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

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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


31 December, 2012

Half the Facts You Know Are Probably Wrong

Old truths decay and new ones are born at an astonishing rate

Dinosaurs were cold-blooded. Increased K-12 spending and lower pupil/teacher ratios boost public school student outcomes. Most of the DNA in the human genome is junk. Saccharin causes cancer and a high fiber diet prevents it. Stars cannot be bigger than 150 solar masses.

In the past half-century, all of the foregoing facts have turned out to be wrong. In the modern world facts change all of the time, according to Samuel Arbesman, author of the new book The Half-Life of Facts: Why Everything We Know Has an Expiration Date (Current).

Fact-making is speeding up, writes Arbesman, a senior scholar at the Kaufmann Foundation and an expert in scientometrics, the science of measuring and analyzing science. As facts are made and remade with increasing speed, Arbesman is worried that most of us don’t keep up to date. That means we’re basing decisions on facts dimly remembered from school and university classes—facts that often turn out to be wrong.

In 1947, the mathematician Derek J. de Solla Price was asked to store a complete set of The Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society temporarily in his house. Price stacked them in chronological order by decade, and he noticed that the number of volumes doubled about every 15 years, i.e., scientific knowledge was apparently growing at an exponential rate. Thus the field of scientometrics was born.

Price started to analyze all sorts of other kinds of scientific data, and concluded in 1960 that scientific knowledge had been growing steadily at a rate of 4.7 percent annually for the last three centuries. In 1965, he exuberantly observed, "All crude measures, however arrived at, show to a first approximation that science increases exponentially, at a compound interest of about 7 percent per annum, thus doubling in size every 10–15 years, growing by a factor of 10 every half century, and by something like a factor of a million in the 300 years which separate us from the seventeenth-century invention of the scientific paper when the process began.”

A 2010 study in the journal Scientometrics, looking at data between 1907 and 2007, concurred: The "overall growth rate for science still has been at least 4.7 percent per year.”

Since knowledge is still growing at an impressively rapid pace, it should not be surprising that many facts people learned in school have been overturned and are now out of date. But at what rate do former facts disappear? Arbesman applies to the dissolution of facts the concept of half-life—the time required for half the atoms of a given amount of a radioactive substance to disintegrate. For example, the half-life of the radioactive isotope strontium-90 is just over 29 years. Applying the concept of half-life to facts, Arbesman cites research that looked into the decay in the truth of clinical knowledge about cirrhosis and hepatitis. "The half-life of truth was 45 years,” he found.

In other words, half of what physicians thought they knew about liver diseases was wrong or obsolete 45 years later. Similarly, ordinary people’s brains are cluttered with outdated lists of things, such as the 10 biggest cities in the United States.

Facts are being manufactured all of the time, and, as Arbesman shows, many of them turn out to be wrong. Checking each one is how the scientific process is supposed to work; experimental results need to be replicated by other researchers. So how many of the findings in 845,175 articles published in 2009 and recorded in PubMed, the free online medical database, were actually replicated? Not all that many. In 2011, a disquieting study in Nature reported that a team of researchers over 10 years was able to reproduce the results of only six out of 53 landmark papers in preclinical cancer research.

In 2005, the physician and statistician John Ioannides published "Why Most Published Research Findings Are False” in the journal PLoS Medicine. Ioannides cataloged the flaws of much biomedical research, pointing out that reported studies are less likely to be true when they are small, the postulated effect is likely to be weak, research designs and endpoints are flexible, financial and nonfinancial conflicts of interest are common, and competition in the field is fierce. Ioannides concluded that "for many current scientific fields, claimed research findings may often be simply accurate measures of the prevailing bias.” Still, knowledge marches on, spawning new facts and changing old ones.

Another reason that personal knowledge decays is that people cling to selected "facts” as a way to justify their beliefs about how the world works. Arbesman notes, "We persist in only adding facts to our personal store of knowledge that jibe with what we already know, rather than assimilate new facts irrespective of how they fit into our worldview.” All too true; confirmation bias is everywhere.

So is there anything we can do to keep up to date with the changing truth? Arbesman suggests that simply knowing that our factual knowledge bases have a half-life should keep us humble and ready to seek new information. Well, hope springs eternal.

More daringly, Arbesman suggests, "Stop memorizing things and just give up. Our individual memories can be outsourced to the cloud.” Through the Internet, we can "search for any fact we need any time.” Really? The Web is great for finding an up-to-date list of the 10 biggest cities in the United States, but if the scientific literature is littered with wrong facts, then cyberspace is an enticing quagmire of falsehoods, propaganda, and just plain bunkum. There simply is no substitute for skepticism.

Toward the end of his book, Arbesman suggests that "exponential knowledge growth cannot continue forever.” Among the reasons he gives for the slowdown is that current growth rates imply that everyone on the planet would one day be a scientist. The 2010 Scientometrics study also mused about the growth rate in the number of scientists and offered a conjecture "that the borderline between science and other endeavors in the modern, global society will become more and more blurred.” Most may be scientists after all. Arbesman notes that "the number of neurons that can be recorded simultaneously has been growing exponentially, with a doubling time of about seven and a half years.” This suggests that brain/computer linkages will one day be possible.


Are video games really the villains in our violent age?

The Sandy Hook school massacre has revived concerns about the effects of first-person shooter games, but some of them are actually good for you

The number of aliens you kill may directly contribute to an improvement in your brain. This may not sound like a typical scientific discovery, but it has come from some of the world's finest neuroscience laboratories. In fact, it is the genuine outcome of studies on how action video games can improve your attention, mental control and visual skills. We're talking here about fast-moving titles such as Halo, Call of Duty and Grand Theft Auto, which demand quick reflexes and instant decision-making. They're often portrayed as the most trashy, vapid and empty-headed forms of digital entertainment, but it looks as if they may be particularly good at sharpening your mental skills.

This may come as a surprise if you read much of the popular press, which is often obsessed with technological scare stories. Scientific evidence has been less media-friendly but considerably more convincing. We now have numerous studies on how playing action computer games, as opposed to puzzle or strategy titles such as The Sims or Tetris, leads to an improvement in how well we pay attention, how quickly we react, how sensitive we are to images and how accurately we sort information. Crucially, these studies are not just focused on people who already play a lot of video games, but are testing whether action video game training genuinely leads to improvements.

The studies use randomised controlled trials. It is a method normally used to test medications, but it can be applied to anything. In this case, a group of people are randomly assigned to one of two groups. Half get the "treatment", perhaps blasting away at enemy combatants in Medal of Honor, while the others get the "placebo" – for example, managing a digital family in The Sims 3. Reliably, those assigned to play the fast-moving action games show improvements on neuropsychological tests that measure the ability to process quickly and react to visual information. It's worth saying that these conclusions were thrown into doubt in 2011 when several scientists, led by Walter Boot from Florida State University, suggested that these findings may be due to poor experimental design, but subsequent and better planned studies have continued to find a positive effect.

Another aspect of the game debate concerns the impact of violent video games. This has become a matter of public anxiety again in light of the tragic Sandy Hook killings after the gunman was identified as being a fan of first-person shooter games such as Call of Duty. It's worth saying that such appalling events are not a good basis for science, simply because the popularity of this form of entertainment makes it difficult to attribute any form of link between their use and statistically rare individuals. This does not, however, mean that the issue itself is not important and worthy of study – and it has, in fact, been researched widely.

Also using randomised controlled trials, research has found that violent video games cause a reliable short-term increase in aggression during lab-based tests. However, this seems not to be something specific to computer games. Television and even violence in the news have been found to have a similar impact. The longer-term effects of aggressive gaming are still not well studied, but we would expect similar results from long-term studies of other violent media – again a small increase in aggressive thoughts and behaviour in the lab.

These, however, are not the same as actual violence. Psychologist Christopher Ferguson, based at the Texas A&M International University, has examined what predicts genuine violence committed by young people. It turns out that delinquent peers, depression and an abusive family environment account for actual violent incidents, while exposure to media violence seems to have only a minor and usually insignificant effect. This makes sense even in light of horrifying mass shootings. Several of the killers did play video games, but this doesn't distinguish them from millions of non-violent young men. Most, however, had a previous history of antisocial behaviour and a disturbed background, something known to be much more common in killers.

Perhaps the most telling effect of video games concerns not what they involve but how much time someone spends playing them. A helpful study on the effect of giving games consoles to young people found that, while the gaming had no negative impact on core abilities, school performance declined for those kids who put aside homework for screen entertainment. Similarly, a significant amount of research has found that putting aside exercise for the physical inactivity of video games raises the risk of obesity and general poor health.

And while "addiction" is now the pop psychology label of choice for anything that someone does to excess (sex, video games, shopping), the same behaviour could just as easily, and more parsimoniously, be described as a form of avoidant or unhelpful coping. Rather than dealing with uncomfortable life problems, some people avoid them by absorbing themselves in other activities, leading to an unhelpful cycle where the distractions end up maintaining the problems because they're never confronted. This can apply as easily to books as video games.

The verdict from the now considerable body of scientific research is not that video games are a new and ominous threat to society but that anything in excess will cause us problems. The somewhat prosaic conclusion is that moderation is key – whether you're killing aliens, racing cars or trying to place oddly shaped blocks that fall from the sky.


29 December, 2012

Long term studies tell us mainly about the middle class

The authors below put a brave face on their findings, saying that "qualitative" findings persist but numbers are the stuff of science and they change the longer the study lasts  -- with mostly middle class patients staying in lengthy studies. 

That pesky social class again!  It is second only to age for wide-ranging health effects yet is more often than not ignored in medical research.  So it is refreshing to see one study that does look at it  -- albeit that the findings are unsurprising.
Loss to Follow-up in Cohort Studies: Bias in Estimates of Socioeconomic Inequalities

By Howe, Laura D. et al.


Background: Although cohort members tend to be healthy and affluent compared with the whole population, some studies indicate this does not bias certain exposure-outcome associations. It is less clear whether this holds when socioeconomic position (SEP) is the exposure of interest.

Methods: As an illustrative example, we use data from the Avon Longitudinal Study of Parents and Children. We calculate estimates of maternal education inequalities in outcomes for which data are available on almost the whole cohort (birth weight and length, breastfeeding, preterm birth, maternal obesity, smoking during pregnancy, educational attainment). These are calculated for the full cohort (n~12,000) and in restricted subsamples defined by continued participation at age 10 years (n?7,000) and age 15 years (n?5,000).

Results: Loss to follow-up was related both to SEP and outcomes. For each outcome, loss to follow-up was associated with underestimation of inequality, which increased as participation rates decreased (eg, mean birth-weight difference between highest and lowest SEP was 116 g [95% confidence interval = 78 to 153] in the full sample and 93 g [45 to 141] and 62 g [5 to 119] in those attending at ages 10 and 15 years, respectively).

Conclusions: Considerable attrition from cohort studies may result in biased estimates of socioeconomic inequalities, and the degree of bias may worsen as participation rates decrease. However, even with considerable attrition (>50%), qualitative conclusions about the direction and approximate magnitude of inequalities did not change among most of our examples. The appropriate analysis approaches to alleviate bias depend on the missingness mechanism.

Epidemiology: January 2013 - Volume 24 - Issue 1 - p 1–9

Statins have helped slash British heart attack deaths, "Experts say"

This is just faith.  There is no way of separating out statin effects from other effects mentioned below.  Wider use of aspirin  and other clotbusting drugs could be major factors, for instance

Statins have played a significant role in slashing the number of deaths from heart attacks by half.  The 'wonderdrug' can reduce cholesterol and protect against a host of chronic illnesses.

Experts have said the drug has contributed to the saving of millions of lives over the past ten years.

Between 2002 and 2010 the death rate in men fell dramatically from 78.7 per 100,000 to 39.2, figures show.  In comparison, the death rate among women fell from 37.3 to 17.7, according to the British Heart Foundation.

Professor Peter Weissburg, medical director of the foundation, told the Daily Express: 'Around 50 per cent fewer people are having heart attacks in the first place and statins play a big part on primary and secondary intervention.  'Until statins came along we didn't have drugs that were effective and safe.'

Every day eight million people in the UK take various statins, which cost as little as 40p a day.

Simvastatin is the most frequently prescribed one; last year GPs gave out almost three million prescriptions for it in England alone.

Their widespread use, combined with healthier lifestyles, has led to far fewer people having heart attacks.

Mr Weissburg added: 'The fall in the number of deaths from heart attacks has actually been dropping for the past 20 years and some of that is to do with lifestyle'.

Mr Weissburg said fewer people smoking, better control of blood pressure and better treatment for those who have suffered a heart attack, as well as statins, have contributed to the fall.

The success of statins in combating fatal heart attacks has led to some doctors calling for everyone over 50 to be prescribed the pills.

They protect against heart attacks, heart disease and strokes, as well as some cancers.

In November it was reported that thousands of people taking a common statin were to have their dose reduced over fears of side effects.

Side effects can include insomnia, bowel problems, headaches and loss of sensation or pain in the hands and feet.

The medicines regulator warned that patients taking one particular type - simvastatin - at the same time as other drugs used to reduce high blood pressure were likely to suffer more muscle aches and pains.


28 December, 2012

Wonder of wonders!  Epidemiological caution

All the things I would have said about this finding are said in the article itself!

An over-the-counter health supplement commonly taken by older people to keep joints supple could help them live longer, research indicates.

Glucosamine could have similar protective properties to aspirin, believe US researchers, but without the chance of developing stomach ulcers that comes with taking the latter.

In an observational study of 77,500 people over 50, they found those taking glucosamine were 13 per cent less likely to die over an eight-year period, than those who did not.

Scientists at the Fred Hutchinson Cancer Centre in Seattle believe the supplement might have protective anti-inflammatory properties.

However, writing in the European Journal of Epidemiology, they said there was only "limited evidence” this was the case.

Their study indicated those on glucosamine were 13 per cent less likely to die of cancer and 41 per cent less likely to die of respiratory disease, than those who did not.

They wrote: "Although bias cannot be ruled out, these results suggest that glucosamine may provide some mortality benefit.”

The study results were adjusted to try to take account of factors that could skew the results, such as age, gender, whether people smoked and social class.

However, it is possible that glucosamine has no real life-protective properties, and what the results actually show is that people who take glucosamine tend to take better general care of themselves.

An increasing body of evidence suggests that aspirin protects against a range of cancers, but this evidence does not at present exist for glucosamine.

Sarah Williams, from Cancer Research UK, said: "This is an interesting study, but it can’t tell us for sure if the glucosamine supplements themselves were responsible for the difference in death rates, or whether it could be explained by something else.  For example, people who take supplements might have generally healthier lifestyles than people who don’t.

"This kind of research will need to be repeated in other large groups of people to know more about any effects of glucosamine supplements on our health.”


Supermarket meals healthier?

Cookery programmes featuring the likes of Jamie Oliver and Nigella Lawson should not be shown before the 9pm watershed because their meals are so unhealthy, say doctors.

Researchers found celebrity recipes contain more calories and fat than supermarket ready meals, and less fibre.  Neither dishes by the likes of Jamie, Nigella, Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall or Lorraine Pascale, nor own-brand meals from leading supermarket chains, were healthy, according to a study by Newcastle University researchers.

They looked at the nutrient content of 100 recipes randomly selected from five of the chefs' books - two were by the ubiquitous Jamie - and compared them to 100 pre-made meals from Asda, Sainsbury’s and Tesco.

On average, the chefs’ meals contained 605 calories, while the supermarket meals contained only 494.  They contained about 50 per cent more fat - 27.1g per serving, compared to 17.1g - and about half the fibre, 3.3g rather than 6.5g.

The only measure where the chefs’ recipes were healthier was in terms of being less salty, containing 1.65g of salt compared to 2.00g.

So unhealthy were the chefs' meals as a whole that the authors of the study, published online in the British Medical Journal, thought broadcasters should consider only showing them late in the evening.

They wrote: "In the United Kingdom advertisements of foods classified as high in fat, salt, or sugar are prohibited during programming likely to appeal to children, and a 9pm watershed for advertising such foods has been advocated.  "No restrictions apply to the content of programmes with television chefs. For consistency, the nutritional content of all food portrayed on television, including that in programmes with television chefs, should be considered.”

For 15 years Jamie Oliver has striven to convince people of the health benefits of cooking their own food, so it is perhaps surprising that his recipes have received a red warning from experts.

