Friday, October 5, 2012

International Day of the Girl

Please check out my new Display Adaptability blog post on the 1st International Day of the Girl, October 11, 2012.  This day is to raise awareness of the unique problems that girls face.

Friday, September 7, 2012

Sunday, June 3, 2012

Obesity and Vitamin D

It has been awhile since I talked about vitamin D on this blog, so here are some new insights. Research published in May in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition found that mother's who are vitamin D-deprived during pregnancy are more likely to have children who suffer from obesity. Of the 977 women in the study, the average serum level of 25 OHD (vitamin D) was 24.8 ng/ml which is about 50% of the optimal level of 50 ng/ml.  However, the vitamin D status of these women was actually worse than this since 35% of the women had serum 25 OHD levels below 20 ng/ml and were, therefore, clinically deficient in vitamin D. These women gave birth to infants who were low in both lean and fat body mass, but who, by age six, had higher levels of body fat than did the children whose mothers were vitamin D-sufficient during pregnancy.  The researchers checked for confounding factors, but found that maternal BMI and weight gain during pregnancy did not play a role.  They concluded that, "Lower maternal vitamin D status may be linked to programmed differences in offspring fat mass. The findings require replication but add to a growing evidence base for a role of vitamin D in the origins of adiposity."  That is, pregnant women who have inadequate levels of vitamin D may pre-dispose their children to obesity later in life.  It does not appear that the researchers checked the vitamin D levels of the children.  But if the mothers were deficient during pregnancy, the children would have been born vitamin D deficient.  And it is probable that their vitamin D status was not optimized during childhood, especially if the mothers followed the dermatological guidelines which prevent children from receiving UVB radiation exposure and thereby prevent them from making vitamin D by exposing their skin to sunlight.  [See my post on Dermatological Purdah for more on this issue.]

This research provides further support for an earlier study (2009) on weight loss at the University of Minnesota that found that obese individuals were vitamin D deficient. Dr. Sibley was running a diet study with 38 participants.  She found that those who were vitamin D-deficient had a much harder time losing body fat than did those with higher levels of vitamin D.  While she admits that her observational study does not provide clear evidence for a cause/effect relationship between obesity and vitamin D levels, it is suggestive.  The hormonal form of vitamin D affects the "...same pathway (the renin-angiotensin system) [that] also affects fat cell development and metabolism...What’s interesting about our study is we did not recruit people to be vitamin D inadequate; we recruited people who were overweight or obese for our weight-loss study. And they happened, on average, to have inadequate vitamin D levels, so it tells you how prevalent the problem is.”  

While more research needs to be done on this connection, vitamin D deprivation is a widespread problem in the United States, as is obesity.  If raising serum 25 OHD levels can increase weight loss and prevent childhood obesity, then this problem seems to have a relatively easy fix.  If you've taken the dermatologist's warnings seriously, but you still want to raise your vitamin D levels, then you will need to take supplements.  Make sure the supplements are vitamin D3, without calcium. Excess calcium intake via supplementation is a bigger problem than no calcium supplementation. To raise your levels to 50 ng/ml, you will probably need to take 2000 - 4000 IU/day.  It is a good idea to have your vitamin D levels checked before beginning supplementation, and then again after three months of supplementation.  Pregnant women need to take at least 5000 IU/day of vitamin D3.

If diet and exercise are not really doing the job in helping you to lose weight, try optimizing your vitamin D levels.  It may be just the kickstart you need to get you on the road to better health.

Thursday, April 5, 2012

The Empowered Woman: A Leader for Change

The Empowered Woman is self-confident, assertive, and in control of her life. However, being empowered may not be compatible with being an employee in a traditional corporate environment, unless, perhaps, she is in the upper echelons of the organization. It may well be that the constant stream of women leaving corporate life to begin their own businesses is connected to the incompatibility of being an empowered woman in a traditional hierarchical environment. The Empowered Woman becomes the Entrepreneurial Woman.

The traditional hierarchical corporate environment is based on the command and control model used in the military. While it may serve a useful purpose during war, it reduces the opportunity for dynamic possibilities by narrowing the scope and focus of each individual. Such a narrowing of purpose is antithetical to empowerment. Supervisors with a narrowed perspective are uncomfortable around subordinates who are empowered, particularly if the supervisor is male and the empowered employee is female.

Empowerment is the process of individuation in which personal identity is formed by breaking free of the collective. To be empowered, we must be aware of the constraints that limit us. Self-awareness is key to success.

A woman with a strong group identity becomes inhibited in individuation, self-awareness, and empowerment; although those women for whom a group identity is important tend to make successful corporate employees. The corporation simply becomes another group with which the employee identifies. The empowered woman is an individual who chooses to associate with certain groups, but does not identify with those groups. This is a critical distinction and one that can lead to tension within the organization since the empowered woman will see more possibilities and be more open to change within the group than will those women who identify with the group and who, therefore, will be reluctant or unable to see the need for change. The following example will serve to illustrate the distinction.

