Carvings January 1, 2022

In the news

Let’s begin the New Year with some uplifting news: the COVID-19 Silver Lining

            Pandemics, like wars, call forth imagination and innovation and this pandemic has advanced areas of science whose fruits might not have emerged for years, perhaps decades.

            The structure of DNA was elucidated by Watson and Crick only a couple of years before I began medical school. My course in genetics included the study of pea plants, whose patterns of inheritance were recognized by a European monk before the American Civil War. In contrast, the genome – the genetic pattern of SARS-CoV-2 – was determined within weeks of the virus’s isolation and newer variants are being decoded within days.

            One major benefit is the ability to identify the presence of the virus within minutes, a process that took days only a couple of decades earlier. Although tests vary in their accuracy and reliability the ability to identify persons who are capable of spreading the virus has doubtless saved lives.

            Advances in vaccine development are mind-boggling. No less than 350 candidate vaccines were in development two years ago. Most of them were found wanting but the fact that we have given more than 8 billion doses of the approved vaccines with dramatic effectiveness – at least in the short term – with fewer side effects than had been anticipated, is remarkable. And those drop-out vaccines? I have no  doubt that some of those research efforts will turn out to be successful with other diseases and after even more research has been carried out on them.

            Until recently I had been disappointed that no drug treatment had been discovered that could stop a viral infection as quickly and completely as antibiotics have done with bacterial diseases such as pneumonia and tuberculosis, the worst killers of the 19th century. But before this new year has ended it’s likely that there will be more than a few effective treatments for this pandemic virus. That, of course, has tremendous importance in the fight against diseases such as rabies and other kinds of encephalitis.

            This virus attacks blood vessels and especially the lungs of its victims. Initial attempts at ventilation were rather clumsy but experience has enabled more effective ventilator therapy.

            All this makes me hopeful that we will be better prepared when the next pandemic arrives, as surely one will within the next few years.


            If your New Year’s resolution is to lose weight you might want to think about how you approach it. Exercise is not the key to weight loss but it’s important for another reason. The sad truth is that even moderately intense exercise has a limited effect on weight loss. For instance, when I pedal on the stationary bike with the incline setting at maximum, the monitor tells me that I have only burned a little more than 100 calories. ☹ (You can find lots of information on exercise and calories on Google.) Pick an exercise that you feel that you can do most days of the week from now on.

            Exercise does matter if you also restrict calories because by cutting back on intake to about 1200  calories per day, unless you exercise with moderate intensity the weight that you lose will come from glycogen, water, muscle tissue and fat, pretty much in that order. Simply put, significant calorie restriction results in the loss of lean body mass, mostly muscle, before the fat begins to melt away.  

            Also, keep in mind that as you lose weight through calorie restriction AND exercise, you will gain some muscle as you lose fat, so that you might not see much of a drop when you step on the scale. You WILL see that your waist size is smaller, since abdominal subcutaneous fat is the first to go.

            If your goal is to lose 50 pounds in 2022 and you can only lose 15, remember that even such seemingly small decreases in body fat will lower your blood pressure and your blood sugar. And that’s the good news for this New Year’s Day.

Carvings December 15, 2021

In the news

Nag, nag, nag – but someone has to do it!

            Three disturbing news stories emerged in the past couple of weeks and each one referred to articles that I have posted since the onset of COVID-19, whose sad anniversary occurred this month. Perhaps the most concerning news is that the rates of both type 1 and type 2 diabetes have increased dramatically in the past year and the adolescent black population is being hit especially hard. In persons below the age of 19, type 2 diabetes has almost doubled – 95 percent! In one large medical center it tripled in just one year. And  these kids are sicker – five (!) times as many presenting with so-called  “diabetic coma” than in previous years. As noted in previous posts, young persons with type 2 diabetes get complications such as kidney failure and blindness faster than those who develop it in their 50s or 60s, which had been the pattern of the 20th century.

            The International Diabetes Federation has just published a report noting that the rise in type 2 diabetes continues to increase among all ages and is also being seen in pregnant women who develop “gestational diabetes”, which is associated with serious complications for their infants. According to the IDF, one in ten adults in the world now has diabetes.

            And now we learn that the coronavirus can hide in fat cells and that fat stores harbor immune cells whose overactivity can lead to the fatal condition known as cytokine storm.

