science and knowledge

Healthy Diets and ScienceI have just discovered a really good resource for those interested in the science behind healthy nutrition, Healthy Diets and Science, by David Evans.

I’ll leave you to explore the over 1000 articles in there yourself, but I thought that people interested in the Ketogenic Diet might find these articles interesting:

See also:

Ketogenic What is a Ketogenic Diet, in a nutshell?
Ketogenic A Guide to Ketosis
Ketogenic What is the Ketogenic Diet Good For?
Ketogenic Tips for Starting and Restarting Ketosis
Ketogenic On Ketogenic Diets
Ketogenic How to Use the Keto Calculator
Ketogenic Ketone Testing
Ketogenic A one-page intro to Ketogenic Diets, to hand to medical sceptics
Ketogenic 203 Comments on Mark Maunder’s “Basic Ketogenic Diet”

Back in 2009 I had this whole weight-loss, getting healthy, curing disease thing licked.  All except for one little thing.  What happens between my ears and in my heart, both literally and metaphorically.

I have written about this stuff before, and I’ll make a little “mind and emotions” index at the bottom of this post, but a recent BBC Program, “The Truth About Personality” re-ignited my interest, that and some posts in other people’s blogs, and some thoughts of my own … but let’s start with the BBC.  The programme is presented by Michael Mosely, of whom the BBC says:

Michael Mosley is a science presenter, writer and executive producer.  After training as a doctor at the Royal Free Hospital in London, Michael switched course and joined the BBC. He has produced a wide range of science-based programmes … and he was named Medical Journalist of the Year by the British Medical Association.

and of the programme, the BBC says:

Michael Mosley explores the latest science about how our personalities are created – and whether they can be changed.  Despite appearances, Mosley is a pessimist who constantly frets about the future. He wants to worry less and become more of an optimist.

He tries out two techniques to change this aspect of his personality – with surprising results.  And he travels to the frontiers of genetics and neuroscience to find out about the forces that shape all our personalities.

I found the programme fascinating, and I believe there’s a lot here that can help those of us for whom getting lean and healthy is more than “just” a problem of metabolic disorder.  It’s easiest if you take some time, get comfortable, grab a coffee or a gin and tonic, and watch the programme (it takes an hour).

httpv://www.youtube.com/watch?v=rs046iOPlqM

[hr]

You can see the actual “smiley faces” exercise used in the programme, online (the Cognitive Bias Modification), right here (just click the link).

[hr]

There are a number of apps for the iPhone and Windows–I haven’t yet checked out for other platforms.

  • PsychMeUp, is from Mindhabits (the link goes to the app store).  Mindhabits also have a number of games on the web, some demo, some for purchase.

PsychMeUpMindHabits also has a Windows-Based app, with a free demo version, and a downloadable Windows Version.  Here’s the demo version.  The free, downloadable version only lasts for an hour, but that’s long enough to get a sense of it.  You can play PsychMeUp on your iPad or iPhone, forever, for free, so that should help you decide if it works.  The full MindHabits Windows app costs $19.95.  I haven’t tried any of them long enough to report personal experience over the long term.

AnxietyMint have a paid-for app (£1.69 in the UK).  Click for AnxietyMint on the App Store.

Jason Pegg, the author of the app uses the same basic structure for two other apps: (they are all £1.69).

These apps are fully editable: I am already working on editing Diet Mint to be more of an aid for the Ketogenic Diet.

I have all of these (except SmokingMint) and will review them as soon as I have got used to them.

[hr]

Still To Come

  • Pzizz to aid mindfulness,
  • Other Mindfulness aids
  • Further thoughts if your mother didn’t lick you enough (if that’s a mystery, you haven’t watched the video!)
  • Index to blogs already touching this subject.
  • etc

No.

Arnold Schwarzenegger

Michelle Davis

It is true that if you look like either of these two people then your BMI will be pretty meaningless, so, before you read any further, please undress and either stand in front of a mirror, or in front of a good friend, and ask them whether, in all honesty, you look much like either of these pictures.

