The Ways Food Tricks Our Brains .

In 1998, researchers from the University of Pennsylvania published a study that might strike you as kind of mean.

They took two people with severe amnesia, who couldn’t remember events occurring more than a minute earlier, and fed them lunch. Then a few minutes later, they offered a second lunch. The amnesic patients eagerly ate it. Then a few minutes later, they offered a third lunch, and the patients ate that, too. Days later, they repeated the experiment, telling two people with no short-term memory that it was lunch time over and over and observing them readily eat multiple meals in a short period of time.

This might seem like a somewhat trivial discovery, but it unveils a simple truth about why we eat. Hunger doesn’t come from our stomachs alone. It comes from our heads, too. We need our active memories to know when to begin and end a meal.

While our stomachs know exactly what food we’re eating (since they’re the organ responsible for processing it) our brains are a bit more easily tricked. In this month’s Journal of Consumer Research, two studies on our brains and food open a crack into a depressing world of the eating brain’s awful gullibility.

How Menus Trick Us

Calorie counts can be good things. Even if they don’t dramatically change our behavior, studies have shown that they gently nudge both foodies and restaurants toward lower-calorie fare. But a new study from JCR found that there’s an easy way to eliminate the benefit of calorie counts. If you organize all the healthy dishes into a single “low-cal” category, it ironically diminishes all of the positive effects of calorie-posting. Having a separate Health Menu lets people consider the Health Menu separately. They feel good that it’s there, and then they proceed to order the same fatty stuff they wanted to eat in the first place.

How Food Tricks Us

Simply labeling a food as “healthy” makes it taste worse. But what tricky qualities make unhealthy food taste healthy?

In a series of studies written up in the latest JCR, researchers asked participants to eat bite-sized brownies while watching TV (fun!). Some of the brownies were hard and some were soft. Subjects ate more soft brownies when they weren’t prompted by any questions. But when they were told to think about calorie content, they switched and suddenly ate more rough brownies. To the eating brain, harder-to-eat equals healthier-to-eat.

The study fits neatly into a body of evidence that suggests that foods with rough textures feel heartier and healthier, even when they have the exact same nutritional qualities as softer versions. “Granola bars, trail mixes, nuts, and many cereals, in spite of being high in calories, often are perceived to be healthy probably because” their roughness feels less luxuriant and requires more work to break into swallow-able piece, the researchers conclude. The implications of this idea are sort of fascinating for fast-food companies: If you want your greasy stuff to feel healthier, make it rougher. In fact, Burger King’s new line of fries — Satisfries — were explicitly given a rougher texture.

How Ambience Tricks Us

Temperature, lighting, smells, noise: Researchers call them “atmospherics.” I prefer to call it “ambience.” Whatever you call it, these factors have a surprising ability to distract us from our food and change how much we eat. A lit review from Insead showed that:

  • People eat more in restaurants when the temperature is cool, possibly because we need more energy to warm up;
  • Soft lighting (candlelight, in particular) puts us at ease and makes us eat for longer periods of time, while bright lights make us eat faster;
  • Nice smells were shown to increase soda consumption in movie-watching experiments, while awful smells make us feel full faster
  • Social distractions — particularly  watching TV or eating with friends — can lead to longer periods of eating because, like the amnesic patients at the top of the article, they make us forget what we’ve just consumed.

How Rules Trick Us

When we want to be responsible (i.e. study for a test, stay on a diet), we’re most successful when confronted with really obvious forms of temptation.

If you need to study and your buddy says, “we’re going to a strip club!” your brain will be like, well I definitely can’t study at a strip club, so no. But what if that friend says, “we’re going to a coffee shop, come get a latte”? A cup of coffee is a less obvious violation of studying than a lap dance. Your brain doesn’t outright reject the idea of a coffee shop immediately. Maybe you go to the coffee shop, get into a 45-minute discussion about Captain America, wind up doing the same amount of productive studying as if you’d gone to a club, and flunk the test. The lesser temptation ironically proved even more tempting—and even more disastrous.

The curse of the lesser temptation applies to food, too. Say you’re on a diet and the waiter asks if you want the Chocolate Mount Vesuvius Cake. Your brain goes wow, that is really obviously unhealthy, no way.  But if the waiter offers an array of smaller, less obviously unhealthy options (pana cotta with fresh fruit!), the force of the temptation feels less obvious, and your self-regulating mechanism doesn’t blare so loudly. Researchers have consistently found that obvious violations to our diet are easily rejected. But less obvious violations lead us consistently to temptation, because they disarm our fine-tuned self-regulating mechanisms.

How Salads Trick Us

In the mid-2000s, McDonald’s got more aggressive about promoting healthy options like salads and fruit. But its turnaround in those years was due entirely to people eating more “fast-food basics” off the Dollar Menu, like cheeseburgers and fried chicken. Promoting healthy options seemed to lure wannabe-dieters into the restaurant, only to see them order the standard greasy fare.

One theory behind this weirdness is called “vicarious goal fulfillment.” It’s the idea that the mere presence of healthy options like salad at a restaurant can ironically lead to eating less healthy food. Including a healthy option in an array of unhealthy foods can lead to more indulgence, according to a CUNY study from 2013. Researchers found that including salad on a menu of sides with french fries, chicken nuggets, and baked potato increased the odds that health-concious people would order the greasy fries rather than reject all of the options. The researchers concluded that for many of us, merely considering a healthy option satisfies our goal to be healthy, giving us license to indulge in fatty foods.

