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


28 February, 2013

Chicago adults could be forced to give up energy drinks

Are adults responsible enough to choose whether or not to consume energy drinks? Chicago Alderman Edward M. Burke doesn’t seem to think so. He introduced a proposal recently to prohibit sales of highly caffeinated energy drinks to anyone in Chicago, regardless of their age. Lawmakers in Chicago and elsewhere have sought similar bans only for minors and young adults. Burke’s proposal shocked many and has some asking, who has the right to tell adults what they can or can’t drink?

Burke’s ban proposal, perhaps an exercise in one-upmanship, follows a similar idea floated by Health Committee Chairman George Cardenas last month to ban energy drink sales to those under age 21. Cardenas called his proposal a conversation starter intended to bring attention to the alleged dangers posed by energy drinks. Burke seems to be engaging in that conversation, but taking it to an undesirable conclusion.

In November, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) released data on adverse event reports since 2004 for three of the most popular energy drinks on the market. The reports, filed by consumers or their doctors, detail some serious and sometimes life-threatening health problems, including convulsions, heart attacks, and death after consuming energy drinks. Some of the reports are of mild events like sneezing, throat irritation, and crying. What none of these reports show is evidence linking any of the users’ health problems to the consumption of energy drinks. According to the FDA’s own statement, the reports do not prove that the drinks were the cause of or even related to the health events.

Yet, that didn’t stop some Chicago Aldermen from proposing knee-jerk bans in the city, nor did it stop Senator Dick Durbin (D-Ill.) from calling for a ban on the sale of energy drinks nationwide. While these lawmakers may believe the drinks are harmful, there is no real evidence to support their belief.

Even if there were some connection between energy drinks and health problems, one one would expect to see many more than the 145 adverse events reported to the FDA, 18 of which were deaths (one of those was a suicide), considering the millions of cans sold in the U.S. every year.

Moreover, while there have been recent reports of a spike in energy drink-related hospitalizations, those numbers are more likely a result of increasing media attention and the likelihood of people consuming energy drinks at the time of their hospitalization being counted toward the total. The increasing popularity of mixing energy drinks with alcohol is bound to lead to a greater number of hospitalizations in which energy drink consumption is involved, regardless of the drinks’ inherent qualities or actual role in the patient’s hospitalization. Meanwhile, reports about the supposed dangers of energy drinks may prompt patients and doctors to report their use more than in previous years.

Even if there were a genuine increase in the number of hospitalizations related to energy drink consumption, it does not demonstrate the drinks’ inherent dangerousness, given that the number of energy-drink related hospitalizations is small in comparison to the millions of drinks sold in the U.S. every year.

As noted, Alderman Cardenas has said that his proposal was intended to inspire a "conversation” over the regulation of energy drinks. While we can’t know what the motivations of these lawmakers are, (perhaps they are interested in eliciting funds from drink makers) it’s clear that they will not be satisfied with a calm and fact-based discussion of the issue.

Whatever the motives of the bureaucrats, lawmakers, and self-styled "public health” advocates who call to ban or restrict certain products, their proposals are bad policy in every context. In effect, they are saying that adults are not smart or responsible enough to make their own decisions over whether and how to consume certain products. Any product can be dangerous depending on each individual’s health status and how much they consume. Ultimately, it should be up to each individual person to determine what is best for him or herself. If energy drinks pose any danger to health, allowing government officials to make our choices for us is a far greater threat to liberty.


Ratty "scientist" calls for caffeine to be a regulated substance

That coffee sure is bad gear

Noting the rise of caffeine-related deaths in recent years, the editor-in-chief of Journal of Caffeine Research has condemned the "regulatory vacuum” in the United States.

Jack E. James, a professor at Reykjavik University in Iceland and the National University of Ireland, argued in an editorial published Monday that researchers and lawmakers alike need to take a look at caffeine-related deaths and near-deaths.

"In 1911, acting on authority vested by the recently enacted Food and Drug Act, agents in the United States seized quantities of Coca-Cola syrup because they considered the caffeine content to be a significant threat to public health,” he wrote. "Following lengthy legal proceedings, Coca-Cola agreed to decrease the caffeine content of the drink, and further legal action ceased.”

"Armed with improved knowledge of caffeine toxicity and faced with extensive evidence of substantial harm to public health, today’s authorities appear more perplexed and less decisive than their counterparts of more than a century earlier,” James continued. "In light of current international befuddlement and inaction, legislators, policy makers, and regulators of today confront a stark question — how many caffeine-related fatalities and near-misses must there be before we regulate?”

Energy drinks in particular have received attention in recent years for their high caffeine content. The Food and Drug Administration has opened an investigation of deaths that may be linked to consumption of 5-hour Energy and Monster, two popular energy drinks. In addition, the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration has reported that energy drink-related emergency room visits doubled over four years, rising from 10,068 in 2007 to 20,783 in 2011.

James said the high caffeine content of energy drinks and the fatalities were not a "mere coincidence.” The established lethal dose of caffeine is quite high at 10 grams, but the common stimulant can be fatal at lower doses under certain circumstances. Anecdotal reports suggest those with heart conditions are particularly vulnerable.

"Risk of fatal and non-fatal harm due to caffeine poisoning is increased by several characteristics of the drug and the circumstances surrounding its use, including its generally unregulated availability to children and adults alike,” James wrote.


27 February, 2013

NYT has orgasm over latest Mediterranean diet study -- but orgasm fades half way through the article (justifiably)

The NYT article is here and the NEJM article is here.  The title in the NEJM is "Primary Prevention of Cardiovascular Disease with a Mediterranean Diet" by Estruch et al.  I would normally reproduce one of the articles concerned but I don't think either is worth reading, unless for amusement

I feel sorry for Estruch et al.  They really put a big effort into their study but their findings must be disappointing to them. But they made the best of a bad job and managed to get a report into NEJM.  That NEJM published it reflects badly on NEJM, though.

To cut immediately to the most spectacular failure.  As the NYT admits, the existing evidence for benefit from a Mediterranean diet is mainly that a Mediterranean diet reduces heart disease.  That is the big marching song of the diet.  So guess what?  Estruch et al. found that (I quote): "In fully adjusted analyses, we found significant results for the combined cardiovascular end point and for stroke, but not for myocardial infarction alone."  BONG!  End of story.  The diet does NOT reduce heart attacks.  The study found exactly the opposite to what Estruch et al. and the NYT wanted.

I don't know if I should go on about other hilarity in the study. Sampling is the great weakness of most medical research and so it was here too.  The group studied here were elderly Spaniards with health problems.  I could find no mention of sampling in the article so we do not know if the results are even generalizable to all  elderly Spaniards with health problems, let alone generalizable to anyone else.

And quite bizarre was the control group used:  A similar group on a low-fat diet!  The authors report that compliance was poor in the low fat diet but some effect of that regimen can surely not be ruled out.

And the logic of calling the low-fatters the normals is bizarre.  It grieves me that I have to mention it but in Spain, a Mediterranean diet is normal.  Though the prevalence of a more "American" diet among the young (not in the current "sample") must be acknowledged.  So the (marginally) higher death-rate among the low-fatters, shows that low-fatters die younger than normals.  Fat is good for you!   GAACK! Another nasty one for the food freaks.

I could go on (weak correlations etc.) but enough is enough.  This is already one of the most amusingly misreported pieces of research I have seen.  I dare NEJM to offer me the chance of putting up a full and sober  critique of their ridiculous publication.  I have had many critiques published in  academic journals in my time so would be eminently qualified.

Dubious soya products

Soya was marketed as a wonder food, the Orient’s remedy for the West’s health problems.

However, the health virtues attributed to soya were soon challenged by researchers.

In 2006, for example, an American Heart Association review of a decade-long study of soya’s supposed benefits cast doubt on the ‘heart healthy’ claims and concluded that soya did not reduce hot flushes in women or help prevent cancer.

A study at Massachusetts General Hospital’s infertility clinic in 2008, where men were asked to consume various soya products, including tofu, veggie burgers, soya milk and protein shakes, found ‘higher intake of soya foods is associated with lower sperm concentration’.

The jury is out on the long-term health impact of eating soya, but there are reasons to be wary.

Soya beans contain naturally occurring toxins. These include phytic acid, which reduces our ability to absorb essential minerals, such as iron and zinc, and might therefore cause mineral deficiencies, and trypsin inhibitors, which impair the body’s capacity to digest protein.

These toxins are also found in other foods, such as chickpeas and wheat, but at lower levels.

Processing soya is designed to substantially reduce or remove these toxins, but traces may remain.

Soya also contains isoflavones — potent plant compounds that mimic the female hormone, oestrogen.

In 2011, the European Food Safety Authority’s scientific panel dismissed claims made by the soya industry that isoflavones helped hair growth, eased menopause symptoms, supported heart health and protected cells against oxidative damage.

It concluded a cause-and-effect relationship between consumption of soya products and health benefits ‘had not been established’.

Meanwhile, there have been suggestions that, far from being protective, eating too much soya protein can be harmful because of its hormonal effect.

