Posts by Dr. John Ray, monitoring food and health news -- with particular attention to fads, fallacies and the "obesity" war

The original version of this blog is HERE. Dissecting Leftism is HERE (and mirrored here). The Blogroll. My Home Page. Email me (John Ray) here. Other mirror sites: Greenie Watch, Political Correctness Watch, Tongue Tied and Australian Politics. For a list of backups (viewable in China), see here. (Click "Refresh" on your browser if background colour is missing) See here or here for the archives of this site

A major cause of increasing obesity is certainly the campaign against it -- as dieting usually makes people FATTER. If there were any sincerity to the obesity warriors, they would ban all diet advertising and otherwise shut up about it. Re-authorizing now-banned school playground activities and school outings would help too. But it is so much easier to blame obesity on the evil "multinationals" than it is to blame it on your own restrictions on the natural activities of kids

NOTE: "No trial has ever demonstrated benefits from reducing dietary saturated fat".

A brief summary of the last 50 years' of research into diet: Everything you can possibly eat or drink is both bad and good for you

"Let me have men about me that are fat... Yond Cassius has a lean and hungry look ... such men are dangerous."
-- Shakespeare

These kids are all "obese" according to Britain's moronic National Health Service


30 April, 2013

Fizzy drinks 'should carry cigarette-style health warnings', say experts as study shows diabetes danger in just ONE sugary drink a day

This is just a beatup of a study I debunked on 26th. -- with additional reference to that persistent old crank, Robert Lustig

Lustig's extreme claims about natural fruit sugar (fructose) being a "poison" have rightly put most of the medical research fraternity against him and the research evidence  against his demonization of fructose is strong.  There are even some studies (e.g. here) that suggest that fructose is good for you.

He does seem to have crumpled under the weight of opposition  and now demonizes sugar generally, including ordinary table sugar, which is a combination of fructose and glucose.

Sugary soft drinks should carry cigarette-style health warnings on their packaging, according to experts.  Scientists warned this week that drinking one can of soft drink a day can increase the risk of type 2 diabetes by a fifth.

A major study by Imperial College London found the risk rose by as much as 22 per cent for every 12oz serving of sugar-sweetened drink – a typical can – consumed per day.

Soft drinks have previously been linked with weight gain and obesity – a well-known trigger for type 2 diabetes – but researchers say the effect goes beyond body weight and may be caused by an increase in insulin resistance.

Other research has shown that sugary drinks can damage the liver and kidneys and are linked to the risk of developing cancer or dementia.

There are growing concerns that fizzy drinks and sweet juices could be more dangerous for health than previously thought.

Professor Barry Popkin of the University of North Carolina told the Sunday Times: 'If there is any item in our food supply that acts like tobacco, it is sugared drinks.'

Professor Nick Wareham, who led the Imperial team, told the newspaper: 'Labels on sugar-sweetened beverages should be explicit about how much sugar they contain and should say that we should limit consumption as part of a healthy diet.'

Previously, American scientist Robert Lustig called for sweetened drinks and food to be regulated in the same way as tobacco. Dr Lustig, a University of California academic, led a team of scientists for the paper The Toxic Truth About Sugar.  'This is a war and you didn't even know you were fighting it,' he told a nutrition conference last month.

The Imperial study of almost 30,000 people living in eight European countries, including Britain, follows US research which made near-identical findings.  Scientists wanted to determine whether the link held good in Europe, where soft drinks are less popular than in America.

Professor Wareham, of the Medical Research Council’s epidemiology unit, said it was more evidence that people should be cautious about the amount of sugary soft drink they consumed.

He said: ‘This finding adds to growing global literature suggesting that there is a link between consumption of sugar-sweetened beverages, obesity and risk of development of type 2 diabetes.  ‘This observation suggests that consumption of these beverages should be limited as part of an overall healthy diet.’

Researchers found that the risk of type 2 diabetes rose 22 per cent for people having one 12oz (336ml) serving of sugar-sweetened soft drink a day compared with those not having any.

The number of Britons diagnosed with diabetes hit three million this year for the first time – almost one in 20 of the population.

Type 2 diabetes is strongly linked to lifestyle factors such as being overweight or obese, leading a sedentary lifestyle and an unhealthy diet.

It occurs when the body gradually loses the ability to process blood sugar, leading to high levels which can damage body organs and result in years of ill-health.

The latest study used data on consumption of juices and nectars, sugar-sweetened soft drinks and artificially sweetened soft drinks.  It involved 12,403 people with type 2 diabetes and 16,154 without diabetes.

The researchers, led by Dr Dora Romaguera, said a possible reason for the link could be the effect of sugar-sweetened drinks on insulin resistance.

Type 2 diabetes is frequently preceded by an increase in insulin resistance, where the body becomes insensitive to the effects of insulin resulting in high blood sugar levels.  Dr Romaguera said: ‘Given the increase in sweet beverage consumption in Europe, clear messages on the unhealthy effect of these drinks should be given to the population.’

Consumption of pure fruit juice and nectar drinks was not implicated in rising diabetes, although the study could not separate out the effect of 100 per cent pure juices from those with added sugars.

Dr Matthew Hobbs, of Diabetes UK, said: ‘The large number of people involved in this study means this finding is extremely unlikely to have happened by chance.’

Gavin Partington, of the British Soft Drinks Association, said: ‘It is well known that diabetes is the result of many different factors, including obesity and family history.  ‘Soft drinks are safe to consume but, like all other food and drink, should be consumed in moderation.’

The study was published in Diabetologia, the journal of the European Association for the Study of Diabetes.


The Myth of Michelle Obama's "Food Desert"

This is an old idea long since discredited but both Mr and Mrs Obama specialize in such ideas

Science is a wonderful tool for understanding how our world really works. But if the science supporting a given understanding is flawed, or worse, if it is slanted in favor of a politically-favored outcome, it can become the justification for excessively wasteful activities. When science crosses that line, it is transformed from something that is worthy of respect into junk science.

This is the story of Michelle Obama and her fight against the food deserts of America. The story begins on 24 February 2010, when the First Lady of the United States of America used her White House platform to introduce the little-understood concept of the newly-discovered "food deserts" of America to Americans as part of a media blitz:
    "As part of Lets Move!, the campaign to end childhood obesity, First Lady Michelle Obama is taking on food deserts. These are nutritional wastelands that exist across America in both urban and rural communities where parents and children simply do not have access to a supermarket. Some 23.5 million Americans – including 6.5 million children – currently live in food deserts. Watch the video below and learn what the First Lady is doing to help families in these areas across the country."
Food deserts sound horrible. Isn't it good that the First Lady is doing something about this awful problem that would appear to be plaguing America's most poor, yet obese citizens, who suffer because they are deprived from having large supermarkets stocked with nutritious foods within walking distance of where they live?

Or is the First Lady relying upon junk science to justify the wasteful expenditure of taxpayer money to benefit her and the President's political cronies? After all, there was already plenty of evidence back in 2010 that indicated that food deserts were more a junk science-fueled political talking point than a real factor that significantly contributed to making poor Americans obese, as the original 2006 study proclaiming the crisis in President Obama's home base of Chicago was funded by LaSalle Bank of Chicago, then the largest business lender in the city, who would directly profit from investments to "remedy" the situation.

Fortunately, respectable science can help provide the answers to these questions. The U.S. Centers for Disease Control very recently published a peer-reviewed scientific study of the impact that a lack of nearby access to nutritious foods, such as might be found in one of the First Lady's food deserts, actually has upon the Body Mass Index (BMI) of the Americans who live within such regions. Here are the results and conclusion for their study of 97,678 adults in the state of California (home to 1 out of every 8 Americans):

Food outlets within walking distance (?1.0 mile) were not strongly associated with dietary intake, BMI, or probabilities of a BMI of 25.0 or more or a BMI of 30.0 or more. We found significant associations between fast-food outlets and dietary intake and between supermarkets and BMI and probabilities of a BMI of 25.0 or more and a BMI of 30.0 or more for food environments beyond walking distance (>1.0 mile).


We found no strong evidence that food outlets near homes are associated with dietary intake or BMI. We replicated some associations reported previously but only for areas that are larger than what typically is considered a neighborhood. A likely reason for the null finding is that shopping patterns are weakly related, if at all, to neighborhoods in the United States because of access to motorized transportation."

Economist Jacob Geller reviewed the study's statistical results:
    "If you look at the statistical tables, they’re pretty striking. Even where there is statistical significance — which is the exception to the rule — the size of the effect is so tiny, it’s like practically nothing. For example, on the margin, adding one full-service supermarket within a one-mile radius of your house is associated with an average BMI decrease in your neighborhood of .115. That is a difference of just one pound. (see back-of-the-envelope calculations here)

    So there is really no relationship, according to this one recent study of nearly 100,000 Californians, between the distance between your body and a full-service supermarket (or any other kind of food store), and whether or not you are obese. Distance, which is a proxy for access (the idea of a food desert is that the nearest supermarket, which has fresh produce, is distant), is for all practical purposes a non-factor."

Did we mention large and/or politically well-connected retailers are involved? That's actually how we know that the whole food desert publicity campaign is really about crony capitalism more than it is about dealing with the health problems of obesity. Because in truth, if it were a real problem that could be fixed by opening new store locations, it would be a lot easier, cheaper and faster for small "Mom and Pop"-style grocery businesses to fit themselves into the already existing and available retail spaces within such deprived communities as the supposed food deserts of America.

But since the whole food desert concept would seem to be based on junk science rather than the more respectable kind, it is perhaps too much to ask for the solutions advanced by the politicians taking charge of the crisis to solve a legitimate problem.


29 April, 2013

Two cups of coffee a day HALVES the risk of breast cancer returning by boosting the effect of medication (?)

The research description below is very poor and the decription here is not much better, so it is hard to make anything of the report, but it appears to be a correlational study of some sort and hence no basis for causal inferences.  Why some Swedes do NOT drink coffee would need to be established.  I understand that Swedes in general are very heavy coffee drinkers

Combined with the anti-cancer drug tamoxifen, coffee could halve the rate of recurrence of breast cancer, scientists have discovered.

Researchers at Lund University in Sweden believe that coffee actually boosts the effect of the drug.

They looked at 600 breast cancer patients from southern Sweden over a five year period.  About 300 of them took tamoxifen - a drug commonly prescribed after breast cancer surgery.

Many breast cancers rely on the female sex hormone oestrogen to grow.

Hormone-positive breast cancer cells have proteins which oestrogen attaches too.  When it comes into contact with these proteins it fits into them and stimulates the cancer cells to divide so that the tumour grows.  Tamoxifen works by fitting into the oestrogen receptors and blocking the hormone from reaching the cancer cells.

This means the tumour either grows more slowly or stops growing altogether.

Maria Simonsson, a doctoral student in Oncology at Lund University said: ‘Patients who took the pill, along with two or more cups of coffee daily, reported less than half the rate of cancer recurrence, compared with their non-coffee drinking, tamoxifen-taking counterparts.

‘How coffee interacts with the treatment, however, isn't immediately known.  ‘One theory we are working with is that coffee “activates” tamoxifen and makes it more efficient.’

The Lund University researchers have previously linked coffee consumption to a decreased risk of developing certain types of breast cancer.

Caffeine has also been shown to hamper the growth of cancer cells. The latest observational study involving coffee's role in cancer prevention and treatment underlines the need for more research, according to the team.

Helena Jernstrom, Associate Professor of Experimental Oncology at Lund University added: ‘We would like to know more about how lifestyle can interact with breast cancer treatment.’

This is not the first study to link coffee consumption with improved cancer prognosis.  Scientists at Harvard Medical School have found that women who drink three or more cups of coffee a day have a 20 per cent lower risk of developing the most common form of skin cancer compared to those who had less than one cup per month.

They also found that men who drank the same amount saw a nine per cent lower risk of the skin cancer, basal cell carcinoma.


Could GUT bacteria be responsible for thousands of heart attacks each year?

Interesting but with no obvious applications.  Taking antibiotics all the time would just develop resistance

Gut bacteria may be responsible for thousands of heart attacks - particularly in people who have no obvious risk factors for heart disease, such as high cholesterol.

Scientists have discovered that certain gut flora turn a nutrient found in egg yolks, liver, beef, pork, pork and wheatgerm into the compound Trimethylamine N-oxide (TMAO).  TMAO makes blood cholesterol build up on artery walls, causing hardening of the arteries.

If this buildup breaks away and blocks an artery, it usually results in a stroke or heart attack.

The new study built on a 2011 research on lab mice.

Carried out by the Cleveland Clinic's Lerner Research Institute, scientists asked 40 healthy adults to eat two hard-boiled eggs, which are rich in a fatty substance called lecithin.

After eating the eggs, the blood levels of TMAO became raised.

But if participants took antibiotics - which kill bacteria in the gut - before eating the eggs, their TMAO levels were suppressed, the researchers found.

'This showed that intestinal bacteria are essential for forming TMAO,' Dr. Stanley Hazen, a cardiologist at the Cleveland Clinic, told Reuters.

Next, to see whether TMAO predicts cardiovascular events, the researchers measured its levels in 4,007 heart patients.

After taking age and a past heart attacks into account, they found that high levels of TMAO were predictive of heart attack, stroke and death over the three years that the patients were followed.

Participants who had a heart attack, stroke or died during the study had higher than average TMAO levels than those who didn't.

In fact, those who possessed the highest TMAO levels had more than twice the risk of a heart attack or stroke compared to people in the bottom quartile.

And even people with high TMAO levels and no cardiovascular risk factors were 1.8 times more likely to experience a cardiovascular event than those with low levels.

The findings suggest TMAO could serve as a marker for predicting heart disease although more studies are required to confirm the link, said the paper published in the New England Journal of Medicine.

If the findings are confirmed, it is hoped that researchers will be able to develop a drug that blocks the production of TMAO.

Earlier this month, the same researchers published a study that found a link between consumption of a chemical called carnitine, which is found in red meat, and a risk of heart disease.

Carnitine is also converted by bacteria to TMAO.

The study joins a growing list of findings that link microbes in the gut, nose and genital tract, and on the skin to health and disease.

Research has shown that certain species of gut bacteria protect against asthma while others affect the risk of obesity.

Last week scientists reported that circumcision alters bacteria in the penis, and that this helps protect men from sexually transmitted disease.


28 April, 2013

Australian research suggests that tea is good for blood pressure

It is hard to reconcile the claims in the article below with Prof. Hodgson's actual research findings, as published in 2013.  The first article of the year here showed no difference in day/night variability in BP but the second article, later on in the year here found that blood pressure was slightly less changeable at night among tea drinkers.  It looks like Prof. Hodgson squeezed his data until he got what he wanted. The data underlying the two contradictory articles  appear to be the same!

Furthermore a 2012 article, also by Prof. Hodgson, here showed a long-term difference between tea drinkers and controls of between 2 and 3 mmHg.  Totally trivial, in other words, close to the error of measurement.

The claims below are BS, to put it plainly.  Prof. Hodgson could throw away his teapot with no adverse consequences for his health

You might have thought you were simply satisfying a thirst in that most British of ways.  But drinking three cups of tea a day may also stabilise your blood pressure, researchers say.  It not only reduces blood pressure, but also minimises the variability of readings taken at night.

Experts say the benefits of tea are largely due to the flavonoid content - antioxidant ingredients that counteract cardio-vascular disease.

Every day there are 350 preventable strokes or heart attacks in the UK due to high blood pressure.  It has long been known that high blood pressure can significantly increase the risk of heart disease.

Now wide variations in blood pressure are also recognised as an important risk factor compared with readings that show little difference over a 24-hour period.

Professor Jonathan Hodgson of the University of Western Australia said: `There is already mounting evidence that tea is good for your heart health, but this is an important discovery because it demonstrates a link between tea and a major risk factor for heart disease.

`We have shown, for the first time to our knowledge, that the consumption of black tea can lower rates of blood pressure variation at night time.'

A survey last week found tea is still the nation's favourite drink, with Britons consuming 166 million cups of tea every day.

A high blood pressure reading is one that exceeds 140/90 millimetres of mercury (mm Hg).

The first figure, the systolic pressure, corresponds to the `surge' that occurs with each heartbeat.

In the latest study 111 men and women consumed three cups of black tea daily or a flavonoid free, caffeine containing beverage for six months.They had systolic blood pressure between 115 and 150 mm Hg.

The rate of blood pressure variation was assessed at three time points, on day one and at three and six months.

At these three time points, black tea consumption resulted in 10 per cent lower rates of blood pressure variability at night time than the flavonoid free drink.

These effects were seen immediately on the first day of tea drinking and maintained over the six months.

The study team believe coffee boosts the effects of the drug.

As the caffeine content of the two beverages was the same, the improvement in blood pressure variability would appear to be the result of a black tea component other than caffeine, says a report in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition.

This is likely to be the flavonoid content, say the researchers, whose previous work found drinking three cups of tea daily led to a cut in blood pressure of between two and three mm HG.

Although black tea was drunk in the study, other research suggests adding milk does not affect the benefits.

Dr Tim Bond, from the industry-backed Tea Advisory Panel, said `High blood pressure is a well-recognised risk factor for cardiovascular and total mortality. Traditionally the level of blood pressure has been equated with risk but the variability of blood pressure is now also thought to contribute to risk.

`Black tea and its constituent flavonoids are increasingly associated with improvement in blood pressure and cardiovascular health. The regular consumption of black tea has been shown to lower blood pressure.

`With its flavonoids, black tea packs a powerful punch with many health benefits particularly for the heart and recent studies show the flavonoids work their magic whether or not we choose to add milk. Drinking four or more cups of black tea each day is quite simply very good for us.'


Is There Room at the Table For an Organic Food Eating Skeptic?

Keith Kloor still likes his organics even though he knows that they are not good for the environment

I'm your stereotypically disconnected urban food consumer who nonetheless cares about the environment and how my food is produced. That's why if you opened my refrigerator door, you would see organic milk, eggs, yogurt, cheese, salad greens, fruit, vegetables. I'm so brainwashed that I've even taken to buying organic bananas, because they look so fetchingly yellow. To be extra sure that we're not poisoning our kids with pesticide residue, my wife and I use all "all-natural, lemon scented" fruit and vegetable wash to detox our organic grapes and apples. (I know, what happened to good old fashioned tap water?) Even our frozen pizza is organic. (No GMOs, either, the package boasts.) On our bookshelves, you'd spot the works of Michael Pollan and Alice Waters, who teach us how to lead this virtuous, eco-conscious lifestyle.

Some readers are by now gasping at the hypocrisy of their hippy punching, sacred cow busting blogger, he who lambasts the nature-worshipping, organic-loving, GMO-fearing denizens of the world.

I got two words for you: Cognitive dissonance.

Actually, I'm well aware of the two parallel worlds I live in-the one at home, which is a temple to eco-wholesomeness, and the one in my head (translated to this blog and other places), where I question the assumptions of that other world.

Reconciling these two worlds is hard. It's kinda like a devout Catholic becoming an atheist while still identifying, culturally speaking, as a Catholic. How does one go about living a life that promotes earth-friendly organic tenets while in possession of the knowledge that organic farming, as I have learned, is not all it's cut out to be?

This is a dilemma I've been pondering of late, prompted in large part by arguments such as this one put forward by agricultural scientist Steve Savage:

"Contrary to widespread consumer belief, organic farming is not the best way to farm from an environmental point if view. The guiding principal of organic is to rely exclusively on natural inputs.  That was decided early in the 20th century, decades before before the scientific disciplines of toxicology, environmental studies and climate science emerged to inform our understanding of how farming practices impact the environment.  As both farming and science have progressed, there are now several cutting edge agricultural practices which are good for the environment, but difficult or impossible for organic farmers to implement within the constraints of their pre-scientific rules."

Savage is no organic basher. He's also a civil, mild-mannered communicator. In an interesting exchange with one of his readers in this other post (on pesticide use and GM crops) at his blog, he writes:

"I have great respect for organic farmers because of several that I have known for decades. I actually feel that the organic movement has been hijacked by an unholy alliance of marketers and anti-business activists and that its greatest insight and contribution (understanding the positive need to build soil quality) has been subjugated so that its "brand" is now defined almost entirely by what it is not: synthetics, GMO, irradiation."

This suggests that the organic movement was once a force for good, before ideological and commercial interests took it over. Is that true? More importantly, have the merits of organic farming been overstated? Is it okay to even raise these questions while snacking on my organic carrots?