If the answer is “no”, and if you are concerned for your weight or you health, then BMI can be a useful metric, provided that you understand it.  So what is  the body mass index?

Consider this: the taller you are, the more you would expect to weigh.

The shorter you are the less you would be expected to weigh.  But what about a short and very fat person?  They may weigh more than a tall, thin person.

BMI is the measure that evens that out, so that we can compare like with like.  It is your body mass (or weight: only a physicist needs to know the difference between mass and weight) divided by the square of your height.  For all the gruesome detail, check the Wikipedia article, “Body Mass Index“.

You derive the number directly if working in kilograms and meters: you need to multiply by 703 if working in lbs and inches.  And then those numbers fall into broad bands just to give a description to where you are, and to turn the raw numbers into descriptive words.  Here are some charts to give you an idea.

BMI, Kg and Metres

BMI, Pounds and inches

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Now you think that would be all very simple … but it isn’t.  Let me tell you my own story, by way of illustration.  Back in June 2009 I weighed 22 stones (308lbs, 140kg).  I am 6’4″ tall.  That falls off of the chart above, but let’s use the calculator that’s in the right margin of this page.  It gives a BMI of 37.5, classed as “Obese Class II”.  Back in 2009 the description was more blunt.  It was called “morbidly obese”.  I accepted the verdict.

The pharmacist who was guiding me into weight loss using Lipotrim asked me what I thought I should choose as my goal weight.  I didn’t know, so he looked on the BMI chart (I had never come across it before).

Look across from 6’4″ until you get to the green zone.  Somewhere between 190lbs and 200lbs looks about right.  In English stones, 14 stones is 196lbs.  So he suggested 14 stones as a goal weight.  ROFL, LMAO, and other such tags came to mind.  That was patently ridiculous!  I hadn’t been that weight since I was in my early 20s, which was before the metric system had even been invented!

He wasn’t fazed by my mirth, and asked what I thought was reasonable.  Well, once, back in the mid-1970s, I had made a concerted effort to lose weight and had come within a whisker of 15 stones (210 lbs, 95.5 kg).  But that was 35 years earlier, and I was older and wider now (I wish I could say older and wiser, but I’ll stick to the truth), so I figured I’d shoot for 16 stones (224 lbs, roughly 100 kg).

That would get me down from Morbidly Obese, through Obese, to merely overweight.  And I wasn’t looking at his chart.  And he didn’t want to put me off by holding me to what I obviously thought was an unachievable target.  To help someone lose 84 lbs (6 stones, 38 kg) was a huge improvement, after all.

But here’s the thing.  When I hit 16 stones I did the test above: the jumping up and down naked thing.  Not only did I not look like Arnie, I didn’t even look like the 7-stone (97 lb) weakling in the Charles Atlas ads of my youth.  I still looked like a fat guy, just not as fat as I had been.  I realised that the BMI scale is pretty accurate.

Yesterday evening a friend wrote to me, convinced that the BMI calculator over on the right is wrong; giving false information.  So let’s check it out.  First I’ll use my measurements.  6’4″ is 76 inches.

22 stones comes to 308 lbs.  So, my height squared is 76 x 76 = 5776.  308 ÷ 5776 = 0.05332409972299168975069252077562, times 703 = 37.48.  Which is what the calculator gives.  So it works for this tall, heavy man.

Now, my friend is a woman, and she’s shorter and lighter.  She tells me that she is 5’5″ (65 inches, 165 cm), and that she currently weighs 154 lbs (11 stones, 70kg).  Let’s do the sums: 65 squared is 4225, and 154 ÷ 4225 gives a BMI of 26.23, which makes her in the lower third of the “overweight” band.  It also gives her a range of goal weights to aim for.  The lighter end of the normal band for her height is 110lbs (7 stone 12, or 50kg) and the upper end is 140lbs (10 stones, 64 kg), which is quite a range.  Only you (or your best friends) can tell you whether you are truly big-boned, or whether you are kidding yourself.