Jenna was born and raised in a tight-knit ethnic neighborhood of a small city. She came from a very religious family that practiced a form of fundamental Christianity. From kindergarten to high school graduation, Jenna moved through each grade with the same set of friends. During high school, she was actively involved in the pep club and helped organize the prom. After graduation, Jenna attended the state university where she pledged a sorority. She was only a mediocre student, but she did complete her degree while also being involved in a full slate of group activities. Now employed at a major institution, Jenna’s position is much like that she held as pep club president: building corporate team spirit. Her self-awareness is limited to an awareness of herself as a member of several different groups: ethnic, religious, and corporate, among others. Occasionally, tensions arise among these different group identities and Jenna sees that changes may be needed, but she is unable to make a sustained effort because changes in a group would mean changing her identity since her identity is not independent of the group.

Danni had a very different background that encouraged the development of an identity separate from that of any group. Although the same age as Jenna and born in a town not far from the city where Jenna was born and raised, Danni did not live there long. Danni’s father’s career took the family to many different parts of the United States, so Danni moved quite frequently as a child, living in large cities and small towns in all regions of the country, and among a variety of different ethnic and religious groups. While religious, Danni’s family practiced a progressive Christianity that was more concerned with self-improvement and bettering the lives of those less fortunate than with enforcing a rigid code of behavior. Despite the numerous moves, Danni was an excellent student who attended a private four-year college that did not have a Greek system. Danni’s upbringing encouraged the development of deep self-awareness and a strong personal identity. While able to easily work with diverse teams and groups, Danni does not take on the identity of the group. This separation allows her to more readily see where change needs to be made, to encourage the team/group to develop a plan for change, and to lead the implementation of the change. However, this ease with change brings Danni into conflict with those whose identity is tied to the group and for whom change is much more problematic. Unlike Jenna, Danni cannot easily find her niche in a corporate environment.

Traditional managers/supervisors are much more comfortable with the Jennas of the world. They are more likely to retain and promote them, even if the Jennas are less competent, creative, and insightful. This is because the Jennas, with their need for strong group identities, are far less likely to upset the status quo than are the Dannis. This is true even if sub-group identities within the corporation clash on certain issues.

For instance, a particular group may feel discriminated against within the larger corporate environment. While some effort may be made to change the larger environment, the most frequent “remedy” is for those who feel strongly to meet formally or informally to “discuss the situation”. Group solidarity is strengthened and even though no real change occurs, the group members feel more able to cope. The formation of these groups is supported by top administrators because the groups give the illusion that something is being accomplished while also easing tensions. Danni would see the intergroup conflict as an opportunity to create a new system which breaks down boundaries between groups by focusing on the individual. Even though this new system would benefit everyone, the focus on the individual can be unnerving to those who feel incomplete without their group identity. The easiest solution to this “identity crisis” is to remove the “irritant”. The entrepreneurial world becomes an enticing alternative for an empowered woman such as Danni.

Another way to examine the issue of individual identity versus group identity is in terms of biology. In nature, selection occurs at the level of the individual, not the group. The individual with the most varied background and most flexibility is most adaptable in periods of change. A group identity is inherently narrow, rigid, and intolerant of change. In the short term, those with a strong group identity may appear to be more successful, particularly in traditional organizations, but periods of change are inevitable. Viewed through a long-term perspective, inflexible groups are doomed to “extinction”. Those whose identity is tied to the group will suffer a major blow to their sense of self when the group becomes “extinct”. If they survive this blow, they will seek to attach themselves to another group posthaste. Only empowered individuals with strong personal identities are successful in the long term because, while they can work in and with a variety of groups, their identities are not tied to any particular group. Since the empowered woman can more readily see the problems inherent in a traditional organization and the limits to change, she is more open to exiting that organization and developing one better suited to her needs.

The traits of the Empowered Woman are also those associated with the entrepreneurial personality. Therefore, it is relatively easy for the Empowered Woman to become the Entrepreneurial Woman. But this is not a necessary outcome. The corporate world is moving beyond the traditional model. The current business environment is one of constant change. Change requires a business to have employees who are self-confident, self-motivated, independent thinkers who are willing to take risks; in effect, workers who are entrepreneurial. It may be that the Empowered Woman can find her niche in this more flexible corporate environment where they can be leaders for change.

Friday, June 24, 2011

The Vegetarian Myth

Over the past two decades, I've tried to get vegetarians, and especially vegans, to rethink their diet. I've told them that humans are adapted to eat eggs, fish, shellfish, and meat; that if they didn't eat these foods, they were threatening their future health and well-being. I don't think I was at all successful, perhaps because I've never been a vegetarian myself. I hadn't been a true believer. And vegetarianism/veganism is a belief system.

