Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Fiber One should highlight this research

A meta-analysis (meaning an analysis of many studies) concluded that every increase of 10grams per day of dietary fiber resulted in a 7% reduction in breast cancer risk. Wow!

I've recently started eating oatmeal (with bran and flax) every morning after my doctor recommended it (he scoffed at fiber additions like Benefiber instead of getting it unpurified through other dietary sources). It's been about a week, and I would say I definitely don't feel as hungry throughout the day, and feel like I have more energy overall (but maybe that's just daylight savings time). :)

It seems that the benefits of dietary fiber just keep piling up, including benefits to "bowel function, gut health, immunity, blood glucose control and serum lipid levels", as well as protection against colon cancer, and treating irritable bowel syndrome.

Now, I just need to find a tasty bran muffin recipe - looks like I'll be doing some baking soon!

For further reading:

Am J Clin Nutr. 2011 Sep;94(3):900-5. Epub 2011 Jul 20.

Dietary fiber intake and risk of breast cancer: a meta-analysis of prospective cohort studies.

Tuesday, November 29, 2011

Why sequence your genome?

I just attended a talk by Jasper Rine that started with the topic: Looking for good in the human genome.

He suggested that there should be more efforts towards looking for variants in the human genome positive, actionable, inexpensive solutions, such as changes in diet or exercise.

From the HGV2011 conference, I remember that one of the consulting agencies does this exclusively. They do not analyze or consider variants that do not have actionable solutions.

Although I think research should consider all variants, regardless of our ability to affect the phenotype, I understand and support efforts to publicize the beneficial variants, or those on which the average person can have some impact. Even further, perhaps, is to find variants that are just fun to know. This second aim, while not high on the list of most funding agencies might be the best way to increase public interest in genetics.

Here are variants (serious and fun) that I think would serve to increase public awareness/interest in their own genome (caveat: I'm not sure how much of a genetic component all of these have):
- predispositions to vitamin deficiencies (easily solved by a supplement)
- hair color/consistency
- eye color variants (do you have recessive mutations for blue eyes?)
- toenail/fingernail growth rates
- predisposition to back hair
- number of wisdom teeth
- lactose intolerance (infant, young adult and adult stages - can switch to diary-free)
- gluten intolerance
- second toe longer than first
- height-related genes (two "tall" alleles or just one?)
- allergy susceptibility (environmental and diet)
- how fast is your basal metabolic rate?
- skin elasticity (prone to stretch marks?)
- flexibility (are you more likely to twist yourself into a pretzel?)

Of course, one danger with any genetic analysis is that people might interpret it as limitations, instead of for fun, or as a challenge, or doing something useful with it.

For example, if there were a genetic component to flexibility and I found out I didn't have it, would I push myself as hard at yoga or stretching? I hope so, but part of me might give in with less effort. Then again, I think many people give in without any excuse, so perhaps knowing any genetic components might not have an affect.

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Monday, November 28, 2011

Turkey Day

We had a wonderful holiday weekend! Our good friend Sam came down for the weekend, and we had many adventures.

We've decided to start two Thanksgiving traditions. The first we actually started last year: we will donate to our local food bank. This year we donated to the Alameda County Community Food Bank. It was shocking to me to learn that this food bank serves approximately 49,000 people every week. Also, because they are so large, with large buying power, they deliver ~$5 of food for every $1 donated. Donate to your local shelter today!

Second, we are going to participate in a Turkey Trot. This year we got bundled up and made our own route through Berkeley.

Then we all pitched in to make our Thanksgiving dinner, especially the delicious stuffing (or dressing if you prefer). In addition to our small clan and Sam, some new friends from work came over (with Taiwanese chicken and homemade apple pie). We stayed up late eating, chatting and playing games - a truly wonderful day!

The next day we got up early and drove down to tour the Winchester Mystery House. This mansion has about 160 rooms, and is quite the architectural wonder. It was wonderful to see, but the tour was rushed (average of a minute per room) and our teenage tour guide was lack-luster.

Then, on Saturday we woke up very early to beat the crowds and hiked all around Muir Woods.

The park let us borrow the stroller, but we ended up carrying it for about half the hike as we went uphill and through the rocks/foliage. The trees are really spectacular, and the park is well-designed. There are easy-to-access trails, a wonderful lodge with locally-made snacks (and hot chocolate!), and park rangers that give "tree talks" throughout the day. Definitely a must-see in Northern California!

Wednesday, November 23, 2011

Where's the money?

A series of plots by xkcd that show where and how money is distributed in the US and global economy.

Tuesday, November 22, 2011

Breastfeeding tips

Also, I love nursing. I have from the beginning, but there were days during the first few weeks when it was really hard, and hurt, and I wondered if I was going to make it. It's okay. It comes more naturally for some babies than others. And, in the end, all that matters is that your baby is fed and loved, whether formula or breastmilk. But I also think there is a definite lack of support and information for nursing mothers in the USA. 

