Wednesday, April 30, 2008

High Fructose Corn Syrup – We Can Live Without It

You see it on the labels of a lot of the prepackaged food and drink – it’s high fructose corn syrup (HFCS). What is it? Simply put, it’s heavy-duty sugar. More technically, it’s corn syrup that undergoes processing to increase its fructose content, them is blended with pure corn syrup (100% glucose). The process was developed in the late 1950s and later improved upon by Japanese researchers in the 1970s. HFCS made its way into prepackaged foods and drinks in the US starting in the late 1970s, and exploded into our prepackaged foods shortly thereafter.

While HFCS seems like a good substitute for good old sugar, it is increasingly becoming a target for the reason for the explosion in cases of obesity in the United States. In April of this year, the FDA actually concluded that HFCS cannot be considered a natural ingredient. This may seem strange considering its production starts with a natural vegetable like corn, but it’s the process that makes it unnatural. In fact, its use is banned in Europe.

I do my best to avoid HFCS, but sometimes it’s very hard to do so. I don’t drink any soft drinks like Coke, Pepsi, or sports drinks because they are loaded with the stuff. On the rare occasion where I have, for example, working in the yard in the summer heat and I perspire a lot, I will drink a small amount of Pedialyte to prevent dehydration because it only contains a small amount of glucose and fructose (there is no HFCS on the ingredients list). But if you look at a lot of prepackaged foods like cookies, cereals, crackers, snacks, sauces, breads – just about anything – HFCS is in there.

While I am not blaming the entire causes of obesity on HFCS, there does seem to be a coincidence that the massive increase in the numbers of obese Americans seems to relate to the same increase in the use of HFCS in our foods.

How does one avoid HFCS? It can be done. First, if you drink soft drinks, stop, or severely restrict your intake. My recommendation is to even avoid the low/zero/once calorie drinks. Even if the latter says it doesn’t have HFCS, there are probably a lot of non- natural additives that could be doing who knows what to your body long term. Second, read the ingredient labels of everything you buy that are prepackaged. If it has HFCS in it, especially as one of the top 3 ingredients, don’t buy it and keep looking until you find something that doesn’t contain it or contains very little. Third, buy only fresh fruit and veggies; be especially cautious of canned fruits because their syrups usually contain HFCS. There are probably many more things you can do to avoid HFCS that I haven’t; listed here – the best thing you can do is simply be aware of what is in the food you eat.

Contact your senate and congress representatives and tell them you want this product out of your food, or its use minimized. I hate the idea of over-regulation, but maybe HFCS is too great a risk to our health. It at least deserves more scrutiny. But most importantly, take responsibility for what you are eating and avoid foods that provide you little health benefits, or maybe even a health risk.

After all, you ARE what you eat.

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Friday, April 25, 2008

The Hum – Do You Hear It?

Over the years, there have been reports of unexplained, annoying humming noises heard in some areas of the world. Maybe you’ve heard about the Taos Hum in New Mexico, the Kokomo Hum in Indiana, the Bristol Hum in the UK, or the Auckland Hum in New Zealand? Those are only a few of the well-publicized hums. I live in northeast Ohio, just a few miles from the shores of Lake Erie, and about 20 miles from Cleveland. I’ve heard what I think is the same hum for years. No one, not even the scientists, seem to be able to have one explanation for this humming noise. Part of the problem is that not all people can hear it, and I don’t think that the sound can be recorded.

I first started hearing the hum in 1999 or 2000, and it was so loud that it affected my sleep. I could only hear the hum at night, usually after 10 PM, and rarely after 6:00 AM. It never seemed to matter what the weather was like that day, the hum just droned on. It sounded very much like a diesel engine idling in the distance. In fact, that’s what made me think at first that I wasn’t hearing anything unusual, because I live a short ways from train tracks, and it’s not uncommon to hear the trains approach from many miles away. I would think that the pulsing engine sound I heard was an approaching train, and never gave it much thought. But, there were nights the train just never arrived. I would wait, and wait, and…nothing. Just the constant drone of an engine hum, hum, humming for hours on end.

