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Eating Like Our Ancestors

Question: Did our ancestors really eat better than we do today?

Nina Planck:  Yes.  Well it’s a great blessing that we can buy foods from all over the globe and 12 months a year.  I feel grateful that I don’t have to own a mango plantation to get a mango when I want one and I have somewhat simplified the history of the human diet here as you can imagine.  We look to traditional cultures for the foods they ate for many hundreds or thousands or even millions of years if we go back to our human forebears, but that doesn’t mean that every family or village ate that way at every moment in history.  What I’ve assembled is a list of real or traditional foods that are largely whole and unadulterated and produced and processed and prepared in the same way they once were and I found that those foods are all healthy.  In practice each culture in each region had a quite… a limited diet and what is interesting if you look at the very limited diets is that they’re able to find all the nutrients that humans require from 0 to 100, including reproduction over many generations from those limited foods.  So you asked, for example, the people who don’t have a green grocer or a farmers' market nearby.  They’re in northern climes and they have very little access to fresh vegetables or, say, citrus.  Where do they get their vitamin C?  Well they get it from the lichen that is digested in reindeer stomachs.  They get it from preserving little arctic wildflowers in seal oil.  There is a source in each of these traditional cultures for every nutrient the human needs and I want to stress the importance of the intergenerational nutrition because it may be that you or I could thrive on a vegan diet for a time, but eventually there is no way to sustain human life and reproduction over many generations without foods of the sea and without foods of animal origin.  There just isn’t any way.  We were not created as herbivores.  We were created as omnivores and there are number of nutrients from vitamin B12 to vitamins A and D, which are found only in foods of animal origin to long chain omega-3 fats that you simply cannot get from leaves no matter what the vegan sites will tell you.

Question: Why is it better to eat locally grown foods?

Nina Planck:  Well my main reason for eating local food is that local food tastes better.  There are lots of side benefits to you, the ecology and the farmer from eating local food. But the fact remains that some foods don’t travel well.  Peaches are one.  Fresh milk that hasn’t been homogenized and hasn’t been ultra-pasteurized is another.  Again, these are foods that spoil.  In the case of the peach it must be picked ripe for the sugars even to be developed and for it to taste good and a ripe peach bruises.  In the case of milk it’s because milk is a highly perishable food and it either has to be made into cheese or yogurt.  Cheese has been called milk’s leap into immortality.  Or it has to be consumed or fed to the pigs.  So we find the beautiful thing about preserving foods in traditional cultures is that when you preserve foods in traditional manner… in a traditional manner, the nutrients and the flavor are enhanced and when the industrial food guys go about preserving foods they remove perishable nutrients and reduce the flavor only to prolong the shelf life. So if we come back to local foods for a minute we should eat the foods that spoil and perish locally because they’ll taste better and be in peak condition and then we should be preserving them in a traditional manner, so that we have, say, pickles and tomato sauce from our region in the dead of winter.  And there a great tradition of preserving the local harvest is fermentation of all kinds and you do find that cultured, fermented, soured, pickled foods are common across all cultures because they had to eat in the wintertime. 

Now if you want to eat local food for reasons other than your own health and pleasure, there are many…  If you eat the view you’re able to preserve the view.  If you eat heritage breeds, which don’t thrive in industrial production methods then you preserve the biodiversity and genetics of all these rare animals, yes, by eating them.  The same goes for the diversity of crops from fruit and vegetable farmers. And we of course reduce food miles and our carbon footprint by eating locally.

Even if they lacked the variety we enjoy in modern supermarkets, our forebears ate healthy food that was, by and large, whole and unadulterated.

Does conscious AI deserve rights?

If machines develop consciousness, or if we manage to give it to them, the human-robot dynamic will forever be different.

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  • Does AI—and, more specifically, conscious AI—deserve moral rights? In this thought exploration, evolutionary biologist Richard Dawkins, ethics and tech professor Joanna Bryson, philosopher and cognitive scientist Susan Schneider, physicist Max Tegmark, philosopher Peter Singer, and bioethicist Glenn Cohen all weigh in on the question of AI rights.
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A new hydrogel might be strong enough for knee replacements

Duke University researchers might have solved a half-century old problem.

