Tuesday, November 01, 2011

The Nail in the Coffin for Hoodia

Hoodia gordonii is a plant native to South Africa that has been touted as having weight loss benefits since the start of the last decade.  It is sold in many dietary supplements that claim it has the ability to reduce appetite, amongst a mirade of other claims.  Although this has been thoroughly debunked more than once, it still continues to persist as an ingredient in fat loss supplement formulas.  Many legitimate supplement companies no longer sell Hoodia alone as an ingredient for fat loss or weight reduction, but it seems many companies still put the ingredient in formulations promoted for the stated reason that it can reduce a persons appetite.  Usually, the listed amount is unclear as it is included in formulas that include an ingredient listing in a proprietary blend, leaving the consumer unable to determine how much Hoodia is actually included in each serving size of the supplement.  But, since there has never been any real consensus on how much Hoodia is needed to have an effect or what specific alkaloids or extracts from Hoodia have the purported appetite reduction benefits it doesn't make a whole lot of difference.

Nonetheless, the basis for Hoodia working as a fat loss/diet aid has its background in science - or at least an attempt by science and pharmaceutical companies trying to determine if Hoodia had potential to be sold and marketed as a fat loss drug.  Several large pharmaceutical firms, including Pfizer, expressed a real interest in investigating whether or not the extract of Hoodia could legitimately be used as an appetite suppressant, also known as an anorectic compound.  Since most all prescribed drugs that work to reduce appetite are stimulant based, such as Phentermine, an amphetamine like drug, and the recently removed from the market drug, Meridia (sibutramine).  Sibutramine was not a amphetamine, but chemically related to them.  It blocks the reuptake of serotonin, dopamine and norepinephrine.  Although this was effective in reducing appetite, it was shown to cause risk of cardiovascular events (read: heart attacks) in certain individuals, especially those who were already obese, had poor diets, and other risk factors that would have increased this risk, especially when combined with stimulant drugs.

So, when pharmaceutical companies stumbled across a potential appetite suppressant that didn't appear to have any of the negative side effects associated with stimulants it piqued their interest.  The main constituent contained within Hoodia that had the supposed appetite reduction potential was called P57.  Since natural plants can't be patented and sold as prescription drugs, the idea was that drug companies could develop a process to extract or synthesize P57 on their own and patent it as an anorectic weight loss drug.  When news started to come around that the Hoodia plant was being investigated by major drug companies for its potential to help aid in weight loss supplement companies jumped all over it, buying up the bulk raw material, putting it in capsules, drinks, and anything else they could think of and sold it with claims of miraculous fat burning properties.  Unfortunately, no actual research had been conducted that demonstrability showed Hoodia had any effect on fat loss or appetite reduction.  Some studies conducted on rats by institutes in South Africa, which had a large financial stake in helping show that their native plant had some potential, are all that exist.

But now, a major chemical and pharmaceutical firm, Unilever, has released the results of a $25 million dollar human study they conducted on Hoodia and found that it had absolutely no appetite reduction benefits over placebo. Whats more, the individuals who consumed the Hoodia experienced many negative side effects.

The report, published in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, shows [...]
In their trial, Unilever researchers randomly assigned 49 healthy, overweight women to one of two groups. Both groups stayed at a clinic and were given two servings of yogurt a day for 15 days. In one group's yogurt drinks, the researchers had mixed in 1,110 milligrams of Hoodia.
The women were allowed to eat as much as they wanted during their stay at the clinic, yet there was no difference in calorie intake or weight loss between the two groups. Along the same lines, Hoodia didn't stifle anyone's hunger.
However, the Hoodia-treated women didn't fare as well as the placebo group. They experienced 208 cases of side effects -- three times the number reported by women eating normal yogurt -- including headaches, nausea, vomiting and odd skin sensations.
They showed increases in pulse and blood pressure, and signs of liver damage.
 Unilever has since abandoned any further research or attempts to pursue Hoodia as an appetite reduction drug.  Hoodia is one supplement you want to avoid if you decide to use weight loss supplements.