I assumed that since it wasn’t a train that it was something else outside. So I would get up in the middle of the night when the sound was loud, and open a window (even in the dead of winter) and listen to hear if there was something else outside making the noise. The minute I opened up the window, or even stepped outside – nothing. No hum.

After several weeks of this, I concluded that it had to be something in my own house doing it. One morning, we turned off the main power to out house to shut off all the electricity and…I still heard it. It was like the sound was coming right into my head, between my ears, and even into my bones. It was very loud in my basement, and even louder in the stairwell leading to my basement. Even more perplexing is that my husband did not hear it. I think he believed that I was going a little nuts. But, he humored me and knew that I had to be hearing something, since it was affecting my sleep so much. And sometimes the sound itself would change. One night I would get a diesel engine noise, sometimes it would sound like an engine with a hollow sound. Sometimes I would get a sensation that someone unleashed a large tuning fork in my head, with a vibration, a ringing nose, and a sound of hollow, distant traffic.

We thought about things like changes in water pressure. Since we also live close to the city’s water towers, we thought maybe whatever pumps they used to regulate water pressure or water levels in the tower were at fault. We did have a problem about 20 years ago when one of the water towers was out of commission, and they had to pump water into the remaining tower in the late evening hours after demand dropped. During that time, at 10 PM every night, we got the worse case of water hammer you can imagine. Every pipe in the house literally shook so badly that for a few week, we had to turn our water off at 10 PM until sometime in the middle of the night. So if it was another water problem, maybe my neighbors heard it too. I spoke to a few and discovered they heard nothing. I also called my local government city hall, and was basically told there were no complaints. (By the way, since then, they’ve decided to push for sound barriers by the train tracks.)

I have always been prone to migraines, and the nights that the migraines were really bad, the hum was also very bad. Could the hum be coming from my own head, and be a result of the migraines? Or was the hum triggering the migraines? I also had periodic vertigo problems. I had to consider the problem was inside me, maybe even an ear or hearing problem, but after having my ears checked and finding there were no problems, I was stumped. Compounding matters is that my husband said that now HE could hear it – and he wasn’t being prompted by me. What was this noise?

My doctor put me on beta-blockers to help reduce the frequency of migraines. It did seem to help the headaches, but also had another benefit. After a few months on the beta-blocker, I realized that I didn’t hear the hum much any more, or it wasn’t as intense. Eureka! It was me – well, maybe not completely. I had since read that sometimes blood pressure can cause a person to hear the rush of blood in their own head, and sometimes other people around you can even hear this sound. Well, was it me? The answer is probably not completely. Yes, I do think that the beta-blocker, in an attempt to lessen migraines, also evened out my blood pressure (which was never high, by the way) and stopped some of the noise I was hearing. But, I still hear it, and some nights my husband still hears it those same nights that it’s very loud to me. So while I think there may be some component within our own bodies that may affect if we hear the hum or the loudness of the hum, I am not sure it’s just all in our heads, so to speak.

Northeast Ohio has also been seismically active in the last few years, with almost 30 tremors and mild quakes since 2005, all near or in Lake Erie, and most of them very close by to where I live. (I felt quite a few of them.) I had noticed that many times I had hear the hum very loudly for a few days before these quakes. Is there some seismic component to the hum? Infrasound – sounds below the audible sound range that can emanate from earthquakes, volcanoes, avalanches, or atmospheric phenomenon – has been suggested as a cause.

