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The Fat Drug
March 13, 2014 10:33 AM   Subscribe

IF you walk into a farm-supply store today, you’re likely to find a bag of antibiotic powder that claims to boost the growth of poultry and livestock. That’s because decades of agricultural research has shown that antibiotics seem to flip a switch in young animals’ bodies, helping them pack on pounds. Manufacturers brag about the miraculous effects of feeding antibiotics to chicks and nursing calves. Dusty agricultural journals attest to the ways in which the drugs can act like a kind of superfood to produce cheap meat. But what if that meat is us?
posted by brenton (71 comments total) 22 users marked this as a favorite

 
I read this the other day, and was really, really surprised I'd never once heard this in the course of all the reading I've done on industrialized farming. Capitalism just seems unhinged...it there's profit involved, GO! Don't think about any consequences down the road whatsoever.
posted by nevercalm at 10:36 AM on March 13 [6 favorites]


New evidence shows that America’s obesity epidemic may be connected to our high consumption of these drugs.

I swear, I will have nothing left to eat...ah, progress...
posted by Alexandra Kitty at 10:38 AM on March 13 [1 favorite]


I'm a vegan, and trust me, Skittles and (dairy- and egg-free) cupcakes are doing just fine as a way for me to produce more cheap meat.
posted by Shepherd at 10:44 AM on March 13 [34 favorites]


The human consumption doesn't come from the meat, it comes from the various courses of antibiotics that we take during our lives.

Here's the paragraph that explains it:

Of course, while farm animals often eat a significant dose of antibiotics in food, the situation is different for human beings. By the time most meat reaches our table, it contains little or no antibiotics. So we receive our greatest exposure in the pills we take, rather than the food we eat. American kids are prescribed on average about one course of antibiotics every year, often for ear and chest infections. Could these intermittent high doses affect our metabolism?

Antibiotics were still miracle drugs when I was a kid. I can't tell you how many doses I had. I'm now allergic to a lot of them, and I had to have Cipro for an infection a few years ago.

When I was 7 I started gaining a lot of weight, and I was taken to the doctor for testing. No cause was found, but it's been a struggle from then on for me.

It may be worth noting that I was one of those kids who got a LOT of ear aches, and a LOT of penicillin.

I think gut bacteria is going to prove to be key in the treatment of obesity. Damn, I love science.
posted by Ruthless Bunny at 10:46 AM on March 13 [20 favorites]


Oh man. Between this, the effect of fecal transplants, the attention to gut bacteria more generally, and the increasing prominence of resistant strains of various bacteria, I think pretty soon now our approach to antibiotics in the mid-20th century is going to look about as medically advanced as medieval bloodletting. "You did WHAT to the bacteria in your body?! Like... all of them??"
posted by Joey Buttafoucault at 10:48 AM on March 13 [41 favorites]


Intestinal flora is the new frontier of medical science.
posted by tommasz at 10:53 AM on March 13 [3 favorites]


It's a cook book!
posted by Bunny Ultramod at 10:54 AM on March 13 [10 favorites]


This piece is heavy on speculation and very light on anything indicating how the levels of exposure relevant to anyone but small heavily medicalized subsets of the American population, where this is already not at all news, might have significant effects. Antibiotics make farm animals grow when you give them a shit ton over extended periods of time, while antibiotics under normal circumstances are precisely doled out for limited courses. This also couldn't explain the current obesity epidemic that kick started in the 80s as, outside of extraordinary circumstances, antibiotic use, hasn't really changed that significantly since then.
"In 2002 Americans were about an inch taller and 24 pounds heavier than they were in the 1960s, and more than a third are now classified as obese. Of course, diet and lifestyle are prime culprits. But some scientists wonder whether there could be other reasons for this staggering transformation of the American body. Antibiotics might be the X factor — or one of them."
This is where the author really shows their basic lack of epidemiological literacy. Around 40% of American WWII draftees were rejected for ill heath, bad eyesight, or bad teeth due to malnutrition - they and their never drafted cohort from before the National School Lunch program were still a significant part of the American population in the 60s.
posted by Blasdelb at 10:55 AM on March 13 [32 favorites]


It may be worth noting that I was one of those kids who got a LOT of ear aches, and a LOT of penicillin.