In 2003, the UK government’s Committee on Toxicity identified three groups where evidence suggested there might be a potential risk from consuming large amounts of soya: babies fed on soya-based formula, people with an under-active thyroid and women diagnosed with breast cancer.

But the industrial nature of soya protein manufacture also raises concerns.

While some soya foods, such as tofu, miso, soya milk and yoghurt, are lightly processed, pure soya proteins — the sort you might find in a veggie sausage or vegan cheese — are commonly extracted by washing soya flour in acid in aluminium tanks.

This raises the possibility that aluminium, which is bad for the brain and nervous system, can leach into the product.

Another potential concern is the chemical solvent hexane — a component in glue and cement — is used to extract the oil from soya beans. It is known to poison the human nervous system.

Through repeated exposure, people can develop neurological problems similar to those experienced by solvent abusers.

The soya industry claims only trace residues of hexane find their way into the finished product.

Processing also frees up glutamic acid from the soya, a substance that can trigger allergic reactions.

Soya is one of the eight most common food allergens, according to the U.S. Food and Drug Administration.

A further issue with many soya products is not the soya itself, but what is added to it.

As soya protein is pale, odourless and almost taste-free, many manufacturers rely on sweeteners, artificial flavourings, salt and colourings to make their products more appealing.

Soya protein is almost taste-free, so many veggie products need a host of sweeteners, artificial flavourings, salt and colourings to make them appealing.

For instance, this is the ingredients list for Tesco’s meat-free burgers: water, textured soya protein (12 per cent), egg white, onion, vegetable oil, textured wheat protein (3.5 per cent), flavouring, onion puree, soya protein concentrate (2 per cent), dried egg white, stabiliser (methyl cellulose), pea protein, potato starch, yeast extract, garlic powder, onion powder, barley malt extract.

So the irony is that in trying to avoid meat, vegetarians may be buying products with as many additives and industrialised ingredients as are found in cheap, processed meats

But can soya really be so bad when Asian populations have been eating it for centuries, with no apparent problem?

It’s true that popular ingredients such as soy sauce and miso feature prominently in oriental cuisine.

But the soya in these products, when traditionally prepared, has been fermented, using time- honoured methods.

These involve soaking the beans, adding natural bacteria to encourage fermentation and a lengthy ageing process.

All this helps neutralise toxins in the beans.

So traditionally made, fermented soya foods are a different animal from modern soya proteins, which are produced using a fast-track chemical method.

Asian cultures also include soya in their diets in a different way from those in the West. Asian people don’t drink pints of soya milk each day as we do (think of all those soya lattes you hear people ordering in coffee shops).

Nor do they rely on soya as their main protein source.

In China, a vegetable dish containing a small amount of tofu would be just one element in a meal that featured meat or fish, and lots of veg.

We are far from fully understanding the impact of modern soya protein consumption.

As this ingredient has been in our diet for only three decades, there is no track record of safe use.

But while we await the answer, it may be wise to be cautious.


26 February, 2013

Bloomberg's ban prohibits 2-liter soda with your pizza and some nightclub mixers

Take a big gulp, New York: Hizzoner is about to give you a pop.

Nanny Bloomberg unleashes his ban on large sodas on March 12 — and there are some nasty surprises lurking for hardworking families.

Say goodbye to that 2-liter bottle of Coke with your pizza delivery, pitchers of soft drinks at your kid’s birthday party and some bottle-service mixers at your favorite nightclub.

They’d violate Mayor Bloomberg’s new rules, which prohibit eateries from serving or selling sugary drinks in containers larger than 16 ounces.

Bloomberg’s soda smackdown follows his attacks on salt, sugar, trans fat, smoking and even baby formula.

The city Health Department last week began sending brochures to businesses that would be affected by the latest ban, including restaurants, bars and any "food service” establishment subject to letter grades.

And merchants were shocked to see the broad sweep of the new rules.

"It’s not fair. If you’re gonna tell me what to do, it’s no good,” said Steve DiMaggio of Caruso’s in Cobble Hill, Brooklyn. "It’s gonna cost a lot more.”

And consumers, especially families, will soon see how the rules will affect their wallets — forcing them to pay higher unit prices for smaller bottles.

Typically, a pizzeria charges $3 for a 2-liter bottle of Coke. But under the ban, customers would have to buy six 12-ounce cans at a total cost of $7.50 to get an equivalent amount of soda.

"I really feel bad for the customers,” said Lupe Balbuena of World Pie in Carroll Gardens, Brooklyn.

Domino’s on First Avenue and 74th Street on the Upper East Side is doing away with its most popular drink sizes: the 20-ounce and 2-liter bottles.

"We’re getting in 16-ounce bottles — and that’s all we’re going to sell,” a worker said.

He said the smaller bottles will generate more revenue for the restaurant but cost consumers more.  It will also trash more plastic into the environment.

Deliveryman Philippe Daniba said he had brought countless 2-liter bottles of soda to customers over his 19 years at the restaurant. The ban, he said, "doesn’t make sense.”

Industry-group officials agreed.  "It’s ludicrous,” said Robert Bookman, a lawyer for the New York City Hospitality Alliance. "It’s a sealed bottle of soda you can buy in the supermarket. Why can’t they deliver what you can get in the supermarket?”

Families will get pinched at kid-friendly party places, which will have to chuck their plastic pitchers because most hold 60 ounces — even though such containers are clearly intended for more than one person.

Changes will be made at the Frames bowling alley in Times Square, where 26-ounce pitchers are served at kids’ parties, said manager Ayman Kamel.

"We’re going to try to get creative,” he said, noting drinks with 100 percent juice are exempt from the ban.

"We’re figuring out a way to have freshly squeezed juice for the birthday parties. We might have to raise the price about a dollar or so.”

Dallas BBQ at 1265 Third Ave. will retire its 60-ounce pitchers and 20-ounce glasses, manager Daisy Reyes said.  "We have to buy new glasses,” she said. "We’re in the process.”

And if you’re looking for a night of bottle service at a Manhattan hot spot, be warned: Spending $300 on a bottle of vodka no longer entitles you to a full complement of mixers.

If you get bottle service at a city nightclub or restaurant, you cannot also get a carafe of cranberry juice like the one hostess Maggie is serving up here at Le Souk Harem in the West Village. Tonic water and other beverages are also limited, even though they are only used as mixers.

The carafes in which mixers are typically served hold 32 ounces, and the most common mixers — sodas, cranberry juice and tonic water — will be limited. Only water and 100 percent juice will be unlimited.

"Oh, my God. Seriously?” said Lamia Sunti, owner of the swanky West Village club Le Souk Harem. "It’s not like one person is going to be drinking the whole carafe. It’s silly.”

The rules are hard to unravel.

Alcoholic drinks and diet sodas are not subject to the ban, nor are fruit smoothies if they don’t have added sweetener, or coffee drinks and milkshakes if made with 50 percent milk.

But what about drinks with small amounts of added sugar? Vendors must determine if the beverages have more than 3.125 calories per ounce.

But they should double-check their math: Violations cost $200 each.


Gene Therapy Cures Diabetes In Only One Shot -- but you have to be  a dog

Five lucky diabetic beagles have been cured of their canine type 1 diabetes using gene therapy, according to research published in the February issue of Diabetes.

Researchers from Barcelona's Universitat Autonoma previously found the therapy effective in treating mice, but this is the first time gene therapy - when a patient's DNA is supplemented or changed to treat a disease - has proven successful in curing diabetes in large animals. Gene therapy encodes a functional gene to replace a mutated one, or inserts DNA that produces a therapeutic protein to treat a disease.

In this case, the dogs were injected with two extra genes that together form a "glucose sensor" that can regulate glucose uptake and reduce excessive glucose levels in the blood.

Four years later, the dogs that received both genes had no symptoms of diabetes and stabilized glucose levels. They recovered a normal body weight and didn't exhibit any secondary complications.

Both genes seem to be necessary for the treatment to work, though, as dogs that received only one of the genes stayed diabetic.

It's not uncommon for dogs to develop type 1 diabetes, in which a lack of insulin leads to an increase in glucose levels. While the canine version of the disease has similar effects to its human counterpart, this experiment may not exactly mirror how the treatment might work in humans - according to New Scientist, the dogs' pancreatic cells were destroyed by a chemical, whereas in humans with type 1 diabetes, pancreatic cells are killed by the body's immune system.

After further dog testing, the researchers hope to study how the treatment affects humans. And hopefully the post-diabetic pups get a sweet treat in reward.


25 February, 2013

The cure for arthritis? Fish oil AND aspirin, if you are a mouse

Fish oil and aspirin could be the key to beating a host of devastating chronic diseases, according to new research.

Researchers from the Brigham and Women’s Hospital and Harvard Medical School in Boston found that the two work together to combat the inflammation responsible for a host of illnesses, including heart disease, cancer, arthritis and Alzheimer’s.

Both aspirin and omega-3 fatty acids from fish are known to have an anti-inflammatory effect on their own, but the research shows that when taken together they can control the overactive immune responses associated with long-term illnesses.