            There is a growing consensus among health educators that this is a wake-up call, a stimulus for a strong effort to reduce the rate of obesity – now a staggering 42 percent of American adults. As a nation we simply cannot afford the cost of treating persons with the complications of obesity and type 2 diabetes – soon to reach one trillion dollars a year.  


If you’re an average American you probably don’t like fish, or you have it only a couple of times a month. Big mistake. Fish is one of the best sources of protein on the planet and it comes with a very small amount of saturated fat. Most of the fat that we find in fish is the polyunsaturated omega-3, which in my humble opinion is the single most important nutrient that is lacking in the American diet. (Actually, it’s the opinion of scores of nutritionists.)

            Unless you’re pregnant, about to be, or under the age of 5 you don’t have to worry about mercury. Non-pregnant grownups can tolerate levels of mercury that are considerably higher than that found in most fish, especially the smaller ones like salmon and sardines.

            Half of the salmon in U.S. restaurants is farmed. Fish raised in pens are often fed grain, not what fish eat in the ocean or in lakes and streams.  Eat wild when you can.

Carvings November 15, 2021

Stop the Bleed: when knowing what to do isn’t enough

            Stop the Bleed is a program that began after the murder of 20 schoolchildren and 6 school staff members in Sandy Hook, Connecticut in 2012. Recognizing that a victim of a stabbing, shooting, car accident or workshop mishap can die within 4 or 5 minutes from blood loss, and that 40,000 (!) persons die that way in the U.S. annually, the Department of Defense, American College of Surgeons and other organizations put together a course that teaches the simple steps that could save thousands of lives every year.

            The methods are simple and take only minutes to learn, although the hands-on practice that all students demonstrate in order to obtain a certificate of completion takes a little longer. The techniques shown in the program are only meant to control deadly hemorrhage in the few minutes before emergency responders arrive: Press, Pack, Tourniquet.

            As many of you know, I began a CPR training program at our church in 2001. Since then we have trained more than 700 members of the parish in this lifesaving skill. We began to teach Stop the Bleed just before the pandemic began and have trained more than 100 persons so far.

            Knowing what to do is important but you need to have access to the means of stopping extreme loss of blood. That requires such things as gauze pads or rolls and tourniquets. Do you have these items in your home, your car, your office, your boat or your RV? I didn’t think so!

            Acquiring these items won’t drain your savings. Start with a small pouch, or even a Ziplock bag. Several rolls of 3- or 4-inch gauze, two tourniquets and cheap scissors are the basics. You might want to include a pressure dressing or Israeli bandage but applying these takes training and practice.

            Why two tourniquets? Because one might not be enough to stop the bleeding, because the plastic windless might break, or there might be a second wound or a second victim.

            Why scissors? Because you need to expose any site of bleeding and cutting clothing is the fastest way.

            At St. Thomas More church in Oceanside we have four Red Bags, enough materials to treat several victims. They are placed at opposite ends of each of our two campus buildings in order to maximize speedy access and to provide redundancy in case one is not accessible. I mention this because you might want to consider doing the same at your place of worship or your workplace.

            You can obtain further information at

            If you are in the San Diego area and would like to organize a Stop the Bleed class, let me know. Classes are limited to six persons because I only have one set of materials. However, I can do more than one class, since the total time involved is about one hour. The cost is $10 per person to cover the cost of supplies and you will receive a certificate of completion. Unlike the CPR class, the items I need for presenting the PowerPoint are easy to transport, so I can come to any location within the county, home, business, church or school. All proceeds go to our account at the church.

In the news

Why a little bit of fat matters. Prepare to be offended.

            In the past couple of posts I have argued that one cannot be fit and fat and that the research that appears to support the idea that excess body fat is not a detriment to longevity has serious flaws. Obesity is a markedly complex issue that can hardly be discussed in depth in a blog as brief as this one but some recent news helps to clarify at least one issue, the high mortality of SARS-CoV-2 in obese persons and how that might apply to other health matters.