26 April, 2013

Teen mothers' higher obesity risk: Women who have first child before 19 are a third more likely to be overweight

Refreshing that some effort to control for social class was made below but without measuring IQ and income that control was very partial.  Young motherhood and obesity are both signs of lower class identity so any causal connection between young motherhood itself and later obesity is tendentious.  IQ alone could explain the relationship observed.  Dumb, fat and pregnant would seem a highly recognizable syndrome

Young mothers are often thought to be at an advantage when it comes to getting back in shape after pregnancy.  But in fact women who have babies in their teens are significantly more likely than older mothers to become obese later in life, research shows.

Those who had their first child aged 19 or younger were a third more likely to be very overweight, it found.

Significantly fewer women who gave birth in their teens were of normal weight than those who had babies later.

Lead author Dr Tammy Chang said: `For the first time, we've identified our youngest mums as a high risk group for obesity, one of the most debilitating long-term health issues we face.

`When taking care of teen mums, we often have so many immediate concerns - childcare, housing, school, social and financial support - that we don't often think of long-term health effects.'

After controlling for factors such as race, education and background, the scientists found women who gave birth before 19 had a 32 per cent higher risk of obesity than women who had given birth at age 20 or later.

The survey by the University of Michigan of US women aged between 20 and 59 is believed to be the first to identify teen pregnancy as a predictor of obesity.

Dr Chang said of her research, published in the American Journal of Obstetrics and Gynecology: `We need further studies to better understand the link between teen birth and obesity, so physicians and  policy-makers can provide the best care to teen mothers.

`Obesity is a prevalent, expensive health problem and it's difficult to reverse, which is why it's incredibly important to identify at-risk groups early so that we can intervene.'


Diabetes danger in just ONE sugary drink a day: Chance of developing Type 2 increases by a fifth

The usual correlational stupidity.  Working class people probably drink more pop and are also less healthy.  The pop itself likely does nothing

Drinking one can of soft drink a day can increase the risk of type 2 diabetes by a fifth, scientists warn.

A major study found the risk rose by as much as 22 per cent for every 12oz serving of sugar-sweetened drink – a typical can – consumed per day.

Soft drinks have previously been linked with weight gain and obesity – a well-known trigger for type 2 diabetes – but researchers say the effect goes beyond body weight and may be caused by an increase in insulin resistance.

The study of almost 30,000 people living in eight European countries, including Britain, follows US research which made near-identical findings. Scientists at Imperial College London wanted to determine whether the link held good in Europe, where soft drinks are less popular than in America.

Professor Nick Wareham, of the Medical Research Council’s epidemiology unit, who oversaw the study, said it was more evidence that people should be cautious about the amount of sugary soft drink they consumed.

He said: ‘This finding adds to growing global literature suggesting that there is a link between consumption of sugar-sweetened beverages, obesity and risk of development of type 2 diabetes.

‘This observation suggests that consumption of these beverages should be limited as part of an overall healthy diet.’

Researchers found that the risk of type 2 diabetes rose 22 per cent for people having one 12oz (336ml) serving of sugar-sweetened soft drink a day compared with those not having any. For those having two soft drinks, it rose a further 22 per cent over those having one drink.

The number of Britons diagnosed with diabetes hit three million this year for the first time – almost one in 20 of the population.

Type 2 diabetes is strongly linked to lifestyle factors such as being overweight or obese, leading a sedentary lifestyle and an unhealthy diet.

It occurs when the body gradually loses the ability to process blood sugar, leading to high levels which can damage body organs and result in years of ill-health.

The latest study used data on consumption of juices and nectars, sugar-sweetened soft drinks and artificially sweetened soft drinks. It involved 12,403 people with type 2 diabetes and 16,154 without diabetes.

The researchers, led by Dr Dora Romaguera, said a possible reason for the link could be the effect of sugar-sweetened drinks on insulin resistance.

Type 2 diabetes is frequently preceded by an increase in insulin resistance, where the body becomes insensitive to the effects of insulin resulting in high blood sugar levels.

Dr Romaguera said: ‘Given the increase in sweet beverage consumption in Europe, clear messages on the unhealthy effect of these drinks should be given to the population.’

Consumption of pure fruit juice and nectar drinks was not implicated in rising diabetes, although the study could not separate out the effect of 100 per cent pure juices from those with added sugars.

Dr Matthew Hobbs, of Diabetes UK, said: ‘The large number of people involved in this study means this finding is extremely unlikely to have happened by chance.’

Gavin Partington, of the British Soft Drinks Association, said: ‘It is well known that diabetes is the result of many different factors, including obesity and family history.

‘Soft drinks are safe to consume but, like all other food and drink, should be consumed in moderation.’ The study was published in Diabetologia, the journal of the European Association for the Study of Diabetes.


25 April, 2013

Study: Apple extract kills cancer cells, outperforms chemo

Study in laboratory glassware only

"In recent research, compounds in apples known as oligosaccharides were found to kill up to 46% of human colon cancer cells. Further, the compound outperformed common chemotherapy drugs while leaving the toxic side effects behind."

Oligosaccharide from apple induces apoptosis and cell cycle arrest in HT29 human colon cancer cells

By Li Q et al.


It is reported that apple polysaccharide can prevent colon cancer growth and impede colon cancer progression. Apple oligosaccharide was prepared by the combination of alkaline hydrolysis and enzymolysis of apple polysaccharides, and purified by anion column chromatography. The aim of this study is to explore the effect of apple oligosaccharide on the cellular viability of human colon carcinoma cells (HT29 cells) and its mechanism. The results showed that apple oligosaccharide decreased the cellular viability of HT29 cells in dose-dependent manner. Meanwhile it enhanced the expression of Bax; and decreased the levels of Bcl-2 and Bcl-xl. Apple oligosaccharide induced cell cycle arrest in S phase, which correlated with the decreased expression of Cdk 2 and cyclin B1. These results indicated that apple oligosaccharide attenuated HT29 cell viability by inducing cell apoptosis and cell cycle arrest. Apple oligosaccharide is a potential chemoprevention agent or anti-tumor agent and is worthy of further study.

Int J Biol Macromol. 2013 Mar 16

McDonald's burger bought in Utah in 1999 looks exactly the same as the day it was first flipped

This is just food bigotry.  McDonald's uses unusually effective food preservatives.  So what?  Are those preservatives bad for you?  The whole world would know of it if they were

A Utah man has unearthed a McDonald's hamburger he bought in 1999 - and the sandwich looks exactly the same as the day it was first flipped.

David Whipple kept the fast food meal for a month to show friends how the preservative-packed hamburger would keep its composure.

But he forgot about it, finding it two years later in his coat pocket and then he decided to continue the bizarre experiment.

However, even he was shocked to see that the hamburger still looks the same a whopping 14 years later.

'It wasn't on purpose,' Whipple told TV show 'The Doctors,' of his decision to keep the burger for such a long time.

'I was showing some people how enzymes work and I thought a hamburger would be a good idea. And I used it for a month and then I forgot about it.

'It ended up in a paper sack in the original sack with the receipt in my coat pocket tossed in the back of my truck and it sat there for, I don't know, two or three months.'

He said his coat ended up in the coat closet of his Logan, Utah, home.

'My wife didn't discover it until at least a year or two after that,' he said. 'And we pulled it out and said "oh my gosh. I can't believe it looks the same way."'

The burger had no signs of mold, fungus or even a strange odor, the show's hosts said. The only thing that had changed over the years was that the pickle had disintegrated.

Whipple, who still has the original receipt for the burger, said he now shows the sandwich to his grandchildren to encourage them to eat healthily.

'It's great for my grand-kids to see. To see what happens with fast food,' he said.


24 April, 2013

Vitamin E could reduce fatty liver disease

Rodent study only.  There have been reports of a reduced lifespan from use of vitamin E so leaping to conclusions here might not be wise  -- even if you've got fatty liver disease

Eating leafy greens, sunflower oils, nuts and spinach could alleviate the symptoms of liver disease, according to new research.

Scientists believe that eating foods which are high in vitamin E could reduce the symptoms of liver disease which has been brought on by obesity.

Dr Danny Manor, an associate professor at Case Western Reserve University School of Medicine in Ohio, U.S., said: `The implications of our findings could have a direct impact on the lives of millions of people who are at potential risk for developing obesity-related liver disease in their lifetimes.'

Dr Manor and his team studied a group of mice that were in the advanced stage of non-alcoholic steatohepatitis.

Known as NASH for short, this is a common complication of obesity characterised by fat accumulation and inflammation in the liver.

It is most common in people who are obese, have type 2 diabetes, have high blood pressure or high cholesterol.

It is the most severe form of non-alcoholic fatty liver disease and is a major cause of tissue scarring, known as cirrhosis, which leads to liver failure and may progress to liver cancer.

Vitamin E had been shown by recent studies to alleviate some symptoms of NASH in human patients, suggesting that there is a link between vitamin E levels and liver disease.

To test this hypothesis, the team studied mice which were deprived of vitamin E.

As expected, they observed increased fat deposition and other signs of liver injury in the mice.

The researchers found that when they gave the mice vitamin E supplements the majority of NASH-related symptoms could be avoided.

They say this confirms the relationship between vitamin E deficiency and liver disease.

The precise effects of vitamin E on health have previously been difficult to ascertain, although its antioxidative properties were suggested to offer some protection from a variety of well-known conditions including heart disease, cancer and Alzheimer's.

Dr Manor added: `These findings may have a significant impact on public health as the vast majority of adults do not consume the amount of vitamin E recommended by the National Institute of Medicine.'

Dr Manor said: `Simple and affordable dietary intervention may benefit people at risk of this debilitating disease.'

He said the significance of the findings is not only the possibility that they will aid those who are currently sick but that they may also `affect many people who are presently healthy, but are at risk for becoming obese or diabetic in the future'.

Dr Manor added: `Right now, we really don't understand how NASH progresses from mild liver damage to severe liver failure.

`Our results will enable us to dissect the different steps in this progression, as well as study how oxidative stress affects liver function more generally, giving possible insights into other related disorders.'


Are SOYA BEANS the key to wrinkle-free skin? Hormone in the vegetable can keep us looking youthful, say scientists

Study appears not to have been double blind.  The power of suggestion is strong.  Some research by people not associated with the supplier would also seem desirable

It has already been heralded as a natural wonder drug which stops the spread of cancer.

But now scientists have discovered that a substance found in soya beans could also be the answer to youthful, wrinkle-free skin.

Genistein, a natural plant-hormone in soya, has been found to boost the production of collagen, the protein which gives skin its strength and elasticity that depletes with age.

In clinical tests, 53 per cent of women who used genistein said their skin felt firmer and appeared younger looking within just one month.

It was so successful at reducing wrinkles that users dubbed it a `facelift in a bottle.'

Now British women are set to get their hands on the miracle serum when it goes on sale online in the UK for the first time later this month.

Formulated by Swiss cosmetic firm, Swisscode, genistein works by inhibiting the action of enzymes which reduce and degrade the production and quality of collagen and elastin - the protein which gives skin its elasticity - as the body ages.

Blocking the enzymes also stimulates the production of new collagen.

Around 2,000 women, aged between 50 and 65 took part in a clinical trial in 2011.

Photographs were taken of the `crow's feet' wrinkles around their left eye area and they were asked to apply two or three drops of genistein to the same area twice daily.

The women were photographed again after one month and, in 53 per cent of the volunteers, the results were visibly improved.

Genistein is particularly effective in women going through the menopause because it is a time when oestrogen falls, accelerating the depletion of collagen and elastin in the skin.

Experts have found that genistein molecules are structurally very similar to oestrogen and therefore act in a similar way to Hormone Replacement Therapy (HRT), but without the nasty side effects.

Research published last year also found that the hormone, or isoflavone, also reduces the frequency and severity of hot flushes in older women by around 26 per cent.

Wolfgang Mayer, spokesman for Swisscode said: `As we age the skin becomes thinner, looser, and less elastic. In men this is a fairly gradual process, but in women this accelerates as we age and there is a drastic change with the onset of the menopause.

`Genistein works in a similar way to oestrogen, without any of the associated hormonal side effects. It blocks enzymes which cause the depletion of existing collagen, as well as stimulating the production of new collagen.

'Women who've used the serum have seen a dramatic reduction in lines and wrinkles in just a few weeks and have been astounded by the results.'

The 15ml bottles of genistein, which cost £54, will be available in the UK via, before potentially being launched on the high street later this year.

Celebrity make-up artist Tina Earnshaw, who has done the make-up on blockbusters such as Titanic and Spiderman, has been using genistein on her film star clients.

`It is an excellent tool to counteract the ageing process and a staple in my makeup kit,' she said.

Film stars are understandably conscious of how their face appears when magnified on the big screen, so I use genistein to prep my celebrity clients' skin before makeup and the results help me to achieve a flawless look.'

User Julie Martin, 63, added: `The genistein serum is superb. My skin is 63 years old and needs a lot of help. My skin feels so supple after application and the skin around my eyes has definitely improved. I never would want to be without it.'

Recent studies have found genistein to be an inhibitor of both breast and prostate cancer. It stops an enzyme that switches on cancer genes and also inhibits angiogenesis, the growth of new blood vessels needed to feed growing cancers.

In the laboratory it has been proven to curb the growth of all types of cancer cells, including those affecting the breast, lung, colon, prostate and skin. It also works on leukaemia.

Genistein is also thought to be useful in the fight against heart disease by preventing fatty plaque build-up in arteries.

It also deters the activity of thrombin, which promotes blood clotting, thus helping prevent heart attacks and strokes.


23 April, 2013

Gardening reduces obesity risk

Or is it mainly fitter people who take up gardening?  Fat people often have difficulty bending over and getting up.  Not too good for weeding

Pottering around in an allotment could cut the risk of obesity, according to a study which found that gardeners weigh about a stone less than their neighbours on average.

As well as providing a form of regular exercise, gardening could encourage people to eat more healthily if they grow their own vegetables, researchers said.

It could also provide an important social benefit for those who share an allotment with others, for example by introducing them to like-minded people with similarly healthy lifestyles.

Researchers from the University of Utah studied a group of 198 gardeners who shared community gardens – an American system similar to allotments – in Salt Lake City.

They compared the gardeners' body mass index (BMI), calculated as someone's weight divided by the square of their height, against their neighbours to determine if their hobby made them healthier.

On average, female community gardeners on average had a BMI which was 1.84 lower than their neighbours, which translates to an 11lb weight loss for a woman measuring 5ft 5in tall.

For male gardeners, BMI scores were 2.36 lower on average – a difference of 16lb in weight for a 5ft 10in man, according to the study published in the American Journal of Public Health.

Female gardeners were also 46 per cent less likely to be overweight or obese than their neighbours. The figure for male gardeners was 62 per cent.

Gardeners were also more likely to have a healthier figure than their siblings, but not their husbands and wives – suggesting that spouses may also benefit from helping out on the allotment and eating the fruits of their labour.

Prof Cathleen Zick, who led the study, said: "This initial study validates the idea that community gardens are a valuable neighbourhood asset that can promote healthier living.

"That could be of interest to urban planners, public health officials and others focused on designing new neighbourhoods and revitalising old ones."


Popular Chinese medicine used for migraines could be FATAL, warn health watchdogs

A herbal medicine used by alternative practitioners to treat migraines could be fatal.  Zheng Tian Wan is unregulated but is available in the UK, and it has been linked to serious health complications and death, health authorities say.

The plant remedy contains aconite – a herb once dubbed the ‘Queen of Poisons’ by the ancient Greeks - and could be toxic for the heart and nervous system.

The ingredient is on a UK list of restricted herbal ingredients and the Medicines and Healthcare products Regulatory Agency (MHRA) have issued a statement warning against using the product.

The MHRA said the issue came to their attention after a herbal practitioner supplied a patient the unlicensed migraine pills, which have not been tested for safety and quality.

The agency said it has previously received three reports of suspected side effects to aconite.

One patient suffered kidney problems, a second was hospitalised after suffering dizziness and paraesthesia (pins and needles) and the third experienced palpitations, aches and pains with shortness of breath but recovered after stopping taking the product.

Andrea Farmer, Herbal policy manager at the MHRA, said in certain circumstances herbal medicines could be extremely dangerous: ‘Herbal medicines can have a very significant effect on the body.

'In certain circumstances, such as when aconite is taken orally, they can be extremely dangerous.

'Natural does not mean safe. To help you choose a herbal medicine that is suitable for you, look for a product that has a Traditional Herbal Registration or product license number on the packaging. These products have met the acceptable quality and safety standards.

'And if you think you have suffered a side effect to an herbal medicine, please tell us about it through our Yellow Card Scheme.'

Websites selling Zheng Tian Wan advertise it as a ‘formula with a thousand year history that stops headache and migraine’.

However, MHRA guidelines dictate that aconite should not be used in unlicensed products for oral use and herbal practitioners in the UK are only allowed use aconite externally on unbroken skin.

Products intended for oral use containing aconite are not permitted in the UK without authorisation, while only qualified doctors can prescribe aconite's use in oral medicines, under the prescription-only medicine scheme.

An MHRA spokesman said: 'It's difficult to say how much is out there, because it's a traditional Chinese medicine, so it's not something we regulate.

‘It is also difficult to tell what the levels are in a product without testing it but the fact is, aconite is a particularly toxic product so regardless of the levels we would advice people not to take it.

‘If it was sold online we could have it taken down to have it removed from sale but we do not know where every traditional Chinese practitioner is working.’

They urge anyone who has taken Zheng Tian Wan, which is made by the Shenzhen 999 Chinese Medicine Investment Development Co, or any other aconite-containing product, to speak to their GP or healthcare professionals as soon as possible.


22 April, 2013

Hard graft leads to heart attacks, research finds

There's a mix of two studies reported below.  The Greek study is pretty obviously  just another instance of poorer people having worse health.

The Belgium/Denmark study is reasonably interpreted in the final sentence below and is a warning that exercise is not always beneficial

Those working in physically demanding jobs are more susceptible to heart disease than their desk-bound counterparts, according to new research.

The study in Greece found that those who did a day's work involving physical exertion were at least 20 per cent more likely to suffer from cardiovascular disease than those in an office.

A second study from Belgium and Denmark suggested that out-of-work exercise, such as in a gym, improved the coronary health of office workers but had a detrimental effect on those who already carried out manual labour as part of their job.

Men whose jobs involved strenuous physical work were four times more likely to have coronary heart disease when they also exercised in their leisure time, researchers reported.

Dr Demosthenes Panagiotakos, who led the Greek study, said the surprising results might be attributed to the extra stress experienced by people in physically demanding jobs.

However, he also said people in manual roles were more likely to be lower paid - which is linked to poorer health, with more unhealthy food and less access to healthcare.

Dr Els Clays, who led the Belgian and Danish study, added: "From a public health perspective it is very important to know whether people with physically demanding jobs should be advised to engage in leisure time activity.

"The results of this study suggest that additional physical activity during leisure time in those who are already physically exhausted from their daily occupation does not induce a 'training' effect but rather an overloading effect on the cardiovascular system."


Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC) Champions Shoddy Journalism on Endocrine Active Chemicals

As Jon Entine of the Genetic Literacy Project reports, the NRDC is not exactly known for scientific nuance. So, there was little surprise when blogger Mae Wu took to the cyberwaves recently to plug an NBC Dateline story promoting the alleged dangers of “endocrine disrupting” chemicals.

According to Wu, we should all be shocked—yes shocked—that an NBC producer and her family found trace chemicals in their urine—microscopic amounts of BPA, triclosan and phthalates—all of which are approved and not harmful as commonly used, according to the Environmental Protection Agency.

But that didn’t stop NBC and Wu from hyping what amounted to chemophobia. The scare tactic in this case was insinuating that the presence of common chemicals in our urine is dangerous. Journalists who do not understand risk analysis make this mistake all the time—ignorantly more than likely by NBC, as the reporter had no background in toxicology or science in general, but cynically by NRDC, whose unstated mission it seems is to scare people about chemicals.

What NBC and Wu never disclosed is that the presence of chemicals in our urine is neither unusual nor, in almost all cases, anything to be remotely concerned about. Miniscule traces of substances found in our urine can sometimes be meaningful but it’s usually just data noise—an artifact of high tech ultra sensitive biomonitoring devices; the dose and exposure time, not the presence of a chemical, determines its toxicity.

