started asking me if it can translate those sites into English for me. The result is surprisingly readable. No, it's not perfect, but it's much better than I thought artificial intelligence translation could be.

So when I discovered a possible diet connection to Zika-caused microcephaly, I decided to try using Google Translate to put that hypothesis out there in Spanish and Portugese for the benefit of people in Puerto Rico, Latin America, and Brazil. I know Spanish fairly well, so I fixed the few little errors from the Google-translated Spanish version myself. Because Portugese is similar to Spanish, I fixed those same few little errors in the Google-translated Portugese version and ran it by a relative who was an LDS missionary in Brazil in case I missed anything else (he said it looked fine). Are my translations perfect? I highly doubt it. But they're good enough to do the job of passing on information.

Amateur translation has gotten much cheaper and doable. Of course, I was also dealing with languages that are not especially hard to learn. I've been learning a little Arabic recently, and Google Translate isn't especially good at translating between Arabic and English. Yet.

For those relying on computer translation for important things like business negotiations and affairs of the heart, I will just post this video as a cautionary example of how it can go wrong:

Wednesday, May 24, 2017

Vírus zika, placenta e feijoada

Em Uganda, em 1947, o vírus Zika foi isolado pela primeira vez. Zika ocorre em muitas partes distantes do mundo. Há apenas alguns anos, Zika chegou ao Brasil (https://www.usatoday.com/story/news/2016/03/24/study-zika-virus-may-have-arrived-brazil-2013/82210986/), e logo percebeu que Zika estava associada e provavelmente causava microcefalia e outras malformações fetais.(http://www.thelancet.com/journals/lancet/article/PIIS0140-6736(16)30883-2/fulltexthttps://www.nytimes.com/2016/01/22/world/americas/zika-virus-may-be-linked-to-surge-in-rare-syndrome-in-brazil.html).

Por que demorou até Zika chegar ao Brasil para que a conexão Zika-microcefalia se tornasse aparente?

Zika chegou aos EUA, com 40 mil casos confirmados em Porto Rico, mas Puerto Rico viu apenas um pequeno número de casos de microcefalia. (http://www.huffingtonpost.com/entry/zika-puerto-rico_us_5903a419e4b05c39767f8317?t59) Isso reflete a experiência dos países centro-americanos, onde Zika se espalhou, mas os casos de microcefalia não aumentaram dramaticamente de maneira paralela ao que eles fizeram no Brasil. Isso levou a teorias de conspiração sobre pesticidas e água no Brasil.(http://fortune.com/2016/02/16/monsanto-zika-virus-conspiracy/http://www.who.int/emergencies/zika-virus/articles/rumours/en/) Proponho uma explicação mais simples e muito menos controversa:
  • Os brasileiros comem algo regularmente que ajuda o vírus Zika a desenvolver fetos, algo de contrário inócuo.
E que algo parece ser sulfato de condroitina solúvel em água da cartilagem contida em seu prato nacional, feijoada à brasileira. Feijoada é um guisado de feijão preto feito com vários cortes de carne, mais notavelmente orelhas, pés e focinhos de porco (https://pt.wikipedia.org/wiki/Feijoada_(Brasil)http://eatrio.net/2013/06/pig-parts-and-feijoada.html), E a feijoada geralmente é cozida a fogo pequeno por horas, uma excelente maneira de extrair substâncias dessas peças de carne. Como as orelhas de porco são principalmente de cartilagem, elas são uma fonte muito boa de sulfato de condroitina, um suplemento feito de cartilagem de animais e usado por muitos para osteoartrite.(http://www.umm.edu/health/medical/altmed/supplement/chondroitinhttps://link.springer.com/article/10.1007/s10719-016-9665-3http://slism.com/calorie/111173/)

Pouco menos de dois meses atrás, investigadores identificaram o sulfato de condroitina como uma molécula à qual Zika se liga firmemente e qual "pode ser o bilhete do vírus Zika na placenta". (https://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2017/04/170404084445.htmhttp://pubs.acs.org/doi/abs/10.1021/acs.biochem.6b01056) Se esta descoberta for correta, então, seria imprudente comer sulfato de condroitina extra durante a gravidez e em risco de doença do vírus Zika, pois o sulfato de condroitina administrado por via oral é absorvido e aumenta a quantidade de sulfato de condroitina no plasma sanguíneo. (https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/27108107)

Eu enviei um e-mail para os dois autores correspondentes dos resultados da pesquisa de sulfato de condroitina e Zika para chamar a sua atenção a possível conexão de feijoada com microcefalia. Espero que meu e-mail não acabe em suas pastas "spam." Talvez a conexão que eu desenhe aqui é muito simples e já foi descartada como irrelevante, mas parece ser uma possibilidade que deve ser examinada. Enquanto isso, se você conhece uma mulher grávida que viaja ou reside em áreas onde o vírus Zika é conhecido por ser, você pode querer considerar avisá-la para evitar alimentos e bebidas feitos com quantidades significativas de cartilagem animal.

(Esta é uma versão em português de uma publicação anterior em inglês.)

