Archive for September, 2010

Your guide to a healthy heart

Monday, September 27th, 2010

FOR many years, cardiovascular disease remains the number one cause of hospital mortality in Malaysia. This year’s World Heart Day theme focuses on “Workplace Wellness” and it is all about taking responsibility for your own heart health.

Cardiovascular disease is largely preventable with some simple risk factor management:

Diet and lifestyle factors

There are a number of risk factors for cardiovascular disease, including:

• Obesity

• Diabetes

• Coronary heart disease in a close relative before the age of 60

• Smoking

• Elevated blood cholesterol and triglycerides

• Physical inactivity

• High blood pressure

A preventive strategy for minimising risk would involve basic changes to diet and lifestyle, such as to:

• Eat a healthy diet

• Implement an appropriate exercise regimen

• Eliminate obvious risk factors such as smoking

• Maintain a healthy body weight

There is a strong association between diet and cardiovascular disease. The so-called “Mediterranean diet” is high in olive oil, oily fish, fruits, grains, legumes and nuts and is associated with low cholesterol and a lower risk of disease.

Diet for a healthy heart

Eat more:

• Seasonal fresh vegetables such as leafy greens, green salads, broccoli, zucchini, onions, Chinese greens, cabbage (red and white), potato, pumpkin, sweet potato

• Fresh fruits

• Fresh herbs for example parsley, coriander, ginger, dill, basil, garlic

• Sea vegetables (an excellent source of minerals) such as nori, arame, wakame

• Wholegrain cereals such as rice, oats, wholewheat bread and pasta, millet, buckwheat, barley

• Deep-sea fish – for example trevally, cod, mackerel, salmon, sardines

• Legumes (these are an excellent source of fibre and protein) lentils, kidney beans, haricot beans, adzuki beans, chickpeas

• Free range poultry and eggs

• Soy foods (an excellent source of protein) for example tofu, tempeh

• Lean red meats two to three times per week

• Nuts and seeds – a small amount can provide beneficial fats and nutrients for example almonds, walnuts, sunflower seeds, sesame seeds

• Liquids – six to eight glasses of filtered water per day, green tea, herb teas such as chamomile, peppermint

Eat less:

• Dairy foods – should be low fat

• Refined white flour products – white bread, pasta, biscuits, cakes, sugar

• Table salt

• Saturated fats (butter, matured cheeses, fatty meats) and fried foods

• Coffee, tea, colas and other stimulants should be kept to a minimum

Exercise more

Exercise is extremely important for the maintenance of a healthy cardiovascular system and should be part of the daily regime.

Tips to relieving work stress

Get organised

– The mind is not the most efficient engine on Earth when it comes to recalling a myriad of competing tasks, so note them down and assign each a priority.

Limit interruptions

– Taking personal calls at work? This is fine occasionally, but don’t get into big catch-ups on work time. It will take you that much longer to get back in the zone.

Politely explain to friends or family that you’re working and will return their call that evening, or even on the weekend.

Drink up

– Keep the brain hydrated as it is easier for your grey matter synapses to transmit information. If you feel yourself getting sluggish upstairs, remember to drink around 1.5l of water a day.

Talk it over

– If you have a manager and are not handling your workload, bring it up. The solution could be as simple as delegating or providing you with some de-stressing time in lieu. Sometimes we can be prone to mulling on things for too long and problems can seem much larger than they are.

Walk it off

– Exercise by walking. The stress-busting benefits of getting active are well known. Find something you enjoy and schedule it into your calendar. That way it becomes a date – one you’re less likely to break.

10 tips to a happy heart

1. Choose fish

Cold-water fish which contain protective omega-3 fatty acids have been shown to reduce the risk of cardiovascular health problems. Among the best choices are wild salmon, sardines and herring.

2. Get in your exercise

Aerobic activity helps maintain heart health. Walking is inexpensive and a popular way to stay fit – all it takes is a little motivation and a comfortable pair of shoes.

3. Control waistline

Make sure you have more low-fat, high-fibre and low sugar foods than other types, and choose more low-fat and fat-free dressings, condiments, sauces and table spreads instead of full-fat ones.

4. Take vitamin E

Vitamin E is a well-known protective nutrient for the cardiovascular system that may reduce the risk of serious cardiovascular complaints.