How Restaurants Trick Us

“Healthy” restaurants have unhealthy consequences. A 2007 study found that we wildly underestimate 1,000-calorie meals at “healthy” restaurants like Subway considerably more than same-calorie meals at McDonald’s. “Remarkably the biasing effect of health claims on calorie estimations are as strong for consumers highly involved in nutrition as for consumers with little interest in nutrition or healthy eating,” they wrote. Previous studies found that we order higher calorie side dishes at restaurants with healthy reputations

Although obesity is a messy dish with a million ingredients, this ironic “health” halo is considered partly responsible of the fact that, between 1991 and 2001, adult obesity rates grew from 23 to 31 percent while the share of Americans eating low-calorie food grew from 48 to 60 percent.

How Labels Trick Us

We are “a country of low-fat foods and high-fat people,” Brian Wansink and Pierre Chandon begin memorably in their paper showing that “low-fat” labels can contribute to over-eating, just as previous studies showed that labeling food samples as “small” seems to reduce our consumption guilt and encourage us to eat too much.

Labeling snacks as “low-fat” can increase consumption by as much as 50 percent, they conclude. Across three studies, they show that low-fat labels lead all consumers—particularly those who are overweight—to overeat snack foods by as much as 50 percent above their target. In this way, healthy labels that ostensibly train us to pay attention to what we eat ironically make us more mindless when we’re snacking.

Brain size matters when it comes to animal self-control .

Chimpanzees may throw tantrums like toddlers, but their total brain size suggests they have more self-control than, say, a gerbil or fox squirrel, according to a new study of 36 species of mammals and birds ranging from orangutans to zebra finches.

Scientists at Duke University, UC Berkeley, Stanford, Yale and more than two-dozen other research institutions collaborated on this first large-scale investigation into the evolution of self-control, defined in the study as the ability to inhibit powerful but ultimately counter-productive behavior. They found that the species with the largest brain volume — not volume relative to body size — showed superior cognitive powers in a series of food-foraging experiments.

Moreover, animals with the most varied diets showed the most self-restraint, according to the study published April 21 in the journal of the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

“The study levels the playing field on the question of animal intelligence,” said UC Berkeley psychologist Lucia Jacobs, a co-author of this study and of its precursor, a 2012 paper in the journal, Animal Cognition.

This latest study was led by evolutionary anthropologists Evan MacLean, Brian Hare and Charles Nunn of Duke University. The findings challenge prevailing assumptions that “relative” brain size is a more accurate predictor of intelligence than “absolute” brain size. One possibility, they posited, is that “as brains get larger, the total number of neurons increases and brains tend to become more modularized, perhaps facilitating the evolution of new cognitive networks.”

While participating researchers all performed the same series of experiments, they did so on their own turf and on their own animal subjects. Data was provided on bonobos, chimpanzees, gorillas, olive baboons, stump-tailed macaques, golden snub-nosed monkeys, brown, red-bellied and aye-aye lemurs, coyotes, dogs, gray wolves, Asian elephants, domestic pigeons, orange-winged amazons, Eurasian jays, western scrub jay, zebra finches and swamp sparrows.

Food inside a tube used as bait

In one experiment, creatures large and small were tested to see if they would advance toward a clear cylinder visibly containing food — showing a lack of self-restraint — after they had been trained to access the food through a side opening in an opaque cylinder. Large-brained primates such as gorillas quickly navigated their way to the treat or “bait.” Smaller-brained animals did so with mixed results.

Jacobs and UC Berkeley doctoral student Mikel Delgado contributed the only rodent data in the study, putting some of the campus’s fox squirrels and some Mongolian gerbils in their lab through food-foraging tasks.

Mixed results on campus squirrels’ self-restraint

In the case of the fox squirrels, the red-hued, bushy-tailed critters watched as the food was placed in a side opening of an opaque cylinder. Once they demonstrated a familiarity with the location of the opening, the food was moved to a transparent cylinder and the real test began. If the squirrels lunged directly at the food inside the bottle, they had failed to inhibit their response. But if they used the side entrance, the move was deemed a success.

“About half of the squirrels and gerbils did well and inhibited the direct approach in more than seven out of 10 trials,” Delgado said. “The rest didn’t do so well.”

In a second test, three cups (A, B and C) were placed in a row on their sides so the animals could see which one contained food. It was usually cup A. The cups were then turned upside down so the “baited” cup could no longer be seen. If the squirrels touched the cup with the food three times in a row, they graduated to the next round. This time, the food was moved from cup A to cup C at the other end of the row.

“The question was, would they approach cup A, where they had originally learned the food was placed, or could they update this learned response to get the food from a new location?” Delgado said. “The squirrels and gerbils tended to go to the original place they had been trained to get food, showing a failure to inhibit what they originally learned.”

“It might be that a squirrel’s success in life is affected the same way as in people,” Jacobs said. “By its ability to slow down and think a bit before it snatches at a reward.”

Story Source:

The above story is based on materials provided by University of California – Berkeley. The original article was written by Yasmin Anwar. Note: Materials may be edited for content and length.

Journal Reference:

  1. E. L. MacLean, B. Hare, C. L. Nunn, E. Addessi, F. Amici, R. C. Anderson, F. Aureli, J. M. Baker, A. E. Bania, A. M. Barnard, N. J. Boogert, E. M. Brannon, E. E. Bray, J. Bray, L. J. N. Brent, J. M. Burkart, J. Call, J. F. Cantlon, L. G. Cheke, N. S. Clayton, M. M. Delgado, L. J. DiVincenti, K. Fujita, E. Herrmann, C. Hiramatsu, L. F. Jacobs, K. E. Jordan, J. R. Laude, K. L. Leimgruber, E. J. E. Messer, A. C. de A. Moura, L. Ostoji , A. Picard, M. L. Platt, J. M. Plotnik, F. Range, S. M. Reader, R. B. Reddy, A. A. Sandel, L. R. Santos, K. Schumann, A. M. Seed, K. B. Sewall, R. C. Shaw, K. E. Slocombe, Y. Su, A. Takimoto, J. Tan, R. Tao, C. P. van Schaik, Z. Viranyi, E. Visalberghi, J. C. Wade, A. Watanabe, J. Widness, J. K. Young, T. R. Zentall, Y. Zhao. The evolution of self-control. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, 2014; DOI: 10.1073/pnas.1323533111

Jet lag app gets you back in sync .