NBC found tiny amounts of BPA, a chemical investigated and approved numerous times by the Environmental Protection Agency—most recently one year ago in a direct rebuke of an NRDC suit. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has previously found traces of BPA in the urine of more than 90% of adults and children. That sounds frightening but not to a scientist. How scientists and journalists frame this often-stated fact is a good barometer of their understanding of toxicological risk—whether they genuinely wrestle with complex science or are mouthpieces, intentionally or not, for a predetermined, chemophobic perspective

Yes, we encounter BPA, phthalates and dozens of other common chemicals every day; and yes, they show up in our urine. It’s estimated that more than 160 chemicals can be detected in human urine, many of which are potentially dangerous if consumed at high enough doses over a long enough period of time. However, our liver regularly detoxifies chemicals from the environment and food, which is why we don’t keel over from drinking coffee, which has dozens of “killer” chemicals.

The CDC has repeatedly stated that while biomonitoring “can … help scientists plan and conduct research on exposure and health effects,” the presence of a chemical—whether BPA, triclosan, a phthalate or some other substance targeted by advocacy groups—does not mean that it’s harmful … or cause(s) an adverse health effect,” the CDC has written.

In the case of BPA, the FDA, reflecting the emerging scientific consensus that there is far more smoke than fire on the issue of so-called endocrine disruption, concluded, “[O]ral BPA administration results in rapid metabolism of BPA to an inactive [and therefore harmless] form.” The same mechanism is in place to detoxify many other so-called endocrine disrupting chemicals. The same is true for phthalates and triclosan, the other chemicals demonized by both NBC and the NRDC.

Phthalates in the crosshairs

Wu makes hash of the genuine scientific knowledge about all three chemicals. To dissect her shoddy reporting, I’ll just focus on one—the class called phthalates. Phthalates are plasticizers used to increase the flexibility and durability of a product. There are dozens of different types, but nine major ones used in thousands of consumer and industrial applications including, cosmetics, cables, flooring, medical devices and children’s vinyl backpacks and toys. NRDC’s website lumps them all together indiscriminately:

Phthalates are known to interfere with the production of male reproductive hormones in animals and likely to have similar effects in humans. Their effects in animal studies are well recognized and include lower testosterone levels, decreased sperm counts and lower sperm quality. Exposure to phthalates during development can also cause malformations of the male reproductive tract and testicular cancer. Young children and developing fetuses are most at risk.

A review of the evidence suggests that NRDC is far off the mark when it casually writes that phthalates are “likely to have similar effects in humans.” No study—not one—has shown that. Few chemicals on the market today have undergone as much scientific scrutiny as phthalate esters. Activists and industry groups pitted against each other in the debate have no shortage of studies they can invoke as ammunition. But one thing is clear: almost all of the evidence cited by anti-chemical campaigners is based on research linking phthalates to reproductive problems in rodents exposed to dose levels far higher than any human might face.

The NRDC’s misstatements about phthalates are compounded by the fact that, like many activist organizations, it willfully confuses different types of the chemical. Scientists draw distinctions between so-called low molecular weight ones—DEHP, BBP, DBP and DIBP— and high weight ones such as such as DINP, DIDP and DPHP. The low weight phthalates are slightly more volatile and can release minute amounts of off gasses—though not at toxic levels. As in the case of BPA, science bodies around the world have found low phthalates taken into the body are safely metabolized. Nonetheless, some regulatory bodies have voted in precautionary bans based entirely on rodent studies.

The long-term regulatory fate of the high phthalates is less sure. The chemical is ubiquitous, used in PVC/vinyl products as well as in hoses, shoe soles, sealings and many industrial processes. From a chemical perspective, high-weight phthalates are tightly bound, more stable and more resilient than low phthalates. They’ve been found safe time and again. Under the eye of activist groups and required by order of Congress, the US Consumer Product Safety Commission (CSPC) research organization known as the Chronic Hazard Advisory Panel or CHAP is expected to issue an updated scientific review soon. Pending the results of the CHAP review, there now exists a temporary ban on any child-care article that contains more than 0.1 percent of DINP, DIDP or DNOP.

It’s purely precautionary and unwarranted based on the death of evidence. The CDC offers a comprehensive list of links to a slew of scientific research on the chemical—none of which point to any serious human consequences. There is no cumulative buildup and the chemical is metabolized quickly by the body and excreted, noted Antonia M. Calafat of the CDC. “There is no consensus at present whether the phthalates are causing adverse health effects in humans,” added.

Two state of the art reports involving monitoring humans make hash of the NRDC’s fear mongering. A comprehensive study conducted in 2004 by the Children’s National Medical Center and the George Washington University School of Medicine showed no adverse effects in organ or sexual functioning in adolescent children exposed to phthalates as neonates. The same team evaluated infants in a 2010 study and reconfirmed the negative findings. Another more recent study has shown that even high levels of phthalates showed no effect on the genital development of marmosets, let alone humans—activist claims to the contrary.

More HERE  (See the original for links)

21 April, 2013

The old acrylamide scare never seems to go away

It was big in California eight years ago so I suppose it was due to hit Britain about now.  Debunked here

Raised levels of a chemical linked to cancer have been found in a range of foods from KFC meals to breakfast cereals.  Food watchdogs identified the increased quantities of acrylamide in 14 popular products.

The chemical is formed when foods are roasted, toasted or fried at very high temperatures.

Scientists say it is potentially carcinogenic if consumed regularly over a lifetime.

The Food Standards Agency tested 300 products to understand the scale of the problem.

The largest amount was found in crisps, including a number of expensive brands such as Burts Sea Salted crisps.

There were also raised levels in Tesco ready salted crisps, Tayto cheese and onion crisps, Seabrook Sea Salted crisps, Pipers Anglesey sea salt crisps and the Co-op’s Sea Salt and Chardonnay crisps.

Manufacturers suggested the problem was caused by last year’s bad weather which changed sugar levels in potatoes, which in turn created more acrylamide.

In terms of take-out food, raised levels were found in a sample of KFC fries bought at a restaurant in Congleton, Cheshire, and a fish and chip shop in the town.

Breakfast cereals containing bran, which is cooked at a particularly high temperature, also contained more acrylamide.

Raised levels were found in Tesco bran flakes, Sainsbury’s wholegrain bran flakes, the Co-op’s wheat bran flakes and puffed wheat sold by the Good Grain Company.

Higher than expected levels were also found in Fox’s Ginger biscuits and TUC biscuits.

The FSA stresses it does not consider the levels of the chemical found to be dangerous, however it is keen that they are brought down as a precautionary measure.

A spokesman said: ‘We will work with the relevant local authority to encourage food manufacturers to review their acrylamide reduction strategies.’

The watchdog said there is no need for the public to give up the foods named in its survey, however it gave advice on how people can reduce exposure.

This includes cooking chips only to a light golden colour while advising that ‘bread should be toasted to the lightest colour acceptable’.

It said manufacturers’ instructions for frying or oven-heating foods, such as chips, should be  followed carefully.

KFC said it has contacted all of its outlets to ensure cooking methods are designed to guarantee low acrylamide levels.  It added: ‘We believe that this  was a one–off anomalous result as the levels in every other test carried out on KFC fries were significantly lower.’

Burt’s said the wet weather had changed the character of potatoes to create higher levels of the unwanted chemical.

As a result, it is switching to new varieties that should reduce the level and is improving its  sorting process to remove overcooked crisps.

Tesco said: ‘Food safety is incredibly important to us, and we are working closely with our suppliers to ensure all acrylamide levels are below the recommended indicative value.’


Let British farms grow GM food, says PM's personal scientific adviser: Top adviser backs calls to relax rules on crops

Calls to relax the rules on GM crops were backed yesterday by the nation’s chief scientist.  Sir Mark Walport said the rise of genetically modified food was ‘inexorable’ and there was a ‘strong case’ for it to be grown in Britain.

So far biotech firms have been deterred from growing GM crops in Europe by the tightest controls in the world.

But controversially Sir Mark, who is David Cameron’s personal scientific adviser, said the food was proving its worth and production is increasing globally.

‘It is inexorably rising up the agenda again because as a technology it is showing its value more and more, obviously in terms of the crops that are able to feed the world,’ he added.

‘The job of a scientific adviser is to set out the scientific case and that scientific case is becoming stronger and stronger.’

But Peter Riley, of campaign group GM Freeze, said: ‘The public remains extremely sceptical about the safety of GM foods and the benefits that are said to come from them.

Politicians and scientific leaders need to look at other food options that do not come with such a large risk.

‘The push for GM is being orchestrated by large industry rather than in the interest of the consumer or public health.’

Sir Mark said it was his ‘job to advise on the science and it is then the politician’s job to decide how to use that ... The final decision is a political decision’.

His comments – in his first public speech in the job – are the latest indication that the GM lobby is rapidly gaining influence after years of public hostility.

Earlier this month, four major supermarkets ended bans on farm suppliers giving GM feed to animals producing meat, milk and eggs.

The vast majority of those foods sold in Britain will now come from animals raised on a GM diet.

However, a survey by the Food Standards Agency last year found two in three people believe food from animals given a GM diet should be described as such.

And a British Science Association study showed public support for so-called Frankenstein Foods declining from 46 per cent in 2002 to just 27 per cent now.

Campaign groups have also raised concerns over ministers’ secret meetings with GM lobby groups – details of which emerged only following freedom of information requests.

Environment Secretary Owen Paterson last year came out as keen proponent of GM crops, dismissing consumer fears as ‘humbug’.

And, days ago, scientists called on ministers to back technology which could produce genetically modified salmon, pigs and cattle.

Speaking after his address to the University of Cambridge’s centre for science and policy’s annual conference, Sir Mark said GM crops could provide important potential benefits for food production.

He added: ‘For every genetic modification you have to ask what plant, what gene and for what purpose. The case will be strong for some and not strong for others. Each case has be decided on its merits.’

Asked for examples of crops that would benefit British farming, Sir Mark said: ‘If it were possible for instance to develop a blight-resistant potato, then that would be a valuable thing to do.’

He also said that ‘golden rice’ –genetically modified rice that contains higher levels of vitamin A to reduce blindness and other diseases in the developing world – had ‘been around for some time’.

Biotech firms such as Monsanto have ensured that 80 per cent of the soya grown in the US and Brazil is GM.

It is one of the reasons why British supermarkets have now been forced to allow GM-fed produce into the food chain.

The first GM meat and fish could also go on sale this summer. Authorities in the US are expected to grant approval to Aquabounty salmon, which has been modified to grow twice as fast as normal.


19 April, 2013

Mothers-to-be 'can safely enjoy two drinks a week without harming their baby' (and their child may be better behaved than if they abstained)

This is not exactly conclusive data but it suggests that any adverse effect is very small

Pregnant women who enjoy a couple of glasses of wine each week will not harm their baby’s development, claim researchers.

And their study suggests that such mothers-to-be may eventually find that their child is better behaved than if they had abstained from alcohol.

British researchers claim the latest findings should make mothers feel more relaxed about the occasional tipple.

Although official guidance says alcohol is best avoided in pregnancy, previous research shows light drinking does not adversely affect toddler development. The new study of almost 11,000 mothers confirms this finding also holds good for primary-age schoolchildren.

Women can safely drink a 175ml glass of wine, a 50ml glass of spirits or just under a pint of beer each week without damaging their child’s intellectual or behavioural development, the study found.

A team at University College London questioned mothers when their babies were nine months old about their drinking during pregnancy and other aspects of their health and wellbeing.

Visits were also made to the families when the children were seven, says a report in BJOG: An International Journal of Obstetrics and Gynaecology.

Tests were carried out to assess their development in maths, reading and spatial skills, and questions were asked about their social and emotional behaviour.

The results showed boys and girls born to mothers who had one or two units of alcohol per week scored slightly higher on some tests than those born to non-drinkers.

They were also likely to have lower scores for behavioural problems than children of mothers who abstained, although adjustment for other factors diminished the differences.

Professor Yvonne Kelly, who led the research team, said: ‘There appears to be no increased risk of negative impacts of light drinking in pregnancy on behavioural or cognitive development in seven-year-old children.

‘While we have followed these children for the first seven years of their lives, further research is needed to detect whether any adverse effects of low levels of alcohol consumption in pregnancy emerge later in childhood.’

Just under 13 per cent of the mothers never drank, while almost 60 per cent chose to abstain while expecting.

Around one in four were light drinkers during pregnancy – consuming a couple of units a week – and 7 per cent drank more in pregnancy.

Heavy drinking in pregnancy is linked to foetal alcohol spectrum disorder in children, which can cause a range of physical, mental and behavioural problems.

The issue of how much is safe to drink during pregnancy has caused controversy in recent years.

In 2007, the Department of Health published guidance saying pregnant women should avoid drinking alcohol altogether, as should those who are trying to conceive. This replaced previous guidance which said it was safe for pregnant women to drink one to two units of alcohol per week. The Government said its update was not based on new research but was to provide consistent advice to all women.

The National Institute for Health and Clinical Excellence also advises women to avoid alcohol in the first three months of pregnancy to reduce the risk of miscarriage.

John Thorp, BJOG’s deputy editor-in-chief, said: ‘It remains unclear as to what level of alcohol consumption may have adverse outcomes, so this should not alter current advice.

‘If women are worried about consumption levels, the safest option would be to abstain from drinking during pregnancy.’


Old age 'is a state of mind' (?)

That is a rather exaggerated conclsion from the given data.  The sample is too small and the method too impressionistic to conclude anything, in fact

Old age is a state of mind as much as the body, according to a study which found that people who have a younger outlook are more healthy in old age.

People who consider themselves to be frail are more likely to abandon activities which can keep them healthy in old age such as taking regular exercise.

But others with a more positive attitude can remain socially active, healthy and enjoy a greater quality of life despite having equal or greater levels of physical weakness, a study found.

Researchers from Exeter University interviewed 29 people aged 66 to 98, who had varying levels of physical health and some of whom lived independently while others were in care homes.

Participants were asked about their experience of ageing and frailty to determine how their attitude could affect their health and quality of life.

Most participants, even those in the worst physical shape, maintained that they were still in good condition, with one commenting: "If people think that they are old and frail, they will act like they are old and frail".

But in the two people who did consider themselves frail, researchers identified a "cycle of decline" where their outlook had led them to withdraw from socialising and exercise – even though they were physically stronger than some other participants.

Previous studies have shown that elderly people who are physically active and have a rich social life remain healthier and happier in old age.

Krystal Warmoth, a PhD student who led the study, presented her findings at the annual conference of the British Psychological Society last week.

She said: "It is almost a self-fulfilling prophecy.

"A person's beliefs about their self could lead to a loss of interest in participating in social and physical activities, poor health, stigmatisation, and reduced quality of life.

"You are as old as you feel and your own views of yourself, or taking on this identity of being frail, is not what you should be doing," she added. "You should try and keep positive about getting older and not assume you will be frail."


18 April, 2013

The Western diet really IS a killer: People who eat white bread, butter and red meat are most likely to die young (?)

The usual correlational rubbish.  No curiosity shown about WHO it might be who ate a "correct" diet.  People who take more care of their health generally?  Middle class people?  More educated people?  High IQ people?  All those would have better health anyway

The typical Western diet, high in fat and sugar, really does lead to an early grave, new research suggests.

A study of more than 5,000 civil servants found those who ate the most fried and sweet food, processed and red meat, white bread and butter and cream doubled their risk of premature death or ill health in old age.

It adds to evidence that 'Western style food' is the reason why heart disease claims about 94,000 lives a year in the UK - more than any other illness.

The findings published in The American Journal of Medicine are based on a survey of British adults and suggest adherence to the diet increases the risk of premature death and disability later in life.

Lead researcher, Dr Tasnime Akbaraly, of the National Institute of Health and Medical Research in France, said: 'The impact of diet on specific age-related diseases has been studied extensively, but few investigations have adopted a more holistic approach to determine the association of diet with overall health at older ages.'

She examined whether  diet, assessed in midlife, using dietary patterns and adherence to the Alternative Healthy Eating Index (AHEI), is associated with physical ageing 16 years later.

The AHEI is an index of diet quality, originally designed to provide dietary guidelines with the specific intention to combat major chronic conditions such as heart disease and diabetes.

Dr Akbaraly added: 'We showed that following specific dietary recommendations such as the one provided by the AHEI may be useful in reducing the risk of unhealthy ageing, while avoidance of the "Western-type foods" might actually improve the possibility of achieving older ages free of chronic diseases.'

The researchers analysed data from the British Whitehall II cohort study and found following the AHEI can double the odds of reversing metabolic syndrome, a range of disorders known to cause heart disease and mortality.  They followed 3,775 men and 1,575 women from 1985-2009 with a mean age of 51 years.

Using a combination of hospital data, results of screenings conducted every five years, and registry data, investigators identified death rates and chronic diseases among participants.

At the follow up stage, just four per cent had achieved 'ideal ageing' - classed as being free of chronic conditions and having high performance in physical, mental and mental agility tests.

About 12 per cent had suffered a non-fatal cardiovascular event such as a stroke or heart attack, while almost three per cent had died from cardiovascular disease.

About three quarters were categorised as going through 'normal ageing'.

The researchers said participants who hadn't really stuck to the AHEI increased their risk of death, either from heart disease or another cause.

Those who followed a 'Western-type diet' consisting of fried and sweet food, processed food and red meat, refined grains, and high-fat dairy products, lowered their chances for ideal ageing.


Researchers look to emus for the good oil

This appears to be research in laboratory glassware only so far

Emu oil has been found to help treat a variety of common bowel diseases as well as the intestinal damage caused by cancer chemotherapy.

Research at the University of Adelaide has supported emu oil's traditional anti-inflammatory properties and has also shown it can help repair damage to the bowel.

Laboratory experiments by physiology PhD student Suzanne Abimosleh found emu oil - which is rendered from the fat of the large native birds - accelerates the repair process by stimulating growth of the intestinal crypts, the part of the intestine that produces the villi which absorb food. Longer crypts and villi mean a healthier bowel that can better absorb food.

"Disorders of the gastrointestinal tract, such as the inflammatory bowel diseases and chemotherapy-induced mucositis, are associated with malabsorption of food together with inflammation and ulceration of the bowel lining," Ms Abimosleh said. "The variable responsiveness of treatments to these diseases shows the need to broaden approaches, to reduce inflammation, prevent damage and promote healing."

Lead researcher Gordon Howarth said the next step in the use of emu oil included clinical trials, possibly with patients suffering from conditions such as irritable bowel syndrome.

"We've now done sufficient studies in the laboratory to show that emu oil has potential to help reduce the debilitating symptoms of these conditions and to enhance intestinal recovery," he said.


17 April, 2013

Beetroot juice 'helps lower blood pressure': A glass a day can reduce it by 7%, say researchers (?)

There is no warrant that the small drop in BP observed will have ANY therapeutic effect

Drinking beetroot juice every day could help to lower blood pressure, say researchers.  They found a dose of eight ounces – around one cup – may help people with high blood pressure, cutting their readings by about 7 per cent.

Tests suggest the effect is produced by beetroot’s naturally high levels of nitrate.  High concentrations of nitrate are also found in celery, cabbage and other leafy green vegetables such as spinach and some lettuce.

Eating high-nitrate foods triggers a series of chemical reactions in the blood, which can increase oxygen in areas of the body which are specifically lacking supply.

The beetroot juice used in the study contained about 0.2g of dietary nitrate, levels found in a large bowl of lettuce or two beetroots.

Amrita Ahluwalia, lead author of the study and a professor of vascular pharmacology at The Barts and The London Medical School, said: ‘We were surprised by how little nitrate was needed to see such a large effect.

‘Our hope is that increasing one’s intake of vegetables with a high dietary nitrate content, such as green leafy vegetables or beetroot, might be a lifestyle approach that one could easily employ to improve cardiovascular health.’

Beetroot juice is found in most health food shops and usually costs around £2 a bottle.

An estimated 16million people in the UK have high blood pressure, including a third who do not know they have it, and it is a major risk factor for heart disease, stroke, and kidney failure.

Changes in lifestyle, such as cutting down salt and alcohol and taking more exercise, may control blood pressure and there are a number of drug treatments available.

A high blood pressure reading is one that exceeds 140/90 mm Hg. The first figure, the systolic pressure, corresponds to the ‘surge’ that occurs with each heart beat.

The latest study recruited eight women and seven men with systolic pressure between 140 and 159 mm Hg who were not taking blood pressure drugs.