Tuesday, May 23, 2017

Virus Zika, entrada a la placenta y guiso de feijoada

En Uganda en 1947, el virus Zika fue aislado por primera vez. Zika ocurre en muchas partes lejanas del mundo. Hace apenas unos años, Zika llegó a Brasil (https://www.usatoday.com/story/news/2016/03/24/study-zika-virus-may-have-arrived-brazil-2013/82210986/), y se dio cuenta de que Zika está lanzado con y probablemente causa microcefalia y otras malformaciones fetales. (http://www.thelancet.com/journals/lancet/article/PIIS0140-6736(16)30883-2/fulltexthttps://www.nytimes.com/2016/01/22/world/americas/zika-virus-may-be-linked-to-surge-in-rare-syndrome-in-brazil.html).

¿Por qué se tardó hasta Zika llegó a Brasil para que se hiciera evidente la conexión de la microcefalia con Zika?

Zika ha llegado a los Estados Unidos con 40.000 casos confirmados en Puerto Rico, sin embargo, Puerto Rico ha visto sólo un pequeño número de casos de microcefalia. (http://www.huffingtonpost.com/entry/zika-puerto-rico_us_5903a419e4b05c39767f8317?t59) Esto refleja la experiencia de los países centroamericanos, donde Zika se ha extendido pero los casos de microcefalia no se han aumentado de forma espectacular en paralelo como lo hicieron en Brasil. Esto ha llevado a teorías conspirativas sobre pesticidas y agua en Brasil. (http://fortune.com/2016/02/16/monsanto-zika-virus-conspiracy/http://www.who.int/emergencies/zika-virus/articles/rumours/en/) Propongo una explicación más simple, mucho menos controvertible:
  • Los brasileños comen algo (normalmente inocuo) regularmente que ayuda a que el virus Zika llegue a los fetos en desarrollo.
Y esto "algo" parece ser soluble en agua sulfato de condroitina que se obtiene del cartílago contenido en feijoada, el plato nacional de Brazil. Feijoada es un guiso de frijoles negros e incluye varios cortes de carne, especialmente orejas, pies y hocicos de cerdo (http://boliviachef.blogspot.com/2011/03/feijoada-el-sabor-de-brasil.htmlhttp://eatrio.net/2013/06/pig-parts-and-feijoada.html), y la feijoada típicamente se coce por horas--una excelente manera de extraer sustancias de esa carne. Debido a que las orejas de cerdo son principalmente de cartílago, son una muy buena fuente de sulfato de condroitina, un suplemento hecho de cartílago de animales y utilizado para la osteoartritis por mucha gente.(http://www.umm.edu/health/medical/altmed/supplement/chondroitinhttps://link.springer.com/article/10.1007/s10719-016-9665-3http://slism.com/calorie/111173/)

Hace apenas dos meses, investigadores identificaron el sulfato de condroitina como una molécula a la que Zika se une firmemente y que "puede ser el boleto de entrada del virus Zika a la placenta."(https://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2017/04/170404084445.htmhttp://pubs.acs.org/doi/abs/10.1021/acs.biochem.6b01056) Si esta identificación es correcta, sería imprudente comer extra sulfato de condroitina durante el embarazo si está en riesgo de Zika virus, debido a que el sulfato de condroitina administrado por vía oral se absorbe y aumenta la cantidad de sulfato de condroitina en el plasma sanguíneo. (https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/27108107)

Envié un mensaje por correo electrónico a los dos autores correspondientes de los hallazgos sobre Zika y sulfato de condroitina de abril para llamar su atención a la posible conexión con feijoada. Espero que mi mensaje no termine en sus "spam" carpetas. Tal vez la conexión que hago aquí es demasiado simple y ya ha sido descartado como irrelevante, pero me parece una conexión posible que debe ser examinado.

Mientras tanto, si conoce a una mujer embarazada que viaja o reside en áreas donde se sabe que el virus Zika está, podría ser beneficioso advertirle que evite los alimentos y bebidas hechas con cantidades considerables de cartílago animal.

(Esta es una versión en español de una publicación anterior en inglés.)

Monday, May 22, 2017

Zika virus, placental entry, and feijoada

In Uganda in 1947, Zika virus was first isolated. Zika occurs in many far-flung parts of the world. Just a few years ago, Zika arrived in Brazil (https://www.usatoday.com/story/news/2016/03/24/study-zika-virus-may-have-arrived-brazil-2013/82210986/), and it was soon realized that Zika was associated with and likely causing microcephaly and other fetal malformations. (http://www.thelancet.com/journals/lancet/article/PIIS0140-6736(16)30883-2/fulltext, https://www.nytimes.com/2016/01/22/world/americas/zika-virus-may-be-linked-to-surge-in-rare-syndrome-in-brazil.html).

Why did it take until Zika arrived in Brazil for the Zika-microcephaly connection to become apparent?