Inflammation is the body’s natural response to injury and foreign bodies.

When something harmful or irritating affects a part of the body, there is a biological response to try to remove it, and the symptoms of inflammation show that the body is trying to heal itself.

But if the person suffering has a high-fat diet, too much body fat or is a smoker, for example, the may not be a break from the irritants, so the immune system can lose control, increasing risk of disease.

Long-term, inflammation can become chronic which can then damage heart valves and brain cells, causing strokes and promoting resistance to insulin, which leads to diabetes.

It is also associated with the development of cancer.

Aspirin is used by millions of people to keep heart attacks and strokes at bay. The drug is used to thin the blood, which reduces the risk of clots.

It works by helping to trigger the production of molecules called resolvins that are made naturally by the body from omega-3 fatty acids.

These resolvins 'resolve', the inflammation that underlies the health conditions which blight the lives of millions.

Omega-3 is found in oily fish, particularly salmon and sardines, as well as chicken, nuts, kale and spinach as well as vegetable oils.

One resolvin called D3 was found to have an especially long-lasting anti-inflammatory effect.

The researchers said: 'In this report, we found that one resolvin, termed D3 and from omega-3 fatty acid, persists longer at sites of inflammation than either resolvin D1 or resolvin D2 in the nat­ural resolution of inflammation in mice.

'This finding suggests that this late resolution phase resolvin D3 might display unique properties in fighting uncontrolled inflammation.'

The researchers also confirmed that aspirin triggered the production of a longer-acting form of resolvin D3 through a different pathway.

The team were able to produce a pure form of both resolvin D3 and aspirin-triggered resolvin D3.

When administered to human cells, both of these showed highly potent anti-inflammatory actions.

The research was published in the journal Chemistry & Biology.


How vitamin pills 'can raise risk of cataracts' as hidden danger of everyday supplements is revealed

Again.  But correlational data only

Taking vitamin pills in high doses can significantly increase the risk of cataracts, a study has shown.

Scientists found consuming large amounts of vitamin C made individuals 20 per cent more likely to develop the condition – which is a leading cause of blindness.

And regularly popping high-dose vitamin E tablets increased the chance of cataracts  forming by 60 per cent.

The dangers are even greater for the elderly, with those over 65 nearly doubling their chances of damaging their vision if they took the supplements every day.

Researchers from the Karolinska Institute in Stockholm monitored 31,000 volunteers aged between 45 and 79. Nearly 3,000 of them went on to need treatment for their eyes.

The Swedish team discovered a strong link between those that developed cataracts and those who took high doses of vitamin C and E.

Eating a healthy vitamin-rich diet did not increase a patient’s chance of getting the condition.

It was originally thought the two vitamins would protect against cataracts because they are powerful antioxidants.  It was supposed that they would fight the process of oxidation, which destroys cells in much the same way as rust rots a car. However, it is now believed that, in large quantities, vitamin C may actually cause oxidation by upsetting  the natural balance of proteins in the eye.

The human body does not make or store vitamin C, and gets its supply from fruit and vegetables. It only needs 40mg a day to keep cells healthy and promote healing. Vitamin E helps maintain the structure of cells and is found in foods such as nuts, seeds and cereals.

A man needs just 4mg a day and a woman should have 3mg.  But tablets containing up to a hundred times this amount are also available in UK health food shops.

At high street chain Holland and Barrett a jar of 250 capsules can be bought for £8.99. Each pill contains 1,000mg of vitamin C.

Researchers stressed the dangers will only arise if the vitamins are taken in very large amounts. These were defined as 1,000mg a day of vitamin C and 100mg of vitamin E.

In a report on their findings, they said: ‘Our results further underscore the need to consider use of unregulated supplements with caution.’

However Professor Yit Yang, from the Royal College of Ophthalmologists, said: ‘It is not possible to establish from this study that vitamin C caused cataracts, as there may be other factors which were not accounted for.

‘In 2010, a randomised control trial designed to investigate  specifically for causative effect  of high-dose vitamin C did not find one.’

At the moment, nearly a quarter of adults in the UK regularly take antioxidant supplements or multivitamins.

They are relied on to help ward off a huge range of illnesses such as cancer and heart disease.


24 February, 2013

Red wine  may  prevent HEARING LOSS 

Resveratrol is a gigantic fad but mostly seems to work in rodents  -- and usually using gigantic doses at that. And even in mice it doesn't prolong life.  In humans see, for instance,  Eric Sijbrands, of Erasmus University Medical Centre in Rotterdam, who led a series of studies which failed to replicate the findings of heart benefits from taking resveratrol.  Resveratrol is poorly absorbed by the human body.  The pharmaceutical company Sirtris halted the last of its clinical trials of resveratrol in 2010

It has long been touted as the tipple with a host of health benefits, said to protect against conditions such as heart disease and dementia.  Now scientists say red wine may also protect against hearing loss, too.

It's thought that the chemical resveratrol, found in red grapes and red wine, is the reason why.

This is the same compound that has been linked with other positive health benefits such as preventing cancer and heart disease.

In a study conducted at the Henry Ford Hospital in Detroit, healthy rats were less likely to suffer noise-induced hearing loss when given resveratrol before being exposed to loud noise for a long period of time.

Study leader Dr Michael Seidman said: 'Our latest study focuses on resveratrol and its effect on the body's response to injury - something that is believed to be the cause of many health problems including Alzheimer's disease, cancer, ageing and hearing loss.

'Resveratrol is a very powerful chemical that seems to protect against the body's inflammatory process, as it relates to ageing, cognition [brain function] and hearing loss.'

Hearing loss affects half of people over the age of 60, but many begin to suffer problems in their 40s or 50s.

It usually sets in with the death of tiny 'hair' cells in the inner ear as a result of ageing.

The study found that resveratrol reduced noise-induced hearing loss in rats exposed to potentially deafening sounds.

Dr Seidman said: 'We've shown that by giving animals resveratrol, we can reduce the amount of hearing and cognitive decline.'

The study is published in the journal Otolaryngology-Head and Neck Surgery.


Just say don’t: Doctors question routine tests & treatments

 Now there are 135.  That's how many medical tests, treatments and other procedures - many used for decades - physicians have now identified as almost always unnecessary and often harmful, and which doctors and patients should therefore avoid or at least seriously question.

The lists of procedures, released on Thursday by the professional societies of 17 medical specialties ranging from neurology and ophthalmology to thoracic surgery, are part of a campaign called Choosing Wisely. Organized by the American Board of Internal Medicine's foundation, it aims to get doctors to stop performing useless procedures and spread the word to patients that some don't help and might hurt.

"Americans' view of healthcare is that more is better," said Dr Glenn Stream, a family physician in Spokane, Washington, and board chairman of the American Academy of Family Physicians, which has identified 10 unnecessary procedures. "But there are a lot of things that are done frequently but don't contribute to people's health and may be harmful."

In a particular case, even a procedure that provides no benefit to the vast majority of people might be appropriate. That's why the physicians emphasize that they are only advising against routine use of the usually unnecessary tests and therapies.

For instance, the American Academy of Pediatrics says physicians "should question" CT scans for kids' minor head injuries or abdominal pains, which usually don't improve diagnoses and raise the risk of cancer. But if doctors suspect something unusual, a scan may be in order.

For the most part, the medical specialty groups did not consider cost when they made their lists. If their advice is followed, however, it would save billions of dollars a year in wasteful spending, said Dr John Santa, director of Consumer Reports' Health Ratings Center and a partner in Choosing Wisely.

One large medical group with 300,000 patients, Santa said, calculated that following the Choosing Wisely advice on just two procedures, superfluous EKGs (electrocardiograms) and bone-density scans, would reduce its billings by $1 million a year. Nationally, that translates into some $1 billion in savings.

The medical specialty groups each came up with five procedures to "question," but most of the items begin with an emphatic "don't." The targeted procedures range from the common to the esoteric.


22 February, 2013

Coffee is good/bad for you

The two studies below offer an amusing dilemma, it seems to me.  One hopes that nobody takes either of them very seriously

Coffee linked to birth of smaller babies: Mothers-to-be who drink more than two mugs a day increase risk

Mothers-to-be who have two or more mugs of coffee a day risk having an underweight baby, research suggests

Coffee may also make pregnancy last longer - but only by a matter of hours.

The observations come from researchers who studied detailed records of almost 60,000 pregnancies from a ten-year period in Norway.

The records included information about how often the women had foods or drinks containing caffeine, from tea and coffee to chocolate sandwich spread and bars of chocolate.

Comparing this with details of their baby revealed a clear link with caffeine and birth weight, with 200 to 300mg a day raising the odds of the child being classed as small for the length of the pregnancy by up to 62 per cent.

A mug of instant coffee contains around 100mg of caffeine, and a mug of filter coffee, around 140mg of caffeine.

However, some drinks sold in high street coffee shops contain as much as 300mg per cup.

In Britain, as in Scandinavia, pregnant women are advised to limit their caffeine intake to 200mg a day.

