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, 2013

Cut your sugar intake by HALF: New health warning says limit should be cut to five teaspoons a day over fears it contributes to heart disease

United Nations guidelines! What a joke.  I suppose a small serve of terrorism is also recommended -- or one hour per week of hating Israel

Adults could be advised to halve the amount of sugar in their diets under new guidelines from the World Health Organisation.

Experts are considering lowering the recommended limit of ten teaspoons a day to just five over fears that it is contributing to heart disease, obesity and tooth decay.

Food companies may have to change their products to lower the sugar content, which would be hugely expensive and could prove unpopular with some consumers.

A single can of cola contains ten teaspoons of sugar, a Mars bar has five, a bowl of Coco Pops has about four and there are eight in some ready meals.

The average Briton consumes 12 teaspoons a day, although research has found that some adults in industrialised countries are eating as many as 46 daily.

Philip James, president of the International Association for the Study on Obesity, which works with the WHO, described the suggestion as ‘political dynamite’.  ‘The food industry will do everything in their power to undermine this,’ he said.

The guidance suggests lowering the amount of sugar added to food – excluding that which occurs naturally in fruit or starch - from 10 per cent to five per cent of the daily allowance, which is equivalent to five teaspoons.

The policy would almost certainly be adopted by the Department of Health.

Professor Shrinath Reddy, a cardiologist at the Harvard School of Public Health and member of the WHO panel of experts, said: ‘I would agree with the recommendation to reduce it to five per cent.

‘There is overwhelming evidence coming out about sugar-sweetened beverages and other sugar consumption links to obesity, diabetes and even cardiovascular disease.’

The proposals were discussed at a meeting earlier this year after a study by Professor Paula Moynihan, an expert in nutrition and oral health at Newcastle University, highlighted  the danger of sugar to dental health.

‘Part of the problem is that sugary foods and drinks are now staples in many people’s diet in industrialised countries, whereas once they were an occasional treat,’ he said.  ‘We need to reverse this trend.’

The WHO panel will consider the guidance over the coming months before making a final decision.

Sugar Nutrition UK, an industry-funded research body, pointed out that UK manufacturers had been lowering the level of sugar in recent years to make products healthier.

‘There is no data to show that reducing intake below current levels is beneficial to health,’ said a spokesman, who claimed that the guidance was based on studies ‘of very low quality’.

Research three years ago by the Emory School of Medicine in the US found that some adults were eating 46 teaspoons of sugar a day. This included six in a bowl of cereal, 14 for lunch including a slice of pizza and a fizzy drink, and 16 for a ready meal in the evening with another sugary beverage.

Kellogg’s was criticised last year by the Advertising Standards Agency for claiming that high sugar was not linked to obesity.

Its Coco Pops website claimed: ‘A panel of world health experts recently reviewed all the evidence and concluded that a high sugar intake is not related to obesity, or the development of diseases such as heart disease, diabetes, high blood pressure or cancer.

'Nor was it connected to behavioural problems, such as hyperactivity, in children.’


Hidden dangers of essential oils: The frightening truth about natural remedies such as Olbas Oil which can cause heart problems, convulsions and eye ulcers

Reassured by the list of natural-sounding ingredients, parents are happy to sprinkle them on a child's pillow, in their bath or on a tissue.

But paediatric consultant Hester Yorke, who works at a busy central London emergency department, says she has dealt with a string of cases where children and babies have required hospital treatment after drinking or otherwise ingesting harmless-sounding oils.

A doctor has warned of the dangers of children accidentally ingesting products containing essential oils - this photograph shows chemical burns caused by Olbas Oil which show up green under blue light

Dr Yorke, 39, who works at the emergency department at Chelsea and Westminster Hospital in London, is calling on the manufacturers of such oils to put a child-proof cap on the bottles to reduce the numbers of young - and old - patients needing urgent treatment after misusing the products.

She said: 'In the last five years we have seen at least 38 children, and probably more, who have presented having ingested, put in their eyes or up their nose some kind of essential oil-containing substance.

'These included Olbas Oil, Karvol, room diffuser liquids, liquid air freshener, citronella oil and other aromatherapy oils, and of these 38 children, six had significant clinical findings.'

Dr Yorke said all 38 children were admitted to the ward for observation or required observation for at least six hours.

She said of the six with 'significant' symptoms, two children had corneal ulcers, one had nervous system findings (drowsiness and unsteadiness walking), and three had breathing difficulties.

The consultant, who is so concerned she is keeping a dossier of hospital admissions as a result of accidents with essential oils to strengthen her case for manufacturers, says the chief culprit is eucalyptus oil.  At least 38 patients have been admitted to Chelsea and Westminster Hospital in London after accidentally ingesting essential oils

She said: 'Eucalyptus oil is particularly toxic - in Australia, where eucalyptus oil is more widely used, there have been reports of children who have drunk it presenting with convulsions.  'We often see children who have put it into their eyes or nose because the size and shape of the bottle makes it easy to mistake for eye or nose drops.

'And children who put it into their eyes are risking serious corneal damage at worst, and quite significant discomfort at best.'

Children who suffer corneal ulcers will need at least one course of antibiotics dropped directly into the eye, as well as flushing with large quantities of saline solution.

A&E paediatric consultant Dr Hester Yorke has treated scores of children who have ingested essential oils and says parents must be aware of the dangers

Dr Yorke said she'd heard of cases where ingestion of essential oil had caused death, but said she had no direct evidence of it at the A&E department she worked in.

Other side-effects can include breathing problems caused when the drops are put into the nose accidentally.  The oil acts as an irritant, which causes mucosal tissue to become inflamed and a dramatic increase in mucusal secretions.

This can cause vomiting, which in turn can see the oil getting into the lungs.

Dr Yorke says the problems are not confined to young patients.  She said: 'Elderly patients have also been known to put it in their eyes because it's in such a small bottle.  'One elderly patient came in after her carer put it in her nose by mistake thinking it was nose drops.'

And she said the 'natural' image of the oils could lull people into a false sense of security.

'These essential oils are seen as natural products so they are not thought of as medicines and are therefore not stored as medicines,' she said.

'People keep them in the last place they used them, which is often beside the bath or on the shelf by the child's bed.

'Given that if ingested, they have the potential to do really nasty things, I think the ones that are sold medically should be more clearly labelled and should have childproof caps so that a child can't take off the top.

'Kids get put off pretty quickly if they're struggling to take the top off and move on to something else.  'I would also like to see the other commonly sold essential oils coming with a childproof cap too.

'Parents must be warned that these products must treated as drugs, not as nice smelly stuff you put in the bath.'

Parents often use products such as Olbas Oil or eucalyptus oil on sick children - but they can be dangerous

Three-year-old John Oliver, from Fulham, south west London, needed emergency treatment at the Chelsea and Westminster after he opened the bottle of Olbas Oil kept in his bedroom, sipped it and put some in his eye.

His mother, Harriet, flushed out his eye with eye drops before ringing NHS Direct who told her she had to take him straight to A&E.

She said: 'He's my third child so I thought I knew what was dangerous and what wasn't, but I had no idea Olbas Oil could cause problems, and had left it in his bedroom after sprinkling some on his pillow when I put him to bed.

'Later I heard crying from upstairs and when I ran up he told me he'd opened the bottle and put some in his eye and his mouth.'

Mrs Oliver rang NHS Direct as a precaution and was shocked when they offered to send an ambulance, saying her son needed to be seen by a doctor within one hour.

She took him to Chelsea and Westminster where he was seen by Dr Yorke, who said he had to have his eye washed out with two litres of saline solution before being checked to see if there was any corneal damage or residue from the oil.

John also had to wear a heart monitor for several hours to see whether his heart rate would be affected by swallowing the Olbas Oil.

Mrs Oliver said: 'It was all quite shocking and frightening - one minute I'd put him to bed with a blocked nose and the next minute we were in A&E having a  heart monitor strapped to him.

'Having his eye washed out was upsetting as I had to pin him down while the nurse flushed his eye with an enormous bottle of salt water and he screamed and screamed.

'We spent the night on the children's ward so his heart rate could be checked and luckily he was fine, but when I talked to my friends with children, none of them had heard that Olbas Oil could be so dangerous.'

Figures from the Health & Safety Information Centre show that between April 2012 and March this year, 5,432 people were treated as inpatients after accidentally poisoning themselves with substances including essential oils.

A spokesman for Lanes health care, manufacturer of Olbas Oil, said: 'We take this kind of incident very seriously and take on board all suggestions for ways we can improve our products.

'Olbas Oil is a safe and effective medicine when used as instructed and like all medicines must be kept out of sight and reach of children.

'We have emphasised this on the packaging which complies with all the necessary regulations and has been approved by the UK medicines authority (MHRA).'



30 December, 2013

How 13,000 heart attacks a year could be avoided if we ate two pinches less salt (?)

This is old-fashioned propaganda now.  It takes a while for new findings to be absorbed.  It's just  poorly-based theory below

Lowering our salt intake by just two pinches a day could prevent 13,000 heart attacks and 5,000 strokes, say researchers.

Although the national intake has fallen in recent years, it remains above the recommended maximum of 6g a day, with average consumption at 8.6g.

Excess salt is a major contributor to high blood pressure, leading to heart disease and stroke.

The latest research by a team of scientists at Wageningen University in the Netherlands found nearly 5 per cent of all heart attacks and almost 6 per cent of strokes could be prevented if there was less salt in food products such as ready meals.

The Dutch team worked out how consuming the target of 6g daily would affect our health. They analysed data on average salt intake and took into account previous research that showed the drop in blood pressure levels that could be achieved through eating less.

The researchers then assessed the full impact if everybody complied with the 6g a day limit, says a report published in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition.  Their findings show roughly one in 20 heart attacks and one in 16 strokes could be completely avoided if processed foods contained reduced levels.

The report said: ‘Substantial health benefits might be achieved when added salt is removed from processed foods and when consumers choose low-salt food alternatives.’

Katharine Jenner, chief executive of the Blood Pressure Association, said the Department of Health’s campaign to reduce salt is saving approximately 8,500 lives a year, but until all food manufacturers and restaurants reduce the amount of salt they add to our food the nation’s health remains at risk.

‘The Department of Health estimates that every 1g reduction in salt intake will save at least 4,147 deaths and £288million to the NHS every year,’ she added.  The National Institute for Health and Care Excellence wants average UK consumption to be slashed to just 3g a day by 2025.


California Regulators Attempt to Kill Sriracha

Why did state regulators shut down the company's sales for a month and push the hot sauce's maker to consider leaving the state?

Last week California health regulators ordered the makers of Sriracha hot sauce to suspend operations for 30 days. The 30-day hold comes despite the fact the product has been on the market for more than three decades and that “no recall has been ordered and no pathogenic bacteria have been found[.]”

The problem, reports the Pasadena Star News, is that Sriracha is a raw food.  “Because Sriracha is not cooked, only mashed and blended, Huy Fong needs to make sure its bottles won’t harbor dangerous bacteria,” writes the Star News.

Aren’t three decades of sales sufficient proof of that fact?

“The regulations outlining this process have been in existence for years,” writes California health department official Anita Gore, in a statement she sent to L.A. Weekly, “but the modified production requirements were established for the firm this year.”

In other words, the state changed the rules of the game.

Gore cites FDA regulations pertaining to acidified foods as a basis for her agency’s action.

And she writes this: “A scheduled process is the process that is adequate for use under conditions of manufacture for a food in achieving and maintaining a food that will not permit the growth of microorganisms having public health significance. It includes control of pH and other critical factors that may be established by a competent process authority.”

What in the name of all that is holy could Gore possibly mean by that?  “We cannot go into further detail about their process,” she explains, “as it is a trade secret and cannot be divulged.”

Thanks to the state-mandated shutdown, there’s now a national Sriracha shortage.

How did this happen? From every indication, Sriracha appears to epitomize the California foodie dream of turning fresh, local ingredients into something wonderful.

An L.A. Times piece on the product earlier this year reported that “each chili is processed within a day of harvesting to ensure peak spiciness.”

Is raw hot sauce like Sriracha some sort of nefarious new invention? Well, no.  The country’s most popular hot sauce, Louisiana’s ubiquitous Tabasco, is also made from raw ingredients, according to its website.

So if hot sauces are made using similar processes in other parts of the country, what's the big deal in California? The answer may lie in the company's increasingly sour relations with regulators.

Sriracha Rooster Sauce is made by Huy Fong Foods of Irwindale, Calif. The company’s name comes from the freighter that company founder David Tran boarded when he fled communist Vietnam. Huy Fong Foods announced its move to Irwindale three years ago. The L.A. Times reported at the time that the move into a new $40 million building would “spice up a bleak lot in Irwindale” that had been vacant for a decade.

The company planned to use the new facility to help ramp up sales fivefold, from $60 million per year to more than $300 million in annual sales.

The Irwindale plant began cranking out hot sauce in summer 2012. But complaints soon followed.

Neighbors said the smell from the plant was too pungent. The city, which had welcomed Huy Fong Foods, soon filed a nuisance lawsuit against the company.

A California judge ruled in October that the company could continue operating. A month later, the judge reversed his decision.

With the welcome mat seemingly no longer to be found in California, word has spread that Huy Fong is looking to leave the state. Rumors of a move to Philadelphia are swirling.

But before the company would consider such a move, they noted they’d want to “first research things like what the health department regulations are regarding acidized foods in Pennsylvania.”

Could Sriracha succeed outside California? Of course it could. The state needs Huy Fong Foods a lot more than the company needs California. After all, the nation’s growing love affair with Sriracha is well documented.

A 2009 N.Y. Times piece elegantly captured the origins and allure of Sriracha, calling it “an American sauce, a polyglot purée with roots in different places and peoples.”

As the Times reported, it had become a staple for everyone from high-end chefs to Walmart shoppers. The humor website The Oatmeal referred to Sriracha as “a delicious blessing flavored with the incandescent glow of a thousand dying suns.” Boing Boing’s Xeni Jardin called it “the beloved ‘cock sauce.’” And frenzied consumers, including food TV celebrity Alton Brown, have been busily hoarding the stuff thanks to California regulators.

I’ve long marveled at California’s status as an unparalleled culinary innovator and agricultural powerhouse, while also lamenting the fact that the state’s uncanny obsession with ever more pervasive and stringent regulations could spell doom for its unrivaled food climate.

Sometimes the state throws out small hints it might not want to strangle each of its businesses in red tape. In October, I cited several such examples in noting that California regulators and lawmakers are “capable not just of recognizing the needless regulatory encumbrances that strict food laws place on its entrepreneurs but also of relieving some of those burdens.”

But then there’s this. And this. And this.

If Sriracha’s founder is forced to move the company outside the state due to nothing more than the baseless fervor of California regulators, then the state’s status as America’s culinary innovator won’t die today. It won't even die tomorrow. But I fear that the word “Sriracha” will be featured prominently in the state’s obituary, alongside the sad news that its pointless death was by its own hand.


28 December, 2013

How To Make Sense Of Confusing, New Blood Pressure Advice

If you're confused about the latest recommendations for treating high blood pressure, take heart. Doctors are confused, too.

On Wednesday, a panel of specialists called the Eighth Joint National Committee published guidelines saying that many people over 60 don't need to start taking medications to lower blood pressure until it's above 150/90 millimeters of mercury.

If doctors follow the advice, they'll be less likely to prescribe blood pressure drugs to people at milder risk for heart problems.

Why? There's a lack of conclusive evidence that using drugs to get pressures lower than that will reduce a person's risk of heart attack and stroke — or increase life expectancy.

That's a substantial change from the current recommendation for all adults to get their systolic blood pressure (the first number) below 140, which is endorsed by the American Heart Association and the American College of Cardiology, two big medical professional societies. People with diabetes or kidney disease were told to go even lower, to 130.

In the new guidelines, the systolic goal for adults under 60 remains at 140, but it wipes out the lower target for people with diabetes and kidney disease.

You may wonder why there are dueling guidelines when the Joint National Committee was convened by the National Institutes of Health five years ago to come up with a single national standard. Well, there's a story behind that.

Earlier this year, the NIH decided it was going to get out of the guidelines business, handing it over to the professional societies.

That left the Joint National Committee orphaned. Figuring that joining up with the AHA and the ACC would substantially delay release, the group published its own guidelines in JAMA, the journal of the American Medical Association.

"Producing guidelines in the United States has become increasingly more complicated and contentious," one of three editorials accompanying the guidelines noted.

Indeed, one reason that NIH may have bailed is because the process has become so politicized. The Obama administration came under serious heat from the American Cancer Society and patient groups for a 2009 decision to raise the recommended age to start mammograms to 50. And in 2006 the Infectious Diseases Society of America was sued by the state of Connecticut for recommending against long-term antibiotic treatment for Lyme disease.

A third of Americans have high blood pressure, according to the Centers for Disease Control. Half of them don't have it under control.

"This is a funny situation," says Dr. Harlan Krumholz, a cardiologist at the Yale School of Medicine. "What's good here is that they're really adhering to evidence and being honest about what we don't know. I think in earlier guidelines there's been this false sense of security."

People with very high blood pressure, like 160 or 170 systolic and above, clearly benefit from aggressive treatment with medication to lower blood pressure, Krumholz says. But the evidence shows that people with moderately elevated blood pressure don't gain the same reduction in risk of heart attacks and stroke, even if they manage to lower their numbers.

"We should be going after people with marked elevation to make sure they're all getting treated," Krumholz told Shots. "People with mild risk, you have to be honest with them, and say, 'I don't know if I'm doing much for you.' "

The new guidelines also reflect the fact that after a point it becomes increasingly difficult to push blood pressure lower with drugs.

"It's easy to bring someone from 170 to 150," says Dr. Domenic Sica, a nephrologist at Virginia Commonwealth University, and president-elect of the American Society For Hypertension. "But if you're on three drugs and you're at 150, you may need three more drugs to get from 150 to 130."