The participants drank 250ml of beetroot juice or water containing a low amount of nitrate, and had their blood pressure monitored for 24 hours, says a report in the American Heart Association journal Hypertension.

Compared with those drinking water, people having beetroot juice cut their systolic pressure by about 10 mm Hg.

The effect was most pronounced three to six hours after drinking the juice but still present even 24 hours later.

Previous research has shown beetroot increases stamina, and can boost blood supply to vital areas of the brain.


Taste of beer makes you want more, research shows

As someone who greatly enjoys beer, I have no quarrel with the  remarks below at all

BEER drinkers have long known the amber ale tastes good, but just a sip of the stuff provokes us with the urge to get drunk, research suggests.

A study by American scientists revealed the alcohol-related flavours in beer make the brain release dopamine, a pleasure hormone, which drives people to seek out more booze.

Scientists measured changes in dopamine release in 49 men - some with a family history of alcohol abuse - all with varied drinking habits, while they tasted very small amounts of beer.  All the men tested said they wanted to keep drinking.

The researchers found the men with a history of alcohol abuse in their family released larger amounts of dopamine.

They concluded this could be the reason why these people were more likely to have an alcohol-related problem.

University of Sydney scientist Michael Bowen said the study revealed the taste of beer was enough to make people want to get intoxicated.  "It's not just the alcohol that is resulting in this dopamine release - it is the taste of it," he said.

"Potentially these people (with a family history of alcohol abuse) have a greater potential to develop an alcohol abuse disorder down the track.  "It will potentially drive you to consume greater levels of alcohol."

Mr Bowen said the reason why the researchers did not use wine or spirits in the study was because they needed to ensure the subjects were not drunk when they performed the tests.


16 April, 2013

The much hyped resveratrol fails under test among humans

Another failure to generalize from rodents

It’s been touted as a cure-all for diabetes, dementia, heart disease and even hearing loss, but the miraculous health benefits of red wine cannot be reaped if you are obese, say researchers.

Resveratrol, the active compound found in the skins of red grapes and cocoa, is an antioxidant produced by plants to help protect them from extreme environments and block the effects of ultraviolet sunlight, infections and temperature changes.

The research, published in journal Diabetes, found that although test-tube studies had suggested that resveratrol had an effect on obesity, diabetes, high blood-pressure and blood cholesterol, it had no effect on 24 obese, but otherwise healthy men.

The study, carried out by Aarhus University Hospital in Denmark, gave 12 men high-dose supplements of the substance and 12 men a placebo for four weeks.

Over this period the participant’s insulin sensitivity, blood pressure, cholesterol, and resting energy expenditure were monitored.

Researchers found that there was an insignificant decrease in insulin sensitivity and no change in blood pressure, cholesterol and resting energy expenditure.

‘The lack of effect disagrees with [previous] data obtained and raises doubt about the justification of resveratrol as a human nutritional supplement, said the scientists.

The research contradicts previous data showing that the life of lab rodents - including old, fat, and even diabetic mice – could be extended by supplementing the diet with the chemical.

It was presumed that the chemical could work in the same way for humans.


When government cries wolf

There was some confusion a few days ago about whether certain kinds of licorice are legal in California. I had pointed out that an out-of-state firm was unwilling, because of Proposition 65, to ship its licorice to California. That does not mean that the licorice is illegal in California. It is not. But, under Proposition 65, it must be accompanied by a warning label saying that certain ingredients may cause cancer.

Presumably, the firm was not willing to add such a label. Why? Think about the rest of the U.S. market outside California, which would probably be over 85% of the market. Californians have learned to ignore Proposition 65 labels because they are white noise: they don't communicate anything about degrees of danger or probabilities. But if people in those other states see such a warning, many of them might get nervous.

There does seem to be a simple solution: add a Proposition 65 warning label only for shipments to California. Why doesn't the company do it? I don't know. It's possible that the California market is much smaller than 15% of the market and that it just isn't worth it.

The point about warnings as white noise does, though, raise a more-serious issue. Within a few miles of where I live in coastal California is Monastery Beach, where the undertow is particularly severe. Many people have drowned at the beach. I remember one time in the last 10 years when a whole visiting family drowned.

Notice the word "visiting." Almost all the people who drown there are tourists. Why is that relevant?

The locals tend to know about the undertow. Outsiders do not. On the beach for well over 15 years has been a big sign warning of the undertow. I think many tourists simply think the sign is typical government overstatement. When I went through the San Jose airport Saturday morning in a long line at TSA, we passengers were subjected to John Pistole's warning, on an infinite loop, of the dangers of terrorism. We've all seen enough to know that it's not that dangerous. So we tend to ignore government warnings. So when there really is a high-probability threat and the government warns us, we tend to dismiss that too. Government cries wolf way too often.

It's a kind of a Gresham's law of warnings: warnings about low-probability threats drown out, rather than drive out, warnings about high-probability threats.

One last example. In 1982, when I was working in the Reagan administration, my friend Harry Watson came to town and we rented two kayaks. I had never been in a kayak in my life. We tried them out on the placid C&O canal beside the Potomac River and then went to put them in the Potomac. "WARNING: DANGEROUS CANOE PUT-IN." said the sign. "Yeah, right," we thought. There goes government crying wolf again.

Wrong. Within 50 yards of having put in our kayaks, we were using all our physical energy to navigate down a very rough river. Within less than 2 minutes, I was worn out and all I had left was adrenaline. After I got to my first bit of calm, I relaxed slightly and immediately tipped over. I was heading for the next big set of rapids. Fortunately, a seasoned kayaker appeared out of nowhere, told me to hold on to the strap on his kayak, and towed me to shore. I was lucky. Those people at Monastery Beach were not.

Good information is just too important for us to allow government to drive it out with bad information.


15 April, 2013

Is austerity good for the  health of a community?

The calories restriction evidence and the Dutch famine study would tend to support that conclusion.  Less healthy people would simply have died.  So it's not evidence for anything about the surviving individuals

While an economic crisis results in untold misery for countries and their people, a new study of health in Cuba has suggested there could be a silver lining during lean times.

Researchers appear to have implied that people can lose weight during a recession due to a reduction in eating and increasing physical activity.

Their dramatic findings, published online in the British Medical Journal, were based on a study in Cuba, where the population suffered food and fuel shortages following the economic crisis of the early 1990s triggered by the collapse of the Soviet Union.

This resulted in an average of 4 to 5kg (8 to 11 lbs) being shed by the people and subsequent rapid declines in deaths from diabetes and coronary heart disease.

The scientists from the University of Alcalá, in Madrid, also discovered that when Cubans put the weight back on, cases of diabetes surged again.

The researchers concluded that the Cuban crisis could have lessons Britain.

They suggested that an average weight loss of just eleven pounds across the UK could cut deaths from heart disease by a third while the mortality rate of type 2 diabetes, the form of the condition related to obesity, could also be halved.

Whole population trends in food consumption and transport policies linked to physical activity could reduce the burden of two major illnesses, said the researchers.

“During the deepest period of the economic crisis in Cuba, from 1991 to 1995, food was scarce and access to gas was greatly reduced, virtually eliminating motorised transport and causing the industrial and agricultural sectors to shift to manual intensive labour,” said Prof Manuel Franco, who led the international team of researchers from Spain, Cuba and the United States.

"We found a population-wide loss of 4-5 kg in weight in a relatively healthy population was accompanied by diabetes mortality falling by half and mortality from coronary heart disease falling by a third.

“So far, no country or regional population has successfully reduced the distribution of body mass index or reduced the prevalence of obesity through public health campaigns or targeted treatment programmes.”

They examined the association between population-wide body changes and diabetes incidence, prevalence and death rates from type 2 diabetes and cardiovascular disease, cancer and all causes in Cuba between 1980 and 2010.

The country has a long tradition of public health and cardiovascular research which provided the necessary data from national health surveys, cardiovascular studies, primary care chronic disease registries and vital statistics over three decades.

Four population-based cross-sectional surveys were used and data were available on height, weight, energy intake, smoking and physical activity. All participants were aged between 15 and 74.

Population-wide changes in energy intake and physical activity were accompanied by large changes in body weight.

Smoking prevalence slowly decreased during the 1980s and 1990s and declined more rapidly in the 2000s.

Diabetes prevalence surged from 1997 onwards as the population began to gain weight. New cases decreased during the weight loss period but then increased until it peaked in the weight regain years.

In 1996, five years after the start of the weight loss period, there was an abrupt downward trend in death from diabetes.

This lasted six years during which energy intake gradually recovered and physical activity levels were reduced. In 2002, death rates returned to pre-crisis trends and a dramatic increase in diabetes death was observed.

Regarding heart disease and stroke death trends there was a slow decline from 1980 to 1996 followed by a dramatic decline after the weight loss phase. These descending trends have halted during the weight regain phase.

Prof Walter Willett, of the Harvard School of Public Health, Boston, who analysed the research for the journal, said it adds "powerful evidence a reduction in overweight and obesity would have major population-wide benefits".

He also said the authors are appropriately cautious in their conclusions and avoid "attributing all the changes in disease rates to changes in weight".


Today's adults 15 years 'older' than parents

So why are lifespans steadily lengthening, then?  Lifespan is the bottom line  -- not factors alleged to be related to it

Today's adults are so unhealthy they are 15 years 'older' than their parents and grandparents at the same age, researchers say.

They are more likely to suffer from high blood pressure, diabetes and obesity than previous generations because of poor health, according to a study published in the European Journal of Preventive Cardiology.

Looking at 6000 adults aged 20, 30, 40, 50 over a 25 year period, researchers found younger generations had poorer 'metabolic' health - a range of issues including blood pressure and weight.

It revealed men in their 30s were 20 per cent more likely to be overweight than in previous generations, while women in their 20s are twice as likely to be obese than those 10 years ago.

Blood pressure also increased among the younger generation of both men and women, while younger blokes are more likely to have diabetes than their dads and granddads were.

Author Gerben Hulsegge from the Dutch National Institute for Public Health and the Environment said the younger generation are "15 years ahead" in terms of "metabolically" health.

He said: "The more recently born adult generations are doing far worse than their predecessors.

"For example, the prevalence of obesity in our youngest generation of men and women at the mean age of 40 is similar to that of our oldest generation at the mean age of 55.

"This means that this younger generation is '15 years ahead' of the older generation and will be exposed to their obesity for a longer time.

"This firstly highlights the need for a healthy body weight - by encouraging increased physical activity and balanced diet, particularly among the younger generations.

"The findings also mean that, because the prevalence of smoking in high-income countries is decreasing, we are likely to see a shift in non-communicable disease from smoking-related diseases such as lung cancer to obesity-related diseases such as diabetes.

"This decrease in smoking prevalence and improved quality of health care are now important driving forces behind the greater life expectancy of younger generations, and it's likely that in the near future life expectancy will continue to rise.

"But it's also possible that in the more distant future, as a result of our current trends in obesity, the rate of increase in life expectancy may well slow down, although it's difficult to speculate about that."


14 April, 2013

Is music the secret to a good night's sleep? Researchers find it can improve quality AND boost your brainpower overnight

Provided you don't like peace and quiet while you sleep, I guess.  A VERY small study

Listening to music while you sleep could improve your memory, according to a new study.

Researchers have discovered that playing sounds synchronised to the rhythm of the slow brain oscillations of people who are asleep enhances these oscillations which boosts their memory and improves the quality of their sleep.

It has long been known that slow oscillations in brain activity, which occur during so-called slow-wave sleep, are critical for retaining memories.

Co-author Dr Jan Born, of the University of Tübingen in Germany, said: ‘The beauty lies in the simplicity of applying auditory stimulation at low intensities.

‘This approach is both practical and ethical if compared, for example, with electrical stimulation.

‘Therefore, it portrays a straightforward tool for clinical settings to enhance sleep rhythms.’

Dr Born and his colleagues conducted tests on 11 people during which they exposed the participants to sound stimulations.

When the volunteers were exposed to stimulating sounds that were in sync with the brain's slow oscillation rhythm, they were better able to remember word associations they had learned the evening before.

Stimulation out of phase with the brain's slow oscillation rhythm was ineffective.

Dr Born said: ‘Importantly, the sound stimulation is effective only when the sounds occur in synchrony with the on-going slow oscillation rhythm during deep sleep.

‘We presented the acoustic stimuli whenever a slow oscillation "up state" was upcoming, and in this way we were able to strengthen the slow oscillation, so that it showed higher amplitude and occurred for longer periods.’

The researchers suspect that this technique might also be able to improve sleep.

Dr Born said: ‘It might even be used to enhance other brain rhythms with obvious functional significance—like rhythms that occur during wakefulness and are involved in the regulation of attention.’


The single jab that could banish back pain: Bone marrow injected into the spine could repair damage

Sounds hopeful

Back pain could be cured by a single injection in the spine, new research suggests.

Pioneering research has found that injecting bone marrow - the flexible tissue found inside bones - into the spine can help repair the damage.

Some patients who had the treatment had their back pain cured, say the doctors at Columbia Interventional Pain Center in Missouri, who trialled it.

The condition affects 80 per cent of people at some point, and for many it becomes a long-term problem, costing the NHS £1.5billion a year.

The usual treatments are painkillers such as anti-inflammatories, steroid injections, physiotherapy and surgery, but many people are never completely free of pain.

It's now hoped that the bone marrow injections could become a viable alternative treatment.

Grafts using bone marrow are increasingly used by surgeons to repair damaged tissue and, with this in mind, the Missouri researchers investigated how effective it could be for back pain.

The procedure involved injecting a concentrated form of bone marrow liquid into lumbar discs.

These are small cushions of tissue between the bones in the spine that work like shock absorbers. They are prone to wear and tear, and can slip out of place, pressing on nerves.

Doctors trialled the therapy on 22 patients who had suffered back pain for an average four years. Their disc problems were confirmed with CT and MRI scans.

The results were mixed - some patients reported complete pain relief - on average, for four years - while others saw no improvement.

Another benefit was that no patient reported a worsening of pain, and no complications occurred. Patients also reported needing less medication.

Presenting his findings at the American Academy of Pain Medicine, lead researcher Dr Donald Meyer said: 'Our results are encouraging.

'Currently, when conservative treatment measures fail, therapeutic options are limited for individuals with back pain due to disc degeneration. Many resort to disc surgery or spinal fusion with mediocre results.

'Our goal is to help develop a safe, natural method to boost the body’s own capacity to heal disc pain.'

Arthritis Research UK said the study looked promising. 'Low back pain, associated with intervertebral disc degeneration, is a painful and debilitating disorder costing the UK economy over £12billion a year,' a spokeswoman said.

'Although many types of surgery are available for selected patients, current treatments for low back pain remain inadequate, with patients continuing to suffer pain and immobilisation.

'This study shows that this type of novel treatment using bone marrow grafts may be effective in certain patients.


12 April, 2013

Car exhaust linked to childhood cancers, study finds

The usual rubbish.  No control for social class

Scientific experts have reams of data to show that the nation faces an epidemic of illnesses that are exacerbated by vehicle exhaust. These illnesses include cardiovascular disease, asthma, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD), lung cancer and diabetes.

The latest study, presented on April 8, 2013 at the American Association for Cancer Research (AACR) 2013 Annual Meeting in Washington, D.C., showed a possible link between exposure to traffic-related air pollution and several childhood cancers.

Julia Heck, an epidemiologist at UCLA’s Fielding School of Public Health and member of Jonsson Comprehensive Cancer Center found that increased exposure to traffic-related air pollution during pregnancy was associated with a higher incidence of acute lymphoblastic leukemia (a white blood cell cancer) and two other rare childhood cancers.

Specifically, Heck found a link to germ cell tumors — cancers of the testicles, ovaries, and other organs — and eye cancer, called retinoblastoma, particularly the type that affects both eyes.
Previous international studies have linked childhood leukemia, lymphomas and brain tumors to vehicle exhaust. The UCLA study is the first to look at vehicle air pollution and rare childhood cancers. The highest increases were found for retinoblastoma and germ cell tumors.

“The main reason for undertaking this study was that we know much more about the causes of adult cancers than we do of the causes of childhood cancers,” said Heck.  “We studied pregnancy exposures because the fetus is likely to be more vulnerable to environmental factors during that time, and we also know that certain childhood cancers originate in utero.”

For the study, Heck and her colleagues identified 3,590 children from the California Cancer Registry born between 1998 and 2007 who could be linked to a California birth certificate and who were five years of age or younger at the time of diagnosis.

Those kids were then compared to 80,224 randomly selected California children in the control group.

UCLA researchers used sophisticated modeling to estimate each child’s exposure to gas and diesel vehicle pollution at home, during each trimester of their mother’s pregnancy with the child and their first year of life. Cancer risk was estimated using a statistical analysis called unconditional logistic regression.

Increases in exposure to traffic-related air pollution positively correlated with increases in childhood acute lymphoblastic leukemia, germ cell tumors and retinoblastoma, according to the study results.

The pollution exposure estimates were highly correlated across pregnancy trimesters and the first year of life, meaning that no particular period stood out as a higher exposure time. This made it difficult for the scientists to determine if one period of exposure was more dangerous than any other, the UCLA study points out.

Because this is the first study of this type, and these are rare diseases, Heck cautioned that the findings still need to be replicated in further studies. Nevertheless, the results provide new leads to potential causes of serious childhood cancers.


From biting your nails to burping and even eating in bed: The bad habits that can be GOOD for you!

From an early age we are taught to curb our bad personal habits — so it might come as a surprise to learn that some of these have health benefits.

From burping and finger-cracking to spitting, we reveal the upside of our horrible activities...


It’s a habit most sufferers try hard to give up, but it may actually be good for you, says Dr Hilary Longhurst, consultant immunologist from the Bart’s NHS Trust.

‘Unless your hands are filthy, the bugs we encounter when biting our nails could boost our immune system.’

This is because our immune system has a memory, making a note of how to fight every bug it has ever encountered.

When a bug is encountered a second time, the immune system reaches into its memory and releases weapons — called memory lymphocytes — that it knows will beat it.

So, regular nail biting exposes us to small amounts of potentially immune-boosting bugs. (The same principle applies to picking your nose and consuming the result. ‘It won’t harm you, though you’ll be a social outcast,’ she says.)

Dr Longhurst suggests biting our nails might be an evolutionary hangover.

‘In caveman times, we wouldn’t have had scissors, so biting our nails would have been the only way we could keep them short and prevent us injuring ourselves.’

The added benefit was that our immune systems learned to deal with bugs we encountered.


Don’t tell your children, but a loud burp — or belch — though offensive, may in fact protect your body against damage from stomach acid.

The sound comes from the rush of gas as it passes through the valve in the gullet at the bottom of the throat.

This valve, the upper oesophageal sphincter, then vibrates, says Dr Nick Read, a consultant gastroenterologist for the charity the IBS Network.

Burp gas is formed of a mixture of substances. As well as containing air we swallow when we bolt down food, it also contains carbon dioxide.

This is produced in the stomach when the acid mixes with alkaline bile (which comes from the section of gut below the stomach).

Certain fat-rich food, such as chips or creamy sauces, alcohol and smoking can exaggerate this process, called duodeno-gastric reflux.

This natural gas release — the belch — is a normal part of digestion and suppressing it can cause problems.

‘If you don’t belch and the gas stays on the stomach, this can cause the valve that separates the gullet and the stomach to relax, allowing stomach acid to splash up into the gullet, triggering heartburn,’ says Dr Read.

It can also cause the lower end of the gullet to go into spasm, he says, triggering pain in the centre of the chest.

Though belching is a normal part of digestion, certain conditions can cause someone to burp more than usual.

These include stomach ulcers or inflammation of the duodenum or gullet, which can be caused by aspirin or alcohol.

There are also conditions that can produce more unpleasant belches.

‘If no stomach acid is being produced — which can be due to an infection with the helicobacter pylori bug or the condition pernicious anaemia (where the body doesn’t absorb enough vitamin B12) — then this changes the type of bacteria in the stomach,’ says Dr Read.

In some cases, these bacteria produce hydrogen, which can make belches flammable.

‘One patient told me she lit up a cigarette and two plumes of flames came out of her nostrils,’ says Dr Read.


As with burping, it’s important that we pass wind.

‘We evacuate wind for a reason — it forms in the bowel and we need to get rid of it,’ say Dr Read.

Most of the gas comes from the fermentation of protein and carbohydrate. Gas is usually produced from your bottom around six hours after eating.