            Some caveats, comments and concessions: (1) the terms “overweight” and “obese” are somewhat arbitrary but necessarily so in order to form baselines in research. (2) Body Mass Index (BMI) is of limited usefulness for reasons noted in earlier Carvings blogs. (3) All body fat is not the same; subcutaneous fat is not by itself associated with diseases such as coronary artery disease, stroke, cancer and type 2 diabetes but visceral fat, which is interspersed within the abdomen is. (4) Genetic factors play a large role in the interaction between fat stores and disease. (5) Skeletal size and body type blur the definition of “overweight,” which demographers generally consider to be ten pounds over the actuarial norm but that is somewhat arbitrary.

            In an article at posted today, November 1, 2021, researchers from Stanford University analyzed autopsies of persons who died of COVID-19 and noted: “Infection of fat cells led to a marked inflammatory response, consistent with the type of immune response that is seen in severe cases of COVID-19.” The authors note that this may explain why obese persons do so poorly during infection with this virus.

            Perhaps this observation and a hypothetical illustration will explain why persons who have only a little more body fat than nature intends are not as healthy as they like to think they are.

            Let’s use the example of identical twin men (A and B) – which eliminates genetic influences — age 50 who live in adjoining homes. Both are engineers, work in the same company, have similar pastimes and physical activity and are married to twin sisters. Their diets are identical and the sisters are excellent cooks, follow the same recipes and like the same foods. However, Wife B has a talent for making her dishes look more appetizing so that Husband B eats just a little more than Husband A. Not much more, mind you, only about 7 or 8 calories per day more that he doesn’t burn off with exercise. (That’s a little less than a single bite of a banana or not even one-third of a teaspoon of sugar.) Unfortunately those few calories have allowed Husband B to gain a little less than one pound a year over 30 years so that he now weighs 20 pounds more than Husband A. (See below for the math.)

            What do those 20 pounds consist of? The answer is fat, most of which is (relatively harmless) subcutaneous fat but some is the nasty visceral type. That’s why Twin B, to his chagrin, has a waist size two inches or so bigger than Twin A. Hardly noticeable, right? But as noted above, visceral fat produces inflammatory chemicals that are associated with coronary artery disease, stroke, cancer and type 2 diabetes as well as several autoimmune diseases such as rheumatoid arthritis and multiple sclerosis.

The conclusion: Twin B is not as healthy as Twin A. Not by a lot, and if he exercises regularly, he might live to a ripe old age. Maybe.

I’m quite aware that there is a gradation between normal, overweight and obese. The latter two categories, though not precisely defined, comprise more than 75 percent of the U.S. population. Of the fifteen leading causes of death in the U.S., most are directly or indirectly linked to obesity.

Curious about the math? Seven calories per day for 365 days equals 2555 calories. Over 30 years that’s 76,650 calories, equivalent to 21.3 pounds of fat. Isn’t that a bummer!

Carvings       October 15, 2021

In the news

Fit and fat – missing the point – again!

            Two weeks ago we wrote about about the misleading claim that one can be overweight or obese and be fit at the same time. Although carrying extra weight does not preclude the possibility of being free from the immediate risk of heart attack or stroke, or not having the markers of type 2 diabetes, longer follow-up studies uncover the dangers of extra weight in later years.

            In just the past few days, on October 12th, another such misleading article appeared in the San Diego Tribune, a reprint of an item that was published in the New York Times. I am no expert in human metabolism, obesity or type 2 diabetes but some of the errors made in these articles should be obvious to anyone with a minimal education in these areas.

            I remain puzzled about the overwhelming reference to the BMI (Body Mass Index) in so many studies. The BMI was devised more than 150 years ago by a French demographer who applied this tool in the analysis of populations. The BMI was never intended to be applied to individuals and I explained why, in detail, in the October 1st post.

            Of the several articles that I have reviewed, the concept of Normal Weight Obese has not been addressed. Simply stated, a person whose weight is normal according to standard actuarial tables but whose level of body fat exceeds normal is considered NWO. In a study from a major medical center, twenty percent of women whose weight was normal by the usual standards were carrying extra body fat. The scale says that they are normal but the tape measure does not; they almost always have large waists, indicating the presence of visceral fat. A personal anecdote illustrates the problem. At a book signing at my alma mater – my 50th college reunion – a classmate came by and said “Phil, life just isn’t fair. I weigh the same as I did when you and I graduated 50 years ago but I have diabetes.” I had to bite my lip to keep from saying “You might weigh the same, but you’re not shaped the same.” In that half-century he lost muscle mass but replaced it with fat. Since fat takes up more space than muscle does, he needed a bigger belt. Further, muscle burns sugar but fat does not.

