Junk food limits intelligence of teenagers

From a study on the dietary patterns and cognitive performance in 602 adolescents performed at The University of Western Australia, researchers found a “higher dietary intake of the ‘Western’ dietary pattern at age 14" was "associated with diminished cognitive performance 3 years later, at 17 years."

Using a food frequency questionnaire administered when the children were 14 years old (2003–2006), ‘Healthy’ and ‘Western’ dietary patterns were identified by factor analysis. Associations between dietary patterns at 14 years of age and cognitive performance at 17 years of age were assessed prospectively using multivariate regression models.

Epoch Times reports:

It was observed that children with higher consumption of takeout foods, processed meats, soft drinks and other refined and sugar-laden fare had decreased psychomotor function, impaired reaction time and problems focusing visually. Junk food eaters also had trouble learning and remembering things compared to those who ate more fruits and leafy green vegetables.

"Sick of waiting" - NRG to cut emissions in half

Climate Progress reports that NRG, “the second-largest conventional power generation company in the country,” has become “sick of waiting around to see what was going to happen on the policy end” and decided to reduce power plant emissions in half. NRG “has already reduced CO2 emissions by 40 percent since 2005, according to the company.” The “new targets will avoid approximately three billion tons of CO2 emissions by 2050 — the equivalent of offsetting all of New York City’s CO2 emissions, at 2005 levels, for 65 years.”

Learn more: This Major Power Company Just Committed To Cut Its Emissions In Half

Verizon going massive on solar power

Verizon, one of America’s leading broadband and telecommunications companies, has announced that it intends to invest nearly $40 million into its on-site green energy program, which will see the company install 10.2 MW of new solar power systems across eight of the network facilities.

And this new investment puts Verizon on track to be the leading solar power producing communications company in the United States, as well as helping it move towards its goal of cutting carbon intensity by 50% by 2020.

Well, maybe change is coming

Within a few decades, large-scale, centralized electricity generation from fossil fuels could be a thing of the past in Europe.

That’s the word from investment bank UBS, which just released a new report anticipating a three pronged assault from solar power, battery technology, and electric vehicles that will render obsolete traditional power generation by large utilities that rely on coal or natural gas. According to Renew Economy, which picked up the report, the tipping point will arrive around 2020. At that point, investing in a home solar system with a 20-year life span, plus some small-scale home battery technology and an electric car, will pay for itself in six to eight years for the average consumer in Germany, Italy, Spain, and much of the rest of Europe. Crucially, this math holds even without any government subsidies for solar power.

Barcelona leading in sustainability

Nativity façade, La Sagrada Família, Barcelona, Spain

Nativity façade, La Sagrada Família, Barcelona, Spain

"Barcelona has one of the lowest per capita greenhouse gas emission levels in the industrialized world, at under 4 metric tons of emissions per person per year (Houston is at 14.1 and Paris is at 5.2). And the city is still moving forward. 'In 2020 Barcelona could be a more environmentally conscious city,' according to Irma Soldevilla i Garcia of the Barcelona Energy Agency, 'in which careful energy consumption will be a regular part of people’s lives.'"

Learn more: Barcelona: Spain’s Ciudad del Sol

Extreme weather blackouts increasing

Image: David Shankbone. "New York skyline when half the city was in blackout due to a power failure during Hurricane Sandy. Midtown, with the Empire State Building, is in the background with the darkened East Village and other parts of downtown in the foreground." Wikimedia

Image: David Shankbone. "New York skyline when half the city was in blackout due to a power failure during Hurricane Sandy. Midtown, with the Empire State Building, is in the background with the darkened East Village and other parts of downtown in the foreground." Wikimedia

"A tenfold increase in major power outages (those affecting more than 50,000 customer homes or businesses), between the mid-1980s and 2012. Some of the increase was driven by improved reporting. Yet even since 2003, after stricter reporting requirements were widely implemented, the average annual number of weather-related power outages doubled. Non-weather related outages also increased during that time, but weather caused 80 percent of all outages between 2003-2012."

Weather-Related Blackouts Doubled Since 2003: Report

Paleolithic & hunter-gatherer sleep

Are humans evolved to sleep through the night or is natural sleep bimodal or otherwise fragmented? What can we learn from the sleep of Paleolithic hominins and modern hunter-gatherer societies?

Paleo-anatomists studying fossilized skeletons of Australopithecus (3.9-2.9 MYA) and Homo habilis (2.3-1.4 MYA) found they were well adapted to climbing. Although much of their daytime was probably spent on the ground, these hominins likely slept in trees. (Recent findings suggest some early hominins may have created “ground nests” for sleeping.)

