Who needs marijuana when you’ve got ice cream?

Not exactly the take-home point of this really interesting research about how fatty food stimulates chemical reactions in our gut, but still:

Scientists in California and Italy reported last week that in rats given fatty foods, the body immediately began to release natural marijuanalike chemicals in the gut that kept them craving more…

In the recent rat studies, by a team from the University of California, Irvine, and the Italian Institute of Technology in Genoa, the goal was to measure how taste alone affects the body’s response to food. Among rats given liquid diets high in fat, sugar or protein, the ones who got the fatty liquid had a striking reaction: As soon as it hit their taste buds, their digestive systems began producing endocannabinoids, chemicals similar to those produced bymarijuana use.

The compounds serve a variety of functions, including regulation of mood and stress response, appetite, and movement of food through the intestines. Notably, they were released only when the rats tasted fat, not the sugar or protein. The findings were published online last week in The Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

There’s even some potentially really cool practical applications from this in that drugs that block the endocannabinoids in the gut totally stopped the craving for fat.  In rats, that is.  Still, this could have tremendous implications for humans down the road.  And, of course, this is just more evidence that, in many ways, the yummiest food is not all that different from illegal drugs in how our brain and body respond.

And, it’s alwasys a good time to plug The End of Overeating by David Kessler– I’ve never looked at food the same since reading this book.


Quote of the day

Love how Jon Chait nicely works in the Sopranos to explaining John Boeher’s role in the debt ceiling talks:

If you have a grounded understanding of the fiscal picture — i.e., there’s no politically plausible way to educe the long-term deficit without increasing revenue at least some — then by definition, you do not represent the views of most House Republicans.  [emphasis mine]

Okay, that’s just an awesome quote.  Here’s the Sopranos part:

If Boehner needs to go to Cantor to approve any agreement, why is Obama dealing with Boehner at all? Boehner right now is Junior Soprano, permitted to keep his title while Tony actually runs the family.

I finished watching the Sopranos before I started blogging, and don’t really refer to it much, but it does remain one of my very favorite shows ever.

Yes, the pharmaceutical companies are evil

A few years ago I went to get David’s prescription for an albuterol inhaler refilled and was shocked that my $10 generic copay had gone to a $50 brand and that no generic was available.  Albuterol has literally been around for decades.  I learned from the pharmacist that the inhalers had switched to CFC free formulations and thus had managed to get new brand-name patents.  Now, how in the world the fact that the active ingredient in the drug is entirely unchanged and only the propellant ingredient changes warrants a new patent protection for the medication I still find mystifying.  There’s truly no reasonable explanation.  It would be like Advil claiming they had a patent on Ibuprofen because after providing the pills in round tablets they switched to square ones.

Anyway, just came across a nice little article in Mother Jones yesterday that explains how the pharmaceutical companies games us all on this one by pretending to care about the CFC impact on the environment:

The pharma consortium transformed from primarily an R&D outfit searching for substitutes for CFC-based inhalers into a lobbying group intent on eliminating the old inhalers. It set up shop in the K Street offices of Drinker Biddle, a major DC law firm. Between 2005 and 2010, it spent $520,000 on lobbying. (It probably spent even more; as a trade group, it’s not required to disclose all of its advocacy spending.) Meanwhile, IPAC lobbied for other countries to enact similar bans, arguing that CFC-based inhalers should be eliminated for environmental reasons and replaced with the new, HFC-based inhalers.

The lobbying paid off. In 2005, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) approved an outright ban on many CFC-based inhalers starting in 2009 (PDF). This June, the agency’s ban on Aerobid, an inhaler used for acute asthma, took effect. Combivent, another popular treatment, will be phased out by the end of 2013.

THE FINANCIAL PAYOFF Many of the patents for the new inhalers won’t expire for another six years, so there likely won’t be any generics until then, unless the patents are challenged in court. The switch to the new inhalers will cost American consumers, insurance companies, and the government some $8 billion by 2017, according to FDA estimates. That’s money in the drug companies’ pockets. In 2007, a top market-research firm alerted investors that the US inhaler market “will soon change from low-value to significant.” Sure enough, at nearly $1 billion a year, sales of the market-leading inhaler, ProAir, now rival Viagra’s.

And, as for saving the environment by less CFC’s?

By upgrading their inhalers, Americans will prevent about 1,300 tons of CFC emissions a year. By comparison, the estimated global CFC emissions between 1986 and 2010 were 8.3 million tons. According to the University of Michigan’s Edward Parson, an expert on ozone regulations, this impact will be “tiny.”

One estimate suggests that CFC-free inhalers will accelerate the repair of the ozone layer by just a matter of days.

Thus, I stand by the title of this post.

David Brooks, EG, and the power of PID

Following up his recent excellent column taking the Tea Party to task, David Brooks comes back with another fine effort excoriating the Republican party for cutting funds for social science research.  Here’s the conclusion (give the whole thing a read, though):

People are complicated. We each have multiple selves, which emerge or don’t depending on context. If we’re going to address problems, we need to understand the contexts and how these tendencies emerge or don’t emerge. We need to design policies around that knowledge. Cutting off financing for this sort of research now is like cutting off navigation financing just as Christopher Columbus hit the shoreline of the New World.

Agreed.  Now, here’s the thing, despite studiously avoiding the word “Republican” in his column, there’s only one political party that wants to do this.  The question becomes why is David Brooks a Republican.  He’s a guy who clearly respects data, evidence, science, and thoughtful policy analysis.  The Republican party of the moment is led by people who pretty much reject all of these things.  Only one party completely rejects the consensus science behind global warming.  Only one party keeps insisting that tax cuts increase revenue despite all evidence to the contrary.  Only one party supports cuts in pre-K education programs when they are proven to be among the most cost-effective long term policies available.  Only one party is beholden to an ideology so simply it might belong to a two-year old– taxes are always bad.  Yet, for some reason David Brooks, despite knowing better still throws in his lot with these people.  Much to my dismay, it also reminds me of a friend of mine (EG), who, like Brooks, actually believes in things like science, evidence, and policy efficiency (though, she does have an irrational aversion to bilingual signage), who insists on being a Republican.

Alas, dismaying, yes, but I shouldn’t exactly be surprised.  I did sort of right my dissertation on this stuff.  Basically, partisanship is a very powerful thing.  David Brooks and EG have personal identities as “Republican” that simply outweigh the fact that they are far too smart and reasonable (i.e., attuned to the facts mentioned above) to identify themselves with the contemporary Republican party.  (I make exceptions for single-issue morals voters and libertarians– I disagree with their positions, but at least their support for the GOP makes sense).   Sure, people do change their Party Identification as adults, but its fairly rare, and it’s especially uncommon to go all the way to the other side.  Still, it does remain frustrating when people who obviously know better insist on hanging onto a partisanship that really doesn’t make sense for them.

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