Same here - it's definitely a thought provoking article.
posted by stoneweaver at 10:59 AM on March 13


Incidentally, this is how we got the National Student Lunch program. General Marshall, who was then in Truman's cabinet, pushed it through Congress as something necessary for 'the next war,' the health of children and generational effects be damned.
posted by Blasdelb at 11:00 AM on March 13 [5 favorites]


We're spending a lot of time looking at the gut and where HIV hides out when it's "undetectable" (reservoirs) and where HIV tends to replicate most quickly during acute infection. Also, the possibility of using rectal microbicides as prevention. Here are some interesting articles by some of our colleagues.
posted by Sophie1 at 11:02 AM on March 13 [11 favorites]


I made this post a time back about a possible reason food is making us fatter. I'm a researcher, but it is far afield for me, so I doubt I'll be investigating it. (Coincidentally, I look at where HIV hides out when it's undetectable.) I hope somebody can look into the mechanism I described below, someday. And, warning in advance, it is kind of complex.

1. The liver prepares certain molecules for excretion into the bile using a process called glucuronidation. This attaches a side-molecule (glucuronide) to another molecule which allows the now combined molecule to become concentrated in the bile.

2. When the molecule goes out in the bile it gets dumped into the intestines. However, the molecule can be reabsorbed after bacteria in the gut break off the glucuronide molecule. The reabsorption is called enterohepatic cycling (entero for guts, hepatic for liver). If the glucuronide molecule does not get broken off, the compound goes out with the feces. In other words, the bacteria can greatly extend the life of molecules which undergo glucuronidation.

3. One such molecule that undergoes this process is cortisol. This is a natural hormone that, among other things, helps us store up fat. It has many effects on the body, one of which is opposing the action of insulin and increasing blood sugar.

4. If a process encouraged a greater degree of enterohepatic cycling we might have an increased amount of cortisol (among other compounds).

5. When vegetables are gene-modified, along with the target gene (something to make tomatoes grow in colder weather, or whatever) they add a reporter gene. This reporter gene says that the other gene was picked up allowing the scientists to detect successfully transformed plant cells in the laboratory.

6. One of the main reporter genes used in plant gene modification is beta-glucuronidase. This is an enzyme that plants don't naturally have (allowing the modification to be detected). It is also an enzyme that increases enterohepatic cycling. If genetically modified vegetables increase our cortisol, we may well grow fatter.
posted by dances_with_sneetches at 11:05 AM on March 13 [29 favorites]


The dose makes the poison.........This is shoddy journalism.

Yes.......gut (and other) symbiotic bacteria/biota in humans are key to many health issues and clearly a new scientific frontier. I've no doubt that if you fed humans antibiotics the way we irresponsibly pump feed animals full of them we'd have weight gains...amongst other woes.

Show me where in the peer-reviewed journals an average of 1 dose/year antibiotics has killed off bugs in a manner that can account for weight gain.

Also: until we have new ways of dealing with life-threatening and health-debilitating infections that aren't broad spectrum antibiotics, this kind of scaremongering ANTIBIOTICS MADE ME FAT..... is bound to lead to deaths.
posted by lalochezia at 11:07 AM on March 13 [10 favorites]


Is the average American on antibiotics frequently enough that this would make a real difference?

I was a skinny kid, took antibiotics once a year or so for the odd bout with strep throat, and pretty much stayed skinny until I got a desk job at a company that paid us to eat takeout at our desks every day.

Pretty sure the cause of most weight gain in the US is much more about food and sedentary lifestyles and not that one time you took Azithromycin back in elementary school.
posted by Sara C. at 11:09 AM on March 13 [6 favorites]


Antibiotics were still miracle drugs when I was a kid. I can't tell you how many doses I had...

I used to get sinus infections ALL THE FREAKING TIME. I probably went through 3-4 courses of amoxicillin in a typical childhood year.


Also: until we have ways of dealing with life-threatening and health-debilitating infections, this kind of scaremongering ANTIBIOTICS MADE ME FAT..... is bound to lead to deaths.

It's widely recognized that antibiotics have been overprescribed. There are posters about it in my doctor's office. She has never once failed to prescribe them to me when she thinks there might be an actual benefit.

I really don't think this even comes close to scaremongering on the anti-vax level.
posted by Foosnark at 11:13 AM on March 13 [3 favorites]


I think pretty soon now our approach to antibiotics in the mid-20th century is going to look about as medically advanced as medieval bloodletting

With the small difference that antibiotics saved lives and made sense. There's no harm in learning more and making advances, but grousing that we should have known then what we only know now is a science that's only been perfected with the rise of the Internet.
posted by yerfatma at 11:13 AM on March 13 [10 favorites]


BLAME THE MEAT! Wait, we're MADE OF MEAT!
posted by blue_beetle at 11:15 AM on March 13 [3 favorites]


