Champagne, Temporality & Spatiality

Infinite Bubbles Photo: Kath Fries

Infinite Bubbles
Photo: Kath Fries

It’s not that I can’t find my way around a given situation or place without champagne, because that is most certainly not the case. But I know for a fact that after a glass of champagne, I usually feel a bit more sparkle. It’s always gratifying to have my subjective feelings substantiated by science. In news that was gleefully reported, champagne – like red wine and blueberries – seems to be beneficial to various cognitive functions as well as maintaining a healthy heart.

From a article:

“New research shows that drinking one to three glasses of champagne a week may counteract the memory loss associated with ageing, and could help delay the onset of degenerative brain disorders, such as dementia.
Scientists at the University of Reading have shown that the phenolic compounds found in champagne can improve spatial memory, which is responsible for recording information about one’s environment, and storing the information for future navigation.
Champagne has relatively high levels of phenolics compared to white wine, deriving predominantly from the two red grapes, Pinot Noir and Pinot Meunier, which are used in its production along with the white grape Chardonnay. It is these phenolic compounds which are believed to be responsible for the beneficial effects of champagne on the brain.
Previous research from the University of Reading revealed that two glasses of champagne a day may be good for your heart and circulation and could reduce the risks of suffering from cardiovascular disease and stroke.”
There’s not much I can add to these few lines that would be better news for champagne drinkers (or, for that matter, the champagne industry, even if they probably already knew this intuitively). I hope champagne will help me navigate the world for many years to come.
Image: The Levity Institute

Image: The Levity Institute

MedicalExpress article – Scientists reveal drinking champagne could improve memory
Study published in Antioxidants and Redox Signalling – Phenolic Acid Intake, Delivered Via Moderate Champagne Wine Consumption, Improves Spatial Working Memory Via the Modulation of Hippocampal and Cortical Protein Expression/Activation by G. Corona, D. Vauzour, J. Hercelin, C.M. Williams, and J.P.E. Spencer.
Study published in Antioxidants and Redox Signalling – Dietary (Poly)phenolics in Human Health: Structures, Bioavailability, and Evidence of Protective Effects Against Chronic Diseases by D. Del Rio, A. Rodriguez-Mateos, J.P.E. Spencer, M. Tognolini, G. Borges, and A. Crozier

Evidential Bubbles

From: Information is BeautifulMcCandless & Perkins

From: Information is Beautiful
McCandless & Perkins

This isn’t a brand new illustration, but I really like it. This is a still shot of an interactive set of studies and search popularity of various nutritional supplements, ranked by how much scientific evidence there is to support the efficacy of each supplement for specific health issues. You can visit the interactive image here. The higher the bubble, the more concrete evidence has been found to support claims of health benefits in relation to a specific issue – the lower the bubble, the more evidence has been found to refute claims. Lower bubbles also show a lack of evidence. The larger the bubble, the more popular the supplement is in terms of Google search terms. The reddish circles indicate supplements with few available studies, but those studies have provided promising results.

Anything above the line towards the upper third – the Worth It level – is probably worth giving a try. Garlic for blood pressure is a big bubble way up high. Garlic for cancer, on the other hand, is floating down around the bottom. There don’t seem to be any bubbles parameters for the level of faith put into certain supplements regardless of study results one way or another.

I like that they are also interactive in terms of data addition. That is to say, if this map had some kind of open access for data entry, the position of the bubbles would change with each new study. The interactive image also has the bubbles bouncing slightly in a very pleasing way that kind of makes me wish I could make them pop and regenerate. Maybe for the next iteration.

Some of these pretty illustrations demand a bit of attention to fully grasp in terms of usability, but when we are presented with new ways of looking at information, especially if it is complex and intriguing scientific information, it forces us to flex our assumptions and curiosity just a little bit. I’d like to think that intellectual flexibility, if it were a supplement bubble on the chart above, would be one near the very top.

Information is Beautiful: Snake Oil? Scientific evidence for popular health supplements – David McCandless and Andy Perkins

Smaller Still – Nanoparticles in food

Commercial scale production of inorganic nanoparticles Takuya Tsuzuki International Journal of Nanotechnology, 6 (2009) 567

Research on nanoparticles constitutes one of the most thriving fields in current scientific query. As the illustration above shows, nanoparticles – usually defined as a small object that behaves as a whole unit in terms of its transport and properties – are being explored for use in a vast array of industries. Some of the applications are extremely promising – using ‘cloaked’ nanoparticles that can bypass human immune systems, for example, to target specific cancer clusters in the body rather than bombarding the entire system with chemotherapy. Water purification technologies, such as using nanoparticles to facilitate the removal of fossil fuels, could have tremendous impact.

But, as with so many of our advancing technologies, the applications sometimes outpace our knowledge of the effects.

A case in point: The presence of a variety of nanoparticles in food. A corporate accountability group, As You Sow, carried out a survey of 2500 companies in the food processing industry regarding their use and presence of nanoparticles. 26 companies responded, including PepsiCo, Whole Foods and the corporate parent of Pizza Hut and Taco Bell. From a New York Times piece on Feb. 5:

“Only 14 said they don’t use nanomaterials, and of those only two had any policies on the use of nanomaterials,” said Andy Behar, chief executive of As You Sow. Various food companies have said they are interested in nanotechnology, which can help make products creamier without additional fat, intensify and improve flavors and brighten colors. Their small size allows nanoparticles to go places in the body where larger particles cannot and enter cells. They have been found in the blood stream after ingestion and inhalation, and while research on their health effects is limited, studies have shown them to have deleterious effects on mice and cells.

“We’re not taking a no nano position,” Mr. Behar said. “We’re saying just show it’s safe before you put these things into food or food packaging.”

He noted that the European Union requires labeling of foods containing nanomaterials and that the European Food Safety Authority has published guidance for assessing nanomaterials in food and animal feed. Last April, the Food and Drug Administration issued an unusually emphatic statement on nanomaterials, saying it did not have enough data to determine the safety of nanomaterials in food. The Environmental Protection Agency is evaluating various nanoparticles used in consumer products, like sunscreens.

My assumption is that the simplest way to avoid this issue until further studies have been done would be not to consume pre-packaged and heavily processed foods. I know that’s easier said than done. I am a huge advocate of cooking from scratch as much as possible, but I acknowledge that not everyone feels the same way. Also, our current food chain model is built to a large extent on the manufacture and sale of processed foods – even if everyone were to decide today to only buy fresh foods and produce, there would be a massive economic impact and supply bottleneck. Still – if I am cooking my own food with known ingredients, at least I can be pretty sure there won’t be any titanium oxide nanoparticles included to improve the brightness of my egg whites or mashed potatoes, or nano-enhancers to give a more ‘carroty’ flavor to otherwise dull and flavorless carrots in a stew.