Zika has now come to the USA, with 40,000 confirmed cases in Puerto Rico, yet Puerto Rico has seen only a small number of microcephaly cases. (http://www.huffingtonpost.com/entry/zika-puerto-rico_us_5903a419e4b05c39767f8317?t59) This mirrors the experience of Central American countries, where Zika has spread but microcephaly cases have not dramatically jumped in parallel the way they did in Brazil. This has led to conspiracy theories about pesticides and water in Brazil. (http://fortune.com/2016/02/16/monsanto-zika-virus-conspiracy/, http://www.who.int/emergencies/zika-virus/articles/rumours/en/) I propose a simpler, much less controversial explanation:
  • Brazilians eat something regularly that helps Zika virus reach developing fetuses, something otherwise innocuous. 
And that something appears to be water-soluble chondroitin sulfate from cartilage contained in their national dish, feijoada. Feijoada is a black bean stew made with various cuts of meat, most notably pig ears, feet, and snouts (http://eatrio.net/2013/06/pig-parts-and-feijoada.html), and the feijoada is typically simmered for hours, an excellent way to extract substances from those meat pieces. Because pig ears are mostly cartilage, they are a very good source of chondroitin sulfate, a supplement made from animal cartilage and used by many for osteoarthritis. (http://www.umm.edu/health/medical/altmed/supplement/chondroitin, https://link.springer.com/article/10.1007/s10719-016-9665-3, http://slism.com/calorie/111173/)

Just under two months ago, researchers identified chondroitin sulfate as a molecule to which Zika binds tightly and which "may be the Zika virus' ticket into the placenta." (https://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2017/04/170404084445.htm, http://pubs.acs.org/doi/abs/10.1021/acs.biochem.6b01056) If this finding is correct, then eating extra chondroitin sulfate while pregnant and at risk of Zika virus disease is a terrible idea, for orally-administered chondroitin sulfate is absorbed and increases the amount of chondroitin sulfate in blood plasma. (https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/27108107)

I emailed the two corresponding authors of the Zika-chondroitin sulfate April research findings to bring the possible feijoada connection to their attention. I hope my email doesn't end up in their "spam" folders. Maybe the connection I draw here is too simple and has already been dismissed as irrelevant, but it seems like a possibility that should be looked into. In the meantime, if you know a pregnant woman who travels or resides in areas where Zika virus is known to be, you might want to consider warning her to avoid food and drink made with significant amounts of animal cartilage.

* Fun note for my readers: Almost three years ago, I learned of the existence of feijoada because our family studied Brazil for two weeks, and I learned how to cook it. Who knew it might end up relevant to Zika-caused fetal damage?

Saturday, May 20, 2017

How to get more glycine betaine (trimethylglyicine) in your diet

As discussed earlier this week, we miss out on many dietary sources of glycine betaine (trimethylglycine or TMG) with our western style of eating. Here are easy ways to increase the amount of easily-usable TMG in our diet:

  1. Eat more soups/stews and cooked purees, especially ones that contain spinach, amaranth (greens or seeds), beets (greens or roots), quinoa, rye, and wheat (preferably including the wheat germ).
  2. Eat bulgur pilaf. (Remember not to drain the cooking water.)
  3. Boil pasta in less water and then use the cooking water in your sauce or other recipes.
  4. Put TMG in your beverages. When they refine sugar from sugar beets, one of the things they remove from the sugar is TMG, which can be purchased as a food supplement and easily mixed into juice or milk. If the TMG is used properly in small amounts, no one can taste it.

Because there are other nutrients besides TMG in cooking water, I think the first three are preferable, but not everyone wants to change the way they eat.

Wednesday, May 17, 2017

Soups and glycine betaine

Boiling is a wonderful way to extract glycine betaine (AKA trimethylglycine or TMG) from foods that contain it. Around 60-80% of the TMG in plant material leaches out into the water when it is boiled. For instance, one study found 1472 mg/g of TMG in organic pasta when uncooked; once cooked, the amount of TMG was only 352 mg/g. Where did three-quarters of the TMG go? Into the cooking water, from which most of the TMG can be recovered, as it is fairly heat-stable. Yet what do we do with that cooking water in the USA? We throw it down the drain! All that boiling-extracted TMG, a nutrient that supports our bodies in converting homocysteine--see this article for a partial summary of the health problems that appear associated with having too much homocysteine--and we give it to our sewers. Why?

When one thinks of food in the USA, one thinks of one word in particular: "convenience." Yesterday, I looked over the breakfast and lunch menus for our local school district and found that there will be no oatmeal mush, stew, soup, or chili offered during the entire month of May. All those high-liquid foods are messy! They require separate bowls and don't come prepackaged like fruit cups. Also, who really wants to clean up soup spills in a school full of young children? I rarely serve my own children soup because 1) they don't initially appreciate it, and 2) they spill it.

US breakfasts have been mostly toast, cold cereal, eggs, Pop-Tarts, etc., and in recent years, we've been moving towards even more portable breakfast choices such as yogurt and breakfast bars. (http://www.bbc.com/news/magazine-28761333) Americans like to eat "on the go." Long ago, when I was a typical multitasking US college student, I was surprised at the reaction I got in Poland when Poles saw me eating my sandwich while strolling down the street at lunchtime; what was normal in the USA definitely wasn't normal in Warsaw.

