By Mark M. Green (sciencefromaway.com)
I have two children who are millennials, born between 1980 and 2000. One is a vegetarian and the other a vegan, attitudes toward eating that I considered strange until I read that the food-consulting-firm Mintel informs us that 13% of millennials ascribe to these eating categories and are getting their protein increasingly from soy. Moreover 30% of us old-fashioned types are reporting eating much less red meat and dairy products for fear of heart disease and obesity and are getting their protein increasingly from plant products. Are millennials leading the way into how we eat: how far will we follow them?
Lead has been in the news lately—Flint, Michigan and Newark, New Jersey most prominently in drinking water causing increased levels of lead poisoning in children. A convincing article published in the February 3, 2014 issue of Chemical and Engineering News reports a correlation between blood lead content and violent behavior when lead poisoned children reach their teenage years and beyond. Undeniable correlations are reported that demonstrate a connection between crime rates and regulation of lead in paints and gasoline twenty years later. Scientific studies find that portions of the brain consistent with violent behavior are damaged with increased blood level of lead. In a study in Cincinnati conducted over a period of thirty years, scientists find that blood lead level is found to correlate with arrest rate and that the portions of the brain with the largest gray matter loss are associated with decision making, and emotional and impulse control.
A recent publication by Danish scientists reports that obese fathers carry altered genetic information in their sperm, under the heading of epigenetics, causing increased appetite and obesity in their children. However, if the same men conceive the child after losing weight either naturally, by eating less or exercising or even by surgical methods, the information in their sperm changes so that the children don’t inherit the tendency toward obesity. Amazingly, the body weight of the mother does not have this effect.
Scientists in Europe have good evidence for the reason that children who grow up on dairy farms suffer less from asthma. Kids breathe in fragments of dying bacteria in cow manure and fodder causing inflammation in their lungs that decreases the immune system response to what they would be allergic to later. However, they don’t really fully understand the biochemical mechanism behind the observations, which are confirmed in studies of mice.
In the 1950s doctors observed increasing number of patients with cases of inflammatory bowel disease, such as Crohn’s disease. Similar problems arose in Japan in the 1970s and now are being increasingly seen in China. Suspicions have to do with diet and use of antibiotics, which affect the microbiome, the bacteria that populate our gut. First Japan and now China have followed the behavior of western industrialized nations more in urban than rural areas with the former showing increased levels of the bowel disease.
Rachel Carson’s book Silent Spring was credited with ushering in the resistance to the use of pesticides. She took note of DDT and organophosphates among other chemicals but the focus at the time was on DDT because it is a persistent chemical remaining in the soil for long periods of time. By comparison organophosphates, which are related to nerve gas, were far less persistent. The term nerve gas was not used and farmers and household gardeners have used huge amounts of the organophosphates over the intervening time although it was known how dangerous they were. According to a recent book by F. R. Davis, Banned, A History of Pesticides and the Science of Toxicology, the organophosphates, under pressure by pesticide corporations, instead of being banned by Congress, were simply subjected to warning labels. According to Davis, it took until 2006 until their danger was recognized by Congressional action based on likely connections to Parkinson’s disease, and cancer, among other maladies. Glyphosphates such as in Monsanto’s Roundup is not considered an organophosphate although chemically it contains carbon and phosphate moieties. There is controversy about the danger of the glyphosphates, which are widely used.