|Volume 19, Issue 6||June 21, 2017|
In this Issue:
Simple Ways to Lower Cancer Risk
Second only to heart disease, cancer remains one of our major killers. At great cost in dollars, loss of function, and distressed lives, over a million US citizens deal each year with less than terminal effects of cancer too. Based on the latest available American Cancer Society statistics, about 41% of the population will get cancer (besides relatively benign skin lesions) and 22% of us will die from it. If one receives a cancer diagnosis, concern is legitimate: even after hundreds of billions spent on research to combat this type of illness, 35% of those who develop significant forms of cancer (that is, excluding basal cell or squamous skin lesions) will die from it.
Yet, though in many cases there was nothing that could have been done to avoid this disease, often we need not be merely the victims of fate when it comes to cancer risk. In terms of the averages, there are things people can do to decrease their chances of a cancer diagnosis or of having cancer be what kills us.
Proactive measures we can take include:
The above tried and true suggestions have been around for awhile. A couple others are less certain to be efficacious. There is some evidence that (besides their causing increased skin cancer risk) a lot of exposure to ultraviolet light or x-rays can heighten our chances of getting brain and lung cancers. Some physicians also believe that a diet that contains a lot of processed sugar, for instance from pastries or sodas, or processed flour, as in white bread, can put us at greater risk of getting cancer. So, to be on the safe side, we might wish to avoid much processed food overall, limit x-rays to those essential for evaluating our conditions, and have minimal reception of ultraviolet light, instead protecting ourselves with long pants and shirts, wide-brimmed sunhats, and plenty of sunscreen if we need to be outside during the hours when solar radiation would be strongest.
In recent years, a hypothesis has been developed that many cancers are associated with inflammation and increased blood coagulation in the body. Findings support the idea that anti-inflammatory medications or supplements and/or blood thinners may be beneficial not merely in lowering our risks of heart attacks but also for preventing or lessening the progression of cancers. My experience is not statistically valid, yet anecdotally I note a history of about one or two skin cancer lesions on my face, back, or arms every couple years before I began taking a low-dose (81 mg) aspirin tablet daily. The reduction in incidence has been about 80-90% following this one measure, and for several years there have been no further cancers observed in my dermatology exams.
Other commonly available anticoagulants or blood thinners include: Ibuprofen, garlic powder, Vitamin E, Omega-3 fish oil, and ginger powder.
Cautions are appropriate, however, regarding the taking of aspirin or other such circulation enhancers. They can have unintended side-effects and may interact with prescription medications. There is for a few patients a real danger from taking even small extra amounts of these substances. One can wind up getting too much blood thinning without realizing it. For instance, recently I was working in the yard and scratched an arm a little on a thorny branch. The bleeding was more significant than warranted by the small abrasions. I checked online about other sources of blood-thinning than my daily aspirin and was surprised to discover that a habit of adding garlic and ginger powder to some of my foods may have more than doubled the anti-coagulation effects from taking the daily low-dose aspirin.
Accidentally overdoing our blood-thinning can potentially lead to more serious developments, especially if one is in addition taking a prescribed blood-thinner like Coumadin. Naturally, alcoholic beverages can have such an effect too. Thus it may be best to err on the side of too little in the blood-thinning supplements one takes. Otherwise, tiny internal bleeding events, as from a minor fall, getting bruised while working with tools, etc., might lead to near or actual emergencies. In and of themselves there is a small but not negligible risk from too much ingestion of aspirin, garlic powder, ginger, almonds, tumeric, honey, cayenne pepper, or vinegar and other such anti-coagulants. Medical outcomes might include stomach lining or intestinal bleeding and brain hemorrhaging. With this in mind, some recommend that rather than taking low-dose aspirin daily, we might do so every other day, a balance between the benefits in terms of lowered heart disease and cancer risk and the downside hazard of dangerous internal bleeding.
Lately, there has been interesting research using existing remedies helpful for other purposes. An intriguing set of studies shows, in lab animals at least, that a medication effective against pin-worm parasites in humans, mebendazole, appears to prevent cancer development. Human trials have not yet been done. However, mice deliberately implanted with cancer cells in their brains, a circumstance that normally would have led to full-blown cancerous tumors, the medulloblastomas did not develop after they had gotten mebendazole. Several years down the road, similar treatment for people might become common and could potentially prevent or halt the progression of such malignant tumors as killed my oldest brother in 1990 and a cousin in 2016.