"Show me where in the peer-reviewed journals an average of 1 dose/year antibiotics has killed off bugs in a manner that can account for weight gain."
They could a least bother to try making a meaningful case or cite someone who has. It would be a hard case to make for all kinds of reasons the author is either not knowledgeable enough or not honest enough to mention, but this really is the kind of claim that needs to be backed up by the kind of case that could be meaningfully reviewed.
posted by Blasdelb at 11:15 AM on March 13 [1 favorite]


Intestinal flora is the new frontier of medical science

Guts: the final frontier. These are the voyages of the suppository Enterprise. Its five-year mission: to explore strange new worlds, to seek out new life and new civilizations, to boldly go where no man has gone before.
posted by yoink at 11:16 AM on March 13 [6 favorites]


Any thoughts on healthy diversifying one's micro-biome? Very smelly French cheeses?
posted by jeffburdges at 11:16 AM on March 13 [1 favorite]


Smelly cheese is not enough - you're going to need fermented beverages. It's the only way. Also, breads made with yeast. A three-prong strategy.
posted by Lesser Shrew at 11:20 AM on March 13 [15 favorites]


Possibly related: Lab animals are also getting fatter. This suggests something beyond increased access to food and more sedentary lifestyles may be involved.
posted by logicpunk at 11:20 AM on March 13 [5 favorites]


Yogurt.

Not that fancy Activia probiotic stuff. You want the hippy-dippy stuff. Plain, full-fat*, active cultures. No added sugar. And not "Greek" yogurt, either -- the real stuff. If you can find a local dairy with humanely raised cows producing organic milk and using local-ish cultures, probably even better, but who knows?

Anecdata: I went to India for two months, ate local yogurt at least twice a day, and didn't get sick.

* I don't think full-fat helps with the gut flora, but it tastes better and is better for you.
posted by Sara C. at 11:21 AM on March 13 [5 favorites]


"I think pretty soon now our approach to antibiotics in the mid-20th century is going to look about as medically advanced as medieval bloodletting"
I am a researcher studying bacteriophages Rap battle version, the natural viruses of bacteria that a lot of people see as a logical replacement for antibiotics in a the enemy of my enemy is my friend kind of way, so believe me when I say, this is not going to happen. Antibiotics are FUCKING AWESOME, they are the perfect medical intervention in just about every way, and if anything are only victims of their own success.

Antibiotics are so useful because they are compounds that are more toxic to the bacteria attacking us then they are to us. For example, while bleach is really really effective at being toxic to bacteria, it would not be a good antibiotic because it is also pretty darn toxic to us. In a very rough sense, how good an antibiotic is depends on its effectiveness, as generally abstracted by its Minimum Inhibitory Concentration (MIC) or the lowest concentration of the stuff necessary to stop the growth of the bacteria in question, versus its toxicity to us measured in approximate LD50, or the concentration that is likely to kill half your patients. Antibiotics are able to be differently toxic by taking advantage of differences between bacteria and us, and there are indeed depressingly few. These days, most antibiotics work by taking advantage of the fact that bacterial ribosomes are pretty different from ours and work by acting as a monkey wrench that fucks up theirs but doesn't fit into ours. There are also some other important antibiotics that target things like differences in DNA synthesis, membrane synthesis, central metabolism, and a few others.

What good antibiotics do is they give you a pill that doesn't need to be kept cold, doesn't harm patients, and address most infections in a matter of hours. Antibiotics have taken almost all of the major causes of human death and addressed them so thoroughly that we hardly even remember them - nearly erased from our culture.
posted by Blasdelb at 11:29 AM on March 13 [39 favorites]


Is the average American on antibiotics frequently enough that this would make a real difference?

Probably more often than they should. "Sinus infection" seems to be the lazy go-to diagnosis by doctors for a whole raft of head ailments patients bring in. A round of antibiotics usually follows.
posted by Thorzdad at 11:30 AM on March 13 [1 favorite]


Well, as a counter example, I've been on probably 30 or more courses of all different antibiotics, often for months and months at a time, and I've never had any trouble with my weight. So it seems like there must be something more at work than simply the killing off of gut flora. (I'm a total believer in their importance, just that I don't fit the pattern at all).
posted by HotToddy at 11:32 AM on March 13 [2 favorites]


"5. When vegetables are gene-modified, along with the target gene (something to make tomatoes grow in colder weather, or whatever) they add a reporter gene. This reporter gene says that the other gene was picked up allowing the scientists to detect successfully transformed plant cells in the laboratory.

