Category Archives: World News

Vegetarian diet twice as effective for weight-loss, new research shows

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Low-calorie diets are notoriously difficult to maintain in the long-term. But they may be unnecessary. Switching to a vegetarian diet can be twice as effective for weight-loss as counting calories, according to new research.  For the study, published in the Journal of the American College of Nutrition, researchers from the Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine followed 74 participants with type 2 diabetes for six months. Half the group were assigned a vegetarian diet (60 per cent of energy from carbohydrates, 15 per cent protein, and 25 per cent fat) consisting of vegetables, grains, legumes, fruits, and nuts, with one portion of low-fat yoghurt a day. The other half were assigned a conventional low-calorie, anti-diabetes diet comprising of 50 per cent of energy from carbohydrates, 20 per cent protein, less than 30 per cent fat.

After six months, the vegetarian group had lost an average of 6.2 kilograms compared with 3.2 kilograms in the conventional group. The researchers also used magnetic resonance imaging to analyse the effect of the two diets on adipose fat in participants’ thighs. While both diets reduced subcutaneous fat (fat under the skin), only the vegetarian diet caused reductions in subfascial fat (on the surface of muscles) and saw a greater reduction in intramuscular fat (fat inside the muscles). Excess subfascial and intramuscular fat is associated with insulin resistance and lowered glucose metabolism.

“Vegetarian diets proved to be the most effective diets for weight loss,” said lead author, Dr Hana Kahleova. “However, we also showed that a vegetarian diet is much more effective at reducing muscle fat, thus improving metabolism. This finding is important for people who are trying to lose weight, including those suffering from metabolic syndrome and/or type 2 diabetes. But it is also relevant to anyone who takes their weight management seriously and wants to stay lean and healthy.”

Dr Joanna McMillan believes the vegetarian diet was more effective because it tends to include more fibre from plant foods. “This helps to fill you up but also means the gut bugs have to help with nutrient retrieval,” Dr McMillan explained. “Potentially our gut bugs help us to stay lean or get fat depending on our individual microbiomes and usual diet.” Our genes may come into play as well, as another new study, published in the journal Nature: Ecology and Evolution, found that the introduction of farming 10,000 years ago led to an increase in plant-based diets.

This dietary shift from the animal-based diet of hunter-gatherers resulted in genetic adaptations that helped vegetarians and their offspring to better metabolise plant-foods. The plant-based gene variants regulate cholesterol levels and may provide protection against many inflammatory diseases, the researchers from Cornell University said. “Although modern paleo advocates emphasise meat, in fact most hunter gatherer communities ate loads of plant food as well – so the balance of foods is clearly key,” McMillan said. “Although our genes can’t change quickly, epigenetics allows us to adapt more quickly and the microbiome can adapt within a day. This is probably how humans have thrived on many different diets all over the world.”

Moving meat-free

For many meat-eaters, the concept of becoming completely vegetarian is inconceivable, however there are health and environmental benefits to having more meat-free days. A new free app, designed by Charles Darwin’s great-grandson, Chris Darwin, challenges people to have one or more meat-free days each week, rewarding users, by “showing you how your meat-free days are improving your health and your world”. According to the app:

  • One meat-free day per year saves a tennis court of forest.
  • One meat-free day saves 98 toilet flushes of water (usually seven litres per toilet flush) – based around water support for meat production – from cattle growing, feeding, cleaning and processing.


World Environment Day 2017: What you can do today to help clean up the planet

Today is World Environment Day – a day when we turn our focus to cleaning up the planet.

The date (it’s always June 5 every year) isn’t just a day to read about the problems affecting the countryside, it is all about action and physically getting off your chair to do something to help preserve nature.

That could means organising a litter picking outing, hiking in your local park, planting trees or snapping some beautiful shots of the great outdoors and sharing them online.

Here is everything you need to know.

This year is all about connecting people to nature.

That means encouraging people to get outdoors and appreciate the beauty of the planet in a bid to show people the importance of protecting it for future generations.

The theme was chosen by this year’s host country – Canada – which will be the centre of World Environment Day activities.

Around the world people will be planting trees, cleaning up their neighbourhoods and taking action against wildlife crimes.

The day itself is all about raising awareness about nature and the importance of protecting it so anything that has people embracing the outdoors is a small step towards helping.

The World Environment Day website explains: ‘In recent decades, scientific advances as well as growing environmental problems such as global warming are helping us to understand the countless ways in which natural systems support our own prosperity and well-being.

