Minor Thoughts from me to you

Archives for Research (page 1 / 2)

Why Everything We Know About Salt May Be Wrong →

Gina Kolata reports on new salt research, for the New York Times.

The salt equation taught to doctors for more than 200 years is not hard to understand.

The body relies on this essential mineral for a variety of functions, including blood pressure and the transmission of nerve impulses. Sodium levels in the blood must be carefully maintained.

If you eat a lot of salt — sodium chloride — you will become thirsty and drink water, diluting your blood enough to maintain the proper concentration of sodium. Ultimately you will excrete much of the excess salt and water in urine.

The theory is intuitive and simple. And it may be completely wrong.

New studies of Russian cosmonauts, held in isolation to simulate space travel, show that eating more salt made them less thirsty but somehow hungrier. Subsequent experiments found that mice burned more calories when they got more salt, eating 25 percent more just to maintain their weight.

The research, published recently in two dense papers in The Journal of Clinical Investigation, contradicts much of the conventional wisdom about how the body handles salt and suggests that high levels may play a role in weight loss.

​It's amazing to me how little we definitely know about diet and nutrition. There is a lot of folk wisdom out there, but so little proof based on rigorous research and testing.

This entry was tagged. Food Research

Federal reclassification of marijuana could have major impact on medical uses →

This is good news.

Federal authorities have announced that they are reviewing the possibility of loosening the classification of marijuana, and if this happens, it could have a far-reaching impact on how the substance is used in medical settings, experts said.

Marijuana is currently classified as a Schedule I drug, meaning it is listed alongside heroin and LSD as among the "most dangerous drugs" and has "no currently accepted medical use and a high potential for abuse."

The Drug Enforcement Agency announced last week that it is reviewing the possibility of reclassifying it as a Schedule II drug, which would put it in the same category as Ritalin, Adderal and oxycodone.

This matters because we don't even know the full medical benefits of marijuana.

We know that medical marijuana has good evidence for treatment for a handful of medical conditions," Hill said. "There are thousands of people who are using medical marijuana for a whole host of medical conditions," where the efficacy has yet to be thoroughly studied.

By changing the classification of the drug, Hill said researchers and doctors could find out how effective marijuana is in other conditions.

"We could move toward a more evidence-based use of medical marijuana," Hill said.

​This was promoted by political pressure from U.S. Senators, proving that Congress has occasional uses.

The DEA along with the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services and Office of National Drug Control Policy announced they would review marijuana's classification after multiple letters from senators last year, including Sen. Elizabeth Warren, D-Massachusetts, and Sen.Kirsten Gillibrand, D-New York.

"For too long schedule I status for marijuana has been a barrier for necessary research, and as a result countless Americans can't get access to medicine they desperately need," Gillibrand said in a statement last week. "It's past due for the DEA to reconsider marijuana's status. I am hopeful that antiquated ideology won't continue to stand in the way of science and that the DEA will reschedule marijuana to schedule II."

​​I think it's likely that the DEA will “review” the issue and decide that they've been correct for the past 60 years. They'll then refuse to make any changes and use that decision as a club to beat critics for the next 60 years. I'm hoping that I'm wrong though.

Exercise Is Not the Path to Strong Bones →

I've heard, from multiple sources, that weight training can increase bone density and strength. According to Gina Kolata, at The New York Times, that's not actually true.

The answer came a little more than a decade ago when scientists did rigorous studies, asking if weight bearing exercise increased bone density in adults. They used DEXA machines, which measure bone density by hitting bones with X-rays. Those studies failed to find anything more than a minuscule exercise effect — on the order of 1 percent or less, which is too small to be clinically significant. As expected, DEXA found bone loss in people who were bedridden and in astronauts. But there was no evidence that bone was gained when people walked or ran.

Scientists have continued to investigate as tests for bone density grow ever more sensitive. More recently, using new and very expensive machines that scan bone and are able to show its structure at a microscopic scale, they reported a tiny exercise effect in one part of the bone’s architecture known as the trabecula, little branches inside bone that link to each other. The cortical shell — the outer layer of bone — also seems to be slightly thicker with weight bearing exercise. But these are minute changes, noted Dr. Clifford Rosen, a bone researcher at the Maine Medical Research Institute. There is no evidence that they make bone stronger or protect it from osteoporosis, he said.

Poor Sleep Gives You the Munchies, Study Says →

Courtesy of Jonah Bromwich, at the New York Times:

A study published on Tuesday in the journal SLEEP suggested that the brain receptors that can lead the sleep-deprived to crave unnecessary food were the same as those activated by marijuana. Essentially, not sleeping can give you a ferocious case of the munchies.