Even at the current level of cancer research, measures mentioned in this essay can probably on average cut by 50% or more one's chances of dying from cancer. Besides, if we get more exercise, lower stress, have a bit less inflammation, and eat more healthily, we might also really enjoy our days, a great bonus.
It's Not Easy Being a Spider
It is safe to say that a majority of people find spiders rather repulsive. You don't have to search too hard for reasons. Having more legs and eyes than we do is a good start, and being dark and hairy helps too. Follow that up with a penchant for creeping around in shadowy places, sometimes remaining stock still before darting unpredictably in various directions, and having the unfortunate habit of surprising us with their unexpected presence on walls, our bathtub or our foot, and you've pretty much described a living nightmare.
The stereotype I just described might at first sound like any spider, but in fact is more specific. A good number of spiders spend their entire lives unseen beneath rocks, curled up in leaves or dangling benignly in a silken web. One kind of spider, though, is so well known for its wandering hunting style that it is named after a mammal with similar negative connotations: the wolf spider. Members of the family Lycosidae sort of epitomize spiders as a symbol reflecting scariness, horror movies and Halloween. While tarantulas are larger, wolf spiders are more common and widespread. There are many species, and they range in adult size from miniscule to disturbingly large. Almost all wolf spiders spend most of their time walking around on the ground looking for food. Exceptions include the burrowing wolf spiders, which live in holes in the ground and a few that make a silk tube for their home.
All spiders are hunters, and it is understandable to think of wolf spiders as top predators of their arthropod world. In spite of being big compared to other spiders, even the largest lycosids are not a threat to our humanly overwhelming size advantage. It is tempting to estimate the size of spiders by their legs,
A spider wasp digs its nest burrow while its paralyzed prey waits helplessly.
For all their ferocious appearances, wolf spiders live in a state of constant vigilance for danger. Their defenses begin, and usually end, with running away. Anything bigger than them, and there are a lot of animals that fill the bill, is a potential threat. Birds and small mammals from shrews to coyotes eat them, as do lizards and toads. Becoming a meal and being squished by a foot produce the same results for a spider, so it is little wonder that they flee our presence.
While vertebrates are definitely a hazard, there are other dangers that wolf spiders face, and they don't have to do with a size advantage. Many kinds of wasps hunt prey for their larvae. The typical scenario involves a solitary female wasp locating an appropriate target, paralyzing it with a sting, dragging it into a hole, laying an egg on the unfortunate victim, and sealing the nest entrance. The wasp larva hatches, feeds on the conveniently fresh flesh of the immobilized spider, then pupates and eventually leaves the nest as an adult. Variation occurs with the number of spiders needed for each baby wasp to make it maturity. Mud Daubers stock their nests with many small spiders that will nourish a single wasp, but most other wasps select a single spider that is big enough to provide the sustenance for each baby's development. There is a whole family, Pompilidae, that is known as the spider wasps, and they all follow this model. The biggest of this group is the Tarantula Hawk, famous for the epic battles between our largest North American spider and its gargantuan predator. There are, however, many kinds of spider wasps and they range in size down to those small enough to complete development by feeding on a single jumping spider. A fair number of pompilids
When courtship doesn't work out as it should: female wolf spider eating male.
Spiders are general predators and will subdue and eat any other animal they can. They do not make distinctions between insects, other spiders or even their own species. Normally, a spider's instinct to keep away from dangerous animals includes members of its own species. The big exception involves males that must approach females in order to mate. If every female spider responded in the usual predator way, there would be no more spiders at all, but evolution has favored the male who uses behaviors to convince a female that he is not a menu item. Courtship amongst spiders can include giving visual or tactile cues and depends on the male reading the female's responses correctly. While some spiders have a large size difference between the two sexes, wolf spider males and females are about the same size. If all goes well, the male approaches the female, convinces her to cooperate, and they mate. He then goes off to live out the rest of his short, but successful, life, while she bears his offspring. As with any delicate operation, if anything goes wrong, such as the female feeling particularly unreceptive, confused, or perhaps hungry, there is the possibility of the male becoming her next meal.