‘If you eat at 7pm, by 2am you’ll feel it bubbling away in your lower abdomen and may start to produce gas,’ he says.

‘Your may even feel your intestines, specifically our caecum (the first section of the large intestine), start to expand in the lower right-hand corner of your abdomen.’

Releasing the gas eases pain and bloating, especially if you have a sensitive gut that becomes bloated regularly.

‘Holding it back can also trigger pain. A colleague used to call it Metropolitan Railway Syndrome — all these commuters suffered pain and bloating because they were too embarrassed to break wind on public transport.’


The loud pop of someone cracking their knuckles makes most people wince, but though it sounds harmful it has no effect on the health of our joints — and may make the joint feel more flexible.

‘There is a lot of folklore surrounding this, with some people claiming it weakens the joints,’ says Dr Chris Edwards, consultant rheumatologist at Southampton General  Hospital. ‘But when you look at the evidence it doesn’t seem to have an effect.

‘One large study followed a group of people for five years and looked at whether those who cracked their knuckles were more likely to develop arthritis — they found their joints were just as healthy as those who didn’t.’

The sound is thought to come from the air pockets that form in the liquid — the synovial fluid — that surrounds each joint; the crack is produced when these pop under the pressure of the joint bending.

‘This cracking can make a joint feel more flexible,’ says Dr Edwards.

‘People’s joints tend to feel more comfortable after cracking — this may be because they have stretched out the joint and have a greater degree of movement.’


Despite what your mother told you, eating in bed may aid digestion.

This is because digestion relies on the parasympathetic nervous system being activated, specifically a long nerve called the vagus nerve.

Stress of any sort will interfere with this mechanism and try to stop digestion.

‘If you’re eating in a rush, are stressed or tense, you’ll get a conflict in the gut and end up with indigestion or other gastric symptoms, such as bloating,’ says Dr Read.

He adds that the best way to eat your meal is in a relaxed environment where you can take time to enjoy your meal. And what better place to do this than in your own bed?

‘Though it’s always best to eat at a table with friends or family, at least in bed you are relaxed,’ says Dr Read.

Make sure you sit upright and prop up yourself with pillows, because hunching can squash the stomach and trigger indigestion.


Spitting may be a filthy habit, but when you’re exercising it could help you breathe more easily.

When we exercise, our mouth and throat produce more saliva, says Dr John Dickinson, lecturer in exercise physiology at the University of Kent.

‘Normally, we breathe through our nose — this warms the air and makes it more humid, allowing the body to absorb oxygen from it more efficiently.

‘However, when we exercise we tend to breathe deeply through our mouth to draw as much air as possible into the body.

‘But this air isn’t being warmed up or humidified, and when this cold, dry air hits the back of the throat, the cells try to protect themselves by triggering inflammation.’

Though not harmful, this inflammation cause the cells lining the throat to produce a layer of saliva that shields them from the cold air.

Dr Dickinson says runners may find the saliva can build up and interfere with their breathing pattern, so they need to spit.


11 April, 2013

Probiotic gives new hope to premature babies

The evidence is not exactly rigorous but the treatment seems good news nonetheless

Australian doctors have discovered a cheap and simple solution to a deadly health problem suffered by very premature babies.

One in eight babies born in Australia are born premature, and many babies born eight weeks early can develop a serious bowel condition called necrotising enterocolitis, or NEC.

The potentially fatal condition, which occurs because the baby's gut is colonised by bad bacteria instead of good bacteria, can require surgery and multiple hospital visits.

Babies with the illness can also have neurological complications such as cerebral palsy.

Dr Girish Deshpande from Sydney's Nepean Hospital says there are not many effective treatments for the condition, so prevention is the best option.

Because of this, doctors at the hospital have been trialling a probiotic supplement on all babies born eight weeks premature.  It is live, friendly bacteria, similar to that found in some yoghurts.

In this case, doctors sourced the purest probiotic they could find, finding the best one from Switzerland.  It is mixed with breast milk and given to the babies through a feeding tube.

Dr Deshpande says there is good evidence to show that probiotics improve gut integrity.

"They also reduce the inflammation in the gut as well, so it's very well documented and that's why we chose probiotics for little pre-term babies here," he said.  "Probiotics are quite helpful in preventing this serious and deadly condition."

Fourteen-month-old Madison Parsey was the first Australian baby to have the probiotic.

Her dad Scott says it was an easy decision to take part in the study.  "We came to the conclusion that the benefits far outweighed any negatives," he said.  "She hasn't taken a backward step since.

"She tolerated the treatment well. She is now healthy and not showing any signs of health problems."

An early trial showed the treatment reduced the incidence of bowel disease by 50 per cent.

And when probiotics were given to all the premature babies in the nursery, the effect was even greater.  In the last year, no babies given the probiotic at Nepean Hospital have developed the bowel condition.  All very premature babies at hospitals like Nepean now get the supplement as a matter of course.

Doctors say another advantage of the treatment is the cost.  It can cost around $250,000 to treat a child who gets the disease, while a course of the probiotic is as little as $75.

With the success of the probiotic supplement, the treatment is being rolled out to hospitals in Australia and New Zealand.


Another reason to go to work on an egg - it could lower your blood pressure

No human trials yet  -- but the "rehabilitation" of eggs is amusing.  They were demonized only a few years ago

Egg whites could lower blood pressure in the same way as medication, new research has found.  A key component found in the whites was found to have the same blood pressure lowering properties as Captopril, a high blood-pressure drug.

Dr Zhipeng Yu, who led the research at China's Jilin University, said: 'Our research suggests that there may be another reason to call it 'the incredible, edible egg'.

'We have evidence from the laboratory that a substance in egg white - it's a peptide, one of the building blocks of proteins - reduces blood pressure about as much as a low dose of Captopril, a high-blood-pressure drug.'

Dr Yu and his colleagues studied a peptide found in egg white called RVPSL. This has a powerful ability to inhibit or block the action of ACE, a substance produced in the body that raises blood pressure.

Experiments with rats showed RVPSL had no toxic effects and lowered the blood pressure.

The findings were presented to the National Meeting & Exposition of the American Chemical Society (ACS) in New Orleans.

Dr Yu said: 'Our results support and enhance previous findings on this topic.

'They were promising enough to move ahead with further research on the effects of the egg white peptide on human health.'

In 2009, scientists at the University of Alberta in Canada found that eggs produce proteins that mimic the action of powerful blood pressure-lowering drugs.

They too found that eggs may lower blood pressure in the same way as Ace inhibitors.

The drugs lower blood pressure by stopping the hormone angiotensin narrowing the body's blood vessels.

The researchers found that when eggs come in contact with stomach enzymes, they produce a protein that acts in the same way.


10 April, 2013

A new boogeyman for the gullible to fret about

    Doctors long have assumed that saturated fat and cholesterol in red meat are what raise the risk of heart disease. But a study in the journal Nature Medicine fingers another culprit: carnitine, a compound abundant in red meat that also is sold as a dietary supplement and added to energy drinks.

    Carnitine typically helps the body transport fatty acids into cells to be used as energy. But researchers at the Cleveland Clinic found that in both humans and mice, certain bacteria in the digestive tract convert carnitine to another metabolite, called TMAO, that promotes atherosclerosis, or a thickening of the arteries.

    The researchers, led by Stanley Hazen, chief of cellular and molecular medicine at the Cleveland Clinic’s Lerner Research Institute, examined records of 2,595 patients undergoing cardiac evaluations. They found that the more TMAO in their blood, the more likely they were to develop cardiovascular disease, heart attack, stroke and death.

    Many studies over the years have linked consumption of red and processed meat to cardiovascular disease and some cancers. The Harvard School of Public Health reported last year that among 83,000 nurses and 37,000 male health professionals followed since the 1980s, those who consumed the highest levels of red meat had the highest risk of death during study, and that one additional serving a day of red meat raised the risk of death by 13%.

    Some researchers long have thought that the added risk of death was higher than the saturated fat and cholesterol in red meat could explain.

    Dr. Hazen speculated that carnitine could be compounding the danger. “Cholesterol is still needed to clog the arteries, but TMAO changes how cholesterol is metabolized—like the dimmer on a light switch,” he said. “It may explain why two people can have the same LDL level [a measurement of one type of cholesterol], but one develops cardiovascular disease and the other doesn’t.”

    One surprising finding, Dr. Hazen said, was how long-term dietary patterns affected the amount of TMAO-producing bacteria in the gut and thus magnified the risk. In the study, when a longtime omnivore consumed an eight-ounce steak and a carnitine supplement, both his bacteria and TMAO levels rose considerably. But when a vegan voluntarily ate the same combination, he showed no increase in TMAO or bacterial change.

    “Vegans basically lose their ability to digest” carnitine, said Dr. Hazen.

    The study, sponsored by the National Institutes of Health, didn’t assess how little red meat people could consume and still have elevated TMAO. Nor did it look at how long someone had to abstain from red meat to end the process. “We know it will be longer than one week, but shorter than one year,” Dr. Hazen said.

    He and his colleagues have been exploring how altering gut bacteria might influence the risk of heart disease. “In the future, maybe there will be a heart-healthy yogurt, or a drug to block the formation of TMAO,” he said.

    Trade groups for meat producers have questioned the link between red meat and cardiovascular disease on the grounds that studies that ask people to recall what they ate over long periods are imprecise.

    As a dietary supplement, carnitine is designated as “generally regarded as safe” by the Food and Drug Administration, but few studies have looked at its long-term safety. A 2006 risk assessment found no adverse effects when subjects consumed 2,000 milligrams a day for six months.

    Ads for supplements promote carnitine as helping boost energy levels, particularly in endurance sports, and assisting in recovery after intense exercise; some also claim that it helps reduce belly fat, shed pounds and improve brain function.

    Duffy MacKay, vice president for scientific and regulatory affairs at the Council for Responsible Nutrition, a trade group for the supplement and energy drink industry, called the Nature study “a new, emerging hypothesis,” but said the researchers were drawing large conclusions from small studies of mice, bacteria and human biomarkers.

    “The concept that one component of your diet, or one molecular, is responsible for your health woes is questionable,” Mr. MacKay added.

    Dr. Hazen noted that some energy drinks have more carnitine in a single can than a porterhouse steak. “I worry about what happens in 10, 20 or 30 years of consumption,” he said.

    He said humans generally have plenty of carnitine in their diet, which also is found in small amounts in nuts, beans, vegetables and fruit, and don’t need to take it in supplement form.


A glass of wine a day will NOT affect a woman's chance of beating breast cancer

The journal article is: "Alcohol Consumption Before and After Breast Cancer Diagnosis: Associations With Survival From Breast Cancer, Cardiovascular Disease, and Other Causes".    The data is retrospective self-report  -- a very weak reed to lean on

Women with breast cancer can have a glass of wine a day without fear of damaging their chances of beating the disease, claim researchers.  In fact, they may improve their overall chance of survival because modest consumption of alcohol cuts the risk of dying from heart disease.

A new U.S. study could help women tackle the dilemma of whether they can safely drink after a diagnosis of breast cancer.

Previous research has blamed alcohol for at least 13,000 out of almost 300,000 cases of cancer diagnosed each year in the UK, including breast, mouth, oesophagus and bowel.

It is estimated that five per cent of breast cancers in women are caused by drinking.

Studies show a couple of drinks a day raise the chances of developing breast cancer by a fifth, say experts.

It is unclear how drinking promotes breast cancer but it may work by raising levels of the sex hormone oestrogen in the body.

However, a new study has found modest drinking before and after diagnosis does not affect your chances of dying of breast cancer.

Women drinking moderate levels of alcohol - around three to six drinks a week - in the years before their cancer diagnosis were 15 per cent less likely to die from cardiovascular disease than non-drinkers.

Moderate wine consumption was linked with a reduction in risk of dying from heart disease - a major cause of death among breast cancer survivors.

Drinking beer or spirits did not have the same benefit, and heavier levels of alcohol consumption harmed survival chances.

The study in the Journal of Clinical Oncology was led by Polly Newcomb, head of the Cancer Prevention Program at Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Centre, Seattle.

Dr Newcomb said: 'Our findings should be reassuring to women who have breast cancer because their past experience consuming alcohol will not impact their survival after diagnosis.

'This study also provides additional support for the beneficial effect of moderate alcohol consumption with respect to cardiovascular disease.'

The study was based on data from almost 23,000 women who participated in the Collaborative Breast Cancer Study, sponsored by the National Cancer Institute.

About 5,000 participants were sent a follow-up questionnaire between 1998 and 2001 about their alcohol consumption habits after diagnosis.

Among study participants with a history of breast cancer, the authors found the amount and type of alcohol a woman reported consuming in the years before her diagnosis was not linked with her risk of dying from breast cancer

But three to six drinks a week in the years before a cancer diagnosis was linked with a 15 per cent lower risk of dying from heart disease than non-drinkers.

Similarly, the amount and type of alcohol consumed after diagnosis did not affect breast cancer survival, but the risk of dying from heart disease was up to 50 per cent lower in moderate drinkers.

Dr Newcomb said because some types of breast cancer are fuelled by oestrogen - which is promoted by alcohol - they may be more likely to occur in drinkers.

But they may be more controllable by drugs that switch off oestrogen supplies, making sufferers less likely to be affected by modest drinking.

In addition, small amounts of alcohol have a well-known effect on reducing heart problems.

She said: 'It could be that the kind of breast cancer that is more likely to be diagnosed among women who drink may be more responsive to hormone-reduction therapies.'

NHS guidelines advise that men should drink no more than three to four units a day while women should not go over two to three units a day.

The World Cancer Research Fund recommends restricting alcoholic drinks, if consumed at all, to two a day for men and one a day for women, to limit cancer risk.


9 April, 2013

The cult of clean eating

On the surface it would seem like I’m a shoo-in to be singing the praises of clean eating. As I write this I’m sitting here sipping on a kale, pear, apple, coconut and chia seed smoothie I whipped up in my beloved blender. I plan to have a rocket, chard, carrot, cherry tomato and roast capsicum salad for lunch (with greens I grew in my own garden for extra bragging rights). But still this is one movement I can’t really get on board with, simply because while I love fruit and vegies, I also equally love to sometimes treat myself to Nutella (spooned straight from the jar, of course), Vietnamese coffees and scoops upon scoops of ice-cream. You will drag those goodies from my sugar encrusted clutches at roughly quarter past never.

For the uninitiated “clean eating” is simply avoiding all processed and refined foods, and instead eating food in its most natural state. In Australia the patron saint of the lifestyle is Pete Evans with his much derided love of sprouted millet, sorghum, chia and buckwheat bread, alkalised water, organic spirulina, carob and, not to forget, the infamous activated almond. Now, there’s a lot to admire about clean eating in a world where it’s hard to look on the grocery shelf and find foods that aren’t full of additives, preservatives and ingredients that have a string of numbers in them.  Nutritionist Kristen Beck from Beck Health & Nutrition says of the diet, “Nutritionally speaking, clean eating is great as the focus is on the foods that should make up the vast bulk of our diets – fruits, vegetables, lean meats, fish, nuts, seeds, legumes as well as, hopefully, depending on the diet, dairy and wholegrain cereals.  These are the foods that are rich in different nutrients and as a nutritionist, I am thrilled when people eat more of these foods, but am certainly wary when people become fanatical about cutting foods or even worse, whole food groups from their diet.”

And a quick look at the hashtag #eatclean on Tumblr shows this much darker picture of its acolytes and their eating habits. Whole food groups are wiped clean off the plate with nary a scrap of dairy to be seen. Even more worryingly the glut of thinspo-aping flat stomach shots that are tagged makes it seem that for many followers eating clean isn’t about being healthy so much as simply being skinny, but with #eatclean it’s all wrapped up in the facade of being “healthy”. Rather than preaching moderation, there’s a very all-or-nothing vibe to the movement that rings major alarm bells for me, especially given that on the Instagram and Tumblr evidence many of its proponents are young women, a group who are already at high risk for developing disordered eating. Food and guilt are an extremely dangerous combination.

“The concept of clean eating certainly can bring about some very obsessive, tending towards distorted, realities of nutrition and health,” says Beck. “Of course it's great to have a focus on a healthy diet and exercise, but when that focus becomes obsessive, to the point of interrupting other aspects of your life, such as not being able to eat with others or spending a large part of your day ensuring that the food you are eating is just right, this is indeed disordered eating.  This is also very difficult to address because people who are obsessive about clean eating will always respond along the lines that they are just trying to be as healthy as they can, which is indeed a noble pursuit, but like everything in life, too much can also be problematic.  As outlined in the Tumblr posts, another issue is that many obsessively ‘clean eaters’ make their health focus as an important part of their psyche and personality, and can even alienate friends, families and colleagues with their obsession.”      

Clean eating is also expensive. To do it properly requires a full arsenal of fancy and expensive kitchen equipment that is out reach for many on a budget. A hardcore blender (BPA-free of course) to make your own juices, smoothies, soups and nut butters, a dehydrator to mimic the texture of cooked foods while keeping enzymes intact, a spiraliser for raw pasta, and so on. And that’s before you even purchase the ingredients which of course have to be organic and local.

While Australia and indeed most of the developed world is in a health crisis due to our consumption of processed foods should we really be making healthy eating only the domain of those who have enough in their bank account to cover it? As Daily Life writer Annie Stevens put it to me, “There needs to be more education about healthy foods and eating, but you shouldn't need a guide book, a credit card and a weird food processor to do it.” Beck agrees that healthy eating doesn’t need to break the bank. “Frozen vegetables for example are a great option for later in the week when you haven't been to the shops, yet many health nuts would say that frozen veggies are ‘not healthy enough’.”  Healthy eating should be inclusive to anyone on any income bracket and I think that’s part of what spurred the mockery towards Evans’ Day on a Plate column. If you’ve been making the effort to do the right thing and suddenly you’re told that two litres of water you drank should’ve been alkalised and that brown rice is out and quinoa is in, you tend to get a little testy at the exclusiveness and faddishness of it all.

Another area where clean eating gets it dreadfully, dreadfully wrong is desserts. Here are a few names of clean eating desserts: Black Bean Fudge Cakes, Chocolate Avocado Mousse, Protein Cookie Balls, Almond Buckwheat Goji Raw Bars. Is your mouth watering yet? No? That’s because Mother Nature already provided us with a perfectly healthy, fuss-free dessert – it’s called fruit. And for all other occasions just eat the damn brownie already. So long as you’re eating healthily 90 per cent of the time do you really think a freshly baked sweet is going to ruin your entire body and future health? I’d argue that the continual denial of treats just leads you to want them more and in larger quantities than if you’d just had a good quality, freshly made version of what you’d actually wanted. When I ask Beck if it’s okay to ever just have a dessert made with plain old butter she replies, “Of course it is, and it should be enjoyed.”

So next time you’re on Instagram or Tumblr and come across a peanut butter smeared banana sprinkled with coconut smugly masquerading as “dessert” don’t let it make you feel guilty for eating in moderation but not abstinence – instead do what overzealous clean eaters can’t and simply take it with a grain of salt.


We all need 'nature’s Prozac’

Britain's  recent run of sunless summers and long, grey winters may be the cause of widespread vitamin D deficiency and a host of symptoms from lethargy to depression and poor immune health

For most of my adult life I have avoided doctors. They have been figures of fear for me since the day, aged eight, that I managed to convince my gentle and indulgent mother that I had such a bad stomach ache that I couldn’t go to school. It wasn’t the first occasion I had managed to pull off the “sick trick” – I was highly accomplished at faking symptoms that were not quite serious enough for a visit to the doctor’s surgery but allowed me a precious day at home.

But on this particular occasion I was so convincing that my alarmed mother called the doctor and, worried I would be found out, I so overdid the moans of agony when he examined me that an ambulance was called and I was rushed into hospital for an emergency – but quite unnecessary – appendectomy. As a result of that traumatic experience I have only ever gone near a doctor in the intervening years when I was pregnant or one of my three children was ill (or had pulled a “sick trick” on me).

Ironically it was severe stomach pain (real, not imagined) that forced me, for the first time in nearly 10 years, to see a doctor in late January. There were other symptoms: lethargy, loss of appetite and – something I had never suffered from before – depression. The doctor, a locum, diagnosed a possible kidney infection, and put me on antibiotics. But in the following weeks I developed unrelated infections, took two more courses of antibiotics and even underwent hospital X-rays as the locum sought to find the cause of what he called my “symptoms of a low immune system”.