And, of course, the BMI won’t tell you if you are fit.  Even when you are at a BMI rated as “normal”, it is interesting to see what happens if you jump up and down naked in front of the mirror.  Can people bounce coins of your butt, or would they vanish.  As you head towards your goal weight, getting some muscle tone will help a lot, and BMI has nothing to say about that!

How surprised people are when told of the goal weight that would give a “correct” BMI is, I believe, a measure of how overweight we have all become.

(An earlier version of the calculator in the right margin gave incorrect values lower down the range.  I have switched to a different calculator.)

“In my diet plan it says I can eat as much as I want.  How does that work?”

“I’m confused: should I count calories or not?”

“My doctor says that Gary Taubes is wrong: you can’t contradict physics.  I’m fat because I eat too much and don’t exercise enough”

We hear this all the time, and questions like this appear in Facebook groups and diet forums all the time.  Frequently with people saying something like “excuse me for being stupid“.

We will put that last one to bed straight away.  You are not stupid!

Let’s deal with “eat as much as you want“.  First, how much do you want?

Your body has sophisticated control mechanisms to tell you:

  1. You’re hungry: you need fuel (food)
  2. You are full: you’ve had enough

Click this picture: you may get a surprise!

However, unfortunately you have two completely different mechanisms in this control system:

  1. Biochemistry
  2. Psychology and emotions

Frequently our psychology and emotions around food get messed up.  It starts with parental messages to eat up all your dinner or children will starve in Africa and is then manipulated by the HUGE sums of money that advertisers spend to program our brains to make us eat.

Our biochemistry also gets messed up.  When I was a lad growing up in England, Chinese restaurants were  novelty.  There was a piece of “received wisdom” that said that you would feel hungry again half an hour after eating Chinese food. Cecil Adams in “The Straight Dope” even wrote an article about it. (Click those links: they are more fun than this blog post is likely to be!)

The point is that some food makes you feel full up, some food leaves you hungry and there is some food that actually makes you hungry (mostly manufactured food, manufactured by firms with no interest in you being healthy, just in you buying more of their products.

So, leaving on one side the psychology and emotions for a moment, if you STOP eating the stuff that doesn’t make you feel food, and replace it by eating the stuff that does make you feel full, then we can say “eat as much as you like”, reckoning that you will get to feel full quite quickly, that that will be “as much as you like” and you’ll eat less, and lose weight.

But notice what I said there: “you will eat less”.  Let’s move on.

(Oh, by the way, highly processed carbs and sugars are the things liable to make you want to eat more, and fatty and spicy food are likely to make you want to eat less.  ”Diet” versions don’t help.  To understand just a little of what’s going on here, first glance at “Is it true that drinking diet sodas like Diet Coke make you crave carbohydrates?” Ask.com.  You will notice that there is one “yes” vote and one “no” vote, the “no” coming from Snopes, which I usually trust.  But then just glance through this Mercola article: “Aspartame — History of Fraud and Deception“.  It’s down the bottom where he says:

Aspartame is the only biochemical warfare product on grocery shelves

that makes me think I need a lot more research before I’ll give it a try!).

Of course, we haven’t dealt with the psychology yet.

You have probably heard this old joke: “I’m on a seafood diet. I see food and I eat it!

There is even a Facebook page with that name, for food jokes :

Q: Why do bakers work so hard?
A: Because they need the dough.

But maybe the “see food” thing isn’t a joke.  Maybe it’s the truth.  Spend a couple of minutes watching this experiment carried out by stage hypnotist Paul McKenna:

httpv://www.youtube.com/watch?v=AbDFnI_fMd4

You might like to try it for yourself.

And how would it be if someone fed you, rather than you feeding yourself?  My guess is that each mouthful will be smaller and that your “eating speed” will be slower.

I think that we have learned to bypass or over-ride our “satiety” signals, and if we could fix that problem, then we would feel full sooner, and we would eat less.

But notice what I said there: “we would eat less”.