‘For example, the world’s oceans, forests and soils act as vast stores for greenhouse gases such as carbon dioxide and methane; farmers and fisher-folk harness nature on land and under water to provide us with food; scientists develop medicines using genetic material drawn from the millions of species that make up Earth’s astounding biological diversity.

‘Billions of rural people around the world spend every working day ‘connected to nature’ and appreciate full well their dependence on natural water supplies and how nature provides their livelihoods in the form of fertile soil. They are among the first to suffer when ecosystems are threatened, whether by pollution, climate change or over-exploitation.

‘Nature’s gifts are often hard to value in monetary terms. Like clean air, they are often taken for granted, at least until they become scarce. However, economists are developing ways to measure the multi-trillion-dollar worth of many so-called ‘ecosystem services’, from insects pollinating fruit trees in the orchards of California to the leisure, health and spiritual benefits of a hike up a Himalayan valley.’

What events are taking place and how can I get involved?

1) The World Environment Day website advises people to get down to their local parks and not just look at the views but get involved in them. That means not just looking at a lake but whipping off your clothes and jumping in (where safe to do so and with others). Share photographs on social media with the hashtag #worldenvironmentday too.

‘Connecting to nature can involve all the physical senses: why not take off your shoes and get your feet (and hands) dirty; don’t just look at the beautiful lake, jump in! Take a hike at night and rely on your ears and nose to experience nature,’ The website adds.

2) Plant a tree or check out insects

‘You can also connect with nature in the city, where major parks can be a green lung and a hub of biodiversity. Why not do your bit to green the urban environment, by greening your street or a derelict site, or planting a window box? You could put a spade in the soil or lift a paving slab and see what creatures live beneath,’ the website says.

2) Organisers are also encouraging people to organise litter pick ups, not only in their neighbourhoods but down at local beaches and in forests and woods.

3) Contribute to a science project with the app iNaturalist.


Earth is on brink of a sixth mass extinction, scientists say, and it’s humans’ fault


A vast chunk of space rock crashes into the Yucatan Peninsula, darkening the sky with debris and condemning three-quarters of Earth’s species to extinction. A convergence of continents disrupts the circulation of the oceans, rendering them stagnant and toxic to everything that lives there. Vast volcanic plateaus erupt, filling the air with poisonous gas. Glaciers subsume the land and lock up the oceans in acres of ice.

Five times in the past, the Earth has been struck by these kinds of cataclysmic events, ones so severe and swift (in geological terms) they obliterated most kinds of living things before they ever had a chance to adapt.

Now, scientists say, the Earth is on the brink of a sixth such “mass extinction event.” Only this time, the culprit isn’t a massive asteroid impact or volcanic explosions or the inexorable drifting of continents. It’s us.

“We are now moving into another one of these events that could easily, easily ruin the lives of everybody on the planet,” Stanford biologist Paul Ehrlich said in a video created by the school.

In a study published Friday in the journal Science Advances, biologists found that the Earth is losing mammal species 20 to 100 times the rate of the past. Extinctions are happening so fast, they could rival the event that killed the dinosaurs in as little as 250 years. Given the timing, the unprecedented speed of the losses and decades of research on the effects of pollution, hunting and habitat loss, they assert that human activity is responsible.

“The smoking gun in these extinctions is very obvious, and it’s in our hands,” co-author Todd Palmer, a biologist at the University of Florida, wrote in an e-mail to The Washington Post.

Since 1900 alone, 69 mammal species are believed to have gone extinct, along with about 400 other types of vertebrates. Evidence for species lost among nonvertebrate animals and other kinds of living things is much more difficult to come by, the researchers say, but there’s little reason to believe that the rest of life on Earth is faring any better. This rapid species loss is alarming enough, according to the study’s authors, but it could be just the beginning. “We can confidently conclude that modern extinction rates are exceptionally high, that they are increasing, and that they suggest a mass extinction under way,” they write. “If the currently elevated extinction pace is allowed to continue, humans will soon (in as little as three human lifetimes) be deprived of many biodiversity benefits.”

The Science Advances study is not the first to propose that the die-offs caused by human activity are now on par with the fatal cataclysms of millennia past. In 1998, an American Museum of Natural History poll of 400 biology experts found that 70 percent believe the Earth is in the midst of one of its fastest mass extinctions, one that threatens the existence of humans as well as the millions of species we rely on. In his 2003 book “The Future of Life,” noted Harvard biologist E.O. Wilson calculated that Earth would lose half its higher life forms by 2100 if the current rate of human disruption continued. Scores of scientific studies have sought to bolster that claim, offering evidence of current die-offs and predicting future ones. And many more have contributed to the International Union for the Conservation of Nature’s Red List, which keeps a bleak accounting of the extinction risk for tens of thousands of species.