The study took a close look at receptors affected by endocannabinoids — so named for cannabis, the marijuana plant — which it found were closely involved in the food cravings that come from sleep deprivation. Sleep restriction in the study’s subjects led to amplified endocannabinoid levels in the blood, leading to hunger pangs, which generally intensify in the early afternoon, to increase further.

Subjects who were deprived of sleep said that they felt hungrier, and had more trouble controlling themselves when faced with the snacks. They ended up consuming nearly twice as much fat and protein as the control group. (There was not a significant difference between the calories consumed by each group during regular meals.) Previous studies have shown that the sleep-deprived are particularly vulnerable to foods that are high in fat and carbohydrates.

I can confirm these results from my own anecdotal evidence.

This entry was tagged. Food Research Science

Stay Cold to Lose Weight? →

My wife thinks I keep the temperature too cold as it is. I don't think she'd be a fan of this line of research.

The mild cold exposure he advocates might be as simple as forgoing a jacket when you’re waffling over whether you need one, not layering cardigans over flannels despite the insistence of the fall catalogs, or turning off the space heater under your desk. And if you don’t want to annihilate the environment by running the air conditioner to get a taste of sweet, calorie-burning, metabolism-enhancing cold in the summer, there are devices like the ice vest, which really isn’t as terrible as it sounds.

“The first time you put it on, it’s a bit shocking, to be honest,” Wayne Hayes, the vest’s inventor, warned me. “You feel like, Holy shit, this is cold.” But after wearing it a few times, he said, most people barely notice they have it on. That was my experience. (Hayes’s wife has become so used to the vest that she wears it under her clothes instead of over them.) Hayes recommends wearing the vest twice a day until the ice melts—which can take an hour or longer—though he has himself worn it as many as three or four times in a single day.

Mass Shootings Aren’'t On the Rise →

It seems like there's a constant drumbeat of bad news about mass shootings. I've been starting to wonder if there really are more mass shootings than there used to be or if we're just seeing more mass shootings than we used to. It looks like we're just seeing more mass shootings, thanks to an increased focus by the news media. James Alan Fox, a criminologist at Northeastern University, provides this data.

Number of mass shootings and deaths, per year

Why, then, is there such a powerful feeling that things are getting worse? Media coverage plays a big role. It's almost hard to believe today, but there was a time in the not too distant past when people in New York might not even hear about a school shooting that happened across the country. Today, every incident immediately explodes onto the national stage and is then amplified a millionfold by social media. It's a visceral example of the availability heuristic — the easier it is for us to think of a certain type of event (whether a school shooting or a plane crash), the higher we rate its probability. But this is an illusion; just because it's easier than it ever has been to think of an example of a shooting doesn't mean these events are more likely than they were in the past.

The trend lines shows that the number of victims has been edging upward but that the number of actual incidents has stayed flat, over nearly a 40-year period.

This entry was tagged. Guns Research

Best predictor of divorce? Age when couples cohabit, study says →

For years, social scientists have tried to explain why living together before marriage seemed to increase the likelihood of a couple divorcing. Now, new research released by the nonpartisan Council on Contemporary Families gives an answer:

It doesn't. And it probably never has.

"Up until now, we've had this mysterious finding that co-habitation causes divorce," she says. "Nobody's been able to explain it. And now we have—it was that people were measuring it the wrong way."

Couples who begin living together without being married tend to be younger than those who move in after the wedding ceremony – that's why cohabitation seemed to predict divorce, Professor Kuperburg explains. But once researchers control for that age variable, it turns out that premarital cohabitation by itself has little impact on a relationship's longevity. Those who began living together, unmarried or married, before the age of 23 were the most likely to later split.

Interesting. This should change the way that Christians talk about the importance of chastity before marriage. It probably won't but it should.

The Myth of Americans' Poor Life Expectancy →

Do Americans really pay more for healthcare and get less for it than most other industrialized countries? Avid Roy does some myth busting.

If you really want to measure health outcomes, the best way to do it is at the point of medical intervention. If you have a heart attack, how long do you live in the U.S. vs. another country? If you’re diagnosed with breast cancer? In 2008, a group of investigators conducted a worldwide study of cancer survival rates, called CONCORD. They looked at 5-year survival rates for breast cancer, colon and rectal cancer, and prostate cancer. I compiled their data for the U.S., Canada, Australia, Japan, and western Europe. Guess who came out number one?

This entry was tagged. America Research

Rethinking Centers of Excellence (and Other Well-Laid Plans) →

Dr. Pauline Chen, writing at the New York Times.

The researchers then compared these outcomes to those of patients who were not covered by Medicare and therefore not restricted to having their operations done at centers of excellence. Even after adjusting for individual patient risk factors and the specific type of bariatric procedure performed, they found no differences in complication rates or outcomes between Medicare and non-Medicare patients. Moreover, they discovered that many of the improvements had been under way prior to 2006.