We all have various tricks for coping with jet lag. Staying awake for days, melatonin tablets, or just good ol’ copious amounts of coffee. Now, a newly-released iPhone app called Entrain could help travelers restore whacked-out rhythms after long trips, Science reports. It tells you exactly when you should go outside to catch some rays and when it’s lights out for the night.

Circadian rhythms are our body’s internal timekeeping system. It adjusts our body temperature and tells us when to eat, sleep, and produce red blood cells. Jet lag happens when our circadian biological timing becomes misaligned with the timing of our human activities — first few days of play when we’re on vacation, first few days of work when we’re back. Being out of sync is something your body usually sorts out on its own with time, but prolonged misalignment can lead to cardiovascular disease and diabetes.
So, mathematicians Kirill Serkh and Daniel Forger from University of Michigan, Ann Arbor, developed a way to rapidly “re-entrain” (or fall back into synchronicity with) ourselves. They compared simulations of thousands of different situations in order to figure out the mathematically optimal schedules of light exposure and avoidance.
Their number crunching resulted in specialized adjustment schedules for “optimal re-entrainment” for more than 1000 travel itineraries, Science explains. For example:

If you’re traveling from Detroit to London, for example, Entrain says you’ll need to turn off the lights at about 9 p.m. and rise at 6:20 a.m. the next day in order to get used to your new time zone as quickly as possible. If the app prescribes bright outdoor light when you’d rather sleep in, a therapeutic sunlamp in your hotel room might do the trick.

“Overcoming jet lag is fundamentally a math problem and we’ve calculated the optimal way of doing it,” Forger says in a news release. “We’re certainly not the first people to offer advice about this, but our predictions show the best and quickest ways to adjust across time zones.” To get over jet lag most efficiently, they suggest:
  • Experience one block of light and one block of darkness each day.
  • The length of daytime should be significantly shorter when delaying the clock, rather than when advancing it.
  • During the light phase, be in the brightest light possible. Short light pulses are less effective than sustained light.
  • During the dark phase, be in the dimmest light possible. Even a short burst of bright light at the wrong time can extend the time it takes to adjust.
  • Dark phases don’t have to be sleep phases, but if you must be outside, block blue light with rose-tinted glasses or a visor.
If the prescribed schedule helps or doesn’t help with rapid readjustment, you can log your travel schedule and jet lag experiences on the app. This will help the team determine if their theoretical models actually work in real life.

Is Love Really Essential to Marriage?

We all have a childhood dream that when there is love, everything goes like silk, but the reality is that marriage requires a lot of compromise—Raquel Welch

The notion that “love and marriage go together like a horse and carriage” is still widespread, but the arguments against it are gaining strength. Addressing such arguments requires clarifying what we mean by profound love.

The Recent Connection Between Love and Marriage

The older I get, the less time I want to spend with the part of the human race that didn’t marry me—Robert Brault

The prevailing ideal that passionate love is essential in marriage is actually recently new. I

n her book on the history of marriage, Stephanie Coontz (2005) shows that this ideal became prevalent only about two centuries ago: “People have always fallen in love, and throughout the ages many couples have loved each other deeply. But only rarely in history has love been seen as the main reason for getting married.” Coontz further argues that “in many cultures, love has been seen as a desirable outcome of marriage but not as a good reason for getting married in the first place.”

Similarly, Pascal Bruckner (2013) argues that in the past, marriage was sacred, and love, if it existed at all, was a kind of bonus. Now that love has come to be seen as essential in marriage, love is perceived as sacred, and marriage as secondary.

Accordingly, the number of marriages has been declining, while divorces, unmarried partners, and single-parent families are increasing. Bruckner notes that love has triumphed over marriage, but now may be destroying it from within.

Considering passionate romantic love as essential in marriage has upgraded the value of marriage, making it a top priority in our lives. It has also, however, made marriages more volatile and uncertain. The issue of whether to leave a marriage in which love is not passionate becomes alarmingly central for many couples, and romantic compromises become a major concern.

Objections to the Connection

I never knew what real happiness was until I got married. And by then it was too late—Max Kauffman

There are two major types of objections to considering love as the essence of marriage:

  1. Marriage is a framework of living that includes other important factors besides love.
  2. Passionate love is a relatively short-term experience in our lives, and so the long-term aspects of love are of greater importance.

The first set of objections indicates that marriage is a social framework that exists within certain socioeconomic circumstances—and that the well-being of the couple requires this fact to be taken into account. The second set of objections suggests that passionate love is unstable, exciting, and brief—and that this is contrary to the stable, routine, and longterm nature of marriage. The combination of these objections leads to the claim that considering love as the essence of marriage is bound to lead to disappointments and romantic compromises.

It is obvious that as a framework of living, there is more to marriage (or to other types of committed relationships) than just love. Getting married should take into account additional aspects—for example, whether a partner is likely to be a good provider and a good parent. Indeed, throughout history, marriage has been regarded as a kind of “deal” that should improve, or at least not harm, either person’s status and economic wealth. (For this reason, despite a variety of stories on the Cinderella theme, marrying “below oneself” has typically been infrequent.) Marrying for love may make a person blind to these additional aspects—there’s a saying that, “He who marries for love has good nights and bad days.” Coontz notes that the Enlightenment gave rise to the view that “love developed slowly, out of admiration, respect, and appreciation of someone’s good character.”