6. One of the main reporter genes used in plant gene modification is beta-glucuronidase. This is an enzyme that plants don't naturally have (allowing the modification to be detected). It is also an enzyme that increases enterohepatic cycling. If genetically modified vegetables increase our cortisol, we may well grow fatter.
"
These are the kinds of loose associations that most people would start having concerns about being pathological if the words used weren't so big. This case is beyond ridiculous,

Review: Biosafety of E. coli β-glucuronidase (GUS) in plants
The β-glucuronidase (GUS) gene is to date the most frequently used reporter gene in plants. Marketing of crops containing this gene requires prior evaluation of their biosafety. To aid such evaluations of the GUS gene, irrespective of the plant into which the gene has been introduced, the ecological and toxicological aspects of the gene and gene product have been examined. GUS activity is found in many bacterial species, is common in all tissues of vertebrates and is also present in organisms of various invertebrate taxa. The transgenic GUS originates from the enterobacterial species Escherichia coli that is widespread in the vertebrate intestine, and in soil and water ecosystems. Any GUS activity added to the ecosystem through genetically modified plants will be of no or minor influence. Selective advantages to genetically modified plants that posses and express the E. coli GUS transgene are unlikely. No increase of weediness of E. coli GUS expressing crop plants, or wild relatives that might have received the transgene through outcrossing, is expected. Since E. coli GUS naturally occurs ubiquitously in the digestive tract of consumers, its presence in food and feed from genetically modified plants is unlikely to cause any harm. E. coli GUS in genetically modified plants and their products can be regarded as safe for the environment and consumers
posted by Blasdelb at 11:35 AM on March 13 [8 favorites]


Probably more often than they should.

Sure, but is "more often that strictly necessary" the same thing as "enough to cause obesity"?

That's where the logic train derails from the tracks in this article, as far as I can tell.
posted by Sara C. at 11:47 AM on March 13 [2 favorites]


using local-ish cultures, probably even better, but who knows?

Um, local yogurt cultures are not a thing, sorry.
posted by planetesimal at 11:50 AM on March 13 [4 favorites]


Ah, so I guess our gut bacteria is too complicated to really be taken in pill form? I eat yoghurt every day and a pill as well. I've noticed I get bubbling in my stomach when I do if I just had antibiotics or otherwise had a stomach "issue".

We should have a "Miss America" contest for the best gut flora, and take the top 10 winners who have the most healthy sample and then raise and distribute it to people with issues. It's like those people would be laying out solid gold bricks.
posted by Napierzaza at 12:09 PM on March 13 [2 favorites]


Besides, if you're really uppity about gut flora you should be drinking kefir.
posted by planetesimal at 12:30 PM on March 13 [1 favorite]


I once met an American couple in Chile who had been taking antibiotics prophylactically for eight months because everyone gets ill in South America. Obviously this is a terrible idea. But they weren't actually overweight.
posted by rhymer at 1:34 PM on March 13


I would have thought the hormones and steroids fed to dairy cows and beef cattle would have more effect.
posted by Lanark at 1:47 PM on March 13 [1 favorite]


Blasdelb, that was a very unconvincing article. Of course you have beta-glucuronidase in your intestinal flora. That's the whole point behind enterohepatic cycling which is proven to recycle and greatly modify chemical (e.g. drug) half-lives. More beta-glucuronidase won't change anything? Less beta-glucuronidase as in when someone takes antibiotics and wipes out a portion of the intestinal flora can change the half-lives of such drugs as birth control pills leading to a relative warning. A good point can be made that it probably doesn't cause pill failure, just changes the concentration by 10%. But what if added beta-glucuronidase could increase the concentration of compounds (such as cortisol) by 10%? Over a population that could cause problems.
The case is not beyond ridiculous. Every transgenic cell in the vegetable now has beta-glucuronidase where it didn't before. Its action (if any) would be in the large intestine for undigested food (in the case the enzyme) appears. If there were only an occasional transgenic vegetable with beta-glucuronidase, I would say the overall effect would be negligible over a population. But as your article mentions, it is the most common reporter gene.

So, I would say, in the order of likelihood, the transgenic vegetables with beta-glucuronidase are likely to have effect on some drug concentrations (really there are not that many drugs compounds that undergo enterohepatic recycling to a great degree. Raloxifene is one example, it has several ups and downs after a single dose). I'm going to guess this diet would increase their AUC (a measure of exposure, drug concentration over time) by 10%. That is not enough to make toxic amounts, except, if delivered over a population it will boost those who are nudging toxic concentrations into the toxic range. Secondly, it may have an effect on hormones (estrogens, cortisol). This is less likely because the body regulates these - but not impossible.
posted by dances_with_sneetches at 1:55 PM on March 13 [1 favorite]


He's citing multiple examples of exploitative medical experimentation on children from ye olden days as support for his "maybe the drugs are making us fat" thesis. Wait, what?! Good grief. But, okay...these studies from the 50s showed that children fed steady, truly high doses of antibiotics gained more weight...and let's assume for a moment that despite being terribly unethical by current standards, the basic conclusions hold some water.

