Wednesday, April 24, 2013

Bet You Didn't Know This About Coffee

Bet You Didn't Know This About Coffee

While tea was the leading hot drink for hundreds of years, coffee has rapidly overtaken tea over the past few decades. No one has yet produced a convincing reason why.

Few places in the world have an equal balance of tea and coffee consumption. One always dominates. Maybe the reason has to do with advertising by coffee companies. One company, Swiss multinational Nestlé, has been particularly effective with advertising for its nutritional, snacks and health foods. Nestlé controls over 25 percent of coffee production in the world.

Most people know coffee for its caffeine. Tea also has caffeine, though not as much, especially compared with brewed coffee. Caffeine was long thought to be nothing but a mild stimulant. Today it is treated almost like a drug in itself because of the way coffee stimulates some people, relaxes others and actually enhances the effects of other products such as pain killers.

Some may think of caffeine in terms of the popular energy drinks on the market. Energy (I use the term loosely) from coffee was used in energy bars by the Galla nomads of Ethiopia. They ground up coffee beans, then mixed them with animal fat as an energy snack some time in the first millennium.

A thousand years ago Arab traders brought coffee beans home from Africa and boiled them to produce a drink called qahwa, which translates as "that which prevents sleep."

Most people would not consider using coffee for health purposes. German physician Max Gerson did, in the 1930s. He promoted the use of coffee in enemas, to detoxify the liver, stimulate the metabolism and even to cure cancers.

While the National Cancer Institute, the US government's main agency for cancer research, says that Gerson's claims are unsupported, and the American Cancer Society warns that illness or death could result from use of contaminated coffee enema equipment, it hasn't deterred Prince Charles. The British monarchy's heir apparent has raved about coffee enemas. sells DIY kits for coffee enemas.

Spoilers have searched for decades for ways in which coffee could be bad for the health. They were disappointed in 2011 when the Harvard School of Public Health reported after a huge study (48,000 men over 22 years) that men who drank six cups or more of coffee a day had a 60 percent lower rate

of dying from prostate cancer.

Sweden's Lund University supported the distaff side in 2008 when it reported a study showing that drinking coffee lowers the risk of breast cancer for women with the relatively common gene variant CPY1A2, which helps to metabolize estrogen and coffee.

The Swedish team got even more attention with its report that women with the gene variant who drank three cups or more a day of coffee tended to have smaller breasts.

The following year researchers at UK's Durham University reported that students who drank three cups or more each day were three times more likely to hear voices and have out-of-body experiences.

J.S. Bach expressed his love for coffee in a cantata. With libretto by Christian Friedrich Henrici, the Kaffeekantate was first performed in Leipzig, Germany in the early 1730s.

If that seems strange, check out some of the words of the soprano part. "Father, don't be so severe!/ If I can't drink/ My bowl of coffee three times daily/ Then in my torment I will shrivel up/ Like a piece of roast goat." Kind of makes you want to watch that one play out, doesn't it?

Americans show their devotion to coffee by spending $40 billion on it each year. Over the world, people consume close to 1.6 billion cups each day.

Starbucks may be best known for its coffee concoctions. Their grande (or medium) 16-ounce coffee has an amount of caffeine equivalent to 9.5 cans of Coke. Yup, that in one "medium" cup.

Coffee's greed for water goes far beyond what goes into each cup. Including all the water needed to grow and process the beans, one cup of java requires about 4,700 ounces, or 37 gallons.

Coffee is grown on mountainsides, with just certain conditions. Change those conditions and coffee plants won't grow. Highland forests in Ethiopia and South Sudan, where most wild coffee grows, may disappear as the planet warms, according to researchers at London's Royal Botanic Gardens. However, domesticated coffee production will be safe for a while.

Safe, that is, from warming. Not necessarily from disease. 70 percent of coffee consumed today is produced from variants of the wild Arabica, or Coffea arabica, the wild bean that stores most of the genetic information needed to re-engineer coffee plants to produce beans under different conditions. Industrial coffee monocultures are as much at risk from one unanticipated disease as every other monoculture of agriculture.