Taken from two of his books - Ministry of Food and 30 Minute Meals - they made up 47 of the 100 celebrity chef recipes.  They included one dish - Cauliflower Macoroni - that contains a whopping 1,100 calories per serving, about half an adult’s daily intake. It also contains 58g of fat, roughly three-quarters of a person’s daily need.

A recipe for braised pork by Nigella Lawson - who has never made a secret her love of rich food - contained 1,340 calories.

Wholesome Hugh tended to have the healthiest of the chefs’ recipes, with many rich in vegetables.   But even his contained a blow-out dish, Gill’s poached lee and Dorset Blue Vinny Tart, coming in at a weighty 1,1178 calories a portion.

The authors wrote: "This study shows that neither recipes created by popular television chefs nor ready meals produced by three leading UK supermarket chains meet national or international nutritional standards for a balanced diet.”

Martin White, professor of public health at Newcastle University, said he and his team were "a little surprised” to see the television chefs’ recipes were less healthy.  He said: "The Government says that processed ready meals should not be eaten too often and meals should preferably be cooked from scratch.  "So we thought it would be interesting to see what the evidence actually showed.”

It was important that celebrity chefs cooked healthy meals, he said.  "They have become immensely popular over the years. I can’t help but believe that, with millions of viewers, they don’t have some sort of influence over our eating habits.”

Prof White admitted to being "in two minds” about suggesting their programmes being restricted to after the watershed, but said moves had to be made to tackle Britain’s obesity epidemic.

Studies showed that restricting advertising of high salt, fat and sugar foods during children’s programmes had proved "ineffective overall”, so perhaps tougher measures were needed, he indicated.

At a minimum the chefs should include nutritional information in their cookery books so readers could decide how healthy they were, he said.


27 December, 2012

Regularly using Facebook correlates  with eating "unhealthy" snacks

Maybe this finding shows only that fat people are more friendly.  I think they are

Researchers found those who socialised regularly with their friends on the networking website had higher levels of self-esteem but lower levels of self-control.

This meant they were more likely to snack on unhealthy food once they had logged off - particularly if they had been chatting with close friends.

The team from Columbia University and the University of Pittsburgh suggested it was this factor that could be driving weight gain rather than by encouraging users to be sedentary.

Writing in the Journal of Consumer Research, they explained: 'Using online social networks can have a positive effect on self-esteem and well-being. However, these increased feelings of self-worth can have a detrimental effect on behaviour.

'Because consumers care about the image they present to close friends, social network use enhances self-esteem in users who are focused on close friends while browsing their social network. This momentary increase in self-esteem leads them to display less self-control after browsing a social network.'

The scientists used five experiments on the behaviour of Facebook users to see how it affected them when they were offline.

The studies suggested there was a link between the use of the website and poor self-control over what they ate and how much money they spent.

They found people who used Facebook to contact their friends were more likely to binge eat and be overweight. They also had higher levels of credit card debt.

The same was not true of people who focused on 'weak ties' - people they were less familiar with.

The findings have far-reaching implications as Facebook now has over one billion active users, which is one in seven of the world's population.

'These results are concerning given the increased time people spend using social networks, as well as the worldwide proliferation of access to social networks anywhere anytime via smartphones and other gadgets,' the authors said.

'Given that self-control is important for maintaining social order and personal well-being, this subtle effect could have widespread impact.

'This is particularly true for adolescents and young adults who are the heaviest users of social networks and have grown up using social networks as a normal part of their daily lives.'


Feeling a bit stuffed? Your meal yesterday was the healthiest you'll eat all year

A counterblast to the usual message of doom.  I doubt that the generalizations offered are all well-founded but nor are almost all of the prophecies of doom

Yesterday’s blowout may have left you splayed on the sofa with a tum you fear will take January in the gym to work off.

But despite its button-bursting reputation, your Christmas dinner could actually have done you no end of good.

The meal takes some of our healthiest seasonally available foods and combines them with goodness-packed spices from the store cupboard.

In fact, what you eat at this time of year is a classic celebration of the best nutrition available in Britain’s darkest months.

Here, we reveal how Christmas foods will keep you hale and hearty long after the spinster aunts have gone home.

So raise a glass to the knowledge that enjoying them all in sensible moderation — or in moderate moderation at least (it is the season of goodwill, after all) — will keep you going through the bleak midwinter.

Much more HERE

26 December, 2012

Dark chocolate inhibits blood clotting

This appears to have been a transient effect and used a "specially enriched" chocolate

Having a piece of chocolate a day - not just at Christmas - could be the secret to staying heart healthy, according to scientists at the University of Aberdeen Rowett Institute of Nutrition and Health.

Lead researcher Dr Baukje de Roos, from the Rowett Institute, said: ‘It’s an acute effect in the body that men and women both benefit from, but it’s more diluted in women.

‘These findings are not a carte blanche to eat chocolates as they are extremely rich in fat and sugar.

‘But probably eating a little bit of dark chocolate containing at least 70 per cent cocoa every day is going to do more good than harm,’ she added.

The scientists from the Rowett, who joined together with the Institute of Food Research in Norwich, studied what happened in the blood of 42 healthy volunteers, 26 women and 16 men, after they ate dark chocolate specially boosted with cocoa extract.

They were investigating the effect on blood clotting, the result of over-activity of platelets that stick together blocking blood vessels that can lead to heart attacks and strokes.

Compounds called flavanols which are found in cocoa, tea and apples, appear have a beneficial effect on platelet function - and they are higher in cocoa-rich chocolate.

The platelet function of people eating the enriched dark chocolate was compared with platelet function in those who had eaten dark chocolate - with a lower cocoa and flavanol content - and white chocolate.

Blood and urine samples were taken and then analysed two hours and six hours after chocolate consumption.

The scientists were looking at a range of platelet function tests such as platelet activation - a reversible process where platelets are starting to get stressed and sticky - and platelet aggregation - an irreversible process when sticky platelets clump together.

They discovered the specially enriched dark chocolate significantly decreased both platelet activation and aggregation in men, but only cut platelet aggregation in women. The strongest effects were seen two hours after the chocolate had been eaten, says a report published in Molecular Nutrition Food Research.

Researchers also measured bleeding time - which shortens as platelets become stickier.

They found that the specially enriched dark chocolate significantly increased bleeding time after six hours in both men and women, possibly caused by the metabolites that our bodies produce from flavanols.

Dr Baukje de Roos, said: ‘Cocoa is a rich source of flavanols and we already knew that flavanols can stop platelets sticking together but we didn’t know how they did this.

‘It was especially interesting to see that both men and women had improvements in their platelet function, but in different ways.

‘The strength of the effects seem to be more pronounced in men.

'Our study found that compounds deemed responsible for the beneficial effects, flavanols and their metabolites, are appearing in the blood stream and in our urine within hours of consumption, and are having a positive impact on platelet function effects.’

But the effects probably wear off quite quickly, lasting perhaps no longer than two days, which means people wanting to get consistent benefits need to take a daily dose.

‘We hope that our findings could ultimately help with the development of healthier foods and food supplements,’ added Dr de Roos.

Among health benefits from chocolate are a drop in the risk of cardiovascular disease and stroke, according to the biggest review ever carried out last year, based on healthy people eating at least two pieces a week.

Previous research shows eating chocolate reduces blood pressure and improves insulin sensitivity, reducing the risk of diabetes.


Baldness cure could be on shelves in two years

If this were right, asthmatics should all have lots of hair

 A hair lotion that cures baldness could be on the market within two years, believe scientists.

 They are already talking with pharmaceutical firms about making the product, which would work by stopping the effects of a single guilty enzyme.

 US-based dermatologists announced earlier this year that they had found that an enzyme, called prostaglandin D2 (PGD2), instructed follicles to stop producing hair.

 They identified it by screening 250 genes implicated in hair loss.

 George Cotsarelis, head of dermatology at Pennsylvania University, said the one responsible for levels of PGD2 played "the major role”.

 He said he was now talking with several drugs firms about creating the anti-baldness product.

Drugs are already available that reduce PGD2 levels, as it has been implicated in asthma, holding out the hope that developing a related product for baldness could be speedy.

 About four in five men will experience some degree of baldness by the age of 70. In bald patches follicles are still making hairs, but less well than before. The hairs get shorter and shorter until they are either barely visible or do not even break the skin’s surface.

 Cotsarelis and colleagues found that in 17 men with hair loss, PGD2 levels were three times higher in bald spots than in hairy areas.

 When the original study was published in the journal Science Translational Medicine in March, he said: "We really do think if you remove the inhibition [caused by PGD2}, you get longer hair.”

 He said the finding raised the possibility of not only stopping hair loss, but of bald men also being able to regrow full heads of hair.

 Des Tobin, director of the centre for skin sciences at Bradford University, described the advance as "a big step forward”.

 He said: "I can’t see why we won’t soon be able to intervene to prevent hair loss.”


25 December, 2012

Typical Christmas Day meal condemned

Under conventional but wrong assumptions -- e.g., about salt

 Feasting on Christmas Day could see the average person eating the equivalent of half a pack of lard in saturated fat and as much salt as would be found in 50 packets of crisps, the British Heart Foundation has warned.

 In a survey, the charity asked 2,000 people who celebrate Christmas what they eat and drink over the festive period.

 They found that for many people, the Christmas indulgence starts before the turkey is even in the oven.

 More than one in 10 choose a full English breakfast for Christmas morning, with 14% opting for a bacon sandwich.

 The typical fried breakfast contains around 1,200 calories, and a bacon sandwich with brown sauce can contain over half an adult's recommended daily salt allowance.

 Almost three quarters of those surveyed said they eat a traditional turkey dinner on December 25. With all the trimmings, the typical Christmas meal adds up to 660 calories.

 Over half of people asked said they would follow this with Christmas pudding, with 23% planning to have cream.

 Between meals, 40% said they snacked on nuts and 30% on crisps, both of which are often laden with added salt.

 A third of people will eat at least one mince pie, and over half enjoy chocolates throughout the day.

 Combined with overindulgence at mealtimes, sweet snacks bring the average person's Christmas day sugar intake to the equivalent of 32 teaspoons.

 Christmas is a chance to enjoy a glass of wine or two, but one in 10 people said they drink more than 13 units of alcohol, the equivalent of 13 shots of whisky in one day.

 After breakfast, lunch and dinner on December 25, the British Heart Foundation estimates that the average Briton could have consumed up to 64g of saturated fat, more than double the recommended daily allowance for men, and three times that for women.

 Too much saturated fat can raise a person's risk of developing heart disease, type 2 diabetes and high blood pressure.

 Nearly a quarter of people surveyed admitted that they do absolutely no exercise over the entire Christmas period.

 Victoria Taylor, senior heart health dietitian at the British Heart Foundation, said: "I'm sure many of us will overindulge on Christmas Day and if that's where it stopped it probably wouldn't make that much difference.

 "But once you've added together the Christmas parties, family gatherings and New Year festivities it's likely that you're eating and drinking much more than recommended.

 "We're not saying you shouldn't have any fun during the Christmas season, but neither your heart nor your waistline will thank you for eating and drinking to excess by the time January arrives."

 The charity recently launched its free 'New Year, New You' packs, containing a range of leaflets with advice on quitting smoking, healthy eating and exercise.

 It hopes to encourage people to adopt healthier lifestyles in order to lower their risk of developing heart disease.


Cannabis makes pain more bearable instead of reducing it, say scientists

i.e. Cannabis makes you "out of it", which is not a big surprise

Cannabis can make patients feel less bothered about pain, according to a study.

Researchers from the University of Oxford have found the psychoactive ingredient in cannabis doesn't reduce the intensity of pain, rather it makes it more bearable.

Brain scans revealed the ingredient known as THC, reduced activity in areas linked to the emotional aspects of suffering.

While some patients have found cannabis to relieve chronic pain such as sciatica it has little effect on others, say scientists

While this had a strong relieving effect on some patients, it seemed to make little difference to the pain experienced by others.

Lead researcher Dr Michael Lee, said: 'Cannabis does not seem to act like a conventional pain medicine. Some people respond really well, others not at all, or even poorly.

'Brain imaging shows little reduction in the brain regions that code for the sensation of pain, which is what we tend to see with drugs like opiates. Instead cannabis appears to mainly affect the emotional reaction to pain in a highly variable way.'

Long-term pain, often without clear cause, is a complex healthcare problem. Different approaches are often needed to help patient manage pain, and can include medications, physiotherapy and other forms of physical therapy, and psychological support.

For a few patients, cannabis or cannabis-based medications remain effective when other drugs have failed to control pain, while others report very little effect of the drug on their pain but experience side-effects.

'We carried out this study to try and get at what is happening when someone experiences pain relief using cannabis,' says Dr Lee.

The researchers recruited 12 healthy men for the study. They were given either a 15mg tablet of THC or a placebo. They then had a cream rubbed into their skin to induce pain. Some were given a dummy cream while the rest receiving a chilli cream that caused a burning sensation.

The study was performed three more times, switching one aspect of the test for each volunteer. The patient also had four MRI tests to cover each combination.

'The participants were asked to report the intensity and unpleasantness of the pain: how much it burned and how much it bothered them,' says Dr Lee.

'We found that with THC, on average people didn't report any change in the burn, but the pain bothered them less.'

Of most interest to the researchers was the strength of the connection in individuals between their right amydala and a part of the cortex called the primary sensorimotor area.

The strength of this connection in individual participants correlated well with THC's different effects on the pain that that volunteer experienced.

This suggests that there might be a way of predicting who would see benefits from taking cannabis for pain relief.

'We may in future be able to predict who will respond to cannabis, but we would need to do studies in patients with chronic pain over longer time periods,' says Dr Lee.

Cannabis is a Class B drug, which means it is illegal to have for yourself, give away or sell. While THC can make users feel relaxed it can also cause hallucinations and make people feel paranoid.

The latest study has been published in the journal Pain. It was funded by the UK Medical Research Council and the National Institute for Health Research (NIHR) Oxford Biomedical Research Centre.


24 December, 2012

Chicken soup really CAN fight a cold, say some scientists

Chicken soup is good for the soul, they say. And as a homespun remedy for everything that might ail you during winter, there are few things as deliciously soothing.

But could such a broth be more than just a cold comfort? According to the latest scientific study, the answer is yes.

Research in the American Journal of Therapeutics showed that a compound found in chicken soup – carnosine – helped the body’s immune system to fight the early stages of flu.

But the authors warned this benefit ended as soon as the soup was excreted by the body, so that means you may need to have a fairly constant supply.

The study wasn’t the first to  look at this. More than a decade  ago, Dr Stephen Rennard, of the University of Nebraska Medical Center, Omaha, wanted to find out why his wife’s recipe for chicken soup, handed down through generations, was so healing.

Using blood samples from volunteers, he showed that the soup inhibited the movement of the most common type of white blood cell, neutrophils, which defend against infection.

Dr Rennard theorised that by inhibiting the migration of these infection-fighting cells in the body, chicken soup helps reduce upper respiratory cold symptoms.

What he couldn’t do was identify the exact ingredients in the soup that made it effective against colds.

The tested soup contained chicken, onions, sweet potatoes, parsnips, turnips, carrots, celery stems, parsley, salt and pepper.

The researchers also found many commercial soups had a similar inhibitory effect. It is probable that the combination of nutrients worked in synergy to provide the beneficial effect.

Another study, from Miami, also suggests chicken soup has more than a placebo effect.

It looked at how consuming it affected air flow and mucus in the noses of 15 volunteers who drank cold water, hot water or chicken soup.

It proved what ENT surgeons (experts in the upper airways, including the larynx) have long known: hot fluids help increase the movement of nasal mucus.

This in turn clears the airways, easing congestion.

But soup did a better job than the hot water as it also improves the function of protective cilia, the tiny hairlike projections in the nose that prevent contagions from entering the body.

Also, researchers at the University of Nebraska found the combination of vegetables and poultry in soup could help alleviate respiratory tract inflammation that results in feeling bunged-up.

All nutrients have some involvement in the complex workings of the immune system. But we know certain things about some of the common ingredients of broth.

Evidence suggests that organosulfides (naturally occurring chemicals found in garlic and onions), together with Vitamin D, stimulate production of immune cells called macrophage, while Vitamin C has an influence on both levels of neutrophils, and another type of immune chemical, interferon.

Vitamin A and carotenoids, found in carrots (a common ingredient of bouillon, the base of any good stock), help antibody production, while Vitamin E and zinc can influence the concentration of lymphocytes, a type of white blood cell.