Polish people have traditionally eaten a large main meal, called "obiad," in the early afternoon, and it customarily includes a soup course. Even though traditional eating habits have had to partially give way before workday requirements, Poles still love their soups. In 2015, Poles ate more soup per capita than every other country in the world, according to a 2016 marketing survey (http://www.euromonitor.com/soup-in-poland/report):

TRENDS
Soup was traditionally always an important part of Polish cuisine, as the consumption of 100 litres per capita recorded in 2015 was the largest in the world. Soup was a part of almost every family dinner, often even being a small meal in and of itself. However due to saturation and shifting preferences towards healthier, home-made soup, the growth of packaged soup in Poland was severely hindered. Polish customers still enjoyed occasional help from dehydrated soup or shelf stable soup, which was often considered to be a relatively good base for soup preparations.
That's over a cup of soup each day. How often do Americans, in contrast, eat soup? Or even stew, chili, or curry? From what I've seen, we in the USA tend not to eat high-liquid cooked foods (eat, not drink--we love our blended beverages) and are far below the Poles when it comes to soup consumption. Canned soup has declined in popularity to the point that the Campbell Soup company had to close two of its soup plants a few years ago. (http://www.cbsnews.com/news/campbell-soup-closing-two-us-plants/) Soup is viewed as "old-fashioned" by younger people and is a struggling market, per a 2017 US market study (http://www.euromonitor.com/soup-in-the-us/report):

Experiencing struggles in recent years, soup experienced a volume decline of 2% over the review period, even as value shot up by a 2% CAGR. The latter was because prices rose from sales of more premium offerings and companies’ struggles to make sales were largely passed on to consumers in the form of higher prices. Shelf stable soup, occupying a 95% volume share of the category, has reflected and fuelled many of these stagnating trends, as much of its products have traditionally been disproportionately popular among older consumers (aged 55-74). For this reason, soup has often been perceived as a largely “old-fashioned” or “conservative” product, making it less popular among influential younger consumer groups, particularly millennials who are increasingly health-conscious and have avoided the high sodium and artificial ingredients contained in many soup products. 
Not only do Poles eat a lot of soup, but their main soups tend to be 1) based on beets, 2) based on rye flour, or 3) thickened with thin wheat noodles, flour, and croutons (Poles are taught from childhood not to waste bread, and croutons are a tasty use for stale bread). If you've been reading my blog, you know that beets, rye, and wheat contain substantial amounts of TMG.*

Since I hypothesize that TMG helps protect against autism spectrum disorders--remember, Poland diagnoses autism at a rate of around 1/2900 while the US rate is 1/68--I think it would be very beneficial if the US population were to increase its intake of TMG-containing soups. Perhaps we could all eat minestrone containing spinach and whole wheat pasta and sold in little disposable cups that can be microwaved; that would be convenient, tasty to the pizza-trained palate of Americans, and a good source of TMG and other important nutrients. (Wouldn't it be nice if someone from Campbell's happened across my blog and used this idea?)

* Based on all the TMG they get in their soup, Poles should be quite healthy, right? Unfortunately, they really like another liquid in that part of the world: vodka. The name means "little water," and too many people (mostly male) in eastern Europe and Poland (now considered "central Europe" by some, but it still shares many diet commonalities with its neighbors to the east) seem to drink it like it is water. Per wikipedia, Polish women have basically the same life expectancy as US women, but Polish men's life expectancy trails Polish women by nearly 8 years. A study of life expectancy in Russia points to alcohol abuse as a major causative factor behind earlier death for Russian men. (http://www.rand.org/pubs/conf_proceedings/CF124/cf124.chap4.html; see also https://www.theguardian.com/world/2014/jan/31/russian-men-losing-years-to-vodka)

Thursday, May 4, 2017

Amaranth greens contain glycine betaine (trimethylglycine)

Several botanical families of plants accumulate betaine (i.e., glycine betaine, trimethyglycine, or TMG). One of the major ones in use for human food purposes is the amaranthaceae family. (https://hungary.pure.elsevier.com/hu/publications/betaine-distribution-in-the-amaranthaceae) Here's the Encyclopaedia Brittanica summary of the primary food species in the amaranthaceae family:
Food crops in the family include the various forms of beet (Beta vulgaris, including garden beets, chardsugar beets, and mangel-wurzel), lamb’s quarters (Chenopodium album), and spinach (Spinacia oleracea). Some species—namely, Inca wheat, or love-lies-bleeding (Amaranthus caudatus), red amaranth (A. cruentus), and quinoa (Chenopodium quinoa)—are high-protein pseudo-grain crops of interest to agricultural researchers. Quinoa in particular, touted as a health food, grew in popularity worldwide during the early 21st century.

https://www.britannica.com/plant/Amaranthaceae

In the past few posts, I've discussed the TMG contribution to various regional diets from inclusion of beet, spinachamaranth seed, and quinoa seed. But I only recently learned of the use of amaranth greens for human consumption. They deserve a post, for they are eaten commonly in several places outside Europe and North America.* The leaves of amaranth are reported to accumulate glycine betaine. (http://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S0003986196997313)

Amaranth, despite being once a major foodstuff in southern Mexico, fell into disuse after the arrival of the Spaniards:
Grain amaranth was as important as corn and beans to the Aztecs, who believed that it gave them supernatural powers and used it in ceremonies involving human sacrifice. Some 20,000 tons of the seeds were delivered by Aztec farmers in annual tribute to their emperor, Montezuma.
In Aztec rituals, amaranth was mixed with human blood, formed into cakelike replicas of Aztec gods and fed to the faithful, a practice the Spanish regarded as barbaric and a mockery of Christian communion. Hernan Cortes put a stop to it by condemning to death anyone found growing or possessing amaranth.
http://www.nytimes.com/1984/10/16/science/ancient-forgotten-plant-now-grain-of-the-future.html (The article is from 1984, so we haven't reached the future yet.)