Socioeconomic considerations are related to all kinds of external circumstances that carry weight in the decision to get married. In our society, it appears that the value of such considerations is decreasing while that of love is increasing. The importance of love for both the establishment and the maintenance of a marriage is greatest in Western and Westernized nations, which tend to have higher economic standards of living, higher marriage and divorce rates, and lower fertility rates (Berscheid, 2010).

In light of the general improvement in living conditions in modern society, it’s understandable that the value of socioeconomic advantages is given less weight than that of love. However, these advantages have not disappeared—they have become part of the factors that increase love. It is easier for many to fall in love with people who have a higher socioeconomic status; to them, these people appear to be more desirable and therefore sexually attractive. Although the socioeconomic considerations for marriage may be losing ground as more people are able to maintain and even improve their socioeconomic situation without it, external circumstances still influence the decision to form any committed relationship, including marriage.

I believe that all of the above objections can be met once we distinguish between intense and profound love.

Establishing the Connection

There is no substitute for the comfort supplied by the utterly “taken-for granted” relationship—Iris Murdoch

Establishing the connection between love and marriage requires the distinction between the acute emotion of intense passionate love and the different sentiment of profound love. A sentiment does not merely consist of experiencing a given acute emotion repeatedlyit also shapes our attitudes and behavior in a permanent way. A flash of intense sexual desire might last for a very short time, but profound love resonates constantly, coloring our moods, our demeanor, and the way we relate to time and space. Romantic intensity expresses the momentary value of acute emotions. Romantic profundity embodies frequent acute occurrences of intense love over long periods of time, along with a life experience that resonates in all dimensions, helping the individuals flourish and thrive. Romantic profundity involves shared activities which fulfill essential needs that foster of a couple’s long-term flourishing. The profundity of a romantic experience is different from how intensely it is felt. A short sexual desire may be more intense than a longer experience of romantic love, but it is less profound.

The above objections to considering love as the essence of marriage are valid concerning the acute emotion of intense, passionate love—but not concerning the sentiment of profound love. In a recent Psychology Today post on why marrying for love is not wise, Susan Pease Gadoua suggested three reasons:

  1. Love is a changeable emotion.
  2. Love does not make for a strong enough foundation.
  3. Love is far from “all you need.”

I believe that the notion of profound love can persuasively meet these objections.

  1. Intense passionate love is indeed a short-term emotion depending to a great extent on changeable circumstances—but the sentiment of profound love is a phenomenon that can last for many years.
  2. It is true that intense passionate love, limited in scope, does not provide a strong enough foundation for living together for many years; however, profound love, based upon a profound compatibility between two lovers, enables them to share many activities together and to promote their flourishing.
  3. Intense passionate love is indeed far from “all you need,” but profound love nurtures each lover’s flourishing as well as their common flourishing. In this sense, it enables the two to fulfill other needs as well. In this context Augustine’s claim—”Love, and do what you will”—is quite proper. In profound love, all activities will naturally nurture the lovers’ flourishing.

Marrying a person on the basis of merely intense passionate love, while ignoring, say, the person’s low intelligence or lack of kindness, may be considered in the short run as a very romantic decision. However, when long-term considerations of profundity are taken into account, the decision will typically prove to be a romantic disaster, involving misery and the feeling of having made a romantic compromise.

Love should have a central place in our life and our decision to marry, or enter into other types of committed relationships. However, long-term happiness and meaningfulness cannot be based upon intense passion alone, but should involve profound love, which includes shared activities and profound care and reciprocity, as well as at least a moderate level of intensity.

As Mignon McLaughlin put it: “A successful marriage requires falling in love many times, always with the same person.”



Berscheid, E. (2010). Love in the fourth dimension. Annual Review of Psychology, 61, 1-25.

Bruckner, P. (2013). Has marriage for love failed? Cambridge: Polity.

Coontz, S. (2005). Marriage, a history: From obedience to intimacy or How love conquered marriage. New York: Viking.

Brain implants could boost work – and pay .

Humans who opt to have technological impants will become society’s biggest earners and the average working week could rise by a third to 50.5 hours, according to futurologists.

Futurologists predict implants that will provide ‘additional brain power’ and increase earnings

Brain scans could soon be used to pick out benefits cheats and discover whether they are really experiencing pain, a Royal Society report says.

Thirty years from now it may be necessary for human workers to receive implants providing “additional processing power for our brains”, they claimed.

The predictions were published in a report commissioned by, a job search website. It said workers who are willing to incorporate technology will become the biggest earners, but added that they could be left with poor eyesight, smaller sexual organs and constantly-furrowed brows due to the demands of mid-21st century life.

An Apple a Day, and Other Myths.

A trip to almost any bookstore or a cruise around the Internet might leave the impression that avoiding cancer is mostly a matter of watching what you eat. One source after another promotes the protective powers of “superfoods,” rich in antioxidants and other phytochemicals, or advises readers to emulate the diets of Chinese peasants or Paleolithic cave dwellers.

But there is a yawning divide between this nutritional folklore and science. During the last two decades the connection between the foods we eat and the cellular anarchy called cancer has been unraveling string by string.

This month at the annual meeting of the American Association for Cancer Research, a mammoth event that drew more than 18,500 researchers and other professionals here, the latest results about diet and cancer were relegated to a single poster session and a few scattered presentations. There were new hints that coffee may lower the risk of some cancers and more about the possible benefits of vitamin D. Beyond that there wasn’t much to say.

In the opening plenary session, Dr. Walter C. Willett, a Harvard epidemiologist who has spent many years studying cancer and nutrition, sounded almost rueful as he gave a status report. Whatever is true for other diseases, when it comes to cancer there was little evidence that fruits and vegetables are protective or that fatty foods are bad.

About all that can be said with any assurance is that controlling obesity is important, as it also is for heart disease, Type 2 diabetes, hypertension, stroke and other threats to life. Avoiding an excess of alcohol has clear benefits. But unless a person is seriously malnourished, the influence of specific foods is so weak that the signal is easily swamped by noise.

