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Suspending the Laws of Biology, and Common Sense, For Health
One of the eminently amusing and frustrating things in life is how people suspend common sense when thinking about anything related to their bodies or their health. Most people understand that there are repercussions, or side effects, to interventions of all kinds in all areas of life. But, when the intervention in question is a new diet, exercise regime, or medication, this thinking goes right out the window. It’s likely because of the emotionally charged nature of the subject, which makes it hard for people to engage their logical faculties with the vigor required to think about the full mid-term and long-term consequences of their actions. In addition, because the body is so complex, people seem to look for, and respect, the word of authorities more robustly than in other domains.
This, however, is a problem. While we know a great deal about human biology, our understanding is still at the elementary level — and we have absolutely no clue about how to manipulate in an effective manner with few unwanted, and unforeseen, effects. Thus, medications and medical treatments often have side effects that are worse than the ailments they’re designed to treat. For example, Finasteride (also known as Propecia), which aims to reduce hair loss, causes “increased risk of high-grade prostate cancer.” In addition, there have been reports of decreased libido and erectile dysfunction with patients on the drug. While we would all like to have a head of hair to die for, I think that few would be willing to take that phrase literally.
Side effects are not just found in the realm of pharmaceuticals. They also haunt behavioral interventions and remedies. For example, most people I know think that exercise is an effective way to lose weight. Each year, right around the holidays, I hear many of my friends and family members talk about “starting to run again” or “going to the gym more often.” They’re in pursuit of a slimmer and healthier physique and see exercise as a valid way of pursuing these goals. The problem, as many studies have shown, is that exercise doesn’t really help one lose weight. People assume that they’ll exercise, and thus burn calories, but that everything else in their lives will stay the same. If that were the case, exercise would surely work. Unfortunately, we’re not simple automatons that can simply modulate one variable at a time. If we change one input, we’ll get a range of different outputs.
Exercise increases one’s energetic expenditure and is quite stressful (in the classic sense of the word). It thus makes us hungry. We’ve all had the experience of pigging out after an intense soccer game, run, or weight session. To recover our glycogen stores and come back to homeostasis, we need calories and nutrients. Thus, the very activity that we perform in order to lose weight causes us to eat more. It’s no surprise that a meta-analysis by Franz et al., which looked at a number of weight-loss interventions, found almost no change in weight after 12 months of exercise.
In the jargon-heavy and over-scientized world of modern health advice, common sense takes a back seat, and the unintended consequences of silly plans run amok. It's obvious to anyone willing to take a moment to think about the side effects of running or exercise that appetite would offset the energy expenditure, but in the health world, the laws of practical reasoning are placed on hold in favor of magical, mystical pseudoscientific tropes. For every problem, there’s a shiny, new solution — whether it’s a new treatment, medicine, or diet. The wheels of the marketing machine will keep rolling as long as we keep forgetting to ask the most important question of all: “And then what?”
Image: Leonardo da Vinci
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Construction of the $500 billion dollar tech city-state of the future is moving ahead.
- The futuristic megacity Neom is being built in Saudi Arabia.
- The city will be fully automated, leading in health, education and quality of life.
- It will feature an artificial moon, cloud seeding, robotic gladiators and flying taxis.
The Red Sea area where Neom will be built:
Saudi Arabia Plans Futuristic City, "Neom" (Full Promotional Video)<span style="display:block;position:relative;padding-top:56.25%;" class="rm-shortcode" data-rm-shortcode-id="c646d528d230c1bf66c75422bc4ccf6f"><iframe type="lazy-iframe" data-runner-src="https://www.youtube.com/embed/N53DzL3_BHA?rel=0" width="100%" height="auto" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" style="position:absolute;top:0;left:0;width:100%;height:100%;"></iframe></span>
Frequent shopping for single items adds to our carbon footprint.
- A new study shows e-commerce sites like Amazon leave larger greenhouse gas footprints than retail stores.
- Ordering online from retail stores has an even smaller footprint than going to the store yourself.
- Greening efforts by major e-commerce sites won't curb wasteful consumer habits. Consolidating online orders can make a difference.
A pile of recycled cardboard sits on the ground at Recology's Recycle Central on January 4, 2018 in San Francisco, California.
Photo by Justin Sullivan/Getty Images<p>A large part of the reason is speed. In a competitive market, pure players use the equation, <em>speed + convenience</em>, to drive adoption. This is especially relevant to the "last mile" GHG footprint: the distance between the distribution center and the consumer.</p><p>Interestingly, the smallest GHG footprint occurs when you order directly from a physical store—even smaller than going there yourself. Pure players, such as Amazon, are the greatest offenders. Variables like geographic location matter; the team looked at shopping in the UK, the US, China, and the Netherlands. </p><p>Sadegh Shahmohammadi, a PhD student at the Netherlands' Radboud University and corresponding author of the paper, <a href="https://www.cnn.com/2020/02/26/tech/greenhouse-gas-emissions-retail/index.html" target="_blank">says</a> the above "pattern holds true in countries where people mostly drive. It really depends on the country and consumer behavior there."</p><p>The researchers write that this year-and-a-half long study pushes back on previous research that claims online shopping to be better in terms of GHG footprints.</p><p style="margin-left: 20px;">"They have, however, compared the GHG emissions per shopping event and did not consider the link between the retail channels and the basket size, which leads to a different conclusion than that of the current study."</p><p>Online retail is where convenience trumps environment: people tend to order one item at a time when shopping on pure player sites, whereas they stock up on multiple items when visiting a store. Consumers will sometimes order a number of separate items over the course of a week rather than making one trip to purchase everything they need. </p><p>While greening efforts by online retailers are important, until a shift in consumer attitude changes, the current carbon footprint will be a hard obstacle to overcome. Amazon is trying to have it both ways—carbon-free and convenience addicted—and the math isn't adding up. If you need to order things, do it online, but try to consolidate your purchases as much as possible.</p><p>--</p><p><em>Stay in touch with Derek on <a href="http://www.twitter.com/derekberes" target="_blank">Twitter</a>, <a href="https://www.facebook.com/DerekBeresdotcom" target="_blank">Facebook</a> and <a href="https://derekberes.substack.com/" target="_blank">Substack</a>. His next book is</em> "<em>Hero's Dose: The Case For Psychedelics in Ritual and Therapy."</em></p>
Chronic irregular sleep in children was associated with psychotic experiences in adolescence, according to a recent study out of the University of Birmingham's School of Psychology.