And it wasn't just human blood they were mixing into the little amaranth figurines, it was purportedly blood from human sacrifices--at least according to a video program called Ancient Grains Series: Amaranth (https://www.amazon.com/Amaranth/dp/B00VZ4A8D4) that I just watched--which would explain the Spaniards' revulsion. But humans no longer eat amaranth seeds in conjunction with murder victim blood, so it seems like amaranth should be poised to become a major foodstuff again.

Amaranth greens are popular in many parts of Asia, Africa, and the Caribbean, where they are usually eaten stewed, which is a great way to coax TMG out of its leaves. For some reasons, people in the USA just want to use amaranth greens in salads, though. (http://www.appalachianfeet.com/2010/05/10/how-to-grow-and-use-amaranth-greens-wrecipes-sources/, http://www.today.com/food/sick-kale-amaranth-next-super-green-try-6C10658383) (Why don't Americans like to consume liquid from boiled food? That subject calls for its own post.)

In Jamaica, they call amaranth greens "callaloo," which can get confusing because callaloo is also used as an appellation for other greens as well as for the dish made with amaranth and/or other greens. (https://realjamaica.org/what-on-earth-is-callaloo, http://www.africanbites.com/callaloo-jamaican-style/) Despite multiple research papers on autism epidemiology out of Jamaica in the past few years, I can't find any estimates of autism prevalence there, so I can't say whether high Jamaican consumption of amaranth greens is protecting them to any extent from autism spectrum disorders (per my hypothesis).

* According to various wikipedia articles, kañiwasessile joyweedchenopodium album (i.e., lamb's quarters or bathua; popular in north India), celosia argentea var. argentea (Lagos spinach, soko yokoto, or cresta de gallo; popular in India), and epazote are also food/herb crops within the amaranthaceae family and so are likely to be good dietary sources of TMG. I have no experience with eating any of them, and all seem to be relatively unknown in most of the more economically developed countries. I list them in hopes that some researchers will read this and investigate how much glycine betaine these foods might be contributing to the diets of the people who eat them, but I won't do individual posts on them.

Wednesday, April 26, 2017

Non-wheat grains that are high in glycine betaine (trimethylgycine)

Cereals and pseudocereals (i.e., edible grains) are typically the main source of glycine betaine (trimethylgycine or TMG) in human diets. (http://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S0308814613012247)  (Whether we can easily use that TMG appears to depend on food preparation methods, as discussed here.) Wheat germ and bran have especially high TMG content. Unfortunately, many people now avoid eating wheat due to concerns about gluten or a desire to lose weight via a low-carbohydrate diet. Some Serbian researchers realized avoidance of wheat might cause a deficiency in dietary TMG and investigated the TMG content of other grains. They posted their results in a paper available online here.

Here's the abstract:

In this study, betaine [TMG] content in cereal grains, cereal-based products, gluten-free grains and products of mainly local origin was surveyed. Estimates of betaine are currently a topic of considerable interest. The principal physiologic role of betaine is as an osmolyte and methyl donor. Inadequate dietary intake of methyl groups causes hypomethylation in many metabolic pathways which leads to alterations in liver metabolism and consequently, may contribute to numerous diseases such as coronary, cerebral, hepatic and vascular. Cereals are the main sources of betaine in human diet. Results showed that betaine content in grains is variable. Spelt grain was found to be a richer source of betaine (1848 mg/g DM) than that of common wheat (532 mg/g DM). Gluten-free ingredients and products were mainly low in betaine (less than 150 mg/g DM). Amaranth grain is a remarkable gluten-free source of betaine (5215 mg/g DM). Beet molasses is an ingredient which may increase betaine content in both cereal-based and gluten-free products.

http://fins.uns.ac.rs/e-journal/index.php?mact=Magazines,cntnt01,details,0&cntnt01hierarchyid=35&cntnt01sortby=magazine_id&cntnt01sortorder=asc&cntnt01summarytemplate=current&cntnt01detailtemplate=detaljno&cntnt01cd_origpage=178&cntnt01magazineid=174&cntnt01returnid=188

I highly recommend reading the entire paper if you're at all interested in this topic. I'll pull out what I consider the highlights:

Rice contains no TMG. Corn, millet, and buckwheat have a little TMG, and oats and barley have a little more. Good sources of TMG include wheat (spelt wheat is best, and bread wheat has more than durum) and rye. Amaranth and quinoa have very high levels of TMG, as does beet molasses.

