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Russia Stockpiles Diamonds, Awaiting the Return of Demand

The global recession sapped demand for all kinds of commodities — like steel and grain — yet small burlap bags are still arriving by the planeload at Russia’s state-owned diamond company.

Each day, the contents of the bags spill into the stainless steel hoppers of the receiving room. The diamonds are washed and sorted by size, clarity, shape and quality; then, rather than being sent to be sold around the world, they are wrapped in paper and whisked away to a vault — about 3 million carats worth of gems every month.

“Each one of them is so unusual,” said Irina V. Tkachuk, one of the few hundred people, mostly women, employed to sort the diamonds, who sees thousands of them every day.

“I’m not a robot. I sometimes think to myself, ‘Wow, what a pretty diamond. I would like that one.’ They are all so beautiful.”

It could be years before another woman admires that stone.

Russia quietly passed a milestone this year: surpassing De Beers as the world’s largest diamond producer. But the global market for diamonds is so dismal that the ALROSA diamond company, 90 percent owned by the Russian government, has not sold a rough stone on the open market since December, and has stockpiled them instead.

As a result, Russia has become the arbiter of global diamond prices. Its decisions on production and sales will determine the value of diamonds on rings and in jewelry stores for years to come, in one of the most surprising consequences of this recession.

Largely because of the jewelry bear market, De Beers’s fortunes have sunk. Short of cash, the company had to raise $800 million from stockholders in just the last six months.

Vitamins Found to Curb
Exercise Benefits

If you exercise to improve your metabolism and prevent diabetes, you may want to avoid antioxidants like vitamins C and E.

That is the message of a surprising new look at the body’s reaction to exercise, reported on Monday by researchers in Germany and Boston.

Exercise is known to have many beneficial effects on health, including on the body’s sensitivity to insulin. “Get more exercise” is often among the first recommendations given by doctors to people at risk of diabetes.

But exercise makes the muscle cells metabolize glucose, by combining its carbon atoms with oxygen and extracting the energy that is released. In the process, some highly reactive oxygen molecules escape and make chemical attacks on anything in sight.

These reactive oxygen compounds are known to damage the body’s tissues. The amount of oxidative damage increases with age. According to one theory of aging, it is a major cause of the body’s decline.

The body has its own defense system for combating oxidative damage, but it does not always do enough. So antioxidants, which mop up the reactive oxygen compounds, may seem like a logical solution.

The researchers, led by Dr. Michael Ristow, a nutritionist at the University of Jena in Germany, tested this proposition by having young men exercise, giving half of them moderate doses of vitamins C and E and measuring sensitivity to insulin as well as indicators of the body’s natural defenses to oxidative damage.

The Jena team found that in the group taking the vitamins there was no improvement in insulin sensitivity and almost no activation of the body’s natural defense mechanism against oxidative damage.The reason, they suggest, is that the reactive oxygen compounds, inevitable byproducts of exercise, are a natural trigger for both of these responses. The vitamins, by efficiently destroying the reactive oxygen, short-circuit the body’s natural response to exercise.