Homo erectus appeared 1.9 million years ago and was well adapted to migrating over land. Their vestibular anatomy suggests a primarily ground-based existence. Homo erectus was likely the first hominin to control fire, a technology that would have made sleeping on the ground safer. Richard Wrangham, Professor of Anthropology at Harvard, in his book Catching Fire: How Cooking Made Us Human, writes:

"Homo erectus presumably climbed no better than modern humans do, unlike the agile habilines. This shift suggests that Homo erectus slept on the ground, a novel behavior that would have depended on their controlling fire to provide light to see predators and scare them away." 

Once hominins began sleeping on the ground, they slept “as people do nowadays in the savanna”: 

"In the bush, people lie close to the fire and for most or all of the night someone is awake. When a sleeper awakens, he or she might poke at the fire and chat a while, allowing another to fall asleep. In a twelve-hour night with no light other than what the fire provides, there is no need to have a continuous eight-hour sleep. An informal system of guarding easily emerges that allows enough hours of sleep for all while ensuring the presence of an alert sentinel."

Chronobiology blogger Bora Zivkovic believes our natural sleep pattern is bimodal:

"Until not long ago, just about until electricity became ubiquitous, humans used to have a sleep pattern quite different from what we consider "normal" today. At dusk you go to sleep, at some point in the middle of the night you wake up for an hour or two, then fall asleep again until dawn. Thus there are two events of falling asleep and two events of waking up every night (plus, perhaps, a short nap in the afternoon). As indigenous people today, as well as people in non-electrified rural areas of the world, still follow this pattern, it is likely that our ancestors did too."

Is there evidence for this bimodal pattern? What happens to the typical 8-hour sleep pattern when the period of darkness is increased?

In 1992, Dr. Thomas Wehr placed normal volunteers in a setting of 14 hours of dark-period (nighttime) for one month and found the subject’s sleep “divided into two symmetrical bouts, several hours in duration, with a 1–3 h waking interval between.” Wehr concluded that sleep becomes biphasic (bimodal) when the photoperiod (daytime) is shortened.  

Beyond the tendency of sleep to fragment when dark-time is longer, culture also plays a role. Carol Worthman Ph.D., Director of the Laboratory for Comparative Human Biology at Emory University, studied the sleep pattern in various cultures and also found a fragmented pattern. When interviewed by Jane Bosveld for Discover magazine:

"Worthman flipped open a book and showed me photographs of big families piled into large, sprawling huts, little kids peeking up from the arms of Mom, older generations wrapped leisurely around the fireplace. “Forager groups are a good place to start, because for much of human history we’ve been occupied with their mode of existence,” she said. 'There are the !Kung of ­Botswana and the Efe of Zaire. For both of these groups, sleep is a very fluid state. They sleep when they feel like it—during the day, in the evening, in the dead of night.'”

"Sleep, it seemed, was putty—some cultures stretched it out, some chopped it up, and others, like our own, squeezed it into one big lump."

What about sleep in the modern world? Psychiatrist Richard A. Friedman, MD believes interrupted sleep may be normal for some of us:

“Many patients tell me they have a sleep problem because they wake up in the middle of the night for a time, typically 45 minutes to an hour, but fall uneventfully back to sleep. Curiously, there seems to be no consequence to this 'problem.' They are unaffected during the day and have plenty of energy and concentration to go about their lives."

The problem, it seems, is not so much with their sleep as it is with a common and mistaken notion about what constitutes a normal night's sleep.”

Our ancestors began sleeping on the ground over 2 million years ago. Some individuals likely slept for long stretches while others slept in a bimodal or multimodal pattern. With the development of artificial electric lighting in the late 1800s, the photoperiod became longer while dark-period became shorter. For many of us, our circadian rhythms resist this compression of nighttime. Soon enough, the alarm clock reminds us we live in a modern world where dark-time compression is the norm. We continue trying to adapt our mostly Paleolithic genes to the modern world.

What is your sleep pattern? Comment and let me know. 

Initially posted December 02, 2010, Revised August 10, 2014.

Related Entries: The End of Night

Space weather: Know your solar flares

M-class solar flare.  NASA's Solar Dynamics Observatory

M-class solar flare.  NASA's Solar Dynamics Observatory

“Scientists classify solar flares according to their x-ray brightness in the wavelength range 1 to 8 Angstroms. There are 3 categories: X-class flares are big; they are major events that can trigger planet-wide radio blackouts and long-lasting radiation storms. M-class flares are medium-sized; they can cause brief radio blackouts that affect Earth’s polar regions. Minor radiation storms sometimes follow an M-class flare. Compared to X- and M-class events, C-class flares are small with few noticeable consequences here on Earth.”