It’s true that throughout history, extinctions have happened for comparatively mundane reasons. Even without asteroid impacts or human disruption, species are always dying out — the “unfit” in Darwin’s terminology — and being replaced. Scientists estimate that 99 percent of the species that ever existed no longer do. It’s a routine part of life on Earth.

What’s happening now, the researchers say, is not routine.

To prove how extraordinary the losses of the past 114 years have been, the authors of the new study used data from the IUCN Red List to calculate modern extinction rates and compared that number to the “background,” or routine, rate of extinctions. To counter claims that their research might be exaggerated or alarmist, the authors of the Science Advances study assumed a fairly high background rate: 2 extinctions per 10,000 vertebrate species each century, or 2 species per million each year (a metric known as E/MSY), based on the fossil record. Most commonly used estimates are much lower — typically between 0.1 and 1 MSY.

Under normal conditions, this assumed background rate means that Earth should have seen 9 vertebrate extinctions since 1900, the study says. (The researchers focused on vertebrates and mammals in particular because those species have been the subject of the most thorough conservation status assessments.)

But species these days are not living under normal conditions, the biologists say. Forests are vanishing. Animals are hunted for their tusks and teeth and fur. Toxins are leaching into streams and lakes and the ground beneath us. The global climate is changing, and habitats around the world are changing with it.

And, as in past mass extinctions, even the “fit” have been unable to adapt.

Based on the IUCN list of species that have been declared extinct, extinct in the wild, and possibly extinct (species that haven’t been seen in the wild for years but whose loss hasn’t been confirmed), 468 more vertebrates have died out since 1900 than should have. That translates to an extinction rate 53 times the rate of baseline levels at the “high” background extinction rate and more than 100 times the rate most other biologists use. Even using a highly conservative calculation that includes only the 199 vertebrate species definitively declared extinct, the rate of vertebrate species loss is 22 times higher than the 2 MSY baseline.

Though these extinctions are happening much faster than usual, they’re not yet comparable to the “Big Five” mass extinctions commonly recognized as the worst in Earth’s history. The losses of the past century account for only about 1 percent of the roughly 40,000 known vertebrate species — a statistic that pales in comparison to the level of destruction seen during previous mass extinction events. Even in the least of them, between 60 and 70 percent of species were killed off. During the end-Permian event about 250 million years ago, known as “the Great Dying,” that number was more than 90 percent.

But the loss of biodiversity we’re seeing now could trigger even more catastrophic species loss within a few years.

“Ecological communities are composed of many interacting parts, and there are potential ‘tipping points’ in these communities where if you lose too many species, or lose species that are particularly important, the ecosystem may rapidly degrade or change states,” Palmer wrote.

If die-offs continue at current rates, the current extinction event could reach “Big Five” magnitudes in 240 to 540 years, he said — an unprecedented speed for this kind of ecological change.

Past mass extinctions unfolded in geological time over the course of thousands of years. The calamitous “Great Dying” at the end of the Permian Period took about 6,000 centuries, as the super-continent called Pangaea coalesced, disrupting ocean currents and raising global temperatures, and lava oozed out of a vast volcanic region called the Siberian Traps, poisoning the air and seas with clouds of toxic gases. For a mass extinction to happen fast enough to be perceived in a human lifetime is unheard of.

“In terms of scale, we are now living through one of those brief, rare episodes in Earth history when the biological framework of life is dismantled,” paleobiologist Jan Zalasiewizc, who was not involved in the study, wrote in an analysis for the Guardian. He went on to note that none of the “familiar horsemen” of planetary change — “massive volcanic outbursts to choke the atmosphere and poison the seas, the mayhem caused by major asteroid impact and the wrenching effects of rapid climate change” — have factored into the current crisis (the effects of current climate change are still in their early stages, he wrote, and can’t yet be blamed for species loss). Instead, the deaths we see now are all due to pollution, predation and habitat change from one species: humans.

Still, scientists say, it’s possible to avert their gloomy predictions. They give us about a generation to make the changes needed to slow the rate of species loss.

“We have the potential of initiating a mass extinction episode which has been unparalleled for 65 million years,” co-author Gerardo Ceballos told CNN. “But I’m optimistic in the sense that humans react — in the past we have made quantum leaps when we worked together to solve our problems.”