There are also many web sites dedicated to other possible causes of the hum. For example, HAARP, (High Frequency Active Auroral Research Program), a government run radio frequency project in Alaska, is often named, but I don’t think there has been any definitive correlation. The proliferation of cell phone towers is another suggested cause. It could be a general industrial hum, as suspected by researchers of the Kokomo Hum. Doctors like to say that it’s tinnitus, and maybe for some people, that is the problem. Some people believe that, as we now have cell phones that have ring tones only teenagers can hear, maybe the hum is a byproduct of the ageing of the ear that can be heard only by people over 40, for example. Could it simply be sounds of the earth and atmospheric events? Could it be insects? Frogs? Fish? Whales? Sonar? Is it a government project to test whether people can be tortured by using sound? You name it, it’s been considered as a cause. Despite all the studies and all the theories, there seems to be no “one size fits all” answer to the hum.

At one point, I spent a lot of time researching the hum and belong to a few forums where people discuss what they believe are the causes, and relate their own experiences. I am sure there could conceivably be millions of people around the world who are hearing this sound. Some suggest it is some sort of mass hysteria. I can tell you that is not the reason in my case. I heard the hum LONG before I had even heard of the Taos Hum or any other hum locations. It wasn’t until one day in 2001, in my frustration, I turned to the Internet to find possible solutions that I realized that I was far from alone.

My opinion is that while the hum is being discussed in forums and probably being researched by individual scientists, I can’t seem to find one major study going on that puts any serious money and time into researching this. If anyone knows of a college, university, or any other research firm looking into this, please let me know. While I do not hear the hum as much as I used to, I still do hear it rarely and know that many people are suffering because of it. What can be done to have scientists take this seriously? Frankly, I am perplexed. There are so many people who are experiencing this world wide that I would have to think that there must be SOMETHING that is causing it and it’s not just in people’s heads. I would be happy to know even if it was simply the sounds of earth, or something like the proliferation of things like telecommunications, satellites, radar, etc. If it’s something that is causing me harm – or not causing me harm – I just want to know.

Hopefully, someone out there who can help will hear me, over the drone of the hum.

Here’s a video which talks about the Auckland Hum

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Friday, April 18, 2008

Even Religious Freedom Needs Limits

With the recent stories of children being removed from the compound of the Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (FLDS) in El Dorado, Texas, it screams for limits on what religions can or cannot do in this country.

The mothers who have been separated from their children are pleading to be reunited, but this seems to be an attempt to gain sympathy from Americans, who may not want to see a child separated from its mother. But, we need to look very closely on what this sect is really doing, and if any behavior violates US laws, then the law needs to react appropriately. It seems clear from news stories – and not just recent stories but those that have surfaced over the years – that this sect practices polygamy. It also seems very evident that underage children are being forced into sex and childbearing, by men much much older than they. I consider this child abuse. And if the women in this sect are allowing this to occur and are turning a blind eye, then they are enabling the child abuse and do not deserve to be reunited with their children.

While I do think that people have the right to practice religion in the United States, I also think that US laws should supersede religious law. For example, if a religion decides that murder is OK, well, sorry, then it can’t practice that part of their religion here.

I believe that we live in a country of many freedoms, and freedom to abuse children is not one of them. Religious freedom does not mean "anything goes".

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Saturday, April 12, 2008

The Masters: Masters of Pomposity

Getty Images
I’m watching The Masters right now because my husband loves golf. But The Masters to me is not what real golf is about. It’s probably the most self aggrandizing, pompous, phony display of the sport.

Let’s take the Augusta National golf course for starters. It doesn’t even look real. The grass is so over-fertilized that it seems to be the same shade of green throughout the entire course. It’s just not natural. I wonder how many tons of fertilizer and pesticides they use to make it so? Many of the holes are also surrounded with flowering trees and shrubs, which are not something that I think male golfers, really care about. And the rough is not, well, rough. The rough looks nicer that some of the fairways on most normal courses, or on even many pro courses.

And let’s not forget the sappy music that they play when the start the show or break for commercial. It’s called “Augusta, by Dave Loggins, and it actually has lyrics, which thankfully we never have to hear (I have them below if you want to torture yourself). The other thing I can’t stand is usually when they open the coverage of the tournament, CBS starts it off with several minutes of pictures of the course and the golfers, along with some equally pompous music, which tries to make you think of these golfers as gods. It’s laughable.

