Saturday, July 23, 2011

Gout, Kidney stones and fruit in Hawaii: a surprising link

After being gout-free for almost two years, I had a relapse a couple of weeks ago. It came after indulging in pizza and bread dipped in oil at a restaurant in Hawaii.  To keep my gout in check, I rarely eat out and I avoid a whole host of foods that are high in uric acid. In this case, I ingested a lot of canola oil (mixed in a bottle labeled olive oil) followed by a long, hot walk which lodged uric crystals in my toes. While recovering from my gout attack, on a strict white rice and cheese diet, I did more internet research on gout and uncovered some new findings. Gout and incidences of kidney stones are increasing in the US and around the world and though gout and kidney stones are seemingly unrelated, there is a strange relationship between the two.

Gout attacks are brought on by high amounts of uric acid in the blood stream that precipitate out into crystals. The uric crystals lodge in joints and extremities and cause great pain and internal tissue damage. Studies have shown that having a higher acidity level in the body can increase the precipitation of uric crystals. When the body’s temperature increases, like in the summer or after a lot of exercise, sweating causes the body’s acidity to increase. I have noticed a correlation between my gout attacks and heavy Vog (volcanic smog which is highly acidic) days when I do a lot of exercise. Drinking alkaline water has really helped me to neutralize my body’s acidity.

Kidney stones are formed from oxalic acid, which combines chemically with calcium and magnesium in the body to form oxalate, a hard crystal that can build up in the kidneys. Though kidney stones can be formed by other crystals (like uric crystals), 80% of the kidney stone incidences are from oxalate, which can also lodge in other parts of the body and cause pain, like rheumatoid arthritis inflammations.

Surprisingly, kidney stones are also related to heat. Several studies have shown that incidence of kidney stones in the US increases as the average annual temperature increases. In warm Hawaii, studies on older populations showed kidney stone incidence rates approaching 50%.

Oxalic acid is found in high concentrations in plants, which some believe acts as a pesticide. Kidney stones may be a bigger problem in Hawaii because some of the island’s tropical fruits contain oxalic acid and we consume fruit year round. The body also converts vitamin C into oxalic acid, making fruit consumption an even greater source of oxalic acid.

Historically the body dealt with oxalic acid in fruits and vegetables by having good bacteria in the gut that consumed the acid before it could be absorbed into the blood stream. Studies have shown that people with low levels of acid consuming bacteria in their gut are much more likely to have kidney stone attacks than those with higher levels. The prevalence of antibiotics, pesticides, and changes in our diet may have reduced the acid eating bacteria in our bodies allowing more oxalic acid to get into our blood to form oxalate crystals.

Surprisingly, having more uric acid in your system also reduces the body’s ability to remove calcium oxalate crystals from the blood and causes more of them to be created. So gout attacks, signaling high concentrations of uric acid, may lead to kidney stones.

One natural way to increase the good bacteria in the gut to counter the creation of oxalate crystals is by eating acidophilus bacteria. You can get it in yogurt and cheese or take it in pill form. Eating more calcium in the diet also has been shown to aid in ridding the body of oxalic acid, perhaps by making more of it available to bind with the acid. Some studies show that potassium also helps minimize the effects of calcium binding to create stones and magnesium improves the absorption of ingested calcium.

I have changed my diet substantially over the past three years to keep my gout in check, but many of the foods I eat to counter uric acid in my system are high in oxalic acid or vitamin C like cherries, blueberries, almonds, and walnuts. Now I am adding acidophilus rich foods and taking acidophilus capsules to help my body eradicate oxalic acid from the blueberries and cherries I eat, before it can create oxalate crystals.

Saturday, July 16, 2011

Debtocracy and global bankruptcy

Watching the European Union member countries demanding hundreds of billions of Euros to get through another quarter (Greece will go broke again in September), and the United States government arguing over increasing the national debt another couple trillion dollars to get through another year, and most states, cities, towns, and even school districts calculating the magnitude of their insolvency, we wonder how all this will end up.

We think there is a battle between  two major economic forces in the global economy. The first, well-known to most people, is the power of market forces where the best products (most efficient, most inexpensive, etc.) win. The second economic force is the rise of debtocracy, when a community or country takes on debt by voting for it, creating debt by democracy rather than by the market economy.  In school districts, residents and teachers and staff voted for new buildings, higher pay, and long-term benefits and committed their communities to long term debt as a result. States, countries and cities did the same thing. Since public employee contracts are not driven by market forces, like costs and employee wages are in private industry, there is nothing to correct the overpayment like a company going bankrupt. Debtocracy funded national social programs as well; their debt was also voted by elected officials keeping their commitments to their constituents.  In contrast to how the market price of oil drives the amount investors are willing to risk to drill for new oil, the huge local and national debt is not driven by risk and reward or any market forces at all.

The question is, what will the net affect be of the conflict between market economic forces and debtocracy? Here are some of our thoughts on the struggle and potential outcomes.

Those benefiting from the debtocracy will continue to use every means possible to maintain their income and the guarantee of long term benefits. They will get promises and money from anyone and anywhere to keep the insolvency from being revealed and maintain their lifestyle. We see this in Greece where both the government and the banks are doing whatever they can to extend the debt and the debt payments while ignoring the suffering of the people and the future of Greece. Debtocracy has allowed those with position and power to create debt for their nations without any possible way to pay it back.  