I pestered a Belarussian relative recently to find out whether she eats a lot of borscht and beet greens. She said, no, that's more her mom and aunt who do that, but she drinks kvass often. Kvass is a rye bread-based beverage popular in eastern Europe. Rye has about two-to-four times the amount of TMG as wheat. Sadly for me, kvass is mildly alcoholic, and I don't drink alcohol for religious reasons. (I'd love to play with a reverse osmosis filter that could allow me to make my own de-alcoholized drinks, but from what I read online, such an apparatus is hard to come by.)

Amaranth seed used to be a very popular grain in Guatemala, Mexico, and Peru. Amaranth has been becoming a regularly-consumed pseudocereal again in the past couple decades, but it's happening very, very slowly. I started putting a tablespoon full of amaranth in with my batch of rice in the rice cooker in order to get more TMG in our family diet; my family doesn't notice the addition. (Update: I spoke too soon. One of the children noticed it in the rice tonight. But they didn't mind it.)

I've liked quinoa since I was sixteen. I think my dad was introduced to quinoa while on a trip to Machu Picchu, and he ate it like it was couscous, complete with canned spaghetti sauce over it. It tastes quite good that way, especially with some grated cheese on top. In the Andes, quinoa is mostly eaten in soups and porridges. I think it's unfortunate that we tend to drain our quinoa here in the USA, for that disposes of the TMG that leaches out into the cooking water.

Beet molasses is marketed as a bread topping in Germany. A German friend brought me some a couple of weeks ago, and it is quite tasty. I'll have to look for it in our local German deli/market after I run out. Which will be in about 2-3 more weeks, based on how quickly we're eating it. It's rather like pancake syrup, but one feels healthier eating it due to the knowledge that it is high in TMG.

Tuesday, April 18, 2017

Wheat as a source of trimethylglycine (glycine betaine)

As referenced earlier, here is a post on bulgur. I'll also talk a little about steamed buns and boiled wheat generally.

In the USA and western Europe, we eat a lot of wheat (although western Asia surpasses even our high consumption - http://www.fao.org/docrep/006/Y4011E/y4011e04.htm). We eat our wheat primarily in two forms: 1) moderately-wet dough baked at relatively high temperatures over/in dry heat and 2) boiled-then-drained noodles. The first method of preparation lacks long periods of significant amounts of water molecules energetically vibrating in and around and breaking down plant cell walls, which would mean less TMG becomes freed. The second method obviously includes boiling water, but the trimethylglycine (TMG) dissolved into the boiling water (typically around 60-80% of food's TMG content - http://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S0308814603000633) is subsequently drained away.

Why do we like our wheat products so dry in the USA? Bread, buns, crackers, cookies, pizza, drained pasta, bran flakes, and so forth are convenient, less messy, and store well. In medieval times, the countries of western Europe used to eat gruel and porridge made of high TMG grains like wheat and rye, however, except for oats, porridge has mostly fallen out of favor in those regions.

Yet in other--usually much poorer--parts of the world, wheat is still prepared in ways that allow for consumption of easily-absorbed TMG. Bulgur wheat is a parboiled-then-dried cracked-wheat product that is prepared at home for consumption by being placed in very hot/boiling water until the water has been absorbed. The water is sometimes drained away afterward, but it is not drained away when bulgur is utilized in pilaf dishes, which are intentionally made so as to absorb all the cooking liquid. The parboiling, or partial cooking, process is often carried out with steam rather than actual boiling. Parboiling retains enough nutrients that bulgur is classified as a whole grain product. Thus bulgur is twice treated with steam/hot water, which helps release TMG from the bulgur's cell walls without carrying it all away, while the nutrients in the water used to prepare bulgur are usually retained and ingested.

Look at which countries and cultures are eating large amounts of bulgur. They're the ones all around the Mediterranean, especially Turkey and the region called "the Levant." These countries also don't seem to have much of a societal burden from autism. Other societal burdens, they have aplenty. But not autism. Remember the low autism prevalence in Israel and how it was lowest of all for rural Israeli Arabs? And over in Turkey, despite evidence that medical and nursing schools there are doing a good job of teaching their students about autism (https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/27524519), Turkey simply is not dealing with the same levels of autism as the US and western Europe (http://www.tpfund.org/2013/03/lets-talk-about-autism-in-turkey/).

Eastern Asia generally eats less wheat than Europe and western Asia, but in Chinese-influenced cuisines, it's normal to eat that wheat in steamed buns, dumplings, and noodle soup. Western-style bread, while becoming more popular, is not normally a staple of eastern Asian diets. (https://chinafoodingredients.wordpress.com/2014/05/19/bread-in-china-from-snack-to-staple-though-for-the-young-urban/) The steaming process seems as it if would help break down cell walls to allow the egress of TMG while not carrying it away as full-on boiling would do. Where dumplings and noodles have been cooked in soup, TMG leaching from them into the soup broth will end up being ingested. China also consumes a lot of stewed spinach and other greens, so I suspect that its traditional cuisines include enough easily absorbed TMG to protect to some degree against autism. Unfortunately, data about autism in China are currently considered inadequate. (https://molecularautism.biomedcentral.com/articles/10.1186/2040-2392-4-7) (I wouldn't be surprised if the Chinese data turn out to be pretty accurate in the end. I've never understood why autism-awareness advocates online insist that the other countries of the world are all misdiagnosing children if they don't find the same rate of autism as the USA. That seems arrogant.)