In other words, the much-heralded policy of funneling patients to centers of excellence has had little effect on how patients do.

Over the past several years, I've seen lots of people talking about how this or that government program fixed this or that problem in the United States. And, almost invariably, I'll see economists pointing out that the trend line was already declining before the government got involved and that the government's involvement did nothing to speed up the change.

Without this research, this Medicare policy would have received the same praise even though it, too, deserves none of the credit.

Science Fiction Comes Alive as Researchers Grow Organs in Lab →

Gautam Naik, writing for the Wall Street Journal:

Inside a warren of rooms buried in the basement of Gregorio Marañón hospital here, Dr. Aviles and his team are at the sharpest edge of the bioengineering revolution that has turned the science-fiction dream of building replacement parts for the human body into a reality.

Now, with the quest to build a heart, researchers are tackling the most complex organ yet. The payoff could be huge, both medically and financially, because so many people around the world are afflicted with heart disease. Researchers see a multi-billion-dollar market developing for heart parts that could repair diseased hearts and clogged arteries.

Lab grown replacement organs using adult stem cells. Awesome. I see no reason to back down from my prediction that my generation will have a substantially longer lifespan than my grandparents' generation.

Aviation, Liability Law, and Moral Hazard →

Alex Tabarrok, of George Mason University, shares an interesting account of regulation, deregulation, and increased safety. In the mid-90's, Piper, Cessna, and Beach were no longer producing small airplanes for the general public. They were too afraid of lawsuits over planes that were decades old.

Congress eventually responded by saying that "manufacturers could not be held liable for accidents involving aircraft more than 18 years old". The result: an increase in overall safety.

a significant (on the order of 13.6 percent) reduction in the probability of an accident. The evidence suggests that modest decreases in the amount and nature of flying were largely responsible. After GARA, for example, aircraft owners and pilots retired older aircraft, took fewer night flights, and invested more in a variety of safety procedures and precautions, such as wearing seat belts and filing flight plans. Minor and major accidents not involving mechanical failure—those more likely to be under the control of the pilot—declined notably.

When it cames to safety regulation, more is not always better. Sometimes it's just more. People are more likely to be cautious if they believe that they bear risk themselves rather than believing that someone else bears all of the risk.

More Evidence on _Priceless_ →

John Goodman links to a recent (gated) study from the Health Affairs Blog.

We examined both quality and actual medical costs for episodes of care provided by nearly 250,000 U.S. physicians serving commercially insured patients nationwide. Overall, episode costs for a set of major medical procedures varied about 2.5-fold, and for a selected set of common chronic conditions, episode costs varied about 15-fold…there was essentially no correlation between average episode costs and measured quality across markets.

That indicates to me that there is a lot of room for patient's to bargain for healthcare and push for lower prices. If more patients spent their own money, they'd do so. And, in so doing, they'd lower their own healthcare costs and the costs of the overall healthcare system.

Left Out: A Critique of Paul Krugman Based on a Comprehensive Account of His New York Times Columns, 1997 through 2006 →

This may be interesting reading, if you're tempted to place a lot of weight on what "Nobel prize winning economist" Paul Krugman has to say.

We have made a complete review of Krugman’s New York Times columns 1997 through 2006—in all, 654 columns. The pattern of policy positions and arguments do not square with his purported concern for general prosperity and the interests of the poor. Some of the evidence lies in statements made. But the more important evidence lies in patterns of statements not made. Because Krugman assumes the role of addressing the most important things, because our account is comprehensive, and because the omissions are flagrant, we may treat omissions as evidence of Krugman’s ideological character and sensibilities. Krugman is best interpreted as a committed social democrat and Democratic partisan. Our main contention is that his social-democratic bent sometimes trumps people’s interests, notably poor people’s interests.

This entry was tagged. Poverty Research

School Choice in the Long Run →

Adam Ozimek looks at two recent school choice studies and comes to a very interesting conclusion.

Furthermore, this type of evolutionary progress will be hard for studies that compare the performance of any existing schools to capture. New schools will have a lot of learning to do, and the best schools will evolve to be the best over time as they learn what works best and how to best serve local populations and labor markets. But by the time this evolution has produced it’s biggest gains the system will be closer to competitive equilibrium, where [one] would expect the public schools that survive to perform as well as the private schools that survive. At no point in this process will comparing charters or private schools and public schools reflect the largest gains of school choice. At some points you would expect zero difference.

This entry was tagged. Research Vouchers

The Fiscal Costs of Nonpayers →

This is an interesting study, from the Tax Foundation.