The low odds of making that big a change can discourage both patients and doctors. "It's a daunting task," Sica tells Shots. Having more reasonable evidence-based goals may encourage people to work with their doctors to come up with a liveable plan, including healthful eating, exercise, and perhaps less medication and blood pressure monitoring.

But for now, patients and doctors will have to decide what guidelines they like best.

"It's a conundrum," Sica notes, adding that it will also affect how insurance companies rate doctors based on performance, and how they reimburse. "Do they really think insurance companies are going to accept 150 over 90?"

If this isn't confusing enough for you, stay tuned. Next year the AHA and the ACC are scheduled to release their own updated guidelines.


Spike in Harm to Liver Is Tied to Dietary Aids

When Christopher Herrera, 17, walked into the emergency room at Texas Children’s Hospital one morning last year, his chest, face and eyes were bright yellow — “almost highlighter yellow,” recalled Dr. Shreena S. Patel, the pediatric resident who treated him.

Christopher, a high school student from Katy, Tex., suffered severe liver damage after using a concentrated green tea extract he bought at a nutrition store as a “fat burning” supplement. The damage was so extensive that he was put on the waiting list for a liver transplant.

“It was terrifying,” he said in an interview. “They kept telling me they had the best surgeons, and they were trying to comfort me. But they were saying that I needed a new liver and that my body could reject it.”

New data suggests that his is not an isolated case. Dietary supplements account for nearly 20 percent of drug-related liver injuries that turn up in hospitals, up from 7 percent a decade ago, according to an analysis by a national network of liver specialists. The research included only the most severe cases of liver damage referred to a representative group of hospitals around the country, and the investigators said they were undercounting the actual number of cases.

While many patients recover once they stop taking the supplements and receive treatment, a few require liver transplants or die because of liver failure. Naïve teenagers are not the only consumers at risk, the researchers said. Many are middle-aged women who turn to dietary supplements that promise to burn fat or speed up weight loss.

“It’s really the Wild West,” said Dr. Herbert L. Bonkovsky, the director of the liver, digestive and metabolic disorders laboratory at Carolinas HealthCare System in Charlotte, N.C. “When people buy these dietary supplements, it’s anybody’s guess as to what they’re getting.”

Though doctors were able to save his liver, Christopher can no longer play sports, spend much time outdoors or exert himself, lest he strain the organ. He must make monthly visits to a doctor to assess his liver function.

Americans spend an estimated $32 billion on dietary supplements every year, attracted by unproven claims that various pills and powders will help them lose weight, build muscle and fight off everything from colds to chronic illnesses. About half of Americans use dietary supplements, and most of them take more than one product at a time.

Dr. Victor Navarro, the chairman of the hepatology division at Einstein Healthcare Network in Philadelphia, said that while liver injuries linked to supplements were alarming, he believed that a majority of supplements were generally safe. Most of the liver injuries tracked by a network of medical officials are caused by prescription drugs used to treat things like cancer, diabetes and heart disease, he said.

But the supplement business is largely unregulated. In recent years, critics of the industry have called for measures that would force companies to prove that their products are safe, genuine and made in accordance with strict manufacturing standards before they reach the market.

But a federal law enacted in 1994, the Dietary Supplement Health and Education Act, prevents the Food and Drug Administration from approving or evaluating most supplements before they are sold. Usually the agency must wait until consumers are harmed before officials can remove products from stores. Because the supplement industry operates on the honor system, studies show, the market has been flooded with products that are adulterated, mislabeled or packaged in dosages that have not been studied for safety.

The new research found that many of the products implicated in liver injuries were bodybuilding supplements spiked with unlisted steroids, and herbal pills and powders promising to increase energy and help consumers lose weight.

“There unfortunately are criminals that feel it’s a business opportunity to spike some products and sell them as dietary supplements,” said Duffy MacKay, a spokesman for the Council for Responsible Nutrition, a supplement industry trade group. “It’s the fringe of the industry, but as you can see, it is affecting some consumers.” More popular supplements like vitamins, minerals, probiotics and fish oil had not been linked to “patterns of adverse effects,” he said.

The F.D.A. estimates that 70 percent of dietary supplement companies are not following basic quality control standards that would help prevent adulteration of their products. Of about 55,000 supplements that are sold in the United States, only 170 — about 0.3 percent — have been studied closely enough to determine their common side effects, said Dr. Paul A. Offit, the chief of infectious diseases at the Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia and an expert on dietary supplements.

“When a product is regulated, you know the benefits and the risks and you can make an informed decision about whether or not to take it,” he said. “With supplements, you don’t have efficacy data and you don’t have safety data, so it’s just a black box.”

Since 2008, the F.D.A. has been taking action against companies whose supplements are found to contain prescription drugs and controlled substances, said Daniel Fabricant, the director of the division of dietary supplement programs in the agency’s Center for Food Safety and Applied Nutrition. For example, the agency recently took steps to remove one “fat burning” product from shelves, OxyElite Pro, that was linked to one death and dozens of cases of hepatitis and liver injury in Hawaii and other states.

The new research, presented last month at a conference in Washington, was produced by the Drug-Induced Liver Injury Network, which was established by the National Institutes of Health to track patients who suffer liver damage from certain drugs and alternative medicines. It includes doctors at eight major hospitals throughout the country.

The investigators looked at 845 patients with severe, drug-induced liver damage who were treated at hospitals in the network from 2004 to 2012. It focused only on cases where the investigators ruled out other causes and blamed a drug or a supplement with a high degree of certainty.

When the network began tracking liver injuries in 2004, supplements accounted for 7 percent of the 115 severe cases. But the percentage has steadily risen, reaching 20 percent of the 313 cases recorded from 2010 to 2012.

Those patients included dozens of young men who were sickened by bodybuilding supplements. The patients all fit a similar profile, said Dr. Navarro, an investigator with the network.

“They become very jaundiced for long periods of time,” he said. “They itch really badly, to the point where they can’t sleep. They lose weight. They lose work. I had one patient who was jaundiced for six months.”

Tests showed that a third of the implicated products contained steroids not listed on their labels.

A second trend emerged when Dr. Navarro and his colleagues studied 85 patients with liver injuries linked to herbal pills and powders. Two-thirds were middle-aged women, on average 48 years old, who often used the supplements to lose weight or increase energy. Nearly a dozen of those patients required liver transplants, and three died.

It was not always clear what the underlying causes of injury were in those cases, in part because patients frequently combined multiple supplements and used products with up to 30 ingredients, said Dr. Bonkovsky, an investigator with the network.

But one product that patients used frequently was green tea extract, which contains catechins, a group of potent antioxidants that reputedly increase metabolism. The extracts are often marketed as fat burners, and catechins are often added to weight-loss products and energy boosters. Most green tea pills are highly concentrated, containing many times the amount of catechins found in a single cup of green tea, Dr. Bonkovsky said. In high doses, catechins can be toxic to the liver, he said, and a small percentage of people appear to be particularly susceptible.

But liver injuries attributed to herbal supplements are more likely to be severe and to result in liver transplants, Dr. Navarro said. And unlike prescription drugs, which are tightly regulated, dietary supplements typically carry no information about side effects. Consumers assume they have been studied and tested, Dr. Bonkovsky said. But that is rarely the case. “There is this belief that if something is natural, then it must be safe and it must be good,” he said.


27 December, 2013

Why you should eat nuts in pregnancy: Now doctors say it lowers risk of baby developing allergy

I proposed this about a year ago -- JR

Children could have a lower risk of developing a peanut allergy if their mothers eat more nuts in pregnancy, researchers claim.  Their study adds to growing evidence that eating nuts while expecting a baby  has no damaging effect on the unborn child.

Those with peanut allergies can develop breathing problems if they eat or come into contact with nuts. The most severely affected are at risk of life-threatening anaphylactic shock.

Mothers-to-be were previously advised to avoid peanuts, especially if there was a history of allergies such as eczema or asthma in the family, for fear of the baby developing a sensitivity to nuts. One in seven who are sensitive go on to develop allergies.

But now doctors see little harm in peanuts and other nuts, unless the mother herself already has an allergy. In the latest study, researchers looked at data held on 8,205 children.

Some 308 had food allergies. Of these, 140 were allergic to peanuts, which are part of the legume family, or ‘tree nuts’, such as almonds, brazils, cashews, hazelnuts and pistachios.

The findings showed children whose mothers ate peanuts or other nuts five times a week or more had the lowest risk of developing an allergy.

However, this benefit was not found among children of those who had a nut allergy, according to the study published in medical journal JAMA Pediatrics.

Study leader Dr Lindsay Frazier, of the Dana-Farber Children’s Cancer Center in Boston, said: ‘Our study supports the hypothesis that early allergen exposure increases the likelihood of tolerance and thereby lowers the risk of childhood food allergy.’

Dr Ruchi Gupta, of the Northwestern University Feinberg School of Medicine in Chicago, said the study showed that women should not restrict their diets during pregnancy.

‘Certainly, women who are allergic to nuts should continue avoiding nuts,’ she said. ‘Pregnant women should not eliminate nuts from their diet as peanuts are a good source of protein and also provide folic acid, which could potentially prevent both neural tube defects and nut sensitisation.’

The number of British children allergic to peanuts has doubled in the past 20 years for reasons which remain unclear.

Until recently parents were advised to avoid giving children peanuts until the age of three in a bid to reduce allergies. Women are now told they can eat peanuts, or food containing peanuts, during pregnancy unless they are allergic to them or a health professional advises against it.

Indeed some doctors believe exposure to peanuts early in life primes a child’s immune system which defuses the threat of developing an allergy.

Dr Adam Fox, a consultant children’s allergist at Guy’s and St Thomas’s NHS Foundation Trust, said: ‘The results of this study are interesting but contradict other studies that have either shown no effect of nut consumption during pregnancy or suggested a possible risk from increased consumption.

'To make things even more complicated, there is also strong evidence to suggest that nut allergy doesn’t develop until after birth and that it is exposure of the infant’s skin to nut protein that is most important in the development of allergy.’

He said the latest international guidelines suggested ‘no need to either avoid nuts, nor to actively eat them’.


Teenagers who smoke cannabis have 'poor memory and abnormal brain structures'

This is suggestive but not proof.  Maybe inadequate people are more likely to use MJ

Teenagers who use cannabis regularly risk damaging their memory, scientists say – in turn leading to poor academic performance.

They believe the brain abnormalities last for ‘at least a few years’ after users have stopped taking the drug.

The researchers also said there was fresh evidence the habit may cause mental health problems in youngsters predisposed to schizophrenia.

Marijuana is the most commonly used illicit drug among adolescents in the UK, with more than four in ten admitting having taken it.

Almost 100 teenagers took part in the US research examining the effects of cannabis deep in the brain.  It found teenagers who smoked it daily for about three years had abnormal changes in the brain structures related to remembering and processing information and they performed poorly on memory tasks.

The brain abnormalities and memory problems were found on MRI scans when study participants were in their early twenties – two years after they had stopped smoking the drug.

Memory-related structures in their brains appeared to shrink and collapse inward and the researchers said such damage was linked to poor academic performance and everyday functioning.

The study also shows the marijuana-related brain abnormalities look similar  to those seen in schizophrenia patients.

Lead author Matthew Smith, a professor in psychiatry and behavioural sciences at Northwestern University Feinberg School of Medicine, Chicago, said: ‘The study links the chronic use of marijuana to these concerning brain abnormalities that appear to last for at least a few years after people stop using it.

‘With the movement to decriminalise marijuana, we need more research to understand its effect on the brain.’  He said chronic cannabis use may lead to changes in brain structure associated with having schizophrenia.

Of the 15 marijuana smokers who had schizophrenia in the study, 90 per cent had started using the drug heavily before they developed the mental disorder.

Professor Smith added: ‘If someone has a family history of schizophrenia, they are increasing their risk of developing schizophrenia if they abuse marijuana.  ‘If you have schizophrenia and you frequently smoke marijuana, you may be at an increased risk for poor working memory, which predicts your everyday functioning.’

The study, published in the journal Schizophrenia Bulletin, is the first to target key brain regions in the deep grey matter of chronic marijuana users with MRI scanning.

It is also the first time abnormalities in these regions have been linked with an impaired working memory – the ability to remember and process information in the moment and then transfer it to long-term memory.

Participants started using marijuana daily aged 16-17 for about three years – and had been free of the drug for around two years at the time of the study.

The 97 teenagers who took part included healthy people, those with a marijuana use disorder and schizophrenia patients.

The younger the individuals were when they started chronically using marijuana, the more abnormally their brain regions were shaped, suggesting parts related to memory are more susceptible to the effects of the drug if abuse starts at an earlier age.

Under the Labour government cannabis was downgraded from class B to class C in 2004, which critics argued gave the ‘green light’ to use by youngsters.  The decision was reversed in 2008 when ministers decided to overturn official scientific advice and return it to class B.


24 December, 2013

An apple a day could be as good as a statin for over-50s

This is just mathematical modelling:  Proves nothing

An apple a day could stop you having a heart attack – and may even be as effective as taking a statin.  Healthy over-50s who add a daily apple to their diet can benefit as much as those who start taking a tablet, Oxford University researchers claim.

Their study goes some way to proving the proverb coined by the Victorians: ‘An apple a day keeps the doctor away.’

The scientists’ calculations suggest that prescribing an apple a day to everyone aged 50 and over would prevent or delay around 8,500 heart attacks and strokes a year in the UK.

The health benefits are similar to giving statins to everyone over 50 who is not already taking cholesterol-lowering drugs.

Dr Adam Briggs, of the British Heart Foundation Health Promotion Research Group at Oxford University, said: ‘The Victorians had it about right when they came up with: “An apple a day keeps the doctor away.” It just shows how effective small changes in diet can be, and that both drugs and healthier living can make a real difference in preventing heart disease and stroke.’

He added: ‘While no one currently prescribed statins should replace them with apples, we could all benefit from simply eating more fruit.’

In the study, published in the Christmas edition of the British Medical Journal, researchers used mathematical models to assess the impact of prescribing a daily apple for all older adults.

They assumed almost three-quarters would eat their apple a day and that overall calorie intake stayed constant.

They estimate 5.2million people are now eligible for statins in the UK, and if it became policy to prescribe statins to all over-50s as some doctors want, a further 17.6million would be offered them.

But this would also lead to a spate of side effects, including 1,000 extra cases of muscle disease, and more than 10,000 extra diagnoses of diabetes.

The researchers calculate that offering a daily statin to 17.6million more adults would reduce annual vascular deaths by 9,400. However, offering a daily apple to 70 per cent of Britons aged over 50 – 22million people – would avert 8,500 vascular deaths.

The scientists calculated that anyone eating one portion of fruit and vegetables, such as an apple, a day benefits from a 12 per cent reduction in their risk of heart attack and stroke.

And this protection from one portion is roughly equivalent – in a person at low or moderate risk of heart problems – to the reduction in vascular death from taking a statin.

The calculations suggest anyone already eating an apple a day would gain an additional 12 per cent protection from a second apple.

The more portions of fruit and vegetables you eat, the greater protection against deaths from these causes. Latest official figures show only one in three achieve the target of five portions of fruit and vegetables a day.

Dr Peter Coleman of The Stroke Association said: ‘While it is vital those who have been prescribed the cholesterol-lowering drugs statins continue to take this highly effective medication, everyone can lower their risk of stroke with simple lifestyle changes, such as a balanced diet.


How do Americans waste $28 billion a year? On vitamins, doctors say      

Looking for ways to save money in 2014? Here's some advice from doctors: Stop buying vitamins.

Time after time, studies have shown that vitamin and mineral supplements don’t prevent disease or death. And yet consumers keep buying them, lament the authors of an editorial published in Tuesday’s edition of the Annals of Internal Medicine.

A 2011 report from the National Center for Health Statistics estimated that 53% of American adults used some type of supplement in the years 2003 to 2006, with multivitamin/multimineral formulations being the most popular. Those pills weren’t cheap – U.S. consumers spent $28 billion on them in 2010 alone, the editorial says.

Three new studies published in the Annals of Internal Medicine add yet more data to the mountain of evidence that most people get all the vitamins and minerals they need from food:

A meta-analysis conducted for the U.S. Preventive Services Task Force found “no consistent evidence that the included supplements affected CVD (cardiovascular disease), cancer, or all-cause mortality in healthy individuals without known nutritional deficiencies. Other systematic reviews have arrived at this same conclusion.” The analysis was based on the results of 27 studies involving more than 450,000 people.

A study involving nearly 6,000 male doctors age 65 and older found that cognitive function and verbal memory were no better in the men who took a daily multivitamin than in men who took a placebo. The doctors were tracked for 12 years.

Finally, a clinical trial testing whether a multivitamin could help prevent serious heart problems – including death – in patients who already had one heart attack concluded that the supplements didn’t help.

These results were right in line with other studies that have found “no clear benefit” from taking multivitamins, antioxidants, folic acid and B vitamins, the editorial says.

And those are the good outcomes. Trials of beta-carotene, vitamin E and high doses of vitamin A linked those supplements with an increased risk of premature death.

As far as the five editorial writers are concerned, the jury is still out on only one supplement – vitamin D. Studies to assess whether extra vitamin D could prevent falls in older people have had mixed results. As researchers continue to sort this out, consumers should be aware that there’s no “solid evidence” that this vitamin will be helpful to most people.

“The message is simple: Most supplements do not prevent chronic disease or death, their use is not justified, and they should be avoided,” the five physicians write.

And just in case that message is not simple enough, the headline spells things out even more clearly – “Enough is Enough: Stop Wasting Money on Vitamin and Mineral Supplements.”