Coffee, specifically, was found to be linked with increasing the length of pregnancy, with a daily mug of instant coffee lengthening the time the baby is in the womb by eight hours.

Unlike some previous studies, the research did not make a link between caffeine and premature birth.

Researcher Dr Verena Sengpiel, of the Sahlgrenska University Hospital in Sweden, said that caffeine may hurt the growth of the unborn baby by slowing the vital passage of nutrients from mother to baby via the placenta.

Writing in the journal BMC Medicine, she added that coffee may make increase the length of pregnancy by a matter of hours by interfering with the chemical signals that occur around the onset of labour.

Dr Euan Paul, of the British Coffee Association, said: ‘The UK Food Standards Agency carefully analysed and thoroughly reviewed the effects of caffeine during pregnancy and currently recommends that pregnant women moderate consumption to an upper safe limit of 200mg / day - two to three cups of coffee.

‘Switching to decaf during pregnancy is also an option for those who wish to continue drinking coffee.

‘We welcome more research into this important area so that the associations found in this study can be further explored.’

Annette Briley, consultant midwife for the baby charity Tommy’s, said: ‘Being born small can lead to catch-up growth and this in turn can lead to obesity, diabetes and certain cancers in adult life.

‘While women do need to be mindful and remember that caffeine is found in tea, chocolate, other sweets and soft drinks - as well as coffee - we would suggest further research into the effects of coffee is required.

‘Additional care should however be taken when buying coffee in retail outlets as the caffeine content varies between many companies. If women are worried, they should seek advice from their GP or Tommy’s midwives for the best advice.’

In 2011, Glasgow University researchers warned that pregnant women could unwittingly be putting their the health of their unborn baby at risk by drinking coffee from high street cafes.

Their analysis of espressos from 20 coffee shops found huge variations in the amount of caffeine, with the strongest having more than six times as much as the weakest.

Drinks from four cafes had more than the 200mg daily limit recommended for pregnancy and one coffee contained more than 300mg.


Three cups of coffee a day in middle age could add YEARS to your life

Drinking coffee can add years to your life, scientists have discovered.

A study of almost half a million older people showed that the risk of death decreased the more cups they consumed.

Too much caffeine used to be considered unhealthy, but the study found that the more coffee consumed, the less likely people were to die from heart and respiratory disease, stroke, injuries, accidents, diabetes and even infections.

Enjoying coffee in middle age could have significant health benefits and increase lifespan

Enjoying coffee in middle age has been shown to offer significant health benefits

Dr Neal Freedman, of the National Cancer Institute in the United States - where the research was done - said drinking two or three cups of coffee a day reduced the risk of an early death by 10 to 15 per cent.

But he added that drinking more than two to three cups were of little benefit, because those who drank more - up to six cups -  did not seem to reap any more benefits.

The participants, aged 50 to 71, were followed for 12 years and revealed a clear trend.

Dr Freedman said the main obstacle to coffee drinkers who wanted to increase their longevity was smoking.

'In our study, the participants who drank coffee were far more likely to smoke cigarettes, which is a very strong risk factor for death,' he said.

He added that coffee drinking is associated with many behaviours linked to poor health such as drinking too much alcohol, excessive red meat consumption and leading a sedentary lifestyle.

'All of those risk factors are usually associated with increased risk of death, which they were in our study too,' he added.

The research did not discover how coffee reduced mortality and Dr Freedman and his colleagues have called for more studies to identify the chemicals in caffeine that may stave off certain conditions.

'Coffee could be [working by] affecting blood pressure,' he said.'It is possible that different compounds in the coffee are important, too.'

Dr Freedman added that it was difficult to ascertain whether normal coffee was any more beneficial than the decaffeinated variety.

The study was published in the Journal of Caffeine Research.


21 February, 2013

Milk and sugary foods DO increase the risk of acne, say researchers who looked at 50 years of research

No search of the journal site brings up an article that resembles the story below but there appears to be  no new data here:  Just a conviction that the standard studies are wrong

It's been a subject of debate for decades, but it seems diet really does have an impact on a person's complexion.

A landmark overview of research carried out over the past 50 years has found that eating foods with a high glycaemic index (GI) and drinking milk not only aggravated acne but in some cases triggered it, too.

Millions of teens - and increasingly adults - are affected by the often painful skin condition which causes the skin to develop unsightly spots on the face, neck, chest and back.

Acne is caused by a combination of the skin producing too much sebum and a build-up of dead skin cells which clogs the pores and leads to a localised infection or spot.

It is thought that excess sebum production is caused by hormonal fluctuations, which explains why around 80 per cent of teenagers experience bouts of acne throughout adolescence.

While there is no danger from the spots themselves, severe acne can scar as well as lead to anxiety, low self-esteem and depression.

Since the late 19th century, research has linked diet to acne, with chocolate, sugar and fat singled out as the main culprits.

But studies carried out from the 1960s onwards have disassociated diet from the development of the condition.

Dr Jennifer Burris from the Department of Nutrition, Food Studies, and Public Health, Steinhardt School of Culture, Education, and Human Development, New York University, said: 'This change (in attitude) occurred largely because of the  two important studies that are repeatedly cited in the literature and popular culture as evidence to refute the association between diet and acne.

'More recently, dermatologists and registered dieticians have revisited the diet-acne relationship and become increasingly interested in the role of medical nutritional therapy in acne treatment.'

Milk is thought to affect acne because of the hormones it contains. A 2007 study carried out by Harvard School of Public Health found that there was a clear link between those who drank milk regularly and suffered with acne.

Interestingly, those who drank skimmed milk suffered with the worst breakouts, with a 44 per cent  increase in the likelihood of developing blemishes. It is thought that processing the milk increases the levels of hormones in the drink.

The authors of the latest overview - published in the Journal of the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics - say that dermatologists and dieticians should work together to design and conduct quality research to help the millions of acne sufferers.

'This research is necessary to fully understand the underlying mechanisms linking diet and acne,' added Dr Burris.

'The medical community should not dismiss the possibility of diet therapy as an adjunct treatment for acne. At this time, the best approach is to address each acne patient individually, carefully considering the possibility of dietary counselling.'


Eating chips more than once a week raises the risk of prostate cancer by a third

Probably just a social class effect

Men who eat fried foods more than once a week may increase their risk of prostate cancer by a third.

New research suggests that junk food staples such as chips, fried chicken, battered fish and doughnuts may play a significant role in the formation of aggressive and life-threatening forms of the disease.

Although previous studies have suggested poor diet can affect a man's chances of getting prostate cancer, this is the first to indicate that deep-fried convenience foods in particular pose such a big danger.

Results published in the journal The Prostate found snacking on deep fried foods at least once a week appeared to increase the risk of cancer by between 30 and 37 per cent compared to men who claimed to eat them less than once a month.

Nearly 40,000 cases of prostate cancer are diagnosed every year in the UK and 10,000 men die from it - the equivalent of more than one an hour.

The risks increase with age, with men over 50 more likely to develop a tumour, and there is a strong genetic element to it.

As with some other types of cancer, diet is thought to be a key factor in the development of the disease.

Last year, for example, a study found a diet rich in oily fish could slash a man's chances of dying from prostate cancer by up to 40 per cent, possibly because fish oil contains anti-cancer properties which slow the growth of malignant cells.

Previous studies have shown that eating foods cooked at a very high heat, such as grilled meats, could raise the risk of a tumour.

But given the level of consumption of deep fried take away foods in the UK, the latest findings suggest these are a much bigger threat to male health.

The market for fast-foods and takeaways in the UK is thought to be worth over £9 billion and is growing at an average of five per cent a year.

Experts at the Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Centre in Seattle analysed data from two studies involving a total of 1,549 men diagnosed with prostate cancer and another 1,492 men of similar age and profile who were in good health.

All the participants, who were aged from 35 to 74, completed detailed questionnaires on their eating habits.

The researchers then made allowances for other factors that could influence the men's chances of getting prostate cancer, such as their weight, age, whether they had a family history of the disease and their racial background - as disease rates are higher among Afro-Caribbean communities.

They were then able to calculate the extent to which eating chips, chicken or doughnuts at least once a week affected cancer risk.

'This is the first study to look at the association between intake of deep-fried foods and risk of prostate cancer,' said Dr Janet Stanford, who led the research.

'The link appeared to be limited to the highest level of consumption - defined in our study as more than once a week.

'This suggests that regular consumption of deep-fried foods confers a particular risk for developing prostate cancer.'

The exact reason why favourites like chips and fried chicken might exacerbate cancer risk remains unclear.

One theory is that when cooking oil is heated to the kind of temperatures needed for deep frying, potentially carcinogenic compounds can form in the food.

One is called acrylamide, often found in chips or French fries. Others include two groups of chemicals called heterocyclic amines and polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons, which can form in meat cooked at high temperatures.

Deep-fried foods are also very high in potentially harmful compounds called advanced glycation endproducts.

These have been linked with causing inflammation and cancer-like degradation of cells in the body.

A chicken breast deep fried for 20 minutes contains nine times the amount of these materials as a chicken breast boiled for an hour.