Wait, nevermind, that's not actually relevant to his hypothesis anyway.
"American kids are prescribed on average about one course of antibiotics every year, often for ear and chest infections. Could these intermittent high doses affect our metabolism?"
First of all, he's comparing apples to oranges -- sustained vs. intermittent use of antibiotics. Secondly, where does he get that current pediatric dosages are "high?" What does that even mean, high compared to what?

Blasdelb: "This piece is heavy on speculation and very light on anything indicating how the levels of exposure relevant to anyone but small heavily medicalized subsets of the American population, where this is already not at all news, might have significant effects. "

This struck me as well. Large swaths of the US population who are woefully medically underserved are also struggling with higher obesity rates. They're not calling in to the doctor's office to get a Z-pak for a sinus or ear infection once or twice a year.

Certainly there's a lot of intriguing research to be done in order to understand all of the implications for how antibiotics affect our bodies. But oof, this article sure doesn't represent it.
posted by desuetude at 2:12 PM on March 13 [2 favorites]


And not "Greek" yogurt, either -- the real stuff.

what is this. why is Greek in quotes. greeks are real. greek yogurt is real. greeks exist, they are not like manticores or balrogs. what is all this
posted by Greg Nog at 2:13 PM on March 13 [25 favorites]


A lot of yogurt branded as "Greek Yogurt" isn't the real thing.

If you're eating yogurt for its full gut flora benefits, you want it to be as real and raw and natural and legit as possible.
posted by Sara C. at 2:20 PM on March 13 [1 favorite]


No, you are conflating things again.
posted by planetesimal at 2:21 PM on March 13 [4 favorites]


"Less beta-glucuronidase as in when someone takes antibiotics and wipes out a portion of the intestinal flora can change the half-lives of such drugs as birth control pills leading to a relative warning. A good point can be made that it probably doesn't cause pill failure, just changes the concentration by 10%. But what if added beta-glucuronidase could increase the concentration of compounds (such as cortisol) by 10%? Over a population that could cause problems.
The case is not beyond ridiculous.
"
...What? I've lost track of what you are arguing, and after re-reading this a few times I'm afraid that I might not be alone. Are you saying that too much or to little β-glucuronidase activity causes obesity? Because the theoretical model underpinning all of this seems airy enough that it could be easily manipulated either way and you've now been saying both.
"A good point can be made that it probably doesn't cause pill failure, just changes the concentration by 10%. But what if added beta-glucuronidase could increase the concentration of compounds (such as cortisol) by 10%?"
Enzymes are not small molecule inhibitors and they do not work this way.
"Its action (if any) would be in the large intestine for undigested food (in the case the enzyme) appears."
Hold on, I though this was about the additional enzyme somehow disrupting enterohepatic cycling, which happens from the small intestine. That is, even in the necessary presence of food stimulating the native production of the enzyme.
posted by Blasdelb at 4:07 PM on March 13


"If you're eating yogurt for its full gut flora benefits, you want it to be as real and raw and natural and legit as possible."
This is the NIH education page with references, which is a great introduction to the current evidence based understanding of what probiotics can be reasonably expected to do for you.

Also important to keep in mind is that in the last 20+ years of extremely active research, no one has yet to demonstrate that they have a culture of anything that will actually positively affect the health of either healthy or sick volunteers when given live that doesn't also have the exact same effect when given dead. How 'raw' anything is cannot be reasonably expected to have any positive health effects, and depending on how 'natural' and 'legit' something is could certainly be expected to have negative effects. Paradoxically though, even dead many probiotic cultures have been show to possess statistically significant if small positive effects on both healthy and sick volunteers. The most plausible theoretical model for why this is the case posit that probiotic cultures, live and dead, serve as especially effective food for feeding the cultures you already have.

Commercial yoghurt production just involves controlled fermentations without risks of contaminants that some populations are more vulnerable to than others.
posted by Blasdelb at 4:15 PM on March 13 [9 favorites]


Greg Nog: "what is this. why is Greek in quotes. greeks are real. greek yogurt is real. greeks exist, they are not like manticores or balrogs. what is all this"
The yoghurt you will find at your local grocery labelled as being Greek bears precious little resemblance to the mason jars of tasty stuff you might find in Greece.
posted by Blasdelb at 4:25 PM on March 13 [1 favorite]


It would be more descriptive to speak of it as strained versus unstrained yogurt, even if that sounds too much like baby food. The state of yogurt in American supermarkets is less than ideal and hypersweetened, unstrained, thickened goo is labeled "greek" on many products. I wish more people made their own, and since I don't post pet pics I'll post a pic of a recent batch instead. I'm a Greek God.
posted by planetesimal at 4:52 PM on March 13 [2 favorites]