One coffee grows already decaffeinated. Coffea charrieriana, found in Cameroon, is the only variety known to grow without the stimulant.

Elephants love coffee cherries, the fruit that surrounds the seeds we roast and drink. But don't send them away. A smooth and caramel tasting variety of coffee is made from beans that made their way all the way through the elephant's digestive system. Pre-hulled seeds are harvested from the dung. But wait, there's more. Elephant dung coffee beans have been known to sell for as much as $500 a pound. Yes, with two zeroes.

Don't worry about coffee making your breath smell bad. Tel Aviv University researchers revealed, in 2009, that adding coffee to a dish of saliva actually inhibited the growth of a bacterium that causes bad breath.

Now, if you will excuse me, it's time for my coffee break.

Bill Allin is the author of Turning It Around: Causes and Cures for Today's Epidemic Social Problems, a guidebook for parents and teachers who want to grow kids who develop well in all ways, not just intellectually.

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[Primary information source: Discover, April 2013]

Monday, April 01, 2013

Are We Forcing Ourselves Into Extinction?

Are We Forcing Ourselves Into Extinction?

A nation that destroys its soils destroys itself. Forests are the lungs of our land, purifying the air and giving fresh strength to our people.
- Franklin D. Roosevelt

We don't need to clear the 4 to 6 percent of the Earth's surface remaining in tropical rain forests, with most of the animal and plant species living there.
- E. O. Wilson

We've set aside tens of millions of acres of those northwestern forests for perpetuity. The unemployment rate has gone not up, but down. The economy has gone up.
- Bruce Babbitt

No one could doubt that humans are the most advanced, the best developed, the most intelligent, the most creative and inventive species ever to have graced the earth.

Well, almost no one. Actually, I do. Remember, who granted us that title? We assumed that there were no other species in the race.

True, we have language, which no other species seems to have in the same form. But many animal species and several plant species have been shown to communicate among themselves. Not with us. We can neither understand their communication nor communicate with them in ways they understand. Yet they understand each other, as has been proven by science.

We have imaginations, a characteristic in which we take great pride, one that has given us art, literature, music in their various forms. Neanderthals are now known to have made cave paintings in France. We don't know about non-human species because they do not express themselves the way we do. So we assume they are not as smart or as developed as us.

It was long thought that we had emotions that no other species had, or even could appreciate. We now know that many animals have emotions. Some plants have also been shown to have at least some emotions. Some we now know can communicate fear to others nearby when they are about to be harmed, not just when they are harmed, but before they are actually harmed.

Elephants communicate with each other over many kilometres at sound levels below the range that humans can detect. Whales have been observed apparently communicating with others of their kind over one thousand kilometres away. We humans actually hear only within a tiny range of air vibrations. We have little idea about non-human communication in frequencies we can't hear.

We don't know for certain if any creatures on the planet, animals or plants, hear or communicate at frequencies beyond what we consider normal (for us).

I dare say that few people would include rocks (minerals) if asked what kinds of life exist on earth. Why? Because they don't know. Trees and other plants, in general, exist in life dimensions much different from what we know, much slower. Rocks, which are known through continental "drift" to move and interact with each other, may well have a form of life that is so different from our own that we can't detect it because we move at a much faster pace.

Let me ask you this? What is the largest life form on earth today? Not the elephant. The blue whale? There is a fungus under several of the states in the USA east of the Rockies. One continuous life form, larger than whole states. If you didn't know that, what else might exist around you that you know little about? Literally millions of people live right above that fungus.

One of my favourite birds is the ruby-throated hummingbird. The ones that visit my verandah flap their wings around 950 times a minute. Faster than any of us could see clearly. They move around so quickly that no other bird or animal could catch them. They live about three years. The giant tortoise of the Galapagos moves so slowly that people don't want to wait to see where they go. They live about 400 years. Animals as diverse as these live at different life rates, some might say in different dimensions.

