Archive for January, 2011

Micronutrients

Monday, January 17th, 2011

Imagine that you could be ten IQ points smarter! Even better, imagine that you could make millions of people more intelligent. Although it is too late for you and me to be smarter, we do have the potential to improve the brainpower of others.
What would it take to achieve this? Ensure they get sufficient amounts of iodine, an essential micronutrient. People who live by the ocean and eat fish consume adequate iodine, but inland it is often a different story. More than a billion people live in iodine-deficient areas, and half of the world’s births occur in these locations.
Iodine is an essential part of thyroid hormones that regulate metabolism. Growth and development depend on them. When iodine is lacking, a person may feel sluggish and have little energy. If a mother is deprived of this vital element when she is pregnant, the fetus will not develop properly. The chance of miscarriage is increased—and so is the risk of stillbirth.
If an iodine-baby deficient survives, it is likely to be born small, develop slowly, and be left with severe, permanent mental and physical deficits. (An old term for congenital hypothyroidism is “cretinism.”) In richer countries, including the USA, newborns are routinely screened for the and the problem is treated in time.
Because all people consume salt, the best way to get adequate iodine is by eating iodine-fortified salt. Most salt sold in this country is iodized. Sea salt may not contain sufficient iodine.
Kiwanis International and UNICEF have worked to increase the iodization of salt worldwide. When they started twenty years ago only about 20 percent of the developing world’s salt supply was iodized, but now over 70 percent is. But there are still those billion-plus people—responsible for half the world’s births—who lack access to this essential micronutrient.
How does this influence population? Child survival is key to slowing population growth. Unless people can be sure that their kids will grow into healthy adults, they will continue to have large families. Furthermore, societies will benefit from healthier, smarter citizens with adequate iodine.
Iodine is not the only micronutrient essential to good health. Although micronutrient deficiency is most common in developing countries, even wealthy countries have vulnerable populations. Many breastfeeding women in the USA are low in at least one vitamin or mineral. Deficiencies are made worse in the tropics where many people (especially children) are infested by parasites that suck nutrients from their human hosts.
Most patients I see already know about the importance of folic acid (vitamin B9). B9 is essential for the synthesis of DNA (our genetic coding) and thus is critical during pregnancy. Without adequate levels a developing fetus may have serious problems, including brain or spinal cord abnormalities. We recommend that every woman take at least 0.8 mg daily starting three months before conception, and during pregnancy and nursing. Natural sources include leafy vegetables and beans, and many processed foods are supplemented with folic acid.
Vitamin A deficiency is rare in the US, but in developing countries it is both common and devastating. Vitamin A has essential benefits in addition to preventing night blindness. Children deficient in Vitamin A may develop permanent blindness from scarring of the cornea—the window in the front of the eye-—and they usually die within a year of loosing their sight.
Vitamin A is fat soluble, so it can be dosed just once or twice a year. Programs to distribute vitamin A have been very successful in preserving children’s vision. Further, vitamin A given to at-risk populations can reduce child mortality by 23% because kids are more resistant to measles and other infectious diseases. Women with adequate vitamin A levels may be less likely to die in childbirth.
Other vitamins and minerals are also important for the realization of full human potential. We in the USA are fortunate that most of us get all the micronutrients we need from our diet. Indeed, occasionally people ingest toxic amounts from taking too many supplements. In poorer countries though, many people (especially children) have multiple deficits. The organization Vitamin Angels (vitaminangels.org) helps distribute micronutrients internationally. Their site includes much information about micronutrients, as well as inspiring success stories from their programs.
The next time you shake salt onto food, think about iodine, Folic Acid, Vitamin A, and the other micronutrients our bodies need to be healthy. Then consider how simple it can be to improve the brainpower and overall health of millions of people.

© Richard Grossman MD, 2010
This article may be copied or published but must remain intact, with attribution to the author. I also request that the words “First published in the Durango Herald” accompany any publication. For more information, please write the author at: richard@population-matters.org.