23 December, 2013

Alert issued on two commonly used crop pesticides which may damage the brains of children and unborn babies

And pigs might fly.  Rodent studies only.  Neonicotinoids have been very widely used for a couple of decades now, suggesting that any real harm among humans would be well-known and obvious by now

A safety watchdog has issued an alert about two food crop pesticides, which may damage the brains of babies in the womb and children.

The suspect chemicals are used around the world on farms growing grapes, strawberries, lettuce, tomatoes, tea and oranges.  They are part of a new group of pesticides called neonicotinoids, which are also used in some flea treatments for cats and dogs.

Experts at the European Food Safety Authority (EFSA) have found there is good evidence that they can damage the developing human nervous system – particularly the brain.

The harmful effects on brain development were similar to those caused by nicotine found in tobacco.

Such a finding suggests these chemicals are a particular threat to developing babies and children by damaging their ability to learn, which could limit their achievements in school and later life.

As a result, the European experts are recommending that the residue levels that are allowed on food crops should be lowered as a safety measure.

The experts are also calling for a comprehensive new testing regime to understand whether other chemicals in the same group could have the similar harmful effects.

The pesticides - Acetamiprid (ACE) and Imidacloprid (IMI) – belong to a new class of insecticides called neonicotinoids that are widely used to protect crops from insects and domestic animals from fleas.

These chemicals have been at the centre of concerns about a danger to bees, which are vital to pollinate food crops. However, this is the first time that concerns about harm to human health have prompted demands for new safeguards from an official watchdog.

Research on the harmful effects of the pesticides have been assessed by EFSA’s Panel on Plant Protection Products and their Residues (PPR).

One study with rats showed that offspring exposed to imidacloprid suffered brain shrinkage, reduced activity of nerve signals controlling movement, and weight loss.

Another rat study found that acetamiprid exposure led to reduced weight, reduced survival, and a heightened response to startling sounds.

EFSA said: ‘The PPR Panel found that acetamiprid and imidacloprid may adversely affect the development of neurons and brain structures associated with functions such as learning and memory.

‘It concluded that some current guidance levels for acceptable exposure to acetamiprid and imidacloprid may not be protective enough to safeguard against developmental neurotoxicity and should be reduced.’

This will mean lowering the acceptable residue levels that exist for food, such as fruit, vegetables and tea.

Georgina Downs of the UK Pesticides Campaign said it was astonishing that the pesticides had been approved for use on food crops without thorough testing to establish any harmful effects on the human nervous system and brain.


There is NO clear link between passive smoking and lung cancer, scientists claim

This has been known for years but people just don't want to believe it

There is no clear link between passive smoking and lung cancer, American scientists have claimed.  Researchers from Stanford University say their findings add to a body of evidence which shows that while smoking cigarettes is strongly linked to cancer, passive smoking is not.

Their large U.S. study of more than 76,000 women did not find a link between the disease and secondhand smoke.

Only people who live in the same house as a smoker for over 30 years might be more likely to develop lung cancer, they say.

‘The fact that passive smoking may not be strongly associated with lung cancer points to a need to find other risk factors for the disease [in nonsmokers],’ said Ange Wang, a medical student at Stanford University, who presented the study at the meeting of American Society of Clinical Oncology in Chicago.

Researchers from the university and other institutions examined data from the Women’s Health Initiative Observational Study to come up with their controversial findings.

Data for 76,304 participants about passive smoking exposure in childhood, the adult home and work for was studied.  Of those that took part, 901 people developed lung cancer over 10.5 years of follow-up.

The study, published in the Journal of the National Cancer Institute said the incidence of lung cancer was 13 times higher in current smokers and four times higher in former smokers than those who have never smoked cigarettes.

Unsurprisingly, the risk of the disease for both current and former smokers depended on their level of exposure.

However, among the women who had never smoked and those who were exposed to secondhand smoke, there was not any ‘significant’ statistical increase in lung cancer risk

‘The only category of exposure that showed a trend toward increased risk was living in the same house with a smoker for 30 years or more,’ the researchers claimed.

While the latest study might surprise many, it is not the first research to come to the same conclusion.

Writing for The Telegraph, author and journalist James Delingpole pointed out that between 1959 and 1989, two staunch anti-smoking campaigners called James Enstrom and Geoffrey Kabat surveyed 118,094 Californians in a bid to prove that smoking had damaging side effects to smokers’ nearest and dearest.

However, they reportedly discovered that exposure to ‘environmental tobacco’ or secondhand smoke, did not significantly increase a person’s risk of lung cancer or heart disease – even if they had been exposed for long periods of time.

Mr Delingpole also said that the World Health Organisation came to a similar conclusion in 1998 after a seven-year study, as well as the Greater London Assembly and the House of Lords Economic Affairs Committee.

But despite a growing body of evidence, politicians still went ahead with the smoking ban between 2006 and 2007 in the UK.

Epidemiologist Dr Geoffrey Kabat, an advisor to the American Council on Science and Health (ACSH) from the Albert Einstein College of Medicine in New York City, said the latest study does not come as a surprise.  He told ACSH: ‘The association is weak and inconsistent.’

‘We should not overstate the weak and uncertain association [of lung cancer] with passive smoking and should be looking for other, larger risk factors for lung cancer occurring in never smokers.'


22 December, 2013


 Really smart guy takes down idiot spouting anti-vaccination rhetoric. Awesome

We’ve never really considered Tumblr to be a beacon of intelligent discussion and debate. To be honest, 99% of Tumblr posts have a hashtag that can somehow be traced back to One Direction, and an even higher percentage of posts are GIFs, most serving as illustrations for some sort of fan fiction.

But, this amazing Tumblr conversation that is doing the rounds on the Internet today may have just changed our minds.

It started with this ill-informed analogy, posted by an anti-vaxxer:

anti vaccination 1 Really smart guy takes down idiot spouting anti vaccination rhetoric. Awesome.

But then the post was seen by an immunologist. And that’s when things started to get interesting:

anti vaccination 2 Really smart guy takes down idiot spouting anti vaccination rhetoric. Awesome.

And more interesting:

anti vaccination 3 Really smart guy takes down idiot spouting anti vaccination rhetoric. Awesome.

And even MORE interesting:

anti vaccination 4 Really smart guy takes down idiot spouting anti vaccination rhetoric. Awesome.

Until the debate was shut down. And rationality had won.

At which point Tumblr celebrated in the only way that Tumblr knows how:

anti vaccination 5 Really smart guy takes down idiot spouting anti vaccination rhetoric. Awesome.

While stories like these might seen funny, they really aren’t. The rise of vaccine objectors is something that is already starting to affect the health of our communities most vulnerable members.

This story serves as a reminder of the power of knowledge in the face of ignorance, and the power of any one person to speak up and stop myths from being perpetuated.


How babies breast-fed for longer do better in class at five

High IQ is the best predictor of breastfeeding so of course the kids of those mothers do better  -- from genetics alone

Children who are breast-fed for longer do better in school by the time they are five, new research claims.

Assessments by teachers at the end of year one revealed that children who had been breast-fed for the longest reached the highest overall levels of achievement.

Importantly, the teachers making the assessments were not aware whether the children had been given mainly breast milk or formula milk.

The research, published in the journal Maternal and Child Nutrition, involved 5,489 children in England.

When their child was nine months old, mothers were asked about their breastfeeding habits.

Two thirds of children had been breast-fed at some stage, 32 per cent had been breast-fed for at least four months and 16 per cent had been exclusively breast-fed for more than four months.

Their educational achievement was then measured using the Foundation Stage Profile – an assessment made by teachers at the end of the first year of school, before the child reaches their fifth birthday.

Teachers rated children on 13 scales covering six areas of development, with scores based on continuous assessment throughout the year.

Half of all children in the study reached the expected standard of achievement for their age – but the figure was only 37 per cent for children who had never been breast-fed.

It was 49 per cent for those breast-fed for under two months, 56 per cent for those breast-fed for between two and four months and 60 per cent for those who were breast-fed for four months or more.

The results were then adjusted to take into account factors such as the mother’s educational level, their socioeconomic status and their childcare arrangements.

Children breast-fed for up to two months were 9 per cent more likely to have reached a good level of overall achievement than children who had never been breast-fed.

Those breast-fed for between two and four months were 17 per cent more likely to have a good level of overall achievement and the effect was similar in children breast-fed for more than four months.

The researchers, from the National Perinatal Epidemiology Unit at the University of Oxford, said the study proved that breastfeeding children for longer periods could improve their performance at primary school and help them develop faster.

They suggested that this was because the essential fatty acids found in breast milk can help cognitive development.

However babies not getting breast milk are more prone to infections – which could slow down their academic progress.

Breastfeeding was linked to better achievement in all areas – but the gains were strongest in communication, language and literacy, knowledge and understanding of the world and physical development.

Breast-fed children also tended to get higher scores for personal, social and emotional development, problem-solving, reasoning and numeracy and creative development.

The study comes after the introduction of a controversial scheme, which gives women shop vouchers in return for breastfeeding.

Currently one in four women in the UK does not attempt to breastfeed – one of the worst rates in the world.

A report on the study said: ‘The longer the children had been breast-fed, the more likely they were to reach a good level of educational achievement at 5 – an important predictor of later academic and employment outcomes.’


20 December, 2013

Aspirin may help in fight against 'anger syndrome'

All theory so far

If you have a quick temper it may calm you to learn that bouts of rage could be cured by simply taking an aspirin.

A study has found that uncontrollable anger may be the result of inflammation in the body. Intermittent explosive disorder (IED), which is known as “anger syndrome”, usually begins in the late teens and is defined as a “failure to resist aggressive impulses”.

US researchers found that IED sufferers had higher markers of inflammation in the blood. Levels of one protein were on average twice as high in those diagnosed with IED, while another marker molecule was present in those with the worst records of aggressive behaviour.

“These two markers consistently correlate with aggression and impulsivity but not with other psychiatric problems,” said Prof Emil Coccaro, the lead scientist from the University of Chicago.

“We don’t yet know if the inflammation triggers aggression or aggressive feelings set off inflammation, but it’s a powerful indication.”

The discovery, which is published in the journal JAMA Psychiatry, raises the prospect of treating such anger with common drugs such as aspirin, an anti-inflammatory.

Prof Coccaro said uncontrollable rage was a mental health condition that should not be dismissed as “bad behaviour”. A study in 2006 found that the disorder affects up to five per cent of adults.


No evidence antibacterial chemicals used in liquid soaps actually prevent spread of germs... and they could even damage health, watchdog finds

The Food and Drug Administration said today there is no evidence that antibacterial chemicals used in liquid soaps and washes help prevent the spread of germs, and there is some evidence they may pose health risks.

The agency said it is revisiting the safety of chemicals like triclosan in light of recent studies suggesting they can interfere with hormone levels and spur the growth of drug-resistant bacteria.

The government's preliminary ruling lends new credence to longstanding warnings from researchers who say the chemicals are, at best, ineffective and at worst, a threat to public health.

Under its proposed rule released Monday, the agency will require manufacturers to prove that their antibacterial soaps and body washes are safe and more effective than plain soap and water.

Manufacturers will have a year to prove it after the FDA said: 'To put it simply, we need to collect additional information from the companies that make these products so that consumers can be confident about their effectiveness and about their safety.'

If companies cannot demonstrate the safety and effectiveness of their products, they would have to be reformulated, relabeled or possibly removed from the market.

The agency will take comments on its proposal before finalizing it in coming months.

'Due to consumers' extensive exposure to the ingredients in antibacterial soaps, we believe there should be a clearly demonstrated benefit from using antibacterial soap to balance any potential risk,' said Dr. Janet Woodcock, director of the FDA's drug center.

'The proposed rule covers only those antibacterial soaps and washes that are used with water. It does not apply to hand sanitizers, hand wipes or antibacterial soaps that are used in health care setting such as hospitals', the FDA said in their blog.

They aim to have their final rule by September 2016.

The agency's proposal comes more than 40 years after the agency was first tasked with evaluating triclosan and similar ingredients.

At least 2,000 different soap products contain triclosan or some other antimicrobial agent and it is also used in toothpaste to kill germs that cause gum disease, the FDA's Dr. Sandra Kweder said.

Ultimately, the government agreed to publish its findings only after a three-year legal battle with the environmental group, Natural Resources Defense Council, which accused the FDA of delaying action on triclosan.

The chemical is found in an estimated 75 percent of antibacterial liquid soaps and body washes sold in the U.S.

The FDA's preliminary rule only applies to personal hygiene products, but it has implications for a $1 billion industry that includes thousands of antibacterial products, including kitchen knives, toys, pacifiers and toothpaste.

Most of the research surrounding triclosan's safety involves animal studies, which cannot always be applied to humans.

But some scientists worry the chemical can disrupt hormones in humans too, raising the risk of infertility, early puberty and other developmental problems.

Other experts are concerned that routine use of antibacterial chemicals like triclosan is contributing to a surge in drug-resistant germs, or superbugs, that render antibiotics ineffective.

In March 2010, the European Union banned the chemical from all products that come into contact with food, such as containers and silverware.


19 December, 2013

Eating lots of junk food for just one WEEK can damage your memory permanently

If you are a rat

Everyone knows that junk food is bad for the waistline, but new research suggests it can damage memory, too.

Australian researchers found that even a short term diet of junk food can have a detrimental effect on the brain’s cognitive ability.

The study suggests that obesity can trigger rapid changes in the brain.

Scientists from the University of New South Wales (UNSW) showed for the first time that rats fed a diet high in fat and sugar had impaired memory after just a week.

Interestingly, the results were similarly poor for the rats fed a healthy diet that had been given sugar water to drink, according to the study, which was published in the journal Brain, Behaviour and Immunity.

The animals found it more difficult to recognise specific places after their junk food diet and showed a lesser ability to notice when an object shifted to a new location.

The mice also had inflammation of the hippocampal region of the brain, which is associated with spatial memory.

‘We know that obesity causes inflammation in the body, but we didn't realise until recently that it also causes changes in the brain,’ said Professor Margaret Morris from UNSW Medicine, who co-authored the study.

‘What is so surprising about this research is the speed with which the deterioration of the cognition occurred,’ she said.

‘Our preliminary data also suggests that the damage is not reversed when the rats are switched back to a healthy diet, which is very concerning.’

Some aspects of the animals' memories were spared, regardless of their diets.

All the animals were equally able to recognise objects after eating either the healthy, healthy with sugar or ‘cafeteria’ diets, the latter of which was high in fat and sugar, including cake, chips and biscuits.

The change in the animals' memory appeared even before the mice eating junk food gained any weight.

‘We suspect that these findings may be relevant to people,’ said  Professor Morris.


Poll: Americans want the government to stop banning everything they like 

Americans want the government to stop acting like their mother.   According to a Reason-Rupe poll, Americans do not want government to ban trans-fats, e-cigarettes, online poker, violent video games or genetic testing kits.

Many Americans are becoming frustrated with the government’s growing involvement in what they believe should be their personal decisions.

For one, they do not want the government to be their personal nutritionist. The poll found that 71 percent of Americans oppose the Food and Drug Administration’s proposed trans-fats ban. Only 24 percent of Americans would support measures to outlaw the additive.

The FDA also mandated that the genetic testing company 23andMe halt production of its DNA testing kits. The agency says the company has not gone through the testing required by the Food, Drug and Cosmetic Act of 1938.

A 55 percent majority believes that the government should not be allowed to bar them from purchasing the kit. Thirty seven percent told Reason-Rupe that they want this ban to remain in place.

A large majority, 76 percent, said that the government should not be able to prohibit the sale of beverages with large amounts of caffeine. Twenty one percent think the government has the authority to ban the drinks.

Debates across the country have erupted over whether or not electronic cigarettes should be permitted in public places and seven cities have moved to ban the devices. However, 66 percent of those polled think people deserve legal rights to smoke e-cigarettes freely in public locations. Thirty-four percent are against the open use of the devices.

And Americans don’t want the government to act as a video game police. Sixty-six percent told Reason-Rupe that the government should not be able to decide whether they play games like Mario Cart or the gory zombie video game Left for Dead. Some 31 percent want violent video games banned.


18 December, 2013

14p-a-day tablet could ease pain for millions of arthritis sufferers without dangerous side effects

This appears to be a very early result from an uncontrolled study

Scientists believe they can help millions of people suffering from arthritis with a new 14p-a-day tablet.  Spironolactone, usually used for high blood pressure and heart failure, could help people with osteoarthritis, it is claimed.

The research at Dundee University has shown it could be a breakthrough for the six million people suffering from the debilitating condition across the country.

Initial tests showed it has painkilling potential and now the scientists are setting up more trials to see its full potential, the Express reports.

Professor Alan Silman, medical director of Arthritis Research UK, has put £135,000 towards the cost of the research.  He said: 'Spironolactone has been around for decades so we know it is safe.'

Osteoarthritis is most common among older people and causes swelling and stiffness in joints.  There is no cure for the extremely painful condition and long-term treatment can include having artificial joints.

Researchers found Spironolactone, which lowers blood pressure, also works to lessen pain in arthritis sufferers.

The study, lead by Professor Marion McMurdo, head of ageing and health at Dundee University, gave 25mg of the drug every day for five months and found it helped sufferers.

Researchers are now bringing in 86 patients, all aged 70 or over, to carry out further tests.

These patients will either be given the drug or a placebo over a 12 week period and the results will help determine if their theory is correct.


A lip balm good enough to eat... literally! (No beetles were harmed making this edible, beetroot-infused strawberry lippy)

"Natural" ingredients guarantee nothing.  Ricin is natural but also highly toxic

We've all stood in Body Shop and wondered if the strawberry bubble bath tastes as good as it smells. I dare say some of us have given it a whirl (and swiftly regretted it...).  But now there is a beauty product that really is good enough to eat.