5. Eat more fish

Consider taking CoQ10 and fish oil for their antioxidant and vessel protecting qualities.

6. Get smart about smoking

Smoking is a major risk factor for cardiovascular disease, but that risk can be reduced by stopping smoking at any age.

7. Go red

Red wine contains antioxidants and flavonoids, and has been associated with heart protection.

8. Not that sinful

Pure dark chocolate contains a very high amount        of catechins (a heart healthy antioxidant). Enjoy        it with black grapes and wash it down with a        beverage containing natural cocoa powder or tea, additional excellent sources of these heart healthy compounds.

9. Have a hearty laugh

Very few things in life are better than a good laugh and it turns out that laughing heartily is good for the heart. Enjoy the lighter side of life with family and friends.

10. Manage stress well

Be proactive and address issues as they arise. Try exercises such as yoga, which gives you both a mental and physical lift.

·This article is courtesy of Blackmores.

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A land where diversity meets

Monday, September 27th, 2010
SEPT 16 was marked this year as Malaysia Day — the date when Sabah and Sarawak joined the Federation of Malaya, thus expanding to Malaysia. What was so special about this? It’s taken 47 years to publicly recognise what happened in 1963.By contrast, National Day in the peninsular has been celebrated on Aug 31 every year since 1957 when we were declared independent.

Sarawak is the country’s largest state. Together with Sabah, they both have many claims to fame that often elude them.
First, they have the most ancient forests in the world, older than the Amazon. You see, when the Ice Age ravaged this planet, it somehow missed our particular part of the world.

There are species of flora and fauna unique to our jungles as yet undiscovered. Enter a whole new industry of ecotourism determined to retrieve them. Even the urban capital is faithful to the animal species. “Kuching” means cat. It is also a land of mighty rivers. My film, Where the Rivers Meet, won the award for the best documentary in the Asia Pacific.

In fact, what is not sufficiently known or acknowledged is that Borneo, as it then was, contributed to mankind’s evolution of the species. A man called William Wallace was researching these jungles just as Charles Darwin was researching the same in Brazil.

Their findings coincided and they presented together to the learned society in London. Somehow, Darwin later stole the show and to this day, the discovery of man’s origins is attributed to him.

What could not be stolen was the fascination of the landscape in Sabah and Sarawak.

Mount Kinabalu in Sabah is the second highest mountain in Asia after Everest. There are super coral reefs to tempt those intrepid master divers. That is where Frederico Asaro, our equally intrepid restaurateur and boutique resort host, began his now illustrious career.
Sarawak, thanks to its mighty rivers, is developing its hydro power, starting with the revived Bakun Dam. Sandakan, made famous by writer Agnes Keith as “the land below the wind”, epitomises tranquillity. It produced Bobby Chen, who is Malaysia’s world renowned pianist (via the Yehudi Menuhin School of Music in London).

But the jungle has always dominated. The Mulu Caves are well worth a visit, with hieroglyphics on the walls going back centuries and depicting the ships of death en route to the afterlife.

Today, the same jungle is the preserve of the increasingly scarce species of orang utan. All of which attracts adventure tourism.

Sabah and Sarawak are also rich in natural resources. This is where oil was first found by Shell in 1910 on Christmas Eve. Today, Sabah has the distinction of developing most of our remaining oil and gas resources offshore in the deepest waters ever.

Sarawak has a liquid natural gas plant with three trains, the third largest in the world. For renewable energy, Sabah hosts three international solar plants.

All the above makes Sabah and Sarawak a tourist paradise.

This brings me to another claim to fame: the people down there. Their people are more diverse than even those in the peninsula, but not compartmentalised. One could say they are the epitome of 1Malaysia.

The tribal peoples of Sabah and Sarawak are one of our most fascinating cultural features. Almost all Christian to a man.

The missionaries were indefatigable down there without dispensing with the traditional tribal rites more pagan in origin. They live in longhouses in the heart of the jungle, a whole community under one roof and close to nature. Still fairly inaccessible.

One of my colleagues in Shell Sarawak was nicknamed Jungle John because of his closeness to the tribal people. He recounted how he would visit them, but there was no telephone or emails to alert them he was coming. But invariably, they would meet him half way. How did they know? “The sacred birds told us”.