Frederik Joelving. Would-be fat-fighter Hoodia nothing but side effects - Reuters 10/28/11 (Link to article on Pastebin)
Wendy AM Blom, Salomon L Abrahamse, Roberta Bradford, et al. Effects of 15-d repeated consumption of Hoodia gordonii purified extract on safety, ad libitum energy intake, and body weight in healthy, overweight women: a randomized controlled trial. Am J Clin Nutr. 2011 Nov;94(5):1171-81. Epub 2011 Oct 12.

Tuesday, April 05, 2011

Startling New Revelations in newly released FBI file on Notorious BIG

Yesterday, the FBI unveiled their new reading room on their website for FOIA (Freedom of Information Act) documents.  The FOIA section on government websites contain their most commonly requested files that are requested by the public, media, journalists, etc who have an active interest in what they are investigating.  In new documents released by the FBI on their website was included, for the first time, the file maintained by the FBI on Christopher Wallace, rapper Notorious BIG aka Biggie Smalls.

For those of us who have been following the saga in the deaths of Tupac Shakur and Biggie, the document comes as a revelation -- almost confirming suspicions and allegations that have been made about their unsolved murders.  Tupac and Biggie were both, and still are, extremely popular and influential rap artists of their time and for fans, their murders have been a rallying point.  No one has ever been prosecuted for either of their deaths and since that time, many theories have popped up putting forth a wide array of who could have been involved, their "means, motive, and opportunity" as it were.

This new document released by the FBI essentially confirms what has been put forth for years about the murder, and even essentially names who was involved.  But, because of privacy laws, readers will find the document both tantalizing and extremely disappointing as most of the critical names are redacted (blacked out).  Regardless of that fact, simple conclusions can still be drawn from Wallace's FBI file that are hard to dispute.

The Facts

The facts in the murders of Tupac and Biggie are widely known.  Both were shot in drive by shootings that were eerily similar.  Tupac Shakur was killed in Las Vegas in September 1996 after attending a Mike Tyson fight and then getting into an altercation with a gang member in the lobby of the MGM Grand.  A few hours later, Tupac was gunned down while he was riding in Death Row head Suge Knight's BMW.  He lingered on life support for several days but died after his mother made the decision to withdrawal it.  Biggie was killed, in a very similar fashion, in March of 1997 in Los Angeles after attending a rap music award ceremony.  While riding with rival Bad Boy Records head Sean "Puffy/P Diddy" Combs, he was killed by a person driving an SS Impala who met up with him at a stop light.  Both cases remain unsolved, their killers still at large.

After their deaths, it was implied that each was involved in the rivals murders in and "East Coast vs. West Coast" rap feud.  Speculation has pointed fingers at numerous people, including both Suge Knight and Puffy for vengeance in this feud, but these allegations have never been proven.  Both artists raps included many verses about their fear of impending death by unknown forces, and this new documentation shows that it was clearly justified.  Both artists were in grave danger by their affiliation and associations and it seemed only a matter of time before each met a tragic end.

The Wallace FBI File

Information only hinted at for years can now be mostly confirmed by this documents release, but finding justice for Tupac and Biggie seems to be a lost cause.  The document makes clear that powerful forces were almost definitely conspiring to keep the killers and the people behind the killers from ever being brought to court for their crimes.  The following is speculative information, but almost certainly accurate, pertaining to who pulled the triggers and why.

Death Row Records was a criminal organization.  Death Row Records was the pinnacle of west coast raps most successful recording artists of all time until its eventual collapse.  Started by Bloods gang member Suge Knight, the ATF and IRS were both investigating Death Row for money laundering and breaking firearms laws.  It is suggested from the document that Death Row was involved in smuggling cocaine to the east coast from the west and then using the record company to launder the money.  The fact that they were a successful record label is quite possibly secondary to these intentions.