I'm sorry if I was not clear. I was saying that decreased beta-glucuronidase activity is already a well-established effector of reducing drug effect.
Therefore, why not increased beta-glucuronidase activity having an action to increase drug effect?
And you can replace the notion of drug with other compounds such as cortisol that are processed by glucuronidation. (Therefore too much glucuronidase activity may contribute to obesity)
It is the enzymes that are doing the work, not small molecule inhibitors. I did not refer to any small molecule inhibitors. (I've taught pharmacology for twenty years, I know the difference between an enzyme and an inhibitor.)
posted by dances_with_sneetches at 4:56 PM on March 13


The yoghurt you will find at your local grocery labelled as being Greek bears precious little resemblance to the mason jars of tasty stuff you might find in Greece.

It's milk, it's lactobacillus, it's strained. I can't imagine Actual Greeks are adding much more besides whatever midnightblack body falls off their majestic chests.
posted by Greg Nog at 5:57 PM on March 13 [4 favorites]


Apologies for further derail, but there's one kind of scammy operation that actually air ships cups of yogurt from Greece. I'd really like them to fold.
posted by planetesimal at 6:22 PM on March 13 [1 favorite]


holy shit

Instead of generating unecessary plastic waste, we decided once again to return to our yogurt’s roots.

...by burning massive amounts of transportation fuel so you can Taste The Magic of commercially-exploitable desires for Authenticity!
posted by Greg Nog at 6:28 PM on March 13 [4 favorites]


we decided once again to return to our yogurt’s roots. In Greece, a pot of yogurt is traditionally covered with fabric and secured with a rubber band.

Ah, the traditional Greek rubber band. Nothing like it. Certainly not like these horrible AMERICAN rubber bands, which are made in FACTORIES. Our rubber bands are pulled from the throats of only the finest dryads
posted by Greg Nog at 6:29 PM on March 13 [9 favorites]


The thing with the crummy Greek yogurts folks are complaining about is that they actually aren't strained - they have thickeners added instead to reproduce the strained consistency more cheaply. At least, that's my understanding.
posted by pemberkins at 7:34 PM on March 13 [2 favorites]


Well, what nobody but me remembers is that Fage used to be shipped from Greece, too. Back when it was DELICIOUS. Word got around that Fage was delicious (especially the cherry one, so good, the cherries were almost like amarenas) and the reputation was established. Then they built a factory in upstate New York which they said was perfect because the local dairies produced milk just like Greek milk and they would use the same methods so it would be the same--but instead the factory produced, grainy, stodgy thick yogurt (with decidedly less delicious cherries), but people continued to say Fage! OMG, so good!

This story has two morals: 1) It's possible that yogurt produced in Greece really is superior to "Greek" yogurt produced by the exact same methods elsewhere, due perhaps to the breed of cows, their diet, who knows what. 2) People are idiots and have no idea what tastes good. If they have it in their head that something's delicious, they'll ignore all evidence to the contrary coming from their taste buds.
posted by HotToddy at 10:21 PM on March 13 [3 favorites]


pemberkins, pretty easy to check that by looking at the ingredients list (legit Greek yogurt should have very little in the way of carbohydrates remaining and the only ingredient should be cultured milk, not modified corn starch or carrageenan or whatever).

Soooo it turns out I actually work on gut bacteria now! There is indeed a large body of literature connecting the gut microbiota to obesity. My impression is that most of the most reliable (and obviously, the best-controlled) studies are in mice: see the Gordon lab and his scientific offspring Peter Turnbaugh and Justin Sonnenburg, as well as Martin Blaser, who is mentioned in the article. We are a lot less confident about associations in humans: a recent meta-analysis of human microbiome sequencing data (disclaimer, I know the authors), for example, didn't find that the previously reported associations between particular bacterial phyla (Firmicutes vs. Bacteroidetes) and BMI held up across different studies. It could still be that other sources of variation dwarf the real underlying pattern, or that the patterns that matter are in terms of enzyme function and not taxonomy (i.e., what the bacteria are capable of doing and not what type of bacteria are present), and of course longitudinal data relating to obesity would be much more interesting but also much harder to gather in humans.