Cancer Research UK said it was too early to say for certain if there is a link between deep fried foods and prostate cancer.

Oliver Childs, senior science communication officer, said: 'It's clear that a healthy diet high in fruit, vegetables and fibre and low in red meat and salt is better for overall health than one packed full of greasy fast food.

'But from this study alone, we can't be certain if there's a link between fried food and prostate cancer.'

Dr Iain Frame, director of research at Prostate Cancer UK said: 'Although this study does indicate a small association between eating deep fried food regularly and increased prostate cancer risk, the results relied on asking men to recall how often they had eaten these foods in the previous three to five years.'


20 February, 2013

Hilarious:  Fluoride reduces your IQ

Journal abstract below.  They found an effect due to fluoride of less than one IQ point  -- which is well within the error of measurement.  The fluoride freaks never give up.  That the toxicity is in the dose is beyond their comprehension

"Developmental Fluoride Neurotoxicity: A Systematic Review and Meta-Analysis"

By Anna L. Choi et al.


Background: Although fluoride may cause neurotoxicity in animal models and acute fluoride poisoning causes neurotoxicity in adults, very little is known of its effects on children’s neurodevelopment.

Objective: We performed a systematic review and meta-analysis of published studies to investigate the effects of increased fluoride exposure and delayed neurobehavioral development.

Methods: We searched the MEDLINE, EMBASE, Water Resources Abstracts, and TOXNET databases through 2011 for eligible studies. We also searched the China National Knowledge Infrastructure (CNKI) database, because many studies on fluoride neurotoxicity have been published in Chinese journals only. In total, we identified 27 eligible epidemiological studies with high and reference exposures, end points of IQ scores, or related cognitive function measures with means and variances for the two exposure groups. Using random-effects models, we estimated the standardized mean difference between exposed and reference groups across all studies. We conducted sensitivity analyses restricted to studies using the same outcome assessment and having drinking-water fluoride as the only exposure. We performed the Cochran test for heterogeneity between studies, Begg’s funnel plot, and Egger test to assess publication bias, and conducted meta-regressions to explore sources of variation in mean differences among the studies.

Results: The standardized weighted mean difference in IQ score between exposed and reference populations was –0.45 (95% confidence interval: –0.56, –0.35) using a random-effects model. Thus, children in high-fluoride areas had significantly lower IQ scores than those who lived in low-fluoride areas. Subgroup and sensitivity analyses also indicated inverse associations, although the substantial heterogeneity did not appear to decrease.

Conclusions: The results support the possibility of an adverse effect of high fluoride exposure on children’s neurodevelopment. Future research should include detailed individual-level information on prenatal exposure, neurobehavioral performance, and covariates for adjustment.



The patients prescribed up to 25 different drugs a day with devastating results

This is alarmingly common.  When people go into hospital, they usually take their normal medications with them.  So when I went into hospital last year at age 68, my medications should have come with me.  Excerpt there weren't any.  I practice skepticism as well as preach it. A nurse who looked into my medication cupboard said it was the only empty one she had ever seen.  The hospital was a top private one so nearly all the patients were older people

Jean Smith felt as if a thick fog had descended on her brain as once again she found herself having to re-read sentences three times so she understood what they meant.

‘Even when I talked I struggled to find the right words,’ recalls Jean, a 63-year-old former civil servant, who lives in Liverpool with her husband, Kenneth, 58, a factory supervisor.

‘I told Kenneth the same things over and I never knew what the day was.  'I just couldn’t think clearly and was worried I was beginning to lose it.’

She was also sleeping more than usual.

In fact, Jean’s brain was absolutely fine — the real problem was the dozens of medications she’d been prescribed by her GP.

Jean was on a cocktail of more than 25 pills, patches and creams a day, from an anti- hypertensive drug for high blood pressure to painkillers for arthritis.

The prescriptions had increased during a 15-year period.

‘The effects built up gradually as my prescriptions escalated. I felt I was under a chemical cosh,’ recalls Jean.

‘To be fair, my GP is pretty good at checking up on how I get on with new drugs — the problem is like most people I just wasn’t aware that some of the symptoms I had were actually side-effects  of drugs.’

But last November, after Jean experienced dizzy spells and sudden low blood pressure, her doctors and GP decided to reduce her drugs down to just nine.

‘They were unsure whether my symptoms were linked to a new medical condition or were a symptom of drug interactions. It actually turned out to be a combination of both.’

For although the bad news was that Jean had another problem — an autoimmune condition affecting her adrenal glands — coming off some of her drugs actually cured her memory problems.

‘I can think clearly again and I’m not forgetting things,’ she says happily. ‘I don’t feel like I’m drugged up to the eyeballs any more.’

Jean is one of a growing number of patients in the UK on a daily cocktail of drugs to treat medical conditions, prevent others and increasingly, to deal with the side-effects of prescribed medication (in other words, the drugs they are given for their genuine ailments in turn create symptoms).

The annual number of prescriptions per head of population has increased from 11.9 in 2001 to 18.3 per person in 2011.

Most of this increase has been in prescribing for the elderly. Almost half the over-65s have three chronic health problems, such as high blood pressure, diabetes, and arthritis. It’s quite common for this age group to be taking eight to 12 different types of medication daily.

Taking lots of different prescription pills and medicines — known as polypharmacy — is a major issue for this age group, says Dr Chris Fox, consultant old age psychiatrist at  the Norfolk and Suffolk Mental Health NHS Foundation Trust and a senior lecturer at the University of East Anglia.

Experts warn the problem is partly due to prescribers being too quick to medicate — without always checking what other medication the patient is already on. As we shall see, GPs are also effectively incentivised to put patients on pills.

Elderly patients often don’t know why they are on so many drugs, says Dr Trisha McNair, specialist in medicine for the elderly at Milford Hospital, Surrey: ‘One GP friend of mine says she had a patient who kept all her pills on a huge glass bowl on the kitchen table and just took a random handful when she  was passing.’

Dr McNair says she often sees patients who are on between 12 and 20 different types of medication, including pills, sprays and creams.

The problem with polypharmacy is that the more drugs you take, the more likely you are to experience side-effects that are then misinterpreted by the healthcare practitioner as a symptom of disease that needs treating with additional medicine, explains Dr Fox.

‘Many older people on beta-blockers for blood pressure, for example, will report depression.’

This could be because depression is a known side-effect of beta-blockers.

But some patients may not need the beta-blockers at all — the problem is the drug then slows down their heart too much and it is this that makes them tired and depressed.

‘This may lead to them being prescribed anti-depressants they don’t need.

'Others who are on statins might suffer from muscle pain and this may mean they need painkillers, which may then have more side-effects, including gastric problems, which then necessitate more drugs.

‘A lot of these drugs do prevent illness, it’s true, but there is often a price to pay in terms of side-effects.’

It’s not just that the drugs can cause side-effects — there’s also the problem of them interacting with each other.

‘A big part of our workload is sorting out whether these patients’ symptoms are an illness or a result of drug interactions,’ says Dr McNair.

This task is not helped by the fact that drugs are not tested on patients who are on multiple pills for different conditions, adds Dr Fox.

‘I was always taught that if you take more than three drugs at a time you can expect interactions — but these days it’s not unusual for the over-65s to be on five or more different drugs for three or more chronic health conditions. No one really knows what the cumulative effects of this are yet.

‘Although GPs use computerised prescribing systems that should flag up drug interactions, they may also write paper prescriptions on home visits and not have access to this, so the system is not infallible,’ says  Dr Fox.

The elderly are more at risk of drug side-effects because their metabolism is slower, meaning drugs build up in their systems, he adds.

Dr Fox recently published research that suggested commonly prescribed anticholinergic drugs — used for treating movement disorders, incontinence and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease — are associated with cognitive decline in the elderly and an increased risk of death.

An estimated 20 to 50 per cent of all over-65s are being prescribed at least one anti-cholinergic drug, and while the effects of some are small, their cumulative effects may cause significant mental deterioration in older people who already have some cognitive problems, warns Ian Maidment, a senior lecturer at Aston University’s School of Pharmacy and joint author of the study.

‘Doctors can definitely do more harm than good by prescribing too many drugs — GPs are ideally placed to take a holistic view of the patient’s overall health, but they are hard-pressed.

‘And sometimes the patient is under four or five different specialists and it can be hard for GPs to find out why a patient has been prescribed a particular drug, so they tend to leave them on it.’

‘We need more research into poly-pharmacy to see what the effects are. It requires a co-ordinated response from community pharmacists, patients and their carers too.’

There is an added problem with patients self-medicating with over-the-counter drugs and herbal  remedies, says Dr Fox.

Tackling polypharmacy can make a significant difference, as Jean Smith discovered.

Her experience is borne out by an Israeli study in 2010 that found that when the elderly patients in a nursing home were taken off some of their medication (under supervision), 88 per cent reported improvements in their overall health.

Fifty-six of the 70 participants reported improvements in their cognitive health.