When I Googled “causes of a low immune system”, I found a number of frightening results, such as TB, Aids, cancer and hepatitis. Finally, a simple blood test taken from me by the practice nurse identified a far less serious but increasingly common problem.

I had a severe vitamin D deficiency that had suppressed my immune system and was the likely cause of my depression. The cure was a capsule of pharmaceutical strength vitamin D (20,000 IU) to be taken once a week for three months.

One day, about six weeks into my course, I was suddenly overwhelmed by a feeling of wellbeing and I understood that I was not just cured, I was transformed.

But I was also angry. Why had I not known about the importance of vitamin D – which is essential for regulating the phosphate and calcium in our body so that our bones and teeth remain healthy?

Worse, why didn’t I know that the chief source of vitamin D (only a small number of foods contain the vitamin) comes from our skin’s exposure to sunlight?

Why hadn’t the Department of Health instituted a programme to educate an increasingly vulnerable nation – that has gone through two long, long cold winters and a predominantly sunless couple of summers – about the dangers of becoming vitamin-D-deficient?

Had the public been better informed, I would have recognised my own symptoms and self-treated my deficiency with a high-strength vitamin D supplement (which can be bought over the counter for around £35 for 30 once-a-week capsules) and would have saved myself from debilitating infections. That way too, rather like that appendectomy when I was eight, the three courses of antibiotics, the tests and the X-rays would have been entirely unnecessary.

At the end of the three months, I had a final appointment at my local surgery and instead of the locum I saw one of the permanent partners in the GP practice. The doctor, who had also suffered the effects of low vitamin D, told me that she thought there might be a link between a deficiency and the “epidemic” of women patients suffering from depression. Instead of prescribing anti-depressants, she was beginning to think, women should be given vitamin D supplements. Vitamin D could be “nature’s Prozac”, she said.

Scientist and award-winning medical journalist Oliver Gillie, who has long campaigned on this subject, believes that more testing could prove that in Britain – a country he describes as being “on the edge of the habitable world as far as sunshine is concerned and where it is not possible to get enough vitamin D from food” – everyone should be taking vitamin D supplements during the long winter months.

But there are other reasons why more and more women are suffering from low vitamin D counts. For a time, government-sponsored campaigns drummed into us that exposure to ultraviolet radiation from the sun (or sun beds) can cause skin cancer. As a result, we stopped going out in the midday sun and started to smother our bodies (and our children’s bodies) in high-factor sun lotion, unaware that in doing so we are blocking the vital production of vitamin D through our skin.

Women have also been subjected to anti-sunshine propaganda in the beauty pages of glossy magazines, warning of the danger of sun damage – the speeding up of the ageing process.

Sunbathing is now regarded as a habit almost as harmful as smoking 50 cigarettes a day or mainlining heroin. Even the cast of The Only Way is Essex are rejecting sun lounging and sun beds in favour of factor-60 spray tans.

But staying out of the sun – unless you are fortified with vitamin D supplements – could be almost as damaging as ultraviolet radiation. Several A-list celebrities have recently revealed that they have been diagnosed with a vitamin D deficiency. Gwyneth Paltrow now lets the sun on her skin for a few minutes a day, because her very low vitamin D level prevented her from absorbing calcium and has made her vulnerable to osteopenia, a thinning of the bones. And last year Kylie Minogue told me that she too had a problem.

“I was the person in the shade with sunscreen, but then I discovered I was vitamin-D-deficient so I actually get a little sun on my body, not on my face, and I am taking vitamin D supplements,” she said.

Department of Health and cancer charities’ advice now puts the emphasis on avoiding sunburn and very strong sun rather than staying out of the sun altogether.

However, Gillie is worried that vital research into the long-term effects of a vitamin D deficiency – particularly the possible link to depression – will never be carried out because it is not in the interest of the drug companies. He says: “No one can put a patent on vitamin D and sell it.”

But now at least I – and you, dear readers – know the truth.


They used to put Vitamin D in the butter.  I wonder what has become of that?

8 April, 2013

Statins rot your kidneys

Allegedly it is only "high dose" statins that do that but that is dubious comfort.  Journal article below
Use of high potency statins and rates of admission for acute kidney injury: multicenter, retrospective observational analysis of administrative databases


Objective: To quantify an association between acute kidney injury and use of high potency statins versus low potency statins.

Design: Retrospective observational analysis of administrative databases, using nine population based cohort studies and meta-analysis. We performed as treated analyses in each database with a nested case-control design. Rate ratios for different durations of current and past statin exposure to high potency or low potency statins were estimated using conditional logistic regression. Ratios were adjusted for confounding by high dimensional propensity scores. Meta-analytic methods estimated overall effects across participating sites.

Setting: Seven Canadian provinces and two databases in the United Kingdom and the United States.

Participants: 2,067,639 patients aged 40 years or older and newly treated with statins between 1 January 1997 and 30 April 2008. Each person hospitalized for acute kidney injury was matched with ten controls.

Intervention: A dispensing event was new if no cholesterol lowering drug or niacin prescription was dispensed in the previous year. High potency statin treatment was defined as ~10 mg rosuvastatin, ~20 mg atorvastatin, and ~40 mg simvastatin; all other statin treatments were defined as low potency. Statin potency groups were further divided into cohorts with or without chronic kidney disease.

Main outcome measure: Relative hospitalization rates for acute kidney injury.

Results: Of more than two million statin users (2,008,003 with non-chronic kidney disease; 59?636 with chronic kidney disease), patients with similar propensity scores were comparable on measured characteristics. Within 120 days of current treatment, there were 4691 hospitalizations for acute kidney injury in patients with non-chronic kidney injury, and 1896 hospitalizations in those with chronic kidney injury. In patients with non-chronic kidney disease, current users of high potency statins were 34% more likely to be hospitalized with acute kidney injury within 120 days after starting treatment (fixed effect rate ratio 1.34, 95% confidence interval 1.25 to 1.43). Users of high potency statins with chronic kidney disease did not have as large an increase in admission rate (1.10, 0.99 to 1.23). ?2 tests for heterogeneity confirmed that the observed association was robust across participating sites.

Conclusions: Use of high potency statins is associated with an increased rate of diagnosis for acute kidney injury in hospital admissions compared with low potency statins. The effect seems to be strongest in the first 120 days after initiation of statin treatment.


Bumptious Susan is "worried" again

She doesn't bother us with any facts, findings or data, of course.  Just her opinion is supposed to carry the day.  The Royal Society booted her out because they got tired of her ego but she has popped up again peddling claims that some people like to hear

Susan Greenfield

Facebook is going to be in your face even more than before. The arrival of the `Facebook Phone' and the eventual availability of the latest it has to offer on all Android platforms, means the current obsession with monitoring the lives of others and recording every moment of your own existence, will be made even easier, a default adjunct to daily life. Whilst the ethics and risk of the possible collation of the ensuing Tsunami of personal information now flooding into the central Facebook databases might raise obvious concerns, as a neuroscientist I'm most worried by what this latest `advance' will mean to us as individuals.

Humans occupy more ecological niches than any other species on the planet because of the superlative ability of our brains, compared with those of any other animal, to adapt to the environment: a process known as `plasticity'. So if the human brain will adapt to whatever environment in which it is placed, an environment where you are constantly on the alert to the actions and views of others, will surely be changing your mindset in correspondingly new ways. How will the 21st Century human brain, with its clear evolutionary mandate, react to this latest development in what has been dubbed `The Digital Wildfire'?

Already privacy appears to be a less prized commodity among the younger generation of `Digital Natives': apparently 55 per cent of teenagers have given out personal information to someone they don't know, including photos and physical descriptions. Meanwhile over half send out group messages to typically over 500 `friends' at a time, fully aware that each of these friends could then pass on that information to their network of further hundreds... It has become more important to have attention, to be `famous'. The trade-off for such disclosure and indeed fame is, and always has been, loss of privacy. So why have we previously treasured privacy so much, but now are holding it in increasing disregard?

Perhaps because until now, privacy has been the other side of the coin to our identity. We have seen ourselves as individual entities, in contact with the outside world for sure, but at the same time always distinct from it. We have interacted with that outside world, but only in the way and at the times we have chosen. You have secrets, memories and hopes to which no one else has automatic access; a private life, distinct from a professional one, as well as a multifaceted one of individual friendships where we vary what and how much we confide in someone else. Above all you have an inner narrative, an ongoing thought process that is yours alone: until now.

Another new feature of `Facebook Home' will be `Chat Heads', which means that when anyone contacts you on your mobile, a little `bubble' featuring a picture of that person will appear with the text. These illustrated `bubbles' will appear on the mobile screen, no matter what you are currently doing on your phone, allowing constant maintained `illustrated' contact. But if you're anchored increasingly in the present, consequently constantly catering for and to the demands of the outside world, that inner narrative might be now even harder to sustain. The mind might remain more child-like, reactive and dependent on the behavior and thoughts of others.

Already we are seeing a generation of 20-somethings still living at home, wearing `onesies' (all in one crawler suits usually reserved for very small infants), perhaps playing mythical or sci-fi games with simplified values of all-good or all-evil, and/or craving the constant attention of others through social networking sites. The `you' externally constructed by Facebook, accentuated further by the latest operating system, may not allow much time and opportunity for internal memories to mature, nor private reflections to develop into a fully-fledged, individual mind. But if you now define yourself externally by the instant thumbs-up from others, then abolition of privacy is to be welcomed in order to belong, and for a new type of identity to flourish - one that is hyper-connected and collective.

Perhaps it will mean living a life where the thrill of reporting and the receiving completely trumps the ongoing experience itself. Your identity now is paradoxically online moment-to-moment but essentially offline in how you register it. The momentary excitements you're feeling are generated not by raw, first-hand life itself, but by the slightly delayed, indirect experience of the continuing reaction and approval of everyone else.

If we're going to be living in a world where face-to-face interaction, unpractised as it is, becomes uncomfortable, then such an aversion to real life, three-dimensional communication combined with a more collective identity, may be changing the very nature of personal relationships themselves. The speed required for reaction and the reduced time for reflection might mean that those reactions and evaluations themselves are becoming increasingly superficial.

It is important to bear in mind that the interaction between the brain and the environment is a two-way dialogue: just as important as how we view and use the latest technology, is the impact that an environment dominated by wizardry such as `Facebook Home' will have on shaping our minds - and hence most significantly, on how we view ourselves.


7 April, 2013

More bananas and fewer crisps can help ward off strokes, say scientists

There are actually two studies covered in the article below so I will comment on them separately:

The potassium study below found a slight reduction in blood pressure (well within normal daily variation) from high potassium intake but no effect on heart disease.  There was however a small reduction in stroke.  Overall, nothing to get your potassium up about

Eating more bananas - and cutting down on crisps - could prevent thousands of stroke deaths, say researchers.  The potassium-rich fruit helps drive down blood pressure levels, as does lowering your salt consumption in snacks like crisps.

A study ["Effect of increased potassium intake on cardiovascular risk factors and disease: systematic review and meta-analyses"] found people with a high potassium intake had 24 per cent less risk of stroke.

Previous data suggested older people could be harmed by potassium as their kidneys may be less able to remove it from their blood.

But the research, on journal website, said these fears can be dismissed. It found potassium did not negatively affect kidney function.

The authors said there was `high quality  evidence' that people with high blood  pressure improved when they increased their potassium intake.

They analysed 128,000 people over 33 trials and said consuming more of the mineral, for example by eating bananas, is `potentially beneficial to most people'.

Bananas are one of the most common foods to be rich in potassium. Each one contains around 420mg, well on the way to the daily adult allowance of 3,500mg.

There are around 53,000 deaths in the UK each year from stroke, with a further 100,000 survivors, some left with severe disability.


Another study on the website ["Effect of longer term modest salt reduction on blood pressure: Cochrane systematic review and meta-analysis of randomised trials"] found slightly reducing salt intake for four weeks or more led to a significant fall in blood pressure - and so reduced risk of stroke and heart attack.

The study showed small effects that were important only when averaged out across whole populations and the typically 4-week duration of the trials precluded any finding about effects on mortality.  Since reduced salt consumption has been shown elsewhere to INCREASE mortality, this study was too busy looking at the wood to see the trees

Dr Clare Walton of the Stroke Association said a healthy diet was a key part of managing stroke risk.  She said: `High blood pressure is the single biggest risk factor for stroke. Making changes to your diet can go a long way to keeping blood pressure under control.

`This research suggests that reducing your salt intake and eating more potassium-rich foods such as bananas, dates and spinach could keep your risk down.'

The Department of Health advises older people should not take potassium supplements unless advised by a doctor.


5 April, 2013

Organic food labels 'trick' us into thinking food is healthier and tastier

It is seen as healthier and tastier - and millions of shoppers willingly pay more to enjoy it.  But, say researchers, the benefits of organic food may simply exist in our heads.

They believe it is gaining from a  `health halo effect', where  consumers assume foods labelled as organic automatically have positive features.  These include being better for us, tastier and having fewer calories.

For their study, scientists asked 115 male and female shoppers to take part in a taste test.

They were given two samples of biscuits, crisps and yoghurt. Each pair was labelled as either organic or non-organic but, in reality, they were identical organic foods.

The results showed that the shoppers' perceptions were swayed by the labels.  Those tagged `organic' were seen as being lower fat and containing up to a quarter fewer calories.  They were also rated as higher in fibre and more nutritious, according to a report in the journal Food Quality and Preference.

Crucially for retailers, the shoppers were willing to pay up to a quarter more for snacks they believed were organic.

But, said the researchers from Cornell University in New York State, the `non-organic' biscuits were judged to be tastier.  This was possibly because people may instinctively think healthy biscuits will not taste as good.

The authors have previously warned that the effect could lead to over-eating as shoppers under-estimate calorie counts.


Bald men at greater heart disease risk

Testosterone at work, presumably

Men with a bald pate are at significantly greater risk of heart disease than their less follicly challenged peers, according to a new study which found that the problem is greater the younger hair loss begins.

Men with severe male-pattern baldness are a third more likely to develop coronary artery disease than those who retain a full head of hair, Japanese researchers found.

But this only applied to men whose hair loss occurred on top of the head, while those with a receding hairline around their temples were at no greater risk.

Men who lost their hair earlier in life were at especially high risk, and the likelihood of developing heart disease was greater in those with more extensive hair loss.

Although it remains unclear what causes the connection between baldness and the life-threatening condition, researchers said baldness could be a symptom of an underlying condition which causes heart disease such as insulin resistance, chronic inflammation or heightened sensitivity to testosterone.

The research, published in the British Medical Journal, was an analysis of six previous studies exploring a possible connection between baldness and heart disease, involving a total of 37,000 men.

Three papers which followed a group of men for at least 11 years found on average that those who lost most of their hair were 32 per cent more likely to develop heart disease, rising to 44 per cent in those who became bald before the age of 60.

But the other three studies, which compared the health of bald and balding men against those with a full head of hair, found that men with hair loss were 70 per cent more likely to have heart disease, increasing to 84 per cent in younger age groups.

Considering all the evidence, researchers found that extensive baldness on the crown increased the risk by 48 per cent, moderate baldness by 36 per cent and mild baldness by 18 per cent.

The researchers said their results showed that men with a balding crown should "probably be encouraged to improve their cardiovascular risk profile", especially if their baldness developed early.

But Doireann Maddock, Senior Cardiac Nurse at the British Heart Foundation, said: "Although these findings are interesting, men who've lost their hair should not be alarmed by this analysis.

"Much more research is needed to confirm any link between male pattern baldness and an increased risk of coronary heart disease. In the meantime, it's more important to pay attention to your waist line than your hair line."


4 April, 2013

Eating oily fish twice a week could help you live two years longer (?)

Not the fish oil religion again!  The result below  is almost certainly just a class effect of some kind if there is anything at all in it.  The results were in the form of extreme quintiles, which means that they threw the majority of their cases away!  I shouldn't laugh!  I try to be respectful of people's religion (sometimes)

The study is:  "Plasma Phospholipid Long-Chain ?-3 Fatty Acids and Total and Cause-Specific Mortality in Older Adults: A Cohort Study"

Eating fish could help you live at least two years longer, claim researchers.  Older people who have higher blood levels of omega-3 fatty acids found in oily fish and seafood cut their risk of dying prematurely by a quarter.

U.S. scientists also found the risk of dying from heart disease was reduced by one third compared with adults who had lower blood levels of fatty acids.

It is the first study to check for levels of fish consumption and link them with death rates.

Researchers from Harvard School of Public Health (HSPH) and the University of Washington found adults aged 65 and with the highest blood levels of the fatty acids lived, on average, 2.2 years longer than those with the lowest levels.

Lead author Dariush Mozaffarian, associate professor in the Department of Epidemiology at HSPH, said: `Although eating fish has long been considered part of a healthy diet, few studies have assessed blood omega-3 levels and total deaths in older adults.

`Our findings support the importance of adequate blood omega-3 levels for cardiovascular health, and suggest that later in life these benefits could actually extend the years of remaining life.'

Fish provides omega-3 fatty acids which are essential for brain development and which are also thought to reduce inflammation of the brain, cardiovascular system and other cells.

But surveys suggest nine out of ten children and two-thirds of adults in Britain never eat it.

Previous studies have found that fish reduces the risk of dying from heart disease, and fish oil supplements are sometimes taken for this reason.

But the new research examined biomarkers in the blood of adults not taking supplements, in order to determine the potential benefits of eating fish on multiple causes of death.

The researchers examined 16 years of data from about 2,700 U.S. adults aged 65 or older taking part in the Cardiovascular Health Study (CHS), a long-term study supported by the National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute.

Volunteers were generally healthy at the start when they had blood drawn, underwent physical examinations and diagnostic testing, and were questioned about their health status, medical history, and lifestyle.

The researchers also analysed the total proportion of blood omega-3 fatty acids, including three specific ones, says a report in the journal Annals of Internal Medicine.

After adjusting for demographic, cardiovascular, lifestyle, and dietary factors, they found the three fatty acids - both individually and combined - were associated with a significantly lower risk of dying.

One type in particular-docosahexaenoic acid, or DHA-was most strongly related to less likelihood of dying from coronary heart disease - cutting the risk by 40 per cent.

The risk of dying from heart arrhythmias, electrical disturbances of the heart rhythm, was cut even further by 45 per cent.

Of the other blood fatty acids measured - eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA) and docosapentaenoic acid (DPA) - DPA was most strongly associated with lower risk of stroke death, and EPA most strongly linked with lower risk of non-fatal heart attack.

None of these fatty acids were strongly related to other, non-cardiovascular causes of death.

Overall, study participants with the highest levels of all three types of fatty acids had a 27 per cent lower risk of death from all causes.

When the researchers looked at how dietary intake of omega-3 fatty acids related to blood levels, the steepest rise in blood levels occurred when going from very low intake to about 400 mg per day, with blood levels rising much more gradually afterwards.

Prof Mozaffarian said: `The findings suggest that the biggest bang-for-your-buck is for going from no intake to modest intake, or about two servings of fatty fish per week.'

Britons are currently advised to eat fish at least twice a week, including one portion of oily fish. A portion is 140g or six ounces.

The human body cannot produce omega-3 fatty acids and the best dietary source is oily fish.  Types of fish that contain high levels include tuna, salmon, mackerel, herring, sardines, and anchovies.


NHS rules say do it immediately, but cutting the umbilical cord too early may be putting babies at risk

Amanda Burleigh is a midwife with a mission. She wants the official NHS clinical guidelines on childbirth to be changed, so that newborns' umbilical cords are not clamped immediately, but are left attached for at least two to five minutes.

Ms Burleigh, a midwife for 16 years, has been busily lobbying Britain's professional organisations to achieve this. Now she has launched a mass petition on the internet.

To many people, the precise time at which a baby's umbilical cord gets clamped may sound like a niggling detail in the great drama of childbirth - or merely the obsessive stuff of hippy-dippy Earth mothers.

The umbilical cord connects the developing baby to the mother's placenta, supplying it with oxygenated, nutrient-rich blood. The practice of immediately clamping the cord after birth is currently widespread in NHS hospitals.

But, as Ms Burleigh points out in her petition, a growing weight of respected scientific research is linking early clamping with a host of serious developmental problems.

Independently published clinical studies and reports say that these may include anaemia, learning difficulties, ADHD, autism and even sudden death.

The scientific evidence convinced bodies such as the Royal College of Midwives and the Royal College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists to change their guidelines last November to recommend delaying clamping for around three minutes after delivery.