My takeaway from this? Ingest liquids in which wheat was cooked. To quote an online cooking writer, "when you dump the remaining pasta water down the drain, that's where you make the pasta gods cry." (http://www.cookinglight.com/cooking-101/your-pasta-water-is-liquid-gold)

Sunday, April 2, 2017

It's time to end the autism epidemic (Conclusion)

I didn't intentionally set out to end this blog series on Autism Awareness Day. These ideas have been percolating in me for over a year, but it is fitting that I finish on a day when the world's attention is turned to autism spectrum disorders (ASD).

Some have begun turning Autism Awareness movements into a celebration of being neurodiverse and so deflected attention from finding what is causing the rise in autism in order to stop the "epidemic." (I use quote marks because epidemics are of infectious diseases, and autism spectrum disorders are not contagious.) I'm what I would consider a mild case of "Asperger syndrome," and I experience both the good and bad of being on the autism spectrum: the ability to focus (obsess even) and shut out people around me, the bent towards abstract subjects like math and linguistics, and the delay in social skills that made me an easy target as a child for bullying peers. This form of high-functioning autism runs in my family and affects the males more than the females, often disrupting their ability to have productive relationships. Autism-connected disruption in social skill development is not something to celebrate; it's something to address, ameliorate, and prevent if possible.

The evidence I have cited in this series indicates that we can prevent a large percentage of cases of ASD in the USA by 1) replacing cyanocobalamin and folic acid with other forms of vitamin B12 and folate, and 2) consuming more glycine betaine (TMG) in easily absorbed ways during pregnancy and early childhood.

Thank you for reading. If you think the research and connections I have presented have merit, please spread the word. 

C. Taylor, JD

**This is one of a series of posts. Here are the links to each entry in the series.**

Introduction
Part 1
Part 2
Part 3
Part 4
Conclusion

Saturday, April 1, 2017

It's time to end the autism epidemic (part 4)

In part 1 of this blog series, I approached the problem of autism spectrum disorders (ASD) like a computer programmer looking for a programming glitch. The best output data available point to a problem in the homocysteine-methionine cycle being involved in approximately 95% of autism cases. (Because autism diagnoses criteria are still subject to some debate, I wouldn't expect us to ever find a 100% correlation between any one physical process and autism.) Recent findings, outlined in parts 2 and 3, indicate that autism development is more specifically linked to the methionine synthase (MS) homocysteine-to-methionine pathway. Having formulated a hypothesis that methinone synthase dysfunction is involved in autism, I next developed a testable prediction based on the existence of an alternative homocysteine-to-methionine pathway catalyzed by the enzyme betaine-homocysteine methyltransferase (BHMT). My prediction is that nutritional support of BHMT activity will partially make up for MS dysfunctions and in that way protect against developing an autism spectrum disorder. Let's examine whether the data support that prediction.

First, BHMT is a zinc-containing enzyme, so having enough zinc in one's body should correlate with a lower ASD risk. That does indeed appear to be the case. (https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5100031/, https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3563033/, https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/26218250)

Second, BHMT requires glycine betaine (trimethylglycine or TMG) as a substrate. What is TMG?
Betaine is found in microorganisms, plants, and animals and is a significant component of many foods, including wheat, shellfish, spinach, and sugar beets. Betaine is a zwitterionic quaternary ammonium compound that is also known as trimethylglycine, glycine betaine, lycine, and oxyneurine. It is a methyl derivative of the amino acid glycine with a formula of (CH3)3N+CH2COO and a molecular weight of 117.2, and it has been characterized as a methylamine because of its 3 chemically reactive methyl groups. Betaine was first discovered in the juice of sugar beets (Beta vulgaris) in the 19th century and was subsequently found in several other organisms. The physiologic function of betaine is either as an organic osmolyte to protect cells under stress or as a catabolic source of methyl groups via transmethylation for use in many biochemical pathways.

http://ajcn.nutrition.org/content/80/3/539.full; Craig SAS. "Betaine in human nutrition." Am J Clin Nutr 2004;80(3):539-549.

Here's a listing of the some of the best sources of TMG:

Food itemBetaine content
mg/100 g
Wheat bran1339
Wheat germ1241
Spinach600-645
Beets114-297
Pretzels237
Shrimp219
Wheat bread201
Crackers49-199
http://ajcn.nutrition.org/content/80/3/539/T1.expansion.html

The very best sources of TMG are mussels, clams, oysters, and scallops, but due to cost and convenience factors they tend not to be commonly-eaten components of cuisines in areas with reported statistics for autism prevalence. Moreover, it is not clear just how much TMG is actually available during digestion from unpulverized mussels, oysters, clams, and scallops, all of which when cooked whole are too often rubbery and difficult to chew. So I will have to pass shellfish by and look at plant sources of TMG.