19 February, 2013

MS: Lawmakers say no to local food regulation

No one's trying to take away supertanker-sized soda drinks in Mississippi, but state lawmakers passed a bill Wednesday to make sure they never do.

House Bill 1182 would prohibit counties and cities from creating food regulations such as requiring nutritional labeling at restaurants, banning junk foods and keeping toys out of meals.

Food regulations that promote healthful eating have gained traction in cities like New York. There, Mayor Michael Bloomberg introduced regulations capping soda sizes and requiring chain restaurants to display calorie information on menus.

Rep. Gregory Holloway, D-Hazlehurst, said during a House debate Wednesday that he doesn't want municipalities making food regulations "willy nilly."

"If you want to go eat 20 Big Macs, you can eat 20 Big Macs," Holloway said.

Rep. Omeria Scott, D-Laurel, opposed the bill, saying local governments should have the freedom to try new approaches to fight obesity.

"Given that Mississippi is the fattest and most unhealthy state in the USA, I don't think we should take a tool away from them if they should choose to use it," Scott said.

Heather McTeer Toney, former mayor of Greenville, told The Associated Press that the bill takes away communities' ability to tackle health problems.

"This is not indicative of what the people of Mississippi want," she said in a phone interview.

At a Chick-fil-A in downtown Jackson on Wednesday, customer Shelton Gates said he likes nutrition labeling on menus.

"I would agree with it being mandatory," Gates said. "I don't think it would hurt to know to make sure I don't stray too far off course."

Rita Kelly, a homemaker from Natchez also eating at the restaurant, said she would appreciate the labeling but wouldn't support local governments regulating soft drink sizes.

"I drink water so it wouldn't be a problem for me, but I don't think it would be right to do that," Kelly said.

The bill would still allow the state to impose new regulations. But given the hearty reception House members gave to a speech by Rep. Jerry Turner, that doesn't seem likely the near future.

"This is all about free enterprise, the state of Mississippi and people being able to make a choice in their own life," said Turner, R-Baldwyn.

The Senate on Wednesday passed a similar measure, Senate Bill 2687, to prevent local laws requiring food labeling.

The two chambers will exchange bills and must agree on a single version before anything could go to the governor.


Shoppers who buy organic food are LESS likely to be helpful to other people, study claims

Self-obsession is not exactly surprising in this group but this is student data only

Buying organic foods may make you less likely to show kindness to others, researchers claim.

This is because using organic products makes people feel more secure about themselves, weakening the urge to act unselfishly, says US psychologist Dr Kendall Eskine.

It also makes them judge immoral behaviour more harshly, his team reports in the journal Social Psychological and Personality Science.

But comfort foods can lead to us being more social and making kinder moral judgments.

The study, at Loyola University in New Orleans, used 62 students in three groups.

One was given pictures of organic produce, another images of ice cream, cookies, chocolate and brownies, and a control group pictures of porridge, rice, mustard and beans.

They were then all asked their views on six moral transgressions ranging from a politician taking bribes to a student stealing books from a library.

When they thought the study had finished, the students were told that a professor in another department was looking for volunteers willing to spare 30 minutes without any reward.

The students who were exposed to organic fruit and vegetables agreed to spare an average 13 minutes to help the professor.

The study found that people who were exposed to organic food were willing to set aside an average 13 minutes to help others compared with 25 minutes from those who viewed comfort food such as chocolate

However, the students who saw the comfort food were happy to set aside 25 minutes compared with 20 minutes from those in the third group, which looked at oatmeal and rice.

Dr Kendall Eskine and colleagues, who wrote the paper 'Wholesome Foods and Wholesome Morals?' in the journal Social Psychological and Personality Science, said that people were more willing to help after eating something sweet.

In contrast, those that taste something disgusting had tougher moral judgments.

The psychologists wrote: 'The possibility is that those who simply purchase organic products will be less likely to engage in other meaningful acts of environmental protection.

'Although organic products are indubitably environmentally sound and ethical choices, perhaps milder, more subtle advertisements could help promote the beneficial qualities of these products without inadvertently inducing moral licensing in its consumers.'


18 February, 2013

The usual suspects do some publicity whoring over sugary drinks

"Consumer group" would be more accurately be called an "anti-Consumer group"

Soda and other sugary drinks have unsafe levels of high-fructose corn syrup or other added sugars, a consumer group says, and it's urging the government to determine a safe level to reduce Americans' "dangerously high sugar consumption."

The Center for Science in the Public Interest filed a petition today with the Food and Drug Administration urging the agency to identify a safe level for added sugars in beverages.

The petition is supported by a letter signed by 41 nutrition scientists and physicians and the public health departments of 10 major cities including Boston, Los Angeles, Philadelphia and Seattle.

A diet high in high-fructose corn syrup and added sugars is linked to an increased risk of obesity, type 2 diabetes, heart disease, gout and tooth decay, says CSPI Executive Director Michael Jacobson. About two-thirds of adults and one-third of children in the USA are overweight or obese.

On average, people are downing 18 to 23 teaspoons of added sugars a day — about 300 to 400 calories, he says. There are about 355 calories in 22 teaspoons. Every teaspoon has about 16 calories.

"Sugary beverages provide almost half the sugars we consume," Jacobson says. A typical 20-ounce bottle of soda has about 16 teaspoons of sugar from high-fructose corn syrup, he says.

The American Heart Association recommends no more than 9 teaspoons of added sugars a day for men and no more than 6 teaspoons of added sugars a day for women.

Added sugars come in the form of table sugar, brown sugar, high-fructose corn syrup (in soda), maple syrup, dextrose, honey and molasses. Added sugars make their way into lots of processed foods and beverages, from soda, sweet tea and lemonade to energy drinks and sports drinks.

The FDA classifies high-fructose corn syrup, sucrose and other added sugars as "generally recognized as safe," Jacobson says. "But at these levels they are being used, these ingredients are not safe. They are harmful. The FDA has an obligation to review the safe consumption of sugars and set safe levels."

Although the petition did not propose a specific safe level, and there are "no magic numbers" for that, Jacobson says several health agencies have identified 2 to 3 teaspoons (10 grams) of added sugars as the safe limit in a healthier drink.

"We're not asking for a ban. We are not saying they are a poison," he says.

Beverage companies can use natural non-caloric sweeteners and sweetness enhancers instead, Jacobson says.

Not so fast, others say. "If we start blaming one component of the diet for something as complicated as obesity, I think that's a slippery slope," says James Rippe, a cardiologist who studies nutrition and fitness. He has researched high-fructose corn syrup and sucrose with grants from companies and organizations that use or make both.

"It's emotionally attractive to blame added sugars for obesity, but if we go in this direction, it will prevent us from looking at the total diet to solve obesity. Even if we made drastic cuts in the amount of added sugars in our diet, I believe people would find other ways of over-consuming calories."

J. Patrick Mohan, interim president of the Corn Refiners Association, said in a statement: "As we continue to debate the root causes of our nation's obesity issue, we need to rely on science and facts, not look for quick fixes that draw focus away from developing real solutions to a complex problem. All foods can fit into a healthy diet if consumed in moderation combined with physical activity."

The American Beverage Association, an industry group, said in a statement that "Everyone has a role to play in reducing obesity levels — a fact completely ignored in this petition. This is why the beverage industry has worked to increase options and information for consumers. Today, about 45% of all non-alcoholic beverages purchased have zero calories, and the overall average number of calories per beverage serving is down 23% since 1998."

Plus, the group adds: "Americans are consuming 37% fewer calories from sugar in soft drinks and other sweetened beverages than in 2000."

The consumer group's petition also says the FDA should encourage the food industry to voluntarily reduce added sugars in baked goods, breakfast cereals and frozen desserts. The group wants a separate line for "added sugars" on the Nutrition Facts label on products.

The consumer group is also calling for an education campaign. "Consumers should and could be doing a lot more for their own health," Jacobson says. "They should look for foods lower in sugar; drink water instead of soda and not eat a one-pound serving of cake."

Barry Popkin, a nutrition professor at the University of North Carolina-Chapel Hill who signed the letter of support for the petition, says that "setting standards and limits on added sugar levels would make a significant impact on the health of Americans, 40% of whom consume at least 400 calories a day of added sugar from beverages."

Walter Willett, head of the department of nutrition at Harvard School of Public Health, adds, "Reducing sugar won't solve all our health problems, but decreasing intake, especially in the form of soda, is one of the most important steps we can take to reverse the epidemics of obesity and diabetes."

Tamara Ward, a spokeswoman for the FDA, says when a petition is filed, the agency reviews it and responds directly to the petitioner.


Pouring granulated sugar on wounds 'can heal them faster than antibiotics'

Certainly interesting

Too much sugar may be bad for the waistline, but it could help doctors heal the sick.

New research shows folk medicine from Africa may hold the key to treating wounds that defy modern medicine.

A study found granulated sugar poured directly into bed sores, leg ulcers and even amputations promotes healing when antibiotics and other treatments have failed.

The study is headed by Moses Murandu, a senior lecturer in adult nursing at Wolverhampton University, who grew up in Zimbabwe where his father used sugar to heal wounds and reduce pain when he was a child.

