“When you make it the right way, you get the minerals and the exact building blocks of what makes up our joint surfaces,” DiFranceso said. “He’s recognized in the last few years, since sort of pointing him in the direction, of how important that will be.
A Post-Plastic Home: Known and Unknown Dangers of Plastic, and Alternatives to Plastic Food Storage, Shower Curtains, Water Bottles, and Other Household Products
Plastics are nowhere near as safe as you might think. Under the 1976 Toxic Substances Control Act, the US EPA only tests chemicals when it is provided evidence of harm; the EPA has essentially allowed the chemicals industry to regulate itself for the other 60,000+ chemicals on the market. Even in the food industry, federal agencies don’t strictly regulate plastics; what is declared a “safe” plastic today may change tomorrow, and “BPA-free” plastic might be made with substances that are even worse than BPA (see below). I would suggest replacing all plastic in your life when reasonably possible. Sometimes there is no reasonable alternative, but often there is.
Why should we care that so many household items are made out of plastic?
On an environmental level, plastics are often made from crude oil. Politically, reliance on crude oil leads to twisted relationships with some of the world’s worst actors. Environmentally, there are direct negative impacts from drilling for crude oil on habitats and water quality due to leaks and other issues, as well as carbon dioxide emissions. Furthermore, many plastics degrade slowly and thus persist for a very long time in the environment and in landfills. There are huge swaths of relatively high-concentration plastic patches floating around the oceans. Birds often mistake colorful plastic for food and ingest harmful quantities of plastic. For instance, over 90 percent of Midway Island’s Laysan Albatrosses have plastic in their stomachs.1 That’s a remote island in the middle of the Pacific Ocean, so imagine what large-continent coastal wildlife goes through! The plastics can perforate animals’ vital organs and spread harmful toxins, among other things.
On a personal level, plastics have been linked to a wide variety of ailments, ranging from relatively minor impacts like increased blood pressure to major impacts like impacting children’s cognitive development.2 Sometimes you hear people reason that if plastic were so dangerous, big companies would not use it, because it would open them up to massive lawsuits.
This reasoning is faulty. First, our scientific understanding grows with time, so what was considered safe in the past might not be considered safe now.
Understanding Imperfect Science
Let me preface this entry by stating that I believe the scientific method to be one of the best ways to understand the universe. That said, people often have a very naive, almost religious faith in science. Just because something sounds science-y does not mean it is true. Do not ever be intimidated by people who attempt to convince you with something other than facts. It does not matter how prestigious their credentials are; people are fallible. On the other hand, don’t listen to scaremongers, either, as they make a living by stirring up controversy and selling snake oil.
Sometimes we know we don’t know the answer to something.
Sometimes, it’s even worse: we don’t know that we don’t know!
When it comes to human health, we know a lot more than our ancestors–at least we wash our hands and bathe more often, knowing that microscopic organisms can spread diseases.
But we still have a lot to learn. Science is messy and full of incentives to exaggerate in order to gain more prestige or a tenure-track position or a promotion. Example: This article about chocolate where the researcher deliberately set up a flawed study in the hopes of producing a false positive that “proved” that eating chocolate helps lose weight. (It doesn’t. But don’t let that stop you from relishing the occasional bite of chocolate.) Social Science studies are possibly even less likely to be true. Here is a widget to play with to see how different choices of variables influence the results of a study.
Also, humans are great at finding patterns in randomness/noise, so ideally you would want to see a study repeated or confirmed in some way before taking it as fact rather than the false positive that it may be.
Due to the above reasons, I read science articles with a skeptical eye; it can take a very long time before scientists understand the nuances of a substance. For example, there is a saying among toxicologists that the “dose makes the poison,” meaning small amounts of a chemical may be neutral or even positive for your health, even if larger amounts injure your health. Copper is necessary for life; you will get sick or even die if you don’t get enough copper in your diet. Yet overdosing on copper can kill you. Similarly, water is necessary for life; you will die without enough water intake. But you can overdose and die on water if you drink too much of it in too short a timespan.1
Since there’s so much junk science out there (think studies about how cigarettes don’t cause lung cancer paid for by tobacco companies), I rely on citations to government research labs, top research institutes (e.g., the Mayo Clinic), top journals (e.g., Nature), and studies done by major research universities. And I take things slowly; I don’t want to clog up this site with “news” of dubious value. So I won’t post about science stuff unless I think it’s truly interesting and not junk science. Relax, and enjoy the leisurely pace of the Science section of this site!
- http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/12053855 See also “Woman dies after water-drinking contest” accessed at http://www.nbcnews.com/id/16614865/ ↩
Why I believe the Paleo Diet is a nice starting point, but not ending point, when it comes to diets
There’s been recent information on how the Paleo Diet is not the last word on human nutrition.
People in industrialized countries have less gut bacteria than less-developed countries, and it stands to reason that modern gut bacteria in New York City is different than gut bacteria in Paleolithic times in, say, Greece. Since bacteria can heavily influence how we digest foods, it stands to reason that even if we could replicate some mythically perfect Paleo diet, we might not get the same nutrition benefit out of it due to how we probably have different bacteria in our gastrointestinal tracts than our ancestors.
Furthermore, humans continue to evolve even in recent times. There is a biological basis for why some ethnic groups have a higher chance of lactose intolerance than others, for instance, or how some ethnic groups seem to have evolved to adapt to high altitudes.
All of that said, I think the concept of the Paleo Diet remains a good starting point when crafting a good diet, even if it’s not the ending point. And I think that a simple 70/30 veggie/wild meat split (like aboriginal diets in the early 1900s) is an even better starting point.
Fish Barcoding and Seafood Safety – What You Can Do to Avoid Seafood Scams
Here in the SF Bay Area, crab season is in full bloom, so to speak, and I’m loving it. However, something that has always unnerved me about buying seafood is that I know there is a substantial chance that I’m getting ripped off. Various newspapers have written articles about how difficult it is for merchants to figure out what they are really getting from fishmongers. And end users of fish are often fooled as well. [Read more…]
Thermal Properties of Metals
WHY DO WE WANT EVEN HEATING AND WHAT CAN WE DO ABOUT IT?
The job of the stovetop cookware is to smooth out the uneven heat coming from the burner underneath so that the cooking surface of the cookware is the same temperature. If you have too much of an imbalance in temperatures, you wind up with hot spots that can undermine your dish and your health by leaving some food overcooked (or even charred and carcinogenic) and some food undercooked. For instance, if you put a poor thermal conductor on a burner, the heat from the burner will keep accumulating near the areas where the flames touch the cookware because the cookware can’t spread the heat across the entire pan’s base fast enough.
There are three ways to move heat from one place to another: convection, radiation, and conduction. [Read more…]