Asbestosis and Silicosis–Overblown Fears

Remember the great asbestos scare of a couple of decades ago? In hindsight, the fears were exaggerated.

According to the Centers for Disease Control, 3,750 deaths in 1999 were attributable to asbestosis or mesothelioma, the two main asbestos-related diseases.

This means the average US resident has a 0.0014% chance of catching either disease.

Further affecting this scant probability, the vast majority of cases involved extended occupational exposure. That is, you work with asbestos-containing substances for years. On top of that, smokers appear to account for the majority of asbestosis deaths. (The same smoking link does not hold for mesothelioma.)

It’s almost impossible for the average American to suffer asbestos-related harm.

The hoopla over asbestos, especially the associated litigation, is vastly disproportionate to the actual harm. This suggests asbestos fears are a profiteering ruse by trial lawyers.

It doesn’t end. The next big scare is silicosis.

Many home improvement products, including stuff as diverse as cement and wood filler, now have silicosis warnings. These products can release fine silica when disturbed, such as when sanding. This fine silica gets in the lungs and causes silicosis.

CDC stats show that 1999 had 187 silicosis-related deaths. At 0.000069% of the US population, that represents a drastic decline since the late 1960s.

A detailed study of three states found that silicosis deaths are highly correlated to the victim’s occupation and industry, again suggesting extended occupational exposure is key to suffering harm.

I believe that the average person, especially even the hobbyist or “do it yourself” person who repeatedly disturbs materials containing substances, has little to fear. The vast number of people who already do this without suffering harm should be enough evidence. It takes persistent, long-term exposure, sometimes coupled with smoking, to cause harm.

Data sources:

Organic food is bad for the earth

Organic shoppers think they are doing the earth a favor with their organic purchases. The Organic Trade Association even says: “Organic agricultural production benefits the environment by using earth-friendly agricultural methods and practices” followed by a litany of environmental plusses like less greenhouse gas, nicer to animals, etc. (source)

However, a lengthy UK study found that organic methods can hugely increase land usage, energy consumption, and environmental impact. For example, organic tomatoes use 642% more land, organic milk produces almost 100% more soil and water pollutants, and organic chickens cause 341% more resource depletion.

Like I mentioned in an earlier article, organic methods would be cheaper if they were really more “earth-friendly.” This isn’t a stretch; major inputs to food prices are energy, labor, and land. If you use more, you have to charge more. Organic products are 10% to 40% more expensive simply because they use that much more energy, land, and resources than conventionally-farmed materials.

Want to do the earth a favor? Stop buying resource-intensive versions of conventionally-produced products.

(Props to the Dallas Observer blog article that clued me in to the subject!)

Aren’s 9 Diet Rules

I just dug up a 10 year old medical checkup form. Despite significant muscle mass gains, I am 15 pounds lighter than 10 years ago! Here are the rules that helped me lose weight and maintain the weight loss:

  1. Don’t eat when not hungry. We eat a lot of food because of craving, not hunger. How do you tell the difference? Think of how you feel if you have eaten nothing in 8 hours. It’s a grinding feeling. Craving is just a dull, psychological feeling. If your digestive should signal true hunger when you need food. (Actually, it signals true hunger even when you don’t need food. More below.)
  2. …or eat fresh produce. If I cannot resist the craving, I eat unprocessed fresh fruit or vegetable. That doesn’t fully satisfy my craving, gradually retraining it. Additionally, fresh produce is much better for me than junk food snacks.
  3. It’s OK to feel hunger. In nature, animals eat all they can find because they don’t know where the next meal comes from. That’s why my dog is constantly starving. She forages all the time. If I fed her all she wanted, she would be a blimp. Humans share that same evolutionary programming. However, as humans, we can choose not to forage constantly. We can choose to feel hunger before meals.
  4. Many “healthy” foods are really junk foods. Anything packed with calories with relatively minimal nutritional value a junk food. This includes:
    • Fruit juice is junk food, even non-sweetened fruit juice. They are so packed with calories that you’re better off with sugary soft drinks. The same goes for smoothies. The average “original” size Jamba Juice smoothie is a 480 calorie bomb! That’s about three and a half soft drinks!
    • Stuff with trans fats are junk foods. Trans fats’ peculiar harm is more than just weight gain. Still, foods full of trans fats are often still bad for you even without the trans fats.
    • “Healthier” junk food is still junk food. It’s just marginally less deadly. Wendy’s removed the trans fats from its fries, but they are still bad for you. Remember when Snackwell cookies and other low fat products first came out? People started eating them as if they are healthy. In fact, these “healthier” products often had about as many calories as the originals, sometimes more!
  5. “Healthier” junk foods have a high opportunity cost. “Healthier” potato chips, popcorn, crackers, or other junk foods provide virtually no health benefit and offset better foods, ones with actual nutritional qualities. In high school, I knew kids who had a bag of potato chips with every lunch. That is a travesty; those potato chips offset something healthier like fresh fruits or vegetables.
  6. Exercise. Diet and exercise go hand and hand. While only one of the two is better than neither, you have to do both to get best results.
  7. Quit blaming the dog. This is euphemistic for society’s tendency to blame others for our own failings. You have to take personal responsibility. Just because the restaurant put two meals’ worth of foot in front of you doesn’t mean you have to eat it all.
  8. Don’t gorge at restaurants or special events. It’s OK to be be satiated without being stuffed, and you’ll save money to boot!
  9. Don’t buy into alternative medicine. Stuff like detoxification, coffee enemas, grapefruit diets, etc. are usually proven bunk, and even if they don’t harm you, they’re a distraction from good nutrition. You’re too valuable to be a living pseudo-science experiment.

Your skeptical side may suspect I am preaching but not practicing. You’re partly correct. I don’t follow these rules perfectly all the time.

I want to lose another 10-15 lbs to get rid of belly fat. (I may have ab muscles underneath them?) I’ll have to crank down these rules further. I think it’s an attainable goal, but we’ll see!

Workout Change

I am changing my workout.

For the past 13 months–and off and on in the 9 years before that–my weightlifting routine was a single set of up to 12 repetitions on each of about 8 machines. I then repeated that circuit three times.

It has served me fairly well. Between summer 2005 and now–the time period where I have been most serious–I have made great improvements. For example, I have doubled my capabilities on the machine where you press your extended arms together (fly).

My routine concentrated on the upper body with the lower body left for improvements through jogging.

This routine has two problems:

  1. I haven’t regularly jogged in over 2 years.
  2. Multiple circuit training is not beneficial.

That’s right: the crux of my routine, which is where I repeat the circuit thrice, isn’t doing me any good. The Mayo Clinic has an article about a 1998 study that found that you should just do one workout per machine. As long as the weights are sufficient that you fatigue by the 12th repetition, you get the maximum benefit.

Starting tomorrow, I am taking that advice. That will leave me more time to do multiple machines, so I will start a full body workout.

Bad exercise schedule

My exercise routine sucked this year. My Adonis complex is getting really hungry.

After a week of off time around Christmas (the entire campus closes down), I had a February disaster: in six weeks, I got a terrible stomach virus (first time I had ever been stuck on the bathroom floor), a bad cold, and 3 minor colds.

I resumed workouts in mid-March. I got a whopping 4 workouts done before I pulled a muscle in my back by allowing my body to flop too low on a dip machine. (Did you know that a “muscle pull” is actually a small rip in a muscle?)

I gave it just over a week to heal, went back to the gym, and pulled the same muscle!

I took two and a half weeks off that time, which lead me up to a trip to out of town.

May was pretty good. I started over with 30-40 fewer pounds per exercise to build myself back up.

June was a total bust. Two major trips, too many after hours commitments, and a mild stomach virus stole my schedule.

Tomorrow is July 3. I will finally work out, but it will be the first time in 30 days.

I don’t see any major upcoming commitments, so hopefully I am starting another long run of workouts, like last fall.