Sugar draws water from the wound into a dressing - bacteria needs water to survive - which allows accelerates the healing process, or kick starts it where progress has stalled.

When Mr Murandu moved to the UK he realised that sugar was not recognised as a traditional medicine that had something to offer.

One of the patients receiving treatment as part of the research is Alan Bayliss, from Birmingham, who was being treated at Moseley Hall Hospital’s amputee rehabilitation ward.

He underwent an above the knee amputation on his right leg due to an ulcer at the Queen Elizabeth (QE) Hospital Birmingham in January 2013, and as part of the surgery a vein was removed from his left leg.

For his post-surgery rehabilitation, Mr Bayliss was moved to Moseley Hall Hospital where standard dressings were used but the left leg cavity wound was not healing effectively.

Nurses contacted Mr Murandu and Mr Bayliss was given the sugar treatment and within two weeks the wound had drastically reduced in size.

Mr Bayliss, a 62-year-old electrical engineer, said ‘It has been revolutionary. The actual wound was very deep - it was almost as big as my finger

‘When Moses first did the dressing he almost used the whole pot of sugar, but two weeks later he only needed to use 4 or 5 teaspoons.

‘I am very pleased indeed. I feel that it has speeded up my recovery a lot, and it has been a positive step forward.

'I was a little sceptical at first but once I saw the sugar in operation and how much it was drawing the wound out, I was impressed.’

Staff Nurse Jonathan Janneman said: ‘One of the main benefits has been the morale of the patient. He could see the cavity in his leg as well as having been unwell and through operations.

‘But the sugar has given something to hold on to. It is amazing that something as simple as sugar has given him a morale boost - the psychological benefit is up there with the physical benefits.

'The patient is ecstatic with the results.’ Mr Murandu is undertaking a trial at three West Midlands hospitals - Moseley Hall, the QE Hospital and Manor Hospital in Walsall - into using the sugar paste.

So far 35 patients receiving treatment have seen their condition improve, with no adverse effects reported, compared with 16 patients who did not have the treatment.

The treatment works because bacteria need water to grow, so applying sugar to a wound draws the water away and starves the bacteria of water. This prevents the bacteria from multiplying and they die.

Mr Murandu said pure sugar was used which had to go through infection control procedures.

He said ‘In Africa we would get the sugar from the supermarket, here it has to go through our aseptic services department.

‘The only problem we have is asking people to be prepared not to get the treatment - they have already been on standard treatment of antibiotics and modern dressings which hasn’t worked.’

Mr Murandu, who has won an innovation award for his research, said: ‘It is very pleasing for me to see the results, especially now that the nurses are able to take over and administer the treatment after I have made the initial assessment, and also that the patients are experiencing the benefits.

‘I believe in the sugar and the nurses and doctors who see the effects are beginning to believe in it too. I’d like to thank the University and the School of Health and Wellbeing for their support and also the patients for taking part.’


17 February, 2013

Circumcision reduces sexual pleasure

It makes sense but it is subjective data only.  No actual measurements performed

Men who are circumcised are in for some bad news - it puts them at a disadvantage in the bedroom, according to experts.

A study found those who've had their foreskin removed as children or adults experience less intense sexual pleasure and orgasm than their peers.

'We're not saying less sexual activity or satisfaction, but sensitivity,' senior author Dr Piet Hoebeke, from Ghent University Hospital, said.

The practice is common in the U.S, with three-quarters of men having the procedure for non-religious reasons. However, it is rare in the UK, with a rate of just six per cent, according to World Health Organisation figures.

Some religions, such as Judaism and Islam, consider circumcision part of religious practice.

British doctors say that although it can reduce the risk of some types of infection the risks associated with routine circumcision outweigh any potential benefits.

The latest study surveyed 1,369 men over the age of 18, who responded to leaflets handed out in train stations across Belgium.

The men were asked whether they were circumcised, and were then asked to rate how sensitive their penis was, how intense their orgasms were and whether they experience any pain or numbness when they are aroused.

Overall, 310 men who took the survey were circumcised, and 1,059 were not. Each rated how sensitive their penis was on a scale from 0 to five, with higher numbers being the most sensitive.

For example, uncircumcised men reported an average sensitivity score of 3.72 when they or their partner stroked the head of their manhood  compared to 3.31 amongst circumcised men.

'It's a significant difference,' Hoebeke said.  Uncircumcised men also reported more intense orgasms.

One possible explanation for any potential difference in sensitivity is that a man's foreskin may protect his penis's head from rubbing against underwear and clothing. It's possible, the researchers write, that friction makes the head of the penis thicker, drier and ultimately less sensitive.

The researchers also found circumcised men were more likely to report more pain and numbness during arousal than uncircumcised men, which Dr Hoebeke said is likely due to scar tissue.

'I'm amazed that people report pain during sexual pleasure… that was unexpected,' he told Reuters Health.

However, Dr Aaron Tobin from Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore, who was not involved in the study, said: 'The medical evidence and the benefits of male circumcision are abundantly clear.'

The American Academy of Pediatrics says the benefits of male circumcision outweigh the risks, but stops short of recommending universal circumcision.


Pregnant women who take folic acid could reduce their child's risk of autism by 40%

Correlations only.  It could be that mothers who took folates were more middle class and so had healthier children

Women who take folic acid supplements early in their pregnancy may reduce their child’s risk of autism by 40 per cent, a study found.

But mothers-to-be should start taking them four weeks before conceiving and eight weeks afterwards to get the full benefit for their unborn child.

The timing of taking prenatal supplements is critical, scientists warn.

Folic acid - Vitamin B9 - is required for DNA synthesis and repairs. It’s naturally occurring form, folate, is found in leafy vegetables, peas, lentils, beans, eggs, yeast, and liver.

Folic acid is known to protect against spina bifida and other neural tube defects in children but the latest research, which looks at more than 85,000 babies born in Norway between 2002 and 2008, shows that it may offer protection against Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD)

Epidemiologist Pel Surin of the Norwegian Institute of Public Health said: 'We examined the rate of autism spectrum disorders in children born to mothers who did or did not take folic acid during pregnancy.

'There was a dramatic reduction in the risk of autistic disorder in children born to mothers who took folic acid supplements.'

Since 1998 the Norwegian health authorities recommended that all women planning to become pregnant take a daily supplement of folic acid from one month before the start of pregnancy.

Scientists looked at the Norwegian Mother and Child Cohort Study and its sub-study of autism, the Autism Birth Cohort Study in which 85,176 babies born between 2002 and 2008 participated.

In the study, published Journal of the American Medical Association, expectant mother’s dietary habits were recorded and families were regularly surveyed for three to 10 years to measure the development of autism spectrum disorders.

A total of 270 cases of autism spectrum disorders were identified in the study population - 114 autistic disorder; 56 Asperger syndrome; and 100 atypical or unspecified autism, otherwise known as pervasive developmental disorder not otherwise specified.

The study found mothers who took folic acid supplements in early pregnancy had a 40 per cent reduced risk of having children with autistic disorder compared with mothers who did not take the supplement.

The reduction in risk for autistic disorder - the most severe form - was observed in those who took folic acid from 4 weeks before to 8 weeks after the start of pregnancy.

No reduction in risk was observed for atypical or unspecified autism while for Asperger syndrome the number of children was too low to obtain sufficient evidence.

The study found the use of folic acid in early pregnancy increased substantially from 2002, 43 per cent, to 2008, 85 per cent, among women who participated in the Norwegian research.

However, many women began taking folic acid later than recommended, and only half started before the beginning of pregnancy

The researchers also analysed whether the risk of autistic disorder was influenced by the use of other dietary supplements, such as cod liver oil and omega-3 fatty acids or vitamins and minerals, but found not link.

In recent years, researchers have started to investigate whether folic acid has other beneficial effects on the development of the foetus’ brain and spinal cord.

A study of language development in the Norwegian cohort published in 2011 showed that children whose mothers took folic acid supplements in early pregnancy had only half the risk of severe language delay at age three years compared with other children.

A separate 2011 study from the University of California demonstrated a lower risk of autism spectrum disorders in children of mothers who had used prenatal vitamin supplements during pregnancy.

Prenatal vitamin supplements contain folic acid in combination with other vitamins and minerals.

Professor of Epidemiology Ezra Susser at Columbia University added: 'Our findings extend earlier work on the significance of folate in brain development and raise the possibility of an important and inexpensive public health intervention for reducing the burden of autism spectrum disorders.'


15 February, 2013

Cutting salt could save 20,000 lives each year in UK

This is just assertion (no new data) that ignores a lot of evidence (See sidebar)

Reducing the amount of salt in our diets could save nearly 20,000 lives in the UK every year, according to researchers.

Doctors say deaths from heart disease would fall dramatically if consumers paid attention to food labels.

Yet most Britons have no idea how much salt they consume or what the maximum recommended levels are.

The recommended maximum daily intake for adults is 6g in the UK, although just last month the World Health Organisation revised this down to 5g.