It is a very colourful culture in those longhouses. They also have the custom of berjalai. At puberty, as part of the rites of passage, they are sent out alone into the hazards of the jungle. It creates a very hardy people.

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SchoolNet enables the sharing of knowledge

Monday, September 27th, 2010
THE SchoolNet network infrastructure was implemented in 2004 to equip up to 10,000 schools with broadband Internet access through a virtual private network.The then Energy, Water and Communications Ministry mooted the idea.

GITN Sdn Bhd (GITN), a subsidiary of Telekom Malaysia (TM) that offers infrastructure, hardware and software to government agencies, was mandated as the project manager to roll out SchoolNet via its Internet Virtual Private Network.
GITN provides the infrastructure through three technologies — asymmetric digital subscriber line, wireless and very small aperture terminal technology — and provides broadband connectivity.

SchoolNet’s applications include email and newsgroup, remote access application, file transfer application, information distribution application and information search application.

It provides quick access to online education information as well as interactive communication.
Students can exchange data and information with other users in the network.

The teachers in all SchoolNet schools can use the infrastructure to provide a richer, more effective, interactive and advanced experience to students.

The webportal for SchoolNet, known as SchoolZone, was introduced two years ago.
Students and teachers can search for information about other schools and SchoolNet, share information and news about their schools and communicate with one another.

Teachers can also share their interactive learning and teaching modules with each other.

The schools can use the portal to communicate with other communities in SchoolZone.

A SchoolZone facilitator will train information technology teachers to use the portal.

To ensure full utilisation of SchoolNet, two years ago, a school adoption programme called GITN TechnoGogy Learning in Schools (GTL Schools) was initiated in collaboration with the Education Ministry.

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Special privileges

Sunday, September 26th, 2010

THERE are several government schools which have special programmes to cater for children with dyslexia.

Syed Abdillah Syed Kamaruddin from Education Ministry’s Special Education Unit said parents and teachers can apply to place their children in these school after the children are observed, and are found to be unable to read upon completing Year One.

“Children who have signs and symptoms of dyslexia must first undergo psychological assesment by a certified psychologist or psychiatrist from a government or private hospital,” he said.

Once the diagnosis for dyslexia is confirmed, Syed Abdillah said the parents can use the results to proceed with the application for transfer at the Special Education Unit or state education departments.

A similar procedure is also laid out for parents who wish to enrol their children in the three-month dyslexia remedial programme conducted by centres operating under the Dyslexia Association of Malaysia.

“After undergoing the psychological assessment in the hospital, the child needs to be referred to the Dyslexia Association of Malaysia for an educational assessment,” said Syed Abdillah.

He added that a release letter must also be issued to the child’s school so that the child can temporarily leave the school to enrol in the three-month programme at the centre.

Special privileges are also given to students with dyslexia who sit for public examinations.

These students can apply for a text reader, extra examination time and larger text prints from the Malaysian Examination Syndicate.

A representative from the Examination Syndicate said students must submit their application when they register for the examinations. They can also put in their application a few months before the examination.

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Seeing better results in future

Sunday, September 26th, 2010

THE government expects public universities to perform better and score higher rankings in the future.

“In our (the ministry’s) opinion, the public universities are doing well and we expect to see better results from them,” said Higher Education Minister Datuk Seri Mohamed Khaled Nordin.

He was commenting on a StarEducation report that no Malaysian public university made it into the top 200 of the Times Higher Education (THE) World University Rankings 2010-11.

Mohamed Khaled said the ministry was not reading too much into the fact that no Malaysian public university made the cut into the top 200 of the league table.

This, he added, was due to the recent split of the THE-QS World University Rankings which led to THE adopting new criteria and evaluation.

“The standard of evaluation has changed a lot and it is only natural to see different outcomes in this respect,” he said.

Mohamed Khaled said the criteria in the recent THE rankings used research citation over a decade from 1988 to 2008.

“Public universities lose out here because Malaysia’s research universities were only designated in 2006 and they don’t have as many high impact citations over the given time period,” he added.

He added that public universities did better in the 2010 QS World University Rankings as research and citations were evaluated over a five-year period.

