Category Archives: Medicine & health

Scars from The Cruel Cut

Last Wednesday (6/11/13) on Channel 4, at 10:45pm, was a documentary called The Cruel Cut. A moving insight into the practice of FGM (female genital mutilation), it was presented by Leyla Hussein, a British-Somali woman and anti-FGM campaigner.

I nearly didn’t watch it because it was on so late. However, it was well worth it. She explained the different types of FGM*, where it happens, the laws regarding it, and what she does about it. As a victim of it herself, she’s well-placed to do all that. During the program she set up exhibitions where she spread awareness to ordinary members of the public (including videos of it being performed), performed a make-shift survey to members of the public asking them to support FGM**, and even directly emailed the government to ask why anti-FGM laws weren’t being enforced. Unfortunately she got a PC reply saying those laws are enforced and FGM has been successfully stopped in England. What?!?

To make it worse, she and a group of protesters went directly to public health minister’s office (forgot which one. I’ll add when I find it) to speak to her directly. Of course, she didn’t come out to meet them.

* There are 3 types, and I’ll list them from least to most severe. They’re pretty much just as painful as each other (absolutely effing excruciating!) but the latter 2 leave more room for medical complications:

Type 1 – the clitoris is either sliced through the middle or removed, to prevent the girl from experiencing pleasure during sex, 

(there is a variation of this called sunnah-circumcision, in which just the prepuce is removed, making it exactly equivalent to a male circumcision)

Type 2 – same as 1 but the labia minora (inner lips) are also removed and sewn together so when it heals the vagina is completely sealed apart from a pinprick-sized hole that she’s meant to pee & menstruate through,

Type 3 – same as 2 but the labia majora (outer lips) are sealed instead. Both this and Type 2 can lead to menstrual blood and urine pooling inside, fuelling any number of vaginal infections. 

It’s performed as part of culture in many countries in Africa and Asia, and due to migration most other continents. South America seems to have remained free, thank Allah. Among Somalis at least (which seemed to be whom Leyla was most focused on), it’s performed by women: mothers, aunties & grandmothers because they believe it’ll make the victim “clean” for when she gets married, proof of virginity before marriage. This means that when the girl grows up and she wants to have sex with her husband… he’ll have to open her back up. I won’t discuss that any further.

Once again the onus to remain “pure” is put on girls, from an age when they shouldn’t have to know “impurity”, while boys are given license to go amuck.

Men, however, don’t discuss it because as far as they’re concerned it’s women’s business. They usually don’t know how it happens and just go on what the women say – it’ll make them “clean”, it stops them from turning into whores & nymphos, etc. However, when Leyla confronted a group of Somali men to discuss it they were baffled & repulsed. They saw the natural uncut vagina as how Allah made it so it’s wrong for anyone to try to tamper with it. In short, women perform FGM because they think that’s what men want, while men don’t see its purpose and would prefer it to not be done.

And in case anyone thinks it’s a Muslim thing, no. It originated in Kemet (ancient, pre-Islamic, Egypt) and spread all over Africa thousands of years before Islam came to the continent. And it’s practised by many non-Muslim communities, as was evident from her friends who spoke about their experience with FGM (all of them had it done to them) and how it’s affected their lives. Which goes to show that once again culture trumps religion in many parts of the world.

** No that wasn’t a typo. She made a survey asking people to support FGM, just to see if they were politically incorrect enough to refuse. Within half an hour she got 19 signatures, some of them from people who were personally against FGM but felt because it was Leyla’s culture they had no right to criticise. Only one person had the backbone to express outright disgust.

Face palm + tears. 

Another interesting fact about FGM laws: in England it’s banned so the law knows it happens (~24,000 girls a year have it done in England), yet the number of people who’ve been prosecuted for it is exactly ZERO. The rest of Europe is much more no-nonsense, and France routinely examines girls for evidence of the procedure, and if such evidence is found people get their asses locked up.

