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Archive for May 5th, 2011

Not that which goeth into the mouth defileth a man; but that which cometh out of the mouth, this defileth a man.  –  Matthew 15:11

More articles which expand on concepts covered in past columns.

Harm Reduction (January 13th)

Yesterday we looked at how Portugal applied a harm-reduction approach to drugs which are still illegal in less-enlightened countries; here’s an article from the April 21st Guardian which examines a harm-reduction approach to dealing with those addicted to a drug which is legal nearly everywhere:

…the provision of a safe place for those drinkers who do not want to be “saved” or “cured”, would be a welcome development – and, at the St. Anthony Residence, in St Paul, Minnesota, this is exactly what drinkers are offered, free of charge.  For years, this “wet house” (one of four in the state) has provided shelter to its hopelessly alcoholic residents, at a cost of $18,000 per person per year.  Nobody has to attend therapy sessions; there is no 12-step programme and no homilies about hope or the future.  Similar facilities are available elsewhere in the US, and in Canada, where a study based around Ottawa’s “wet shelter” found that emergency room visits and arrests were reduced by around 50%, saving the individual drinker untold humiliation and pain and significantly reducing the bills of local taxpayers, while freeing up medical staff and police officers for other jobs.  Can it be doubted, then, that such programmes provide a win-win situation?  The drinker is taken off the street and out of the emergency room, the local community benefits and, though this is not altogether a solution to their problem, friends and family are eased of at least some of the pain that goes with loving a chronic drunk.  Meanwhile, within the limits of their condition, drinkers attending facilities like St. Anthony’s are surprisingly happy.

And that, perhaps, is the problem.  Hopeless drunks aren’t supposed to be happy:  they’re supposed to suffer until they see the error of their ways and submit to a cure.  Critics of the wet houses never say this, of course; they talk about wet houses “giving up” on people, about “writing people off” – and yet, though they may well be sincere, their opposition to harm reduction programmes raises serious questions about liberty and civil rights.  When a grown man who, whether drunk or sober, maintains, often with real cogency and persuasiveness, that he does not wish to be treated for what other people may think of as a “condition” but which he sees as an essential part of his identity, what right does anyone have to oblige him to seek therapy?  It may not be desirable (or rather, we may not see it as desirable) to be a chronic drinker, but it is not so long since it was seen as equally undesirable to be gay…

And while we’re on the subject of addiction…

Not An Addiction (February 11th)

CNN, that bastion of responsible journalism, published on March 28th a story in which irresponsible scientists (or perhaps irresponsible reporters misquoting scientists) claim that dietary fats affect the brain “in much the same way as cocaine and heroin” and that this means they are addictive.  It of course means nothing of the kind; for one things fats are needed by the human body while drugs are not, and for another thing “withdrawal” from fats does not produce physical symptoms.  Habituating, yes; addictive, no.

Scientists have finally confirmed what the rest of us have suspected for years:  Bacon, cheesecake, and other delicious yet fattening foods may be addictive.  A new study in rats suggests that high-fat, high-calorie foods affect the brain in much the same way as cocaine and heroin.  When rats consume these foods in great enough quantities, it leads to compulsive eating habits that resemble drug addiction, the study found.  Doing drugs such as cocaine and eating too much junk food both gradually overload the…pleasure centers in the brain…eventually the pleasure centers “crash,” and achieving the same pleasure–or even just feeling normal–requires increasing amounts of the drug or food…

The fact that junk food could provoke this response isn’t entirely surprising, says Dr. Gene-Jack Wang, M.D., the chair of the medical department at the U.S. Department of Energy’s Brookhaven National Laboratory, in Upton, New York.  “We make our food very similar to cocaine now,” he says.  Coca leaves have been used since ancient times, he points out, but people learned to purify or alter cocaine to deliver it more efficiently to their brains (by injecting or smoking it, for instance).  This made the drug more addictive.  According to Wang, food has evolved in a similar way.  “We purify our food,” he says.  “Our ancestors ate whole grains, but we’re eating white bread.  American Indians ate corn; we eat corn syrup”…

One last nitpick:  while I don’t expect journalists to be experts in everything they write about, a little basic research would be nice.  The reporter’s appalling ignorance of food biology is readily apparent from ignorant phrases like “delicious yet fattening foods”; high-fat foods are delicious to us BECAUSE they’re fattening, not in spite of it as she implies.  We evolved to survive harsh conditions, not to live a sedentary existence in the midst of plenty, so the foods our bodies crave most are those which enable us to consume the highest number of calories in the shortest possible time – namely fats.  The problem isn’t in so-called “junk foods”, it’s in our overindulgence in them.  Water has absolutely no nutrients and consuming too much of it is unhealthy, but I don’t see ignoramuses referring to it as a “junk beverage”.

Welcome To Our World (January 20th)

The latest people to be forced to endure government busybodies in their private affairs:  nursing mothers, in this article from the Washington Post of February 21st:

Women have been nursing other women’s babies for hundreds of years; it used to be called wet-nursing.  Now, technology is giving new life to this practice.  On the Internet, especially on Facebook, lactating women are forming “milk-sharing” communities where they post if they have a surplus or a deficiency of breast milk.  They then meet up in person to give or receive bottles of frozen breast milk…The prevalence of online sharing of breast milk is impossible to quantify, but it has caught the attention of the Food and Drug Administration.  Last fall, the FDA released a statement that recommended “against feeding your baby breast milk acquired directly from individuals or through the Internet” because unscreened donor milk could allow the transmission of HIV, chemical contaminants, some illegal drugs and some prescription drugs…The FDA’s statement encouraged women to consider milk banks instead of turning to the Internet.  Milk banks may charge as much as $6 an ounce; at that price, it could cost about $150 a day to feed the average 3-month-old baby.  The FDA does not regulate milk banks or milk-sharing, but it posted facts about these options after realizing that people were turning to the agency for information…the Human Milk Banking Association of North America (HMBANA) operates nine nonprofit milk banks in the United States…The banks are designed to serve babies in neonatal intensive care units, says the group’s president, Jean Drulis, though they provide milk to healthy babies “when possible.”  HMBANA recently announced that all of its milk banks have a critical shortage…Plus, the milk is available only with a doctor’s prescription, and only some health insurance plans cover the cost…

As you might imagine, the idea of women thumbing their noses at busybody government “recommendations” and relying on their own judgment in an underground economy based on their natural, biological abilities pleases me to no end.

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