Chicago makes history with first vegetarian museum

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Chicago is home to museums centered around art, science, nature, children’s interests, various ethnic groups, broadcast communications and even surgical science. It can now add the vegetarian/vegan movement to the list.

Chicago resident Kay Stepkin, who is herself a living part of the city’s rich vegetarian/vegan history, created what is believed to be the first museum of its type in the country and likely in the world. The idea for the National Vegetarian Museum surfaced for her about three years ago after she appeared on a local radio show to discuss the history of the vegetarian movement in Chicago.

The appearance went so well that Stepkin was asked to speak to other groups around the city, which forced her to dig deeper into the history to be better prepared. That research prompted the idea of the museum. “I knew if I didn’t know about our history, neither did anyone else,” she said. Using a private donation of $90,000, Stepkin, with the help of a museum consultant, created a traveling multipanel and video exhibit that is currently making monthlong appearances at various public libraries around the city. The exhibit will remain on the city’s South Side at the Avalon library (8148 S. Stony Island Ave.) through the middle of May 18 and then reopen later the same day at the West Belmont library branch at 3104 N. Narragansett Ave. Stepkin hopes to find a permanent location for the exhibit by February and come up with a long-term funding plan. She also would like to send traveling versions around the country tailored for individual cities and/or organizations.

Chicago’s rich veggie past
The exhibit, which is titled What does it Mean to be Vegetarian is composed of 12 interactive panels and begins with a quote from Albert Einstein: “Nothing will benefit human health and increase chances for survival of life on Earth as much as the evolution to a vegetarian diet.” The exhibit touches on the many benefits of a vegetarian/vegan diet for human health, the environment and animals, including a statistic that up to 51 percent of greenhouse gases come from livestock.

While some may have the perception that the vegetarian/vegan movement is a relatively recent phenomena of the 1960s, it is actually thousands of years old, according to the exhibit. One panel quotes such ancient sources as the Book of Genesis. Stepkin said she learned that a vegetarian group from England calling itself Bible Christians arrived on the shores of this country in the early 1800s. The vegetarian epicenter began in Philadelphia and moved to Chicago by the late 1800s. The exhibit features a photo of the Vegetarian Federal Union’s exhibit at the Columbian Exposition in Chicago in 1893.
The first vegetarian restaurant in Chicago — the Pure Food Lunch Room — opened in 1900 and six years later, Upton Sinclair’s famous novel “The Jungle” shed light on the deplorable conditions at the Chicago’s Union Stockyards, according to the exhibit.

Importance of community
Stepkin enters the historical timeline in 1971 by opening the Bread Shop and then the Bread Shop Restaurant across the street in the 3400 block of North Halsted Street. The restaurant later became the Chicago Diner, which still exists today as a bedrock of the city’s vegetarian/vegan community. She said she opened the restaurant with the belief that everyone would soon be going vegetarian “because it’s so obvious this is the only way to go.”

Stepkin, who became vegetarian in 1970 (and vegan many years later) after coming across a reference in a James Bond spy novel about the importance of healthy eating, served as president of the Chicago Vegetarian Society between 1995 and 2001. She also wrote a vegan column for the Chicago Tribune and is founder of the nonprofit entity Go Veggie!. The exhibit lists many well-known vegetarians and vegans, and national organizations as part of its final section on the importance of community.  It Stepkin’s hope the museum will pique interest in vegetarianism and veganism, while giving some support to those who already have made the change and yet live in a predominantly meat-eating world. “I think it will help make them stronger,” she said. “Because you are not just floating through this world as a vegetarian alone. This can give you strength to know you are part of a community that has been here for some time.”

Canteens at Govt medical facilities in Malaysia to provide pure vegetarian meals


Vegetarians can now enjoy their meals without any worry when dining at cafeterias in government hospitals and other medical facilities.This follows a directive from the Health Ministry that these cafeteria operators must provide food that is strictly vegetarian to anyone who patronised their outlet.

Ministry director-general Datuk Dr Noor Hisham Abdullah said the demand for vegetarian food from both patients and visitors to these facilities have been increasing. “This ruling is mandatory and it is my hope that all directors in the states, health institutes and hospitals will ensure it is complied with.”

In an immediate response, Malaysian Vegetarian Society (MVS) president Tracy Wong commended the ministry for the move. Wong said the MVS had also requested the ministry for such outlets to be opened up at R&R stops along the national highways. Dr Noor Hisham said the ministry decided to introduce the ruling after receiving many complaints from the public, especially those who had to stay at hospitals to look after their sick relatives.