The other reason soups are recommended is because the nutrients are more easily absorbed than with solid versions. Remember to add a little fat – a drizzle of olive oil – to ensure the absorption of fat soluble vitamins (D, A, K and E).

You don’t have to live on chicken soup alone when you’re under the weather: the foods that offer a concentration of the nutrients mentioned include a wide range of fruits, vegetables, nuts, seeds and lean proteins.


Fit brass fixtures to cut superbugs, say scientists

Sounds interesting.  I've got a lot of brassware in my house so I like the idea!

 Brass door knobs, handles and handrails should be brought back into common use in public places to help combat superbugs, according to scientists.

 Researchers have discovered that copper and alloys made from the metal, including brass, can prevent antibiotic resistance in bacteria from spreading.

 Plastic and stainless steel surfaces, which are now widely used in hospitals and public settings, allow bacteria to survive and spread when people touch them.

 Even if the bacteria die, DNA that gives them resistance to antibiotics can survive and be passed on to other bacteria on these surfaces. Copper and brass, however, can kill the bacteria and also destroy this DNA.

 Professor Bill Keevil, head of the microbiology group at Southampton University, said using copper on surfaces in public places and on public transport could dramatically cut the threat posed by superbugs.

 Professor Keevil said: "There are a lot of bugs on our hands that we are spreading around by touching surfaces. In a public building or mass transport, surfaces cannot be cleaned for long periods of time.

 "Until relatively recently brass was a relatively commonly used surface. On stainless steel surfaces these bacteria can survive for weeks, but on copper surfaces they die within minutes.

 "Part of the process DNA from bacteria is also destroyed just as rapidly on the copper, so you cannot get gene transfer on the surface.”

 Almost 43,000 people a year are infected in hospitals with antibiotic resistant bacteria MRSA and Clostridium difficile.

 Antibiotic resistance usually occurs in a single bacterium that then multiplies and passes on this resistance to other bacteria around them.

 In research published in the journal Molecular Genetics of Bacteria, Professor Keevil and his colleagues found that compared to stainless steel bacteria on copper surfaces bacterial DNA rapidly degraded at room temperature.

 Professor Keevil added: "We live in this new world of stainless steel and plastic, but perhaps we should go back to using brass more instead.”


23 December, 2012

Canada’s organic food system is a nightmare

You can't trust the labels

 As the holidays approach, Canadians are spending more time purchasing and preparing foodstuffs for their family tables. They’re also looking for appealing, tasty, nutritious goods that will not upset their budgets.

Be prepared for the seasonal, united organic-food-movement appeal, calling on Canadians to buy certified organic turkey, organic vegetables and fruit, organic breads and pastries, organic milk and meats, organic nuts and even organic booze.

But is organic food purer, tastier and more nutritious?

A recent in-depth report on the Canadian organic sector published by The Frontier Centre points out that there is no systematic, empirical proof that food certified as organic is purer, tastier or more nutritious.

It turns out that a bevy of federally regulated, for-profit, organic certifying agencies sell the privilege to organic farmers, brokers/traders and processors to label their products "certified organic” in Canada. And with the Canadian Food Inspection Agency’s logo affixed to their products, premiums of 100 to 200 per cent are then garnered without a single test being performed. It’s all just a glorified, bureaucratic, tax-subsidized, public-private, abused honour system.

The politicized privilege to be deemed "certified-organic” in Canada is available to anyone, whether here in Canada or anywhere in the world. To qualify, just pay fees and fill out paperwork, even if you’re in China, Mexico or Argentina. The honesty of the applicants is not verified. When staff at the CFIA finally carried out some secret tests on organic products, they were so taken aback by the results that they actually tried to suppress them.

There was a time when the CFIA considered organic testing. Testing is, after all, how the regular food system is kept safe. But the idea of applying science to the organic industry in Canada was dead-on-arrival, thanks to the organic lobby, in spite of the fact that the cost of testing is one tenth that of the current paper-based system.

By relying exclusively on paperwork, Canada’s for-profit organic certifiers benefit from highly lucrative revenues which, in turn, provide donations to activist organic groups which may explain their opposition to testing in spite of support for the idea from rank-and-file Canadian organic farmers.

In addition to upfront application and inspection fees, organic farmers and processors operating under CFIA "rules” are forced to pay royalties to their private certifiers between one and three per cent on their gross revenue from each and every transaction. It is akin to the franchise fees that fast-food restaurant owners pay to their head offices, with the difference that Canadian organic farmers and processors are paying for the use of the CFIA’s logo on their finished products, not the private certifier’s. And yet, the CFIA requires no testing. None.

As every lifestyle section in newspaper across the land pays homage to the certified-organic turkey and all the fixings (never asking whether it’s worth it or whether it even helps a single Canadian farmer), remember that private organic certifiers only enforce the administrative rules of organic production in this country. While independent inspectors make pre-announced visits once a year to each farm and facility, they don’t do any testing. They only fill out paperwork.

In addition to organic foods, you’ll also be hit with the idea of bringing in the New Year with certified-organic booze. Such claim could not possibly get any more absurd. None of the alleged mystical attributes of organic barley or grapes even has a chance of surviving the fermentation and distillation processes. So save your money.

Whether you’re someone who only "goes organic” during festive occasions, or one of the millions of Canadians who buys organic food on a regular basis believing it’s purer, more nutritious and more sustainable than regular food, let the buyer beware. The "organic” label doesn’t necessarily give you what you think you are buying.

If you really want to help Canadian organic farmers, buy directly from them as you’re not likely going to find their products on grocery-store shelves this Christmas season.

Otherwise, you may want to save the money for the children’s toys instead.


'Brussels sprouts should come with a health warning', say doctors after man admitted to hospital

They are the Christmas vegetables that split opinion and now doctors say Brussels sprouts should come with a health warning after a man was admitted to hospital by eating them.

The leafy green vegetables contain vitamin K, a chemical the body uses to promote blood clotting, and it counteracts the effects of anticoagulants (blood thinning medication).

The man, from Ayrshire, was prescribed anticoagulants after suffering heart failure last year and his dose was monitored once or twice a week to prevent blood clotting.

When his blood started to clot close to Christmas last year, the man was admitted to the specialist heart unit at the Golden Jubilee National Hospital in Clydebank, West Dunbartonshire.

Doctors could not work out why the medication was not keeping his blood thin until they discovered he had been eating too many sprouts.

Consultant cardiologist Dr Roy Gardner said: "Patients who are taking anticoagulants are generally advised not to eat too many green leafy vegetables, as they are full of vitamin K, which antagonise the action of this vital medication."

The case was reported in a festive edition of the Medical Journal of Australia.

Jill Young, chief executive of the Golden Jubilee Hospital, said: "Whilst we think this is possibly the first-ever festive admission to hospital caused by the consumption of Brussels sprouts, we were delighted that we were able to stabilise his levels."


21 December, 2012

Some benefit from sleeping pills 'comes from placebo effect'

This is an unsurprising surprise.  Something similar could be said of most medications.  I myself take Ambien (aka Stilnox) before bed and I still have unpleasant memories of the night I forgot to take it.  It was hours later that I realized what I had done.  It's certainly more than a placebo for me

Half of the benefit of taking sleeping pills comes from the placebo effect, a new study has concluded.

A team of international researchers, including from Britain, found the effectiveness of a range of common sleeping tablets were of "questionable clinical importance”.

Their study, published in the British Medical Journal, questioned hypnotic pills, commonly known as Z-drugs, after re-analysing more than a dozen clinical trials.

Academics from the University of Lincoln, Harvard Medical School and University of Connecticut, found drugs such as Sonata and Ambien worked once the placebo effect was taken into account.

"Our analysis showed that Z-drugs did reduce the length of time taken for subjects to fall asleep,” said Prof Niroshan Siriwardena, from the the University of Lincoln's School of Health and Social Care.  "But around half of the effect of the drug was a placebo response.

"There was not enough evidence from the trials to show other benefits that might be important to people with sleep problems, such as sleep quality or daytime functioning.”

Prof Siriwardena, who led the study, added: "We know from other studies that around a fifth of people experience side-effects from sleeping tablets and one in 100 older people will have a fall, fracture or road traffic accident after using them.

"Psychological treatments for insomnia can work as effectively as sleeping tablets in the short-term and better in the long-term, so we should pay more attention to increasing access to these treatments for patients who might benefit."

Doctors write millions of prescriptions for Z-drugs every year as a short-term treatment for insomnia.

Medical experts have reported that their use has increased in recent years as many users believe they are a safer alternative to tranquillisers.

But some doctors questioned whether the benefits of Z-drugs justify their side-effects, such as memory loss, fatigue or impaired balance.

In their study, researchers used data submitted by pharmaceutical companies to the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) for approval of new products.

The information was contained in 13 clinical trials, with more than 4,300 participants, that also had 65 "comparisons”.

The FDA collates results from both published and unpublished studies, enabling researchers to avoid common types of bias that undermine sponsored trials.

Their findings indicated that "once the placebo effect is discounted, the drug effect is of questionable clinical importance”.

Prof Siriwardena said future studies of sleeping tablets should investigate a broader range of outcomes, not just time taken to fall asleep.

Pharmaceutical companies, he added, should be "more transparent in disclosing results from their studies so that researchers can independently analyse their results”.


Sunday lunch with family boosts childrens' fruit and vegetable consumption: study

Mothers do seem to have strong convictions in favour of the  consumption of "greens" so I have no doubt that this is generally true

Families should eat Sunday lunch together, researchers have said, after finding that children who ate with their parents just once a week consume more fruit and vegetables.

Researchers found that children who ate with their parents at least once a week consumed more than one extra portion of fruit and vegetables when compared with those who never ate as a family.

It is thought that parents and siblings setting an example and making mealtimes a social occasion encouraged children to eat more healthily.

Cutting up fruit and vegetables for children, and parents who consume a healthy diet also boosted the intake of children, it was found.

A study of 2,300 primary school children in deprived areas of London found that more than six in ten do not eat the recommended five portions of different fruit and vegetables a day, a total of around 400g.

The findings by Leeds University were published in the in the British Medical Journal's Journal of Epidemiology & Community Health.

Children who ate a family meal together at a table every day consumed 125g or 1.5 more portions of fruit and vegetables on average than children who never ate with their families.

Even those who reported eating together only once or twice a week consumed 95g or 1.2 more portions than those who never ate together.

Professor Janet Cade, of the University's School of Food Science and Nutrition, who supervised the study, said: "Even if it's just one family meal a week, when children eat together with parents or older siblings they learn about eating.

"Watching the way their parents or siblings eat and the different types of food they eat is pivotal in creating their own food habits and preferences.

"There are more benefits to having a family meal together than just the family's health. They provide conversational time for families, incentives to plan a meal, and an ideal environment for parents to model good manners and behaviour."

PhD student, Meaghan Christian, who conducted the study, said: "Modern life often prevents the whole family from sitting round the dinner table, but this research shows that even just Sunday lunch round the table can help improve the diets of our families.

"Since dietary habits are established in childhood, the importance of promoting the family meal needs to be more prominent in public health campaigns.

"Future work could be aimed at improving parental intake or encouraging parents to cut up or buy snack-sized fruit and vegetables."

It is estimated that one in ten children in the UK aged 2-10 is obese. In the last four years the Department of Health has spent over £3.3million on the 5 A Day campaign and a further £75 million on the Change4Life campaign, designed to encourage families to improve their lifestyle through diet and exercise.


20 December, 2012

Taking aspirin for 10 years could double the risk of sight loss

Nonsense!  WHY were people taking aspirin in the first place?  Probably because some had genuine health concerns.  They were less healthy generally.  And the risk found was tiny anyway

Taking aspirin for 10 years could more than double the risk of sight loss, according to a new study.  Scientists say taking aspirin could increase the chance of developing wet age-related macular degeneration (AMD) - an eye disorder that can lead to blindness.

A team from the University of Wisconsin used data from the Beaver Dam Eye Study on age-related eye diseases.

Eye exams were performed every five years over a 20-year period on nearly 5,000 participants. The volunteers, aged 43 to 86, were then asked if they had regularly used aspirin at least twice a week for more than three months. The average duration of follow-up was 14.8 years.

For the study, the researchers measured the incidences of different types of AMD. Wet AMD makes up just 10 per cent of cases but causes severe vision loss, while dry AMD is more common and milder - although it can develop into wet AMD at any time.

Results showed there were 512 cases of dry AMD and 117 cases of wet AMD over the course of the study for journal JAMA.

The researchers found those who took aspirin for 10 years had a 1.4 per cent risk of developing wet AMD compared to just 0.6 per cent of non-users. There was no association found between taking aspirin and developing dry AMD.

Dr Barbara Klein said: 'Aspirin use in the United States is widespread, with an estimated 19.3 percent of adults reporting regular consumption, and reported use increases with age.

'The results of cross-sectional studies of aspirin use and its relation to age-related macular degeneration (AMD) have been inconsistent.

'AMD is a potentially blinding condition for which prevalence and incidence are increasing with the increased survival of the population, and regular use of aspirin is common and becoming more widespread in persons in the age range at highest risk for this disease.

'Therefore, it is imperative to further examine this potential association.

'Our findings are consistent with a small but statistically significant association between regular aspirin use and incidence of neovascular AMD (wet AMD).'

The most common cause of blindness in the elderly, age-related macular degeneration affects a quarter of over-60s in the UK and more than half of over-75s.

The team said further research would be needed to confirm the findings. If true it could help develop ways to prevent wet AMD.

Aspirin is often referred to as a wonder drug. Besides acting as a painkiller aspirin acts as an anti-inflammatory agent.

The pill thins the blood and a low daily dose of 75mg has been found to reduce the risk of clots forming in the blood.

Research suggests the benefits of taking a daily aspirin outweigh the small risk of side-effects in patients with heart disease, although a doctor should always be consulted.

A series of studies involving 200,000 patients found the pill also cut the risk of dying of cancer by 37 per cent if taken for five years.

However, haemophiliacs and those with ulcers should not take it. Nor should children under 16 as it has been linked to an often fatal condition called Reye's syndrome.


Britons living longer than previously thought

Britons are living far longer than previously thought with no sign that we are reaching an 'upper limit' of how old people will get, a new report has shown.

Figures from the Office of National Statistics published yesterday suggest that most people are living six years longer than current life expectancy projections.

Presently the official life expectancy for a baby boy born in England or Wales in 2010 is 79 years and 83 for a girl.

However, for the first time the ONS has looked at the most common age for people to die in recent years. This analysis shows that most men will live to 85 while the majority of women will survive until 89. And it is likely to increase for children born today.

It means the traditional idea of a person's "allotted span" being "three score years and 10" is dramatically out of step with the experience of people in 21st Century Britain.

And past predictions that average lifespans would eventually hit an 'invisible wall' around 90 years may need to be revised, say statisticians. They say there is no obvious sign of an "upper limit" to ageing being reached.

In its report on mortality, the ONS said that it was clear there is now a year-on-year increase not only in centenarians but so-called "super-centenarians" - those aged over 110.

But the figures also show that, for the bulk of the population, the typical lifespan has also increased significantly in recent years.

The report compared the figures with theories from demographic experts in the 1980s that although people are living longer there is still a "boundary" beyond which few would expect to live.

It concludes: "The existence of an upper limit to life expectancy is much debated, as we have seen continued increases in life expectancy at birth over the last 50 years of around two and half months per year for males and slightly less for females.

"The information presented in this report suggests that in England and Wales an upper limit to lifespan has not yet been reached and that we will almost certainly see further increases in the average [age] at death."


19 December, 2012

The secret to why the French live longer - Roquefort cheese?

This is all theory.  Not even a white rat in sight.  The journal article is "Could cheese be the missing piece in the French paradox puzzle?".

Let's have an alternative theory:  Australians live even longer than the French.  Could that be due to the high consumption of  Vegemite in Australia?   Vegemite is a complex product and we sure don't eat much Roquefort.   Unlike Americans, we don't even use it as a salad dressing.  Judging by the supermarket aisles, 90% of Australian cheese consumption is of a variety simply called "Tasty".   Very crass, I am sure.

Australia's national sandwich spread.  Loathed by almost all non-Australians.  The Brits understand it, however.  It is similar to their Marmite, which is also widely loathed outside Britain, but seen as essential by many Brits.  New Zealanders are generally in the Marmite camp (They have their own version) -- and their lifespan IS shorter than Australia's

Eating Roquefort cheese could help guard against cardiovascular disease despite its high fat and salt content, according to new research that suggests why the French enjoy good health.