We determine intelligence by the form of intelligence best exemplified by the people who devise the intelligence tests. Humans are the "most intelligent" creatures on earth because we make up the tests. IQ tests of the past were shown to be shockingly biased in favour of the culture of the people who devised the tests. Thus people of Africa, for example, fared badly on them because they did not share a similar background to the devisors of the tests.

How intelligent are other animals? Only now are we learning that dolphins, some birds and some land animals are more intelligent that we thought. How do we know? We gave them tests that we could do, so if they could do them they must be intelligent.

How would you measure the intelligence of a giant sequoia tree? They live for hundreds of years (the oldest known as about 2200 years old). They must know something to live that long. Something we don't.

How might you measure the intelligence of the Rock of Gibraltar? Never mind, no one would believe you even if you had a guess.

What we humans most excel at is arrogance and hubris. We are very poor at learning from others who know more than us. Yet we are ready to criticize others who know less, who make mistakes, or even who have opinions different from our own. Dogs and cats that many of us have as pets know how to get what they want better than the humans who claim to "own" them. They ask, in their own way, but humans just expect those around them to understand, maybe by instinct.

What does this have to do with us causing our own extinction?

Charles Darwin claimed in his theory of evolution that survival depended on the ability to adapt (not to fitness, as many reports have falsely noted). Our ancestors were remarkable at adapting, spreading over the millennia to virtually every habitable corner of the planet. From the frozen Arctic to the Sahara Desert to the rain forests of the Amazon, our ancestors adapted to conditions and thrived in each one of them.

Their descendants still live in these harsh environments. But since they adopted western styles of life, they have also developed western diseases, including heart disease, diabetes and obesity. They have adapted the wrong way, just as we in developed countries have adapted in ways that will harm our own health.

More importantly, we now depend on developments in medical science and technology to save us, while we stubbornly stick with our unhealthy lifestyles. We believe that medicine will heal us, while it can only relieve symptoms. Healthy bodies don't get sick.

More countries than ever before in history have the ability to annihilate billions of us with nuclear weapons. North Korea doesn't get its way with others, so it cancels the agreement it signed at the end of the Korean War and threatens any country that refuses to give it its way. In response, the US does not offer to talk out the problems, instead choosing to boost its own missile defence, threatening to wipe out North Korea, claiming that if North Korea fires a nuclear missile it would be suicide.

Does that sound like civilized countries that have progressed into a safe and peaceful existence in the 21st Century?

We tend to believe the politicians we elect will look after our welfare, even though we are aware that they can be bought by industry. We believe the food we buy at the market is safe, while it is almost impossible to find even fresh fruits and vegetables that are not laced with pesticides, fertilizers and herbicides. Or genetically modified in ways that help the chemical companies that created them than us, the consumers.

We force ourselves to live stressful lives to earn money we believe we need to make us comfortable and happy. Yet as soon as we get more, we want even more than that. We know we need to de-stress, to relax, to chill out, but we claim we don't have time (the irony of that misses most of the people who should be aware of it). When that leads to an unhealthy body and illness, we turn to doctors and drugs (see above).

We believe that we are powerful enough to change the climate of the world, though we are unable to influence any one part of the weather when trouble comes our way. We worry about warming raising the average temperature of the atmosphere by half a degree, but show little interest in the 300,000 chemicals that industries put into our waterways or the half million chemicals they put into the air we breathe. We drink the water and bathe in it, we breathe the air, but that seems to matter little to us.

We believe that technology (or God, in some cases) will save us from destruction at the last minute. Yet we have no evidence that either is possible. We can't even imagine what a solution might be.

Evolution says that homo sapiens will be succeeded by a more advanced species, and we will subsequently pass from existence. Could that happen? History suggests that our species might cease to exist one day. But it will not likely be succeeded by a more advanced species. We would certainly kill it off before it had a chance to multiply.

Bill Allin is the author of Turning It Around: Causes and Cures for Today's Epidemic Social Problems, a guidebook for grandparents, parents and teachers who want to know what their children need and when they need it.
Learn more at