The Royal College of Midwives was inspired to make the change by a survey of clinical evidence published by the highly respected Cochrane Review. This came down in favour of delayed clamping - though it did say that doing so may increase the risk of the infants suffering from jaundice.

But the official NHS guidelines still state that the cord should be cut within 30 seconds. That guidance is set to remain unchanged for the time being.

In fact, immediate clamping of the umbilical cord is only a comparatively recent practice. In the 19th century, it was thought that it was better to delay clamping.

Charles Darwin's grandfather, the physician Erasmus Darwin, wrote in 1801: `Very injurious to the child is the tying of the navel string too soon. It should be left till all pulsation in the cord ceases. Otherwise the child is much weaker than it ought to be, a portion of the blood being left in the placenta, which ought to have been in the child.'

And even when the first commercial cord-clamping devices were advertised in the Lancet in the 1890s, the instructions directed that they should be applied only after the cord ceased to pulsate.

However, immediate cord clamping became widely adopted in the Fifties.

A theory emerged that it would help to minimise the amount of anaesthetic a baby might get from its mother's blood.  This theory has since been disproved, but in the highly medicalised world of modern healthcare, the practice continued to spread because it sped up the birthing process, and speed was considered to be key to efficiency.

Furthermore, no one actually challenged immediate clamping as dangerous. Ms Burleigh, a mother of two boys aged 16 and 19, began questioning the practice seven years ago.

`I started thinking about the number of children I was encountering who had special educational needs including ADHD and health conditions such as asthma, allergies and hearing problems.' When she looked into it, there seemed to be no good reason for cutting the cord immediately - and plenty of reasons against it.

In recent years expert reports have begun to link it to serious risks in childbirth and possibly in later life. Just over a year ago, a study in the British Medical Journal found that babies clamped early were significantly more likely to be anaemic at four months old than those whose clamping was delayed.

The lead researcher, Dr Ola Andersson, the chief physician at Halland Hospital in Sweden, says: `Iron deficiency in infants, even without anaemia, has been associated with impaired development, by altering the chemical preconditions in the brain. For instance, a recent study showed a link between iron deficiency and ADHD.'

Dr Andersson is now testing the children he studied to see if immediate clamping has indeed affected their development.

Back in 2007, the World Health Organisation was moved by emerging health worries about anaemia to reverse its guidance on early cord clamping and recommend a delay of up to three minutes instead.

That same year, an editorial in the British Medical Journal advised that the NHS should follow suit and change its official guidelines. These are written by the care watchdog, the National Institute for Health and Clinical Excellence (NICE).

In 2010, this call for change was repeated in the same journal by Dr David Hutchon, a consultant obstetrician at Darlington Memorial Hospital. He warned that professionals and their leaders in the UK were being resistant to change, not least because of the NICE guidelines.

More recently, Dr Hutchon suggested early cord cutting may be linked to a child's risk of sudden infant death syndrome (SIDS).

He believes the sudden impact of immediate clamping may cause a shock wave in the baby's natural blood supply that could then harm the baby's brain - and in particular the part of the brain that controls their breathing. Such breathing problems have frequently been associated with SIDS.

That idea remains moot but certainly the latest Swedish evidence was sufficient to persuade the Royal College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists to change its own guidelines.  It now says delaying cord clamping by more than 30 seconds may help newborn babies by `reducing anaemia', while premature babies may benefit because it allows `time for transfusion of placental blood'.

This was the reason Dr Andrew Gallagher, a consultant paediatrician at Worcestershire Acute Hospitals NHS Trust, changed his unit's policy on cord clamping. Two premature babies died on the unit in 2009 after they had to have blood transfusions.

`It became clear to me that delayed cord clamping could have helped them,' he says. `The blood contained in the placental cord comprises between a quarter to a third of a premature baby's blood volume. If you clamp the cord immediately, the babies are effectively losing it. That blood belongs to them, but they are not given the opportunity to get it if the cord is immediately clamped after birth.' Dr Gallagher is now a vocal supporter of changing the practice.

While some pioneering NHS maternity units such as Worcestershire Acute Hospitals NHS Trust have changed their protocols so they don't cut the cord for two minutes or more, nationally `early cord clamping is still routine among maternity staff', according to an article published in the Journal of the Royal Society of Medicine last August.

For even though the midwives' own professional organisation has reversed its position, this is not in itself sufficient to reverse national practice, says Jane Munro, a professional advisor at the Royal College of Midwives.

`A change in the NICE guidelines is very important in ensuring widespread change of practice,' she says. `Their guidance is a cornerstone of NHS practice.'

In fact, following years of pressure from leading health professionals and journals, NICE has agreed there is enough evidence for it to review the current guidelines. But this will not happen until October next year at the earliest.

However, Ms Burleigh, who works at St James's Hospital in Leeds, says there's no reason why action could not be taken now - and every day of delay may imperil some of the 2,000 or so babies who are born in Britain every day. Her campaign is backed by the Fertility and Birth Network, a collective of pregnancy and birth specialists, and the National Childbirth Trust.

In her latest move, she's launched a petition to get NICE to make an immediate change.

`Any delay from NICE is an unnecessary delay,' Ms Burleigh says. `There is strong clinical evidence that, by changing practice now, we could make a difference to the those children who will be born in the UK between now and the review date.'


3 April, 2013

Eating walnuts twice a week could slash the risk of type 2 diabetes by a quarter (?)

Walnuts are not a common dietary item so WHO were the nurses who ate a lot of nuts?  Probably health conscious people from a middle class background who were healthier anyway

Eating walnuts just two or three times a week can reduce the risk of type 2 diabetes by almost a quarter, according to new research.

A study of nearly 140,000 women in the U.S. showed that regular helpings of a small portion of nuts can have a powerful protective effect against a disease that is threatening to become a global epidemic.

Women who consumed a 28 gram packet of walnuts at least twice a week were 24 per cent less likely to develop type 2 diabetes than those who rarely or never ate them.

The latest findings, published in the Journal of Nutrition, are not the first to highlight the anti-diabetic effects of walnuts, with earlier research showing similar benefits.

However, this is thought to be one of the largest studies to find regularly snacking on them can help prevent the condition.

Although the latest research was carried out on female nurses, it's likely that the same benefits apply to men.

According to the charity Diabetes UK, at the current rate of increase, the numbers affected by type 2 diabetes in the UK will rise from around 2.5 million currently to four million by 2025 and five million by 2030.

Left untreated, it can raise the risk of heart attacks, blindness and amputation.

Being overweight, physically inactive and having a poor diet are major risk factors for the disease.

Scientists at the Harvard School of Public Health in Boston, U.S., tracked 137,893 nurses aged from 35 to 77 over a ten year period to see how many developed type 2 diabetes.

Their dietary habits were closely monitored, including details on how often they ate nuts, particularly walnuts.

After allowing for body fat and weight, the researchers found eating walnuts one to three times a month curbed the risk by four per cent, once a week by 13 per cent and at least twice a week by 24 per cent.

In a report on the findings the researchers said: 'These results suggest higher walnut consumption is associated with a significantly lower risk of type 2 diabetes in women.'

Walnuts are rich in healthy fatty acids which have been shown to reduce inflammation in the body and protect against heart disease, cancer and arthritis.


Asperger's syndrome

Every age has its defining psychiatric malady. In the 1850s it was hysteria, a nervous disorder thought to afflict one quarter of all women, and for which the most effective treatment was genital stimulation. (The condition, which is no longer recognised, gave rise to the vibrator.) A decade ago, every fidgety kid had ADHD. Until recently, if you liked to keep your coffee table books neatly stacked, you had OCD. And, of course, no-one is just moody any more: they are "like, seriously bipolar".

But none of these terms have resonated quite like Asperger's, a condition first described by Viennese paediatrician Hans Asperger in 1944. Asperger had noted four boys in his practice who had difficulty integrating socially. Their intelligence appeared normal, but they lacked empathy and nonverbal communication skills, and were physically awkward. Asperger published just a single paper, in German, about the condition, which he dubbed "autistic psychopathy". His observations were not widely known until 1981, when British psychiatrist Lorna Wing published case studies of children showing similar symptoms, which she called "Asperger's syndrome" (AS).

AS became a distinct diagnosis in 1992, when it was recognised by the World Health Organisation; in 1994, it was added to the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-IV), the American Psychiatric Association's diagnostic reference book.

But even then, specialists had trouble differentiating Asperger's from high-functioning autism. Both have similar symptoms - restricted and repetitive behaviours, social difficulty, communication problems - strung out on a continuum of severity, or "spectrum", that ranges from head banging and faeces smearing at the extreme end to shyness and shoe-gazing at the other.

Not surprisingly, the more doctors looked, the more autism they found. Before 1980, one in 2000 children was thought to be autistic. By 2005, one in 150 Australian children had an autism spectrum disorder. The Centres for Disease Control, in the US, now believes one in 88 children has an AS disorder (or one in 54 if you only count boys, who are five times more susceptible than girls). In Queensland the rate is one in 50, while the South Koreans put theirs even higher, at one in 38.

Experts have parsed every possible cause for this rise, from video games and atmospheric lead levels to emotionally distant mothers, older fathers, vaccinations and fatty foods. In some instances, an AS-diagnosis in childhood will attract extra help at school, leading to allegations, especially in Queensland, of parents "diagnosis hunting". But most people now agree that the increase is due not to a rise in incidence but to greater awareness; an epidemic of discovery, then, not disease.

For some, however, Asperger's is almost an inevitability, the eccentric fruit of our hothouse age. "Open-plan offices can make things worse," says Dr Julie Peterson, a clinical psychologist who works in Pymble, on Sydney's north shore. "There is more movement, there are telephones going off, people are sitting close and autistic people can feel the energy. They have like a sixth sense - if someone is tense, they can feel that - and so it's harder for people to settle and concentrate."

For Peterson, who is also a trained sexologist, all roads lead to Asperger's. Her husband has it, as does her father. Albert Einstein had it, she says, as did Charles Darwin and Beethoven. Steven Spielberg has it and Bill Gates has been linked to it, too. Pymble, where she set up shop eight years ago, is an "Asperger's hot spot - a high-functioning area with lots of people of above-average intelligence".

When I mention that she actually makes it sound like a good thing, Peterson pauses, nonplussed. "It is," she says. "It's a gift!"

The idea that having a lifelong neurological disorder is a positive can be traced, like so much of the strangeness of contemporary culture, to Tom Cruise. In 1988, Cruise starred in the movie Rain Man, as Charlie Babbitt, a shallow, selfish yuppie who is reacquainted with his humanity courtesy of his autistic older brother, Raymond (Dustin Hoffman). Rain Man popularised the idea of the autistic as beatific savant: Raymond's truncated outbursts have a koan-like quality, retarded yet profound. He is funny, but more importantly, he is, in his own way, cool: at one stage he uses his mathematical genius to help Charlie count cards in Vegas.

This unlikely seed has grown ever since, nurtured to full bloom by the tenor of our incessantly nerdy times. Ours is an information age, ruled not by jocks, supermodels and other "neurotypicals" but by millionaire geeks and rock-star hackers, by agoraphobic software coders and pasty-faced file-sharers like Kim Dotcom (Twitter followers: 293,149). In an increasingly asocial world, where people would rather text than talk, the rise of Asperger's as a cultural epidemic makes perfect sense.

These days, to some, the term has become an intelligent-sounding shorthand for anything quirky, unconventional or awkward. A bit of a loner? Asperger's. Like vegan food and doing Lego? Asperger's. Got red hair and read Philip K. Dick? Asperger's. Couple this with the popular perception that Asperger's is typical of the high-functioning closet genius, and you have the perfect hipster headset. As the musician Moby told The New York Times in 2010, "I just like to pretend [I have Asperger's]. It makes me sound more interesting."

Part of the problem is the fuzziness of the term itself, which both invites and sustains appropriation. "Asperger's is a convenient explanation for all sorts of things," says Professor Stewart Einfeld, a child psychiatrist and senior scientist at the University of Sydney's Brain & Mind Research Institute. "We see quite a bit of quasi-professional overdiagnosis, where people who really aren't qualified will describe any child who is a bit different or strange or has problems with social interactions as 'autistic' or 'Asperger's'."

According to Einfeld, some people use the term as "an excuse for all sorts of unacceptable behaviours". ("You don't ... have Asperger's," a doctor tells Hugh Laurie's famously abrasive character in an episode of House. "You wish you did, it would exempt you from the rules, give you freedom ... let you date 17-year-olds!") There is also, according to Einfeld, the human tendency to "pathologise the other", especially in relationships. "Women who have difficulties with their partners, they do it quite a bit. If the man isn't communicating well or is having difficulties interacting, Asperger's becomes a feasible explanation."

Recently Einfeld saw a 24-year-old man who came to his practice, accompanied by his parents. "This young man had lots of problems relating to others," Einfeld says. "And he told me that he'd recently discovered that he was Asperger's. He'd found this group of people with Asperger's on the internet and was communicating with them, and had decided that he had it. But when I listened to his story, I decided that he didn't have Asperger's but social anxiety disorder. People with social anxiety disorder don't have problems in communication and empathy and understanding emotions, they just have a fear that people will judge them adversely. So I said to him, I don't think you have Asperger's, and he burst into tears, and the parents got very angry with me. The father said: 'He has finally found this group of people he can talk to, an explanation for his problems, and you've taken it away from him.'?"

The young man and his parents stood up and stormed out, and that was the last Einfeld saw of them.

The diagnosis of Asperger's seems to have hit a peak moment with "Aspie Pride", a fringe movement that regards Asperger's not as a disability but a beneficial evolutionary adaptation that has facilitated everything from the Stone Age tool revolution to Silicon Valley. Not surprisingly, Aspie Priders reject calls for a cure. "What would happen if the autism gene was eliminated from the gene pool?" scientist, author and autism advocate Temple Grandin wrote in The Way I See It: a Personal Look at Autism and Asperger's. "You would have a bunch of people standing around in a cave, chatting and socialising and not getting anything done."

And yet, claiming that people such as Bill Gates or Steven Spielberg have Asperger's is not really that helpful, either, since most Aspies will never direct an Oscar-winning movie nor remake the world of personal computing. Many, like Ben, a 13-year-old boy from inner Sydney, are flat out trying to get to school on time.

I first meet Ben - or rather, hear Ben - while sitting in a waiting room talking to his psychologist, Steven Den-Kaat. As I would later learn, Ben had had an altercation with his mother in the car on the way to the clinic. By the time he arrives, he's in full meltdown - crying, hyperventilating and utterly unable to communicate.

"People with Asperger's lack the ability to intuitively interpret other people's body language and facial expressions," Den-Kaat explains, studiously ignoring the noise Ben is making in the corridor. "They also have difficulty seeing other people's perspectives. Ben, for instance, has trouble accepting things are different to the way he sees them, and that can lead to frustration."

When I ask why he hasn't gone out to calm Ben down, Den-Kaat explains that it is better to "leave him alone, to regulate the emotion that he has now, without rushing out and asking him to talk about it, which is something he finds difficult anyway".

Dressed in grey trousers and a white shirt ("Asperger's people experience high sensory sensitivities, so you want to keep it plain"), Den-Kaat eventually introduces me to Ben, who has agreed to let me sit in on a therapy session. A handsome boy with short spiky hair and anxious eyes, Ben greets me with incongruous formality, like a graduate at a job interview. Kneeling on the floor, Den-Kaat then produces a piece of butcher's paper and a box of textas, and has Ben draw, in the form of a comic strip, the fight he had with his mum in the car.

As Ben works away, Den-Kaat gently prompts him: "What happened next?"; "What did she say then?"; "What was she feeling?" Slowly, a picture emerges of a human interaction, with causes and consequences, where two separate perspectives - Ben and his mum's - coexist, side by side. It's an emotional mud map, a manual really, showing all the nonverbal elements of communication - thoughts, feelings, actions, emotions - and how they go together. "We all say I am irrational when I'm upset," Ben says. "So this helps me to see things more clearly."

Since they find it hard to use their intuition and to generalise from one situation to another, people with Asperger's commonly work off a strict set of rules or scripts. For this reason, they find it hard to deal with change. But change is precisely what they are about to get. In May, the American Psychiatric Association (APA) will publish its fifth edition of the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-V), in which the term Asperger's will be notably absent. Instead, all diagnoses of autism, of which Asperger's is currently thought to be a subset, will be folded into one overarching category, autism spectrum disorder, and rated from mild to severe. Some believe that by removing Asperger's as a distinct disorder, the APA is attempting to curb its rampant over-diagnosis. (The APA says the new criteria will "lead to more accurate diagnoses".)

Whatever the reasons, the decision has caused a storm on Aspie internet forums, where contributors worry that changing the diagnosis will result in a loss of identity. (If Asperger's doesn't exist, does that mean you are not an Aspie? Have you ever been? If not, what are you?) Some simply don't like the idea of being associated with a lower-functioning disorder like autism when, in fact, they see themselves, as one writer put it, "as high-functioning but eccentric". Meanwhile, practitioners like Den-Kaat worry about the implications for accessing appropriate funding and support services.

But we can be sure of one thing: the term Asperger's will not disappear from our cultural landscape. People like Moby are unlikely to pore over the latest DSM revisions. More to the point, the term has taken too deep a root. How else to describe that not-quite-right nephew with the weird laugh and Doctor Who fetish? What other term applies to your jerky ex-boyfriend, the one who used to put name tags on all his food?

No, the "spectrum" is out there now; it has absorbed us all.

Asperger's is dead. Long live "Asperger's".


2 April, 2013

The sunscreen nanoparticle flap

Some comments from Australia

Health experts fear lives will be lost because of what some view as scaremongering about risks from tiny particles used in some sunscreens.

Concern about the potential damage caused by Friends of the Earth's anti-nanotechnology campaign is so great that public health advocates are abandoning their previous cautions on using sunscreens with nanoparticles.

"In the past I have said that consumers are better to avoid sunscreen with nanoparticles in it," said Michael Moore, chief executive of the Public Health Association of Australia. "But we are rethinking our position as evidence grows of people being reluctant to use sunscreen."

One third of respondents to a federal government survey made public in February said they were aware of possible risks of using sunscreens with nanoparticles. In the group that was aware, 87 per cent said it made them concerned about using sunscreen.

Nanoparticles are so small they are measured in millionths of a millimetre. The concern is that they generate free radicals which could penetrate cells and interact with cell protein or DNA in unknown ways. However, research has yet to establish proof that nanoparticles in sunscreen are harmful to health.

In contrast, it is proved beyond doubt that using sunscreen protects against skin cancer, which causes 200 deaths a year in Australia and for which thousands of Australians are treated every year, said Terry Slevin, chairman of Cancer Council Australia's skin cancer committee. Scaring people based on "extremely unconvincing evidence" of a "theoretical" problem means "public health harm is likely to occur", Mr Slevin said.

"There is more risk from not using sunscreen and getting burnt than there is from using sunscreen and the potential penetration of nanoparticles,” said Maxine McCall, CSIRO nanosafety research co-ordinator and senior principal research scientist.

Sunscreens with the  "blockers” zinc oxide and titanium oxide scatter or absorb UV radiation across a broader range of the UV spectrum than competing sunscreens relying on chemicals alone.

Sunscreens with metal oxide particles in their traditional or "bulk" form appear milky or white on the skin, such as zinc cream, the "Aussie war paint".  When the metal oxides are in nanoparticle form the lotion is more transparent and so more appealing to many consumers.

Friends of the Earth  wants mandatory safety testing and labelling of sunscreen products using nanoparticles, similar to European regulations to apply from July.

 "We sell a product that is safe and it’s nano,” said  Rade Dudurovic, chairman of the listed company Antaria, a Perth manufacturer of zinc-based nanoparticles used in sunscreen.

 "Unless [Friends of the Earth] can provide some form of academic, reputable medical evidence to suggest it is unsafe, it’s a spurious debate.”

The Therapeutic Goods Administration said there was "currently no evidence” to suggest a particular safety risk from sunscreens with nanoparticles or to support tougher labelling requirements.  New Zealand will require mandatory labelling from 2015.

Friends of the Earth’s  nanotechnology project co-ordinator Louise Sales said the fault for public concern about sunscreen safety lies not with the campaign group but with the Therapeutic Goods Administration  for failing to act to give consumers  peace of mind.