Losing weight is all about eating less.  It’s about doing something that will mean that we are happy to stop eating when we are full.  It is not about forcing ourselves to eat less.  That never, ever works.  And if you think it does, just look around you.  All over the western world for at least the last half century, doctors, nutritionists and diet pundits have been telling overweight people to, “eat less, exercise more”.

Does it look like this advice is working?  I don’t think so.

And then along comes Gary Taubes with his two books, [simpleazon-link asin="1400033462" locale="us"]Good Calories, Bad Calories[/simpleazon-link] ([simpleazon-link asin="0091924286" locale="uk"]The Diet Delusion[/simpleazon-link] in the UK) and [simpleazon-link asin="0307474259" locale="us"]Why We Get Fat: And What to Do About It[/simpleazon-link].  The book (WWGF) changed my life.  Here’s why.

There is a subtle subtext behind “If you eat less and exercise more you will lose weight” which says “you are fat because you are greedy and lazy“.  Gee, thanks doc.

When Gary says that this isn’t the way to go with this all the conventional pundits cry “foul”.  They say it’s all a question of physics.  If you take in more energy than you put out, that excess energy has to go somewhere and it will be stored as fat.  Therefore, take in less energy and/or put out more energy, or both.  It’s all physics and Gary Taubes should be burned at the stake (steak?) for saying otherwise.

But Gary does NOT go against the laws of physics.  Read the above paragraph again, but stop at the word “Therefore”.  There should be a whole book, or maybe a whole library, between “stored as fat.” and “Therefore …”

Here’s an example that Gary uses quite a lot.  Think of  a teenage boy.  There comes a certain age where they seem to grow (tall) overnight.  And they seem to be always in the fridge, except when they are in bed.  But you don’t ever hear a parent say “My Tommy has grown six inches in the last three months, it must be because he’s eating too much and not exercising enough”.  He is eating because he is growing.  He lacks energy because all his energy is going into growing.  And why is he growing?  Well, we know, don’t we.  It’s his hormones.

And it’s our hormones that make us grow fatter, too.  It’s just different hormones.  With Tommy it’s testosterone and somatropin, with me it’s insulin.  With Tommy it’s supposed to happen: if his testosterone and somatropin get out of whack he’ll either not grow, or he’ll be a giant.  My insulin is out of whack: I’m only a giant width-wise.  And it was eating too many refined carbohydrates when I was young and foolish (and middle-aged and foolish) as opposed to now when I am old and foolish, that damaged my insulin system.

But I’m getting off subject, or at least on to a subject that I’ll come back to later.

So, Do I have to Count Calories? Yes or No?

Well, it depends (sorry!)  You will only lose weight if you correct that energy balance: eat less or exercise more (actually, exercising more probably won’t help: it’ll just make you hungry).

What we hope is that by eating less processed junk food, less refined carbs, by eating more “real food” (what your grandparents called “food”), by eating a balanced amount of protein and upping the amount of fats that you eat (etc etc: we’ll deal with precisely what elsewhere), you will naturally want to eat less.

The trick to losing weight while eating as much as you like is to change how much you like.

So if you are following your low-carb diet, or your paleo or primal regime or your ketogenic or auto-immune protocol, and you are not losing weight, then you are eating too much … BUT, the answer is not to just cut down, but to find out why.  If you are significantly obese then it is highly likely that switching to a paleo or ketogenic regime will cause you to lose weight, without having to count calories.  You will just naturally want to eat fewer calories.  You’ll feel full up sooner.

But as you get closer to your goal weight, where the margins for calculation are tighter, you may need to exercise more control.  You may need to count something … not necessarily calories: it may be grams of carbs, or it may be getting the macro-nutrient ratios right.  It may be paying better attention to micro-nutrients.  I have heard it said that if we are missing certain micro nutrients in our diet that we may crave certain foods.  I have also heard it said that modern food is only around half as nutrient dense as food that was commonly available 100 years ago.  So, presumably, we need to eat twice as much (and hence get twice as many calories) just to get the same level of micro nutrients.

Or it may be finding a way to re-wire your brain, so that you find more effective ways of supporting starving African children, other than by eating more than you need yourself.