The situation seemed very different in 1997, when the World Cancer Research Fund and the American Institute for Cancer Research published a report, thick as a phone book, concluding that diets loaded with fruits and vegetables might reduce the overall incidence of cancer by more than 20 percent.

After reviewing more than 4,000 studies, the authors were persuaded that green vegetables helped ward off lung and stomach cancer. Colon and thyroid cancer might be avoided with broccoli, cabbage and brussels sprouts. Onions, tomatoes, garlic, carrots and citrus fruits all seemed to play important roles.

In 2007, a major follow-up all but reversed the findings. While some kinds of produce might have subtle benefits, the authors concluded, “in no case now is the evidence of protection judged to be convincing.”

The reason for the change was more thorough epidemiology. The earlier studies tended to be “retrospective,” relying on people to remember dietary details from the distant past. These results were often upended by “prospective” protocols, in which the health of large populations was followed in real time.

The hypothesis that fatty foods are a direct cause of cancer has also been crumbling, along with the case for eating more fiber. The idea that red meat causes colon cancer is shrouded in ambiguity. Two meta-analyses published in 2011 reached conflicting conclusions — one finding a small effect and the other no clear link at all.

If hamburgers are carcinogenic, the effect appears to be mild. One study suggests that a 50-year-old man eating a hefty amount of red meat — about a third of a pound a day — raises his chance of getting colorectal cancer to 1.71 percent during the next decade, from 1.28 percent. Spread over a population of millions, that would have an impact. From the point of view of an individual, it barely seems to matter.

Trying to tweeze feeble effects from a tangle of variables, many of them unknown, inevitably leads to a tug of war of contradictory reports. (As the San Diego meeting was winding up, a new paper on high-fat diets and breast cancer suggested there might be a connection after all.)

With even the most rigorous studies, it is hard to adjust for what epidemiologists call confounding factors: Assiduous eaters of fruits and vegetables probably weigh less, exercise more often and are vigilant about their health in other ways. Some of this can be sorted out with randomized controlled trials, with two large groups of people arbitrarily assigned different diets. But such studies are expensive, and the rules are hard to enforce in the short term — and probably impossible over the many years it can take for cancer to develop.

The emphasis at the meeting was on other things: new immunotherapies, the role of chronic inflammation and the endlessly intricate subterfuges of cancer cells. With his focus on nutrition, Dr. Willett seemed like the odd man out.

“Diet and cancer has turned out to be more complex and challenging than any of us expected,” he said, standing thin as a rail at the lectern. There were some reasons for optimism. A study last year suggested that while eating lots of produce had no effect on most breast cancers, vegetables might reduce the occurrence of a type called estrogen-negative. Cutting back on milk and other dairy products might possibly lower the risk of prostate cancer. As epidemiologists began to follow the health of younger populations, Dr. Willett hoped that more dietary influences would yet emerge.

That evening at a reception hosted by the M. D. Anderson Cancer Center, guests partook of a sumptuous buffet that included, among other fare, thick slabs of roast beef, a variety of rich cheeses and generous servings of wine. Afterward came the cancer research association’s grand celebration known for its dessert buffet.

The next morning the scientists were back at the meeting, coffee in hand, rushing from session to session. Some might have paused to study a display in the convention dining area recognizing the 50th anniversary of the surgeon general’s report on smoking and cancer.

In countering this disease, the campaign against tobacco has been the closest thing to a triumph. But now that smoking is on the wane in this country, obesity is on the rise. Being fat (as opposed to eating fat), Dr. Willett proposed, may now be causing more fatal cancers than cigarettes.

Ibuprofen Leads to Leaky Gut – disinformation

Popping an ibuprofen after a workout or for a headache seems safe enough, right? Recent research shows the OTC drug could be contributing to leaky gut syndrome and celiac disease.

Anyone who suffers from gluten sensitivity, intolerance, or celiac disease knows how troublesome the problem is. Unlike some immediately life-threatening allergies, such as peanut or seafood, gluten allergies don’t send their sufferers into anaphylactic shock. Rather, those who suffer from gluten sensitivities and celiac disease have a myriad of potential problems to deal with, including gastro-intestinal problems, hives, pain, arthritis, and even cloudy thinking and depression.


Gluten is a protein primarily found in wheat, barley, and rye. The name comes from the Latin gluten, meaning glue, which makes perfect sense—it helps things stick together and keep shape, and gives dough and other foods a firm, chewy texture. Because so many products are processed with wheat, gluten can show up in everything from oatmeal and salad dressing to shampoo and lipstick.

For people with celiac disease, consuming gluten triggers an immune response in the digestive system. This response causes inflammation of the intestines, which leads to bloating, diarrhea, vomiting, weight loss, and damage of the intestinal lining. When the lining gets damaged, it causes malabsorption and malnutrition, which can lead to loss of bone density, anemia, infertility, and even cancer. There isn’t a cure for celiac, but sticking to a strict (as even one spore can trigger the immune system) gluten-free diet helps. According to the National Foundation for Celiac Awareness, an estimated 1% of the U.S. population has the disease, though it’s severely under-diagnosed.

In addition, there is evidence that “Risk of death among patients with celiac disease, inflammation, or latent celiac disease is modestly increased.”

It’s also possible to be gluten intolerant without having celiac disease. People with non-celiac gluten sensitivity, as it’s clinically called, have symptoms similar to celiac, but they aren’t due to an immune response. According to a 2012 report by BMC Media, non-celiac patients report more non-digestive symptoms like joint pain, chronic fatigue, and eczema. Again, a gluten-free diet helps alleviate these symptoms.