Australian natural skincare brand MooGoo have created a range of lip balms made entirely of ingredients that are chemical-free, completely vegetarian and wholly edible - especially important in lip products where most of the substance does end up eventually being eaten.

The range features three lip balms, Cow Lick, Tingling Honey, and Strawberry Tinted, the last of which gets its lasting red hue from red beetroot extract rather than the usual cochineal insect dye.

A MooGoo spokesperson said: 'When we were looking at how to add a subtle and natural colour to our Edible Lip Balms, we found that most other brands used "Cochineal" as their natural red colouring.

'This can also be called "Carmine", "Natural Colours" or "Natural Red Number 4". This is made by boiling Cochineal insects in water and extracting the red dye from the insects as it breaks down.

'Although there is nothing wrong with this (except if you are a Cochineal beetle), it made us feel a bit funny about having bug residue on our lips, and so we looked for something nicer.'

After searching, MooGoo found that red beetroot extract gave a much more natural looking colour, and was totally bug-free and healthy when ingested.  And instead of tasting like beetroot, MooGoo use a natural strawberry flavour for the taste.

The brand's all-natural balms were formulated after reading the ingredients on a lip balm they were used during a long car trip.

'The feel of the lip balms we used to use were great. The chemicals used were not. Especially on lips where most of the product is eventually eaten.  'Chemicals can build up in the body over time.  What for years might be harmless, can all of a sudden cause a reaction.

'We have made a lip balms that feel similar to our favorite lip balms from before. However, because we make it for our own use, the ingredients are all edible.'


17 December, 2013

Exercise just as good as drugs in war on major disease

Those who "enrolled on exercise programmes" may have been healthier to start with

Exercise could be as effective as some of the best drugs which protect against major diseases, research has found.

A study of more than 300 trials has found that physical activity was better than medication in helping patients recovering from strokes - and just as good as drugs in protecting against diabetes and in stopping heart disease worsening.

The research, published in the British Medical Journal, analysed data about studies on 340,000 patients diagnosed with one of four diseases: heart disease, chronic heart failure, stroke or diabetes.

Researchers said the findings suggested that regular exercise could be "quite potent" in improving survival chances, but said that until more studies are done, patients should not stop taking their tablets without taking medical advice.

The landmark research compared the mortality rates of those prescribed medication for common serious health conditions, with those who were instead enrolled on exercise programmes.

Most of the 305 studies examined involved patients had been given drugs to treat their condition. But 57 of the trials - involving 15,000 volunteers - examined the impact of exercise as a treatment.

The research found that while medication worked best for those who had suffered heart failure, in all the other groups of patients, exercise was at least as effective as the drugs which are normally prescribed.

People with heart disease who exercised but did not use commonly prescribed medications, including statins, and drugs given to reduce blood clots had the same risk of dying as patients taking the medication.

Similarly, people with borderline diabetes who exercised had the same survival chances as those taking the most commonly prescribed drugs.

Drugs compared with exercise included statins, which are given to around five million patients suffering from heart disease, or an increased risk of the condition.

The study was carried out by researcher Huseyin Naci of LSE Health, London School of Economics and Political Science and Harvard Medical School, with US colleagues at Stanford University School of Medicine.

He said prescription drug rates are soaring but activity levels are falling, with only 14 per cent of British adults exercising regularly.

In 2010 an average of 17.7 prescriptions was issued for every person in England, compared with 11.2 in 2000.

Mr Naci said: “Exercise should be considered as a viable alternative to, or alongside, drug therapy.”

Dr John Ioannidis, the director of the Stanford Prevention Research Center at the Stanford University School of Medicine, said: “Our results suggest that exercise can be quite potent.”

Other medications compared with exercise included blood-clotting medicines given to patients recovering from stroke, and alpha-glucosidase inhibitors given to patients on the cusp of developing diabetes.

Only the patients who were recovering from heart failure fared best when prescribed drugs, where anti-diuretic medication was most effective.

However, they said their analysis found far more trials examining drugs, than those which measured the impact of exercise.

They said there was a need for more research into the benefits of exercise for those suffering from serious health problems.

Researchers stressed that they were not suggesting that anyone should stop taking medications they had been prescribed, but suggested patients should think “long and hard” about their lifestyles, and talk to their doctors about incorporating more exercise into their daily routines.


Four hours of light gardening each week could cut kidney stones

Weak effects; correlational study;  Interesting that "Intensity of activity was not associated with stone formation".  Just doing SOMETHING had an apparent effect.  Strongly indicative of a class effect

Four hours of light gardening a week is enough to lower the chance of developing kidney stones by nearly one third, researchers have found.  A study has shown that even small amounts of exercise can radically reduce the risk.

Previous research has shown that being overweight almost doubles the chance of developing kidney stones.  The condition can be incredibly painful and even require surgery.

Now Washington School of Medicine has found that keeping physically active can stop kidneys stones from forming.

They recommend three hours of average walking at 2-3 mph, four hours of light gardening, or one hour of moderate jogging at 6 mph.

The team also discovered that consuming more than 2200 calories per day increased the risk of developing kidney stones by up to 42 per cent.

Mathew Sorensen at the Washington School of Medicine and his colleagues conducted a study to evaluate whether energy intake and energy expenditure related to kidney stone formation.

They studied 84,225 women participating in the Women's Health Initiative, which has been gathering information such as dietary intake and physical activity in women since the 1990s.

"Even small amounts of exercise may decrease the risk of kidney stones—it does not need to be marathons, as the intensity of the exercise does not seem to matter," said Dr. Sorensen

"Being aware of calorie intake, watching their weight, and making efforts to exercise are important factors for improving the health of our patients overall, and as it relates to kidney stones.”

Although the study was only carried out on women, exercise is likely to have a similar effect on men.

In an accompanying editorial, Dr John Lieske of Mayo Clinic said: “Counselling for patients with stones often centers almost exclusively on diet, stressing increased fluid intake, normal dietary calcium, lower sodium, moderate protein, and reduced dietary oxalate.

“The results of Sorensen et al. suggest that a recommendation for moderate physical activity might reasonably be added to the mix," he wrote.

The study appearing in an upcoming issue of the Journal of the American Society of Nephrology

Activity, Energy Intake, Obesity, and the Risk of Incident Kidney Stones in Postmenopausal Women: A Report from the Women’s Health Initiative

By Mathew D. Sorensen et al.


Obesity is a strong risk factor for nephrolithiasis, but the role of physical activity and caloric intake remains poorly understood. We evaluated this relationship in 84,225 women with no history of stones as part of the Women’s Health Initiative Observational Study, a longitudinal, prospective cohort of postmenopausal women enrolled from 1993 to 1998 with 8 years’ median follow-up. The independent association of physical activity (metabolic equivalents [METs]/wk), calibrated dietary energy intake, and body mass index (BMI) with incident kidney stone development was evaluated after adjustment for nephrolithiasis risk factors. Activity intensity was evaluated in stratified analyses. Compared with the risk in inactive women, the risk of incident stones decreased by 16% in women with the lowest physical activity level (adjusted hazard ratio [aHR], 0.84; 95% confidence interval [95% CI], 0.74 to 0.97). As activity increased, the risk of incident stones continued to decline until plateauing at a decrease of approximately 31% for activity levels ?10 METs/wk (aHR, 0.69; 95% CI, 0.60 to 0.79). Intensity of activity was not associated with stone formation. As dietary energy intake increased, the risk of incident stones increased by up to 42% (aHR, 1.42; 95% CI, 1.02 to 1.98). However, intake <1800 activity="" against="" amount="" and="" associated="" because="" bmi="" br="" caloric="" category="" d="" did="" exercise="" formation.="" further="" higher="" in="" incident="" increased="" increases="" independent="" intake="" intensity.="" kcal="" kidney="" may="" not="" of="" physical="" postmenopausal="" primarily="" protect="" rather="" reduce="" risk="" stone="" stones.="" stones="" summary="" than="" the="" was="" with="" women="">

16 December, 2013

Aspirin is the best remedy for a sore throat, scientists say

Aspirin is one of the most effective remedies for a sore throat, says research.  A couple of tablets, dissolved in water then gargled – not swallowed – reduced sore throat pain intensity within two hours in a study by the University of Cardiff Common Cold Centre. The effect lasted for more than six hours.

Inhaling products containing menthol was also useful.

‘It provides relief from nasal congestion by causing a cool sensation in the nose and also relieves the symptoms of sore throat and cough by a local anaesthetic action,’ said Professor Ron Eccles, who led the study.

Some types of honey can fight throat infections as it naturally contains hydrogen peroxide which has antibacterial properties, according to experts at Waikato University, New Zealand.

Honey given to children at bedtime did a better job of suppressing night-time coughs than dextromethorphan found in many over-the-counter cough syrups, said research by the University of Maryland.

One other rather more unusual remedy found to be effective was acupuncture in the ear. ‘It’s may be a placebo effect but it still works,’ said Prof Eccles.


An old/new  pill PREVENTS  breast cancer for many

Preventing the body making oestrogen may be a good idea in some ways but side effects should be considered.  There's a lot of them

Thousands of women at high risk of breast cancer could benefit from a daily pill that halves their risk of developing the disease, according  to scientists.  Taking the drug anastrozole for five years cuts the risk by 53 per cent compared with a dummy pill, a trial found.

The results could transform the options for post-menopausal women with a family history of breast cancer or other risk factors.

Earlier this year NHS guidelines recommended for the first time the drugs tamoxifen and raloxifene as a preventative measure for such women.

But the latest research shows anastrozole is more effective, has fewer side effects and is just as cheap – costing around £120 in total for a preventive course of pills.

Tamoxifen cuts the risk by a third, with protection lasting up to 20 years, but it has menopause-like side-effects such as hot flushes and more serious, rarer problems including an increased risk of cancer of the womb lining.

However, the NHS guidance meant almost half a million healthy women at higher risk had a less drastic alternative to having their breasts removed, a step taken by celebrities in this group such as Angelina Jolie.

The latest study looked at almost 4,000 postmenopausal women at high risk of breast cancer with an average age of 59. Half were given 1mg of anastrozole daily and half had a placebo.

In the five years of follow-up, 40 women in the anastrozole group developed breast cancer compared with 85 women in the placebo group – a cut of 53 per cent.

The IBIS II trial, funded by the Cancer Research UK charity, was published in The Lancet medical journal.

Professor Jack Cuzick, lead researcher and head of Queen Mary University of London’s Centre for Cancer Prevention, said the National Institute for Health and Care Excellence (Nice) should urgently re-visit its guidance. ‘We now know anastrozole should be the drug of choice,’ he said.

Research shows some women taking tamoxifen long-term are deterred by the side effects.

Many breast tumours are fuelled by the hormone oestrogen. Anastrozole, brand name Arimidex, works by preventing the body making oestrogen and, like tamoxifen, has been used for years to prevent recurrence after surgery.

Women were deemed at high risk if they met criteria including having two or more blood relatives with breast cancer or having a mother or sister who developed it before the age of 50.

Experts fear there may be a significant delay in Nice reviewing the guidelines because it has only just produced them. Its guideline development group also looked at drugs like anastrozole, but there was not enough evidence at the time to support them.

Professor Tony Howell, of Genesis Breast Cancer Prevention and one of the trial investigators, said: ‘I saw over 200 women in Manchester after they completed five years on the study and found it difficult to tell whether they were on the active drug or placebo.

‘This provides us with another preventative option, which has the potential to save and prolong the lives of thousands of women.’

Professor Mark Baker, director of the Centre for Clinical Practice at Nice, said: ‘We will certainly consider this research – along with all other available evidence – when the Nice guideline on familial breast cancer is next updated.’

Dr Caitlin Palframan, Head of Policy at Breakthrough Breast Cancer, said: ‘The challenge will be ensuring drugs like these are actually offered on the NHS, as many eligible women still don't have access to the risk reducing treatments already recommended in national guidelines.

‘We're working closely with the NHS to ensure important drugs are made available to women when it's appropriate, with the support to help them make an informed choice about their options.’

Trial investigator Winthrop Professor Christobel Saunders, from The University of Western Australia’s School of Surgery, said: ‘The findings from this research may provide a new approach to prevent breast cancer, not only for women today, but also for their daughters and granddaughters in the future.’

Kate Law, director of clinical research at Cancer Research UK, said ‘This landmark study shows that anastrozole could be valuable in helping to prevent breast cancer in women at higher than average risk of disease. We now need accurate tests that will predict which women will most benefit from anastrozole and those who will have the fewest side-effects.’

Anastrozole was originally developed by British company Zeneca Pharmaceuticals, now AstraZeneca, and goes under the brand name Arimidex.


15 December, 2013

Scientists believe genetic tweaks could significantly extend  lifespans

If you are a worm.  Since humans already live vastly longer than roundworms, this is a moronic extrapolation.  We probably already have all the life-extending features that work

Living to the ripe old age of 500 might be a possibility if the science shown to extend worms' lives can be applied to humans, scientists have said.

U.S. researchers tweaked two genetic pathways in the tiny lab worm Caenorhabditis elegans and boosted the creature's lifespan by a factor of five.

The research raises the prospect of anti-ageing treatments based on genetic interactions, they said.

‘What we have here is a synergistic five-fold increase in lifespan,’ said lead scientist Dr Pankaj Kapahi, from the Buck Institute of Age Research, Novato, California.

‘The two mutations set off a positive feedback loop in specific tissues that amplified lifespan.   ‘Basically these worms lived to the human equivalent of 400 to 500 years.’

Living to the age of 500 might be a possibility if the science shown to extend worms' lives can be applied to humans, scientists said. Two mutations set off a positive feedback loop in specific tissues that enabled worms to live to the human equivalent of 400 to 500 years

While it could take years of research to extend humans’ lives dramatically, the study raises the prospect of anti-ageing treatments informed by genetic interactions, according to Dr Kapahi.

‘In the early years, cancer researchers focused on mutations in single genes, but then it became apparent that different mutations in a class of genes were driving the disease process,’ he said.
anti-ageing treatments

While it could take years of research to extend humans' lives, the study raises the prospect of anti-ageing treatments informed by genetic interactions.  ‘The same thing is likely happening in ageing,’ he added.

C. elegans, the first animal to have its whole genome (or genetic code) mapped, has been widely used in studies of ageing and lifespan.

The new research, reported in the journal Cell Reports, involved blocking key molecules that affect the action of insulin and a nutrient signalling pathway called Target of Rapamycin (TOR).

Single mutations in the TOR pathway were known to extend the lifespan of C. elegans by 30 per cent, while insulin-signalling mutations could double the amount of time they lived.

Adding the two together might have been expected to extend longevity by 130 per cent, but the combined impact turned out to be much greater.

The research may explain why it has proved so difficult to identify single genes responsible for the long lives enjoyed by human centenarians.

‘It's quite probable that interactions between genes are critical in those fortunate enough to live very long, healthy lives,’ said Dr Kapahi.

Future research is expected to use mice to see if the same effects occur in mammals.

‘The idea would be to use mice genetically engineered to have suppressed insulin signalling and then treat them with the drug rapamycin, which is well-known to suppress the TOR pathway,’ Dr Kapahi said.


Junk food and fizzy drinks cause children to be TWICE as unhappy as their healthier counterparts

This just means that middle class people were happier.  Middle class people would be the "correct" eaters.  The journal article is:  "Well-Being in Adolescence—An Association With Health-Related Behaviors: Findings From Understanding Society, the UK Household Longitudinal Study"

Fast food and fizzy drinks could be causing widespread depression among in children.  A study of 10 to 15-year-olds found that children who played sports and ate healthy foods were twice as likely to be happy.

More than 85 per cent of the 5,000 children polled admitted they did not eat five portions of fruit and veg a day, but those that did doubled their chances of a feeling of well-being.

Gender and age were key factors, with older children largely the least satisfied and girls more likely to eat healthy food.

Teenagers were more prone to eating fatty foods and takeaways, and were less happy than their younger peers.

‘Older children had more control over what they ate, and consumed more junk food,’ said researcher Dr Cara Booker, from the Institute for Social and Economic Research at Essex University.

During the study, happiness was graded through 20 questions including how well the children got on with their peers, whether they were kind and shared with others, and if they got restless or angry.

Children who ate their greens five times a day were happiest, while the ones that ate three to four a day were 20 per cent more likely to have a feeling of well-being.

The study by Essex University found that 37 per cent of boys took part in sport every day, compared with 22 per cent of girls

‘Teenagers were less likely to be happy than younger ones, but younger ones do have to deal with more socio-emotional problems as they are less developed emotionally,’ said Dr Booker.

Alcohol and smoking also played a role in the findings, with 25 per cent admitting to drinking in the previous four weeks, and seven per cent having smoked in the same period.

Children who smoked were five times less likely to be happy than non-smoking youngsters, and those that drunk alcohol were found to be about five times less cheery than their teetotal peers.

Of the younger children, eight per cent of 10 to 12 per cent had drunk alcohol.

'It goes along with what we expected to see, and when we put it together with previous findings it stands up and makes them more robust,’ said Dr Booker said.

‘In terms of eating junk food moderation is the key - we're not telling anyone they can't eat these foods, just that they shouldn't be consumed all the time.’


13 December, 2013

How traffic fumes can be deadly - even at 'safe' levels: Living near a busy road can increase risk of premature death by 7%

A tiny and hence totally insignificant effect

Living near busy roads could put men at higher risk of premature death – even when air pollution levels are rated as ‘safe’, claim researchers.  A major study found exposure to traffic pollutants can push up the risk of dying by seven per cent, compared with living in quieter neighbourhoods.

There is mounting evidence of the health dangers of pollution, which is already known to play a part in asthma attacks, heart attacks and strokes.

Microscopic particles largely generated by diesel exhausts have been shown to cause lung damage and harmful changes in blood vessels and clotting.