Scientists discovered the French cheese, known for its mould and green veins, has specific anti-inflammatory properties.   It could provide clues to the "French paradox" and explain why people who live in the country enjoy good health despite favouring a diet high in saturated fat.

Using new technology, the researchers found the properties worked their best when the cheese, one of the world's oldest, ripened.

The properties of the blue cheese, which is aged in caves in the south of France, near Toulouse, were found to work best in acidic environments of the body, such as the lining of the stomach or the skin surface.   Acidification is also a common process accompanying inflammation such as in joints affected by arthritis or special plaque on an artery wall.

French women enjoy the joint-longest life expectancy in Europe, at 85.3 years, against 82.3 years for British women.

The group of doctors at a Cambridge-based biotech company developed the technology, which helps to identify the new anti-inflammatory factors.

The team from Lycotec, led by Dr Ivan Petyaev and Dr Yuriy Bashmakov, suggested the new properties could be extracted to help the fight against cardiovascular disease or in anti-ageing creams.

They detailed their work in a study, published in the Medical Hypotheses journal, titled: "Could cheese be the missing piece in the French paradox puzzle?"

"The anti-inflammatory factors found in these cheeses could be extracted and used independently or as a part of today's pharmaceutical or beauty products," they wrote.

"Observations indicate that consumption of red wine alone cannot explain the paradox and perhaps some other constituents of the typical French diet could be responsible for reduced cardiovascular mortality.  "We hypothesise that cheese consumption, especially of moulded varieties, may contribute to the occurrence of the `French paradox'."  They added: "Moulded cheeses, including Roquefort, may be even more favourable to cardiovascular health."

Roquefort, which is thought to have been first eaten in about 79AD, is noted for its sharp, tangy, salty flavour and its rich, creamy texture.


Squeezing breasts 'could stop growth of cancer cells'

Laboratory glassware study only

A little squeeze may be all that it takes to prevent malignant breast cells triggering cancer, research has shown.

Laboratory experiments showed that applying physical pressure to the cells guided them back to a normal growth pattern.

Scientists believe the research provides clues that could lead to new treatments.

'People have known for centuries that physical force can influence our bodies,' said Gautham Venugopalan, a leading member of the research team at the University of California in Berkeley, US.

'When we lift weights our muscles get bigger. The force of gravity is essential to keeping our bones strong. Here we show that physical force can play a role in the growth - and reversion - of cancer cells.'

The study involved growing malignant breast epithelial cells within a gel injected into flexible silicone chambers.

This allowed the scientists to apply compression during the first stages of cell growth, effectively squashing the cells.  Over time, the squeezed malignant cells began to grow in a more normal and organised way.

Once the breast tissue structure was formed the cells stopped growing, even when the compressive force was removed. Non-compressed cells continued to display the haphazard and uncontrolled growth that leads to cancer.

'Malignant cells have not completely forgotten how to be healthy; they just need the right cues to guide them back to a healthy growth pattern,' said Mr Venugopalan, a doctoral student.

The results were presented today at the annual meeting of the American Society for Cell Biology in San Francisco.

Professor Daniel Fletcher, who runs the Berkeley laboratory, said: 'We are showing that tissue organisation is sensitive to mechanical inputs from the environment at the beginning stages of growth and development.

'An early signal, in the form of compression, appears to get these malignant cells back on the right track.'

However, the team do not envisage fighting breast cancer with a new range of compression bras.

Prof Fletcher said: 'Compression, in and of itself, is not likely to be a therapy. But this does give us new clues to track down the molecules and structures that could eventually be targeted for therapies.'

Adding a drug that helps to prevent cells adhering to their neighbours reversed the effects of compression, the scientists found. The cells returned to a disorganised, cancerous state despite being compressed.


18 December, 2012

Eating fatty foods  makes you anxious?

Maybe it does if you are a mouse but since fat people are usually seen as jolly,  it seems unlikely that this generalizes to humans.  The normal diet of mus musculus is vegetable matter whereas humans are big meat eaters so a lack of generalization is hardly surprising.  We may be able to handle what mice cannot

The research team feed one group of mice a low-fat diet and a high fat diet to a second group over six weeks, monitoring how the different food affected the way the animals behave.

Fat represented 11 per cent of the calories in the low-fat diet and 58 per cent in the high-fat diet, causing the waist size in the latter group to increase by 11 per cent - not yet obese.

Next, the team used a variety of techniques to evaluate the relationship between rewarding mice with food and their resulting behaviour and emotions. They also looked at the brains of the mice to see how they had changed.

Mice that had been fed the higher-fat diet exhibited signs of being anxious, such as an avoidance of open areas. Their brains were also physically altered by their experiences.

One of molecules in the brain that the researchers looked at is dopamine. It enables the brain to reward us with good feelings, thereby encouraging us to learn certain kinds of behaviour. This chemical is the same in humans as it is in mice and other animals. Certain genes involved in the production of dopamine are controlled by the CREB molecule.

'CREB is much more activated in the brains of higher-fat diet mice and these mice also have higher levels of corticosterone, a hormone that is associated with stress. This explains both the depression and the negative behaviour cycle,' Dr Fulton said.

'It's interesting that these changes occur before obesity. These findings challenge our understanding of the relationship between diet, the body and the mind.

'It is food for thought about how we might support people psychologically as they strive to adopt healthy eating habits, regardless of their current corpulence.'


Ground-breaking anti-depressant eases symptoms in just over an HOUR

Sounds hopeful.  Side effects and habituation may be issues

An experimental drug has been found to lift depression in just over an hour in people who haven't responded to other treatments.

The findings open up the prospect of developing a new fast-working type of anti-depressant.

In a new study, a third of participants responded to the treatment within one hour and 20 minutes, seeing at least a 50 per cent reduction in their symptoms compared to a 15 per cent reduction in those who took a placebo.

This was significant as these patients had failed to improve in seven past antidepressant trials.

However, while their were minimal side-effects the dramatic improvements were short-lived with patients finding relief for an average of just half an hour.

The current range of treatments work through the brain's serotonin system, building up levels of this 'happy' hormone over a period of weeks. This can cause great distress to severely depressed patients as many are at high risk of suicide.

However, the latest drug called AZD6765, acts by preventing the binding of a brain chemical called glutamate to nerve cells.

It acts in a similar way to the Class C drug ketamine, but without the serious side-effects such as hallucinations.

Scientists at the National Institutes of Health, who conducted the study, said this could be because the new drug doesn't block glutamate binding as completely as ketamine.

In the trial half of the 22 patients received the drug through an IV drip, while the other half took a placebo. All of them completed a survey assessing their depressive state immediately after taking the drug and a few days after treatment. The two groups then switched the agent they took and went through the same assessment.

The patients reported only minor side effects, such as dizziness and nausea, when taking AZD6765, which were not significantly different from those experienced with the placebo.

Research leader Dr Carlos Zarate, said: 'Our findings serve as a proof of concept that we can tap into an important component of the glutamate pathway to develop a new generation of safe, rapid-acting practical treatments for depression.'

The team reported their results online in the journal Biological Psychiatry. They now want to do further trials, testing whether repeated infusions a few times per week or higher doses might produce longer-lasting results.


17 December, 2012

High blood pressure is the biggest global killer...but obesity isn't far behind, warn leading scientists

Below is a report of a huge body of research recently published.  It aims to find what ails the WORLD.  One wonders what the point of that is.  As it points out itself, disease incidence varies markedly from country to country.  So the report must be some sort of classic of overgeneralization.  Leftists are normally blind to the individual and insist on seeing people in groups only but this is ridiculous.

And the conclusions are as foolish as one would expect.  What does it mean for "obesity" to be a major killer?  All the research shows that middling weight people live longest.  So if the report had any precision, it should be saying that extremes of weight is the big killer.  The whole thing is arrant nonsense that tells us nothing useful.  The key academic journal article concerned is here.  I have read a fair bit of the report and all I found was reams of carefully tabulated but meaningless data. 

The national life expectancy table was at least amusing, however.  The male life expectancy is 79 for Australia and Japan,  77 for the UK and 76 for the USA.  Iceland was tops at 80, followed by Andorra, Switzerland and Sweden.  Given the large minorities with different health outcomes in the U.S., the overall U.S. figure is another bit of meaninglessness, of course. 

High blood pressure killed more than nine million people worldwide in 2010, making it the greatest overall health risk.

Smoking and alcohol came second and third, according to the study which looked at the trends of 43 risks between 1990 and 2010.

High body mass index was the biggest ‘climber’, moving from tenth place in 1990 to sixth in 2010.

That year more than three million deaths were attributable to excess body weight - more than three times as many as under-nutrition.

In Australasia and southern Latin America, high BMI ranked as the leading risk factor.

The research, published in The Lancet, was carried out by an international consortium of scientists as part of the Global Burden of Disease Study 2010.

Professor Majid Ezzati, of Imperial College London, said: 'Overall we’re seeing a growing burden of risk factors that lead to chronic diseases in adults, such as cancer, heart disease and diabetes, and a decreasing burden for risks associated with infectious diseases in children.

'But this global picture disguises the starkly different trends across regions.

'The risks associated with poverty have come down in most places, like Asia and Latin America, but they remain the leading issues in sub-Saharan Africa.'

The researchers estimated both the number of deaths attributed to each risk factor and disability-adjusted life years (DALYs), a unit that takes into account both years of life lost and years lived with disability.

Prof Stephen Lim, of the University of Washington, said: 'We looked at risk factors for which good data are available on how many people are exposed to the risks and how strong their effects are, so that our results can inform policy and programmatic choices.'

Smoking, including second-hand smoke, was the risk factor with the biggest burden in western Europe and high-income North American countries, and accounted for 6.3 million deaths worldwide in 2010.

Dietary risk factors and physical inactivity collectively accounted for one tenth of DALYs in 2010, with the most prominent dietary risks being too much salt and not enough fruit.

Prof Ezzati said: 'The good news is there are lots of things we can do to reduce disease risk.  'To bring down the burden of high blood pressure, we need to regulate the salt content of food, provide easier access to fresh fruits and vegetables, and strengthen primary healthcare services.  [Rubbish!]

'Under-nutrition has come down in the ranking because we’ve made a lot of progress in many parts of the world.

'This should encourage us to continue those efforts and to replicate that success in Africa, where it’s still a major problem.'


The fruit fetish

Just one excerpt from the research mentioned above. 

To deconstruct it:  The old correlation is causation fallacy would seem to be at work.  Richer people probably eat more fruit and veg.  In poor countries many people live almost entirely on a carbohydrate staple such as rice.  So it is simply richer people who are healthier  -- an already well-known finding.  Fruit need have nothing to do with it.

The Global Burden of Disease researchers uncovered a number of surprises, some of which are likely to be questioned by other epidemiologists and biostatisticians.

As a cause of death and disability, lung cancer is rising, but emphysema and chronic bronchitis — which are also caused by smoking — are declining. The reason appears to be a huge reduction in indoor air pollution from cook stoves (which can also cause emphysema and bronchitis) in China and India.

In charting risk factors, the researchers found that diets low in fruit were responsible for more disease than obesity or physical inactivity. That conclusion was reached through analysis of the health effects of various components of diet and the number of people consuming diets high or low in those components.

"We were very surprised,” Murray said of the fruit finding. "I’m a pretty profound diet skeptic. But the evidence on diet is as convincing as on obesity.”

Murray and Lopez did a similar but smaller Global Burden of Disease in 1996 that described causes of death and risk factors for the world in 1990. The new study recalculated those findings using new data and methods in addition to providing a picture of the world in 2010.


16 December, 2012

Why you could be heading for an early grave if you can't get off the floor without using your hands

The age at which this test applies is poorly defined. Limitations of this kind usually get steadily worse with aging. What may be possible at 60 may not be possible at 70, for instance

If getting up from a game of Scrabble on the floor this Christmas requires both hands, a lot of sighing and a helpful tug from a grandchild, beware.

For the gloomy message from scientists is that you may not live as long as your flexible counterparts.

Those who can sit down and get up using only one hand – or no hands at all – are likely to live for longer, a study found.

But those needing extra assistance, such as getting up on their knees or using two hands, are up to six times more likely to die prematurely.

The study found a simple two-minute test could predict the level of overall fitness in middle age that earmarks those likely to enjoy a longer life.

Researchers said the ease with which someone could stand up from a sitting position on the floor – and vice versa – was linked to a reduced risk of dying early.

Dr Claudio Gil Araújo, who carried out the study with colleagues at the Clinimex-Exercise Medicine Clinic in Rio de Janeiro, said it was ‘remarkably predictive’ of physical strength, flexibility and co-ordination at a range of ages.

He said: ‘If a middle-aged or older man or woman can sit and rise from the floor using just one hand – or even better without the help of a hand – they are not only in the higher quartile of musculo-skeletal fitness but their survival prognosis is probably better than that of those unable to do so.’

The study involved more than 2,000 men and women, aged 51 to 80, who were asked to sit and then rise unaided from the floor.  After the sitting-rising test, they were followed until the date of their death or October 31, 2011 – for 6.3 years, on average.

Before starting the test, they were told: ‘Without worrying about the speed of movement, try to sit and then to rise from the floor, using the minimum support that you believe is needed.’

Each of the two basic movements was assessed and scored out of five, making a composite score of ten, with one point subtracted from five for each support used such as a hand or knee.

Over the study period 159 participants died, a death rate of about 8 per cent, according to a report in the European Journal of Cardiovascular Prevention.

The majority of these deaths occurred in participants with low test scores – indeed, only two of the deaths were in subjects who gained a composite score of ten.

Survival was strongly linked to the number of points scored.

The researchers took account of age, gender and body mass index and found the sitting-rising test score was a significant independent predictor of the likelihood of dying from any cause.

Those who scored three points or fewer had a five to six times higher risk of death than those scoring more than eight points.

A score below eight was linked with two to fivefold higher death rates over the 6.3 year study period.

Dr Araújo said: ‘Our study also shows that maintaining high levels of body flexibility, muscle strength, power-to-body weight ratio and co-ordination are not only good for performing daily activities but have a favourable influence on life expectancy.’


Loneliness 'can increase Alzheimer's risk'

Good to see that they reconsider the direction of the causal arrow at the end below

Feeling lonely can increase the risk of Alzheimer's in later life, a study suggests.

Researchers who found the link drew a distinction between being alone and loneliness.

The Amsterdam Study of the Elderly (Amstel) looked at risk factors for depression, dementia and high death rates among 2,000 men and women aged 65 and older.

Participants who felt lonely were more than twice as likely to develop Alzheimer's and other forms of dementia over three years as those who did not.

When influential factors including mental and physical health were taken into account, loneliness was still associated with a 64% increased risk of the disease.

But other aspects of social isolation, such as living alone and being widowed, had no impact.

At the start of the Dutch study, 46% of participants were living alone and half were single or no longer married. About one in five, just under 20%, said they felt lonely.

The findings were reported today in the Journal of Neurology, Neurosurgery & Psychiatry.

The authors, led by Dr Tjalling Jan Holwerda, from VU University Medical Centre in Amsterdam, wrote: "These results suggest that feelings of loneliness independently contribute to the risk of dementia in later life.

"Interestingly, the fact that 'feeling lonely' rather than 'being alone' was associated with dementia onset suggests that it is not the objective situation, but, rather, the perceived absence of social attachments that increases the risk of cognitive decline."

The researchers speculated that loneliness may be an effect of early dementia rather than its cause.

"We hypothesise that feelings of loneliness may.. be considered a manifestation of the deteriorating social skills that are seen as part of the personality change accompanying the process of dementia," they wrote.


14 December, 2012

Two more studies today on exercise

The first study below tends to reinforce the Belgian study noted yesterday:  You must do your walking in "nice" areas, not in the nasty old city.  Both studies are very short-term, however, and the second study below tends to suggest that there is no long-term (lifespan) benefit

A walk outdoors away from gadgets can boost brain power by half.  Leaving your laptop at home, switching off the smartphone and taking a walk in nature can help boost brain power by as much as 50 per cent, a study has revealed.

Researchers found that adults performed much better in a creative test after spending four days in the great outdoors disconnected from modern technology.

They say it is the first time that scientists have proven being in a park or woodland can improve your problem-solving skills.

And it may also explain why a holiday helps recharge the batteries after busy periods of work.

‘The study shows that you need to leave the iPhones and other technology at home and give your brain a break,’ said co-author David Strayer, a professor of psychology at the University of Utah.