One more thing: celiac and non-celiac gluten sensitivity are not the same as a wheat allergy. As Mayo Clinic explains, “a wheat allergy generates an allergy-causing antibody to proteins found in wheat. But, one particular protein in wheat—gluten—causes an abnormal immune system reaction in the small intestines of people with celiac disease.”

Phew.Equate Ibuprofen Pills and Bottle

But why are people developing these reactions in the first place?

Recently, some gluten-free champions have revisited studies from the past 20 years that show NSAIDs (non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs) such as ibuprofen might just play a contributing role by increasing the likelihood of leaky gut syndrome. According to one NIH study, “All the conventional NSAIDs studied were equally associated with small intestinal inflammation apart from aspirin…” and “intestinal permeability changes were significantly more pronounced” with some of the tests.

There is also evidence that NSAIDs cause intestinal damage when taken in conjunction with exercise. “This is the first study to reveal that ibuprofen aggravates exercise-induced small intestinal injury and induces gut barrier dysfunction in healthy individuals. We conclude that non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs consumption by athletes is not harmless and should be discouraged.”

And from as far back as the 1980s, a study found “NSAIDs are thus shown to disrupt intestinal integrity and long term treatment leads to inflammation of the small intestine.”

How does this relate to gluten and other food allergies?

When the intestine is permeable and inflamed, infectious or toxic substances “leak” through the lining into the blood stream. This may cause a negative autoimmune response, and inhibits proper digestion and nutrient absorption. It can also lead to a number of other ailments, including diabetes, asthma, and even heart failure.

Ever Wonder How They Test Marijuana For Safety?


As marijuana goes mainstream in the U.S., people are asking new questions about weed. What makes some marijuana especially potent, for example, and how can marijuana be regulated to make sure legal weed doesn’t send them on a bad trip?

For answers to those and other burning questions about the chemistry of cannabis, have a look at the new video (above) issued by the American Chemistry Society as part of its Reactions You Tube channel. The video explains how marijuana’s active ingredient, tetrahydrocannabinol (THC), affects the brain, and how the marijuana-testing labs now springing up across the country test pot for safety and quality control.

From the desk of Zedie.

Scientists explore possibilities of mind reading.

At Yale University, researchers recently used a brain scanner to identify which face someone was looking at — just from their brain activity. At the University of California-Berkeley, scientists are moving beyond “reading” simple thoughts to predicting what someone will think next.

And at Carnegie Mellon, in Pittsburgh, cognitive neuroscientist Marcel Just has a vision that will make Google Glass seem very last century. Instead of using your eye to direct a cursor — finding a phone number for a car repair shop, for instance — he fantasizes about a device that will dial the shop by interpreting your thoughts about the car (minus the expletives).


Mind reading technology isn’t yet where the sci-fi thrillers predict it will go, but researchers like Just aren’t ruling out such a future.

“In principle, our thoughts could someday be readable,” said Just, who directs the school’s Center for Cognitive Brain Imaging. “I don’t think we have to worry about this in the next 5-10 years, but it’s interesting to think about. What if all of our thoughts were public?”

He can imagine a terrifying version of that future, where officials read minds in order to gain control over them. But he prefers to envision a more positive one, with mind reading devices offering opportunities to people with disabilities — and the rest of us.

Marvin Chun, senior author on the Yale work, published last month in the journal Neuroimage, sees a more limited potential for mind reading, at least with current functional-MRI technology, which measures blood flow to infer what is happening in the brain.

“I think we can make it a little better. I don’t think we’ll be able to magically read out people’s faces a whole lot better,” he said.

In his experiment, an undergraduate working in his lab developed a mathematical model to allow a computer to recognize different parts of faces. Then, by scanning the brains of volunteers as they looked at different faces, the researchers trained the computer to interpret how each volunteer’s brain responded to different faces. Lastly, the volunteers were asked to look at new faces while in a brain scanner — and the computer could distinguish which of two faces they were observing. It was correct about 60-70% of the time.

“This will allow us to study things we haven’t studied before about people’s internal representation of faces and memories and imagination and dreams — all of which are represented in some of the same areas we use to reconstruct faces,” said Alan Cowen, who led the research as a Yale undergraduate and is now a graduate student researcher at Berkeley.

Jack Gallant, a leader in the field of mind reading, also at Berkeley, said the work at Yale may not have immediate benefits, but it helps build enthusiasm for the field.

“Brain decoding tells us whether some specific type of information can be recovered from the brain,” he said. “It can also be used to build a brain-computer interface if one is so inclined.”

Because this process requires the volunteer’s full participation, this approach cannot be used to read someone’s mind against their will, Just said.

The Yale work helps confirm that the brain doesn’t just have one area dedicated to a task like perceiving faces, Just said. Instead, “thinking is a collaborative process,” with three or four areas of the brain working together to allow people to distinguish, say, between the face of their spouse and that of their best friend.

Next, Chun said, he’s going to test people with famous faces to see if his scanner and algorithm can tell when someone is thinking about Brad Pitt or his partner, Angelina Jolie.

“It’s a little fantastical, but it’ll be fun to try,” he said. “This really is bringing science fiction closer to reality.”

Prescribing Mushrooms for Anxiety .

“Some of the things I’m about to say might not make sense,” began O.M., a 22-year-old cancer survivor. He had the far-off look in his eyes that I recognized from so many of the other study participants. They sound like travelers, struggling to describe exotic foreign lands to the people left back home. That struggle is a sign that the treatment has worked. Ineffability is one of the primary criteria that define a mystical experience.

“I was outside of my body, looking at myself,” O.M. continued, “My body was lying on a stretcher in front of a hospital. I felt an incredible anxiety—the same anxiety I had felt every day since my diagnosis. Then, like a switch went on, I went from being anxious to analyzing my anxiety from the outside. I realized that nothing was actually happening to me objectively. It was real because I let it become real. And, right when I had that thought, I saw a cloud of black smoke come out of my body and float away.”