Both Tupac Shakur and Christopher Wallace were almost certainly killed on orders by Suge Knight.  Although Suge Knight was riding in the very same car that Tupac was killed in and injured himself, it is made plain through the FBI File that Tupac Shakur was owed huges sums of money in back pay from Suge Knight and Tupac was preparing to leave Death Row, quite possibly threatening to reveal the information he knew about Death Rows criminal enterprise to authorities.  The Shakur homicide appears to have been staged before hand by Suge Knight himself in order to silence Tupac before he could snitch on him to authorities.  The east coast/west coast feud was probably secondary, even though in Tupac's mind he may have seen east coast forces conspiring against him, his main threat was from his own record company president.  Although these are not new allegations, and the names in the file are redacted, reading other documents and viewing films on the case, the main cast of characters is well known.  It can only be speculated as to how planning Tupac's murder went down and the possibility of why Suge Knight was riding in the same car at the time he was gunned down can only be guessed at, it is quite clear that Christopher Wallace was not involved.  Both murders were setup from the start to appear to be a gang retaliation of LA based Crips against Bloods, it now seems that this was not the case.  Although gang members were recruited to do the shootings, they were probably on paid orders from Suge Knight to carry out the murders.

Update: Many people have disagreed with my theory that Suge Knight was involved of the death of Tupac.  I contend that this is a hard position to get across.  The most obvious problem with this hypothosis is the fact that Suge was in the car with Tupac when he was shot, and, was hit and injured himself.  So, it is completely reasonable to ask why would Suge put himself in mortal danger if he had setup the hit in the first place?  I will put forth a theory on my part which is based entirely on speculation.  It seems possible to me that Suge had either organized the hit beforehand or offered an underground reward to anyone who might be able to kill Tupac for him.  Meaning, in essence, that he did not specify a time and place for the attack to happen, but simply asked that it be done.  The killers knew that Tupac was in Las Vegas and wanted to kill him, but it was pure happenstance that they came across him at a red light and decided to commit the act then and there while the opportunity arose.  The true details of that night will never be completely known, as the main participants are probably dead or not speaking.  However, most of the evidence seems to indicate that the shooting was merely an act of revenge by Orlando Anderson, the man seen getting jumped by Tupac and his Death Row posse at the MGM Grand hotel while he was leaving the Mike Tyson fight he had been attending.  Nonetheless, I put forth that there is still a large body of material that points the finger at Suge Knight in the death of Tupac Shakur and it is almost without doubt that he was behind Biggie's murder.

Biggie was killed by rogue members of the Los Angeles police department (LAPD).  This is almost without a doubt that the LAPD intentionally covered up involvement of their own officers in the murder of Biggie Smalls.  The shooter and his accomplices, although not named, were known to be gang members of the Bloods and were affiliated with Suge Knight.  These officers were hired and paid by Suge Knight through Death Row Records to act as security, but behind the scenes, they were gang associated criminals.  The shooter of Biggie was identified as driving a black Impala SS, shooting a 9mm glock, and most importantly, using an extremely rare type of ammunition not available to the general public.  Identified in the document, the rounds that killed Biggie were 9mm Gecko (or GECO) ammunition, manufactured in Europe, and something that law enforcement might be expected to use.  Information on this type of bullet is hard to come by as it is so rare, only gun enthusiasts and experts might seek it out and use it.  From a forum on Glock firearms, Glocktalk.com, the following is said about these rounds:

Up until early to mid 2000 Geco brand 9mm was readily available. It was loaded with a 124gr gilding metal clad mild steel jacketed bullet. Geco brand 9mm ammo hasn't been available since around 2004. Dynamit Nobel A/G of Troisdorf, Germany, made ammo that was headstamped Geco, DAG & RWS. RUAG Ammotec of Switzerland now owns the rights to many of the European brands of ammo, including Geco, DAG, RWS & Norma to name a few. The current Geco ammo is reportedly made in Switzerland, just like the new production RWS 124FMJ that's on the market right now. 
Other information about the Christopher Wallace murder reveals that the gunman knew and understood police tactics and had radio equipment to monitor police transmissions so as to carefully calculate when and where to kill Biggie.  This was not the act of a gang member, but a trained and hired assassin.  All of these facts were well known to the LAPD and there were many witnesses ready to come forward to both the LAPD and FBI to testify as to who killed Biggie.  The LAPD intentionally conspired to cover up the fact that the murderer was one of their own officers and thus stifle any chance of his murderers being brought to justice.