Examine Our Addiction to Growth

Monday, January 17th, 2011

Is it legal to distribute condoms on the streets of Colorado Springs? Is it wise to question growth as the basis of the US economy? A recent visitor to Durango has done both.
Dave Gardner grew up in Colorado Springs, but went to college in Dallas. He built a reputation producing videos, including the PBS show “Here’s To Your Health.” After twenty years in Dallas he longed for the simple life of a smaller town and moved his family back to Colorado Springs.
Gradually Dave became aware that his hometown was changing—it was growing larger. Then he had an epiphany—people were giving up quality of life because of the assumption that growth is necessary for a healthy economy. He found that this assumption was false. Indeed, the community-wide benefits of growth were not materializing, thus there was no reason to give up quality of life for growth. This realization turned Dave from being an accepting citizen into an activist.
What happens when a videographer turns activist? He makes videos, of course! Dave made a short showing him passing out Endangered Species condoms on the streets of conservative Colorado Springs. You can see it and several others on YouTube by searching “GrowthBusters”.
This coming spring Dave will finish his full-length film “GrowthBusters: Hooked on Growth”. It will be more serious than his condom short, but (if I know Dave) it will still have lots of humor. Dave has been traveling the country filming experts on growth and especially on human population growth.
Earlier this month Dave was here in Durango. He spoke to a large, attentive audience at a Life-Long Learning lecture series at Fort Lewis College. A few days later he addressed the FLC class “People and the Planet”. The students had already learned that humans are using fifty percent more of the planet’s resources than would be sustainable. Dave helped them understand why we have overshot our planet’s resources so significantly but are not changing our ways.
Dave also has a serious side. His website, growthbusters.org, presents a wealth of information on the pros and cons of growth. He divides the subject into four areas—population, urban and economic growth, and overconsumption. In the eight years since he first recognized the problem of growth, he has become a scholar in the field, as is reflected in the website.
Another Coloradan is also a scholar on growth. “GrowthBusters” the video is dedicated to Al Bartlett, a retired professor at CU in Boulder. Al has given his talk on growth over 1600 times! He was in Durango recently, again haranguing us to understand that growth cannot go on without end. He claims “the greatest shortcoming of the human race is our inability to understand the exponential function”. Compound interest is a good example of an exponential function. With this, interest is calculated on both the principal and the accrued interest so growth is much faster than if it were just calculated on the principal. Growth can be very rapid with compound interest. Al’s famous talk can be viewed on YouTube.
What both Dave and Al are trying to tell us is that population growth cannot go on forever. Even a seemingly low rate of growth, say 2 %, will add up rapidly. Indeed, all it takes is 35 years for a population to double if the growth rate is 2 %. At that rate in just a century the population will have increased almost eight times!
People point out that there are problems when growth slows or stops. That is obvious with our current economic decline. But the alternative, continued growth, will use up irreplaceable resources, leaving our progeny a deeply scarred planet.
Are we addicted to growth? I think so, because we depend on growth for economic wellbeing. We assume that the faster growth is, the better, and when growth slows (as in our current recession) we suffer withdrawal. To see what the alternative might look like go to steadystate.org.
Back to the beginning. Yes, it is legal to pass out condoms, even in Colorado Springs—but it wasn’t in 1967. Another activist, Bill Baird, was arrested when he gave a condom to an unmarried 19-year-old woman. He challenged the “Crimes against Chastity” law, which he finally overthrew with a Supreme Court decision in 1972.
I am happy that there are still crusaders striving to help us understand the perils of growth. Dave Gardner and Al Bartlett are two. I look forward to more adventures of GrowthBusters!

© Richard Grossman MD, 2010
This article may be copied or published but must remain intact, with attribution to the author. I also request that the words “First published in the Durango Herald” accompany any publication. For more information, please write the author at: richard@population-matters.org.

Creative Commons Attribution 3.0 United States
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 3.0 United States.