Photo by Alexander Hassenstein/Getty Images
Technology & Innovation
  • Duke University researchers created a hydrogel that appears to be as strong and flexible as human cartilage.
  • The blend of three polymers provides enough flexibility and durability to mimic the knee.
  • The next step is to test this hydrogel in sheep; human use can take at least three years.
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Hints of the 4th dimension have been detected by physicists

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Physicists have understood at least theoretically, that there may be higher dimensions, besides our normal three. The first clue came in 1905 when Einstein developed his theory of special relativity. Of course, by dimensions we’re talking about length, width, and height. Generally speaking, when we talk about a fourth dimension, it’s considered space-time. But here, physicists mean a spatial dimension beyond the normal three, not a parallel universe, as such dimensions are mistaken for in popular sci-fi shows.

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Predicting PTSD symptoms becomes possible with a new test

An algorithm may allow doctors to assess PTSD candidates for early intervention after traumatic ER visits.

Image source: camillo jimenez/Unsplash
Technology & Innovation
  • 10-15% of people visiting emergency rooms eventually develop symptoms of long-lasting PTSD.
  • Early treatment is available but there's been no way to tell who needs it.
  • Using clinical data already being collected, machine learning can identify who's at risk.

The psychological scars a traumatic experience can leave behind may have a more profound effect on a person than the original traumatic experience. Long after an acute emergency is resolved, victims of post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) continue to suffer its consequences.

In the U.S. some 30 million patients are annually treated in emergency departments (EDs) for a range of traumatic injuries. Add to that urgent admissions to the ED with the onset of COVID-19 symptoms. Health experts predict that some 10 percent to 15 percent of these people will develop long-lasting PTSD within a year of the initial incident. While there are interventions that can help individuals avoid PTSD, there's been no reliable way to identify those most likely to need it.

That may now have changed. A multi-disciplinary team of researchers has developed a method for predicting who is most likely to develop PTSD after a traumatic emergency-room experience. Their study is published in the journal Nature Medicine.

70 data points and machine learning

nurse wrapping patient's arm

Image source: Creators Collective/Unsplash

Study lead author Katharina Schultebraucks of Columbia University's Department Vagelos College of Physicians and Surgeons says:

"For many trauma patients, the ED visit is often their sole contact with the health care system. The time immediately after a traumatic injury is a critical window for identifying people at risk for PTSD and arranging appropriate follow-up treatment. The earlier we can treat those at risk, the better the likely outcomes."

The new PTSD test uses machine learning and 70 clinical data points plus a clinical stress-level assessment to develop a PTSD score for an individual that identifies their risk of acquiring the condition.

Among the 70 data points are stress hormone levels, inflammatory signals, high blood pressure, and an anxiety-level assessment. Says Schultebraucks, "We selected measures that are routinely collected in the ED and logged in the electronic medical record, plus answers to a few short questions about the psychological stress response. The idea was to create a tool that would be universally available and would add little burden to ED personnel."

Researchers used data from adult trauma survivors in Atlanta, Georgia (377 individuals) and New York City (221 individuals) to test their system.

Of this cohort, 90 percent of those predicted to be at high risk developed long-lasting PTSD symptoms within a year of the initial traumatic event — just 5 percent of people who never developed PTSD symptoms had been erroneously identified as being at risk.

On the other side of the coin, 29 percent of individuals were 'false negatives," tagged by the algorithm as not being at risk of PTSD, but then developing symptoms.

Going forward

person leaning their head on another's shoulder

Image source: Külli Kittus/Unsplash

Schultebraucks looks forward to more testing as the researchers continue to refine their algorithm and to instill confidence in the approach among ED clinicians: "Because previous models for predicting PTSD risk have not been validated in independent samples like our model, they haven't been adopted in clinical practice." She expects that, "Testing and validation of our model in larger samples will be necessary for the algorithm to be ready-to-use in the general population."

"Currently only 7% of level-1 trauma centers routinely screen for PTSD," notes Schultebraucks. "We hope that the algorithm will provide ED clinicians with a rapid, automatic readout that they could use for discharge planning and the prevention of PTSD." She envisions the algorithm being implemented in the future as a feature of electronic medical records.

The researchers also plan to test their algorithm at predicting PTSD in people whose traumatic experiences come in the form of health events such as heart attacks and strokes, as opposed to visits to the emergency department.

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