‘Too much of a good thing is not a good thing and so for creativity to flourish you need to disconnect from technology and reconnect with the natural world.’

For the novel study, published in the journal PLOS ONE, 54 American adults with an average age of 28 participated in a four to six day hike. No electronic devices were allowed.

Before the trip commenced, 24 individuals were tested and scored an average 4.14 in a 10-question creativity test. The remaining 32 were tested at the end of the walk and answered an average of 6.08 questions correctly - an improvement of 50 per cent.

Researchers said the results indicate that time spent walking in parks and woodlands away from demanding technology helps individuals to restore brain power.

They say a hike provides an easy way to lift your creative abilities after long periods in front of a computer or TV screen.

‘We show that four days of immersion in nature and the corresponding disconnection from multimedia and technology, increases performance on a creativity, problem-solving task by a full 50 per cent,’ said Prof Strayer.

‘We are not sure if it is the increased exposure to nature or the decrease in exposure to attention demanding technology that helps, but it’s probably a mixture of both.

‘In the real world, you are either in one or other state. When you head out into nature, you’re unlikely to be surrounded by gadgets, while if you’re at home or in the office the opposite is likely true.’

While earlier research has indicated nature has beneficial effects, ‘it’s equally plausible that it is not multitasking to wits’ end that is associated with the benefits,’ Prof Strayer said.

He added: ‘This is a way of showing that interacting with nature has real, measurable benefits to creative problem-solving that really hadn’t been formally demonstrated before.

‘It provides a rationale for trying to understand what is a healthy way to interact in the world, and that burying yourself in front of a computer 24/7 may have costs that can be remediated by taking a hike in nature.’


Can Exercise Extend Your Life?

This is a real lulu, despite the bright-eyed enthusiasm expressed by the authors.  Quite aside from the direction of causation being probably reversed (ill people exercise less), how do we explain that black women were big beneficiaries while Hispanics got no benefit at all?  Whatever is going on seems to be affected by other things than exercise. It's probably just data dredging.  The weakness of the overall effect tends to indicate in fact that activity has no benefit at all

Adults who include at least 150 minutes of physical activity in their routines each week live longer than those who don't, finds a new study in the American Journal of Preventive Medicine.

Promoting the years of life that can be gained from moderate activity may be a better motivator to get Americans moving, said study author Ian Janssen, Ph.D., of Queen's University in Ontario, Canada.

Janssen and his team used data from the National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey, the National Health Interview Study mortality linkage, and U.S. Life Tables to estimate and compare the life expectancy at each age for adults who were inactive, somewhat-active and active. "Active" was defined as doing at least 150 minutes of moderate activity per week.

They found that men at age 20 were estimated to gain as much as 2.4 years of life from moderate activity. Women at age 20 gained about 3 additional years from engaging in moderate activity. The biggest benefit from physical activity was seen in non-Hispanic black women, who gained as many as 5.5 potential years of life.

Janssen hopes the positive message of the study can help health officials better relay the importance of exercise to the public.
"Research has shown that the health messages that have the greatest effect on changing people's behaviors need to be easy to understand, specific to the individual, and be phrased in a gained-framed and positive manner," he explained.

"The messages on longevity gains associated with physical activity that were developed in this paper meet all three of those characteristics," Janssen added. "That is, people will understand what it means if you tell them they will live 2½ years longer if they become active."

Sara Bleich, Ph.D., assistant professor of Health Policy at the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health, said presenting the issue as "years of life gained" versus "years of life loss" raises the classic issue of the carrot or the stick, that is, when it comes to behavior change, do people prefer to be rewarded or penalized?

"For healthy behavior changes such as dieting or smoking, rewards have been shown to effectively motivate behavior change," she continued. "From the current research, it is unclear whether rewards or penalties are more effective at motivating behavior change, but it is clear that rewards do work."
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13 December, 2012

Drinking coffee HALVES the risk of mouth cancer - even in smokers and drinkers (?)

But MOST Americans drink coffee.  So what is going on here?  Where is the comparison group?  Tea-drinkers?  Maybe they have shown only that tea drinkers in America have poor health.  It's just correlational stuff with purely speculative conclusions

Drinking four cups of coffee a day almost halves the risk of deadly mouth cancer, according to new research.  The latest study shows downing the beverage every day has a powerful protective effect against tumours that form in the mouth and throat.

The association held true regardless of how often the person drank alcohol or smoked.

Scientists found decaffeinated coffee also reduced the risk, although to a lesser extent, while drinking tea did nothing to prevent the disease.

The latest findings, by a team of researchers from the American Cancer Society in Atlanta, Georgia, suggest it may not be caffeine that protects against the formation of malignant growths in and around the mouth.  Instead, they said, it's likely to be due to some of the hundreds of other naturally-occurring antioxidant chemicals found in coffee.

The results back up a similar study published two years ago by a different team of researchers, who found four cups a day slashed cancer risk by 39 per cent.

British consumers guzzle their way through an estimated 70 million cups of coffee a day.

The popular drink has already been linked with reducing the chances of getting bowel cancer, stroke and Alzheimer's disease.

However, drinking too much may increase heart rate and blood pressure and pregnant women are advised to limit their intake because of concerns that excess coffee may increase their chances of having small babies.

To see if coffee offered any protection, researchers studied nearly one million men and women who signed up to the Cancer Prevention Study II, which started in the US back in 1982.

They identified 868 volunteers who had died from cancer of the mouth or pharynx - the cavity between the nose and mouth - over a 30 year period.

When they studied patients' dietary habits and compared them with others who stayed cancer free during the same period, they found drinking caffeinated coffee in reasonably large quantities appeared to have a potent effect.

Those downing more than four cups a day were 49 per cent less likely to suffer tumours than others who drank little or no coffee.

Decaffeinated coffee also showed some protection, but the numbers involved were insufficient to draw firm conclusions, the researchers said.

Tea lovers, on the other hand, got no protection against mouth cancers from their favourite beverage.

In a report on the findings, published in the American Journal of Epidemiology, the researchers said it was likely that coffee's multitude of health-boosting ingredients shielded the body against the formation of tumours.

'Coffee contains multiple biologically active compounds that may help to lower the risk of developing and dying from cancer,' they said.

'In animal and cell cultures, no single anti-cancer mechanism has been identified but rather many pathways appear to be involved, depending upon the specific compound and anatomic site.'


Jogging outside in Belgium seems to make you stupid - and more likely to suffer mental health problems

There may be something in this but it is a very short-term study which overlooks the possibility of adaptation.  There is also no doubt that the findings would have conformed to experimenter expectations, which is always a warning bell.

It has long been hailed as beneficial to both body and mind - and if nothing else, a form of stress release after a hard day at the office. 

But new research suggests exercising outside could do more harm than good when it comes to your brain.  For jogging in busy, traffic-filled areas could actually cause mental decline.

Belgian researchers have found that people who live in a city and exercise outdoors have higher levels of inflammation and lower scores on cognitive tests than those who exercise outside in the suburbs.

In a study, they separated exercisers into two groups who exercised three times a week for 12 weeks, between midday and 1pm. One group alternated and walking in a busy, urban area - the other in a rural location.

The researchers, from Vrije Universiteit Brussel, then gave the subjects a test to measure their response time and attention span.

They found that high levels of air pollution in the city prevented participants from getting some of the brain-boosting benefits of exercise, such as the ability to absorb new information and a reduced chance of mental health problems.

The city joggers also had significantly higher blood levels of some inflammation markers, Men's Health magazine reported.

This is important because inflammation in the brain is associated with mental illness.

Last month, U.S. research found that higher level of air pollution in towns and cities is ageing the brains of over-50s by up to three years.

Scientists have found that exposure to higher levels of air pollution can lead to decreased brain power in over-50s.

In a study of almost 15,000 older adults, researchers at the US-based National Institute on Aging found fine air particulate matter may be an important environmental risk factor for reduced thought power.


12 December, 2012

Meningitis link to smoking in pregnancy: Cigarettes can treble child’s chance of developing the disease

Boring rubbish:  Working class people are more likely to smoke and they are less healthy anyway.  Connection between smoking and meningitis just assertion

Smoking during pregnancy can treble the baby’s chance of developing meningitis, researchers warn, and children exposed to smoke from a parent’s cigarettes at home are twice as likely to have the deadly illness.

Scientists estimate that more than 600 children a year in Britain develop meningitis as a result of their parents’ second-hand smoke.

They think that passive smoking gradually weakens children’s immune system making them more susceptible to the illness.

Researchers from the University of Nottingham analysed 18 studies which looked at the link between passive smoking and meningitis.

They found that children exposed to second hand smoke in the home were more than twice as likely to get the illness.

The under-fives were even more vulnerable - they were found to be two and a half times more at risk.

And children whose mothers smoked during pregnancy were three times more likely to get meningitis, the study published in BMC Public Health found.

Lead researcher Dr Rachael Murray, from the UK Centre for Tobacco Studies at the University of Nottingham, said: ‘We estimate that an extra 630 cases of childhood invasive meningococcal disease every year are directly attributable to second-hand smoke in the UK alone.

'While we cannot be sure exactly how tobacco smoke is affecting these children, the findings from this study highlight consistent evidence of the further harms of smoking around children and during pregnancy, and thus parents and family members should be encouraged to not smoke in the home or around children.’

In recent years a number of studies have shown passive smoking increases a child’s risk of meningitis.

But this is one of the first to show the link between a mother smoking during pregnancy.

The findings of this latest study imply this process begins while the baby is still in the womb.


Researchers repudiate BPA junk science

The chemical bisphenol A (BPA) — which is used to make hard, clear plastics and resins that line food containers — regularly appears in news headlines claiming the substance causes everything from heart disease to obesity. But a new study on the topic shows that much of this "research” is little more than junk science.

Many of the alarming BPA studies suffer from a common flaw: they rely on National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey (NHANES) data. NHANES data are produced via a Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) program to assess national health trends. As I noted in a prior blog post, CDC collects health data from a different group of volunteers every year via physical exams and interviews. In addition to recording health aliments of the volunteers, the data also measure BPA in urine and blood. Numerous BPA studies pull the data from various years to see if there are correlations between certain illnesses and levels of BPA in the volunteers’ urine or blood.

There are myriad ways to manipulate these data to generate an array of results, such as excluding certain participants as "outliers” or pulling out select subsets of data from the larger database; therefore, findings and conclusions can vary between studies. In addition, we can expect some associations to emerge by mere chance. Meanwhile, studies that don’t find associations, unfortunately, don’t get published as often and don’t grab headlines because they are not as interesting. Hence, those studies that are published create false impressions about the state of the research.

A key problem with using these data to draw any conclusion is the fact that NHANES data only includes "spot sampling” of BPA — measuring exposure via one (or a couple) urine sample per subject. But BPA levels in urine change practically hourly, which means that one-time measurements tell us nothing about actual exposure. Specifically, a person might have high levels in their urine at one moment simply because he or she just drank a soda from a can lined with BPA resins. But if researchers test this same person just a few hours later, the results may indicate very low BPA exposure. Thus, data from "spot sampling” of BPA are largely meaningless because they don’t measure long-term exposure.

Second, all these studies largely ignore the fact that the human body quickly metabolizes BPA before it can have any health impacts. For more background on these two issues, see my blog posts on BPA and coronary heart disease and BPA’s alleged impacts on obesity.

Higher quality and more comprehensive studies and scientific reviews of the full body of research find that BPA risks are low and its benefits outweigh any such risks.

Today, a new study shows that NHANES data can be manipulated to provide a variety of conflicting results. But more importantly, it explains why NHANES data is inappropriate for drawing any conclusions about BPA risks. Specifically, it notes:
    Our objectives were to analyze four NHANES datasets using consistent a priori selected methods to address the following questions: Is there a consistent association between urinary bisphenol A (BPA) measures and diabetes, coronary heart disease (CHD), and/or heart attack across surveys? Is NHANES an appropriate dataset for investigating associations between chemicals with short physiologic half-lives such as BPA and chronic diseases with multi-factorial etiologies?…

    Using scientifically and clinically supportable exclusion criteria and outcome definitions, we consistently found no associations between urinary BPA and heart disease or diabetes. These results do not support associations and causal inferences reported in previous studies that used different criteria and definitions. We are not drawing conclusions regarding whether BPA is a risk factor for these diseases. We are stating the opposite–that using cross-sectional datasets like NHANES to draw such conclusions about short-lived environmental chemicals and chronic complex diseases is inappropriate. We need to expend resources on appropriately designed epidemiologic studies and toxicological explorations to understand whether these types of chemicals play a causal role in chronic diseases. …

    To be clear, we are not drawing conclusions as to whether BPA is a risk factor for any of the chronic diseases discussed in this paper. In fact, we are stating the opposite – that using the NHANES surveys to draw such conclusions about short-lived environmental chemicals and chronic complex diseases is inappropriate.


11 December, 2012

Mistletoe: A Kiss-Off to Cancer?

Laboratory glassware findings only

Mistletoe — the cheery kiss-inducing Christmas plant — contains a natural compound that has been found to have potent anti-cancer properties.  Scientists at the University of Adelaide in Australia have determined the extract of mistletoe could either assist chemotherapy or act as an alternative to drugs as a treatment for colon cancer, the second leading cause of cancer death in the Western world.

Mistletoe extract is now used as an alternative colon cancer therapy in some parts of Europe, but lack of scientific testing has kept it off the market in Australia and the United States. That new research, led by Zahra Lotfollahi, could change that.

For the study, Lotfollahi and colleagues compared the effectiveness of three types of mistletoe extract and chemotherapy on colon cancer cells and healthy intestinal cells.  In laboratory studies, she found that one of the mistletoe extracts — from a species known as Fraxini, which grows on ash trees — was more effective than chemotherapy against colon cancer cells and yet was not as harmful to healthy intestinal cells as conventional chemo. The lab tests also found the extract boosted the anti-cancer properties of the drugs.

"This is an important result because we know that chemotherapy is effective at killing healthy cells as well as cancer cells,” said Lotfollahi. "This can result in severe side effects for the patient, such as [ulcers in the mouth] and hair loss.

"Our laboratory studies have shown Fraxini mistletoe extract by itself to be highly effective at reducing the viability of colon cancer cells. At certain concentrations, Fraxini also increased the potency of chemotherapy against the cancer cells.”

Gordon Howarth, University of Adelaide professor and Cancer Council researcher, said more studies are needed before the mistletoe extract could be refined for use in cancer care.

"This is just the first important step in what we hope will lead to further research, and eventually clinical trials, of mistletoe extract in Australia," Howarth said.


Study: Beer is good for you, has anti-virus powers

Says Japanese brewer

Consuming large quantities of a key ingredient in beer can protect against winter sniffles and even some serious illnesses in small children, a Japanese brewery said citing a scientific study.

A chemical compound in hops, the plant brewers use to give beer its bitter taste, provides an effective guard against a virus that can cause severe forms of pneumonia and bronchitis in youngsters, Sapporo Breweries said Wednesday.

In research with scientists at Sapporo Medical University, the compound — humulone — was found to be effective in curbing the respiratory syncytial (RS) virus, said the company, which funded the study.

"The RS virus can cause serious pneumonia and breathing difficulties for infants and toddlers, but no vaccination is available at the moment to contain it,” said Jun Fuchimoto, a researcher from the company.

The virus tends to spread in winter and can also cause cold-like symptoms in adults.

Fuchimoto said such small quantities of humulone were present in beer that someone would have to drink around 30 cans, each of 350 millilitres (12 oz), for it to have any virus-fighting effect.

"We are now studying the feasibility of applying humulone to food or non-alcoholic products,” he said. "The challenge really is that the bitter taste is going to be difficult for children.”

The research also found that humulone alleviated inflammation caused by infection from the virus, the brewery said.


10 December, 2012

Book's theory on women's diets links infertility to low-fat food

All theory by the sound of it

WOMEN'S low-fat, highly processed diets are contributing to low fertility and poor health, a new book claims.  While women wanting to get pregnant have long been warned about obesity, the authors of Eat Fat, Be Thin say a low-fat diet is not the answer.

"Low-fat foods have been linked to infertility in both men and women because they don't contain the adequate nutrients," the authors - TV personality Andi Lew and holistic fertility expert Dr Natalie Kringoudis - say in their book.

"Whole foods are always, hands-down, the best option, and you end up with a stronger immune system or become more fertile."