Sausages ARE safe after all: Relax about the recent scare - unless you've eaten one banger a day for your whole life!

Another comment on the Rohrmann rubbish

Can eating just half a pork sausage – or a ham sandwich – a day really trigger an early death? That was the warning from experts earlier this month – that processed meat is a major factor in developing two of Britain’s biggest killers, heart disease and cancer.

Eating more than 20g a day increases the risk of dying young from these diseases, according to the results of  a European study.

Study leader Prof Sabine Rohrmann, from Switzerland’s University of Zurich, said: ‘We estimate three per cent of premature deaths each year could be prevented if people ate less than 20g of processed meat per day.’

To put this into perspective, one Tesco Finest British Pork Sausage weighs about 75g, and a rasher of back bacon is about 35g.

So your average fried breakfast would send you spiralling over the limit and towards an early grave, if you believe the headlines.

The main focus was meat that has been preserved or had something added to extend its shelf-life. Bacon, corned beef, sausages, salami, doner kebabs and meat pies count as processed.

Scientists quizzed nearly half a million people, including the British, for more than a decade about their eating habits.

The results initially appear pretty damning about the health dangers of processed meat. But what do our experts think?

Professor Tom Sanders, head of nutrition and dietetics at London’s King’s College, says we shouldn’t rush to bin our bangers just yet.

The scientist points out that this study does not calculate actual deaths in Britain from processed meat. Instead, it estimates the likely chance of dying from cardiovascular disease if you eat these foods.

Its main finding is that anyone who eats a lot of processed meat (160g plus – the equivalent of two-and-a-half sausages) every day – is 72 per cent more likely to die from heart disease than someone who eats a moderate amount (less than 20g). But eating it in moderation doesn’t pose a great health risk.

Processed meat cannot be singled out in this study as the only trigger for stroke and heart attack deaths, says Prof Sanders. Other factors such as smoking, diet and lack of exercise could be equally to blame. The people quizzed for this study in ten countries included smokers.

‘Smoking is such a potent factor,’ he says. ‘Those most likely to smoke ate the most processed meat and less fruit and vegetables. People who eat a lot of fatty, processed meat also have a lot of unhealthy behaviour, eating chips and drinking sugary drinks. The message should be to look at your overall diet, not just if you have the odd bacon butty.’


1 April, 2013

How a bowl of pasta with tomato sauce and salad could cut your risk of having a stroke

Hard to evaluate a meta-analysis without completely re-doing the study but it seems to be just the usual naive epidemiology.  Journal article here

Eating a bowl of wholegrain pasta with a mixed salad could cut your risk of a stroke, say researchers.  They found people who regularly eat more dietary fibre were less likely to suffer a stroke, with the risk falling by about seven per cent for each high-fibre meal.

Good sources of fibre include whole grains, fruit and vegetables, and nuts, which contain parts of the plant the body doesn’t absorb during digestion.

Previous research suggests dietary fibre can reduce risk factors for stroke, including high blood pressure and high levels of ‘bad’ cholesterol.

In the new study, researchers found that each seven gram increase in total daily fibre intake was linked to a seven per cent drop in first-time stroke risk.

One serving of whole wheat pasta, plus two servings of fruits or vegetables, provides about 7 grams of fibre, said UK researchers in the American Heart Association journal Stroke.

Lead author, Diane Threapleton, from the University of Leeds’ School of Food Science and Nutrition, said: ‘Greater intake of fibre-rich foods - such as whole-grains, fruits, vegetables and nuts - are important for everyone, and especially for those with stroke risk factors like being overweight, smoking and having high blood pressure.

‘Most people do not get the recommended level of fibre, and increasing fibre may contribute to lower risk for strokes.

‘We must educate consumers on the continued importance of increasing fibre intake and help them learn how to increase fibre in their diet.’

Researchers analysed eight studies published between 1990 and 2012.

The studies reported on all types of stroke with four specifically examining the risk of ischemic stroke, the most common type which occurs when a clot blocks a blood vessel to the brain.

Three assessed haemorrhagic stroke, which occurs when a blood vessel bleeds into the brain or on its surface.

Other stroke risk factors like age and smoking were taken into account.

The results showed total dietary fibre consumed was linked with stroke risk, with the risk falling in line with increasing amounts eaten.

Researchers did not find an association with soluble fibre and stroke risk, and lacked enough data on insoluble fibre to make any conclusions about the best kind of dietary fibre.

Soluble fibres, which dissolve in water, include oats and oat bran, peas, beans, barley.

Insoluble fibres, which promote the movement of material through the digestive system, include whole wheat, whole grain, vegetable and fruit skins, and wheat bran.

Studies have shown that people who eat a lot of insoluble fibre have lower blood pressure and lower body weight, whereas high blood pressure and obesity raise stroke risk.

A recent study from Oxford University found that eating more fruit and vegetables would dramatically cut the annual toll of premature deaths in the UK.

It showed 15,000 lives would be saved by sticking to five-a-day advice, including 7,000 from coronary heart disease, almost 5,000 from cancer and more than 3,000 from stroke.


Taking aspirin just once a month 'can cut risk of cancer by a quarter'

Journal abstract here.  Just epidemiological rubbish

Popping an aspirin just once a month could cut people's chances of developing cancer by almost a quarter, new research suggests.

According to scientists at Queen's University in Belfast, a weekly or even monthly dose of the over-the-counter painkiller could help people avoid developing tumours.

Their investigation indicated that a regular dose of aspirin could reduce people's risk of getting head and neck cancer by 22 per cent.

A regular dose of aspirin in middle age is already recognised as helping to reduce people's risk of heart attacks and strokes.

Academics at the Belfast university carried out an investigation into the impact of aspirin and ibuprofen on head and neck cancer risk, a report in the Daily Express said.  It was most effective in throat cancer prevention, their study showed.

The results of their research were published in the British Journal of Cancer.

They concluded that aspirin 'may have potential as a chemopreventive agent', noting that 'further investigation is warranted'.

Head and neck cancers affect more than 16,000 people in the UK annually.

Dr Nigel Carter, chief executive of the British Dental Health Foundation, said the research was 'encouraging'

'Regular aspirin use has been linked to preventing a number of cancers, and if it is a particularly successful practice for warding off mouth cancer, it should act as a springboard for more research,' he said.

But Dr Carter warned that aspirin use would be 'irrelevant' should people ignore the dangers of mouth cancer by smoking, drinking alcohol to excess and existing on a poor diet.


SITE MOTTO: "Epidemiology is mostly bunk"

Where it is not bunk is when it shows that some treatment or influence has no effect on lifespan or disease incidence. It is as convincing as disproof as it is unconvincing as proof. Think about it. As Einstein said: No amount of experimentation can ever prove me right; a single experiment can prove me wrong.

Epidemiological studies are useful for hypothesis-generating or for hypothesis-testing of theories already examined in experimental work but they do not enable causative inferences by themselves

The standard of reasoning that one commonly finds in epidemiological journal articles is akin to the following false syllogism:
Chairs have legs
You have legs
So therefore you are a chair


1). A good example of an epidemiological disproof concerns the dreaded salt (NaCl). We are constantly told that we eat too much salt for good health and must cut back our consumption of it. Yet there is one nation that consumes huge amounts of salt. So do they all die young there? Quite the reverse: Japan has the world's highest concentration of centenarians. Taste Japan's favourite sauce -- soy sauce -- if you want to understand Japanese salt consumption. It's almost solid salt.

2). We need a daily salt intake to counter salt-loss through perspiration and the research shows that people on salt-restricted diets die SOONER. So the conventional wisdom is not only wrong. It is positively harmful

3). Table salt is a major source of iodine, which is why salt is normally "iodized" by official decree. Cutting back salt consumption runs the risk of iodine deficiency, with its huge adverse health impacts -- goiter, mental retardation etc. GIVE YOUR BABY PLENTY OF SALTY FOODS -- unless you want to turn it into a cretin

4). Our blood has roughly the same concentration of salt as sea-water so claims that the body cannot handle high levels of salt were always absurd

5). The latest academic study shows that LOW salt in your blood is most likely to lead to heart attacks. See JAMA. 2011;305(17):1777-1785. More here on similar findings

PEANUTS: There is a vaccination against peanut allergy -- peanuts themselves. Give peanut products (e.g. peanut butter -- or the original "Bamba" if you have Israeli contacts) to your baby as soon as it begins to take solid foods and that should immunize it for life. See here and here (scroll down). It's also possible (though as yet unexamined) that a mother who eats peanuts while she is lactating may confer some protection on her baby

THE SIDE-EFFECT MANIA. If a drug is shown to have troublesome side-effects, there are always calls for it to be banned or not authorized for use in the first place. But that is insane. ALL drugs have side effects. Even aspirin causes stomach bleeding, for instance -- and paracetamol (acetaminophen) can wreck your liver. If a drug has no side effects, it will have no main effects either. If you want a side-effect-free drug, take a homeopathic remedy. They're just water.

Although I am an atheist, I have never wavered from my view that the New Testament is the best guide to living and I still enjoy reading it. Here is what the apostle Paul says about vegetarians: "For one believeth that he may eat all things: another, who is weak, eateth herbs. Let not him that eateth despise him that eateth not; and let not him which eateth not judge him that eateth." (Romans 14: 2.3). What perfect advice! That is real tolerance: Very different from the dogmatism of the food freaks. Interesting that vegetarianism is such an old compulsion, though.

Even if we concede that getting fat shortens your life, what right has anybody got to question someone's decision to accept that tradeoff for themselves? Such a decision could be just one version of the old idea that it is best to have a short life but a merry one. Even the Bible is supportive of that thinking. See Ecclesiastes 8:15 and Isaiah 22: 13. To deny the right to make such a personal decision is plainly Fascistic.

Fatties actually SAVE the taxpayer money

IQ: Political correctness makes IQ generally unmentionable so it is rarely controlled for in epidemiological studies. This is extremely regrettable as it tends to vitiate findings that do not control for it. When it is examined, it is routinely found to have pervasive effects. We read, for instance, that "The mother's IQ was more highly predictive of breastfeeding status than were her race, education, age, poverty status, smoking, the home environment, or the child's birth weight or birth order". So political correctness can render otherwise interesting findings moot

That hallowed fish oil is strongly linked to increased incidence of colon cancer

The "magic" ingredient in fish oil is omega-3 fatty acids (n-3 LCPUFA in medical jargon). So how do you think the research finding following was reported? "No differences were seen in the overall percentage of infants with immunoglobulin E associated allergic disease between the n-3 LCPUFA and control groups. It was reported as SUPPORTING the benefits of Omeda-3! Belief in Omega-3 is simply a cult and, like most cults, is impervious to disproof. See also here.

"To kill an error is as good a service as, and sometimes better than, the establishing of a new truth or fact" -- Charles Darwin

"Most men die of their remedies, not of their diseases", said Moliere. That may no longer be true in general but there is still a lot of false medical "wisdom" around that does harm to various degrees -- the statin and antioxidant fads, for instance. And showing its falsity is rarely the problem. The problem is getting people -- medical researchers in particular -- to abandon their preconceptions

Bertrand Russell could have been talking about today's conventional dietary "wisdom" when he said: "The fact that an opinion has been widely held is no evidence whatever that it is not utterly absurd; indeed in view of the silliness of the majority of mankind, a widespread belief is more likely to be foolish than sensible.”

Eating lots of fruit and vegetables is NOT beneficial

The great and fraudulent scare about lead

The challenge, as John Maynard Keynes knew, "lies not so much in developing new ideas as in escaping from old ones".

"Obesity" is 77% genetic. So trying to make fatties slim is punishing them for the way they were born. That sort of thing is furiously condemned in relation to homosexuals so why is it OK for fatties?


Some more problems with the "Obesity" war:

1). It tries to impose behavior change on everybody -- when most of those targeted are not obese and hence have no reason to change their behaviour. It is a form of punishing the innocent and the guilty alike. (It is also typical of Leftist thinking: Scorning the individual and capable of dealing with large groups only).

2). The longevity research all leads to the conclusion that it is people of MIDDLING weight who live longest -- not slim people. So the "epidemic" of obesity is in fact largely an "epidemic" of living longer.

3). It is total calorie intake that makes you fat -- not where you get your calories. Policies that attack only the source of the calories (e.g. "junk food") without addressing total calorie intake are hence pissing into the wind. People involuntarily deprived of their preferred calorie intake from one source are highly likely to seek and find their calories elsewhere.

4). So-called junk food is perfectly nutritious. A big Mac meal comprises meat, bread, salad and potatoes -- which is a mainstream Western diet. If that is bad then we are all in big trouble.

5). Food warriors demonize dietary fat. But Eskimos living on their traditional diet eat huge amounts of fat with no apparent ill-effects. At any given age they in fact have an exceptionally LOW incidence of cardiovascular disease. And the average home-cooked roast dinner has LOTS of fat. Will we ban roast dinners?

6). The foods restricted are often no more calorific than those permitted -- such as milk and fruit-juice drinks.

7). Tendency to weight is mostly genetic and is therefore not readily susceptible to voluntary behaviour change.

8). And when are we going to ban cheese? Cheese is a concentrated calorie bomb and has lots of that wicked animal fat in it too. Wouldn't we all be better off without it? And what about butter and margarine? They are just about pure fat. Surely they should be treated as contraband in kids' lunchboxes! [/sarcasm].

9). And how odd it is that we never hear of the huge American study which showed that women who eat lots of veggies have an INCREASED risk of stomach cancer? So the official recommendation to eat five lots of veggies every day might just be creating lots of cancer for the future! It's as plausible (i.e. not very) as all the other dietary "wisdom" we read about fat etc.

10). And will "this generation of Western children be the first in history to lead shorter lives than their parents did"? This is another anti-fat scare that emanates from a much-cited editorial in a prominent medical journal that said so. Yet this editorial offered no statistical basis for its opinion -- an opinion that flies directly in the face of the available evidence.

11). A major cause of increasing obesity is certainly the campaign against it -- as dieting usually makes people FATTER. If there were any sincerity to the obesity warriors, they would ban all diet advertising and otherwise shut up about it. Re-authorizing now-banned school playground activities and school outings would help too. But it is so much easier to blame obesity on the evil "multinationals" than it is to blame it on your own restrictions on the natural activities of kids

12. Fascism: "What we should be doing is monitoring children from birth so we can detect any deviations from the norm at an early stage and action can be taken". Who said that? Joe Stalin? Adolf Hitler? Orwell's "Big Brother"? The Spanish Inquisition? Generalissimo Francisco Franco Bahamonde? None of those. It was Dr Colin Waine, chairman of Britain's National Obesity Forum. What a fine fellow!


Trans fats: For one summary of the weak science behind the "trans-fat" hysteria, see here. Trans fats have only a temporary effect on blood chemistry and the evidence of lasting harm from them is dubious. By taking extreme groups in trans fats intake, some weak association with coronary heart disease has at times been shown in some sub-populations but extreme group studies are inherently at risk of confounding with other factors and are intrinsically of little interest to the average person.

The "antioxidant" religion: The experimental evidence is that antioxidants SHORTEN your life, if anything. Studies here and here and here and here and here and here and here, for instance. That they are of benefit is a great theory but it is one that has been coshed by reality plenty of times.

Controlling serum cholesterol does not of itself reduce cardiovascular disease. It may even in fact increase it

The absurdity of using self-report questionnaires as a diet record

PASSIVE SMOKING is unpleasant but does you no harm. See here and here and here and here and here and here and here

The medical consensus is often wrong. The best known wrongheaded medical orthodoxy is that stomach ulcers could not be caused by bacteria because the stomach is so acidic. Disproof of that view first appeared in 1875 (Yes. 1875) but the falsity of the view was not widely recognized until 1990. Only heroic efforts finally overturned the consensus and led to a cure for stomach ulcers. See here and here and here.

Contrary to the usual assertions, some big studies show that fat women get LESS breast cancer. See also here and here

NOTE: "No trial has ever demonstrated benefits from reducing dietary saturated fat".

Huge ($400 million) clinical trial shows that a low fat diet is useless . See also here and here

Dieticians are just modern-day witch-doctors. There is no undergirding in double-blind studies for their usual recommendations

The fragility of current medical wisdom: Would you believe that even Old Testament wisdom can sometimes trump medical wisdom? Note this quote: "Spiess discussed Swedish research on cardiac patients that compared Jehovah's Witnesses who refused blood transfusions to patients with similar disease progression during open-heart surgery. The research found those who refused transfusions had noticeably better survival rates.

Relying on the popular wisdom can certainly hurt you personally: "The scientific consensus of a quarter-century ago turned into the arthritic nightmare of today."

Medical wisdom can in fact fly in the face of the known facts. How often do we hear reverent praise for the Mediterranean diet? Yet both Australians and Japanese live longer than Greeks and Italians, despite having very different diets. The traditional Australian diet is in fact about as opposite to the Mediterranean diet as you can get. The reverence for the Mediterranean diet can only be understood therefore as some sort of Anglo-Saxon cultural cringe. It is quite brainless. Why are not the Australian and Japanese diets extolled if health is the matter at issue?

Since many of my posts here make severe criticisms of medical research, I should perhaps point out that I am also a severe critic of much research in my own field of psychology. See here and here

This is NOT an "alternative medicine" site. Perhaps the only (weak) excuse for the poorly substantiated claims that often appear in the medical literature is the even poorer level of substantiation offered in the "alternative" literature.

I used to teach social statistics in a major Australian university and I find medical statistics pretty obfuscatory. They seem uniformly designed to make mountains out of molehills. Many times in the academic literature I have excoriated my colleagues in psychology and sociology for going ga-ga over very weak correlations but what I find in the medical literature makes the findings in the social sciences look positively muscular. In fact, medical findings are almost never reported as correlations -- because to do so would exhibit how laughably trivial they generally are. If (say) 3 individuals in a thousand in a control group had some sort of an adverse outcome versus 4 out of a thousand in a group undergoing some treatment, the difference will be published in the medical literature with great excitement and intimations of its importance. In fact, of course, such small differences are almost certainly random noise and are in any rational calculus unimportant. And statistical significance is little help in determining the importance of a finding. Statistical significance simply tells you that the result was unlikely to be an effect of small sample size. But a statistically significant difference could have been due to any number of other randomly-present factors.

Even statistical correlations far stronger than anything found in medical research may disappear if more data is used. A remarkable example from Sociology: below:
"The modern literature on hate crimes began with a remarkable 1933 book by Arthur Raper titled The Tragedy of Lynching. Raper assembled data on the number of lynchings each year in the South and on the price of an acre's yield of cotton. He calculated the correlation coefficient between the two series at -0.532. In other words, when the economy was doing well, the number of lynchings was lower.... In 2001, Donald Green, Laurence McFalls, and Jennifer Smith published a paper that demolished the alleged connection between economic conditions and lynchings in Raper's data. Raper had the misfortune of stopping his analysis in 1929. After the Great Depression hit, the price of cotton plummeted and economic conditions deteriorated, yet lynchings continued to fall. The correlation disappeared altogether when more years of data were added."
So we must be sure to base our conclusions on ALL the data. But in medical research, data selectivity and the "overlooking" of discordant research findings is epidemic.

The intellectual Roman Emperor Marcus Aurelius (AD 121-180) could have been speaking of the prevailing health "wisdom" of today when he said: "The object in life is not to be on the side of the majority, but to escape finding oneself in the ranks of the insane."

The Federal Reference Manual on Scientific Evidence, Second Edition says (p. 384): "the threshold for concluding that an agent was more likely than not the cause of an individual's disease is a relative risk greater than 2.0." Very few of the studies criticized on this blog meet that criterion.

Improbable events do happen at random -- as mathematician John Brignell notes rather tartly:
"Consider, instead, my experiences in the village pub swindle. It is based on the weekly bonus ball in the National Lottery. It so happens that my birth date is 13, so that is the number I always choose. With a few occasional absences abroad I have paid my pound every week for a year and a half, but have never won. Some of my neighbours win frequently; one in three consecutive weeks. Furthermore, I always put in a pound for my wife for her birth date, which is 11. She has never won either. The probability of neither of these numbers coming up in that period is less than 5%, which for an epidemiologist is significant enough to publish a paper.

Kids are not shy anymore. They are "autistic". Autism is a real problem but the rise in its incidence seems likely to be the product of overdiagnosis -- the now common tendency to medicalize almost all problems.

One of the great pleasures in life is the first mouthful of cold beer on a hot day -- and the food Puritans can stick that wherever they like