Interestingly, some recent research is pointing to a comparatively strong association with Crohn's disease (and to some extent other types of inflammatory bowel disease as well).
posted by en forme de poire at 10:23 PM on March 13 [1 favorite]


If we're going to complain about ruining yogurt, Liberte is not nerly as good as it used to be either. Maybe it's still good in Quebec.
posted by GuyZero at 10:30 PM on March 13 [1 favorite]


Greg Nog: "It's milk, it's lactobacillus, it's strained. I can't imagine Actual Greeks are adding much more besides whatever midnightblack body falls off their majestic chests."
If you've ever travelled you'd know that American milk tastes pretty unique, but yoghurt is not always Lactobacillus, Lactobacillus is itself a really diverse genus and different strains produce very different fermentations, and straining is not one of the processes involved in industrial production - that would be profoundly wasteful at scale. I get the appeal of this weird hipster jingoism, but in fact you cannot find everything in New York, there are huge differences in both industrial and home produced yoghurt, and there are huge differences in what is made around the world.
Greg Nog: "Ah, the traditional Greek rubber band. Nothing like it. Certainly not like these horrible AMERICAN rubber bands, which are made in FACTORIES. Our rubber bands are pulled from the throats of only the finest dryads"
North American industrial scale yoghurt production, which oddly enough it revolves around Quebec, does not involve rubber bands. It happens in giant, beautifully designed stainless steel fermentation vessels built to both incorporate CIP design at every tiny surface that interacts with the yoghurt, never ever interact with non-sterile environments, and still handle the wild variations in viscosity of yoghurt at massive scales. A rubber band could never be sanitized to the standard necessary to stay in the room all this happens in and would never be reliable enough to not be replaced by something else anyway. The efficiency and reliability of North American industrial design for yoghurt production is fucking beautiful and envied across Europe where different protectionist priorities and a lack of capital investment prevent replicating it.

While the stuff you can buy on the side of the road for a euro in Greece will not be healthier than the high quality yoghurt you can find in the States in any significantly non-psychosomatic way, it will be very significantly different. The milk will come from very different breeds of cow (if it came from a cow) with very different diets, it will be actually strained, the cultures used will be unique to the kind yiayia selling it to you, and it'll still contain the cultures used in the actual fermentation meaning that the concentration of viable cells could vary by several orders of magnitude causing it to go sour and then bad at unpredictable rates.
posted by Blasdelb at 1:59 AM on March 14 [4 favorites]


Holy shit en forme de poire, I've been waiting for this paper to come out for like forever, thanks for linking to it!
posted by Blasdelb at 2:01 AM on March 14 [1 favorite]


pemberkins, pretty easy to check that by looking at the ingredients list

Yup, for sure, and I do. I certainly don't mean to imply every Greek yogurt on the market is like that, plenty are strained.
posted by pemberkins at 3:45 AM on March 14


"I've taught pharmacology for twenty years, I know the difference between an enzyme and an inhibitor."
Then surely your biochem must be more in-depth than mine and you wouldn't need me to tell you how more enzyme doesn't necessarily mean more activity units, or how small-fold changes in activity units have only trivial effects on the speed of a reaction. You seem to be thinking as if more β-glucosidase will have stoichiometrically meaningful effects like a small molecule would, but we're really talking about activity units here.
"I was saying that decreased beta-glucuronidase activity is already a well-established effector of reducing drug effect.
Therefore, why not increased beta-glucuronidase activity having an action to increase drug effect?
"
The massive assault on the gut biota that antibiotics represent does indeed have measurable effects on glucosidase activity in the small intestine, but even if enzyme activity could make it past the peptidases and acid of the stomach - which is itself extremely implausible in light of allergenicity data on it (Fuchs & Astwood, 1996) to begin with - adding the static amounts of β-glucosidase activity that are used in transgenic food to the dynamic system of the gut would be like pissing into the amazon river. Sure the river has seasonal changes but one dude's bladder is not going to affect them.

Besides, if we really were going to be concerned about β-glucosidase activity in foods, it would make much more sense to start with how it is present in both vertebrate and invertebrate meats and most fermented foods, but it doesn't. It makes no sense to worry about this for all the same reasons why when my old biochem professor, in a rare moment of lapsed decorum, loudly farted over a solution of ONPG and it turned instantly yellow.

[I still treasure the fifteen page lab report I had to write up on how various inhibitors affect the Km and Vmax of β-glucosidase both for the obscure yet perfect German reference I found that he had never seen before despite it being the subject of his dissertation and the fart jokes that we just too subtle to fault laced throughout it]
posted by Blasdelb at 4:49 AM on March 14 [2 favorites]


We should have a "Miss America" contest for the best gut flora, and take the top 10 winners who have the most healthy sample and then raise and distribute it to people with issues. It's like those people would be laying out solid gold bricks.