In the 2010 QS World University Rankings released on Sept 8, no Malaysian institution was named to the top 200 with Universiti Malaya at 207, Universiti Kebangsaan Malaysia at 263; Universiti Sains Malaysia at 309; Universiti Putra Malaysia at 319; and Universiti Teknologi Malaysia at 365.

The new THE rankings system use 13 indicators across five broad categories, namely teaching – the learning environment (30%); citation impact – a normalised measure of research influence (32.5%); research – volume, income and reputation (30%), international mix – staff and student ratios (5%) and industry income – measuring knowledge transfer (2.5%).

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A physical reminder

Sunday, September 26th, 2010

A sedentary lifestyle is a cause of weight gain, overweight and obesity. Overweight and obesity, in turn, are causes of chronic diseases such as diabetes, heart disease and cancers.

Another important cause of weight gain, overweight and obesity is unhealthy eating habits. These chronic diseases are therefore caused by unhealthy eating pattern and sedentary lifestyles. Prevention of these diseases must therefore be targeted towards these two main causes.

The Malaysian Dietary Guidelines (MDG) 2010 aims at promoting appropriate dietary patterns and active living. I have summarised the 14 key messages contained in the MDG 2010 and delved in detail two of the key messages in previous write ups.

Preventing chronic diseases

Researchers have long concluded that increased physical activity helps to lower the risk of various chronic diseases. A large amount of research data are now available confirming the benefits of regular physical activity for cardiovascular disease, diabetes and various types of cancers.

These chronic diseases, particularly heart disease and cancers, have become major causes of death in this country for over 30 years. Most of us would know of family members or relatives or friends suffering from one or more of these diseases. The suffering is immense, and the cost of treatment expensive. Prevention of these diseases must be the only option. That would mean adopting healthy eating habits and an active lifestyle.

Current status

The nationwide 3rd National Health and Morbidity Survey (2006) found that almost half of Malaysian adults were leading a sedentary lifestyle. More women than men were found to be inactive. It was also found that more urban adults were sedentary compared to rural folk.

This lack of physical activity amongst Malaysians must be one of the reasons for the high prevalence of overweight and obesity we see in this country. It must be one of the causes for the high prevalence of heart disease, diabetes and cancers too.

MDG Key Message : Be physically active every day

There are four key recommendations within this key message. Within each of the following key recommendations, the MDG has provided several tips on how to achieve these recommendations.

1. Be active everyday in as many ways all you can.

a. Always attempt to incorporate more physical activities in daily life as a form of exercise. Think of each movement as an opportunity for improving health, rather than as an inconvenience.

b. Do these activities whenever possible so as to be more active:

·Choose to walk up the stairs, instead of taking the lift or escalator.

·Choose to walk to the shop, surau or other places of worship, instead of driving.

·Do housework manually, such as sweeping and mopping the floor and hand washing clothes, instead of using automated machines.

·Park cars a distance away and walk to intended destination.

·Take up gardening, such as moving pots or trimming plants.

2. Accumulate at least 30 minutes of moderate intensity physical activity on at least five to six days a week, preferably daily. When fitness improves, the intensity level of physical activity and the amount of time spent on physical activity can be gradually increased.

a. Start off by doing moderate intensity physical activities, such as playing badminton, brisk walking, aerobic exercise, sepak takraw, cycling (medium-paced), swimming (medium-paced) or indoor activities in a gymnasium.

b. Remember moderate intensity activities, such as brisk walking, can be incorporated into daily life (such as walking 10 minutes on the way to work, and 10 minutes on the way home, and using stairs whenever possible instead of the lift or escalator).

c. As fitness improves, aim for 60 minutes or more of moderate intensity activities, or 30 minutes or more of vigorous physical activity that makes you “huff and puff” such as brisk walking (faster pace), jogging, playing football, squash, tennis, netball and basketball every day.

3. Participate in activities that increase flexibility, strength and endurance of the muscles, as frequently as two to three times a week.

a. For flexibility activities, all major muscle groups such as legs, hips, back, chest, abdomen, shoulders, and arms should be exercised. Flexibility exercise should be performed in at least four repetitions for each muscle group. Flexibility exercises include stretching exercises, yoga and tai chi.

b. Resistance and strength training exercises should be performed in sets of eight to 12 repetitions of eight to 10 different types of exercises that condition the major muscle groups. As muscle strength improves, the number of sets performed can also be increased accordingly. Strength exercises include push-up, weight training (dumb bells) and boxing.

c. Endurance activities are characterised by high intensity and long duration. These activities should be spread out across the week in order to avoid excessive fatigue and to reduce the risk of injury. Endurance physical activities include running, marathon and distance bicycling.