But the latest study adds to research showing problems occur at levels well below those stipulated in current European Union (EU) air-quality directives.

The new research examined two decades of data from 22 studies involving over 367,000 residents of large cities in 13 European countries.

Researchers looked at the impact of prolonged exposure to tiny particles of soot or dust found in traffic fumes and industrial emissions, fine-particle matter known as PM 2.5.

They estimate that for every increase of 5 micrograms per cubic metre (5 µg/m3) in annual exposure to PM 2.5, the risk of dying from rises by seven per cent.

The risk of death increased only in men, not in women.

Study leader Dr Rob Beelen from Utrecht University in the Netherlands, said ‘A difference of 5 µg/m3 can be found between a location at a busy urban road and at a location not influenced by traffic.

‘Our findings support health impact assessments of fine particles in Europe which were previously based almost entirely on North American studies.’

In the study air pollution concentrations of nitrogen oxides and particulate matter were estimated at home addresses of participants, along with traffic load on nearly major roads.

Traffic density on the nearest road and total traffic load on all major roads within 100m of the residence were also recorded.

Among the participants, 29,076 died from natural causes during the average 14 years of follow up, says a report in The Lancet medical journal (must credit).

The results showed that long-term exposure to fine particles with a diameter of less than 2.5 micrometres (PM2.5) posed the greatest threat to health even within concentration ranges well below the limits in current European legislation.

The link between prolonged exposure to PM2.5 and premature death was significant even after taking into account factors such as smoking, obesity and activity levels.

Dr Beelen said ‘Our findings suggest that significant adverse health effects occur even at PM2.5 concentrations well below the EU annual average air-quality limit value of 25 µg/m3.

‘The WHO air-quality guideline is 10 µg/m3 and our findings support the idea that significant health benefits can be achieved by moving towards this target.’

Previous research found pregnant women exposed to ‘safe’ levels of air pollution have a higher risk of giving birth to small babies.

Jeremy Langrish and Nicholas Mills from the University of Edinburgh, writing a commentary in the journal, said ‘Despite major improvements in air quality in the past 50 years, the data from Beelen and colleagues’ report draw attention to the continuing effects of air pollution on health.

‘These data, along with the findings from other large cohort studies, suggest that further public and environmental health policy interventions are necessary and have the potential to reduce morbidity and mortality across Europe.

‘Movement towards more stringent guidelines, as recommended by WHO, should be an urgent priority.’

Prof Frank Kelly, Professor of Environmental Health at King’s College London, said ‘This study enhances an increasing scientific evidence base that PM2.5 poses a danger to health at concentrations below current EU limit values and supports the ongoing WHO review of European air quality policies.

‘Results such as these, plus recently published data claiming combustion emissions in the US account for 200,000 premature deaths per year, show that policy measures have enormous potential to create a cleaner and healthier environment.

‘Such action is particularly urgent in cities where concentrations of pollutants routinely breach current EU limit values, let alone the more stringent and health-based WHO guidelines - such as London.’


Why diet cola could be making you FATTER and WRINKLIER: Low-calorie drink could be to blame for spare tyre and withered skin

Diet colas have long been regarded as the dieter's friend - but one-calorie fizzy drinks may actually be the reason you can't shift that stubborn spare tyre.

Some health experts now believe the chemicals in the drink could actually be causing your body to lay down fat deposits around your middle - dubbed 'diet cola belly' - reports Get The Gloss.

And that's not all: some experts also believe diet cola’s mix of carbonated water, colourings and sweeteners such as aspartame and acesulfame K could also speed up the ageing process, and have disastrous health consequences.

Hoards of nutritionists and scientists now claim diet cola’s image as a 'healthy' alternative to the nine-teaspoons-of sugar, regular variety of the fizzy drink is wholly misplaced.


The fructose, artificial sweeteners, and sugar alcohols (another type of low-calorie sweetener) present in diet colas can all interfere with natural gut bacteria, according to Amanda Payne of Switzerland’s Institute of Food, Nutrition and Health which published a paper in the journal Obesity Reviews.

This messes up your metabolism and disrupts the body’s way of signaling to you that you’re full and satisfied.

As a consequence, the body pumps out insulin, the hormone that controls sugar levels and fat storage, so that you lay down what Toribio-Mateas calls 'diet cola belly in the form of more fat around the midriff' - just where you wanted to shed fat.

In addition to this: 'The fake sugars in the drink are hundreds of times sweeter than sugar and trick your brain into thinking real sugar is on the way,' says Toribio-Mateas. 'When the calories don’t arrive, it triggers a cascading effect that interferes with hunger signals, blood sugar levels and satiety.'


Amanda Griggs, director of health and nutrition at the Balance Clinic in London, says: 'phosphoric acid, the ingredient that gives diet cola its appealing tangy taste and the tingle you get when it is swallowed, can cause a host of problems'.

According to one, study, published in a 2010 issue of the FASEB Journal, it can even accelerate the ageing process.

It found that the excessive phosphate levels found in sodas caused lab rats to die a full five weeks earlier than the rats whose diets had more normal phosphate levels.

The excessive phosphate levels found in sodas caused lab rats to die a full five weeks earlier than the rats whose diets had more normal phosphate levels

Phosphoric acid has also been linked to lower bone density in some studies, including a discussion in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition.

In experiments at Harvard University, the mineral was found to make skin and muscles wither and to damage the heart and kidneys over time.

However, according to the Center for Science in the Public Interest (CSPI), a consumer watchdog group not affiliated with the food industry, only a small fraction of the phosphate in diets comes from additives in soft drinks. Most comes from meat and dairy products.


Sian Porter, spokesperson for the British Dietetic Association says diet colas may lack sugar, but the acidic nature of artificially sweetened fizzy varieties means they still attack tooth enamel.

'It’s not just the sugary drinks that are causing teeth problems,' says Porter. 'Sugar raises the risk of decay, but diet drinks are equally acidic and can cause erosion in the same way.'


It has also been shown to raise the risk of type 2 diabetes and high blood pressure by some researchers. To add to the dire news for diet cola fans, results of a ten-year study found a link with cardiovascular disease among those who drank it every day; cola drinkers were found to be 43 per cent more likely to suffer a stroke or heart attack during a ten-year period than those who abstained.

Other studies have shown that the phosphorus released from phosphoric acid in just two fizzy drinks a week can cause calcium to be leached from bones, raising the risk of osteoporosis.

Cola (both diet and regular varieties) seems particularly damaging to the skeleton. Typically, a can of diet cola contains 44-62mg of phosphoric acid - more than in many other soft drinks - and researchers at Tufts University in Boston showed that women who regularly drank three or more cans a day had four per cent lower bone mineral density in their hips compared to those who preferred other soft drinks.


12 December, 2013

Father's folic acid intake BEFORE conception plays crucial role in long-term health of offspring

Rodent study only

A potential father's diet prior to conception can play a crucial part in the health of his future children, new research has found.

Canadian scientists discovered that sperm carries a 'memory' of the father's lifestyle, and is transferred to offspring follow conception.

The scientists said: ‘You are what your father eats’ and advised men thinking about starting a family to lay off junk food and fill up on green, leafy vegetables.

The advice follows a study of folic acid, a form of vitamin B, known to be key in the prevention of brain and spine defects such as spina bifida.

Women are advised to take supplements when they are trying to conceive and during the first 12 weeks of pregnancy but it now appears that men also have to think about their levels.

Dr Kimmins, of McGill University in Montreal, compared the health of mice born to fathers deficient in folic acid to that of pups sired by males with normal levels of the vitamin.  All of the mothers had normal levels of folic acid.

To the researcher’s surprise, the mice born to males low in folic acid were almost 30 per cent more likely to have birth defects, including some severe deformities of the spine and skull.  Dr Kimmins said: ‘We were most taken aback by the increased incidence of birth defects.

‘Lots of attention has been paid to a mother’s health pre-conception yet the health of the father has been pretty much ignored.  ‘Because men have their fertility through their life, they think they are good to go at any time and the focus has been on women because they are the incubators of the pregnancy. ‘But both men and women need to think about what they are doing pre-conception.’

The study, published in the journal Nature Communications, suggests that lack of folic acid makes subtle changes to the chemistry of the sperm’s DNA.  These then have long-lasting consequences for the development of the unborn baby.

Dr Kimmins said it is too early to advise prospective fathers to take supplements, instead they should eat their greens.

Good sources of folic acid include broccoli, Brussels sprouts, spinach, asparagus and peas, as well as liver, chickpeas and brown rice.  Some breakfast cereals are fortified and mandatory fortification of flour is being discussed.

The advice may be particularly relevant to overweight men and junk food fans, as both being fat and eating fatty food affects the way the body uses folic acid.

Alcohol also interferes with the vitamin. Dr Kimmins said: ‘Young lads out bar hopping need to consider that all that alcohol isn’t going to be good for their future children.

‘Our research suggests that fathers need to think about what they put in their mouths, what they smoke and what they drink and remember they are caretakers of generations to come.’

Allan Pacey, a male fertility expert from Sheffield University, said that previous research has linked folic acid with boosting male fertility.

He said: ‘I wouldn’t suggest men rush out and buy supplements because I think a normal healthy diet will give them the right amount.’


Drinking milk as teens might not protect men's bones

Boys who drink more milk during their teenage years might not see any drop in their risk for hip fractures as adults, new research suggests. Just the opposite: Their risk actually might rise.

The finding, which was not observed among women, is based on the fracture history of nearly 100,000 white men and women, middle-aged and older, who recounted their milk-drinking habits decades earlier.

"I don't consider this to be a definitive finding that would change the public-health message concerning milk at this point," said lead study author Diane Feskanich. "But even though we're very focused on milk in this country, we don't really have studies that have documented how people drink milk as kids and then have waited 50 to 60 years to see what happens to their bones.

"What we found was a little surprising. Teen milk consumption was associated with a higher fracture risk among men, but not women," said Feskanich, an assistant professor in the department of medicine at Brigham and Women's Hospital and Harvard Medical School, in Boston.

Feskanich and her colleagues discussed their findings in the Nov. 18 online issue of the journal JAMA Pediatrics.

The researchers said milk has long been touted as an essential part of teen diets. The most recent dietary guidelines from the U.S. Department of Agriculture recommend that adolescents drink at least three glasses of milk (or a dairy equivalent) each day.

The guidelines' goal is to ensure proper skeletal growth and health during adolescence, the time during which boys and girls amass roughly 95 percent of their future adult bone mineral content, the researchers said.

But they also said growing taller -- which can be spurred by drinking milk -- has itself has been linked to a greater risk for fractures, perhaps complicating milk's overall protective role regarding hip-fracture risk.

The investigators analyzed teen milk-consumption patterns that had been reported in 1986 by women participating in the Nurses' Health Study, and in 1988 by men participating in the Health Professional Follow-Up Study.

All participants were white, and milk-consumption histories (primarily involving whole milk) focused on the ages of 13 to 18. The participants' histories were provided solely on the basis of personal recall.

More than 35,000 men and nearly 62,000 women were tracked for 22 years. During this time, 490 hip fractures occurred among men and more than 1,200 occurred among women.

First, the researchers accounted for a number of possible influencing factors, such as current diet, weight, smoking history, exercise patterns, prescription drug use and current milk-consumption habits. They then determined that a man's risk for a hip fracture actually increased 9 percent for every additional daily glass of milk he had consumed while a teen.

However, no increase in adult hip fracture risk was seen among teen girls who drank more milk.

"The gender difference might be explained by several things," Feskanich said. "Difference in when women attain full height and maturity, or the fact that bone density is a bigger issue for men than women -- perhaps more of an issue than height. But at this point we're just hypothesizing."

Although the study found an association between more milk consumption in boyhood and higher risk of hip fractures in adulthood, it did not establish a cause-and-effect relationship.

In an editorial accompanying the study, Connie Weaver, a distinguished professor in the department of nutrition science at Purdue University, suggested that the findings may be flawed due to problems with the study's premise.

"When you look at the different findings concerning men and women, there are a number of reasons to ask if there is some problem with the study approach," she said.

"First of all, basic physiology among men and women ought to be the same, because calcium is the major mineral in all our bones," she said. "Their theory holds together based on the proposition that drinking milk will make boys taller and more prone to breaking bones, but the impact on height really shouldn't be different for boys and girls."

"There's also the fact that, both sexually and in terms of bones, boys and girls do develop at a different rate," she said. "To get an accurate look at the impact of teenage milk consumption, maybe the timelines shouldn't have been lined up to be exactly the same."

She also questioned how accurate the self-reports of past milk consumption might be.

"The ability to estimate what you ate a year ago is pretty difficult, not to mention decades back," Weaver said. "Boys and girls have different self-image perceptions, which we know influence what they tell you they eat. Girls always under-report; boys always over-report. That might correspond with milk consumption too."

"This is a very interesting hypothesis, but the finding just doesn't play out very logically," Weaver said. "No one should walk away from this study thinking that they or their kids should avoid milk when young."


11 December, 2013

Scientists discover radiation 'bomb' that could wipe out HIV from sufferers’ body

Study in laboratory glassware only

For years, doctors have been treating HIV patients using anti-viral drugs, the effects of which can sometimes be mixed.

Now a group of scientists in New York have tried seeing if using powerful doses of radiation - a radioactive smart bomb - might be more effective, and the results are very encouraging.

Researchers found that in patients who were blasted with a combination of antiviral drugs and radiation, the treatment was even more effective and made the HIV virus became undetectable in the body.

Dr. Ekaterina Dadachova, Ph.D., from the Albert Einstein College of Medicine in Bronx, New York is behind this pioneering research which investigated the ability of radioimmunotherapy to kill white blood cells infected with HIV.

The radio active antibodies were also able to kill significantly more HIV-infected cells in the brain whilst doing less damage to the brains delicate systems.

'Antiretroviral treatment only partially penetrates the blood brain barrier, which means that even if a patient is free of HIV systemically, the virus is still able to rage on in the brain, causing cognitive disorders and mental decline,' Dr Dadachova said in a statement. 'Our study showed that radioimmunotherapy is able to kill HIV-infected cells both systemically and within the central nervous system.'

After 30 years of fighting the deadly and incurable virus, scientists think they may be able to find a way to really kill it.

Earlier this week the White House and the National Institutes of Health announced a new, $100 million effort to try to find a cure.

In the latest study, researchers tested a modified version of a therapy now used to treat leukemia on blood taken from 15 patients with HIV, and found evidence it could clean out infected cells.

These so-called latent cells are the main reason that HIV cannot be cured – they lie low in the body, quietly resting until drug treatment stops, and then roar back into action.

The team tried the new technique on 15 patients being treated for HIV.

It killed the infected cells that were still circulating in the patients, and even penetrated into the brain – something that not many drugs can do.

“The elimination of HIV-infected cells with RIT was profound and specific,” Dr. Dadachova said. “The radionuclide we used delivered radiation only to HIV-infected cells without damaging nearby cells.”

The human immunodeficiency virus that causes AIDS infects 35 million people globally and has killed another 36 million, according to the United Nations.

There’s no cure and experimental vaccines work only poorly.

Drug treatment called antiretroviral therapy can keep the virus suppressed to such low levels that patients are healthy and much less likely to infect others.

However, the virus always seems to remain in the body somewhere, and if the drug treatment is stopped, the cells usually start pumping out more virus again.

Reservoirs of latently infected cells persist in the body, preventing the possibility of a permanent cure.

In a few extremely rare cases, patients appear to have been cured.

RIT, which has historically been employed to treat cancer, uses monoclonal antibodies- cloned cells that are recruited by the immune system to identify and neutralize antigens.

Antigens are foreign objects like bacteria and viruses that stimulate an immune response in the body.

The antibody, designed to recognize and bind to a specific cell antigen, is paired with a radioactive isotope. When injected into the patient’s bloodstream, the laboratory-developed antibody travels to the target cell where the radiation is then delivered.

“In RIT, the antibodies bind to the infected cells and kill them by radiation,” Dr. Dadachova said. “When HAART and RIT are used together, they kill the virus and the infected cells, respectively.”

'We found that radioimmunotherapy could kill HIV-infected cells both in blood samples that received antiretroviral treatment  and within the central nervous system, demonstrating RIT offers real potential for being developed into an HIV cure,'

Because the study was only conducted in blood samples and lab models, researchers say the next step is to test the treatment in clinical trials with humans.


Healthy diet 'may prevent dementia'

This is just the conventional wisdom -- that takes no account of contrary evidence.  Neither Australians nor Scandinavians eat a Mediterranean diet but both live longer than those who do.  But you would never guess that from the conventional medical literature.  The idea that the Med diet is "healthier" is simply and plainly wrong.  It was one of the errors of Ancel Keys but it lives on

THE battle against dementia should be refocused away from "dubious" drugs to the benefits of a Mediterranean diet, a group of British doctors and health experts say ahead of an international summit.

In a letter to British Health Secretary Jeremy Hunt, they said persuading people to eat fresh fruits and vegetables, nuts, fish and olive oil was "possibly the best strategy currently available".

But it was being largely ignored because of the "low awareness and prestige given to diet by many in the medical profession", they warned, calling for an education program.

Dementia experts from G8 countries will gather in London this week for a meeting convened by David Cameron as part of the UK's presidency of the group of leading economies.

Hunt has called dementia a health and care "time bomb" with the number of people living with the condition expected to triple worldwide to 135 million by 2050, according to a recent report.
Critics are also concerned about high levels of anti-psychotic drug prescription.

Among signatories to the letter were former chair of the Royal College of General Practitioners, Professor Clare Gerada, the chair of the National Obesity Forum, Professor David Haslam, Professor of Clinical Epidemiology at the University of Liverpool Simon Capewell and London cardiologist Dr Aseem Malhotra.