As so many of my articles conclude, it is highly likely that no-one has an off-the-peg answer to your individual question.  Research is needed.  The question is, will you pay a Harley Street nutritionist £125 per hour to do the research, or will you learn about food, nutrition and your own body, and do your own research?

Go on, give me a hint!

Zoe Salmon

Zoe Salmon

Some while ago the BBC made a programme called “The Big Fat Truth About Low Fat Foods“.   I like this programme because they took an ordinary person (well, as ordinary a you can be, being an ex Blue-Peter presenter and an FHM model) and put her on a low-fat, packaged food diet for four weeks, to see what would happen.  She is “ordinary” in the sense that she doesn’t have any particular health problems, is not a diet and nutrition expert, but generally eats a reasonable diet.

(Having said that, I just discovered that she was a contestant in Celebrity Masterchef!!)

For four weeks, model and former Blue Peter presenter Zoe Salmon ditches the fine dining she’s used to and lives on nothing but pre-packaged, highly-processed foods that are labelled either low or lower in fat. She finds out what’s in these foods and how they affect her moods, nutritional levels and, crucially, her weight. She also meets the low calorie converts who say that eating this way isn’t just a diet, but a way of life.

The programme (I think) does for Weight Watchers what “Supersize Me” did for Macdonalds.  I think the programme is a must to show to anyone who thinks your high-fat diet will kill you, and a must for anyone considering Weight Watchers.  Here’s a trailer:

httpv://www.youtube.com/watch?v=XlLTQHdGzK4

And here’s the who programme (it’s about 50 minutes):

httpv://www.youtube.com/watch?v=jca9O4js2Og

No.

End of post?  Well, perhaps not, as so many people seem to think there are.  I have written about cholesterol before (“On Statins, Cholesterol and the Like“) but I am still getting questions, so perhaps I’d better explain.  But first a simple test.  Can you tell the difference between the various pictures below?

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Bus

Taxi

People

People

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We hear about cholesterol and we hear about HDL cholesterol and LDL cholesterol.  HDL and LDL are not cholesterol. They are vehicles for transporting cholesterol, hence the silly question above.

For cholesterol: think “people”.  For HDL think “bus” and for LDL think “taxi”.  HDL (High-Density Lipoprotein) and LDL (Low-Density Lipoprotein) are the vehicles used to carry cholesterol around your body.

Cholesterol is vital: it’s in pretty much every cell of your body, and it is nearly all (over 80%) manufactured in your liver.  The amount of cholesterol derived from dietary sources is pretty low.  After your liver has manufactured cholesterol it is loaded into taxis and shipped out to whichever part of your body needs new cholesterol.  Worn out cholesterol is loaded onto buses and shipped back for repair or discard.

Now, what is of interest is, do you have big taxis or small taxis, and how crowded is the highway?  Buses are no problem, big taxis are no problem; it’s having rush-hour numbers of small taxis that causes hardening of the arteries.

High LDL-P

High LDL-P (Mumbai tuk tuk taxis)
(Courtesy Joel Duncan Photography)

The big taxis come from eating animal-based food, by and large.  The tuk-tuks come from eating carbohydrates. Don’t take it from this old man.  Hear a top expert on “It’s not the passengers, it’s the cars”.  You will hear them talk about particles.  Those are particles of LDL: that’s taxis.  LDL particles come as big and fluffy (big taxis) or small and hard (tuk tuks).  When they talk about LDL-P that’s a count of particles: how crowded the road is.  When they mention atherosclerosis, that’s what we non-medical folk call “hardening of the arteries”.

Here’s Dr Tara Dall:

httpv://www.youtube.com/watch?v=8fLuxjQ2s6s

For more information, the “go-to” place is Chris Masterjohn’s http://www.cholesterol-and-health.com/, but he’s not the only one.  The good folks at http://coconutoil.com/ are also talking about it: “Putting The Myth To Rest: There Is No Such Thing As Bad Cholesterol“.

