Wednesday, April 4, 2012

Fat Blocker

Red wine, fruit compound could help block fat cell formation

A compound found in red wine, grapes and other fruits, and similar in structure to resveratrol, is able to block cellular processes that allow fat cells to develop, opening a door to a potential method to control obesity, according to a Purdue University study.
Kee-Hong Kim, an assistant professor of food science, and Jung Yeon Kwon, a graduate student in Kim's laboratory, reported in this week's issue of the Journal of Biological Chemistry that the compound piceatannol blocks an immature fat cell's ability to develop and grow.
While similar in structure to resveratrol – the compound found in red wine, grapes and peanuts that is thought to combat cancer, heart disease and neurodegenerative diseases – piceatannol might be an important weapon against obesity. Resveratrol is converted to piceatannol in humans after consumption.
"Piceatannol actually alters the timing of gene expressions, gene functions and insulin action during adipogenesis, the process in which early stage fat cells become mature fat cells," Kim said. "In the presence of piceatannol, you can see delay or complete inhibition of adipogenesis."
Over a period of 10 days or more, immature fat cells, called preadipocytes, go through several stages to become mature fat cells, or adipocytes.
"These precursor cells, even though they have not accumulated lipids, have the potential to become fat cells," Kim said. "We consider that adipogenesis is an important molecular target to delay or prevent fat cell accumulation and, hopefully, body fat mass gain."
Kim found that piceatannol binds to insulin receptors of immature fat cells in the first stage of adipogenesis, blocking insulin's ability to control cell cycles and activate genes that carry out further stages of fat cell formation. Piceatannol essentially blocks the pathways necessary for immature fat cells to mature and grow.
Piceatannol is one of several compounds being studied in Kim's laboratory for its health benefits, and it is also present in different amounts in red grape seeds and skin, blueberries, passion fruit, and other fruits.
Kim would like to confirm his current finding, which is based on a cell culture system, using an animal model of obesity. His future work would also include determining methods for protecting piceatannol from degrading so that concentrations large enough would be available in the bloodstream to stop adipogenesis or body fat gain.
"We need to work on improving the stability and solubility of piceatannol to create a biological effect," Kim said.