            The article that argued that being overweight or obese can allow a person to remain healthy cited a grossly misleading reference. Persons undergoing liposuction with the removal of several pounds of fat had no improvement in their markers of heart disease. Of course not! Subcutaneous fat is not associated with heart disease and stroke but visceral fat – that which accumulates around the loops of intestine and that is overwhelmingly associated with cardiovascular disease, is left in place during fat removal.

            The authors of that misleading study gave another example that they claimed “underscored the futility of workouts for weight loss.” Among women who walked 30 minutes a day three times a week: “After 12 weeks a few of them had shed some body fat, but 55 percent of them had gained weight.” Ninety minutes of walking in a week is a paltry figure; hunter-gatherer women are documented to walk an average of nine miles a day, often carrying an infant as well as the day’s harvest. Please!!

            Also cited was the claim that losing weight does not lower the risk of heart disease, stroke or early death. Examples included the loss of up to 5 percent of body weight among exercisers. Unnoticed is the fact that a 250-pound person who loses even 25 pounds – ten percent, not five – is still grossly overweight and likely to have type 2 diabetes and heart disease.

            In summary, carrying excess weight is detrimental to health and there are hundreds of well-conducted studies that show that this is so. It’s correct that exercise by itself leads to little weight loss but it does increase muscle mass, helps to control blood sugar levels and reduces the risk of heart disease and stroke.


You probably already know the difference between aerobic and resistance exercise, but most people that I talk to don’t do both! That’s unfortunate because nature has programmed our bodies to have both – every day. Luckily, we can get by very well by exercising about 4 or 5 days a week, provided that it’s varied and that each session lasts 30 minutes or more.

            There are plenty of forms of aerobic exercise. Heck, even pushing around a vacuum cleaner for 45 minutes counts! So does yard work – which might also involve some resistance exercise. Walking, biking, swimming and tennis are great. (Sorry – golf is just so-so!) The important point is that we need to do aerobic exercise to keep our heart and lungs in good shape, and resistance exercise that will work every muscle group at least a couple of times a week to maintain balance and bone strength, as well as give both our immune system and our brain a boost.

Carvings     October 1, 2021

In the news

The myth of fit and fat: the last nails in the coffin

            When a team of researchers from the National Institutes of Health (NIH) stated that being overweight was not only unrelated to heart disease but that such persons had a longer lifespan, media journalists (most of whom happen to be just as overweight or obese as their fellow Americans) rejoiced. By the time the director of the NIH held a news conference to disavow the findings the damage had been done. For the next couple of decades the iconoclasts continued to claim that it was OK to be overweight as long as your blood pressure and blood sugar remained at normal values. Similar studies followed with the same misinformation.

            Studies from six countries have finally demolished that myth. It turns out that the spurious studies just didn’t last long enough – some only for five years. A decade or two later those fit and fat – the medical term is Metabolically Healthy Obese — were headed toward stroke centers and coronary care units.

            Research based on several million persons from six countries (U.S., U.K., Denmark, Canada, France and Scotland) verify what many of us have maintained: carrying extra fat puts one at higher risk of cardiovascular disease, stroke, type 2 diabetes and a shortened lifespan. The reports claiming the opposite suffered from several flaws, including that persons with congestive heart failure tend to lose weight as their illness progresses, and so do persons with type 2 diabetes. Some trials were done among selected groups and others relied on self-reporting, a notoriously error-prone method.

            The message is clear: overweight persons who are “metabolically healthy” do not remain so.

            Interestingly, only one of these studies acknowledged that BMI (Body Mass Index), the standard that has been used in scores of research protocols for decades, is an “inappropriate surrogate” for adiposity. The BMI was developed more than 150 years ago by a French demographer who used it to gather information about population groups. It was never intended to apply to individuals although it is typically used these days by physicians, nutritionists, fitness instructors and others in their research. The reason is simple and it should be obvious: it determines the ratio of weight to height and does not take into consideration the fact that two persons of equal weight and height, with the identical BMI, can have markedly different health profiles. As an example, a six-foot, 200-pound bodybuilder and a six-foot, 200-pound couch potato have the same BMI. But the former might have about 10 percent body fat, the latter perhaps 50 percent. Do you think that they will have the same health issues?