They said successfully encouraging people onto a healthier diet could have a "far greater impact in the fight to reduce the dramatic increasing rates of the disease than pharmaceutical and medical interventions" than the "dubious benefit of most drugs".
It can also protect against coronary heart disease, hypertension and diabetes.

Research by the University of Exeter's Medical School found a majority of studies suggested the diet could improve cognitive function, lower rates of decline and reduce the risk of Alzheimer's disease.

However, results for mild cognitive impairment - the stage before Alzheimer's or dementia, when someone could be experiencing some cognitive difficulties - were inconsistent.

"The evidence base for the Mediterranean diet, in preventing all of the chronic diseases that is plaguing the western world is overwhelming," Dr Malhotra said. "This includes cardiovascular disease, type 2 diabetes, Alzheimer's and cancer.

"Policy makers and the public need to know that such a diet is far more potent than the often dubious benefit of many medications and without side effects."

Dr Simon Poole, a leading advocate of the Mediterranean diet who organised the letter, said: "Educating all generations, including our children, in the importance of a good diet in maintaining health in old age is a project which will take years, but is absolutely essential."


10 December, 2013

Healthy food labels blamed for rise in obesity as Australians  fall into high sugar and fat trap

"HEALTHIER" foods could be to blame for rising obesity.  New research from Nutrition Australia Queensland found 96 per cent of Queenslanders were unable to tell the difference between unhealthy and healthy food.

Sneaky labelling which touts high-sugar products as low-fat, and vice versa, makes it difficult for consumers to identify healthy choices.

High-sugar breakfast cereals, Caesar salads and frozen yoghurt often marketed as healthy alternatives are the most common culprits. The Nutrition Australia Queensland study found 78 per cent of people over indulged in the high sugar, high fat snacks once or twice a day.

NAQ senior nutritionist Aloysa Hourigan said confusion over what constituted healthy and unhealthy food was driving Queensland's obesity crisis.

"People are choosing foods that are often marketed as healthy but actually contain high amounts of sugar, fat and salt," Ms Hourigan said.

Did you know there are about 10 teaspoons of sugar in a can of regular soft drink?

"A lot of diet fads and marketing messages have added to the confusion. Many people are passing up healthy foods in favour of poor choices."

The survey found almost 80 per cent of people were eating 'extras' foods up to twice a day.

"By not knowing the difference between healthy and unhealthy foods, Queenslanders are placing themselves at a higher risk of developing potentially deadly chronic diseases like heart disease and type two diabetes."

She said the findings were a grim reminder that more education was required to cut through confusing marketing messages.

"There was a widespread unawareness about how often we should be eating 'extras' foods like chocolate bars and potato chips," she said.

This exceeds the Australian Dietary Guidelines which suggest most Australians should eat little or none of these foods as part of a healthy diet.

"With this amount of confusion it is probably not surprising that recent research found Queensland has the highest rate of obesity in Australia."

Stephanie Nievelstein, 22, said she made an effort to choose healthy food options but understood why some people were struggling to tell the difference.

"It can be hard to tell what's healthy when packages market themselves as good for you or 99 per cent fat free," she said. "You need to look at the label on the back to see what's in it but even then it's tempting just to reach for the bikkies and chocolates and tell yourself it's not that bad."

Ms Hourigan recommended cutting back on high-sugar foods and keeping a food diary to track eating habits.

"Research shows recording how much you consume is one way to help reduce consumption," she said. "There are plenty of free apps that can help people record what they eat or alternatively the old-fashioned way of using a pen and paper can be just as effective.

"A single chocolate bar a day might not sound like much but over a year it could lead to weight gain of around 12kg a year. Simply saying no could help people shed up to 12kg a year."


Study casts doubt on whether extra vitamin D prevents disease

Researchers cast doubt on the prevailing wisdom that vitamin D supplements can prevent conditions like cancer, diabetes and heart disease, saying on Friday low vitamin D may be a consequence, not a cause, of ill health.

The findings could have implications for millions of people who take vitamin D pills and other supplements to ward off illness - Americans spend an estimated $600 million a year on them alone.

Vitamin D, sometimes known as the "sunshine vitamin" is made in the body when the skin is exposed to sunlight and in found in foods like fish liver oil, eggs and fatty fish such as salmon, herring and mackerel.

It is known to boost the uptake of calcium and bone formation, and some observational studies have also suggested a link between low levels of vitamin D and greater risks of many acute and chronic diseases.

But it is not clear whether this is a cause-and-effect relationship, so various large trials have been conducted to try to test whether vitamin D supplementation can reduce the risk of developing disease.

Researchers led by Philippe Autier of France's International Prevention Research Institute in Lyon analyzed data from several hundred observational studies and clinical trials examining the effects of vitamin D levels on so-called non-bone health - including links to illness such as cancer, diabetes and cardiovascular disease.

They found that the benefits of high vitamin D levels seen in observational studies — including reduced risk of cardiovascular events, diabetes and colorectal cancer - were not replicated in randomized trials where participants were given vitamin D to see if it would protect against illness.

"What this discrepancy suggests is that decreases in vitamin D levels are a marker of deteriorating health," said Autier.

In other words, he explained, serious illness like cancer and diabetes may reduce vitamin D concentrations, but that does not necessarily mean that raising vitamin D levels would prevent the illness from occurring.

Yet experts not involved in Autier's review said its conclusions were not definitive, and cautioned against reading it as a reason to dissuade people from taking vitamin D.

"This paper is very useful because it highlights the need for more long term intervention studies specifically looking at the effect of proper vitamin D supplementation on disease risk," said Nigel Belshaw, research leader at Britain's Institute of Food Research.

"However, it does not suggest that taking vitamin D supplements cannot be useful in some cases for some purposes. Neither does it rule out a health advantage of increasing vitamin D levels in the blood for those who are deficient."

Helen Macdonald, a professor of nutrition and musculoskeletal health at Britain's University of Aberdeen stressed that vitamin D was important for bone health.

"And we already know that people who are at risk of vitamin D deficiency, like older people, pregnant and breastfeeding women, young children and people with darker skin, need to take a supplement because it is difficult to boost vitamin D levels from food sources alone," she said.

She added that Autier's study did, however, appear to confirm what many nutrition experts have suspected for a while - "that healthy people probably don't need to take a high dose supplement and that the best source of vitamin D for most people is sunlight in the summer, always taking care not to burn."


9 December, 2013

Do Smarter People Drink More Alcohol?

It appears they do, but is it because they are best able to afford it?  My gin bill is considerable

It’s the booziest time of the year, and also the most hung over: According to one study, 96 percent of Americans have been hung over at work after a holiday party, or know someone who has. Creative hangover cures like dried sour plums and poached duck embryos may ease (or exacerbate) physical symptoms, but here’s something that might help the self-reproach: You can blame your hangover on your high IQ, because studies show there might be a positive correlation between intelligence and alcohol consumption.
The sooner you talk, the sooner you drink

Finnish researchers gathered data on 3,000 fraternal and identical twins and found that the sibling who was the first to develop verbal ability—speaking words, reading and using expressive language—also tended to be the first to try alcohol and to drink more heavily throughout adolescence. Verbal development may be correlated with social intelligence; the verbally precocious twin also had, on average, more friends, and could be more likely to end up in social situations where alcohol is present: “Good language skills reduce the likelihood of peer rejection… higher social activity predicts more frequent drinking in adolescence,” write the authors.

Earlier speaking age is also associated with better academic performance throughout middle and high school and a higher chance of graduating from college—and achieving higher levels of education is also correlated with higher alcohol consumption. The authors hypothesize that intelligence is correlated with curiosity and a desire for new experiences: “Cognitive performance and reading abilities in childhood are related to higher stimulation-seeking tendencies.”

Drinkers are evolutionarily adaptive

According to the Savanna-IQ Interaction Hypothesis posited by evolutionary psychologist Satoshi Kanazawa, the human brain has trouble dealing with situations that did not exist in the Pleistocene environment we evolved in, but some brains (less intelligent ones) have more trouble than others. Writes Kanazawa, “the human brain has difficulty comprehending and dealing with entities and situations that did not exist in the ancestral environment…general intelligence evolved as a domain-specific psychological adaptation to solve evolutionarily novel problems.” Alcohol consumption is “evolutionarily novel”—humans began cultivating and consuming alcohol only about 10,000 years ago (though we may have ingested trace amounts of ethanol in fermented fruits before that)—so this model would predict a link between intelligence and drinking.

When Kanazawa analyzed data on UK children, he found that link. Drawing on the results of the National Child Development Study, which tracked for 50 years all British babies born during one week in March 1958, Kanazawa found that kids who scored higher on IQ tests grew up to drink larger quantities of alcohol on a more regular basis than their less intelligent peers. He evaluated other factors, including religion, frequency of church attendance, social class, parents’ education and self-reported satisfaction with life, and found that intelligence before age 16 was second only to gender in predicting alcohol consumption at age 23. In Kanazawa’s model, illicit drugs constitute another evolutionarily novel experience—and he (and others) have also found a link between high IQ and experimentation with drugs. In Kanazawa’s study, the higher a respondent’s IQ before age 16, the more psychoactive substances he or she had tried by age 42. Another study found that 30-year-old women who had earned high scores on an IQ test at age five were more than twice as likely to have smoked weed or used cocaine in the previous year; men who had scored highly on IQ tests as children were 50 percent more likely to have recently consumed amphetamines or ecstasy.

Smart people prefer wine

A study that compared 1,800 Danish men’s IQ scores to their drinking habits from the 1950s through 1990s found a strong correlation between high IQ in young adulthood and preference for wine over beer later in life, regardless of socioeconomic status. (Very few respondents—less than 1 percent—preferred spirits; this preference was unrelated to IQ.) Twenty-two percent of men who were grouped into the highest of five IQ categories at age 18 preferred wine in their 30s, compared to 9 percent of the men grouped in the lowest IQ category. By their 40s, the differences were even more pronounced: 39 percent of the men with the highest IQs, but only 13 percent of those with the lowest, preferred wine. According to the paper, "in the predominantly beer-drinking Danish population…wine drinking has traditionally been a sign of high social standing.” The correlation among income, education, social status and intelligence could explain their findings.

College graduates drink more

Researchers at the London School of Economics examined data on thousands of British adults in their 30s and found a positive correlation between educational attainment and daily drinking. The relationship was stronger for women: Women who had graduated from college were 86 percent more likely than women who hadn’t graduated high school to admit to drinking on most days. Possible explanations include: “a more intensive social life that encourages alcohol intake; a greater engagement into traditionally male spheres of life; a greater social acceptability of alcohol use and abuse; more exposure to alcohol use during formative years; and greater postponement of childbearing and its responsibilities among the better educated.”

The link between education and drinking holds for American adults: According to the U.S. Department of Health, rates of alcohol consumption rise with education level, with 68.4 percent of college graduates describing themselves as drinkers, compared with 35.2 percent for adults without high school diplomas—perhaps reflecting people bringing the binge-drinking habits they learn on campus into adulthood.


Australia: Gluttons for government intervention

 The anti-obesity movement, unlike the targets of their attention, moves fast. As soon as they achieve one policy objective, it's on to the next.

Last week, the second annual Obesity Summit was held in Canberra by the not-for-profit health-promotion group Obesity Australia. Among those attending were many of the same activists who in June convinced the Gillard government to sign off on a new 'Health Star Rating' system for food. The government pledged that this anti-junk-food labelling system would become mandatory if, after two years, not enough food producers had signed on voluntarily.

Five months later, the health-mongers have already developed a new policy wish list, including extra taxes on unhealthy food, legal restrictions on food advertising aimed at children, and guidelines for GPs designed to make obesity a topic of every doctor's visit.

John Funder, head of Obesity Australia, says that the proposed GP guidelines would force patients to hop on the scales any time they visit a GP, even if they originally came in 'because they've got a cold or a broken toe.' The idea is to embolden doctors to raise the awkward subject of weight loss, since according to Funder, many GPs now consider mentioning a patient's weight 'an intrusion.'

Considering the intrusiveness of some of the exams these doctors routinely perform, and the various intimate, personal, and gastroenterological questions they ask their paper-gown-clad patients, Funder's proposed salve for their delicate sense of awkwardness may be a solution in search of a problem.

The second main policy push at the summit was a campaign to get the Australian Medical Association (AMA) to label obesity a 'disease.' The American Medical Association officially designated obesity a disease in June, but here in Australia the AMA has been reluctant to follow suit.

Calling obesity a disease sounds like a kind-hearted and non-judgmental way to reassure the overweight that their condition does not necessarily indicate a moral failing. But this policy push has nothing to do with overweight Australians' self-esteem and everything to do with obtaining government subsidies for 'stomach stapling' and other bariatric surgeries.

There are a multitude of weight-loss systems available on the market that are less expensive and less drastic than surgery, from nutritional counselling to personal fitness training to Jenny Craig. If our rule of thumb for government intervention is that the state should step in only when the market fails to provide, weight loss fails the test.

Four days after the Obesity Summit closed, the federal government announced a new Diabetes Task Force to be co-chaired by the doctor who gave the summit's opening lecture, which was titled, somewhat histrionically, 'An Obesity Apocalypse: Can It Be Averted?' That is as far as the government should go in supporting Obesity Australia's misguided policy agenda.


8 December, 2013

Trying for a baby? Eat Brussels sprouts: Vegetable helps boost fertility in both men and women

Just theory.  No research cited

Many people shudder at the thought of Brussels sprouts with their minds conjure up images of bitter, overcooked school vegetables.   But new research suggests that couples who are trying for a baby should tuck into a regular helping of the festive staple.

According to studies, nine per cent of all conceptions take place over the Christmas period, making December the most fertile month of the year. Parties and festive tipples are thought to be partly responsible for this trend.

However, Neema Savvides, a nutritional therapist at the Harley Street Fertility Clinic, says the increased consumption of sprouts could also play a role.  She said: ‘Believe it or not, this green micro cabbage is a baby making super food.

‘Firstly, they are bursting with folic acid which is essential for boosting fertility in both men and women.  ‘This vitamin rich source also increases sperm levels and helps line the womb with the right nutrients raising sperm survival chances.

‘Another benefit of this folic rich food is that it also helps to decrease the risk of miscarriages and birth defects.’

Brussels sprouts also contain a phytonutrient called di-indolylmethane, which helps women absorb balanced levels of the hormone oestrogen.

In fact, it binds to environmental oestrogens, like pesticides and hormones in meat and dairy products, and helps rid the body of excess hormones – this boosts fertility.

The vegetable is also thought to lower cholesterol levels and have anti-inflammatory properties.


Trials discover that controversial sweetener aspartame is actually SAFE and doesn't cause headaches or nausea

The aspartame warriors will block their ears

The controversial sweetener aspartame has effectively been cleared as safe to eat by Government experts following human feeding trials.

Human guinea pigs were fed cereal snack bars, some of which contained the artificial sweetener, by a team of researchers at Hull York Medical School.

The study recruited 50 people who had reported reactions after consuming aspartame in the past, such as headaches and nausea.

There was also a control group of another 50 others who have eaten aspartame in food and fizzy drink over many years without any ill-effects.

However, the investigation found no evidence of harm in either those who reported past sensitivity to aspartame or the control group.

Significantly, this was a so-called double-blind trial where neither the trial participants or the researchers knew which of the bars was being eaten.

Yesterday, the Food Standards Agency announced that as a result of the British research, the Committee on Toxicity(CoT) had decided there is no need to ban or control the sale or consumption of the sweetener.

The FSA said: ‘The expert committee concluded that 'the results presented did not indicate any need for action to protect the health of the public'.’

The government watchdog has not released the full details of the research because they remain confidential until they have been published in a peer reviewed journal.

And despite concluding there is no reason to protect consumers, the FSA said the committee had not carried out an overall safety evaluation of aspartame

A separate safety evaluation is being conducted by the European Food Safety Authority (EFSA), which is due to be published this month. The FSA said it will send the results of the British trial to EFSA, so they can be taken into account.

The conclusions of the experts on the CoT are unlikely to satisfy the many critics of aspartame, who include Erik Millstone, Professor of Science Policy at the University of Sussex.

He insists there is good quality independent research projects that have identified potential problems, ranging from premature births in women who enjoy diet drinks, to cancer.

Prof Millstone, of the university’s Science and Technology Policy Research unit, believes that EFSA’s evaluation is biased in favour of aspartame.

He claims the EFSA panel set up to carry out the safety assessment is dominated by experts linked to manufacturers or regulators that have previously supported aspartame.

The professor pointed to several studies that raise real questions about the safety of aspartame and justify the need for further research.

An EU funded project published in 2010 found pregnant women who down cans of fizzy drink containing artificial sweeteners appear to be at greater risk of having a premature baby,.

It is rare for a mother to be to give birth early - before 37 weeks - assuming all aspects of the pregnancy have been normal. The research found this low risk was increased by 38per cent if the woman was drinking an average of one can of diet drink a day.

The statistics, gathered by academics in Denmark, showed that a woman who routinely drank at least four cans a day could increase the risk by as much as 78per cent. This meant that if the risk of a premature birth was normally one in a 100, it increased to 1.78 in 100.

The professor also highlighted work by the independent Ramazzini Foundation in Italy, which has published research suggesting aspartame caused several types of cancer in rats at doses very close to the current acceptable daily intake for humans.

The concern about artificial sweeteners, such as aspartame, relates to the fact that they contain methanol.

Methanol is a nerve toxin, which can be metabolised in the body to form formic acid, which is another nerve toxin, as well as formaldehyde, which is the chemical used to preserve dead bodies.

All of these research studies have formed part of the EFSA review. A paper detailing the review’s draft conclusions found they did not identify a health risk.


6 December, 2013

Keep eating vegetables to give your love life a glow: Plenty of fruit and veg helps make a person more attractive

This study had NO data on food intake of any kind!