Related articles:

http://www.channel4.com/programmes/the-cruel-cut

http://www.dailymail.co.uk/femail/article-2478822/Female-circumcision-campaigner-horrified-shoppers-sign-pro-cutting-petition–theyre-scared-culturally-insensitive.html

http://www.theguardian.com/tv-and-radio/2013/nov/07/the-cruel-cut-tv-review

http://www.standard.co.uk/news/london/what-happened-when-antifgm-campaigner-asked-people-in-the-street-to-sign-a-petition-in-favour-of-mutilating-girls-8908877.html

http://www.channel4.com/programmes/the-cruel-cut

Regarding heart health & dietary fats

This is based on For the heart’s sake: eat a variety of fats and let the body choose, written by Dr Stephanie Seneff PhD. This can be found on pages 40 & 41 of this month’s issue of CAM: The magazine for complementary and alternative medicine professionals, a complementary & alternative medicine magazine to which I’ve been subscribed for 5 years. I used to do Nutritional Therapy at uni, and though I’m not a nutritional therapist I still maintain great interest in the topic. I have also added in other parts from my general knowledge. 

 

We in the West are given conflicting and even downright wrong information about fat. Just to be clear I mean dietary fat, not body fat. We’re given the message that although omega 3 fats are healthy (true), saturated fats are bad for us (untrue) because that’s what health experts, government guidelines, TV ads, etc. drum into our heads. Same with high fat intake in general & cholesterol. However, the research has never (and I mean NEVER) proven that. In fact, the research overwhelmingly suggests the opposite: high intake of general fats* and saturated ones especially protects against cardiovascular diseases.

 

* fresh naturally-occurring fats. Rancid fats, as well as hydrogenated & trans fats, absolutely are linked to cardiovascular diseases, infertility (at least in women), obesity, type 2 diabetes (the worse kind), liver dysfunction & even Alzheimer’s.

 

WARNING! If you find long wordy explanations death-inducingly boring skip the red writing. Don’t want to look like this guy!

 

 

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Fatty acids, omega 3, hydrogen… oh me poor ‘eart!

Fat molecules (fatty acids or lipids) are of different types: saturated & unsaturated, or as I call them satted & unsatted. The difference is in molecular structure – the satted ones contain no double bonds between their carbon atoms and are thus chemically stable. They’re called saturated because the chain of carbon atoms is bonded to the maximum number of hydrogen atoms it can hold. Unsatted ones contain double bonds. If there’s only 1 double bond the molecule is called monounsaturated (what I’ll call munsatted), and if more than 1 it’s called polyunsaturated (what I’ll call punsatted). The double bonds mean there’s still space for hydrogen atoms to bond, and the more unsatted the fat is the more vulnerable it is to going off (rancid). Pretty much all plant fats are rich in unsatted fats, hence why plant fats tend to be liquid except coconut & palm oil. Animal fats tend to be more satted fat-rich and thus more solid, except marine animals like fish & shellfish. Due to the rancidity risk, it’s better to have antioxidant-rich foods (such as fruit & vegetables) along with unsatted fats, although they have their own benefits in the body. 


(Note: satted, munsatted & punsatted are just names of groups of different fats. In each group are many many individual molecules with small but often important differences in atomic constituents, which I won’t list here for brevity’s sake. In case you were wondering, the omega 3s, 6s, 9s & others are all punsatted)


Trans fats are unsatted fats heat-treated to become saturated, to increase shelf life (ie. delay rancidity). The heat treatment is called hydrogenation because they’re adding hydrogen atoms to fill the double bonds. However, the hydrogenation also alters the natural arrangement of carbon atoms, turning the configuration from cis to trans, especially if the process is incomplete which it often is. This means the whole lipid is in a shape the body can’t recognise so it will try to get rid of it. If it can’t, though, it accumulates in the body as waste because it has no function. It’s useless! Our bodies have no requirement for trans fats but unfortunately they’ve become ridiculously common: in near enough all fried foods (because they only use unsatted-rich oils. Satted ones would be healthier but your typical local chicken & chips shops don’t care), processed foods in generalbiscuitscakespastries, that sort of thing. 