[simpleazon-image align="left" asin="1592335217" locale="us" height="160" src="http://ecx.images-amazon.com/images/I/51R-yS5yFkL._SL160_.jpg" width="142"][simpleazon-image align="right" asin="B009PKIPOE" locale="uk" height="160" src="http://ecx.images-amazon.com/images/I/51fZtEUPHEL._SL160_.jpg" width="142"]

There is no excerpt because this is a protected post.

I recently published a post called “How Do We Know What We Know“?  I think it’s important that we think about how we come by the knowledge that we use to manage our lives.

Some people believe what they are told; “I read it in the newspapers”, “I saw it on TV”, “It must be true”.

Some people believe what they are told by authorities: their doctor, religious leader, etc.  Some people work off of a gut feeling, and some trust scientists.

But what is science?

What it isn’t is a bunch of (mostly) men in white coats with clip boards peering into microscopes and test tubes.

Science is a process of coming to know: of justifying a belief.

Beside me as I write I have what Brits call a torch and Americans call a flashlight. It doesn’t work and I want to know why.  My guess is that the battery is flat, so I take out the old battery, shove in a new one from my drawer, and the torch lights up.  That, in a nutshell, is the whole scientific process.

In science we start with a problem (torch doesn’t work); we form an hypothesis as to what the cause of the problem is (formally, according to Wikipedia, an hypothesis is a “proposed explanation for a phenomenon”.  Or a guess as to what is causing the problem).  We then design an experiment to test the hypothesis (hypothesis is that the battery is flat; experiment is to replace old battery with a new one.  If the torch then works we will declare that our hypothesis was the correct one).

There are a few problems with this experiment.  What if the problem wasn’t a flat battery, but a loose connection, and that taking one battery out and putting another back (or even the same one back) restored the connection?  Then we would have a “false positive”.  And we’d probably chuck away a perfectly good battery (and the torch would probably fail again next time it was shaken, and we might decide it was going through batteries too fast and chuck the torch out as well as the batteries.)

So to make the scientific process a bit more likely to produce good and useful knowledge, we come up with a whole set of hypotheses, and try to design experiments to test all of them.  For instance, hypotheses for our non-functioning torch might be:

  1. Flat battery
  2. Dead bulb
  3. Loose connection
  4. Alien invaders have stopped electricity working on earth.
  5. etc.

If we have an electric meter or tester we can use it to measure a brand new battery, straight out of its packet.  If that works then we know that the tester is working, and we can also rule out hypothesis number 4.  We can then use the tester on the battery.  We may need to test the battery and the bulb, and the connections, because the problem might be 1, 2, or 3, or any combination of the three variables (or four variables if we haven’t yet ruled out the alien invasion).

I’m sure that I am labouring the point, and that you get it by now.  But you may also be getting a sense that, to an outsider, science looks glamorous while actually it involves a lot of care and pains-taking step-by-step rigour.

In the science of nutrition, as in all other science, when we do experiments we need to “control” for all the variables.  If we think that eating chocolate is what is making someone fat we could take two groups of people, feed one group chocolate and the other not, and measure them.  But to be absolutely sure the problem is the chocolate, the two groups must eat exactly the same apart from the chocolate.  And exercise the same, and sleep the same, and drink the same, and live at the same altitude (I’ve just got back from a week in the rocky mountains: you’d be amazed at the difference it can have on you; even how often you need to wee!)

So, anyway, that’s what science is: it’s just a way of thinking about solving problems, of producing knowledge.

But here’s an interesting thing: it’s the science of finding things that will make people well.  On the face of it, if you developed a pill that stopped people getting smelly feet you might think you’d get a large group of people who have smelly feet, divide them into two groups, give one group the pill, the other group no pill, and see how smelly the feet were of the two groups.

But that’s not what pill researchers do.

They make a second pill that looks exactly the same as the first pill, but which does absolutely nothing.  It’s probably just made of chalk.  And no one knows which pill is which (except the people designing the research).  In particular, neither the folks taking the pills know which is which, nor do the folks handing out the pills.  This is called a “double-blind” trial and it is to prevent the outcome being influenced by the placebo effect and researcher bias.  The placebo effect is when people who are given the “sham” pill, but who believe it to be real, get better anyway.