Thursday, March 1, 2012

genius thinking

VINOGRAPHY: a wine blog

Wine and food 03.01.2012

What Wine Drinkers Can Learn from Leonardo Da Vinci

da_vinci_self.jpgAs some of you know, I was in Napa last week at theSymposium for Professional Wine Writers. The keynote speaker was Michael Gelb, the best selling author and speaker, whose most popular book How to Think Like Leonardo da Vinci, served as the primary subject for his talk. Gelb is a passionate wine drinker, who also has written a book called Wine Drinking for Inspired Thinking, so a talk on creativity from him didn't come entirely out of the blue. Even though wine was not his subject, he wove several wine anecdotes into his speech.
His talk was focused on using the principles outlined in his book to help those in attendance with their work and career as writers. But it struck me that these principles, which Gelb gleaned from Leonardo's writings and works, are a wonderful map for aspiring wine lovers. So with Gelb's permission, I'd like to explore how Leonardo Da Vinci (as interpreted by Gelb) can teach you a deeper appreciation for wine.
From Da Vinci's life and works, Gelb distilled seven principles that he feels embody "genius thinking." Each offers something to the wine lover.
According to Gelb, Da Vinci was "the most curious person that ever lived." He wanted to know how everything worked. Everything. And so he sketched, recorded, jotted, and obsessively chronicled his ideas, experiences, and questions in his notebooks.
A wine lover without passionate curiosity is like a couple that unfailingly has sex once a month in the exact same position without any foreplay. You're missing out on a world of opportunity! Tens of thousands of grape varieties, scores of different countries producing wines, thousands of winemakers around the world with their own vision for how to achieve the particular alchemy that transforms grapes into something divine.
If you truly want to learn about wine, and fully enjoy it, you not only need to drink widely and experimentally, but you also need a bit of Da Vinci's childlike wonder. A passionate curiosity ultimately results in a more conscious and thoughtful interaction with the world, and when it comes to wine, a much deeper appreciation and connection with what is in the glass.
Da Vinci was famous for his experimentation and his desire to demonstrate his own knowledge to himself. Many of his drawings come in triplicate, as he looked at something from three different perspectives.
One of the best ways to deepen your experience and knowledge of wine is to take adavinci_hands.jpgstructured approach to tasting it. While this shouldn't be your primary way of engaging with wine, because after all, wine is about pleasure, taking a methodical approach to tasting can be incredibly educational. In my essay, The Five Stages of a Self Education in Wine, I urge budding wine lovers to hold blind tasting parties with friends, where everyone brings a wine that meets a specific criteria (say, Merlots under $30) and tastes them blind, making notes, choosing favorites, and then talking about the results. These kinds of structured exercises not only bolster an understanding of, for example, what Merlot tastes like, but also help to hone your own preferences. How can you feel confident about your opinion of Merlot as a wine when you've never carefully tasted twenty of them from five different countries?
According to Gelb, "The Italians have la dolce vita, or the sweet life. The French have joie de vivre, or the joy of life. What do we have in America? Happy Hour?" There are different ways of being in the world, and different ways of thinking about how to live a good life. Da Vinci thought that man's senses were the gateway to the soul. This principle is about approaching life like the miracle that it is.
You're eating a cherry. Do you ever stop yourself mid-bite and think, "Now wait, I must remember, this is what cherry actually tastes like" with the idea that you'd like to be able to recognize it the next time you taste it in wine? My buddy Gary Vaynerchuk got a lot of mileage out of sucking on rocks with Conan O'Brien, but do you actually know what wet rocks taste and smell like? Wouldn't life be that much more interesting if you did? OK, maybe not, but remember that point above about curiosity?
Gaining a deeper appreciation for wine doesn't always have to come from paying more attention to how it tastes and smells, but damn, isn't one of the most amazing things about wine the fact that it can smell and taste like everything from lemon zest to smoked bacon?
Being attentive to the sensations of the world, its flavors and smells, its textures and tones, is a celebration of the miracle that we have the ability to perceive these things in the first place, as well as a source of deepening pleasure in our own existence.mona_large.jpg
But even as we revel in our experience of the world, it is impossible to understand and apprehend everything. The world is a big, confusing, mysterious place, and not everything has a perfect explanation. Sfumato is a term from painting, a specific technique that Da Vinci mastered that literally translates to "smoky," which produces a hazy mysterious quality that seems to glow with illumination. If you've seen the Mona Lisa in person, you will remember the curious softness of the light and lines, yet the beautiful sculptural quality that emerged from these seemingly imprecise applications of paint. Gelb uses this technique as a metaphor for a willingness to embrace the unknown and live with confusion.
How exactly does a wine's flavor change with age? What role does oxygen play in that evolution? What is the relationship between the chemistry of the soil and the flavor of the wine? Science has not been able to answer these questions definitively. Wine is mysterious even to those plumbing its molecular depths. For those of us who merely drink it, the mysteries are even deeper. We don't actually need to know how it is that a wine can taste of mint and chocolate, we can just appreciate it. It is enough to celebrate the complexities that older vines bring to a wine without knowing exactly why they do.
Life's a mystery, so drink up.
Arte e Scienza
Art and science. Left brain and right brain. Da Vinci's life work represented the pinnacles of achievement in both aesthetic and scientific pursuits. Engineer, painter, sculptor, inventor, musician -- Da Vinci embraced many disciplines and worked in many domains. Gelb believes that a key to unlocking our potential involves thinking and working across the spectrum of disciplines, as we might say at my alma mater, from the fuzzy to the techie.
Wine clearly exists at the intersection of art and science. It is equal parts of each. Without science there is just vinegar. Without art, we have flavored alcoholic beverage. Learning about and loving wine means embracing both of Thumbnail image for da_vinci_vitruvian-man.jpgits sides: understanding how it is made, while at the same time appreciating it for something more than just the product of photosynthesis and a set of chemical reactions.
Apparently, Da Vinci was not only a great inventor and artist, but he was also widely known as the strongest man in Florence. According to Gelb, he was a juggler, a fencer, a thespian, and a cook. The principle of corporalità represents the balance of mind and body , the equilibrium captured so deftly in Da Vinci's famous vitruvian man drawing.
When it comes to wine, this principle has clear implications. Wine is food. In the wrong quantities, it is also poison. Intoxication makes up part of the joy of wine, but anyone who has dealt with substance abuse knows the dark side of that coin. In sensible moderation, wine is, as Benjamin Franklin is often quoted, "a constant proof that God loves us, and loves to see us happy."
"Everything is connected to everything else," says Gelb, "which is why we have to be systems thinkers." Da Vinci made cognitive leaps all the time, grasping at connections between phenomena that had yet to be understood by the science or the religion of his time. For Gelb, this principle is not only about the connectedness of everything, but also about our own individual connection with our highest aspirations and purposes, and with each other.
Wine ultimately embodies connection. The connection between the earth and the sky, or as Galileo so beautifully put it "wine is sunlight, held together by water." The connection between man and earth, and the cycles of cultivation unbroken across millennia. And of course, the connection between people, brought together as they break bread and sip the fruits of their labors and their lands. Wine has always dissolved barriers between people and exposed us to our common humanity. Drinking wine together both celebrates our interconnectedness, and forges those bonds even tighter.
adventures in San Francisco and around the world

Tuesday, February 7, 2012

Is this a seventh or tenth sense?


Smell is a suave, elusive, sensual sense

Hans Schnier, protagonist of one of Heinrich Böll’s novels, used to smell perfumes, aromas and scents, a mix of absolutely intangible fragrances, impossible to transmit and to distinguish even in presence of the source itself

by Paola Cerana

In high school there was a time when I got fond of Heinrich Böll. Also literary passions follow season and today I would not feel the same emotions I felt back then. Still, there is one novel from Böll who remained impressed in my mind. The title is “Opinions of a Clown” and I remember that after reading it in my still bad German, I read it better in Italian.