Related post:  Coronal Mass Ejection of 1859

Coronal Mass Ejection of 1859

NASA illustration. 

NASA illustration. 

"This massive CME released about 1022 kJ of energy - the equivalent to 10 billion Hiroshima bombs exploding at the same time - and hurled around a trillion kilos of charged particles towards the Earth at speeds of up to 3000 km/s. However, its impact on the human population was relatively benign as our electronic infrastructure at the time amounted to no more than about 124,000 miles (200,000 km) of telegraph lines. 
Mr Dale makes it clear in the latest issue of Physics World that these types of events are not just a threat, but inevitable. 
Nasa scientists have predicted that the Earth is in the path of a Carrington-level event every 150 years on average."

Read more: From blackouts to transport chaos: Solar superstorms pose a ‘catastrophic’ threat to life on Earth, warns scientist

Natural benefits

"Massachusetts General Hospital has just teamed up with the Appalachian Mountain Club in Boston to prescribe nature as a way to improve wellness. And in Washington D.C., the new Park Rx initiative is designed to help people access nature. "National parks have always been loved for their symbolism and scenery, but we want to increase the awareness of their role in preventative medicine and therapy," said National Park Service Director Jonathan Jarvis."

Learn more:  Nature - Just What the Doctor Ordered

Toyota Introduces I-Road Pod Car

Source: Green Car Reports

Source: Green Car Reports

Toyota’s three-wheeled I-Road is now under limited testing in Japan. The I-Road is designed to be far more mobile in the city (it’s just 33 inches wide) and can park almost anywhere. It’s all electric - using two 2kW motors - which provides only 5 horsepower but enough to push the I-Road around. It’s active suspension system leans into turns, giving the feeling of a motorcycle, but with the safety and reliability of a car. It’s just fun to drive. According to Christopher DeMorro writing for CleanTechnica:

The best part though is that it returns a sense of “driving” to the car experience, as you’re not insulated from the road by a massive machine. Instead, you lean with the i-Road, and you have more control on the overall experience than you’d find in almost any other production car.

"Climate change affects military readiness"

Climate change affects military readiness, strains base resilience, creates missions in new regions of the world and increases the likelihood that our armed forces will be deployed for humanitarian missions. In many cases it also threatens our infrastructure and affects our economy. And our continued reliance on the fossil fuels whose consumption leads to climate change ties our nation’s hands on the world stage and tethers us to nations that do not always have our best interests at heart.
— Rear Adm. David Titley (Ret.)

The End of Night

Columbian Exposition in Chicago, 1893 - the dawn of the age of light. Image: PBS.org

Columbian Exposition in Chicago, 1893 - the dawn of the age of light. Image: PBS.org

Over 60 million Americans have problems sleeping. While insomnia has many causes, one is the use of electric lighting.  Our circadian rhythms developed from the 24-hour rotation of the Earth. Toward the end of the day, the slowly fading sunlight allowed the brains of our hominid ancestors to prepare for sleep. Around 1 million years ago, hominids began to use fire and congregate around campfires for warmth and safety. Socialization increased. Eventually cooking developed and led to further brain evolution.

The first lamps - made from moss or other plant material and animal fat placed in a natural stone recesses - are tens of thousands of years old. Portable lamps fueled by animal fat, and later oil, were carried by Cro-Magnon into the deep recesses of the Lascaux and Altamira caves where they painted remarkable images of ice age fauna 13,000-18,000 years ago.

First used around 400 AD, candles were an important form of lighting for 1,500 years until the development of gas lighting at the end of the eighteenth century. Candles could be linked together to create a spectacle:

"In 1761, at the coronation of George III, groups of 3000 candles were connected together with threads of gun cotton, and lit in half a minute. Those clustered below were showered with hot wax and burning thread."

Campfires, oil lamps, candles and gas lamps cast a dim light and nighttime activity remained limited. However, at some point, night was effectively overcome. An important landmark was Edison’s invention of the long-lasting incandescent lamp in 1879. The first lasting 13.5 hours.

My pick for the year heralding the end of night is 1893, the year Nikoli Tesla lit up the night at Columbian Exposition in Chicago. Following a prolonged rivalry with Edison on the most effective current for delivering electricity – direct current vs. alternating current, Tesla used long-lasting bulbs (by Westinghouse) and alternating current to create "the most spectacular display the world had ever seen.”