Very many scientists tend to dismiss all sorts of things that are outside their paradigm as “just the placebo effect”.  But hang on … are you telling us that just because people believe they are getting treated, they actually get better?

Yup.

There’s even placebo surgery.  People with a knee problem were anesthetized, the surgeon made an incision, then just sewed it up without doing anything, and people got better!

So what do they mean by “just” the placebo effect?  This is amazing!  While many scientists sniff at the placebo effect, they clearly recognise that it exists, or they wouldn’t have designed the blind trial.

But just a minute here.  That’s why they designed the blind trial.  But what about the double blind trial?

Well, that’s because they also recognise that what the experimenter believes can also effect the outcome of the trial.  Hmm.  Weirder and weirder, don’t you think?  Obviously, of course, you can’t have double-blind knee surgery, but still …

So, we have our sweet-feet pill, and we design a double blind trial.  You’d think, if the pill worked, one group would have sweet feet and the other group smelly feet.  No: doesn’t work like that.  What we are looking for is for a “statistically significant” number of the sweet-feet group to see some improvement.  You never, ever get 100% cured with the real pill and 100% not cured with the placebo.

Never.

Here’s a fun one; some researchers wanted to test out the claims of some herbalists that the herb ginkgo biloba can help with sexual problems.  They found that it didn’t.  But they didn’t find that no-one got better, they found that equal numbers of people got better in both groups!

The aim of this study was to examine the effect of Ginkgo biloba on antidepressant-induced sexual dysfunction. The Ginkgo biloba (n=19) and the placebo groups (n=18) were divided; each to be administered with Ginkgo biloba and placebo respectively for 2 months by means of a randomized placebo-controlled, double-blind study. The results of this 2 month trial were: (1) there was no statistical significant difference from the placebo at weeks 2, 4 and 8 after medication; (2) in comparison with baseline, both the Ginkgo biloba group and the placebo group showed improvement in some part of the sexual function, which is suggestive of the importance of the placebo effect in assessing sexual function.

A placebo-controlled, double-blind trial of Ginkgo biloba for antidepressant-induced sexual dysfunction

Last point before I get to why I am telling you all of this.

Some people suddenly realised that, because all drug trials are done using double-blind trials with placebos, there was an awful lot of clinical trial data about placebos.  If you analyse it, you see that some people are “placebo responders”: pretty much they will get better whatever you give them, whether it’s the drug or a chalk pill.  And then there are the placebo non-responders.  They won’t get well whatever you give them.  I bet you are already thinking of a few grumpy people that you know for whom nothing ever works.  And a few Pollyanna types for whom everything is always wonderful.  If you’re a placebo-non-responder you probably spend your life wanting to slap some sense into the Pollyannas of this world.

If you find this stuff fascinating and want to know, this may be the place to start: What Is the Placebo Effect? By Kendra Cherry, About.com Guide.

Diets

Well, it’s taken me long enough to get to the point, but here it is.  I would be willing to bet that, for every diet, nutrition plan, weight-loss pill that’s ever been invented, however crazy, there is at least one person for whom it was a miracle cure and changed their life.

And for every serious, perfectly researched, based-on-pure-science-and-nutrition, life-style change that’s ever been invented, there are a whole host of people who got fat and sick and died a horrible death using it (well no, probably not that bad, but you get my point).

All of this is because, in my next post, I am going to try to create a map of the dieting, weight-loss, lifestyle territory, and I want you to understand that, while I may sneer at some things, and exalt others, I just know that there are people for whom the silver-bullet capsules filled with floor sweepings worked like a dream, and I’m sure that there are people who have eaten a Big Mac, fries and a full-fat Coke with extra sugar every day of their lives and went on to win Olympic Gold in the Ultra-Marathon.

But I’m also willing to bet that neither of those people are you!

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