4. Limit physical inactivity and sedentary habits

a. Limit sedentary activities to a maximum of two hours or less in a day. For example, watching television, playing video games, surfing the internet and sitting or lying down (except when sleeping).

b. Always attempt to perform some simple activities such as stretching or sit-ups during intervals of watching television or working at the computer.

Note for overweight or obese persons: To lose weight, a total of more than 30 minutes a day of moderate-intensity physical activity is recommended, whilst approximately 45 to 60 minutes per day of moderate intensity physical activity is required to prevent the transition from overweight to obesity.

For weight control and for preventing weight gain or regain among formerly obese individuals, a total of 60 to 90 minutes a day of moderate intensity activity or lesser amounts of vigorous activity is recommended.

Be up and about!

Do not doubt anymore. Lack of physical activity is a cause of overweight and obesity. It is a cause of ill health and many chronic diseases, including diabetes, heart disease and cancers. Regular physical activity (combined with health eating) is protective against excessive weight gain. It also protects against chronic diseases.

All family members must be physically active. Children must develop a habit of being physically active from a young age. They must reduce time spent on television watching, reading, doing computer work.

by Dr. Tee E. Siong.

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Knowing your heart risks

Sunday, September 26th, 2010

EACH year, about 17.5 million lives are claimed by the world’s largest killer – heart disease and stroke. In Malaysia, heart disease has been the number one killer for the past three decades. This statistic goes across the globe, making heart disease the most common cause of death worldwide.

This is why World Heart Day was created, to raise public awareness of risk factors for heart disease and stroke as well as to promote preventive measures to bring this alarming number down.

Today, as we celebrate World Heart Day, organised by the World Heart Federation members and partners, let us take a moment to think how we can avoid becoming part of the heart disease statistic..

Your personal risks

How you treat your body will determine how susceptible you will be to heart disease in the future. It is heartening to know that important risk factors like high cholesterol, high blood pressure, diabetes, obesity and smoking are largely preventable. Knowing how to lower or eliminate each risk will help you remain in the best of health.

RISK #1: High cholesterol

Coronary heart disease is caused by cholesterol and fat deposition in the walls of the arteries (known as plaque), causing obstruction to blood flow. Sometimes the plaque may crack, giving rise to blood clot formation which obstructs the blood flow in the blood vessel completely. When this happens in the coronary arteries, a heart attack ensues.

One of the ways to lower your cholesterol is to have a daily diet that is low in cholesterol and saturated fat, and high in fibre. Be sure to include substantial servings of vegetables, fruits and whole grains such as oats everyday – all are good sources of fibre.

RISK #2: High blood pressure

Uncontrolled high blood pressure can expose you to a host of complications, such as stroke, heart attack, heart failure as well as kidney failure. Known as the silent killer, high blood pressure is often present without any symptoms.

RISK #3: Diabetes

The third National Health & Morbidity Survey in 2006 showed that 14.9% (i.e. one in seven) of adult Malaysians have diabetes. It is estimated that diabetes could affect 25% of Malaysians by the year 2020.

Managing your blood glucose level is very important in keeping heart disease at bay. A diabetic is often on the fast track to suffer from a heart attack due to elevated blood glucose levels.

RISK #4: Obesity

Obesity increases your risk of developing heart disease. In order to control your weight, remember to have a balanced diet. Watch what you eat; after all, you are what you eat.

Be conscious of your eating habits and aim to improve them. Include fruits, vegetables and whole-grain foods in your diet. These foods will fill you up and are lower in calories than foods full of oils or fats.


There has been a tremendous amount of literature written on the impact of smoking on a person’s health and wellbeing. According to the Minstry of Health’s Anti-Smoking Campaign (Tak Nak), it is estimated that smoking-related illnesses, including coronary heart disease, will kill 10 million Malaysians by 2030.