The gunmen and the people behind them will never be charged with a crime.  Too much time has passed and too many powerful forces are at work to prevent the true killers from ever being brought to court and justice being served for Biggie or Shakur.  Law enforcement in Las Vegas, Los Angeles, and even federal authorities have stopped investigating these crimes.  Although Biggie's mother has pursued civil action against the LAPD it will almost certainly never result in a criminal trial.  The best outcome that can be hoped for is the LAPD will admit their wrongdoing and be forced to pay a stiffen to Wallace's mother.

Update: To my surprise, I have come across a little known home video that was taken by an amateur the night of Biggie's killing in Los Angeles on March 9th 1997 which appears to show the black Impala that was involved in the killing, as well as audio of the gunshots that night.  I had never seen this video previously and discovered it almost by accident.  I consider myself to have researched these killings a great deal and was surprised to find this footage.  Because of this, I assume many other people are not aware of it either.  It has never been alluded to in anything I've ever read or heard on the subject.

Black late 90s model Chevrolet Impala photographed outside the event Biggie Smalls was attending the night of his murder.  This is the same model and color car revealed in statements to be involved in the shooting.

There is much more information that can be learned from the FBI file on Christopher Wallace, but it is now in the realm for journalists and film makers to explore the truth behind both Tupac and Biggie's tragic deaths.  Both now and in the future generations will know them for their music and their message, but the truth about the details of their homicides will never be fully known.  Even decades from now when all the players in the cast of characters die and their names can be listed in the FBI file, it will come too late for Tupac and Biggie.

Read the Christopher Wallace FBI File

Please also check out my article on Nick Broomfield's documentary on the Tupac/Biggie Feud!

Update: Media picked up on this topic after it became widely posted and added some additional details.  Unfortunately, they were mostly only interested in the fact that Biggie was carrying large condoms with him when he was killed, a completely trivial fact that shows their complete disregard for the larger story that two peoples murders have quietly gone unsolved for over a decade.  From AVClub

According to the FBI’s findings, Biggie Smalls, real name Christopher Wallace, was killed with “Gecko 9mm armor-piercing ammunition,” a type of bullet deemed in the report to be “very rare”—so rare it could only be found at two distributors in the U.S. And yet, that very same ammo was found at the home of former corrupt LAPD cop David Mack—long named as a “person of interest” in the case because of his off-duty job working as a bodyguard for Suge Knight—after Mack was arrested for robbing a bank that same year. In addition to the ammo, detectives also found what they described as a “shrine” to Tupac Shakur, as well as a black Chevy Impala SS, the very same car that’s named in the FBI report as being driven by Biggie’s assassin.

From Entertainment Weekly:

Officials hoped they could link the bullets to other crimes to find the murderer, but none was discovered. They were also hoping to link Biggie’s killing to Tupac Shakur’s six months earlier—and did find individuals who were present at both scenes. 

Please comment and let me know what YOU think!

Monday, April 04, 2011

Twitter Toolkit

While I'm waiting on certain websites to come back online so I can continue writing on other projects, I thought I'd write a short article about Twitter and the tools I use on there to help me keep up with it and make my tweets.

Although opinions on Twitter are divided with many people not using it, I find it invaluable for news updates that often come faster than mainstream news sources.  I don't keep up with trending topics, as these are more often than not peoples personal feelings on their own life to be shared with a select group of friends, but ends up in a worldwide audience that then has to be filtered through to see if there is anything worthwhile - a time consuming process that can sometimes be pointless.  Twitter is a bit like a web based chat and a simple tool to post brief, but extremely fast moving content.  The vast majority of it is needless junk and spam, but if you can filter through that and follow who you want you can be rewarded.  Twitter is a great way to get updates on server status, news events, and ongoings that you might not get elsewhere - even through email or RSS feeds.

Moving on to the toolkit, the most obvious shortfall of Twitter is the fact that posts must be made in 140 characters or less.  This requirement is actually something of an art form, just watch celebrities as they make sentences or jokes in a coherent manner and you'll see what I mean.  This can be done without resorting to acronyms, but I still find it difficult and is one skill I have yet to master.  This is why the first tool in my Twitter Toolkit is Twitlonger.