Research shows that eating lots of fruit and vegetables gives people a golden glow that makes them look more attractive. And as we don’t find the yellowy colour more appealing in other contexts, the researchers believe we have learnt to link bronzed skin with good health.

This could help us pick a mate and also ensure we avoid sickly sorts who might pass on an infection.

Those who find it difficult to eat their greens will be pleased to know that even one or two extra portions a day can make a difference.

The finding comes from York, St Andrews and Cambridge University researchers who took photos of 20 men and women and then adjusted them to create four different versions.

In one set of images, the faces had the golden glow of someone who eats a lot of fruit and veg and in a second they had the less healthy complexion of someone who eats few greens. The third and fourth sets also had contrasting skin tones but the faces were jumbled up to create abstract images that were unrecognisable as being human.

Volunteers then rated the attractiveness of the images.

The yellowness of the abstract images didn’t make a difference but the more golden faces were clearly judged as being better looking.   The results suggest that rather than being a colour we find attractive in general, yellow tells us something special when part of someone’s skin tone.


Are Vitamin C-infused showers the secret to healthy hair and skin? The new beauty trend promising to eliminate dandruff, frizz, and eczema

Just fads

Flu season’s favored antidote - Vitamin C - is now being taken out of the vitamin capsule and into the shower - but not to ward off sickness.

By reducing water’s chlorine content, Vitamin C filters - which can be purchased online for between $35 and $125 - are said to leave the hair and skin in better condition.

The devices are said to neutralize, and therefore reduce chlorine’s residual side effects like dry skin, dandruff, frizzy hair, headaches, and itchy eyes, researchers say. They can even help subside eczema.

Much like its use in pool maintenance, chlorine is typically deployed into public water supplies to disinfect the water as it travels through pipelines.

While the chlorine loses its purpose once it reaches your tap, it can still leave behind the aforementioned reactions. Vitamin C has been deemed as a foil to these side effects.

Vitamin C ‘eats’ or consumes the chlorine, and has been promoted by the U.S. Department of Agriculture as a proven chlorine neutralizer.

Chlorine filtering devices loaded with Vitamin C are already being installed in luxury hotels and condominium buildings in cities across the U.S.

The MGM Grand in Las Vegas says that Vitamin C shower filters are a key tool in ‘promoting healthy hair [and] skin.’ The hotel has installed the filters in its ‘Stay Well’ rooms.

The filters are popping up in luxury apartments too. Leonardo DiCaprio is reportedly moving into a New York City ‘health-centric’ condominium complex where the showers come furnished with Vitamin C filters.

The devices, some of which are offered as complete filtering showerheads, and others as screw-on showerhead attachments, each come with refillable cartridges that last somewhere between one and three months.

But do they work? Online reviewers seem to offer a range of opinions – making the filters’ effectiveness seem unclear.


5 December, 2013

New Study Puts Abortion-Breast Cancer Link Back in the Spotlight

Not that any evidence will convince abortion supporters

 A new study pointing to a link between breast cancer and abortion among Chinese women may breathe new life into a debate over a long-contentious issue which both sides have accused the other of exploiting to promote its cause.

The meta-analysis by Chinese researchers, published in the peer-reviewed journal Cancer Causes and Control, found a 44 percent increased breast cancer risk after an abortion. It also found that the risk grew significantly with subsequent abortions – a 76 percent increase after two abortions, 89 percent after three.

“In summary, the most important implication of this study is that IA [induced abortion] was significantly associated with an increased risk of breast cancer among Chinese females, and the risk of breast cancer increases as the number of IA increases,” said the authors, from the Tianjin Medical University Cancer Hospital’s epidemiology and biostatistics department.

Just a month ago, Chinese media were reporting on a global breast cancer study which noted a 20-30 percent increase in breast cancer incidence among middle-aged urban Chinese women over the past decade.

Among younger women, the study released by GE Healthcare found relatively low incidence, but said that would likely change.

“[O]ne may expect that the fundamental changes in reproductive patterns in China brought about by the implementation in the 1970s of the one-child policy, as well as current lifestyle changes in China caused by rapid economic growth, will potentially lead to dramatically increased rates of breast cancer in Chinese women,” it said.

The researchers at the Tianjin hospital, China’s leading cancer research and treatment institute, noted that an “alarming” increase in the incidence of breast cancer in China has coincided with implementation of the one-child policy.

That government program has restricted most Chinese couples to one child, with some exceptions for rural and ethnic minority couples. Tweaks have been made along the way, but abortion continues to be a central feature in a policy that entails prohibitive fines, loss of jobs or other punishments for those who contravene their birth quota.

Cases of forced abortion and sterilization as well as infanticide have also been recorded under the policy, while sex-selective abortions favoring boys have resulted in an increasingly lopsided gender ratio, with major sociological implications.

Women’s Rights Without Frontiers president Reggie Littlejohn, who campaigns against China’s birth-limitation policies, said the new study revealed yet another abuse.

“The strong association of abortion and breast cancer established by this study brings the women’s rights violations under the one child policy to a new level: a woman pregnant in China without a birth permit is subjected to both government imposed forced abortion, and also breast cancer as a result of it,” she said in a statement. “Where abortion is forced, the subsequent development of breast cancer becomes a violation of women’s rights in itself.”

The Chinese study was welcomed by Joel Brind, professor of endocrinology at Baruch College, City University of New York and a science advisor to the Coalition on Abortion/Breast Cancer.

In an analysis, Brind called it “a real game changer” after years of attempts by various interests to discredit earlier findings, including his own, regarding an “abortion-breast cancer” (ABC) link.

In a meta-analysis published in 1996, Brind reported that women had a 30 percent greater chance of developing breast cancer after an abortion.

Since then, said Brind, abortion advocates, charities and government agencies had “relentlessly targeted the ABC link with fraudulent studies and other attacks.”


In 2003, the U.S. National Cancer Institute (NCI) held an expert workshop that concluded that induced abortion is not linked to an increase in breast cancer risk.

The NCI’s 2003 finding is widely cited, by groups like the Guttmacher Institute, which notes that despite the NCI declaration, “medically inaccurate claims” on an ABC link can still be found in the abortion counseling materials required in some U.S. states.

The Center for Reproductive Rights similarly complained this year that despite the NCI finding, newly-enacted legislation in Kansas forces doctors “to affirm scientifically inaccurate information, such as a nonexistent link between abortion and the risk of breast cancer.”

The American Cancer Society also cites the 2003 NCI workshop findings, but is a little more cautious in its language: “At this time, the scientific evidence does not support the notion that abortion of any kind raises the risk of breast cancer or any other type of cancer.”

In 2009, an American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists committee argued that earlier findings of an ABC link were “methodologically flawed,” since there was likely “reporting bias” present.

The committee said that when retrospective studies rely on asking women about their abortion history, “the sensitive nature of abortion” could affect the accuracy of the responses.

In China, however, there is little stigma attached to abortion, a procedure often euphemistically labeled “artificial miscarriage.”  Figures released in September by China’s National Health and Family Planning Commission showed that more than 13 million abortions take place in the country’s hospitals each year, confirming figures first made public in 2009.

In fact, the new study's Chinese authors make the observation that, “The lack of a social stigma associated with induced abortion in China may limit the amount of underreporting.”

And that is one of the reasons Brind calls the new study a “game changer.”

“Putative underreporting of abortions by healthy women has been routinely invoked to discredit the ABC link – the lack of credible evidence notwithstanding,” Brind said. “This line of attack – variously called the “response bias” or “recall bias” or “reporting bias” argument, has now been neutralized.”


Could Alzheimer's be Type 2 diabetes?

Scientists claim extra insulin produced by those with disease disrupts brain chemistry.  But this is rodent research with dubious generalizability

Alzheimer's and diabetes may be the same disease, scientists claim.  They have uncovered evidence that the debilitating form of dementia may be late stages of type 2 diabetes.

The discovery would explain why nearly three quarters of patients with this form of diabetes go on to develop Alzheimer’s.

Researchers from Albany University, New York State, believe the excess insulin they produce gets into the brain and disrupts key chemicals.

Eventually masses of amyloid proteins - which poison brain cells - are created because of the excess which leads to Alzheimers, they say.

Ewan McNay from the University said: 'People who develop diabetes have to realise this is about more than controlling their weight or diet. It’s also the first step on the road to cognitive decline.

'At first they won’t be able to keep up with their kids playing games, but in 30 years’ time they may not even recognise them.'

According to the National Diabetes Audit, about 2.5m people have Type 2 diabetes, 80 per cent of which were overweight or obese. Alzheimer's affects 500,000 Britons.

The increased risk of Alzheimer's for those with Type 2 has been suspected among the scientific community for a while.

However, as many people with Type 2 are obese and therefore have shorter life-expectancies, little research has been conducted.

The scientists experimented on rats, feeding them a diet with a high-fat content in the hope the would develop Type 2.

They then tested the animal's brains and found their memory skills rapidly went down hill as their diabetes progressed.

When researchers looks at the rats' brains areas of amyloid protein could be seen. Patients with Alzheimer's have similar patterns.

McNay, who says he's cut down on chocolate since conducting the research, believes the clumps develop because, as the body becomes resistant to insulin, it produces more of the hormone.

Excess insulin then travels to the brain where it is supposed to be controlled by an enzyme that breaks down amyloid.

He explained: 'High levels of insulin swamp this enzyme so that it stops breaking down amyloid.

'The latter then accumulates until it forms toxic clumps that poison brain cells. It’s the same amyloid build-up to blame in both diseases — T2 diabetics really do have low-level Alzheimer’s.'


4 December, 2013

Why do people hate the word 'chemicals'?

Written by Dr Mark Lorch, BBC

Chemistry is everywhere in the world around us - so why are we so scared of it, asks Dr Mark Lorch.

I really enjoy my job, I'm a chemist in academia. I get to wallow in the fascinating world of research science and then pass on my passions to eager young minds.

But my job is even better than that. I'm an academic who gets let out of my ivory tower and into schools, shopping centres and festivals where I perform all the most entertaining chemistry. And I pull out all the stops - liquid nitrogen gets sloshed around in abundance, hydrogen balloons are ignited like mini-Hindenburgs, and ethanol-fuelled rockets zip around the playgrounds. Chemistry is fun.

So why is everybody scared of chemicals?

Because we are, aren't we? The very word chemical is often synonymous with toxin or poison. We use phrases like "it's chock-full of chemicals" to imply something is artificial and bad for you.

Meaningless slogans like "chemical-free" pop up on products in health food stores and billboards. And nobody seems to mind, least of all the Advertising Standards Authority (ASA). I know - I've complained to them and they told me that consumers clearly understand that "chemical-free" really means "free of synthetic chemicals".

I don't get the distinction. Why are synthetic chemicals worse than natural ones? Why is the synthetic food additive E300 bad, while the vitamin C in your freshly squeezed glass of orange juice is good? (Even though they are both the same thing.)

Chemistry is fascinating because of the way it can be used to synthesise new stuff - it's like molecular Lego. The fact that everything is made from 100-odd building blocks is remarkable. Throw chemicals in a pot in the right way and you can build the world around us.

So why is chemistry the bad boy of the sciences? Why is there this chemophobia? Biology doesn't get a bad rap - quite the opposite. Biology has amazing animals, plants, the human genome project and David Attenborough. It's natural and good.

What about physics? Well, physics is just pretty damn cool. It's got stars, lasers and the most impressive machine ever built - the Large Hadron Collider. All fronted by Brian Cox beautifully explaining the wonders of the universe. It doesn't get any cooler than that.

And then there's chemistry which, by reputation, has pollution, poisons, and weapons so bad that they warrant a Nobel Peace Prize-winning organisation to control them. And the closest thing we've got to a celebrity chemist comes from the drama Breaking Bad, where Walter White, a chemistry teacher turned drug kingpin, uses his encyclopaedic chemistry knowledge to synthesise hard drugs, poison his enemies and dissolve the bodies of his victims. He doesn't really do much to combat chemophobia.

To me, chemistry's bad reputation seems very odd. Consider the estimated 1,300 deaths in Syria as the result of sarin gas. They were, of course, absolutely horrific. But why were they worse than the 100,000 deaths caused by conventional, physical weapons?

And closer to home what's the most likely cause of injury or illness? I'm willing to bet my house that if you've been laid up in bed lately, it's been due to some biological bug or physical injury and not any sort of chemical-related poisoning. And what do you take to ease the symptoms of that dreadful stinking "natural" cold, sprained ankle or pounding headache? Some chemical analgesic of course.

It is true that chemicals can be dangerous. My horticulturist grandfather taught me that. He had a smallholding with a large brick outbuilding that housed his lab. He'd assembled the contents over years of amateur experimenting with plants and soils. To a 10-year-old fledgling chemistry geek, it was an Aladdin's cave of strange instruments, bottles and weird muddy mixtures.

Some grandfathers' idea of a treat for their grandchildren is a chewy toffee. Not mine. If we were really good, he'd get out his sodium metal, mysteriously sitting in its jar of oil (he'd acquired it some time in the distant past when health and safety wasn't quite what we know and love now). Then he'd gingerly take it to a quiet corner of his plot and, with a long pair of forceps, he'd carefully extract a lump of the soft glistening metal before hurling it into a bucket of water. FIZZZZZ, BANG!

Maybe you had a chemistry teacher who was fond of that demonstration. But trust me, my grandfather did it bigger and better.

So Grandfather taught me that chemicals can be dangerous, and if something dreadful had gone wrong in his makeshift lab, then no doubt the papers would have reported on the role of chemistry. But what if Grandpa had been negligent with the upkeep of the railings around his balcony? What if someone had fallen off, gravity accelerating them at 9.8m per second per second, until they hit the hard ground below? Would anyone have described it as an awful physics accident?

So why does chemistry's role in accidents get highlighted, and whose fault is it that people are so scared of chemicals?

Simple - mine.

It's my fault, and my grandfather's. We are responsible for chemophobia. Why? Well, grandfather's sodium demo certainly fuelled my enthusiasm for chemistry. But it didn't spark it - that happened somewhere else. And sparking an interest is what he should have done and what I should be doing.

Pouring fuel onto the flames of enthusiasm is easy, especially with chemistry. The theatre is easy, too - the bangs, the flames, the explosions, the pops, the whizzes, the smoke and the rockets are fabulously entertaining. I love it, and I love the whoops and cries and applause from the audience.


Australian TV show on cholesterol gets results

THE fallout from the controversial ABC TV Catalyst program on anti-cholesterol drugs is gathering pace with three in four doctors reporting patients have stopped their medications.

Almost half of the patients that have stopped their drugs are considered at high risk of a heart attack.

The ABC's own health expert Norman Swan has warned "people will die" as a result of the Catalyst program that questioned the role of cholesterol in heart disease and the benefit of statin drugs that reduce cholesterol.

Drug company Merck Sharp Dohme commissioned a survey of 150 doctors a week after the Catalyst program aired on ABC TV and found two in three had patients who had stopped taking the drugs or considered ceasing them.

A follow up study just released has found that had increased to three out of four doctors on two weeks later on November 21.

Again, half the patients who had dropped their medicine were considered at high risk of a heart attack.

And nine out of ten doctors told the survey they feared they had patients who had stopped their drugs without consulting a doctor.

The survey found two in three patients who wanted to drop their anti-cholesterol treatments after watching the Catalyst program cited side effects as another reason for stopping their drugs.

Almost a third said they wanted to drop their medication because of the cost.

Merck Sharp Dohme manufactures a cholesterol lowering stating drug called zocor.

The Catalyst program was based on the evidence of a group of doctors and a supplement salesperson who are all promoting their own books on the subject.

The Australian Medical Association branded the program "sensationalist" and the chair of the Australian Advisory Committee on the Safety of Medicines asked the ABC to pull part two of the program off the air.

One doctor responding to the Merck Sharp Dohme survey said "the Catalyst program has been the most biased and damaging TV show ... medically ... in years".

Another doctor commented that "it was a rubbish and biased program in the same grain as anti-vaccination propaganda".

"There should be a governing body to stop idiots reporting on shows like Catalyst that can have devastating results to the overall health of the community.......and Medicines Australia worry about us hard working Dr's being influenced by a pen or a dinner! " another doctor said.

Most of the doctors surveyed said they would not change their prescribing of statins as a result of the Catalyst program.

However, 14 per cent said they would decrease their prescribing of statins to low risk patients.

Shortly after Catalyst went to air the National Institute for Health and Care Excellence (Nice) in the United Kingdom announced it would reconsider its guidelines on the drugs as new evidence suggest more people could benefit from them.

Leading researcher and cardiologist Professor David Colquoun says a 1996 Australian trial of over 9,000 patients that he took part in found decreasing cholesterol in people who had experience a heart attack reduced the risk of stroke by 20 per cent, the need for a heart bypass by 25 per cent and a further heart attack by 30 per cent.


3 December, 2013

Parents warned against giving paracetamol and ibuprofen for mild fever

This is a long-overdue warning

A misplaced “fever phobia” in society means parents too frequently use both medicines to bring down even slight temperatures, say a group of American paediatricians, who warn that children can receive accidental overdoses as a result.

As many as half of parents are giving their children the wrong dosage, according to a study carried out by the doctors.

In new guidance, the American Academy of Pediatrics advises that a high temperature is often the body’s way of fighting an infection, and warns parents that to bring it down with drugs could actually lengthen a child’s illness.

Family doctors too readily advise parents to use the medicines, known collectively as “antipyretics”, according to the authors of the guidance.

GPs also often tell parents to give their children alternate doses of paracetamol and ibuprofen – known as combination therapy – believing the risk of side effects to be minimal.

In its official guidance, the National Institute for Health and Clinical Excellence (Nice) says the use of the drugs “should be considered in children with fever who appear distressed or unwell”.