I'm not a certified medical anything (not "that" kind of doctor), so these are just things I, as a new nursing mom, found useful. I would take all of these things with you to the hospital, so you have them when you need them.

1. Soft shells for sore nipples 

They might have them at Target or Walmart, and definitely at Amazon (I got mine at Target). They are a little weird at first, but they help with airflow and keep you from sticking to your shirt.

2. Nursing pads (when not using the soft shells).

They're thin, keep you from leaking all over and keep the lanolin or nipple butter from getting all over your shirt.  I personally liked the Nuk variety longer term because they are very thin, but tried several other brands and didn't have any complaints about them. When we had a washer/dryer at home, I also used the reusable ones, but switched to the disposable when we moved. The reusable ones are nice, but, in my experience, don't seem to hold as much milk, so I had more leaking with them.

3. Nipple Butter by First Years.

The hospital will likely give you lanolin. Lanolin is nice, but gets hard when it is cold, and isn't always as easy to spread, which can be torture on already sore/cracking nipples. The Nipple Butter is very smooth, and lanolin-free (good also in case you have an allergy to lanolin). I liked it better, but that's my preference. It is definitely worth having it as a second option, and there are many others. In any case, however, it will probably help to have something to help soothe sore nipples and keep them from drying out (a friend I have even preferred organic crisco). 

4. Nursing tank, or some other "easy access" shirt. 

Although I didn't know I'd want it, I loved the nursing tank I got at my shower. It was from Target, and unclipped at each side. Now, I've found lots of "normal" shirts/tanks that can work, but the nursing tank was especially strait-forward and easy to use as a first time nursing mom in the hospital. You don't have to worry about all the extra layers.

Another option that I stumbled upon is the "yoga bralette". I haven't seen something else similar to this, and I really love it, especially now that I'm back at work and don't want to wear nursing tanks every day. It is great for nursing moms because it provides a little structure without being too restrictive (and inhibiting milk production), is very flexible for accessing breasts for nursing or pumping, and can be worn with any regular clothes, so you can start to dip into your pre-baby wardrobe again - yay!

There are so many types of nursing bras/tanks out there, that are probably better/worse based on your body type/breast size. I tried a few different ones, and realized, for my lifestyle and shape, the above options were best, but like jeans, it isn't one-size-fits-all.

5. Cool/warm pads
I used the Nuk/Gerber cool/warm packs. I would put them in the freezer and then, when engorgement hit, they were great relief. I never warmed them up, but I imagine they would be nice for that. The benefit of these versus a regular warm/cool pad is that there is room to leave the nipples exposed (especially if they are still healing).

Nursing has so many benefits for mom and baby, but it isn't always easy to go it alone, especially when institutional support isn't always the best. I hope these tips are useful, and wish you the very best in your adventures in breastfeeding!

Laboring medication free: part 2

I hadn't intended to write this in two parts, but as I started writing last time, I realized I had more to say about why, than a one-liner. Here's part 1. It's also given me a lot of time to think about whether I want to make this public or not. But, I realized that there is very little discussion about labor/deliver/recovery, and other soon-to-be moms might find this very useful. So here we are at the nitty-gritty.


You can find me on google scholar

So, it's actually super-exciting for me to realize that people have actually been reading, and citing, the papers I've published! Sometimes I feel like I'm in my own little world, figuring out things that I think are awesome, and well-worth the time, but unsure of how other people perceive the work. Well, now it is easily quantified through Google Scholar: Check it out!

Monday, November 21, 2011

My grandma always used the right terms

...but she was a nurse. And not everyone uses the right terms, and, as my friend points out so clearly, we somehow think the word vagina is more naughty than penis. He says it better than I:

Tuesday, November 15, 2011

Helper dog and simple dog

I haven't even read the whole thing, but I'm sure this describes our dogs perfectly, especially before/during our move across country:

Losing the forest for the trees

Oftentimes other people say things much better than I do. There has been a bit of a mini-frenzy surrounding the use of the word "fitness" in a sign my labmates took to one of the Occupy Oakland protests a couple weeks ago.

Granted, it is generally the nature of scientists to be sticklers for accuracy, but sometimes, just sometimes, it makes sense to relax and appreciate the broader context of a message instead nitpicking. My current research supervisor hit the nail on the head with his response.

Most of the students and postdocs in my group are from Europe, and many have not been here for long.  They have perhaps not quite gotten use to American political discourse and may not express themselves in a way that most Americans find convincing.  But at least they haven’t quite lost their sense of empathy and care for other people.  I figure that if I keep them here, in an American academic environment, for a couple of years more they will get cured of that problem and will be able to concentrate fully on their research careers without getting distracted by the economic and social problems they encounter in the neighborhoods around campus on their commute from and to work.  If I push them hard, the may even eventually end up getting real jobs and move up in the East Oakland hills. They will then never have to worry about the problems in West Oakland again, and can spend all their time making sure they include all components of fitness when making blog posts.