The encounter with the black smoke was just one of many experiences that O.M. had that day. As his mind, “like a rocket,” traversed vast expanses, his body never left the comfortable and well-worn couch at the Bluestone Center for Clinical Research in Midtown Manhattan. The athletic first-year medical student is one of 32 participants in a New York University study examining the hallucinogen psilocybin as a treatment for cancer-related anxiety.

For O.M., that anxiety had been crippling. Diagnosed with Hodgkin’s Lymphoma at the age of 21, the then-pre-med student at first refused to accept reality. “I’m pretty domineering,” he laughed. “I told the nurses, ‘I can’t have this right now.’ I thought I could negotiate with cancer.” That domineering spirit served O.M. well through six rounds of chemotherapy. He even looked forward, he insisted, to the debilitating side-effects of his cancer-killing infusions. Enduring them gave him a sense of agency. He could withstand the punishment; his cancer could not. Only when the treatments ended, with his cancer in remission, was O.M. consumed by a feeling of abject helplessness. The fight was over. From that day on, all he could do was wait to see whether the cancer would return.

“When I first met him, he had calluses all over his neck,” explained research manager Gabrielle Agin-Liebes. “He would constantly feel his lymph nodes as a habit, to see if they had grown. Even as he was talking to you, his hand would be up there feeling his neck. Ironically, that would make the lymph nodes swell up even more.”

“He had one of the highest ratings on the anxiety scale that we had seen: 21 out of 30,” Gabrielle continued. “To qualify for the study you only need an eight. The day after his first dosing session, he dropped to zero, and for seven months he’s stayed there. Zero anxiety.” The black cloud had carried it all away.

Psilocybin, found naturally in more than 200 species of mushrooms, has a long history of use by humans. Called “flesh of the gods” by the Aztecs, the mushrooms were widely consumed in religious ceremonies by pre-contact indigenous cultures throughout the Americas.  Cave paintings in Spain and Algeria suggest ritualized ingestion dating back as far as 9,000 years. Brutally suppressed by Christian authorities on both sides of the Atlantic, indigenous psilocybin use was nearly eradicated until the late 195o’s when Western psychiatry rediscovered it.

In the years after World War II, hallucinogen-aided therapy was a rapidly growing field. Conditions as diverse as alcoholism, drug addiction, post-traumatic stress disorder, and anxiety were treated. In the quarter century that followed, 40,000 patients were given psilocybin and other hallucinogens such as DMT, LSD, and mescaline. More than 1000 research papers were produced. The results were very promising, though as the NYU study’s principal investigator Dr. Stephen Ross explained, much of the research lacked proper oversight. “They didn’t understand set and setting in the beginning. Patients would be injected with LSD, put in restraints, and somebody would come back hours later. They were put in very drab clinical environments. Then you had people like Timothy Leary and his group over at Harvard who were using the drugs themselves, using them with famous people, and recklessly promoting psychedelics within American culture.”

The government soon took notice. As paranoia grew within the Nixon Administration over the rise of a drug-fueled counterculture, regulation became a priority. Creeping legislation culminated in the Controlled Substances Act of 1970. The law created five schedules of increasing severity under which drugs were to be classified. Psilocybin was rushed into the most restrictive Schedule I, alongside MDMA, marijuana, and heroin. The classification was reserved for drugs that, by definition, have a “high potential for abuse,” “no currently accepted medical use,” and a “lack of accepted safety.” The act signaled the end of psychedelics research in America for nearly 25 years.

Dr. Stephen Ross

The research made a slow comeback starting in the mid-90’s, but the stigma remains. “The only thing I learned about psychedelics in psychiatry training is that they were toxic,” Dr. Ross explained. “We were told that they cause psychosis. I’d also heard the old urban legends: that they cause chromosomal damage, and that if you take seven hits of LSD you go insane. But, I knew nothing about their history in psychology and in mental health, which had been considerable.”

The soft-spoken psychiatrist first came to NYU under a fellowship to do research on drug addiction. In his search for novel treatments for intractable conditions, Ross stumbled upon a decades-old study in which LSD had been used to successfully cure alcoholism. “I was shocked,” he admitted. “As a Schedule I drug, I assumed that LSD must be very addictive. But that simply wasn’t true. It does not behave like an addictive drug by any measure. I was even more shocked to find out that Bill Wilson, the founder of Alcoholics Anonymous, got sober from a psychedelics-induced mystical experience. He was so impressed that he actually wanted to introduce it into the bylaws of AA.”

As for the toxicity Dr. Ross had been warned about in medical school, “There are simply no known long-term toxic effects from taking serotonergic hallucinogens,” he explained. “From a medical perspective, psilocybin is a remarkably safe compound.”

The Drug Enforcement Agency takes a different view. As a condition of Dr. Ross’s Schedule I license, the compound is stored in a restricted area inside a two ton safe. “It’s the only drug in the safe,” Dr. Ross elaborated, “and Monday through Friday, we take the drug out once a day and weigh it. Three people have to sign off on it.” That security is a stark reminder that distribution of psilocybin without a DEA license is a federal crime carrying penalties of up to 20 years in prison for a first offense.

The intense scrutiny has produced a rigorous methodology. The NYU team screens every applicant for personal and family mental illness, health conditions, and substance abuse history. “We’ve had to be perfect,” Dr. Ross concluded. Additionally, each patient participates in months of intensive psychotherapy before and after treatment.  “They undergo an extensive review of their life,” Dr. Ross explained. “The goal is to try to construct a new narrative around cancer.”

An important part of that narrative is death. “We don’t die well in America,” co-principal investigator and palliative care specialist Dr. Anthony Bossis explained. “It’s the most taboo conversation in medicine. I think for much of healthcare, it represents a failure on the part of the provider. Most people die in ICUs with tubes throughout their bodies and not in a spiritual state.”

