Archive for August, 2013

Aug 06 2013

Gluten Free Defined

Gluten is the new food boogeyman for those who want to blame their ills on one simple external factor. The real story of gluten is complex – it is a real problem for some people. The recent explosion of the gluten-free fad has motivated the FDA to establish guidelines for labeling food products as having no gluten. The guidelines were actually proposed during the Bush administration, but it took until now to review the relevant scientific evidence to know where to set the limits.

According to the new regulations:

In addition to limiting the unavoidable presence of gluten to less than 20 ppm, FDA will allow manufacturers to label a food “gluten-free” if the food does not contain any of the following:

– an ingredient that is any type of wheat, rye, barley, or crossbreeds of these grains
– an ingredient derived from these grains and that has not been processed to remove gluten
– an ingredient derived from these grains and that has been processed to remove gluten, if it results in the food containing 20 or more parts per million (ppm) gluten

Foods such as bottled spring water, fruits and vegetables, and eggs can also be labeled “gluten-free” if they inherently don’t have any gluten.

What Is Gluten?

I think the definitive satire on this is from the recent movie, This Is the End. Seth Rogen (playing himself) announces to his friend that he is now eating gluten-free, but when asked what gluten is he clearly has no idea. He says it is anything bad in food. Of course in the next scene he is downing a giant hamburger.

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Aug 05 2013

Changing Your Fate

Published by under Pseudoscience

There is a cartoonish sight gag that I have seen multiple times – a patient lying ill in a hospital bed has some indicator of their health, on a chart or monitor. The doctor comes by an flips the downward trending chart into an upward trending one, or adjusts the monitor so the readings are more favorable, and the patient improves.

This is a joke that a child can understand, even if they don’t explicitly understand that the humor lies in the reversal of cause and effect. And yet more subtle or complex forms of this same flawed reasoning is quite common, especially in the world of pseudoscience.

Even in medicine we can fall for this fallacy. We often measure many biological parameters to inform us about the health of our patients. When the numbers are out of the normal range it is tempting to take direct action to correct those numbers, rather than address the underlying process for which they are markers. Medical students have to learn early on to treat the patient, not the numbers.

Of course when the underlying belief is magical, rather than scientific, it is hard to argue against just changing the signs so that the reading is more favorable. Since the cause and effect is pure magic to begin with, does reversing it make it any worse?

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