The record growth in the percentage of Americans who pay no federal income taxes because of the generosity of the credits and deductions in the tax code has received much attention recently.

We find that the growth of nonpayers is strongly associated with increases in transfer payments and the national debt. Indeed, the twenty-year growth in nonpayers is associated with more than $213 billion in increased transfer spending and a 14 percentage point increase in the debt-to-GDP ratio in 2010 alone. These findings imply that when voters perceive the cost of government to be cheaper than it really is, they demand ever more government benefits because they either don’t feel the cost directly or believe that others will be paying those costs.

Our results indicate that the dire fiscal straits we are now in, and which much of Europe is struggling with as well, can only be responsibly addressed through a more balanced tax burden. In particular, so long as income taxes fund the largest part of government spending, exempting half the population from income taxes is not a sustainable fiscal model. Debt accumulation and eventual default await those democracies that fail to connect a majority of voters to the cost of government spending.

Comparing MPS and Voucher Per-Pupil Support →

I find discussions of the per-pupil funding level of different types of Milwaukee schools usually turns into a debate on how to make a true apples-to-apples comparison of per-pupil support for the Milwaukee Public Schools (MPS) and the Milwaukee Parental Choice Program (MPCP).  While basic differences in MPS and MPCP schools and their cost-drivers make any comparison imperfect, the following is what you might call a green apples to red apples comparison.

...Though not perfect, I think $13,063 (MPS) and $7,126 (MPCP) are reasonably comparative per-pupil public support numbers for MPS and the MPCP.

Yes, Chicks Dig Jerks →

If you care about ending domestic abuse, the social data paints a pretty depressing picture.

In a study of residents of a battered-women’s shelter, 75 percent of the abuse victims returned to the man who abused them. Victims of abuse are no more likely to end a relationship or a marriage than are women who are not suffering abuse. These traits are not limited to women who are poor and economically vulnerable.

… All of which is to say that there is good evidence and good theory behind the belief that chicks dig jerks — mildly psychopathic men with lots of testosterone and little empathy. (Or, if you want to take the Richard Dawkins view, chicks’ genes dig jerks.) Those who do will have relatively more sons. And what will those sons be like? It is worth keeping in mind that those traits are heritable.

Liberals generally accept the biological explanation of human sexual behavior in exactly one case: that of homosexuality. But human desire is a stranger and sometimes darker thing than we imagine, and certainly a more complex one. Those who would try to understand it must be willing to ask uncomfortable questions and to entertain uncomfortable answers.

This entry was tagged. Research Women

Can your genes help create ‘designer’ diets? →

Scientists at the University of Miami are doing an interesting research project. I've wonder about this a lot recently, as I monitor what I eat and how my weight changes (especially compared the reports of others).

“I believe if we look at people at the molecular level we can improve their health,” says Sylvia Daunert, Ph.D., chair of the Department of Biochemistry and Molecular Biology at the UM Medical School. The studies question long-held beliefs about food selection and weight loss. For example, could 1,000 calories of turkey cause more weight gain in some people than 1,000 calories of cashews? If so, could a person lose weight through food selection without cutting total calories?

And could a person’s genes pre-determine whether he or she will benefit from a particular type of exercise – or perhaps be at greater risk of injury from it?

UM researchers are looking into it. “We can’t say this is 100 percent correct,” Daunert says. “This is our hypothesis. This is brand-new science.”

This entry was tagged. Food Research

Drug Slims Down Obese Monkeys by Killing Fat Cells →

In a study that provides provocative support for a new approach to treating obesity, a drug that kills a particular type of fat cell by choking off its blood supply was shown to cause significant weight loss in obese monkeys.

After four weeks of treatment at M.D. Anderson Cancer Center in Houston, obese monkeys given daily injections of the drug, called adipotide, lost an average of 11% of their body weight. They also had substantial reductions in waist circumference and body-mass index and, importantly, striking improvement in the ability to respond to insulin, researchers said. The drug didn't have any effect on weight when given to lean monkeys.

Results of the study, published online Wednesday by the journal Science Translational Medicine, confirmed a 2004 report from the same research team showing marked weight loss in mice treated with the agent.

My first reaction was: "I want to take this drug". My second reaction was "I should invest in this drug. Everyone is going to want to take it."

Sugar, and candy, do not make kids hyper →

In my favorite of these studies, children were divided into two groups. All of them were given a sugar-free beverage to drink. But half the parents were told that their child had just had a drink with sugar. Then, all of the parents were told to grade their children’s behavior. Not surprisingly, the parents of children who thought their children had drunk a ton of sugar rated their children as significantly more hyperactive. This myth is entirely in parents’ heads. We see it because we believe it.

This entry was tagged. Research