A person’s risk of heart disease greatly increases with the number of cigarettes he or she smokes. People who smoke a pack of cigarettes a day have more than twice the risk of heart disease compared to non-smokers.

If you are a non-smoker, avoid inhaling other people’s smoke as non-smokers who are exposed to second-hand smoke at home or at work have an increased risk of developing heart disease by 25% to 30%.

Desirable blood values

The following are ideal blood values you should have to ensure reduced risk of heart disease:

Total cholesterol – less than 5.2 mmol/L

LDL-C – less than 3.3 mmol/L (< 1.8 mmol/L for high risk individuals)

HDL-C – more than 1.03 mmol/L (males); more than 1.3 mmol/L (females)

Triglycerides – less than 1.7 mmol/L

Body Mass Index – 18.5 – 24.9 kg/m2

Waist circumference – Men: less than 102cm (less than 90cm Asians); Women: less than 88cm (less than 80cm Asians)

Blood pressure – less than 130/80mm/Hg

Blood glucose – less than 5.6mmol/L

Emerging risk factors

Other factors may also play a role in increasing the risk of cardiovascular disease, namely triglycerides and HDL cholesterol levels, homocysteine, hsCRP, Lp(a), and fibrinogen.

High triglycerides and low HDL cholesterol levels have been shown to increase the risk of heart disease, therefore it is important to address these parameters as well with a low carbohydrate diet and regular exercise to keep a healthy weight.

The National Cholesterol Education Program Adult Treatment Panel III (NCEP ATP 3) guidelines recommend that elevated triglycerides and low HDL cholesterol levels should be treated once the LDL cholesterol has been controlled.

High levels of homocysteine, hsCRP, Lp(a), and fibrinogen are also associated with an increased risk of heart disease. In the Jupiter trial, individuals with high hsCRP (more than 2mmol/l) were associated with a higher risk of heart disease compared to individuals with low hsCRP, though the LDL cholesterol levels were low.

This World Heart Day, why not listen to what your body and heart is telling you? Pay close attention, and do what is best for your heart in the long run. Know your risks, and you can be on your way to great health.

by Datin Liew Yin Mei.

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What the World Will Look Like by 2050

Thursday, September 23rd, 2010

A Brief History of the Future: A Brave and Controversial Look at the Twenty-First Century
By Jacques Attali
Arcade Publishing; 312 pages

The Gist:
Imagine a world where pirates run amok, blowing themselves up in European city centers; where wars are ignited over lack of drinking water; where a global face-off between Islam and Christianity makes World War II look like a water-balloon fight. According to economist and political scientist Jacques Attali, that is what the future has in store for us by 2025. In the belief that past experiences are indicative future events, Attali combs through the history of human kind, all the way back to Homo Habilis, separating the past into nine distinct periods to isolate “what is possible, what changes and what is unvarying” and applies those trends to the coming century. Attali’s predictions range from the future of journalism (completely paperless) to the end of the economic crisis (around 2011), offering a glimpse into the future that is both provocative and petrifying.

Highlight Reel:
On the future of the American empire: “After a very long struggle and in the midst of a serious ecological crisis, the still dominant empire- the United States- will finally be defeated around 2035 by the same globalization of the markets (particularly the financial ones), and by the power of corporations. Financially and politically exhausted, like all other empires before it, the United States will cease to run the world. But it will remain the planet’s major power; no new empire or dominant nation will replace it. The world will temporarily become polycentric with a dozen or so regional powers managing its affairs.”

On the future of the climate: “With the marked increase in temperature changes, very important alterations will take place in nature. Trees will grow faster and will become more fragile… Much more serious: many more coastlines could become uninhabitable. Seven of the worlds biggest cities are ports, and a third of the world’s population lives on a coastline… Eco-exiles will become ten times more numerous by 2050.”

On the future of weapons of mass destruction: “Now pointed at Japan, North Korea’s missiles will one day target the United States and China. The missiles of Pakistan fallen into the hands of fundamentalists will threaten first India, then Europe. Those of Hezbollah — in other words, Iran — that now target Israel will one day be pointed at Cairo, Riyadh, Algiers, Tunis, Casablanca, Istanbul, then at Rome, Madrid, London and Paris. Should the battle lines harden and the country be threatened with annihilation, China’s missiles could one day target Japan and the United States.”

