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Is Celiac Disease On the Rise?

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While all food trends are potentially dangerous, some seem to stick in the public imagination more than others. Few have gained the acceptance, and notoriety, as gluten, a composite of proteins found in grass-related grains that, if you believe some holistic blogs, is responsible for most of society’s (and your digestive system’s) ails.

Or, more specifically, celiac disease, an autoimmune disorder affecting the small intestine which results in a host of gastrointestinal-related problems, including chronic diarrhea, malabsorption, nausea, fatigue, and distention. There is no argument that gluten is a cause of this. What is argued is how many people actually have it (as compared to how many self-diagnosed because they read it on a blog) and, more interestingly, other potential causes not discussed as often.

If untreated celiac disease can lead to cancer and early death; quality of life is greatly reduced in the meantime. Exact numbers of celiac disease sufferers are hard to pinpoint because symptoms are more prevalent in some than others. In some regions it is estimated that 1 percent of the population suffers; in others, the number is closer to one in forty.

A genetic prerequisite greatly enhances the possibility you’ll acquire celiac disease; roughly 40 percent of people are born with this disposition. Yet not everyone will get it in their lifetime, making it even harder to understand.

Add to this the fact that gluten has health benefits that are often overlooked. More specifically, gluten’s delivery mechanisms, such as wheat, rye, spelt, and barley, as well as its popular incarnation as the foundation of imitation meats, provide necessary fiber while delivering protein and dietary minerals. In developed nations with diverse menus gluten can generally be avoided, but in many countries wheat, and therefore gluten, is a necessity.

While celiac might be in the heads of the holistically minded, there is actual cause for concern: celiac disease is, like bread in fermentation, on the rise. Over 31,000 infants born at a Denver hospital between 1993 and 2004 were tested for a genetic predisposition to…

The Most Debilitating Disease in the World Isn’t Just in Your Head

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The World Health Organization (WHO) has announced a new condition as the leading cause of of poor health and disability around the world, which has seen an 18% spike in diagnoses over the past few years. A condition that most of us have encountered in our lives either through personal experience or the difficulties of a friend or loved one. And, in a new twist, this condition is a mental disorder.

Major Depressive Disorder, more commonly known as depression now affects more than 300 million people across the globe, causing a lack of self-esteem, the inability to enjoy activities that previously brought pleasure, low energy, pain, and in severe cases delusion and hallucination. Between 2-7% of individuals with depression will go on to commit suicide.

Depression infographic by Mental Health Association of AMerica
Infographic by Mental Health America.

While one might suppose this condition would be equal opportunity, rates of occurrence are higher in developed nations than in the developing world, whether or not this is a situation of higher rates of detection or the actual existence of many more cases overall is currently unknown. It has been shown that cases are more common…

The Fear of Supernatural Punishment and Not “Big Gods,” Gave Rise to Societal Complexity

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Though larger numbers of people in developed countries are abandoning organized religion, no one can deny that religion or perhaps spirituality, has been a significant part of the human experience, historically. It’s been found in all cultures throughout the world. This leads evolutionary scientists to believe that spirituality must have played a critical role in our development. But exactly how has been difficult to discern.

Of all religions, Islam and Christianity have been the most successful. Together they account for 3.5 billion people in the world. The global population currently is a little over seven billion. To be so successful and grow so complex, you need to include the help of almost everyone in society. Freeloaders or those who go off to serve their own interests could hamper development. So how do you ensure that everyone buys in?

A previous study posited that the strong gods portrayed in Christianity and Islam helped to develop their respective societies into larger, more complex civilizations. These are omnipotent, high gods who enforce the moral code, and punish those who run afoul of it. One study out of the University of British Columbia concluded that such gods may have helped spur societal development. However, there isn’t consensus among scholars, as to whether a belief in such gods is in fact a driving force.

A New Zealand research team now says that these societies were already well on their way before “big gods,” came along. Instead, it was fear of supernatural punishment that kept everyone in line, they suggest. These included punishments from mighty gods, “fallible localized ancestral spirits,” and even, “inanimate processes like karma.”

Hindu God.

Do you need a moralizing high god for society to develop, or is a belief in supernatural punishment enough?

One problem is how to study such influences. Some cultures share lots of traits, not only because of common development, but a common ancestry, history, and so on. Following back which associations influenced what development, has traditionally, been difficult. Researchers at the University of Auckland borrowed a technique from evolutionary biology that analyzes data models, to arrive at their conclusions.

Researchers looked at 96 out of 400 indigenous Austronesian cultures. This is was a great seafaring culture of the Asia Pacific region who at one time inhabited parts of Taiwan, Australia, the Philippines, Madagascar, and many of the Pacific Islands, including Hawaii and Easter Island. Cultural evolution expert Joseph Watts was one of the researchers on this study. He said, “Austronesian cultures offer an ideal sample to test theories about the evolution of…