One agent of spider death is particularly revolting to our mammalian sensibilities. It is so much so that this type of species interaction has become well known through the movie "Alien" where a malevolent parasitic species bursts out of a man's chest. Oddly, he never even realized up to that point that there was something that large living within him.
A mermithid nematode worm emerging from a spider's abdomen.
But, putting effectively entertaining science fiction tales aside, the arthropod realm is awash in parasitoids that inhabit a host's body, feeding on it, altering it, and even changing its behavior. The instance I saw recently, and which prompted me to write about this particular topic, involved a hapless wolf spider that was on a concrete patio floor. When I saw the spider, the light was dim and it appeared that something was hanging at the back of the spider's abdomen. I surmised that the arachnid might have been accidentally stepped on and therefore badly wounded, but when I approached it, the spider dashed several feet in a very uninjured sort of way. Unable to make out just what was wrong with the spider, I took some photos. Through the magic of enlarging a digital image on a computer screen, the explanation became clear. The spider was the host for a kind of nematode worm in the family Mermithidae. These worms are similar in many ways to horsehair worms but are classified in a different phylum. Part of the worm's life cycle includes living within the spider's abdomen for awhile. After feeding inside the spider, and taking up all the room within its body, the worm emerges and the spider dies.
The scary characteristics we assign to the wandering hunters known as wolf spiders are usually blown out of proportion to the actuality of their existence. Just like the circumstances of any animal within an ecosystem can change for better or worse, a slight shift of fortunes can mean a predator sometimes becomes the victim. We humans are quite lucky to not only have a minimum of such mortal dangers in our lives but to also be able to appreciate the innumerable intricacies occurring between all the other species with which we share this planet.
Cameron Park Zoo in Waco is one of the best zoos in Texas, if not the country. Its small size and both animal- and viewer-friendly displays make it a delightful place to spend a few hours, especially during the cooler months. The decidedly cave-like location where Val took advantage of the unusual lighting in Feb., 2007, to snap Larry's portrait is in the Brazos River exhibit, a particularly creatively designed section of the zoo that uses a variety of different venues to illustrate the wildlife of the Brazos, from its source on the Llano Estacado to its mouth at the Gulf of Mexico.
|(The Terra Tabloid is a venue for the discussion of issues pertaining to the past, present, and future of our planet and human interaction with it.)|
As the things heat up, glaciers are melting without being as replenished in winter, rivers are being sucked dry by the combined water needs of agricultural and urban areas, and drier conditions are affecting more areas of the planet, reductions in the availability of potable water relative to the demand also result in more conflict between regions and countries. Large numbers of people are suffering from inadequate supplies of drinkable liquid. This is particularly so for an unprecedented number of refugees displaced from homelands where reliable water provisions were more often the norm. Even in the U.S., there are distressing water access competitions between the needs of city dwellers and of farmers or ranchers. For lack of fresh water, 2.4 billion people have inadequate toilets and 0.7 billion (one in 10 of us) do not have enough safe, clean liquid for drinking or bathing. Whether we ascribe them to man-made or natural causes, over the planet as a whole climate changes are leading to less rainfall on large swaths of the globe.
Just as the "green revolution" assured more abundant food stocks and so prevented the starving of billions predicted in such books as Paul Ehrlich's Population Bomb, modern technology, against most expectations, is coming to the rescue again in several interesting ways to help us deal with a decrease in natural water sources.
WaterSeer, a device developed by an alliance between VICI-Labs, the Peace Corps, and the University of California at Berkeley, requires no external power source, provides up to 11 gallons of water a day, and is cheap, just $134 as of when made public in 2016. It depends on a small above ground wind turbine that easily rotates in local breezes and on circulation to an underground chamber six feet into the soil, where lower temperatures condense water out of the air. A simple hand pump delivery system connected to the water collection chamber allows people to easily access the needed moisture that is completely potable, ready for cooking, cleaning, drinking, and other needs.