 

Structural difference between natural cis (left) & unnatural trans fats (right). The C=C’s in the middle symbolise the double bond, thus this is a munsatted lipid…

… and he’s not bothered

 We’re told by the authorities to reduce our total fat intake to 20% of our total calorie intake. This is misguided advice because:

 

1) most people wouldn’t be bothered to calculate their calorie intake,

 

 

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Calculate me own calorie intake?… oh me poor ‘eart!

2) calorie requirements change according to age, sex, health & activity level,

3) it’s not calorie amounts that matter but calorie sources. Calories from fats, carbohydrates & proteins have different metabolic effects,

4) low fat intake is shown to be correlated to increased risk of infertility, coronary artery disease & other cardiovascular diseases. Conversely, high fat (especially satted fat combined with fruit & vegetables) is linked to lessened risk of them. 

 

However, the really interesting part is what Dr Seneff proposes in her article. From research done on mother rats (not done by her), she proposes that the body should be fed more fat because the body can pick & choose which fats it needs for what. As long as it can be broken down for energy, the excess fats should be no problem. The body is much more sophisticated than we think.

 

Summary: fresh natural dietary fats are good for you, and percentage of total calorie intake is not very important. This low-fat fad is not just misguided but risky, so it’s far sounder to avoid trans & hydrogenated fats rather than fats in general. 

Skin colour has no impact on vitamin D status

To explain this, a bit of background science is needed. This is quite technical so if you’re not so scientifically minded, you can skip this bit:

The body produces a fat-soluble prohormone called vitamin D3, aka. calcitriol, which has numerous benefits for the body. It is a precursor of other vital hormones, enables proper absorption of calcium & phosphorus from the gut and proper “cementing” of them in the bones, prevents cancer (yes, even skin cancer, as long as you’re not letting yourself burn & expose yourself to the sun regularly), and regulates the immune system.

We can get it from eating mushrooms (they contain ergocalciferol aka. D2, which we can convert to D3), fish (WITH the bones!), beef liver, egg yolk or foods fortified with it such as milk & dairy. However, the absolute best way for us to get it is through being exposed to the sun or by going on a safe tanning bed. The body naturally makes vitamin D3 in the skin from cholesterol* (or more specifically 7-dehydrocholesterol), which circulates in the blood until it reaches the liver where it is converted to calcidiol, then is turned into the active form calcitriol either by the immune system or the kidneys.

 

* Yes, cholesterol is important for many many functions in the human body. Despite what the media and supermarket ads say, there has never been a proven link between cholesterol and heart disease. Most people don’t even realise that about 75% of the cholesterol in the body is made by the body – meaning only 25% comes from food!

 

There’s a common belief that the darker your skin is, the more difficult it is for your skin to produce D3, especially in less equatorial/ less sunny climates. The common explanation is that melanin dramatically decreases the amount of solar UV radiation that reaches the layers of the skin where cholesterol is converted, and this is an adaptive response to stop excess UV rays being absorbed and causing sunburn. However, according to the articles below this is flawed. Melanin seemingly bears no correlation to D3 production, as traditionally living African groups (Hadzabe & Maasai were the ones studied) had on average 115nmol/l (nanomoles per litre) of D3 in their blood – well above the currently accepted safe upper limit of 80nmol/l. Also, it seems genetic factors other than pigmentation account for the D3 status of ‘white’ people (ie. variants of genes controlling cholesterol synthesis, hydroxylation & vitamin D transport).

http://journals.cambridge.org/action/displayAbstract?fromPage=online&aid=8735073 (note – this one is just an abstract)

http://www.cosmosmagazine.com/news/5284/traditional-living-provides-more-vitamin-d

http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3086761/

http://www.thelancet.com/journals/lancet/article/PIIS0140-6736(10)60635-6/fulltext (note – this one you either have to sign up to The Lancet or pay to view)

It’s little snippets of new research and scientific findings like these that advance human knowledge in the right direction. However, it’ll likely take at least 20 to 50 years for this to become common knowledge. Although new things are discovered by science pretty much daily, it takes ages for that to change the normal social paradigm and propaganda. This is my little contribution to that.