Sunday, August 14, 2016

Gout and Molybdenum

One of the challenges of living on the Big Island of Hawaii was I often had gout attacks when emissions from the active volcano (volcanic smog or VOG) got really bad. I attributed my gout attacks during heavy VOG to two main factors. First, the VOG is always the worst when the trade winds stop.  When the trade winds stop it gets really hot in Hawaii. When it is really hot it increases my chances of getting dehydrated which concentrates uric acid and makes an attack more likely. Second, VOG is mostly sulfuric acid which is highly acidic and acidity in my body increases my chances of getting a gout attack.

As I continue to research nutrition, I came across another possible explanation as to why my gout attacks were more frequent during heavy VOG events. According to Dr. Jermey E. Kaslow, gout can be caused by very low levels of molybdenum or very high levels of molybdenum. 

Molybdenum is a micro nutrient that is necessary for the breakdown of  ammonia and uric acid. It also is a key element in dozens of enzymes that remove toxins from the liver and the body. One of molybdenum’s critical functions is the breakdown of sulfur-based amino acids.

Shortages of molybdenum are really rare and only occurs in a few places where there is a very low amount in the soil. Since we get a lot of our nutrition locally, I wondered how much molybdenum there is in Hawaii’s soil. Apparently molybdenum is very deficient in Hawaii’s soil, so much so that some crops are hard to grow. 

Even more interesting is that although there is plenty of molybdenum in Hawaii’s volcanic rocks, it is absent in the soil. It is possible that the sulfuric acid in the VOGgy rain washes the molybdenum out of the soil.

One of the best sources of molybdenum is peas which is one of the foods I have found most helpful during an attack. So with my fingers crossed, I am taking very small doses of the micro nutrient molybdenum to see if I am deficient and will have any beneficial results from taking it. It has been over 18 months now since my last gout attack, so I am curious to see if this supplement will keep my luck going.

Sunday, August 7, 2016

The Downside of Low Interest Rates

Ever since the US downturn in 2008, interest rates have been dropping both for savers and for borrowers. The upside is those with debts, who were able to refinance, enjoyed a greatly reduced cost of borrowing. Low interest rates made buying a home much cheaper and easier to qualify for.  Monthly payments are almost 50% less at a 3.5% interest rate than at a 7.5% interest rate. The reduced cost of buying a home has helped keep housing prices high in Hawaii, reduced foreclosures rates, and added to local governments’ funds with higher property taxes from higher real estate valuations.

If the US economy continues to improve and interest rates return to previous rates of 8% or more, what will the downside be of this past decade of ultralow interest rates be?

The most obvious downside is that house buying will be much more expensive. A monthly payment on a 30 year, $600,000 mortgage will go from $2308 at the current 3.5% interest rate to $4195 at a 7.5% interest rate.  A $2308 payment at a 7.5% interest rate would only buy a $329,714 home, a mere 55% of what the same payment buys at 3.5%. If the return to higher interest rates drops the home selling prices and ultimately the property values as you would expect, then these lower values will reduce income to local governments from  lower real estate taxes. It seems likely that foreclosure rates will also increase along with more people having underwater mortgages.

A similar calculation can be run on how stocks prices could be affected with increased interest rates. With low interest rates, stocks are far more attractive to people wanting to earn money on their savings. Most saving banks are paying only 0 .25% interest which makes stocks that pay 1% dividends look very attractive. Risky stocks that pay a higher dividend (2% to 4%) are attractive to people who may not normally be willing to take the risk. When savings banks return to paying 7% or more in interest, it will have a very negative effect on most stocks; normal savers and investors  will be able to get better returns without the risk. Companies have benefited by being able to borrow at lower interest rates and they have improved their returns as a result. When interest rates go up, stock prices could drop up to 50%.

As we study how rising interest rates may affect the prices of real estate and stocks, we can see why the Federal Reserve (which controls interest rates in the US) is so reluctant to raise them. The interest rates offered by banks are normally higher than the Federal Fund rates for mortgages and lower for savings. If they raise the interest rates too soon or too much, the results could be a sharp drop in real estate and the stock market causing a downturn in the US economy.