            Let’s hope that this myth will go to its grave early so that fewer of us will do likewise.


            Beware of any diet program that claims that you will lose 5 or 10 pounds per week. That’s possible, but it isn’t safe or wise. Your target should be about two pounds per week. After all, that’s about 50 pounds in six months, 100 pounds in a year, and there is no reason to go beyond that. You will still amaze your friends and we’re months away from bikini season!

            If you push your body into starvation mode you will lose a great deal of lean body mass, which includes muscle as well as tissue from other organs. There is also a much greater risk of gallbladder disease when weight loss exceeds 2 pounds per week.

            Cravings are inevitable when you cut calories drastically but by substituting calorie-sparse foods like fruits and vegetables for calorie-dense refined carbohydrates like anything made with white flour or any form of sugar, those cravings will disappear. Plant foods take up a lot of space, so feel free to snack on them throughout the day. Even though fruit has some sugar, it’s almost never more than about 75 calories – about one-third as much as there are in a bagel – without the cream cheese!

            Fatigue and irritability also accompany marked weight loss. The former will jeopardize your job and the latter your relationships. It just isn’t worth it.


Carvings       September 15, 2021

In the news

To boost or not to boost. Hamlet had an easier choice.

            As if the coronavirus hadn’t already scrambled our brains – literally or figuratively – the need for a third dose of the COVID-19 vaccine (or a second if you had the J&J vaccine) is the argument du jour and probably will be until sometime early in 2022.

            No matter what the stimulus might be, a natural infection or an artificial one like a vaccine, immunity always declines. The protection provided by a vaccine tends to be less long-lasting than that produced by natural infection but that’s not always the case. Natural tetanus can occur more than once yet developing tetanus after having received the vaccine is extremely rare. On the other hand, persons who have had natural mumps will never have a recurrence; some persons who have received two doses of the mumps vaccine might experience it again by the time they reach twenty. I mention these two very different responses to highlight the fact that the science of immunology is so complex that we should not be surprised if the experts are not sure of how to evaluate the need for boosters of the COVID vaccine.

            Expect even more confusion, considering these factors: there are many strains of coronavirus circulating around the world; there are already five different vaccines being given in various countries and scores more are under development; not everyone has the same quality of the immune system and not everyone responds the same way to an infection or to a vaccine; many among us have weakened or disordered immune systems because of an illness such as leukemia, chemotherapy, or even conditions such as obesity or diabetes. Whew!

            Be patient! Expect disagreement among the experts.

            At the moment it appears that not everyone needs to consider a booster dose of the vaccine but in my opinion, anyone over the age of 65 (just a convenient number that I picked because that’s when Medicare begins) and especially if they have a comorbidity such as obesity, diabetes, hypertension or disease of the heart, lungs or kidneys should consider a booster dose.

            Should you “mix and match”, i.e., should you get a different type of booster vaccine than your primary series? Studies are underway now to determine that.

            How long after your primary series should you get a booster? Probably at least 6 months.

            Can you expect even more side effects and/or discomfort after the booster than you had after the second dose? It probably depends on what your previous discomfort, if any, was like and what type of vaccine you get as a booster. Remember that if the artificial infection (the vaccine) ruined your day, the natural virus might have killed you or made you really sick.

            But in all of this, the most important thing is to get the vaccine!! I have recently read that MOST of the vaccine-refusers are opposed because fetal tissue was used in the vaccine development. My take: if it doesn’t bother the Pope it shouldn’t bother the rest of us. Those cells were harvested more than two generations ago and there is not a molecule of the original tissue in today’s cell cultures. Does it bother me that human fetuses were used to develop vaccines? Of course, but we can’t undo that.

            Finally, should children under age 19 get the vaccine? My opinion: only if they have a comorbidity, and that includes even being overweight.


            Aaaarghhh! The issue of eggs and cholesterol is back in the news and today’s argument, that we should have no more than a couple of eggs per week and even fewer if we have cholesterol problems is as inane as it was 40 years ago.