Monash IVF clinician Nicole Hope said a healthy diet of fresh foods, fruit and vegetables and lean meat was important for women wanting to get pregnant.

"This includes healthy fats that aid the process of ovulation," Dr Hope said. She said doctors did not recommend a fat-free diet because hormones required essential fatty acids.

Louise Johnson, a spokeswoman for Your Fertility, an independent coalition of fertility experts, said: "You increase your chances of conceiving and having a healthy pregnancy and baby if you and your partner are a healthy weight," she said.

Professor Michael Permezel, president of the Royal Australian and New Zealand College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists, said a nutritionally balanced diet would "benefit both fertility and the early development of the pregnancy, should conception occur".

Amber Hawkins, 36, of South Melbourne, had been trying for 18 months to fall pregnant, and had one failed attempt at IVF before Dr Kringoudis advised her on diet changes.

"Now I am nearly 20 weeks' pregnant and couldn't be happier," she said.

The book suggests women wanting to get pregnant eat a diet that includes eggs, avocados, nuts, grains and coconut.


Fat does not make you fat?

One physicist says eating fat does not cause obesity, but not everyone is convinced

The US physicist Gary Taubes has lobbed this scientific "grenade" in two books he has written about obesity and nutrition. His premise? That the hormone insulin is responsible for obesity, and levels of insulin spike when we eat carbohydrates, leading us to get fat. Eating fat, he says, does not have this effect on insulin and therefore is not the culprit in making people overweight or obese.

The idea that people are fat because they eat too much says nothing meaningful about why excess calories get stored as fat, says Taubes, who studied applied physics at Harvard. He argues that carbohydrates, such as fructose, corn, potatoes, rice and grains, affect insulin, a powerful regulator of fat. Fat is readily stored in the presence of insulin because it causes the enzyme lipoprotein lipase to suck fat inside cells where it is stored. The body only makes insulin when blood sugar levels rise, and all carbohydrates are metabolised as sugar.

Thus, if we do not eat carbohydrates, there will not be excess sugar in the blood, the body will not make insulin and fat will not be stored by cells, Taubes believes.

Meats, fish, eggs, butter and oil contain few, if any, carbohydrates and do not cause insulin levels to spike, which Taubes says means people can eat as much of those foods as they want so long as they also avoid carbohydrates.

"So this idea all calories are created equal; well, in terms of the energy in the calories, yes … but in terms of the fate of the nutrient downstream, the same amount of calories of different nutrients will have a dramatically different effect," Taubes says.

It is a bold stance to take amid the present epidemic of obesity and diabetes, with Australian public health guidelines staunchly placing the blame on eating too much and not exercising enough.

While his ideas are controversial, they are not completely new. Robert Atkins's revolutionary Atkins diet in the 1970s had similar ideas, and low-GI diets also follow some of these principles. But Taubes goes deeply into the science behind the high-fat diet, picks apart studies by major universities more rigorously and is doing so at a time when consumers are frustrated by their inability to lose weight no matter which diets they follow.

Taubes is keen for his work to be digested by health experts clamouring to find some solution to the growing obesity epidemic that is threatening to swamp health systems around the world.

Even Australian nutritionists who view Taubes as a conspiracy theorist because of his criticisms of those who pioneered the idea that fat causes obesity, admit his research has enough credibility and science behind it to be considered.

Whether you believe fat is to blame for rising obesity or not, it is clear the problem is getting worse.

More low-fat foods are being produced and consumed than ever before. Red meat consumption is also declining, with beef consumed in the Australian market decreasing by 3 per cent in 2010-11. Yet, obesity rates in Australia are still climbing.

Taubes says it was when gluttony and sloth became demonised as causes of obesity in the 1960s, that the field of nutrition lost its way while waistlines continued to grow.

"Pre-World War II, all of the best science was done in Europe where there was a culture of excellence in physics, biology and medicine," he says.

"Obesity was nothing about eating too much or exercising too little, rather researchers said obesity was a hormonal, regulatory defect just like any other growth disorder. They said there was an excess accumulation of fat occurring, fat is regulated, and so therefore something was wrong with that regulatory system in fat people.

"Then the war came, these researchers disappeared, and so did their accepted theory of obesity."

In his books, Good Calories, Bad Calories and Why We Get Fat, Taubes writes that a small but influential contingent of American nutritionists - Jean Mayer, Fred Stare, Jules Hirsch, George Bray, Theodore Vanitallie, Albert Stunkard, George Cahill and Philip White - then became the leading authorities in the field. "They all came out of the north-eastern academic corridor - Harvard, Yale, Columbia, Rockerfeller, the University of Pennsylvania - and they all knew each other," he writes.

"None of these authorities actually specialised in the clinical treatment of obesity [except for one], who did so as a psychiatrist treating an eating disorder. Nor were they necessarily the best scientists in their field."

In the late '70s, Taubes says, these researchers addressed a committee charged with establishing the "Dietary Goals for Americans", embracing the committee's recommendation of a national diet lower in fat and higher in carbohydrates.

This was despite one of the scientists, Van Itallie, admitting to the committee that he was unaware of any research conclusively supporting the low fat, high carbohydrate theory of weight loss.

"Thus, what I am saying is an assumption rather than a statement of established fact," he told them.

Despite this, the new guidelines were released, and nutritionists and public health authorities latched on to two ideas - that dietary fat causes heart disease and obesity is an energy imbalance between calories in and out, Taubes says.

"The existence of these hypotheses seemed to be reason enough to believe they were true," he says.

"We ignored everything that had been learnt about causes of obesity until then and ran with it."

Taubes has been reporting on controversial science since the early 1980s. First, he wrote a book challenging the theory of cold fusion, a hypothetical type of nuclear reaction. In the 1990s, his focus turned to public health and medical issues, as he believed nutrition was one of the most glaring examples of pseudoscience at play. As low-fat eating became the order of the day, food manufacturers replaced fat in foods with sugar, and as fat consumption declined, Taubes says, obesity, diabetes and the incidence of heart disease kept increasing. He interviewed more than 600 clinicians and investigators in the US and studied peer-reviewed nutrition research from leading medical journals and universities to find out why.

Taubes gained attention when New York Times Magazine published one of his articles in 2002, in which he questioned low-fat diets and promoted a similar way of eating as the Atkins diet before it. He says that diet gained so much controversy because it was introduced when fat had become an accepted culprit by the medical establishment.

While Taubes does not dispute that expending more calories than consumed will lead to weight loss, he argues that method is largely unsustainable, unnecessary and not the most efficient way to prevent fat from being stored by cells.

There are studies that support Taubes's theory, including one from Stanford University published by the Journal of the American Medical Association in 2007, which monitored 77 women for a year. Women placed on a low-carbohydrate, high-fat diet lost more weight than those who ate a diet based on US government guidelines that promote a diet lower in fat and higher in carbohydrates.

Another criticism of Atkins and low-carbohydrate diets is that studies have indicated red meat consumption is associated with heart disease. A Harvard University study published this year found eating a portion of processed red meat daily boosted the risk of dying young by up to 20 per cent.

It is another area of nutrition science challenged by Taubes, who says red meat consumption has only been found as being associated with heart disease and early death, not as a cause of it. On his blog, Taubes wrote: "Moreover, this meat-eating association with disease is a tiny association. Tiny. It's not the 20-fold increased risk of lung cancer that pack-a-day smokers have compared to non-smokers. It's a 0.2-fold increased risk."

Taubes used himself to prove his point, for several months eating three eggs with cheese, bacon and sausage for breakfast every morning, a couple of bunless cheeseburgers or a roast chicken for lunch and steak for dinner, and cooking with butter. His blood test results before and after this "diet" were posted on his website. They showed after his meat binge, his cholesterol and glucose levels were well within the normal range and had actually improved.

In his books, Taubes refers to studies from the 19th and early 20th centuries where people from very poor populations, who ate little aside from bread and corn, also displayed moderate to high levels of obesity. But these studies have fallen by the wayside, he says, partly because the low-fat dogma has become so enshrined in medical thinking.

"The medical community believes it's an energy balance problem and people powerfully believe that," Taubes says. "If you spend your whole career thinking obesity is about eating too much, it's very hard to turn around and say, 'I was wrong'. Imagine the public health authorities in the US and Australia saying 'Look, we were wrong, we're sorry, maybe we killed some your loved ones but eventually we got it right'.

"It doesn't help their credibility."

Professor Tim Gill, from Sydney University's Boden institute of obesity, nutrition, exercise and eating disorders, describes Taubes as a respected science writer who is well researched but divisive.

A growing number of academics and clinicians support his research, Gill says, but he believes Taubes, who also has a masters in journalism from Columbia University, has not done enough to prove that public health guidelines should be overhauled just yet.

"Journalists love to come up with something that is the antithesis of what's currently held by academics because they like to believe in a conspiracy," Gill says.

"He's come up with an idea, which is perfectly rational to a point, which some academics agree with, but he can be as selective as anyone else in the evidence he uses to support his own arguments."

Gill admits researchers interested in nutrition have generally been guilty of being too simplistic in the past, by focusing on one aspect, such as fat.

But by only criminalising carbohydrates, he believes Taubes has ignored many other elements of weight gain as well.

"The causes of obesity and weight gain are much more complex than just carbohydrates," Gill says.

"Whilst we were happy in the past to accept one or two big studies from big names and go along with it, all research has its problems and its limitations. And despite all this evidence we have, we still really don't have absolute clarity around certain aspects of nutrition."

Even Taubes acknowledges his theory of obesity needs more research.

In September, he launched the non-profit Nutrition Science Initiative in San Diego, which describes its purpose as to "facilitate and fund rigorous, well-controlled experiments targeted at resolving unambiguously many of the outstanding nutrition controversies - to answer the question definitively of what constitutes a healthy diet and dedicated to dramatically reducing the economic and social burden of obesity and obesity-related diseases."

Led by Taubes, the initiative will carry out highly controlled experiments headed by researchers from around the US - including those sceptical of the carbohydrate hypotheses Taubes hopes to test.


9 December, 2012

Food Bunk

John Stossel

With America's "fiscal cliff" approaching, pundits wring their hands over the supposed catastrophe that government spending cuts will bring. A scare newsletter called "Food Poisoning Bulletin" warns that if government reduces food inspections, "food will be less safe ... (because) marginal companies ... (will) cut corners."

We're going to die!

Most people believe that without government meat inspection, food would be filthy. We read "The Jungle," Upton Sinclair's depiction of the meatpacking business, and assume that the FDA and the Food Safety and Inspection Service are all that stand between us and E. coli. Meatpacking conditions were disgusting. Government intervened. Now, we're safe! A happy ending to a story of callous greed.

The scheming lawyers behind the "Food Poisoning Bulletin" argue that without regulation companies will "cut corners." After all, they say, sanitation costs money, so lack of regulation "creates a competitive disadvantage for companies that want to produce quality products."

But that's bunk. It's not government that keeps E. coli to a minimum. It's competition. Tyson Foods, Perdue and McDonald's have brands to maintain -- and customers to lose. Ask Jack in the Box. It lost millions after a food-poisoning scandal.

Fear of getting a bad reputation makes food producers even more careful than government requires. Since the Eisenhower administration, our stodgy government has paid an army of union inspectors to eyeball chickens in every single processing plant. But bacteria are invisible!

Fortunately, food producers run much more sophisticated tests on their own. One employs 2,000 more safety inspectors than government requires: "To kill pathogens, beef carcasses are treated with rinses and a 185-degree steam vacuum," an executive told me. She also asked that I not reveal the name of her company -- it fears retaliation from regulators.

"Production facilities are checked for sanitation with microbiological testing. If anything is detected ... we re-clean the equipment. ... Equipment is routinely taken completely apart to be swab-tested."

None of that is required by government. Government regulation may help a little, but we are safe mostly because of competitive markets. Competition protects us better than politicians.

But people don't trust companies. So it is easy to scare people about food. And the news media know that finding "problems" makes reporters look like crusading journalists. Earlier this year, my old employer, ABC News, "alerted" the public to a new threat, ground beef made with "pink slime."

It sounds awful! ABC's reporting frightened most school systems so much that they stopped using that form of meat. The food company lost 80 percent of its business.

But the scare is bunk. What ABC calls "pink slime" is just as appetizing as other food.

"Bunk is the polite word," Dan Gainor of the Media Research Center says. "ABC went on a crusade. Three nights in a row back in March, they pounded on this."

Well, why shouldn't they, if there's something called "pink slime" in beef?

"Because it's not pink slime. It's ground beef."

Then how did this all get started?

"A couple activists who used to work for the FDA didn't like this really cool scientific process that separates the beef trimming so you get the remaining ground beef. So they coined this term deliberately to try to hurt this company."

The company, Beef Products Inc., does something unique. It takes the last bit of trim meat off the bone by heating it slightly. That saves money and arguably helps the environment -- not using that meat would waste 5,000 cows a day. In 20 years, there is no record of anybody being hurt by what ABC and its activists call "pink slime" -- what the industry just calls "lean beef trimmings" or "finely textured beef."

"Everybody constantly says, 'You should eat leaner beef.' So when we try to eat the leaner beef, then they take that away from us, too," Gainor said. "The company ... has received awards for how good a job they do for consumer safety. It was just one constant hit job."

An effective one. After ABC's reports, Beef Products Inc. closed three out of its four plants. Seven hundred workers lost jobs.

Scientifically illiterate, business-hating media will always do scare stories. Don't believe them.

Most of them, anyway.


Anti-depressants could help stroke patients recover more quickly by 'rebuilding' the brain

Cochrane conclusions are very careful so this is hopeful  --but still early days

Anti-depressants could help recovery after a stroke - even in patients who are not depressed, research suggests.  The drugs could reduce dependence, physical disability, depression and anxiety in the first year after a stroke, according to the study published by the Cochrane Library.

They could also promote the growth of new nerve cells in the brain or protect other cells damaged by stroke, the authors suggest.

And by preventing depression they may encourage more patients to be physically active.

Researchers at the University of Edinburgh examined 52 studies concerning selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors.

Professor Gillian Mead, professor of stroke and elderly care medicine at the university, said: 'Anti-depressants have been successfully used for many years to relieve depression.

'However, it now appears that they also have effects on the brain that may help patients make a better recovery from the physical effects of stroke.

'The results of this meta-analysis are extremely promising. We do not yet fully understand how anti-depressants could boost recovery after stroke, but it may be because they promote the growth of new nerve cells in the brain, or protect cells damaged by stroke.'

She added that by preventing depression, the drugs may help patients to be more physically active which is known to aid overall recovery.

'We now need to carry out a number of much larger clinical trials in order to establish exactly if, how and to what extent antidepressants can help stroke survivors recover.'

Commenting on the research, Dr Dale Webb, director of research and information at the Stroke Association, said: 'There are now over a million people living in the UK with the disabling effects of stroke.  'With death rates from stroke declining, it’s increasingly important to find new treatments to help survivors make their best possible recovery.

'The results of this meta-analysis are very encouraging and highlight the need for further clinical research trials.

'If these trials are positive, antidepressants could reduce the disabling effects of stroke in tens of thousands of patients every year.

'However, we are a long way off this type of treatment being offered to stroke patients to reduce the physical effects of the condition. We look forward to the results of further research.'


7 December, 2012

Chlorine in tap water linked to increase in number of people developing food allergies

This is just speculation.  Maybe dichlorophenol is a byproduct of allergies or allergy treatments, for instance

Chlorine in tap water has been linked to the rising number of people developing food allergies, a study has revealed. The chemical, which is used to treat drinking water and is also present in commonly-available pesticides and household items, may weaken food tolerance in some individuals.

Researchers found adults with high levels of dichlorophenol – a chemical by-product of chlorine – in their urine, were up to 80 per cent more likely to have a food allergy.

Britain has seen a rise in food allergies in recent years, with up to ten million adults claiming to be unable to eat a variety of foods from milk to mustard – although scientists believe the figure may be exaggerated by the ‘worried well’.

Studies also estimate that four per cent of children have a food allergy. A rising number are diagnosed with gut allergies linked to common foods such as cow’s milk, wheat, soya, eggs, celery, kiwi fruit and other fruit and vegetables.

Food allergy can take the form of a sudden life-threatening reaction known as anaphylaxis, as well as eczema or an itchy rash. Much of the water supply in Britain is chlorinated to kill germs, although experts say it is at much lower levels than in the US.

They point out that, for British households at least, certain common household products are more likely to be sources of dichlorophenol than tap water.