But what if one lives in a place where at times, likely as not, there are not even light breezes? A prototype water harvester, the device again developed with the help of UC Berkeley, uses ambient sunlight and a metal-organic framework (MOF) created my MIT to absorb water directly from the air. It can work even in low humidity (down to only 20-30%) and condenses the water vapor for drinking. As fashioned to date, a single harvester is not sufficient for the water needs of a family or community. However, its successful demonstration proves that similar arrangements could at least provide for the thirst requirements of a person traveling in a dry region. This early version pulls 3 quarts of water out of low humidity air over a 12-hour period, sufficient that, since the device is portable, a hiker stranded in an arid place could be assured of survival without access to local water so long as he had brought along his own MOF device. Future models are anticipated that would scale up the potential of such harvesters. In future, we may anticipate times when off-grid solar powered MOF sources of potable water might be available to households, cities, and refugee camps.
Metal Organic Framework (MOF) illustration (globalscience.berkeley.edu)
Other humidity harvesters are coming along too. Fuel cell cars can provide about a quart of drinkable water for each several miles driven in even arid regions, enough for the needs of passengers.
Owners and operators of greenhouses know that the differences in temperature and humidity between outer and inside conditions readily provide extra condensation and run-off. With a few modifications, this can be utilized to both augment the watering needs inside greenhouses and provide drinking water for their workers. There are already such projects in desert areas of the Middle East.
Passive dew gathering systems date back to ancient times but have been enhanced via technology that takes advantage of differences in temperature between the sunnier sides and shadier portions of modern collection surfaces.
It is common to see drinking dispensers associated with cooling devices such as refrigerators. Similarly, a variety of industrial cooling functions can have systems attached for the collection of and access to drinkable water.
There have also been brine desiccation systems developed that remove extra humidity from the air and provide it, now separated from the briny solutions, at dispensers for potable water uses.
An Arizona University spin-off company, Zero Mass Water, has created solar panels that condense water vapor out of the air, pass the resultant liquid through filters, and dispense it.
Unfortunately, thus far none of these and related remedies are enough for the combined industrial, agricultural, and personal needs of a highly populated and thirsty planet. They are, though, encouraging signs of things to come. Just as the possibilities for solar power were hard to grasp a few decades ago, but now solar energy has become at once efficient and relatively cheap, so it may be hard to foresee the potential of various means of removing water vapor from the air and readily condensing it into fresh liquid for a variety of our uses. With a bit of imagination, however, we may find it plausible that in the next generation or two a wide range of low-cost and off-the-grid water providing devices will be ubiquitous not merely among developed country populations but in Third World regions as well. The water vapor already in our atmosphere is staggeringly vast, well beyond our conceivable needs for some time to come. As with virtually limitless renewable energy from wind or sun, so with renewable water from the air. Once humans can inexpensively and on a large scale tap into this moisture where and when they want, problems based on water scarcity will be replaced by great opportunities in a newly potable water rich world.
Device Pulls Water From Dry Air, Powered Only by the Sun. Robert Sanders in news.berkeley.eu; April 13, 2017;
Wind-Powered Device Can Produce 11 Gallons Per Day of Clean Water from the Air. Derek Markham in treehugger.com; October 10, 2016.
Many diurnal moths need a disguise to help them avoid predators, and the lovely snowberry clearwing (Hemaris diffinis) has a good one. Although it looks like the biggest bumble bee you've ever seen, this insect is actually a sphinx moth. Unlike bees, which have nasty tasting venom and a stinger, moths have little protection against birds that forage during the day. Most moths avoid those hunters by flying at night, but a small number have other strategies. The costume of the snowberry clearwing is quite convincing, especially when the moth is flying. Its namesake wings have sections that lack scales and so resemble the clear wings of a bee. Along with the yellow and black markings, the masquerade is definitely effective.
The larval stage of this moth is a hornworm: a caterpillar with a little spiky tail. Its host plant is honeysuckle, and in our area it prefers Coral Honeysuckle (Lonicera sempervirens). Although the caterpillars can reach over 2 inches in length, they are not easy to find. Very occasionally a purple-colored morph occurs, but most are the same green color as the foliage on their host plant.