            Here’s the straight skinny: unless you are eating several eggs every day, the cholesterol in an egg (less than 200 milligrams) will not raise your cholesterol for one simple reason. The more cholesterol in your diet the less your liver will manufacture. However, if you are unlucky enough to have a genetic tendency to have a high LDL cholesterol, consider having them only occasionally. Eggs have too many healthy nutrients to give them up forever.

            BUT: it’s those “egg helpers” that raise cholesterol, the bacon, sausage, butter, hash browns, ham and Canadian bacon. Even then, an occasional (once a week) serving is not going to push you into an early grave. If you substitute those delicious but saturated fat-laden evil foods with a scoop of frozen mixed vegetables to make a great omelet, you’ll be getting all the benefits of eggs with no downside. Enjoy!

Carvings September 2, 2021

Upcoming presentations at Osher and OASIS plus a freebie

Osher Lifelong Learning at Cal State San Marcos campus. Register at or 760-750-4020

A day in the life of a Renaissance physician     Wednesday      September 15 1:00  $45 for the series

A day in the life of a California Gold rush physician                 September 22

A day in the life of an ancient Egypt physician                         September 29  

Temecula campus Immunizations: the good, the bad and the future   Friday, September 10, 9:30 $15

OASIS Adult Learning Center, Grossmont in La Mesa. Google San Diego OASIS or call 619-881-6262

Baby Boomer blindness                         Thursday          September 16   2:30      (Online only – no cost)

Probiotics, the germs that keep us alive Monday           September 20   1:00      in-person or online  $12

Wine in the time of Jesus    A brief presentation at St. Thomas More church, Parish Center. Lower level   

                                          1450 S. Melrose, Oceanside     Tuesday, September 6   7:30 p.m.  No charge 

In the news

Is it the end of the beginning?

            The pandemic that began about 21 months ago has been more deadly than any in this century and most of the previous one. Medical science has been rocked by the unpredictability of this virus and humbled by recurring waves of infection and deaths. But there have emerged some hopeful signs that we are, indeed, at the end of the beginning.

            Effective vaccines were developed in a nearly miraculous brief span of time, building on discoveries of more than 30 years ago (the mRNA vaccines), with even more new technological advances on the way that promise longer-lasting immunity, simpler storage requirements and elimination of the need for booster doses.

            Vaccine side effects can be serious, even fatal, but after more than five billion doses of vaccines administered around the world, the medical community is both surprised and gratified that the rate of such adverse effects is lower than what most had expected. From the birth of vaccines at the end of the 18th Century there has never been one with zero side effects. But let’s pause for a moment to recognize what is really happening. It’s quite possible, though impossible to prove, that serious symptoms from the mild artificial infection (the vaccine) are signs that the natural infection would have resulted in grave illness or death.

            Persons with allergic conditions are justifiably anxious about what might happen if they receive a vaccine but a study in Israel should provide significant comfort. Among 429 persons deemed to be at high risk because of multiple drug allergies, previous anaphylactic reaction to any drug or vaccine or a condition called mast dell disorder only two percent had an allergic response. Six had only minor symptoms (skin rash, cough, swollen tongue) and only three had an anaphylactic response that was controlled by treatment. To repeat – all were at high risk to begin with.

 “Breakthrough” infections are also not as deadly as had been feared. As I noted in the post on July 15th, there are several reasons why vaccines fail. Further, among those who suffered an infection after full vaccination, few have died, and those who did are overwhelmingly in high-risk groups that are older and afflicted with three or more comorbidities such as heart disease or diabetes. CDC data show that nearly a third had immunosuppressive conditions.

Another positive finding: in a study from Israel, persons who become infected after vaccination are found to have “significantly higher levels of antibodies afterward” than vaccinees who were not later infected.

Will this SARS-CoV-2 virus ever go away? Not likely. And it will continue to mutate. The biggest fear is that some future mutation (we’ll probably have to come up with more than the Greek alphabet, which has only 24 characters) will evade vaccine-induced immunity and be even more destructive. Call me a Pollyanna, but I don’t expect either of those things will happen. And if they do I believe that we’ll be able to handle them.

Carvings                 August 1, 2021

In the news

Your favorite drinks – coffee and cocoa — are looking better!

            Today’s Carvings format is a little different. Two items appeared in the news this week concerning lifestyle and I’m combining both sections. Most of us drink more coffee than cocoa so I’ll start with that one.