On the future of cloning: “After repairing diseased organs, they will want to produce them, then create replacement bodies. First they will produce lineages of stem cells without destroying the embryo, which will make genetic therapy ethically acceptable, and then reproductive cloning. Finally they will manufacture the human being like a made-to-measure artifact, in an artificial uterus, which will allow the brain to further develop with characteristics chosen in advance. The human being will thus have become a commercial object.”

The Lowdown:
As the cofounder and first president of the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development, Attali won fame for calling the U.S. financial collapse as early as 2006 — giving him more credibility than the average soothsayer. However, many of his predictions range from the absurd to the, well… predictable. His belief that Israel must keep its status as a regional power in order to survive is not exactly rocket science, while his belief that a utopia of altruistic “transhumans” will emerge from the ashes of mid-21st century planetary warfare is a bit hard to swallow.

His more outrageous predictions notwithstanding, Attali correctly notes that our future is not inevitable. Mankind must learn how to appropriately respond to the crises and opportunities that await us, and grow cognizant of the fact that large-scale violence can be so dangerous to humanity so that we become “aware of the need for a radical change in attitude.” Whether his predictions are worth taking seriously or not, they all inevitably turn on the endless capacity of human resilience — a notion that appears to be the only true constant for the future, and the most reassuring.

The Verdict: Skim

by Atyssa Fetini.

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Myths, misconceptions and half truths on fat

Thursday, September 23rd, 2010

Fat is one of the three major macronutrient components in our diet and should not exceed 30% in terms of total daily calories intake (ideally 20-25%). It is fundamental in biological structures and functions, and performs many serious metabolic tasks. Cell membranes, hormones (both good and bad), retina, joints, nerves, etc, need fat.

Dietary fat is needed for absorption and transport of many fat soluble vitamins.

The good

1. Monounsaturated fats

In terms of life expectancy, Italians from the south of that country and people around the island of Crete take the prize. Their Mediterranean diet is healthful, with high fibre and good fats, and is the subject of much research.

The US FDA (Food and Drug Administration) recommends an intake of 23g or two tablespoons of olive oil a day to prevent coronary disease. Olive oil is rich in monounsaturated fats (oleic acid) and contains loads of vitamins and antioxidants known as polyphenols. The positive health effect is the lowering of the “bad” LDL-cholesterol. The antioxidants and vitamin E reduce the impact of LDL-cholesterol oxidation (oxidised LDL – cholesterol that sticks to artery walls). It also raises the “good” HDL-cholesterol, which acts like garbage truck, picking up the bad guys back to the liver.

Other oils which also contain largely monounsaturated fats are canola, peanut, avocado, nuts and seeds oils.

2. Polyunsaturated fats

Safflower, sunflower, corn, soy etc, as with most vegetable oils, are polyunsaturated. They are healthy oils with cardioprotective elevation of “good” HDL-cholesterol.

Unfortunately, much of the health benefits are lost by the time these oils make their way to the supermarket shelf. They have been highly processed with many unstable but healthy nutrients removed and chemicals added to afford better stability, taste, and shelf life. Cold pressed, unprocessed oils are kept in dark coloured glass bottles, as they cannot withstand light and heat.

3. Essential fatty acids

Our body needs a good balance of both omega-6 and omega-3 fatty acids. The ideal ratio is 1:1, but it is impossible for our modern day diet to meet this requirement. The typical American diet is 10:1, and we are hovering at that level as well. Vegetable oils, nuts and seeds are rich in omega-6 but the sources of omega-3 are rather limited. Cold water fish like salmon, mackerel, herring, do confer a significant amount of omega-3. Lesser amounts are the found in flaxseed, walnut and soy (as alpha-linolenic acid).

Both omega-6 and omega-3 are involved in maintaining cell membrane integrity, hormones, immunity and regulates inflammatory responses. However, an excess of omega-6 in relation to omega-3 in our diet may lead to a pro-inflammatory pathway. Omega-3 in the form of fish oil capsules is a good supplement (as docoxahexaenoic acid and eicosapentaenoic acid).

Ideally, the fish oil should be molecularly distilled in a double-step process to remove toxins and heavy metals and concentrated in the form of ethyl esters.