It is a rather melancholic story lasting for only three hours. I was inexplicably fascinated by the idea of squeezing so many reflections, expressed over some hundreds pages, in so few minutes. The story per se is static, with no action, but full of emotions, deeply nostalgic and leaning towards a depressive spirit that still attracts me in an almost morbid way.

The protagonist is Hans Schnier, a young clown from Bonn who locks himself in his apartment following the umpteenth social failure, and surrenders to a painful and self degrading self pity. He goes mentally through his disappointments and frustrations, to which he feels to be condemned forever. The most painful is the deep romantic setback with Maria, whom he loved and lost, because of the attraction of a bourgeois world which she felt much more attracted to than a sad circus tent. Hans can just seek refuge behind is colored mask, without any hypocrisy and let himself be surrounded by suffered memories, while indulging to an emotive decadence in a vicious alcoholic circle. I still have the final image of the novel clearly printed in my mind: a grimace of make-up against the grey of a sidewalk, with his collar up and his hat in hands, to beg for smiles…a sad clown, grotesquely camouflaged in an equally sad carnival.

The book is actually rich in social implications which can help to judge. However, what attracted me most and still fascinates me today is the psychological underground and an expected quality of the miserable clown. Hans had the mystical prerogative to smell through the telephone. When he took the phone in his desolate flat, Hans not only heard a voice, but also smelled perfumes, aromas and scents, a mix a mix of absolutely intangible fragrances, impossible to transmit and to distinguish even in presence of the source itself. It seemed to be a nonsense, a paradox, that a young man who relinquished to enjoy life could grasp in such a way the essence of life itself, the primordial and animal signs of existence: scents!

The smell is a suave, elusive, sensual, powerful and involving sense, right because of its pheromonic action which seduces and inadvertently induces.

This painting like image of Heinrich Böll’s novel is even more attractive today, after amassing knowledge in psychology and neuroscience. I am attracted to the bizarre idea that, maybe, somebody can actually live this sensorial experience. Somebody with such a refined and sensitive sense to be able to decipher codes in the air, which are not perceivable by most, even at kilometers of distance and through complex technological tools. Maybe, if such a sense existed, it would not just pertain to the olfactory sense, but to a more complex and intricate neural network, where manifold sensorial organs would be entangled, including neurons, neurotransmitters, synapses, and who knows what else…

And I ask, then, if also the pronounced world, beyond the written one, can transmit scents, which can be perceived by people who are particularly gifted with this receptivity?

The question is not that mischievous. It could happen that an email or facebook message, would release smelling particles in the air from the monitor: tobacco, coffee, chocolate, jasmine, sandalwood, mandarin, mint, cinnamon, all through the communication transmitted from far away, and by means of a meaningless keyboard, projected in a wall of pixels, which can divide bodies but unify souls, as a hypnotic virtual veil.

I confess that this happens to me, at times, and I am sure it happens to some of you too! It happens that you read messages and smell scents which fills the atmosphere, or sharp aromas, or bubbling perfumes, all coming from the vortex of written words and rhythmical prose.

If this a seventh or tenth sense, an ingenuous suggestion of the mind or a magic charm of the heart, I do not know. Still, I know the fascination of following sensations towards a shared, more tangible and less virtual “elsewhere”. A dimension beyond logics and reason, aimed at capturing the soul of a person who writes to us from far away, with kindness, passion, irony, desire, embarrassment, excitation or love. Written words transmit the scent of the writer much more than a voice in a telephone or headset. This scent can change your mood and it can be imagined and shared if we learn to “feel” through the heart.

A lightly honey scent accompanied this lazy fall day, a day which appeared colorless but suddenly acquired a taste. I do not known if this is thanks to the memory of a novel of my youth, or some lines which came unexpectedly out of my monitor…but this was a sweet and growing olfactory “intoxication”, which is still lively and that I would like it to never disappear.

If some smell sensitive soul, like me and poor Hans, happened to read my delirious lines, I would understand if he turned up his nose at this absurdity! However, he should not worry about bad smells: my words would just leave an innocent a candid talcum underground scent with a vanilla aftertaste, mixed with a bit of fire red pepper, to stimulate the slightly honey scent which still lingers languidly between nose, head and heart…

by Paola Cerana
06 February 2012 Teatro Naturale International n. 2 Year 4

Tuesday, January 3, 2012

A map of world alcohol consumption

Global alcohol consumption

Drinking habits

Feb 14th 2011, 13:01 by The Economist online
A map of world alcohol consumption
THE world drank the equivalent of 6.1 litres of pure alcohol per person in 2005, according to areportfrom the World Health Organisation published on February 11th. The biggest boozers are mostly found in Europe and in the former Soviet states. Moldovans are the most bibulous, getting through 18.2 litres each, nearly 2 litres more than the Czechs in second place. Over 10 litres of a Moldovan's annual intake is reckoned to be 'unrecorded' home-brewed liquor, making it particularly harmful to health. Such moonshine accounts for almost 30% of the world's drinking. The WHO estimates that alcohol results in 2.5m deaths a year, more than AIDS or tuberculosis. In Russia and its former satellite states one in five male deaths is caused by drink.