            Over several decades it’s been a bumpy road for coffee – sometimes a villain, sometimes a hero. Actually it’s a bit of both but not if you watch how much you drink. (Hmmm – doesn’t that sound like it might apply to red wine?)

            One benefit of coffee that I have mentioned in previous posts is that coffee is the single most common source of antioxidants in the U.S. That’s because most Americans have such a meager intake of fruits and vegetables, which for many millennia were the most abundant source of these inflammation-fighting nutrients.

            Overall, drinking one or two cups of coffee does have health benefits but the trouble begins with larger amounts. In a UK study of more than half a million (!) participants, it was found that drinking SIX or more cups of coffee a day is associated with smaller brain volume and a 53% increased risk of dementia. Other studies have shown an association between high intakes of coffee and Alzheimer’s disease – something to consider if you have a family history of that malady.

            A cup or two of coffee at breakfast and one or two cups with dinner won’t shrink your brain but most studies show that you’ll avoid some diseases and you’ll certainly be in a better mood most of the day.


            There’s nothing like a cup of hot chocolate after a day on the ski slopes (or after shoveling out your sidewalk and driveway of snow) but we’re in the middle of summer, many of us have forsworn cold norther climates and now enjoy life in sunny Southern California, Arizona or Texas. But here’s some good news.

            Peripheral Artery Disease (PAD) limits one’s ability to walk and with the dramatic rise in the incidence of type 2 diabetes it is increasing steadily in our population. There is some good news from Northwestern University in Chicago. The study was small, only 44 patients, but the researchers found that those who drank a flavanol-rich chocolate drink three times a day for six months improved their ability to walk over six minutes by about 50 feet. That doesn’t sound like much unless your lifestyle has been severely limited by PAD – so that now you can walk to the mailbox without pain.

            So can a dark chocolate bar have the same effect? The only study that I found said that it does not 😦 but they only gave the participants one and a half ounces of chocolate and only took measurements on two consecutive days. Maybe the results would have been different if the patients ate 1 ½ ounces of dark chocolate every day for six months, as in the cocoa trial. That hardly sounds like a great burden. And I’d bet that some research group could find lots of volunteers for that study!

Carvings July 16, 2021

In the news

Uh-Oh! Another variant. And what about those “breakthroughs”?

            We were told very early in the COVID-19 pandemic that we could expect mutations to arise and that some of these might carry severe consequences and might be able to evade any vaccine. The good news is that although some changes have occurred – a recent variant dubbed Delta does have the capacity to spread more easily – the three vaccines currently in use in the United States maintain their effectiveness.

            One of the most frustrating things about this virus is that it doesn’t seem to play by the rules. It causes symptoms and complications that no one anticipated. Even the vaccines – although they work much better than the most optimistic of us expected – cause serious, sometimes deadly side effects.

            As I noted in an earlier blog there are some individuals in whom the vaccine does not seem to have a protective effect – a vaccine failure. These failures are well known to immunologists and include improper storage or handling of the vaccines, patients who cannot mount an immune response because of obesity, diabetes, steroid therapy or chemotherapy, or even a genetic defect that affects the immune system. As of midsummer fewer than 200 vaccinated persons have died among the nearly three and a half billion persons who have received the vaccine. Every one of these is a tragedy to be sure, but these deaths pale in comparison to the four million persons who have died from the natural infection.

            As always, perspective matters.


          Don’t pass the salt, please!

                Taking in less sodium isn’t going to do much for weight loss but it will certainly improve your overall health.  Americans take in about 5 times (!) as much sodium as they need, contributing to the current epidemics of high blood pressure, heart disease and osteoporosis.

            Most of our daily sodium intake comes from packaged, processed food. That’s why it’s so important to read the Nutrition Facts label on every package. If the sodium content is over 500 mg. (milligrams) per serving, take a pass.

            There are plenty of tasty substitutes for salt but potassium chloride isn’t one of them. Most users complain about the taste. However, there are plenty of spices that you can use to pep up your menu. Just start experimenting.

            Speaking of substitutes, the best ones consist of unprocessed vegetables and fruits. They are naturally low in sodium and their potassium, fiber and generous supply of vitamins and antioxidants are what our bodies are designed for – not all that salt.