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Dispatches : Politics

Calcium and Vitamin D Supplements Largely Unnecessary

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Courtesy of bradley j on Flickr.

Taking supplemental calcium and vitamin D, which has been widely recommended by doctors, is not necessary in most cases according to a panel of medical researchers convened by the Institute of Medicine, the New York Times reports. The researchers, who hailed mostly from university medical faculties, concluded that most people receive enough of both substances with a normal diet and limited time outdoors.

In fact, the panel compiled evidence suggesting that too much of either vitamin D or calcium could be detrimental to one's health. An excess of calcium has been linked to an increased risk for kidney stones and may increase the risk of heart disease, while an excess of vitamin D - which threshold is debated - may cause a higher risk for fractures and has been directly linked to a higher overall death rate.

There are of course exceptions and dissenters. Adolescent girls do actually need more calcium on average. Supplements can certainly fill that need. Objectors also note that the exact levels of calcium and vitamin D that the body needs are disputed and are not uniform across individuals.

However the thrust of the panel's statements indicate that their intention was primarily to have the medical industries - some of which have profitted mightily from the sale of these supplements in the past - take another look at the actual needs of a human body. A single dose of a common over-the-counter vitamin D supplement contains almost twice that necessary for one day.

--Riley Blanton

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Documentary Released on Hikers Detained in Iran


The documentary, Free Shane & Josh, is 25 minutes of explanation of how three American hikers crossed near the border of Iraq and Iran and were detained by the Iranian military last year, Wend reports. Sarah Shourd, the one of the three hikers who has been released, reveals some detail of their imprisonment in an interview.

The film, which can be watched in full online, is interesting, but it's also almost a literal plea to free the hikers. If you're moved, more on the effort to have Shane and Josh released can be found at Free the Hikers.

--Riley Blanton

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Palestinians Take Parkour to the Gaza Strip


A group of Palestinian young men have turned to parkour to overcome the obstacles of life on the Gaza Strip, The New York Times reports.

"Other than the siege and the difficult situation, there is a war every so often," Mohammed Al Jakhbeer told The New York Times, "and shelling this game makes me forget all of these things."

Abed Allah Enshasy first learned about parkour on TV, then recruited two others. The team trains by watching YouTube videos when they can get electricity.

Gaza's social conservatism prevents its only parkour players from taking their game to the streets, so the three friends practice amid the ruins of the Jewish Gush Katif settlement, The New York Times says. But they have begun to build an online presence and connect with other players through Facebook, MySpace, and YouTube.

"God willing, we will find someone to sponsor us," says Mohammed Erkayek, "and that will help us get out of here."

--Nick Davidson

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Divers Free Dolphins in Taiji

Photo courtesy of Flickr.

Last night, divers from the European conservation organization The Black Fish cut the nets of six holding pens in Taiji, Japan, their Web site reports.

The freed dolphins had recently been caught in a dolphin drive hunt and selected for the international dolphinarium trade, The Black Fish says. The divers swam in rough weather to free the dolphins, which swam back out to sea. None of the divers were arrested.

Taiji gained infamy as a place of dolphin slaughter with Louise Psihoyos's film The Cove, which won 2009's Best Documentary at the Oscars. Read more about The Cove and other adventure documentaries in The Outside Documentary Canon.

--Nick Davidson


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Boeing Starts Space Tourism Business

Boeing announced on Wednesday that it's entering the space tourism business, the New York Times reports.

The aerospace company is building a seven-person capsule that it hopes will take four NASA astronauts to the International Space Station, leaving three seats up for grabs. "The entrance of an aerospace giant like Boeing perhaps marks the transition of space tourism from a dreamy pursuit of start-up entrepreneurs to a mainstream aerospace market," the Times remarks.

The announcement comes amidst a fight between the House Science and Technology committee and President Obama over how the US space program should operate going forward.

The House committee envisions NASA following a traditional route, building a government-owned rocket to take astronauts to the International Space Station. Obama's version of the bill focuses on helping private companies develop commercial space travel. NASA would buy seats for their astronauts on those flights.

Read the Times report.

--Erin Beresini

Photo courtesy of Bruce Tuten on Flickr.

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