The dawn of electric lighting was the Internet of its age: it changed everything. By using electricity, “daytime” could last all day long. We could work day, night, or both.

Let’s return to the sleep problem. Imagine you are heading to bed and the light in the bedroom is bright. When ready for sleep, you turn off the current to the incandescent bulb(s) and fall into immediate darkness. With no time to prepare, your brain whispers: “What, you expect me to release this stuff immediately? Can you at least warn me?”

Normally, as light fades, melatonin is released (dis-inhibited) and, working in concert with a build-up of adenosine, brings on sleep. While some fall into a deep sleep quickly even with the lights on, many of us need a slow transition from light to dark to be adequately prepared for restful sleep. In the modern world, electrons heat the bulb's filament causing it to glow and shower photons on our retinas (even through closed lids) keeping us awake. Today, we control the onset of “night” and need to be a little wiser to get the sleep we need.

John Oró

Learn more: A History of Light and Lighting

Initially published November 22, 2010. Revised July 8, 2014.

100-calorie pack of Oreos vs. 100 calories of avocado

100 Calori Pack of Oreo (Image: Nabisco) vs. ½ of an avocado (Image: PaleoTerran)

100 Calori Pack of Oreo (Image: Nabisco) vs. ½ of an avocado (Image: PaleoTerran)

For years we have been taught the calorie myth - a calorie is a calorie no matter where it comes from. While in terms of energy a calorie is a calorie, the type of food the calories come from can make a huge difference on physiological impact.  Thus the concept of the calorie myth: a calorie may not be a calorie nutritionally. In a recent JAMA commentary, Dr. David Ludwig, head of the Obesity Prevention Center at Boston Children’s Hospital, compares the impact of two very different foods: 

The longstanding low-fat diet dogma and the concomitant calorie myth has caused many frustrated people to blame overeating and sloth for their inability to lose weight, and this is wrong, said Ludwig.

Eating refined carbs, such as a 100-calorie pack of Oreos, produces a huge surge of insulin that signals your fat cells to store calories. In contrast, eating 100 calories of avocado won’t produce the same insulin charge. You’ll also feel fuller, longer, after eating the avocado, while the Oreos will make your blood sugar spike and rapidly crash, causing you to feel ravenous in short order.

According to Dr. Bill Lagakos, author of The poor, misunderstood calorie:

The calories in food are not the same as those expended by the body. Carb-rich foods are easily over-eaten, producing a positive energy balance. The accompanying elevations in insulin cause net fat storage. Maybe all calories are calories, but not all calories are equally obesogenic.

Fasting: Switch on your "state of self-renewal"

According to a new study in Cell, when you fast your body saves energy by recycling your immune cells, especially those that are damaged. Arjun Walia writing for Collective Evolution:

"A number of ancient health practices are proving to be effective in multiple ways. We recently posted an article about meditation, and how neuroscience can now explain what happens to the brain when we meditate. Now, scientists have discovered the first evidence of a natural intervention triggering stem cell-based regeneration of an organ or system. The study was published in the June 5 issue of Cell by researchers from the University of Southern California. The research shows that cycles of prolonged fasting protect against immune system damage and induce immune system regeneration. They concluded that fasting shifts stem cells from a dormant state to a state of self-renewal."

Learn more: Scientists Discover That Fasting Triggers Stem Cell Regeneration & Fights Cancer

Does chronic stress lead to stroke or heart attack?

New research suggests chronic stress can cause arterial blockage and lead to stroke or heart attack. According to Science:

"Epidemiological studies have shown that people who face many stressors—from those who survive natural disasters to those who work long hours—are more likely to develop atherosclerosis, the accumulation of fatty plaques inside blood vessels. In addition to fats and cholesterols, the plaques contain monocytes and neutrophils, immune cells that cause inflammation in the walls of blood vessels. And when the plaques break loose from the walls where they’re lodged, they can cause more extreme blockages elsewhere—leading to a stroke or heart attack."
"Studying the effect of stressful intensive care unit (ICU) shifts on medical residents, biologist Matthias Nahrendorf of Harvard Medical School in Boston recently found that blood samples taken when the doctors were most stressed out had the highest levels of neutrophils and monocytes. To probe whether these white blood cells, or leukocytes, are the missing link between stress and atherosclerosis, he and his colleagues turned to experiments on mice."

Learn more: How stress can clog your arteries