Inside plant cells, TMG functions as an osmoprotectant (https://academic.oup.com/jxb/article/51/342/81/485733/Genetic-engineering-of-glycinebetaine-synthesis-in), and in onions TMG has been demonstrated to protect cell membranes against NaCl-induced membrane permeability. (http://cat.inist.fr/?aModele=afficheN&cpsidt=2422100) Hence, it is to be expected that methods of vegetables and grain preparation which rupture plant cell membranes would be more effective at freeing TMG for human dietary absorption than would other food preparation methods that tend to leave TMG-protected plant cell membranes intact. It has been found that boiling is highly effective at removing TMG from foods and that the TMG is largely recoverable from the liquid that the food was boiled in (http://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S0308814603000633). Free TMG in an aqueous solution and liberated from its original plant cells should be the most easily-absorbed of all TMG dietary sources. The highest levels of TMG in plant sources are found in wheat bran and germ, spinach, and Beta vulgaris (beetroot and chard). (Update 4/26/2017: I just learned today that amaranth is also a betaine-accumulating plant and that amaranth greens are widely eaten in many parts of the world. Here's a post about the topic.)

Which regional cuisines have high amounts of boiled wheat bran and wheat germ? Wheat gruel has fallen out of popularity in the wheat-eating parts of the world in the past couple of centuries. We do boil pasta, but the pasta is often manufactured so as to be mostly devoid of wheat germ and bran. Also, during the boiling of pasta, most of its TMG content leaches into the water and is subsequently dumped down the drain instead of being ingested. (Update 4/8/2017: I overlooked the use of cracked wheat--or bulgur--in many countries and cuisines, so here's a post about it. And here's a post discussing non-wheat grains that are high in TMG.)

What about spinach? I know of only one major regional cuisine that frequently utilizes boiled spinach together with the liquid in which it was boiled. That region is that of northern India and Pakistan, where they often eat palak (spinach) puree dishes; in the USA, this puree can be found in the Punjabi dish palak paneer. Due to poverty and health care issues, autism statistics in all of India are not clear. But a recent study out of the Punjab region (https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4943381/) found an ASD prevalence of merely 0.9/1000 (1 in 1,111). In comparison, the ASD rate in the USA is 14.6/1000 (1 in 68) (https://www.cdc.gov/mmwr/volumes/65/ss/ss6503a1.htm).

And what about beets? Beets are actually what brought me to see the importance of TMG in preventing autism. I lived in Poland, and I know how important a part of their cuisine beetroot is, especially cooked into a strained borscht-like soup called "barszcz cerwony." Did you catch that? Strained. That means barszcz czerwony is simply full of TMG and doesn't include any plant fiber to decrease the TMG percentage of the soup. If my hypothesis is correct, then Poland should have a very low autism prevalence. And Poland apparently does, per a 2015 study of health records:
The National Health Fund reported that 13 261 individuals up to 18 years of age received health services for autism and related disorders in Poland in 2012. This is a prevalence rate of 3.4 cases per 10 000 individuals. Incidence rates vary in different Polish regions, with the highest rates recorded in the following voivodships: warmińsko-mazurskie (6.5 cases per 10 000 individuals), śląskie (5.0), and pomorskie (4.6). The provinces with lowest rates were podlaskie (2.1), małopolskie (1.9), zachodniopomorskie (1.9), and łódzkie (1.8). These rates are far lower than those in European countries (20 per 10 000) and United States (200 per 10 000) epidemiological surveys.

http://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S1230801315000119

Despite having guaranteed health care for all Polish children, Poland appears to be diagnosing ASD in only .34/1000, or 1 in 2941, children. Can the USA really have approximately 40 times more children with ASD than Poland? Perhaps the Polish people, due to language and training differences, just don't know about autism? That is highly unlikely. There have been Polish universities offering English-language medical school programs for over twenty years. And Poles themselves, including Polish doctors, have been working in the United Kingdom (UK)--where autism is certainly well-known--in large numbers since Poland joined the European Union (EU), which enabled its citizens easily to work in other EU countries.

If the beetroot soup and other beet consumption is protecting the Polish children from developing ASD, then other countries and cultures that often eat borscht and the juice of boiled beets should have lower rates of ASD. And they do.


Other countries that eat borscht as part of their traditional cuisines include Russia, Belarus, Romania, and Lithuania, for all of which we lack clear statistics about ASD prevalence. Based on my interactions with people from eastern Europe, autism seems to be be much less of a problem for their societies than it is for western Europe and the USA currently (https://www.autismspeaks.org/science/science-news/europe-gets-active-autism).

The evidence above bears out my prediction that high levels of free TMG in the diet will protect against development of autism spectrum disorders. One counterclaim that could be made, though, is that genetics might actually be behind the lower rates of ASD in the above-cited regions and cultures, but I do not consider that a strong argument because much of the US population is of partial or full Germanic ancestry, either from Germany or via English heritage. Moreover, I have two young male relatives of half-Slavic background, and only the one born and raised in the USA exhibits ASD symptoms.

In short, I consider the evidence convincing that 1) a dysfunction involving methionine synthase is causally connected to autism spectrum disorders, and 2) high consumption of easily-absorbed glycine betaine protects against developing autism spectrum disorders.

**This is one of a series of posts. Here are the links to each entry in the series.**

Introduction
Part 1
Part 2
Part 3
Part 4
Conclusion