Then I read Lierre Keith's The Vegetarian Myth: food, justice, and sustainability. It is a clarion call to vegetarians and vegans from a former vegan who followed their dietary tenets religiously for 20 years,and in the process destroyed her health and probably reduced her lifespan.

But this book is not just for vegetarians. It is written for all of us because it is about food and what our diets, no matter what we eat, are doing to the soil of the Earth, which is also the soul of the Earth.

Lierre Keith is a passionate writer who makes you feel her pain and despair.  She desperately wanted the vegan lifestyle to be the salvation not only for herself, but for Earth and all its living organisms.  But after 20 years, and near death, she finally realized that her diet was killing her.  And when she began to really study the process of food acquisition, Keith also realized that the vegan diet was killing the Earth.  Instead of being Earth's salvation, it was Earth's doom.

This may sound overly dramatic, but once you read her book and digest all the research she has done, you will realize that I have only stated the basic facts.

As a biological anthropologist, I can state that we have known since at least the mid-1980s that the origins of agriculture began a destructive process which is only accelerating.  Humans are not meant to live on a grain-based diet.  When grains are the primary source of nutrition, health is compromised.  Just this week (6/18/2011), another study was published detailing the decline and fall of health with the rise of agriculture:

Keith approaches the reader as a fellow traveler who wants to do the right thing, and who guides the reader to see the truth even when it conflicts with deeply held beliefs.  The major divisions of the book are directed at Moral Vegetarians, Political Vegetarians, and Nutritional Vegetarians.  She concludes the book with a plea to Save the World. 

As a Moral Vegetarian, Keith states that, "...I had bet my whole moral system--and built my whole identity--on the idea that my life did not require death."   Factory farming of animals is a terrible, destructive process.  But so is destroying marshes, grasslands, and forests to grow more grains.  What about all the killing of those ecosystems to provide the wheat and corn and soy for the vegan's diet?  What about the destruction of topsoil?  Is that really morally better than eating eggs and fish?

"Find a small wild spot somewhere, the edge of a parking lot, the tree outside your window, and watch.  Really watch.  This is what you will see:  everything is eating and then being eaten, and through it all life endures.  This is no hierarchy, only hunger.  And it's through our hunger that we participate in the cosmos, in an endless cycle of life, death, and regeneration."

Political Vegetarians believe that their diet will preserve resources to feed the world's hungry.  If there are no cows to feed, then more people can be fed.  They believe things like: "...a 10-acre farm can support 60 people growing soybeans, 24 people growing wheat, 10 people growing corn and only two producing cattle."  Keith responds, "Set aside the fact that a diet of soy, wheat, or corn will result in massive malnutrition--along with fun stuff like kwashiorkor, pellagra, retardation, blindness--and ultimately death."  Such a farm will also destroy the soil.

"It is not my project to try to feed every human being that we can produce while we chew the planet to the bone.  I'm not asking, How many people can be fed? but a very different question: How can people be fed?  Not, What feeds the most people? but What feeds people sustainably?  We need a full accounting.  The absolute bottom line is: what methods of food production build topsoil while using only ambient sun and rain?  Because nothing else is sustainable." [italics in original]

As for Nutritional Vegetarians, "The first myth of the nutritional vegetarians--that we aren't meant for meat--is another fairy tale filled with inedible apples."  This myth is the result of research on foraging populations misclassifying all gathered foods (primarily collected by women) as plant foods.  Much of what was gathered were actually animal foods: fish, shellfish, "insects, grubs, reptiles, small mammals."  The plant foods were primarily nuts, fruits, berries, and tubers.  Grains?  Not so much.

As Keith points out, citing the extensive analysis of the physical and dental health of foraging populations done by Weston Price in the early 20th century, populations eating a traditional foraged diet were extremely healthy.  When they switched to a grain-based Western diet, their health, and especially that of their children, declined.  "Of course the food with the most minerals are marine foods, which is why the healthiest people Price found were coastal-dwelling fishing peoples."

Lierre Keith concludes her book with a radical plea to change the world.  This may be the most difficult chapter of the book since it requires the most of reader.  Keith does not believe that small, incremental change will be able to solve the food production problems.  It will require massive, radical change.  Since even small changes disturb most individuals, I have grave doubts that the radical changes Keith wants such as the end of agribusiness, the revival of small family farms, eating locally, and massively reducing the human population, will occur until we are left with no choice.  At which point, it probably will be too late for us.

I strongly urge everyone to read this book.  If nothing else, it should make you think about dirt, our precious topsoil, in a whole new way.