Wednesday, February 11, 2015

Today and Yesterday's News in Pictures: Washington Post Clippings

Here's what I've taken note of over the last 24 hours. All are in some way politically controversial, because they either confirm or refute hype over some hot-button subject.


Exhibit A: The reason people are going bananas over wheat gluten in numbers far and above those that actually have Celiac disease (and hence, an inflammatory response/intolerance to the protein), could be because they have irritable bowel syndrome or that they are "FODMAP-sensitive," which means that polysaccharides etc draw water into the gut in the process of being digested, causing swelling, bloating and irritation.

The problem is, with both FODMAPs and Gluten, if you don't specifically have inflammatory symptoms from eating wheat, you shouldn't give it up. Avoiding Gluten or FODMAPs is a recommendation for the ease of symptoms, and not a nutritional recommendation for everybody. You can in fact get ill from avoiding these foods too much, because you'll be starving the gut bacteria that are necessary for you to digest other foods, and then you'll just end up with bowel irritation of a different sort.

TL;DR -- don't avoid Gluten or FODMAP-rich foods unless you actually have irritation. If you don't, then you have more to lose than gain from cutting them out of your diet.


Exhibit B: I knew it. I knew it. I knew it. The man was pretending all along. Now I am simply waiting for someone to say that he was pretending to be a Christian all along. Most of us are clued in on it. It's not terribly difficult, however, to fool a populace into thinking you're Christian when most of the voting constituents don't know what a Christian is.

That's a damning indictment.

Did I just make a pun?


Exhibit C: Turns out, cholesterol in food might not be very strongly correlated with cholesterol in the blood. That doesn't mean cholesterol in the blood is good. In fact, that's very bad. But new research indicates that your blood cholesterol levels are not primarily affected by the amount of cholesterol you EAT. Your liver produces cholesterol itself, and the new research suggests that the amount of oils and fats you consume plays a larger role in influencing the amount of 'bad' cholesterol your liver produces. That could mean that a diet high in cholesterol, combined with vigorous exercise, would be better than a diet high in certain types of fats, like cheese products. Stay tuned.


Exhibit D: How vaccines work, real life examples. Here there are three Big Pharma companies working on developing Ebola vaccines. Two of them are illustrated, showing how portions of the Ebola genome have been copied into milder viruses for insertion into infected patients. Because these genetically altered viruses don't contain the whole Ebola genome, but only portions that have to do with surface receptors, it will not cause Ebola disease, and still allow the immune system to organize a response and produce antibodies, so that when Ebola proper were to arrive, the body could fight it off without any symptoms.

All viruses replicate by using a host's cellular machinery to copy its DNA/RNA and then to produce proteins. The adaptive immune response primarily works by the White Blood Cells (WBCs) connecting with a foreign protein sequence via surface receptors. These trigger the WBC to engulf the foreign body and digest it (chop it up in little  pieces) with its lysosomes.

By putting the portion of Ebola's genome that codes for these surface receptors, or other protein sequences that WBCs can recognize, into a patient, the adaptive immune response can have plenty of time to optimize (that's an engineering term) their ability to recognize the sequences and chew them up and spit them out, preventing the disease from progressing.

All vaccines work in essentially the same way. In this case, actual live viruses that aren't life threatening are used as carrier's for pieces of Ebola's genome, so that plenty of antigens can be produced and the body's immune system can be properly exercised. If you don't trigger a strong enough response, the body's immune system is going to go with what works but also costs the least "effort," so it may still be vulnerable to the real thing. That's why live viruses make sense in these trials. Ebola is just too deadly to risk being only partially inoculated against.

For the vaccine skeptics: yes, you can get reactions from a vaccine. But because of the way a vaccine is formulated, you cannot get the actual disease. Since your immune system is being triggered, you might get symptoms resembling a fever, but a fever is never caused directly by disease, it's caused by your body's immune response as it attempts to heat the body so that a virus's proteins are denatured, making it ineffective. That means that your body is working the way it should. You should not be worried that some minor symptoms mean that you're getting infected by the disease.

It's similar to getting food poisoning. You don't get it from the food. You get it from something that has infected the food. Remove the infecting agent, and the food is nutritious and good for you. All viruses have multiple gene sequences: some for replicating itself, others that code for the protective capsid covering, and still others that produce proteins that are directly responsible for disease symptoms. When a vaccine is researched, the disease-causing sequences are cut out of the genome, so that when the genes coding for WBC-recognizable protein sequences are injected into a patient, the patient cannot get the disease, but will still be able to develop immunity without risk of symptoms.

In the utterly rare cases that someone gets minimally ill from a vaccine, it's never a form of the disease but usually an artifact of the immune response, and as such is nearly never life threatening. It is people with weak immune systems that are at risk -- but consequently, they are not able to get vaccinated. That's why kids younger than 1 have been getting Measles--they aren't old enough to get vaccinated yet, which incidentally leaves them at greater risk.

Hopefully this clears the air a bit (that was not an intentional pun. What is with me today?)

~ Rak Chazak

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