As the global debtocracy grows, it is driving away the real market economy. No organization or person living in the real market economy can afford to live in a debtocracy; it is too costly and too stressful. Local economies become warped as some things operate based on market economy while others are based on the massive debt voted into existence by local communities and congress.  In Hawaii for example, we see condos in the same community for dramatically different prices; some being offered by the government for low prices with no money down (actually Fannie Mae gives you 3.5% at closing) and federally subsidized interest rates and payments while others are being sold by their owners. Individual owners have to pay a real estate agent and their buyers must deal with loans at market interest rates and new stringent requirements. During this worst economic downturn of the century, many American workers are unemployed or working multiple jobs to earn a portion of the salaries and benefits they earned before the crash in 2008 whereas local and federal government employees are paid based on contracts signed by elected officials rather than based on the value of the tax base in their communities.

Debtocracy is causing secondary collateral damage by distorting the value of things. People can’t figure out how much they need to live on, what their houses are worth, or how much they can afford to borrow. In a local economy where some are able to obtain low interest subsidized loans while others are paying exorbitant interest rates, the amount you can afford to borrow varies greatly. Things that would normally be easy get really hard when you cannot distinguish what is real.

The debtocracy system is destroying the infrastructures of cities, counties, states and federal governments because the focus is on keeping the money flowing rather than cutting the spending back to a level consistent with what the communities and countries can afford. Debts are mounting to cover the shortages and push the problems into the future, making insolvency  and the complete collapse of the services offered more likely.  More and more cities may take the bankruptcy route to address their debts, like Vallejo, California did.

Two scenarios seem likely to us, one the federal government steps in to pay off the huge debts by printing more currency, or everything goes into default and the cities, counties and other entities collapse.  If the Fed creates a flood of currency to cover the debts, it will cause hyper-inflation and devalue money so much that it will not be a viable exchange medium. People will be forced to use gold, silver and bags of apples to buy things. If everything goes into default, then pensions will not paid, government employees will be laid off, and all the muni-bonds bought by the wealthy will become worthless making money scarce. Everyone being broke will cause hyper-deflation and people will forced to use gold, silver and bags of apples to buy things. 

In either scenario, a world where no one has any money or a world where money has no value, value will be in real assets and capabilities instead of currency.  Fresh air, clean water, non-radioactive land, nutritious food, and good health will be real wealth instead of a suitcase of paper currency or a promissory note for a pension.   From a personal perspective, we think one’s economic value will be what you know, what skills you have, and what you are able to accomplish for yourself, others and your community.   

Monday, July 11, 2011

The 600 Calorie diet controversy

600 Calories
A recent study by scientists at Newcastle University in the UK has created a global controversy on how few calories are safe to eat. Rob Taylor, a professor at Newcastle University, had monitored patients after gastric bypass surgeries and observed that many with type 2 diabetes no longer had fat deposits on their organs and no longer needed medication to control their blood sugar within a couple of months of the surgery.  Taylor led a study to see if the sudden remission of type 2 diabetes might be due to the extremely low calorie intake of post surgery patients and not due to the surgical removal of the patient’s intestines.   Some surgeons claim that the removal of portions of the intestines which produce certain substances is responsible for the change in the patient’s diabetes and the surgery is a cure for the disease. However,  after gastric bypass surgery, patients can only eat very small amounts of food which greatly limits their calorie intake.

Eleven people with type 2 diabetes took part in the study and cut their calories to 600 calories a day for two months. The study found that 7 of 11 obese individuals had a complete remission of their type 2 diabetes after being on the diet for 8 weeks (and losing an average of only 33 lbs). Surprisingly, this remission has lasted over 18 months so far even though the average participant has regained almost 7 lbs in that time frame.

Doctors from around the globe have claimed this is not a diet but “starvation” and a very dangerous therapy for people with type 2 diabetes. Yet, the research, presented at the American Diabetes Association conference, showed that an extremely low-calorie diet prompted the body to remove fat clogging the pancreas and preventing it from making insulin which may be a major contributor to type 2 diabetes. After just one week on the diet, the pre-breakfast blood sugar levels of the study group had returned to normal and MRI scans showed that the fat levels in the pancreas had returned to normal.

Considering the incredible results, the lack of any invasive surgery or drugs required, and the short term nature of the “treatment”, it is hard to understand the outrage of the doctors.  Throughout history, fasting and minimizing calorie intake has been considered an important part of health and well-being.  This study adds to the proof that obesity is a disease with a defined pathology which can be controlled by extreme changes in calorie intake, even for one week. As the global population continues its increase in obesity, this study clarifies the health risk of the high-calorie diets we have come to accept as the norm.  It may also highlight the current distorted view of how many calories an average person needs in a day, especially older adults.

In our case, we have been reducing our calories over the past 4 years.  Though we have slowly made progress, our diet of 1200-1400 calories for my wife and 1600-1800 calories for me, is no longer resulting in weight loss. After reading this study we reduced our calories to 800-900 calories for my wife and 1200-1400 calories for myself which has resulted in our weight loss resuming, allowing us to make progress on our goal of getting our BMI’s under 25.  These calorie numbers are substantially lower in comparison to the government’s published RDA (recommended daily allowances)  amounts assuming a 2000 calorie diet.  Unfortunately, eating anything close to 2000 calories a day causes us to gain weight.  We now realize that we need far less calories in our fifties that we did in our forties even with our increased level of activity.  As a part of cutting our calories back, we continue to focus on making every calorie count in vitamins, minerals, and amino acids to keep us healthy and energetic.