From "Good Financial Cents" and "AARP Bulletin," here are ten nifty ways to almost painlessly get enough money for our investments which, thanks to compound annual returns, can become impressive retirement nest eggs:
Using one's best picks among such money saving suggestions, several hundred to a few thousand dollars a year more will be available for starting or adding to good stocks or stock mutual funds. From 1970 to 2016, a portfolio like the following (see table) would have averaged returns of about 12% a year:
Low Fee Mutual Funds with Above Average Returns
|Franklin Dynatech Fund, Class A||FKDNX||$58.71||10.10%||0.91%||low|
|Morgan Stanley Inst. Growth A||MSEGX||$43.48||10.25%||0.91%||low|
|T. Rowe Price QM U.S. Small-Cap Gr. Eq.||PRDSX||$31.55||9.93%||0.81%||low|
|USAA Nasdaq-100 Index Fund||USNQX||$16.16||11.70%||0.54%||low|
|Vanguard Health Care Fund Investor Shares||VGHCX||$207.69||11.06%||0.37%||low|
Though these assets are definitely volatile and involve greater risk for short periods than a traditional combination of bonds and stocks, the lowest overall return of a portfolio of such funds if held for several decades has been about 10% annually. It is suggested that equal investments be made periodically in each of the relatively low-cost mutual funds or exchange traded funds chosen. Generally, folks who dollar-cost-average their investments, adding roughly equal amounts per interval, for instance every quarter or 12 months, do even a little better than this historical 10-12% range for buy-and-hold investing returns. There are no guarantees that similar outcomes will prevail in the decades ahead, but chances are good we shall in the next multiple of years see typical up and down markets, when this strategy would likely again be lucrative.
A person in his or her 20s who begins with $6500 and adds $3300 a year for 30 years at an average return of 12% (in tax-deferred accounts from which no money is taken out and with reinvestment of all distributions) would after three decades have over $1,000,000.
A husband and wife of course normally require just a single residence, so they can save money while adding doubly to their savings and investments toward long-term goals. Even taking into account average levels of inflation in the years ahead, an extra $2,000,000 or so by around 2047 could come in handy, especially if hardly missed in the acquisition phase. The $6500 initial investment, in the above example, is 11.7% of average U.S. annual income, but can be achieved by saving up over a few years. That illustration's $3300 in annual additions to a growing nest egg is 5.9% of average income in this country. Yes, we would notice it, certainly, but once the savings and investing habit is established and part of our family budgets, its burden would normally become more inconsequential over time.
Nor does this have to be the only source of financial security. One can also gain equity in his or her home or through rental real estate ownership, invest in a 401K plan at work (often supplemented by partial matching contributions from an employer), cash in a maturing life insurance plan, work part-time to benefit from a hobby for which one has a passion (as my wife, Valerie, does with music as well as with nature photography), etc.
May we all enjoy life's many rewards and, along the way, a successful and enriching plan for saving and investing.
87 Super Easy Ways to Save Money. Jeff Rose in goodfinancialcents.com; March 23, 2017;
Power Your Portfolio With Value. Paul Merriman in AAII Journal, Volume XXXVI, No. 6; June, 2017;
Saving Tricks That Work. Eileen Ambrose in AARP Bulletin, Vol. 58, No. 5; June, 2017.
Well, summer is here, with the arrival of the Solstice. Here in the South, it means the end of the spring growing season, as a large number of our native plants now go dormant for the duration of the hot weather. Many invertebrates follow suit, surviving by aestivating, the summertime equivalent of hibernating. For those of you who remain active even out in the midday sun, we hope you'll take all the usual precautions: use sun protection, be aware of the signs of heat exhaustion, and stay hydrated. May you all have a festive and safe Independence Day celebration.
|For others who may have chanced upon this site, larvalbug bytes is a monthly family-and-investment newsletter, put out by an old codger and sweet thing, with sometimes a little help as well from our engaging pooch, Peri. We invite readers' comments by and would also be happy to readers when new issues are published. Articles and stories from back issues are available in our archives.|
Copyright © 2017 by LARVALBUG
"Mosquito's Dream" and larvalbug web design by Valerie.
"Mosquito's Dream" and larvalbug web design by Valerie.