Although Nice says that both drugs should not “routinely” be given to children with a fever, it states that this approach “may be considered” if the child does not respond to being given just one of them.

Children’s paracetamol solutions such as Calpol and ibuprofen solutions such as Nurofen for Children are sold over the counter in chemists. Recommended dosage quantities vary by age.

There is a range of solutions for different age groups, meaning it is possible for parents with children of different ages to mix up which they are giving.

According to the British National Formulary, which GPs consult when prescribing or advising on medication, children should receive no more than four doses of the right amount of paracetamol in a 24-hour period, and no more than four doses of ibuprofen a day.

In its guidance today, however, theAmerican Academy of Pediatrics notes that both medications have potential side effects and says the risks should be taken seriously.

Doctors, the authors write, should begin “by helping parents understand that fever, in and of itself, is not known to endanger a generally healthy child”. “It should be emphasised that fever is not an illness but is, in fact, a physiological mechanism that has beneficial effects in fighting infection.”

Despite this, the academy says, many parents administer paracetamol or ibuprofen even though there is only a minimal fever, or none at all.

“Unfortunately, as many as half of all parents administer incorrect doses,” the authors say. A frequent error is giving children adult-sized doses, while children who are small for their age can also receive doses that are too high even if their parents follow the instructions correctly.

Paracetamol has been linked to asthma, while there have been reports of ibuprofen causing stomach ulcers and bleeding, and leading to kidney problems.

“Questions remain regarding the safety” of combination therapy, say the authors, led by Dr Janice Sullivan, of the University of Louisville Pediatric Pharmacology Research Unit, and Dr Henry Farrar, of the University of Arkansas.

Dr Clare Gerada, the chairman of the Royal College of GPs, said: “In my experience of 20 years as a GP, parents are usually pretty careful.

“I think the most important thing to be worried about is keeping medicines out of the reach of children, because some taste quite nice.”


Miraculous survival of toddler who had to be cooled down before his parents could hold him

A mother whose baby’s life was saved by pioneering ice therapy has told how he was defrosted on Christmas Eve for his first cuddle.

Freddy Cooke did not breathe for 20 minutes after he was born and mother Nicky Symmonds was warned that even if he survived he would be severely brain damaged from lack of oxygen.

But then he was given revolutionary treatment to cool his core body temperature, putting him a state of induced hypothermia, in the hope it would allow his brain to recover.

Nicky, 30, says: 'When they started warming him up again we still didn’t know if it had worked.  'When they finally handed me a warm bundle to hold for the first time it felt like a true Christmas miracle that he had survived.'

The treatment was such a success that Freddy was allowed home on Boxing Day and Nicky says: 'To see your baby cold and shivering goes against all your mothering instincts. You just want to wrap them up and keep them warm, but it saved his life. Words cannot express how grateful we are.'

Freddy is now a perfectly healthy toddler and Nicky and partner Daniel Cooke will mark this Christmas by raising money to help save others.

But rewind to December 20, 2011, and they were sure they had lost him when he was born lifeless at home, just 30 minutes after Nicky went into labour.

She recalls: 'I was five days overdue when the contractions started but as I was a first-time mum I was expecting a very long labour.'  Midwives examined her, then left for labour to progress normally. But minutes later her waters broke and Daniel called them back.

They arrived just in time to deliver the baby’s head, but his shoulder got stuck and the umbilical cord snapped, starving him of oxygen. By the time he was finally born, weighing 9lb 2oz, he had stopped breathing and the medics called an ambulance.

Freddy was rushed to the Royal Berkshire Hospital, near the couple’s home in Reading, while one of the midwives tended to Nicky.

Five minutes later she had a call from the ambulance crew saying Freddy had finally started breathing 20 minutes after his birth.

His only hope was the cooling treatment to reduce swelling in the brain and prevent further damage.

He was put on a ventilator and transferred to Oxford’s John Radcliffe hospital for treatment to begin when he was four hours old.

The couple drove to the hospital, where Nicky was admitted for more treatment. But first she wanted to see her baby.

She says: 'When we saw him he was already on the ice bed. They said it was important for treatment to start within six hours of birth.

'He was wrapped in a cooling blanket which was pumped with freezing water to keep his temperature down to 33°C. 'His little hand was freezing and he was shivering and shuddering with the cold.

'Nurses assured me he couldn’t feel anything because he was sedated but I had to fight the urge to wrap him up and snuggle him.'

The parents kept vigil over the next few days as Christmas loomed. Nicky, a bookshop manager, says: 'It was heartbreaking because I had bought him a little Santa suit and imagined us all at home together for his first Christmas.  'Now all I could do was pray that he would live. I didn’t even think about Christmas.'

After 72 hours it was time to slowly warm Freddy up. Only then could they tell if the treatment had worked.  Daniel, 29, a lettings manager, says: 'We were warned it was a critical time as he might suffer a seizure or relapse. It was terrifying.'

Miraculously as he 'defrosted' over the next 12 hours Freddy started to move his legs and cry — signs that he had not suffered brain damage. Nicky says: 'The doctors could not believe it. He had been deprived of oxygen for 20 minutes. It was unheard of for him to be responding so well.'

Finally, at 4pm on Christmas Eve, the couple were able to hold their baby for the first time.

Nicky says: 'Tears were rolling down my face. He was still covered in wires and tubes but he was warm, his heart was beating.  'After what I had witnessed when he was born it felt like a true Christmas miracle. It was like he had been brought back to life.'

Freddy stayed in the special care baby unit that night but on Christmas Day nurses took him to Nicky and Daniel on the post-natal ward.  They had even dressed him in his red Christmas babygrow. Nicky recalls: 'It was the best present in the world. We were able to spend all Christmas afternoon cuddling him and holding him as a family.'

Now the parents cannot wait for Christmas 2013, as Freddy has finally been given the all-clear.  Nicky says: 'He is a miracle — and the midwives who refused to give up that day are true angels.'

Last year Nicky launched a campaign, Cool To Save A Life, to raise funds for cooling equipment in hospitals.


2 December, 2013

An aspirin a day could help stop dementia say scientists as they launch huge study into benefits of the pill

It is already used to help prevent heart attacks and strokes, and now researchers believe the humble aspirin could also hold the key to warding off dementia and cancer.

The claim came yesterday at the launch of the largest ever study into the health benefits of the everyday medicine, which has long been thought of as a health-booster.

A study of 15,000 people aged over 70 will be the most extensive clinical trial on the use of aspirin to prevent disease in the elderly.

Research team leader Professor Mark Nelson, from Hobart’s Menzies Research Institute in Tasmania, Australia, said: 'Remember aspirin is an over-the-counter medication; you don’t need a doctor to prescribe it, you don’t need a doctor to tell you you’ve turned 70. So this is something that can be done very simply, very cheaply if we find that it’s an effective strategy.'

Prof Nelson said the study starts next summer and results are expected in 2018.

Millions of people who take the pill to fight heart disease or the risk of a stroke benefit from its effectiveness at thinning the blood and how it helps to prevent clotting.

It cuts the danger of further heart attacks or strokes by at least 23 per cent.

Research has shown regular users have a lower risk of developing Alzheimer’s disease, the main form of dementia.

Scientists believe its protective effect may be due to its anti-clotting action helping blood flow to the brain.

Prof Nelson said: 'There’s a number of reasons why it might. The number one reason would be related to stroke. If you have a stroke you knock out a large area of your brain and therefore your ability to think is affected.

'There is also the possibility of lots of what are called microinfarcts, which means small areas of brain getting knocked off very slowly.'

Research has also shown that aspirin may have a role in fighting cancer, particularly gastro-intestinal cancers.

Prof Nelson said: 'There’s some very good evidence around to suggest aspirin may prevent cancers, especially cancers of the gastro-intestinal tract.

'Now that makes sense because you take it orally so in aspirin you’ve got that natural component.'

In the study – in the journal Contemporary Clinical Trials – the team wants to establish whether the benefits of a low dose of aspirin outweigh the risks linked to its use.

Prof Nelson said: 'If you’ve never had a heart attack or stroke before, what’s called primary prevention, we really don’t know in an elderly population whether you’re more likely to get benefit from taking the aspirin, maybe related to stroke or heart attack.

'Or more likely to be harmed, because aspirin actually can cause an increase in your risk of haemorrhagic stroke, bleeding type strokes and it can also cause bleeding into the stomach.'

He cautioned about the 'catch-22' of aspirin, which can also lead some people to have a major stroke because of increased blood flow.

Alzheimer’s Society research chief Dr Doug Brown said: 'We already know that prescribed aspirin has the potential to prevent heart disease and stroke in people at risk of these conditions, and it would be an additional benefit if it could delay the onset of dementia.'

Dr Simon Ridley of Alzheimer’s Research UK said: 'Systematic reviews of previous aspirin trials have so far showed no evidence that the drugs can benefit people with dementia, but the studies done to date have been relatively small. Large-scale controlled trials could provide more conclusive evidence.'

He added: 'We look forward to seeing the results.'


Top surgeon calls for ALL women to be given Vitamin D to cut breast cancer

They used to put vitamin D in the butter.  I wonder why that stopped?  Deficiencies can be a problem

All women over the age of 20 should take a daily dose of  Vitamin D to reduce their chances of developing breast cancer, an  expert claims.

Professor Kefah Mokbel is writing to Health Secretary Jeremy Hunt to argue that making the ‘sunshine vitamin’ free on the NHS would save 1,000 lives a year.

He has already started handing out the pills to female patients at his private clinic. But he believes all women should get them – even those who have not been diagnosed with the disease.

Prof Mokbel said the measure would cost the NHS just 12p per woman per day – and claims it would spare thousands the agony of developing the condition.

‘I am calling for all women from the age of 20 to be given free Vitamin D supplements on the NHS because it is effective in protecting against breast cancer,’ he said.

‘It is established science that women who have higher Vitamin D levels have a better chance of beating the disease.

‘Studies also show that women with higher Vitamin D levels are significantly less likely to develop breast cancer in the first place.’

Every year 50,000 women in Britain are diagnosed with breast cancer, and the disease claims almost 12,000 lives annually.

Prof Mokbel, a surgeon at the private London Breast Clinic, said: ‘My estimate is that at least 1,000 lives could be saved by supplementation a year.’

Vitamin D is best known for its role in helping build and maintain healthy bones. But scientists have discovered it is also essential for the immune system and regulating how cells divide. Both are key to fighting cancer.

According to the Harvard School of Public Health in the United States, ‘being “D-ficient’’ may increase the risk of a host of chronic diseases – including osteoporosis, heart disease, some cancers and multiple sclerosis – and infectious diseases, such as tuberculosis and even seasonal flu’.

Prof Mokbel said his tests showed that half his private patients were Vitamin D deficient, and a third were severely deficient.

‘I give Vitamin D to all my women patients at the clinic because the higher the levels, then the greater the protection from breast cancer,’ he added.

‘Vitamin D works by encouraging cancer cells to change to normal cells, and it also enhances the immune system. Another benefit is that it promotes the death of breast-cancer cells.’

Evidence that Vitamin D supplements may combat breast cancer has been building. In 2008, a Canadian study showed breast cancer patients with good Vitamin D levels were about half as likely to die from the disease as those with a serious deficiency. Norwegian and German studies have reached similar conclusions.

However, Jessica Kirby, of  Cancer Research UK, disagrees with Prof Mokbel’s analysis.

She said: ‘There have been a large number of studies about Vitamin D and breast cancer and it looks as if people’s Vitamin D levels don’t affect breast cancer risk. Trials in which people took Vitamin D supplements have shown no effect.’

Prof Mokbel, who is also an honorary consultant surgeon at  St George’s Hospital in South London, compared the situation  to the evidence on smoking and claimed action was needed now.

He said: ‘This is a low-cost, cheap intervention and there’s  no toxicity from taking it.’

However, NHS chiefs remain worried about the cost. NHS spending on Vitamin D supplements now tops £100?million a year, up from £28?million in 2004.


1 December, 2013

Warning over stroke risk from soluble painkillers

Less healthy people take more drugs!  How surprising!  And salt is now known NOT to be harmful.  See the sidebar here

A study of more than 1 million people found those who took the drugs were 22 per cent more likely to suffer a stroke, seven times more likely to develop high blood pressure and 28 per cent more likely to die prematurely from any cause than people taking similar drugs that contained no salt.

Researchers said the salt content of such drugs should be labelled, and that the public should be more cautious about taking such medications, following the findings, published in the British Medical Journal.

An adult taking eight tables of soluble paracetamol in a day could exceed the recommended daily salt intake, without any salt in their diet, they warned.

The study by the University of Dundee examined the impact of dozens of drugs and supplements - including paracetamol, aspirin, ibuprofen, vitamin C, calcium and zinc - which were prescribed to patients, but can also be bought over the counter.

Lead researcher Dr Jacob George, from the University of Dundee, said the salt content of all medicines should be labelled, in order to protect the public.

The researchers examined data from almost 1.3 million people who were given at least two prescriptions of salt-containing drugs, or who were taking the same drugs without salt.

The patients were typically followed for seven years.

The typical time it took to suffer a health problem was just under four years from first being prescribed the drugs.

Other factors such as body mass index, smoking, alcohol intake, history of various chronic illnesses and use of certain other medications, were taken into account.

Dr George, a senior clinical lecturer and honorary consultant in clinical pharmacology at the University of Dundee, said: “These drugs are also available over the counter, they can be picked up in the supermarket. We have no control over how many millions of people are buying these drugs.

The ones we looked at were prescribed by GPs but there’s a potentially much larger problem with these drugs being bought over the counter and in supermarkets.”

Dr George said there was a clear dose-response effect, with people taking higher doses of the salt-containing drugs having a higher risk of suffering a health problem.

Researchers said some patients needed soluble drugs because they had difficulty swallowing pills, or the drugs got into the system quicker.

But he said not all drugs contained salt and that labelling should be introduced so those who were trying to avoid it could do so.

“We believe that our findings are potentially of public health importance,” they added.

“As a minimum, the public should be warned about the potential hazards of high sodium consumption in prescribed medicines, and these should be clearly labelled with the sodium content in the same way as foods are labelled.

He said doctors should only prescribe sodium-containing formulations with caution, and that they should not be given to those at risk of high blood pressure.

Meanwhile, the public needed to be better informed about the potential risks from drugs bought over the counter, reseachers said.

The researchers said an estimated 26 million people in the UK have high dietary sodium intake.

Dr Madina Kara, neuroscientist at the Stroke Association, said: “It’s crucial to be aware of our sodium intake, as it is a component of salt. Excess salt in our diet can lead to high blood pressure, which is the single biggest risk factor for stroke.

“A diet low in saturated salt and fat, regular exercise and blood pressure checks can go a long way to keeping your stroke risk down.”


Could ALGAE be the secret to clear skin? Study finds fatty acids in marine plants can treat acne

Sounds interesting.  I wonder if anyone will stump up the half billion dollars required to get it through the approval process?

Acne is the bane of many a teenager’s life, but researchers now believe they may have found a novel treatment for it.

Scientists in Scotland believe marine algae could help fight spots.  They discovered that fatty acids produced by algae have cleansing qualities.

The researchers, at the University of Stirling’s Institute of Aquaculture, found the fatty acids could prevent the growth of Propionibacterium acnes - a bacterium which causes the common skin condition.

They say that fatty acids stopped the growth of the bacterium as well as other acne treatments that contain ingredients such as benzoylperoxide and salicylic acid.

Marine Biotechnology lecturer Dr Andrew Desbois, who led the study, said: ‘Many fatty acids inhibit or kill bacteria and now some of these have been shown to prevent the growth of Propionibacterium acnes.'

He added that 'fatty acids are present naturally on our skin to defend us against unwanted bacteria' - so applying more would boost our existing defences.’

The researchers found that six different fatty acids are effective at combating acne. These include omega-3 fatty acid and omega-6 fatty acid.  They also include eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA) and dihomo-gamma-linolenic acid (DGLA).

EPA is produced by marine algae and then accumulated in fish like salmon via the food chain. DGLA is made by some types of brown algae.

The team are hoping to create a skin lotion containing the beneficial fatty acids as a treatment for acne.  They hope it could eventually replace some of the current drugs which are known to cause problematic side effects.

Dr Desbois said: ‘Normally, we obtain these beneficial fatty acids through consuming fish or seaweed in our diets.  ‘However, we are planning to formulate the fatty acids into an ointment that can be applied to the skin to help people suffering with acne.’

The research was published in the journal Marine Drugs.


Front page to the original of this blog

Posts here by Dr. John Ray

I am pleased to report that when my son was a toddler, the first thing he learned to say was his McDonald's order.

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 and 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

Obesity does NOT causes diabetes. But insatiable eating is a prominent symptom of diabetes. So diabetes DOES cause obesity, which accounts for the correlation between the two things. The streets are full of fatties who don't have diabetes. How come? If conventional medical theory were correct we should be in the midst of an epidemic of diabetes. A recent high quality study has also found that fatties are LESS likely to die of diabetes

Elite people frequently express disapproval of red meat eating as a way of expressing their felt superiority to the ordinary people who eat it

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

Phthalates harmless

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 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 Truth About Ancel Keys. Keys was a brilliant man but his concentration on heart disease misled him. He was right that high fat intake predicted high rates of heart disease (though it was ANIMAL fat in particular that was the "culprit") but he overlooked that the same intake predicted LESS mortality from other causes. The same narrow vision led him to be the earliest prominent advocate of the "Mediterranean diet" hypothesis. It's true that Mediterraneans have less heart disease but they have more of other causes of death, so that Mediterranean countries do not have particularly long lifespans when compared with other developed countries. If there are any lessons about diet to be learned from lifespans, it is un-Mediterranean countries like Australia and the Nordic countries that one should look to.

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


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