“Our patients come in with a kind of demoralization syndrome reminiscent of post-traumatic stress disorder,” co-principal investigator Dr. Jeffrey Guss added. “Cancer for them is an enormous existential crisis. Life becomes nothing but, ‘my chemo, my radiation, my cancer numbers.’ Life outside of cancer shrinks. They’re petrified by death. They become immobilized. The whole point is to dislodge them from that. What’s remarkable is that even though we don’t tell them what narratives to form, there is an enormous commonality. Patients will come to me and say, ‘I understand intuitively now that love is truly the most important force on the planet. I experienced a profound sense of peace that I never felt before and it has stayed with me. I know now that my consciousness is bigger than me.’”

Dr. Bossis sees a spiritual implication. “Those concepts form the basis for so many religions: Christ-consciousness, Buddha-nature, Samadi in Hindu, Satori in Zen… There’s all this overlap. They speak the words of the mystics without ever having read them.”

Still, the experiences are not all positive. Many sensations are deeply troubling. Patients have reported bouts of intense anxiety, frightening imagery, or even the temporary belief that they have died. “Psilocybin is not an agent of universal good,” explained the study’s administrative director Alexander Belser. “It acts as a remarkable amplifier of things. It amplifies the good and the bad. We have done everything in the course of this study to create a context that brings out the good. We spent a lot of time choosing who the therapists would be. We spent a lot of time thinking about how to develop rapport and trust. We spent a lot of time on the room.”

The room at Bluestone is warm and inviting. An abstract painting of soft cloudy pastels hangs on the wall. Stone mushrooms, tribal artifacts, and fresh flowers decorate the space. The patients arrive at 9am on the day of their dosing session. To help them feel at home, they are invited to bring a few personal items: photographs of family and friends, stuffed animals, or religious paraphernalia. They are welcomed at the door by a team of two therapists who will not leave their side for the next eight hours—a full psychedelic work day.

Crucially, each participant is shown the two medications they will have access to on demand throughout their trip. One is Valium, used to reduce anxiety, and the other is Zyprexa, an almost instantaneous antidote to the psychedelic. In a testament to the thorough mental preparation the study provides, the medications have never been requested by any of the patients. The psilocybin itself is presented in pill-form inside a ceramic chalice.

The therapists and the patient perform a ritual in which the intention for the day is set and ropes are bound together, signifying everyone’s interconnectedness. The subject is directed to don an eye mask and headset and to lie on the couch. The headset plays six hours of rhythmic wordless music from around the world. The music is one more nod to the ancient shamanic traditions that the research team has borrowed from.

What happens next is unique for every patient. O.M. traveled halfway around the world to embrace the family he left behind in his native country. He traveled inside of his own neck to see that the swollen lymph nodes he had hated so intensely were actually filled with clear, benign fluid. Hate turned to love when he realized that they were a part of him. D.B., a life-long atheist grasping for words, felt bathed in what she could only describe as “God’s love.” Estalyn Walcoff, a white woman, stained her mask with tears as she viscerally felt the pain of hundreds of years of slavery and “the interconnectedness that runs through us all.”

Nick Fernandez entered a cave. “I’m outside of my body,” he recalled nearly a year after it happened, with a “realer than real” immediacy that still could only be expressed in present tense. “My body is on a clothing hanger. I’m walking around it, looking at it, deciding if I want to choose it or not. I’m thinking about my body in terms of all the people my body has ever had sex with, all the food that’s ever gone into it, all the chemotherapy, all the exercise, all the shit that’s ever come out of it. I pictured my parents conceiving me, making this body. Everything I can imagine that’s happened to this body in 26 years, I saw. It’s like when you shop for a new car and they say it has 30,000 miles, and was in this crash, and this happened to it. And, I was outside of this body walking around it thinking, ‘Should I get this body or not?’ I eventually decided that I would. And, when I entered into my body, honestly, I felt like a superhero putting on his suit for the first time. It was the first time since I’ve been sick that I came to terms with what my body was. It wasn’t this thing that I wanted to be better, that I wished didn’t have cancer. I said, ‘This is my body and I choose to take it as my vehicle in this life.’ And, I think the message is, that you don’t get to choose. This is what you get. Use it well.” Nearly a year later, Nick still thinks about that message every day.

The data from the study is still being analyzed, but anecdotally Dr. Ross and his team report that the vast majority of their patients have exhibited an immediate and sustained reduction in anxiety. Consistent with similar studies involving psilocybin, approximately three-fourths of the participants rate their experience with the drug as being one of the top five most significant events of their lives.

I asked Dr. Ross how a medication taken only once can have such an enduring effect. “One way to think of it,” he replied, “is that these experiences are profoundly memorable. When something really bad happens, PTSD can occur. It activates the amygdala where emotional memories are formed. Symptoms can last for years. Dramatic negative events can create symptoms for long period of time, and it seems that way with very positive experiences too. In my own life, I think about the birth of my kids. It was a profound event that caused great changes in my life. I think these psychedelic events are similar to that.”

I sat across the table from O.M., examining his perfectly normal neck. He smiled as he demonstrated the way he used to palpate his lymph nodes – fingers curling expertly into position behind his left ear like those of a virtuoso violinist. “Now, in medical school, I’m learning to palpate other people’s lymph nodes,” he added. “I’m the best.”

His hands dropped easily back onto the table, resting peacefully there before him. It was hard to imagine that this man had ever been sick.

“At the hospital they gave me Xanax for anxiety,” he said. “Xanax doesn’t get rid of your anxiety. Xanax tells you not to feel it for awhile until it stops working and you take the next pill. The beauty of psilocybin is: it’s not medication. You’re not taking it and it solves your problem. You take it and you solve your problem yourself.”