Twitlonger takes all the text you can type (unlimited) and sticks it in a single tweet, with a single "(cont)" at the end, showing viewers that the rest of your text is on a shortened URL (more on those in a bit) and can be read on their site.  I often find it annoying to have to go through a message I want to tweet and substitute letters, words -- even entire thoughts and ideas and reduce it to fit in the confines of 140 characters.  Twitlonger lets me say whatever I want with correct punctuation and grammar and still makes it palatable to the average Twitter user.  Although putting your full message makes it slightly less accessible to mobile viewers, it makes your content a lot more coherent and reduces the need for multiple tweets to expand upon the same message.  Twitlonger does show ads on their site, which is a bit of a drag, but they are providing a service and obviously they are trying to make a profit doing so (nothing wrong with that).


URL shortening is essential on Twitter.  This goes without saying as the character limit and the need to post off site links are in the majority of Twitter posts. Bit.ly is the king or URL shortening service and although their URLs are steadily becoming longer, the main advantage they offer over competing shorteners is the availability of tracking statistics to each shortened URL.  By appending a plus sign to the end of any bit.ly URL you are able to see an overview of each click.  Some of the stats it shows are country of origin, where traffic came from, along with whose talking about it and what they're saying.  They also have site specific shorteners for a wide range of sites such as Amazon (shortened to amzn.to).  As mentioned, the main problem with bit.ly is its widespread usage is causing their URLs to become ever longer, negating some of the advantages of shortening.  The other shortener service I use, qoiob.com, gives you much shorter URLs with the novel advantage of one character domains that come out as an arrow, chess pieces, telephone, smiley face and other non-traditional characters.


Yfrog is an image hosting service from well known free image host ImageShack.  Very simply, it takes images you upload to host them and gives you back a shorted URL to post on Twitter.  As of late, they have a new interface on their page that lets you integrate directly with Twitter to see threaded posts and keep track of photos you've posted, giving you an entire new user profile for Yfrog.  Although some people prefer its well known sister site Twitpic, being a long time Imageshack user, Yfrog is just a natural move.

Other Tools

There are many other Twitter apps that give you access to posting and viewing content on Twitter.  Many of them are specific to certain uses such as posting whenever you favorite a Youtube video or listen to a song.  However, I find a lot of this tedious and unnecessary.  Tweeting every time you listen to a song can make your followers rather bored and can lead to people choosing to unfollow you as you clog up their main Twitter page with random songs you listen to or videos you like.  I scrobble all the songs I listen to from my desktop to the web to last.fm using both their scrobbling service and like.fm through a browser extension.  I do this so last.fm can keep track of my music and then recommend me new music I may like through their radio player that I use on the web, in their client, and on my Xbox 360.  However, I realize people don't want to see everytime I play a song, but I like to still post about my music interests.  I use Tweekly.fm which integrates in both Twitter and last.fm and then posts the top 3 artists I've listened to during the week on Sunday (you can customize the day).

Without going over every Twitter application in existence here are a few others I've found useful.

  • Twitpoll - Post a survey or a poll on your Twitter for your followers to answer
  • Twitrbackgrounds - Customize your Twitter page with a personalized background and color scheme to make it stand out from vanilla Twitter options
  • Twitition - Create, share and sign online petitions through your Twitter account
  • Disqus - A great commenting system that integrates with most major blogging platform (included on here) and allows you to login and post through a variety of methods, Twitter included
  • Scr.im - I always like novel ways to post your email that prevents spammers from reading it.  Scrim gives you a customized link that will display your email address once a CAPTCHA is solved.
As you can see, there are many additions to Twitter that can save time and make it more useful.  I haven't scratched the surface of what all can be done with this social network & microblogging site.  If you have any other useful apps feel free to post them in the comments!  Don't forget to follow me!

Friday, March 25, 2011

Make your own Weight Gainer

Many people often ask me for recommendations on supplements and I'm often asked to recommend a protein shake or weight gainer.  Typically a beginner won't know the difference between the two and this is why there are ridiculous products on the market such as Russian Bear 5000 on the market.  For those who are unaware, Russian Bear 5000 is a weight gainer protein shake formula that advertises having 5000 calories per serving but the directions instruct that you drink it with an entire gallon of milk and there are 3 servings per container.