Professor Jeni Colbourne, the chief inspector of drinking water, said strict regulations in the UK meant dichlorophenol is unlikely to be found in household taps.

She said its likeliest source for British consumers were household products impregnated with triclosan, commonly used in lipsticks, face washes, toothpaste and kitchen utensils. An anti-bacterial, it can break down to form dichlorophenol.

In a study of 2,211 American adults with the chemical in their urine, 411 were found to have a food allergy, while 1,016 had an environmental allergy.

The research, published in journal of the American College of Allergy, Asthma and Immunology, concluded: ‘Excessive use of dichlorophenols may contribute to the increasing incidence of food allergies in Westernised societies.

‘This chemical is commonly found in pesticides and consumer insect and weed control products, as well as tap water.’

Lead author Dr Elina Jerschow added: ‘Previous studies have shown that both food allergies and environmental pollution are increasing in the United States.

‘Our study suggest these two trends might be linked, and that increased use of pesticides and other chemicals is associated with a higher prevalence of food allergies.’

Professor Colbourne insisted: ‘Currently in the UK consumer, exposure to dichlorophenol via tap water is considered to be minimal.

‘In the US generally chlorination is known to be less well controlled and relatively high doses of chlorine are used, so it would be reasonable to consider the risk of exposure to be generally higher.

‘In the UK exposure is more likely to come from other, non-tap water sources.’


Resveratrol ‘can cut bowel cancer risk’

Mouse study only.  Previous studies have shown that it doesn't work on humans.  Resveratrol is a sort of religion among some

Resveratrol, found in the skins of red grapes and which gives the wine its colour, has long been known to have cancer-fighting properties, but scientists did not know how much was needed to be effective.

Tests on mice have now shown that a dose equivalent to five milligrams in humans halved the growth of bowel tumours.  Five milligrams were far more effective than a one gram dose.

Professor Karen Brown, who led the trials at Leicester University, said: ‘Everybody thinks that more is better, but we found that the low dose was more effective.

'We were amazed that it had any effect at all and even more surprised by the effectiveness of the low dose.’

Professor Brown will present her findings this week at Resveratrol 2012, a conference dedicated to research into the compound, at the university.

Previous studies have shown even tiny amounts of the compound can reach target tissues in humans.

Scientists have been exploring resveratrol’s potential to reduce the risk of heart disease, Alzheimer’s and even the ageing process. It is available as a supplement,

However, cancer trials involving resveratrol supplements have proved disappointing.  ‘People do take it as a supplement, but there’s no clinical evidence that this is of any benefit’ said Professor Brown.

There is some evidence that very high doses of resveratrol may interfere with certain medicines.

‘We’re still trying to understand the mechanism behind the way resveratrol works and see if it translates to human tissues and cells’ said Prof Brown.

Within two years, her team hopes to conduct a human trial on patients at high risk of bowel cancer.

Sarah Williams, of Cancer Research UK, warned: ‘People shouldn’t drink wine in an attempt to get any health benefits resveratrol can offer.

‘Alcohol has been estimated to cause around 12,500 cases of cancer a year in the UK. The best way to cut the risk of cancer through alcohol is to drink less.’


6 December, 2012

Do  tomatoes ward off depression?

These are results from Japan so may not generalize.  The fact that no other  vegies had the effect suggests that this is simply a data dredging finding anyway

Eating tomatoes just a few times a week could halve the chances of suffering depression, a study claims.

Researchers analysed the mental health records and diet habits of just under 1,000 men and women aged 70 or over.

The results found those eating tomatoes two to six times a week were 46 per cent less likely to suffer the blues than those eating them less than once a week.

But other fruits and vegetables do not have the same benefits, the study found.

Eating healthy foods like cabbage, carrots, onions and pumpkins appeared to have little or no effect on psychological well-being.

Tomatoes are rich in antioxidant chemicals that are thought to protect against some diseases.

They are a particularly good source of lycopene, an antioxidant that gives them their deep red colour and has been linked with reducing the risk of prostate cancer and heart attacks.

British consumers get through half-a-million tonnes of tomatoes every year - the equivalent of 19 pounds per person a year.

However, this is still much less than in some Mediterranean countries.

A team of researchers from China and Japan, led by Dr Kaijun Niu from China’s Tianjin Medical University, wanted to investigate preliminary reports that lycopene might also promote psychological and well as physical health by reducing oxidative stress, or damage to healthy brain cells.

They analysed the mental health records and dietary habits of just under 1,000 elderly Japanese men and women aged 70 or over.

The results, published in the Journal of Affective Disorders, found those eating tomatoes two to six times a week were 46 per cent less likely to suffer depression than those eating them less than once a week.

Eating tomatoes every day slashed the risk by 52 per cent.

But there was no obvious advantage to mental health from other vegetables.

The researchers said they cannot be sure if lycopene in tomatoes directly affects the mind, or whether it simply protects against the depression caused when people develop potentially fatal diseases like cancer.

In a report on the findings they said: ‘These results suggest that a tomato-rich diet may have a beneficial effect on the prevention of depressive symptoms.  ‘In contrast, no relationship was observed with intake of other kinds of vegetables.’


Why chocolate warnings don't work on women

This is just a subset of the truth that the war on obesity will increase obesity

WARNING women that eating chocolate can make them fat may actually drive some to eat more, research from the University of Western Australia shows.

The joint study with the University of Strathclyde in Scotland found low restraint eaters - those not on a diet - showed a strong impulse to eat chocolate when presented with negative messaging, including warnings that chocolate could lead to obesity.

Women on a diet were also prone to rebel against attempts to scare them off chocolate, particularly by ads featuring thin models.

Researchers found dieters shown ads featuring thin models displayed an increased desire to eat chocolate coupled with greater feelings of wanting to avoid consumption, or indulged in higher consumption - and ultimately felt more guilt.

Lead author Professor Kevin Durkin said the reaction of a warning having a contrary effect was known as "reactance".

"Reactance could be more marked among the low-restraint participants because they are generally less preoccupied with regulating their food intake and thus find external attempts to intervene in freely determined behaviour more jarring," Prof Durkin said.

The study involved 80 female participants between the ages of 17 and 26, categorised into low or high restraint and scored on a specifically designed "chocolate questionnaire" developed by UWA-based psychologist Professor Werner Stritzke.

The research was published in the journal Appetite, which specialises in behavioural nutrition and the cultural, sensory, and physiological influences on intake of foods and drinks.


5 December, 2012

Booze and fags and fatties save the government money

It does get very annoying when we've all the usual prodnoses telling us that we must eat our five a day, stop puffing on the gaspers and limit ourself to one small brown ale a week for the sake of our livers. This is all to "save the NHS", or to save the public accounts from the costs of dealing with us cancerous lard tubs as the cirrhosis explodes. Other than the ghastly nonsense of the puritans (you know, the worry that someone, somewhere, might be having fun), the despicable reduction in the freedom and liberty to chart our own course to the the inevitable grave, there's really only one other major problem with this point.

It ain't true.

Most certainly it's true that treating these diseases of a life well lived costs the NHS money. But not hacking out the pickled and fatty liver in our 50s costs the NHS much more. For people do go on to survive a decade or more of senile dementia, just as one alternative and even more awful fate. This costs more.

Some will recognise this as the argument that Philip Morris paid to be presented to the Czech Government. It was roundly condemned at the time as being a quite disgusting piece of pro-tobacco propaganda. It could even have been so but it did have the saving grace that it was actually true. For as a rough and ready guide, those things which kills us from chronic diseases around and about our retirement date cost the state much less than our surviving to a google old age does. And we've even got a Congressional Budget Office report making the case for us now:
In terms of the policy's effect on the budget, lower health care spending per capita would push down federal spending, but increased longevity would have the opposite effect. Throughout the first decade of the policy, reduced health care expenditures (primarily for Medicare and Medicaid) would mean that the federal government would spend less than it would have otherwise. The reduction in federal outlays would total $730 million over the period between 2013 and 2021.

During the second decade, however, the effects on longevity would begin to dominate and federal spending would be higher than it would have been otherwise — an effect that would continue through 2085. The two principal drivers of that increase in spending would be Social Security and Medicare.

Improvements in longevity from a reduction in smoking tend to have their greatest effect on the size of the elderly population and thus tend to boost spending on programs aimed at that population. Spending for Medicaid, by contrast, would be reduced throughout the period of the projection — a reflection of the wider age range of that program's beneficiaries.

The odds are that if you want to live a long life you shouldn't smoke. Nor eat nor drink as I do. But it still is really true that those of us who go out in our 50s and 60s from these diseases of an excess of indulgence save everyone else money by their not having to pay our pensions or health care bills for decades.

Stopping these behaviours may well produce longer lives: not that it's any of your damn business how other people decide to treat themselves. But it most certainly won't save any money.


Chipping away at fried food myths

French fries, the scourge of nutritionists and the villain food of the film classic Super Size Me, are actually healthy for you, according to researchers from the Federico 2 University of Naples in Italy.

Doesn't that sound great now that summer's here and fish and chips on the beach is looming as an enticing prospect? "Frying is bad for us? Absolutely not!" said Professor Vincenzo Fogliano, who oversaw the study with Italian chef Giuseppe Daddio. "If it's fried in the correct way, a potato chip...can be an excellent nutritional product."

The pair arrived at this conclusion by studying the way that cooking oil – which is usually loaded with fat – is absorbed during the frying stage. Zucchini and eggplant, thought of as healthy, absorbed 30 per cent of the oil. Potatoes and pizza absorbed just five per cent.

Potatoes resisted the oil because they're full of starch, said Professor Fogliano. "A fundamental rule is that starch plays an important part in sealing the food being fried and reducing the oil absorption. The starch in particularly effective."

There's a caveat or two, however. "Attention must be paid to frozen or pre-fried products," said Professor Fogliano, who spoke to the Italian newspaper La Stampa. "In these cases, the quantity of food absorbed increases significantly."

Unfortunately, that describes 95 per cent of the fries and chips in Australia, said the CEO of Melbourne's Lord of the Fries restaurants, Mark Koronczyk. "This is a European article, and this is how they cook their fries in Europe," he said. Locally, "95 per cent of people selling fries use a frozen product...they're full of preservatives, they use beef tallow...they also use whey powder."

That includes all the fast food chains. Lord of the Fries are one of the few places that cook fries European-style, as per the Italian study. They even keep the skin on. "I think it's a great study, especially as we don't do frozen fries, we use fresh potatoes," said Mr Koronczyk. So few outlets in Australia used fresh potatoes as the process was labour-intensive, time-consuming and expensive.

"Our fries are the healthiest fries you can get," he said, "but I don't know if it's a healthy product."


4 December, 2012

Stupid salt scare finally becoming unglued

More counterproductive medical wisdom:"What we found was the people with the lowest sodium intake had the worst cardiovascular outcomes".    I have been pointing to the stupidity of salt reduction since 2005  -- JR

The benefits of reduced sodium chloride consumption have long been accepted, but some experts say this should be taken with a grain of, well, salt. Mark Whittaker meets those shaking up accepted medical thought.

Any diabetic with high blood pressure who walks into George Jerums' Melbourne clinic will get the standard advice: if their salt intake is high, they should halve it. This is despite the fact that when Professor Jerums and his former PhD student, Dr Elif Ekinci, studied the salt intake of 638 elderly type-2 diabetics who went through his clinic at Heidelberg's Austin Health, they found that those who ate less salt were significantly more likely to die.

After 10 years, it emerged that for every extra 2.3 grams of sodium (equal to about a teaspoon of salt) in their urine over a day, their risk of dying fell by 28 per cent. Even though those who ate more salt tended to be fatter, fewer died from "all causes" and, contrary to what we've been told about the dangers of salt to the heart, fewer died from heart disease and stroke.

"If the person's blood pressure isn't controlled, it's an opportunity to say, 'Your salt intake is 200 [millimoles]. If you could halve it, that would help your blood pressure control'," says Jerums. "That's as far as we go. We don't say, 'But on the other hand, we don't really know what we're doing.'"

Surely, though, Jerums tells his patients to eat less salt because this study was just one flying in the face of decades of research proving that salt kills?

But it is not. It is one of many studies that have shown better results for diabetics, heart-attack sufferers, and people with high blood pressure who did not restrict their salt intake - the very people who get told to cut it most emphatically. About seven studies have linked increased salt intake to increased death rates, but there have been twice as many that have either found no link or that increased salt is associated with lower death rates.

Despite this, the consistent health message of recent decades has been that salt is bad.

When Ekinci and Jerums' research paper came out early last year, they were aware it challenged the salt-is-bad dogma but, in quick succession, four other studies followed with similar results.

The first was a study of 2807 Finns with type-1 diabetes. Those with both the lowest and highest sodium consumption died most often, while the majority in the middle were healthiest.

A study of 3681 Europeans with no history of cardiovascular disease found a death rate of 4.1 per cent in those with the lowest salt consumption, compared to 0.8 per cent in those with the highest salt consumption.

In November last year, a huge study of 28,800 Canadians found that those with the lowest salt intake died more often, as did those with the highest. The detrimental effects of a high-salt diet didn't kick in until their intake hit three to four times more salt than is currently recommended. However, those consuming the amount of salt recommended by health authorities were well within the low-sodium group that died more often and suffered more cardiovascular events.

But the most authoritative paper was by the independent non-profit Cochrane Collaboration, which specialises in analysing the known body of evidence on all manner of medical questions.

It looked at seven randomised controlled studies (RCTs) that had related salt intake to mortality with a total of 6200 people involved. It found "no strong evidence" linking salt to mortality or heart disease. This year, a separate Cochrane review of 163 studies said that reduced salt appeared to harm patients with bad hearts and both types of diabetes.

So why aren't the scientists rushing out to tell us of the latest research? Jerums and Ekinci tell me about six times between them that we can't read too much into observational studies like their own. "Observational studies are good for hypothesis building," says Ekinci, "but that's all." Even though they wrote in their paper that "such data calls into question universal recommendations that all adults should endeavour to reduce their salt intake", they won't say as much to me.  "We don't want to create a war," Ekinci says.

One man they say they don't want to start a war with is Professor Bruce Neal from the Sydney head office of the George Institute for Global Health, a body that promotes public health programs around the world and which has taken the low-salt message global.

Neal says he got interested in salt because Australia spends about $1.5 billion a year treating hypertension (dangerously high blood pressure) "and we only effectively reach about 10 per cent of those with it". By spending $10 million to $20 million on a salt-reduction campaign, he says we'd save just as many lives for 1 to 2 per cent of the cost.

Neal admits there is no direct evidence that cutting salt saves lives. "You have to sort of infer it by saying, 'We reduce salt, we reduce blood pressure.' We know that reducing blood pressure reduces risk. There's a bit of direct evidence that is missing, but there's a mass of other evidence to support the notion that it would be effective."

This is the crux of the matter: too much salt raises blood pressure; raised blood pressure is a major risk factor for heart disease, stroke and kidney failure. Therefore, it is assumed that reducing salt will reduce those killer diseases.

That's been the hope since the 1970s and it is still assumed by the majority medical opinion, despite the studies that have said the opposite.

There is strong evidence that blood-pressure-lowering drugs save lives and, according to Neal, the only reason we can't say the same thing for salt reduction is there's no money in it. "No one will make $1 billion from marketing salt-reduced food," he says. "On the contrary, the food industry makes lots of money by adding salt to low-quality product that would otherwise be unpalatable."

But in October, Neal got $3.4 million from the federal government's National Health and Medical Research Council to conduct the biggest randomised controlled trial of salt consumption ever. His team will go to northern China and split 360 villages, so half receive normal salt and half receive their salt mixed with 30 per cent potassium chloride and 10 per cent magnesium to lower the total sodium chloride content. The 700,000 people in all those villages will be observed for death and illness over the following four years.  [What a spupid research design!  The deprived villagers will just make it up by getting salt from elsewhere]

"[The study] will provide a very low-cost intervention for these villages in rural China," Neal says. "But much more broadly than that, it will provide the evidence to really drive forward efforts to take salt out of food and try to reduce salt levels in Australia."

Yet some suggest that it would be ludicrous for a Western country to base its salt policy on a study of people in northern China, which has the highest salt consumption in the world and therefore, not surprisingly, counts strokes as its biggest killer. Among them is New York doctor Michael Alderman, who in the 1990s was among the first health professionals to suggest that the crystalline enemy might not be so bad after all.