This year, CBS also had some graphics done to simulate the fly-over of the golf holes. What was not surprising is the fake graphics looked so real that it accentuated that the real golf course looks fake.

Many years ago, Gary McCord was banned from doing commentary for The Masters because he made a comment about the speed of the greens, saying they were so fast that it appeared they were “bikini-waxed.” Now personally I can’t stand Gary McCord’s coverage for any tournament, but really, I think that The Masters people took his comments way too seriously.

So while I have to watch The Masters every year, I don’t enjoy it. Give me a normal golf course any day – it seems more fitting the sport.

Here are the lyrics to “Augusta”, if you can handle the syrupiness

"Augusta" by Dave Loggins
Well, it's springtime in the valley on Magnolia Lane
It's the Augusta National and the master of the game
Who'll wear that green coat on Sunday afternoon?
Who'll walk the 18th fairway singing this tune?
Augusta, your dogwoods and pines
They play on my mind like a song
Augusta, it's you that I love
And it's you that I'll miss when I'm gone.
It's Watson, Byron Nelson, Demaret, Player and Snead
It's Amen Corner and it's Hogan's perfect swing
It's Sarazen's double eagle at the 15 in '35
And the spirit of Clifford Roberts that keeps it alive
Augusta, your dogwoods and pines
They play on my mind like a song
Augusta, it's you that I love
And it's you that I miss when I'm gone.
It's the legions of Arnie's Army and the Golden Bear's throngs
And the wooden-shafted legend of Bobby Jones.

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Sunday, April 6, 2008

Great Lakes Water: You Can’t Take It With You

The Cleveland Plain Dealer reported today about the current state of "The Great Lakes-St. Lawrence River Basin Water Resources Compact.” The Compact will help prevent cities, states, or anyone outside a defined Great Lakes watershed area from diverting or draining away the waters of the Great Lakes.

With heavy drought in the southeastern portions of the US in the past year, it’s easy to see these same states salivate at the possibilities of taking Great Lakes water to solve their own water problems.

My opinion is that if they want Great Lakes water, they need to move back to the Great Lakes region. It’s funny how some people have fled what they consider bad weather, or a bad environment, for more temperate climates, and then are shocked to find out that those climates have problems of their own. Some of the problems they are experiencing could be due to lack of rainfall, but they can also be attributed to misuse or overuse of the water resources they have available in their own area, or even due to over development.

To allow people not living in the Great Lakes region to divert water away from the Great Lakes would be irresponsible in the long term. If these states that take water out of the Great Lakes watershed never replenish the water, then lake levels could be affected. This could not only affect the ecosystem, but also the shipping trade and other industry. Lake Erie is already too shallow that it cannot afford to lose more water. Currently, communities that live within the watershed return the water used to the basin via other sources such as rain runoff. The exceptions are Chicago, IL, where the Chicago River was reversed to drain away from the lake more than 100 years ago (and returns none), and Akron, OH, which takes water out of the Cuyahoga River that feeds the lake, but returns the water from other sources.

Part of the delay in the states of Ohio and Wisconsin ratifying the compact have to do with a few Ohio officials who are concerned that the wording of the compact would mean that people would lose their rights to ground water, wells or aquifers, on their property. Apparently this concern has been discounted by many others who have already approved the compact plus other parties involved, so Ohio needs to get with it and approve the compact NOW.

This is not a matter of selfishness. The Great Lakes are a priceless natural resource and should not fall victim to the whims of people who have made the choice to leave the area. My feeling is that if the area in which they live is drought ridden and they can’t solve their own water problems, then they are welcome to come back to the Great Lakes area. It would be nice to have businesses and people return, finally appreciating what they have here, and finally giving back to the region that sustains them.

So for those of you needing water in drought-ridden climates – I suggest you start either looking into desalinization plants to convert ocean water, or start packing for your move here.

Here’s a presentation explaining the Great Lakes Water Compact.

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