How Google+ just changed my life

It is with some bemusement that I report that Google+ – not yet out of beta – has already changed my life. Bear with me because I’m going to talk about diet for a bit, but where I’m actually going is to a discussion of how our means of acquiring information is changing.

So, I saw Sugar: The Bitter Truth scroll up on G+, watched it, and…ay yi yi. Fructose, a hepatotoxic poison?

OK, I did some followup research, I’m aware that there’s a countercase and that Dr. Lustig can be accused of oversimplifying some things and there’s dispute about others. But I know a fair bit about biochemistry, physiology, and related fields, enough to make his indictment of fructose as a chronic hepatotoxin far more convincing and frightening than if I were ignorant and all those enzyme-pathway charts meant nothing to me.

So, I’m cutting way down on the sugar and especially the fructose in my diet. This isn’t the wrench it would be for many Americans, because the fact is I dislike sugar in large amounts – couldn’t stand white cake frosting even as a kid, haven’t drunk mass-market colas or almost any other common soda drinks in significant quantities since the 1970s. And I loathe high-fructose corn syrup (HFCS). That crap tastes like burnt plastic to me, and I go to some lengths to avoid any food or drink that has it in the ingredients list.

There are a few sweetened drinks I do like – apple and cranberry juices, dry ginger ale, Nantucket Nectars and Snapple lemonade, and a couple of cane-sugar-sweetened boutique sodas (GUS and Reed’s ginger beer). Sadly, now I learn that the fructose content of all those nice healthy juices, and the fructose component of the sucrose dimer in the other drinks, could be kicking the crap out of my liver and shoving me towards “metabolic syndrome” – obesity, type II diabetes, hypertension, and heart disease.

This has extra point for me because a friend of mine died of non-alcoholic cirrhosis of the liver earlier this year. Classic presentation, comorbid with obesity, hypertension, and heart disease. This is becoming a disturbingly common pattern – and there came a point at which Lustig was explaining about fructose producing lipid-droplet deposition in the liver, and I realized what had almost certainly killed my gaming buddy. The fructose did it…

One of Lustig’s critics (sorry, I’ve lost the link) says meta-analysis of different studies suggests that a normal adult can avoid hepatotoxic effects from fructose by holding dosage below 50g a day. And that’s what I’m doing…no more apple cider with meals, halving my nightly dose of Godiva cocoa, being careful about how many lemonades I drink after an MMA class.

But I didn’t actually post to bore you with details about my diet. OK, I do think Lustig’s warning deserves a lot of attention, and if I’ve interested you in watching his talk I think I’ve done a good deed. But what’s perhaps more interesting than the message is the medium.

Lustig’s talk is a YouTube video that has gone viral. It came to my attention because someone that I encircled on G+ – that is, someone I thought likely to have interesting things to say – shared it into my stream.

Both these facts about it are interesting. First, Lustig was able to bypass a lot of gatekeepers and get a damn serious medical-epidemiological message out to the world despite the fact that it flutters a lot of dovecotes. (The food industry, the USDA, the medical establisment, and allied interest groups are enormously invested in fat-is-the-villain theory, for reasons Lustig does a good job of explaining.) Second, I got it because I can now crowdsource the job of finding interesting news to people who I’ve selected for having interests in common with me.

We’re all used to viral videos by now, but G+ implements a novel kind of filter on those and other sorts of news. It’s more selective than reputation-based systems like Slashdot or Reddit; instead of choosing a karma threshold I’m choosing my filtering population. So far, the resulting quality is quite high. At least, after I screen out the shares that are just political ranting from left-wing advocacy organizations and the mainstream media (but I repeat myself).

The result of that high quality is that G+ has already changed my life once. And could do it again.

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