The US was in the midst of a heart disease epidemic in the early 1970s when Alderman set up a program to go into workplaces, find out who had high blood pressure and treat it. "I, like everybody else, knew that lowering sodium intake of people with high blood pressure would be a good idea," he says. "So our program began with a low-sodium diet. We stopped that after realising the effect of asking people to go on a low-sodium diet was to have patients drop out of treatment. Nobody liked it. It was punishing the victim."

Over the years, Alderman became interested in why some people with high blood pressure had strokes and heart attacks, while the vast majority lived long lives. He worked with colleague John Laragh and concluded that renin (a hormone that regulates blood pressure by controlling sodium retention, fluid retention and artery width) was the key. "What we found was that the hypertensive people with the high-plasma renin were much more likely to have heart attacks and strokes than the same hypertensives who didn't have a high renin [level]," he says. The significance of this was that sodium and renin were inversely related: the folks who ate the least salt had the highest renin and hence a greater risk of heart attack and stroke.

"So," Alderman adds, "I looked in the literature because I believed like everybody else in the early '90s that a low-sodium diet was good for you, but what was the evidence? There was only one article in the world literature that related sodium intake to subsequent cardiovascular mortality. It was a paper published in 1985 from a study in Honolulu of Japanese immigrants and they reported no relationship between sodium intake and health outcomes. That was it. There was nothing else."

Alderman's 4000 patients had all had the sodium in their urine measured, so he compared that to their subsequent sickness and death. "What we found was the people with the lowest sodium intake had the worst cardiovascular outcomes.

"I knew this was going to fly in the face of conventional wisdom ... my own wisdom. At any rate, I submitted [a paper on the results] to The New England Journal of Medicine, and I got about a 10-page review written by some advocate of a low-sodium diet. No criticism of the method, the only criticism was they didn't like the results. It was rejected by three of the leading journals. I thought, 'Jesus, it's never going to get published.'?"

The Journal of Hypertension eventually published the paper in 1995, along with an editorial saying it had to be wrong because of the "totality of the evidence" against salt. Alderman still riles at the words: "At that point there was only the one other paper and it showed no relationship. There was no 'totality of evidence'. It was baloney."

Alderman was invited to become a member of an advisory committee of a US industry body, the Salt Institute, and accepted $US750 to attend a meeting. "After that, I was always attacked as being a shill for the Salt Institute," he says. "I stayed on that committee for seven or eight years but never took any more money from them or had any support for my research from them or any commercial link, but my work was always dismissed on the basis that I was a crook. That only abated as more and more evidence appeared, culminating in those recent papers. But it doesn't seem to change policy. I find this so extraordinary."

Australia has a "suggested dietary target" of approximately four grams of salt a day: four-fifths of a teaspoon. But anyone consuming that much would be well inside the level at which many studies have shown people die more often.

When I ask Neal about Alderman's assertion that we should prove salt reduction is safe before we impose it on the population, he replies: "Alderman has made a career out of being a vocal sceptic. If you look at the totality of the evidence from all the different types of studies, it's a very clear picture ... humans evolved to live on a diet of less than a gram of sodium a day. They're not just getting a bit more than they actually need, they're getting 10 times more than they actually require. So it's not really a question of us taking away something that is normal and need to prove it safe; to the contrary, if we're going to pour salt into people at this level, we have to prove it is safe before we do it."

I didn't look at the totality of the evidence, but the Cochrane Collaboration did. It found salt reduction might be of benefit in northern China, but that "these results do not support that sodium reduction may have net beneficial effects in a population of Caucasians". And that "Reduced sodium intake seems to harm patients with heart insufficiency and diabetes type-1 and -2. In all three patient groups, reduced sodium intake is associated with increased mortality."

The Cochrane authors concluded: "After more than 150 RCTs and 13 population studies without an obvious signal in favour of sodium reduction, another position could be to accept that such a signal may not exist."

Michael Alderman can understand why Jerums and Ekinci are shy of starting a fight. "It hurt me to take the position I did," he says. "I happened to have some long-term research grants, but if I were a young investigator now trying to get grants, I would be very nervous."

Having said that, Alderman predicts the debate will be over by mid-decade and that salt's good reputation will be restored: "The evidence is so overwhelming. It's harder and harder for the zealots to say with each new paper there's something wrong with it ... It's not enough for them to say, 'I don't like your evidence.' They've got to have some evidence themselves."


Unfounded alcohol in pregnancy fears

HARDLY a day goes by without the media enlightening us with some ground-breaking new research to guide us along the rocky road of life.

A recent one that caught my eye was the output from Bristol and Oxford universities in Britain that the offspring of women who consumed ("as little as") two glasses of wine a week during pregnancy were (as much as) 1.8 IQ points less intelligent by the age of eight than peers whose mothers had abstained.

I can't help wondering how it is possible to prove that an eight-year-old would be (about) 1.8 per cent smarter if mummy hadn't been bingeing on two glasses of wine a week all those years ago.

Assuming this research is accurate and within any normal margin of error for IQ testing - which I would doubt - is it not possible that the drinking mothers are simply less intelligent than the non-drinking ones and genes are just doing what genes do? Are we to assume that mothers would respond honestly and without denial when questioned about their drinking habits while pregnant? Is it to be deduced that the more the mothers drank, the stupider the children became? Do the children of alcoholic mothers grow up to be research scientists? How much was Justin Bieber's mother drinking when he was in utero?

Today alcohol is good for us and tomorrow it's the devil's blood. Smoking rots your brain but can be beneficial if you want to concentrate for long periods or lose weight. There is good cholesterol and bad cholesterol, good fat and bad fat, good stress and bad stress. Some drugs are good for you, some drugs are bad for you (especially the illegal ones that don't attract GST). Exercise uplifts the mood unless the thought of the gym makes you depressed. Generally, sex is good for you but unprotected sex is bad unless you're married. If you're married, an affair can be good for the marriage or bad, depending on the context and whether or not you get found out. Mobile phones absolutely must cause cancer and we'll prove that if it kills us. And so on.

Why do I think that the people pumping out this stuff are funded based on the achievement of some sort of a result rather than its accuracy or relevance?

So, for all you pregnant women out there, may I suggest the following: keep knocking back the chardy and the strawberry daiquiris at mothers' group. You may be carrying the next Justin Bieber in there and it would be tragic if you deprived the world of that.


3 December, 2012

Aspirin can cut liver cancers and deaths study finds

The "once a month" is a bit of a red flag.  Such a low incidence seems unlikely to have a therapeutic benefit.  The study probably shows only that taking preventive medicine is a middle class thing

Aspirin can reduce the risk of developing liver cancer or dying from chronic liver disease by around 50 per cent even if only taken monthly, a study has suggested.

People who said they had taken aspirin at least once a month in the past year were 49 per cent less likely to develop the most common for of liver cancer and 50 per cent less likely to die from chronic liver disease in the next ten years when compared with people who did not take the painkiller.

Aspirin has been hailed as a wonder drug after several studies have now found that it can significantly reduce the risk of cancer developing as well as cutting the chances of a heart attack and stroke.

The latest research published in the Journal of the National Cancer Institute used questionnaires from 300,000 people aged 50 to 71 who reported their own use of a range of painkillers in the previous 12 months and linked them to registers of cancer cases and deaths over the following ten to 12 years.

In that time 250 people developed hepatocellular carcinoma and 428 died from chronic liver disease.

Almost half of cases of HCC occur in people who already have chronic liver disease and both are connected to hepatitis infections, alcohol, certain metabolic disorders and diet.

Lead author Dr Vikrant Sahasrabuddhe, from the Division of Cancer Epidemiology and Genetics at the National Cancer Institute, wrote in the journal: "This is the first large-scale, population-based evidence for reduced risks of liver cancer incidence and liver disease mortality associated with the use of non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs.

"Aspirin, in particular, when used exclusively or with other non-aspirin NSAIDs showed a consistent protective effect related to both HCC incidence and CLD mortality, regardless of the frequency or exclusivity of use."

In an accompanying comment article Drs Isra Levy and Carolyn Pim, both from the Department of Epidemiology and Community Medicine at the University of Ottawa in Canada, said: "The investigators make the promising observation that, in a large, prospective, cohort study, use of aspirin and other NSAIDs was associated with lower risk of death due to chronic inflammatory liver disease, and aspirin use was linked to reduced risk of developing HCC.

"Although the emerging research findings on cancer impacts have not yet translated into clinical recommendations such as those for prevention of vascular disease by the use of daily aspirin, the hype is building.

"Yet enthusiasm among health professionals remains tempered. NSAIDs, including aspirin, are well known to increase the risk of bleeding, especially gastrointestinal bleeding and it behoves those making individual clinical or population-level policy recommendations to carefully consider any potential benefit in light of the concomitant potential for inadvertent harm.

"For these reasons, even for cardiovascular disease prevention, use of aspirin continues to be questioned."

They said many of the causes of liver disease and cancer can be prevented through vaccination and lifestyle and should be considered before medical prevention.

The researchers acknowledged that the most serious side effect of aspirin is stomach bleeding and people with liver problems are especially vulnerable to bleeds. It is not known how many people in the study died from bleeds, they said.

Also they did not know why people were taking aspirin, as it may have been to prevent a heart attack indicating they already had health problems, or the dose they were taking or for how long.


The old fructose scare rumbles on

Since ordinary cane-sugar is a compound of fructose and glucose, we are all dead anyway, according to their logic.  And a lot of trials have in fact shown that fructose PREVENTS diabetes

We want everything to be sweeter these days – our bread, our pies, our strawberries – and it's killing us. That, crudely summarised, is the gist of a worrying new study in the British Medical Journal. Sugar – sucrose, the plain white stuff you buy by the pound – isn’t the main problem, though. It’s high fructose corn syrup we should be concerned about. This is the dead cheap sweetener made from maize, which in many countries, such as the United States, is preferred to sugar by the food industry. Maize is cheap in the US and has been for several decades, since it’s heavily subsidised by the government. Proper sugar is much more expensive, so not surprisingly Coca-Cola and Pepsi have been using HFCS to sweeten their delicious beverages in the US since the Eighties. In Britain, where HFCS is often called glucose-fructose syrup on ingredients labels, Coke and other soft drinks still use sucrose, by and large.

There all sorts of worries about HFCS and its effect on our health. Never before in human history have we been guzzling so much fructose, and it might be even worse for us than ordinary sugar. Wise heads like the great Dr Atkins and John Yudkin cautioned years ago about our sugar addiction and the terrible hazards of the misguided craze for low-fat diets. (Yudkin wrote the landmark work on the subject, Pure, White and Deadly: How Sugar Is Killing Us, back in 1972.) But their warnings were ignored, partly because they didn’t suit the powerful food industry.

Now we are paying the price for our sweet tooth. Not only are a quarter of Britons overweight today, but on the horizon looms the spectre of one of the world’s most serious chronic diseases: type 2 diabetes. Countries that use a lot of HFCS in their food supply have a significantly higher prevalence of type 2 diabetes, the BMJ reports, than countries that do not use the sweetener. The US had the highest per capita consumption – the average American gets through 25kg (55 lbs) HFCS a year. Second was Hungary (16 kg per person).

The good news for Britain is that we are, at the moment, quite low down the scale: we only eat or drink half a kilo of HFCS a year. As a society, we should be very wary of taking on board more of this stuff. Tim Lobstein of the International Association for the Study of Obesity says that if HFCS is a risk factor for diabetes, "we need to rewrite national dietary guidelines and review agriculture trade policies. HFCS will join trans fats and salt as ingredients to avoid.”

Drinks made with HFCS have 30 per cent more fructose than if they were made with sucrose, Lobstein says, and there is growing evidence that the body metabolises fructose differently from glucose: independently of insulin and primarily in the liver, where it is converted to fat. "This may be contributing to the rise in the prevalence of non-alcoholic fatty liver disease, a condition that is increasing among Hispanic people in the US and Mexico,” says Lobstein.

But what to do, if you live in America, like drinking Coke and want to avoid HFCS? There is an answer: kosher Coke. Passover Coke is produced in Atlanta on a special production line, supervised by a rabbi. Because Jews are forbidden from eating leaven over Passover, grain-derived syrup is not permitted. So cane sugar is used instead. According to Consumer Reports, there are three sources of sugared Coke in the US: Passover Coke, (often expensive) Mexican imports, and a Coca-Cola bottler in Cleveland, which still uses sucrose. This Coke not only avoids the worrying high fructose corn syrup, but taste tests suggest that it has a purer, cleaner sweetness. Even so, bearing in mind John Yudkin's disturbing findings in Pure White and Deadly, it's probably best to drink it in moderation.


2 December, 2012

Too many marathons can kill, warn doctors

Doing too many marathons could kill you, doctors have said in a stark warning about the dangers of taking too much vigorous exercise.

Fitness fanatics should do "just one or a few” marathons or full-distance triathlons, say the cardiologists, because over-exerting the heart for years can lead to long-term damage.

There is now convincing evidence that repeatedly asking the heart to pump "massive” volumes of blood, for hours at a time, can lead to an array of problems, they say.

These include overstretching of the organ’s chambers, thickening of its walls and changes to electrical signalling. These could trigger potentially dangerous heart rhythm problems.

"In addition, long-term excessive exercise may accelerate aging in the heart, as evidenced by increased coronary artery calci?cation, diastolic ventricular dysfunction, and large-artery wall stiffening,” they write in the journal Heart.

Dr James O’Keefe and Carl Lavie, from St Luke’s Mid America Heart Institute in Kansas City, and the Pennington Biomedical Research Centre in Baton Rouge, US, say the heart is only designed for "short bursts” of intense activity.

They cite the example of Micah True, the hero of the book Born to Run about ultra-endurance running.

He died in March, aged 58, on a 12-mile training run in New Mexico. He routinely ran a marathon a day, sometimes more.

They believe that decades of such exertion led him to develop Phidippides cardiomyopathy.

Named after the original runner, who died delivering news of the Greeks’ victory at Marathon, it is "the constellation of cardiac pathology that has been in observed in the hearts of some veteran extreme endurance athletes”.

They concluded that most people should limit vigorous exercise to 30 to 50 minutes a day.

"If one really wants to do a marathon or full-distance triathlon etc, it may be best to do just one or a few and then proceed to safer and healthier exercise patterns,” they advise.

No amount light to moderate exercise is harmful, they note.

"A routine of moderate physical activity will add life to your years, as well as years to your life.

"In contrast, running too fast, too far, and for too many years may speed one’s progress towards the ?nish line of life.”

Ellen Mason, senior cardiac nurse at the British Heart Foundation, said: "Whether you’re taking part in an endurance event, watching your weight or staying healthy after a heart attack, it’s important to build up your activity levels gradually, especially if you’ve not exercised in a while.”


Citrus warning alarmist: medicos

WARNINGS about "killer grapefruit" have been blown out of proportion, according to two Canberra medicos who say it is safe to eat the tart citrus fruit unless specifically prohibited by your doctor or pharmacist.

This week the Canadian Medical Association Journal reported the number of drugs that can cause serious problems when taken with grapefruit increased from 17 to 43.

As little as one grapefruit or one glass of grapefruit juice can affect some medications and cause conditions such as irregular heartbeat, kidney failure, muscle breakdown, difficulty with breathing and blood clots.

And some very common drugs are on the danger list including cholesterol-lowering medication Lipitor, Verapamil, which is used to treat high blood pressure, and the chemotherapy drug Vincristine.

But Professor of Pharmacy at the University of Canberra Gabrielle Cooper said Australian pharmacists and doctors were aware of problem.

"Grapefruit has a strange interaction with a range of drugs and when a pharmacist dispenses that group of drugs they put a sticker on the box saying do not use with grapefruit," she said.

Dr Cooper said grapefruit can be a danger because it interferes with how drugs break down and can cause a drug overdose.

"There is an acidic interaction but there is also a metabolic pathway inhibition which occurs with grapefruit.It stops things being excreted normally.

"We have pathways in our body which have enzymes involved and that enzyme is inhibited by that grapefruit so it stops that drug being removed by the body in the appropriate time frame so you build it up."

Chairman of the ACT Medicare Local Board Rashmi Sharma said Warfarin, an anticoagulant that stops blood clotting, interacts with anything green.

"The take home message is that it's not just grapefruit juice that can affect the enzyme system, so without wanting to be alarmist it's important that people do tell their doctors what they are taking," Dr Sharma said.

And other citrus fruits including Seville oranges, limes and pomelos can cause the same effect as grapefruit.

"It's not a new warning, we were aware and as prescribers we warn our patients.'


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