Sunday, November 13, 2011

Friday, November 11, 2011

Thank you

Today is Veteran's Day in the U.S.A., and I'd like to say a special thank-you to all the military service members in my life especially my little brother, both my grandpas, my step-brother-in-law and some of my best friends from high school. Being a scientist, I am often surrounded by international researchers who may know one, or two people who have actively served in war-zones. Not me. I can think of at least a dozen friends and family members off the top of my head who have been in war zones  (Iraq and Afghanistan, as well as during the Vietnam war, the Korean War, WWII, and others I'm probably not aware of). Give me a few minutes and I can probably list two dozen.

Here is my brother, dad and grandpa, a few years ago:

I was planning to take this Veteran's Day to write a longer post about thanking all of our Military, and acknowledging that there are many atheists in foxholes. While my friends who have served in the Military tend to be overwhelmingly supportive of diversity (whether it be religious, sexual orientation, gender, or you name it), because they all work together towards their common goals, it seems many civilians have difficulty supporting the same thing (in or outside of the military).

But, that will have to wait for another day. On this Veteran's Day I am going to try to raise some awareness about the growing number of suicides among members of the Military each year. Here are two cartoons that really get the point across.

A recent report discusses the severity of this problem, proposing several reasons for the spike in suicides among active military members and also providing suggestions to reduce suicide rates. Some of the proposed reasons for the increasing rate of suicides among active Military personnel (suicide rates are predicted to be very high among veterans, but are quite difficult to accurately assess) are:

- The mental health screening process following deployment is flawed (anonymous surveys show rates of depression, PTSD, and suicidal thoughts were was much as 4 times higher than in the not-anonymous post-deployment screenings).
- Repeated exposure to military training as well as to violence, aggression and death dulls one’s fear of death and increases tolerance for pain, even among those who never serve in combat zones. (Thus, natural aversions to death and suicide are eroded.)

Further, it is estimated that one active service member dies by suicide every 36 hours and one veteran dies by suicide every 80 minutes.

This is unacceptable. 

There is help. Now. Right now. Before any of the above issues are addressed, if anyone affiliated with the Military even has the tiniest inkling they might want to talk to a third party, they should be directed here:

Help for Service Members, Veterans and Military Families 
Veterans Crisis Line: 1.800.273.TALK (8255), Press 1

So, for my family and my friends, and all the people I don't know in the Military, please know that there is help. It will get better. Mental illness is not a weakness. No one will think less of you for seeking treatment. In fact, we'll be so very, very thankful to get to celebrate another Veteran's Day with you.

Wednesday, November 9, 2011

Totes for Water

If you're looking for a gift this holiday season (Happy Christmas-Hanukkah-Festivus-NewYear!!), and like meaningful gifts, but want to give something more than a, "I donated in your name" card, then consider buying a Tote for Water.

The entire cost of the Totes goes to the project, to build fresh water wells in Haiti.

You can follow the link above for more information about the Totes specifically, or read more about how the project got started with this press-release.

An excerpt:

"I want to bring water to a dry, dusty place to bring life to its people who are struggling daily to eat, to bathe, to live with human dignity. I want to build a well in Haiti to help the people grow food to feed themselves and their families. I can’t build a well myself -- but there are people who can at Food For The Poor.
Instead, I can sew, and I am making tote bags to sell to help Food For The Poor raise the money necessary to build a well for a village in Haiti."

They also make handy baby totes (of course, I'm kidding, but who doesn't love a baby in a bag??):

Sunday, November 6, 2011

Thursday, November 3, 2011


Background: Our ten month old daughter was up all night last night with a fever in excess of 102, stuffy nose and vomiting. Tylenol kept the fever around 100.0, but didn't take it completely away, and today the doctor diagnosed her with a viral infection. We are to keep her hydrated and use advil (the dr claims it lasts longer) per dosage instructions to treat when her fever starts to affect her behavior negatively. We are going to keep an eye on the fever and if it persists until Sat, or worsens, we will return for more tests.

Situation: We stop by the closest store (the Whole Foods Mart) to buy some infant advil to have on hand to treat her fever if we need it. Searching around, all I see is homeopathic placebos. An employee sees me searching and offers help. After I tell him I'm looking for infant ibuprofen, he says they don't carry it, but wouldn't I like to see their "natural" remedies.

What I wanted to say: No, asshole, I don't want to see the ridiculous wastes of money that will not treat my daughter's fever, and at most will make me feel better by giving the illusion that I'm doing all I can when in reality I should be comfortable with the fact that all I can do for her viral infection is to keep her hydrated, play with her, monitor her fever, and patiently wait while her immune system does its job. (Deep breath)

What I said: No. Then walked away.

End rant.

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