With the new ruling, cafeteria operators have also been told to be sensitive to the needs of vegans who consumed only greens, lacto-vegetarians who also took milk and dairy products and lacto-ovo-vegetarians who were okay with eating eggs. “The cafeteria operators can based on the demand for such food, set up a special corner or designated area in their eatery for them.

“Proper and clear signages must be put up so that these are visible to patients, employees and visitors,” he said.

If demand for vegetarian food was small such as in smaller facilities, the operator was duty-bound to put up a sign that preparation will be done based on request.

“Operators must also be sensitive to the fact that the utensils including woks used to cook meat should not be used to prepare food for the vegetarians,” said Noor Hisham.

The ministry, he said would issue a set of comprehensive guidelines on the vegetarian diet in due course.

When contacted, MVS past-president Dr P. Vythilingam said he hoped the Education and Higher Education ministries would also introduce a similar ruling.

Dr Vythilingam, who is also president of the Asia-Pacific Vegetarian Union, said many students who are vegetarians are forced to bring food from home as canteens do not provide pure vegetarian food. “Such a move if implemented, would also help the Government tackle the problem of obesity among the young,” he said.


Will others follow the Netherlands in phasing out animal experimentation?


In a groundbreaking move, the Dutch government recently announced it is working to end all experiments on animals. The Netherlands had already passed a motion in parliament to phase out experiments on nonhuman primates, and now its goal is to be using only human-relevant, nonanimal testing methods by 2025.

People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals UK scientists have met with government officials and provided a 70-page document outlining areas of experimentation that can be ended immediately and a strategy for moving forward. Now the United States and other nations should follow suit.

The Dutch government’s bold decision promises great progress not only for the millions of animals who are intentionally infected with diseases, force-fed chemicals, blinded, burned, mutilated and left to suffer without veterinary care inside laboratories every year, but also for human patients desperately waiting for therapies and cures for their illnesses.

We’ve long known that mice are not just tiny human beings and that experimenters who cling to the archaic animal “model” as the gold standard of research are wasting precious time, resources and lives — both human and animal.

Although animals have the same capacity to feel fear and pain that we humans have, our physiology is vastly different, and results from animal studies are rarely relevant to human health. Multiple systematic reviews have documented the overwhelming failure of experiments on animals to benefit humans in the areas of neurodegenerative disease, neuropsychiatric disorders, cardiovascular disease, stroke, cancer, diabetes, obesity, inflammatory disease and more.

Nine out of 10 experimental drugs that pass animal studies fail in humans, and the few that are approved often need to be relabeled or pulled from the market after they sicken or kill human patients. Decades of HIV and AIDS experiments have failed to produce effective vaccines for humans, even though at least 85 were successful in primate studies. And while “(w)e have cured mice of cancer for decades” — according to former National Cancer Institute Director Dr. Richard Klausner — “it simply didn’t work in humans.”

No wonder John Ioannidis, a professor of medicine and of health research and policy at Stanford University School of Medicine, says it is “nearly impossible to rely on most animal data to predict whether or not an intervention will have a favorable clinical benefit-risk ratio in human subjects.”

There are better ways to conduct research than intentionally sickening and injuring animals. For example, scientists can replicate human organs on microchips to test the impact of potential drugs. Sophisticated computer models can simulate the progression of developing diseases and accurately predict the reaction of drugs in the human body. Advanced brain-imaging techniques — which allow the human brain to be safely studied down to the level of a single neuron — can replace crude experiments in which animals are intentionally brain-damaged.

In the field of toxicity testing, nonanimal methods harnessing scientific advances in molecular and cell biology, genetics, computational power and robotic testing systems can test more chemicals in a single day than have been tested in the past 20 years using animals. These methods allow scientists to test mixtures of chemicals, assess chemical effects on vulnerable populations or life stages, and detect sensitive effects that animal tests cannot.

But setting aside the fact that experimenting on animals is bad science and that there are more relevant and efficient methods, it is morally wrong to poison, infect, burn and cut up animals in a laboratory. Just as our science has advanced, so has our understanding of the other beings with whom we share the planet. Other animals, like us, are conscious beings who develop friendships, have complex social structures, use language and make tools, are capable of understanding cause-and-effect relationships, solve problems, form abstract thoughts and show empathy.

Fortunately, this is not a case of us vs. them. By embracing bold policy initiatives as the Netherlands has done and investing in exciting and progressive nonanimal methods, we will have far more promising treatments and cures for humans, and more effective and reliable methods for toxicity assessment, while also sparing tens of millions of animals unimaginable suffering.