Omega-6 and omega-3 are known as essential fatty acids, which means our body needs them for optimum health but cannot manufacture them. Thus they need to be included in the diet.

The bad

Just as too much of the good is bad, too much of the bad is really bad!

Saturated fats from animal sources have been largely blamed for wreaking havoc on the cardiovascular system, yet we need them for many metabolic processes, including the making of cholesterol. Sex hormones are derived from cholesterol (but drinking lard would not enhance sexual prowess).

An unwatched diet high in saturated fats leads to increased cholesterol, raised “bad” LDL-cholesterol and reduced “good” HDL-cholesterol, culminating in a higher risk of an adverse cardiac event.

Saturated fats are not only from animal sources. Even olive oil has more than 10% of saturated fats, and so does coconut oil, palm oil, nuts oil and vegetable oils.

The ugly

Ugly fats misguided us for many decades and is still hidden in many of our foodstuff. One of the biggest controversy is the conversion of healthy vegetable oil into the semi-solid margarines which many of us thought were a logical choice over animal fats.

It is amazing that there are still a great deal of myths, misconceptions, and half truths surrounding the oily issue. Recently, there was a Dutch study, where the ugly was mixed with the good (margarine with omega-3) and was given to patients with heart disease.

At the end of a 40 month trial, it was proclaimed that this concoction did not alter the course of disease and the headlines screamed Omega 3 fail to help heart patients. I too wanted to scream at the absurdity of such misinformation!

by Dr C. S. Foo.

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Constitutional basis for national unity

Wednesday, September 22nd, 2010

Choosing a rich cultural mosaic over a melting pot, Malaysia, through its plurality of lifestyles, has woven a multifaceted society that is a model to many other diverse regions of the world.

THE Merdeka Constitution was a masterpiece of moderation, compassion and compromise.

The spirit that animated it was one of accommodation between the Malay majority and the non-Malay minorities on their mutual rights and privileges in a democratic, monarchial, federal and non-theocratic system of government.

A middle path of moderation is evident if we examine the Constitution in relation to the granting of citizenship without consideration of race or religion; the balancing of the special position of the Malays with the legitimate interests of the other communities; recognition of religious, cultural and linguistic pluralism; and a right to education for all.

Instead of creating a melting pot, Malaysia painstakingly weaved a rich cultural mosaic.

The plurality of lifestyles engendered gave rise to an extraordinary multifaceted society that supplied a model to many other diverse regions of the world.

In 1963, the special position of Sabah and Sarawak in the federal set-up gave to pluralism a territorial dimension.

Sadly, as is the fate of all social bargains, once the original authors pass from the scene, the descendants do not always appreciate the rationale behind the original compromises.

Later governments have to walk the tight rope between the need to honour the pacts of the past and to accommodate new demands and expectations.

The Malaysian Constitution is undergoing such a process of readjustment and reinterpretation.

There is a lively and inconclusive debate about what the document of destiny actually ordained and how far the imperatives of the Consti­tution should be modified to meet the new aspirations of the electorate.

The problem is made worse by a general lack of constitutional literacy within the population and within the political and administrative elite.

In many areas, politics and administrative policy have trumped and displaced the Constitution.

For example, the debate about whether Malaysia is an Islamic or secular state is a political shadow-play.

No one familiar with the original constitutional papers will deny that a theocratic state was never in contemplation.

Nor was American style secularism desired or considered desirable.

Malaya, later Malaysia, sought to walk the middle path.

The state should not be indifferent to, or hostile towards, religions. It must promote a tolerance that comes not from the absence of faith but from its living presence.

After the 1969 racial riots, the Malay features of the Constitution were enhanced. Since the 1990s the Islamic dimension of the Constitution has gained great prominence.

Religious assertiveness and extremism on both sides of the divide are apparent on such issues as alleged proselytisation of Muslims to other religions, the use of the word “Allah” in Christian prayers and the conversion of infants to Islam when one party to the marriage converts to Islam.

In a spate of family law disputes between couples, one of whom converted to Islam, the courts seem to be motivated by religious allegiance rather than the Constitution.

The bigots in all communities are relying on fears to fan hatred.

by Datuk Dr. Shad Saleem Farudi, Prof Emeritius at UiTM and Visiting Professor at USM.

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