Most weight gainer products on the market are advertised and sold this way because of naivety on the part of the buyer.  A common weight gaining product such as Muscle Juice is a good example.  It is generally composed of cheap whey protein concentrate (high in fats and sugars), a large amount of high GI carbs from corn sugar such as dextrose or maltodextrin and the cheap gimmicky fat MCT (medium chain triglycerides).  These cheap ingredients all give added calories to the mix and make it look impressive on the label.  The problem is that these are mostly empty calories and simply don't add weight on like real food or a superior protein MRP (meal replacement powder) would.  Because of the high GI carbs included in these formulas, an insulin spike is produced, which would be ideal post workout, but when consumed throughout the day can begin to start insulin sensitivity issues and fat storage.  When you look at it from this point of view, combined with gainers are usually more expensive, you start to understand why they shouldn't be used.

Whey protein concentrate (WPC), although a decent source of protein, is not ideal for everyone.  As I mentioned, it is very high in fats and sugars, especially lactose, and for anyone who has trouble with dairy, that is a problem.  Oh the other hand, it does have some microfactions that are good for the immune system.  Will Brink does a good job of explaining the differences in his article The Whey it is.

The next problematic ingredient we commonly find in weight gainers is maltodextrin.  Although it is classified as a complex carb, it does not act this way in the body.  Again, consuming maltodextrin around the workout window (before/during/after) would be suitable because it a high GI carb, but all throughout the day as recommended by using a weight gainer product can lead to insulin sensitivity and unwanted fat storage.

The last common ingredient is MCTs as a source of fat.  Although MCTs were once generally touted as being beneficial because they were used as an energy source, they have been almost entirely debunked.  When combining MCTs as a fat with a high GI carbohydrate it is almost certainly going to end up being stored as fat and not used.  A much better source would be from a good fat that is high in omega 3s and 9s like olive, flax, or fish oil.

A much better method is to simply blend up your own healthy gainer which quality ingredients you pick that give you more better calories overall and is still within anyones budget.

Pogue's Shake Receipe

This is my own personal shake recipe that I use all the time.  It tastes great and you can tweak it yourself based on your own personal tastes and add/subtract calories as needed.  Mix the following into a blender for a rich smoothie:
  • 3 cups of ice
  • 1 cup of 2% milk (122 cals, 5g fat, 11g carbs, 8g protein)
  • 1 banana (105 cals, 0g fat, 27g carbs, 1g protein)
  • 2 cups of frozen strawberries (92 cals, 1g fat, 22g carbs, 2g protein)
  • 1 cup of fat free plain yogurt (70 cals, 0g fat, 14g carbs, 4g protein)
  • 2 tblspoons of Naturally More peanut butter (169 cals, 11g fat, 8g carbs, 10g protein)
  • 1 tblspoon of olive oil (119 cals, 13g fat, 0 carbs, 0 protein)
  • 1 teaspoon of creatine
  • 1 scoop of Gaspari Myofusion (147 cals, 3g fat, 5g carbs, 25g protein)
That comes to a total of 814 calories, 33g of fat, 82g of carbs, and 50g of protein.  That is great for a weight gainer and includes good carbs and good fats.  Note that the numbers come from About.com's Calorie Count.  Obviously you can substitute Myofusion for the protein powder of your choice, including plain protein powder with no additives.  I choose Myofusion because it tastes good and Gaspari was nice enough to send me a free sample awhile back.  My other preference for protein is Optimum 100% Egg Protein.  Because I'm lactose intolerant and prefer non-dairy sources of protein, but although Myofusion does have WPC in it, they include lactase enzymes for digestion, so there is no problem.  I use Naturally More brand peanut butter which includes extra protein from flax seeds and contains good healthy fats along with fiber.  Obviously the creatine is optional, but if you are a trying to gain weight, it is highly beneficial and bulk powder is very cheap and blends easily. I use Cheap Supplements Creatine Monohydrate.

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