That gives the phrase "Tywin Lannister shits gold" a whole new meaning.
posted by Rosie M. Banks at 5:17 AM on March 14 [2 favorites]


*braces for a lecture on dryads*
posted by shakespeherian at 6:47 AM on March 14 [9 favorites]


"The dose makes the poison" is actually under faily fierce debate. Lots of non-monotonic curves out there.
posted by effugas at 4:32 PM on March 15 [1 favorite]


I feel compelled to report that yesterday, I bought plain full-fat yogurt at the Armenian grocery near my house, didn't read the ingredients because obviously any yogurt covered with text in non-Latin alphabets is Good For You, and damn if it's not the same fake-ass Not Really Greek yogurt full of carageenan and pectin they sell at the regular grocery store.

Read the ingredients, folks.
posted by Sara C. at 4:42 PM on March 15 [1 favorite]


Edward Said's yogurt.
posted by shakespeherian at 4:44 PM on March 15 [1 favorite]


Get thee a Cuisinart. Even if you can't source raw milk it's just worlds better to make it yourself.
posted by planetesimal at 4:59 PM on March 15


Yeah, I usually just make yogurt myself, but I've been busy and until this week the weather's been a little cool for it.
posted by Sara C. at 5:02 PM on March 15


> I'm a vegan, and trust me, Skittles and (dairy- and egg-free) cupcakes are doing just fine as a way for me to produce more cheap meat.

I read this skeptically, thinking "oh, so Skittles are vegan now, are they?" Then I looked it up and discovered yes, Skittles have been made without gelatin since 2009.
posted by contraption at 6:11 PM on March 15


didn't read the ingredients because obviously any yogurt covered with text in non-Latin alphabets is Good For You, and damn if it's not the same fake-ass Not Really Greek yogurt

Your life seems to be guided by an incredibly strange set of signifiers
posted by Greg Nog at 9:46 PM on March 15


Yeah, full fat is glorious, and much could be said about how tragic it is that natural fats have been considered evil while other bad things have been foisted on us. But yogurt is yogurt, and the probiotics are the thing, not so much the fat or whatever No True Grecian fallacy is being conceived here. I don't think there's much of synergy between the two (full fat and probiotics), and while I'm grateful I get to eat awesome and simple yogurt of my own making, if it came to it I'd choke down a Good Belly or Yakult or whatever to get the good flora in my gut if I had to.

Why the hell were we even talking about yogurt here anyway?
posted by planetesimal at 10:13 PM on March 15


because no one is allowed to leave until the FRAUDULENT GREEK hobbyhorse has been ridden unto its hopefully prompt demise
posted by poffin boffin at 2:01 AM on March 16 [2 favorites]


a trojan horse filled with carrageenan and modified corn starch
posted by en forme de poire at 9:49 AM on March 16


But yogurt is yogurt, and the probiotics are the thing

It's actually really unclear how (and in some cases whether) different probiotics work. We do have good evidence that certain strains do have useful properties (L. rhamnosus GG and S. boulardii for preventing C. difficile infection and I think also S.b for treating IBD?) but even these gold-star microbes don't seem to actually persist in the gut for very long. So if they are doing anything it is an effect they have on their way through, rather than an effect that changes the community structure of the gut. Antibiotic use, however, can definitely change that community structure, though it seems to be stochastic ("Ciprofloxacin treatment influenced the abundance of about a third of the bacterial taxa in the gut.... However, the magnitude of this effect varied among individuals.... ...several taxa failed to recover within 6 months.").
posted by en forme de poire at 9:59 AM on March 16


I don't think there's much of synergy between the two (full fat and probiotics)

I don't either. But nonfat yogurt is disgusting.

It's mostly that I dislike the fact that, in most supermarkets (at least where I live), the ONLY yogurt available is nonfat "greek"* yogurt flavored with gross shit that should not be in yogurt.

It's not that full fat yogurt is the only real yogurt, or something. It's just that it tastes good. And you're more likely to eat good things if they taste like what they're supposed to taste like. In my opinion the tendency to focus on artificial flavors rather than whether the actual food you're eating tastes any good is mostly because we're starting from a baseline of fake gross shit. So then you buy the fake gross shit with extra "probiotics" added to it, when really you could have just started from Regular Yogurt and gotten the same benefit.

My beef is with marketing rather than anything else.

*Greek in quotes and with no caps because it's artificially thickened with thickening agents, not out of any particular ethnic whatever. It's not actually Greek Yogurt.
posted by Sara C. at 12:02 PM on March 16 [1 favorite]


And what did your original comment have to do with antibiotics?
posted by planetesimal at 12:20 PM on March 16


What do you mean by "fermented beverages", Lesser Shrew?
posted by jeffburdges at 3:03 PM on March 17


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