Yet according to figures from the British Heart Foundation, men consume around 9.7g a day, while women have 7.7g.

Now researchers at three universities, including Harvard Medical School, have revealed the dramatic effect reducing salt could have on death rates by using computer models.

They estimated that reducing salt intake to 6g (or 2,300mg of sodium) would save 500,000 to 850,000 lives in the U.S over the next decade.

'No matter how we look at it, the story is the same – there will be huge benefits in reducing sodium,' said study author Dr Pam Coxson, from UCSF.

The British consumer group Consensus Action on Salt & Health said reducing the UK's daily intake to 6g could save around 17,500 deaths from heart attacks and strokes a year.

British GP Ian Campbell, medical director of charity Weight Concern, told Mail Online: 'Salt is a big problem in the UK too. It's a silent killer. Over time consuming too much of it increases the risk of high blood blood pressure, which can lead to heart attacks and strokes.

'About 80 per cent of our salt intake comes from processed foods, so it can be difficult to avoid.

'Many people are unaware of where salt is hidden, such as bread, soups, ready meals, even breakfast cereals and mayonnaise.

'The Government approach has been to encourage food manufacturers to modify the amount of salt in their products. There has been a reduction but it is taking too long. The Food Standards Agency should consider setting mandatory maximum levels for salt.'

Victoria Taylor, Senior Dietitian at the British Heart Foundation, added: 'Eating too much salt may raise your blood pressure and having high blood pressure increases your risk of developing coronary heart disease.

'The Government has worked with the food industry to reduce the amount of salt in our food and make labels clearer. But there is still work to be done by everyone because the majority of Brits are still consuming more salt than they should be.'


Protect your bones and wreck your heart?

More doubts about supplements  -- but the evidence is correlational only

Women with high calcium levels are at twice the risk of dying from heart disease than those with ‘normal’ levels, scientists warn.

New research adds to evidence that calcium supplements could be doing more harm than good in people with adequate intakes by overloading the body.

Hundreds of thousands of women over 50 take supplements for preventing osteoporosis, or thinning bones.

But the latest research shows women with calcium intakes at least double the recommended level are at high risk of death from all causes, particularly cardiovascular disease.

Researchers from Uppsala University in Sweden studied 61,443 Swedish women aged 50 and over for an average of 19 years, including their calcium intake from diet and supplements.

Average intake among those with lowest levels was 572mg per day (the equivalent of five slices of cheese), rising to 2,137mg per day among those consuming most.

Results showed that over the 19 years, 11,944 women (17 per cent) died: 3,862 of these (32 per cent) died from cardiovascular disease, 1932 (16 per cent) from heart disease and 1100 (8 per cent) from stroke.

The highest rates of all-cause, cardiovascular and heart disease were observed among those with a dietary calcium intake higher than 1400mg per day.

In addition, researchers observed higher death rates among women with an intake below 600mg per day.

Women whose daily calcium exceeded 1400mg and also used supplements had a higher death rate than those not taking supplements - the risk was double compared with a daily intake of 600-999mg.

The Food Standards Agency recommends adults have 700mg of calcium a day, which should come from dietary sources including milk, cheese and green, leafy vegetables.

Researchers claim the way supplements increase the levels of calcium circulating in the blood appears to have a ‘flooding’ effect which might be harmful.

Dietary calcium taken in small amounts is absorbed slowly, and efforts should be made to boost intake in people eating too little, they say.

There have been conflicting results from past research, with some studies finding high calcium intakes increase the risk of heart death among men and women while others have failed to show a link.


14 February, 2013

Drinking three cups of tea a day can keep you mentally alert in old age

Cripes!  Britain  must  be full of alert oldies!  Just more correlational nonsense below

It's the national drink that millions of us turn to when we need a pick-me-up.  But tea does far more than just help to wake us up. Scientists say the traditional cuppa can keep the mind sharp into old age.

And the benefits of drinking as little as one to three cups a day in staving off mental decline are especially pronounced among women.

In one study, of almost 1,500 men and women in Singapore, drinking more than four cups a day cut the odds of memory failing by three-quarters.

Even just one to three cups of Ceylon tea a day had an effect, cutting the odds of cognitive decline by 43 per cent.

It is thought compounds in tea may protect against the poisons that ravage the brain in Alzheimer’s.

Possibilities include theanine, a plant chemical found only in tea and in mushrooms.

Experts in the US analysed several studies on the effect of caffeinated drinks on memory and mental alertness. The thousands of men and women who took part logged how often they drank tea or coffee and did a memory test that is used in the initial stages of diagnosing Alzheimer’s disease.

Up to ten years later, they resat the test and any fall in score was noted.

The brain stayed sharper in those who drank tea in all the studies that included the drink, the journal Advances in Nutrition reports.

A study which tracked 4,000 Americans for almost eight years suggested tea to be of particular benefit to women.

The University of California researchers who reviewed the studies said the weaker results for coffee mean caffeine is unlikely to be responsible for the cognitive benefits.

Britons drink 165 million cups of tea every day  – making it more than twice as popular as coffee.

Jessica Smith of the Alzheimer’s Society said: ‘There is building evidence linking a cuppa and a reduction in cognitive decline.

‘However, we are a long way from being able to say for sure a regular brew will reduce your risk of developing dementia.

‘The best way to reduce your risk is to eat a balanced diet, exercise regularly and not smoke.’


Peer Review failure: Science and Nature journals reject papers because they "have to be wrong”

Mouse studies discredited

The peer review system has decayed to the point where the culture of the two "top” science journals virtually  guarantees they will reject the most important research done today. It is the exact opposite of what we need to further human knowledge the fastest. Science and Nature are prestigious journals, yet they are now so conservative about ideas that challenge dominant assumptions, that they reject ground-breaking papers because those papers challenge the dominant meme, not because the evidence or the reasoning is suspect or weak.

Watts Up drew my attention to an extraordinary paper showing that billions of dollars of medical research may have been wasted because researchers assumed mice were the same as men. Dr Ronald W. Davis from Stanford comments: ""They are so ingrained in trying to cure mice that they forget we are trying to cure humans.” He found that 150 drugs were tested that in hindsight, were guaranteed to fail in humans.

People didn’t understand that mice have a very different response to sepsis (which is any overwhelming blood-borne bacterial infection). Sepsis kills around 200,000 people in the US each year and costs an estimated $17 billion a year. Mice are already resistant to huge numbers of bacteria in their blood whereas humans overreact, our capillaries leak, our organs run short of blood, mass organ failure ensues, and we can die. While mice may have an answer to deadly sepsis (how do they resist it?) we weren’t looking for that in our experiments, we were testing drugs on mice that were never going to help us. Now we understand why.

The editors must be kicking themselves now. But what a classic case study of the way the peer-review-establishment responds to a contentious idea. Here was information that could potentially save lives that was dismissed and delayed for the most unscientific of reasons.

     "The study’s investigators tried for more than a year to publish their paper, which showed that there was no relationship between the genetic responses of mice and those of humans. They submitted it to the publications Science and Nature, hoping to reach a wide audience. It was rejected from both."

The data was described as persuasive, robust, and stunning. Yet both prestigious journals tossed the drafts out. The best excuse they can give is that they reject lots of papers. Oh, well that’s ok then…

    "Science and Nature said it was their policy not to comment on the fate of a rejected paper, or whether it had even been submitted to them. But, Ginger Pinholster of Science said, the journal accepts only about 7 percent of the nearly 13,000 papers submitted each year, so it is not uncommon for a paper to make the rounds."

    Still, Dr. Davis said, reviewers did not point out scientific errors. Instead, he said, "the most common response was, ‘It has to be wrong. I don’t know why it is wrong, but it has to be wrong.’ ”

If you do revolutionary work, send it somewhere else

My advice to scientists with groundbreaking results is not to even submit papers to Nature or Science any more. If the information you have is important and will ruffle feathers (and what groundbreaking research doesn’t?) why delay it? There are plenty of alternatives:

    "The investigators turned to Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. As a member of the academy, Dr. Davis could suggest reviewers for his paper, and he proposed researchers who he thought would give the work a fair hearing. "If they don’t like it, I want to know why,” he said. They recommended publication, and the editorial board of the journal, which independently assesses papers, agreed."

The clues were there all along — mice often live in filthy conditions and eat food that would make us sick:

    "Yet there was always one major clue that mice might not really mimic humans in this regard: it is very hard to kill a mouse with a bacterial infection. Mice need a million times more bacteria in their blood than what would kill a person."

    "Mice can eat garbage and food that is lying around and is rotten,” Dr. Davis said. "Humans can’t do that. We are too sensitive.”

If researchers had questioned their assumptions twenty years ago, how many lives might have been saved? Perhaps it would only have made a few years difference — because genetic techniques were used (and they were so basic 20 years ago) and the study took ten years in any case. But for twenty years money and brain-power were used to study drugs that were never going to work. Imagine what else we could have learnt?

It’s a reminder that the wrong assumptions can kill despite years of hard work, good intentions and honest research. What is science if is not constantly testing the base assumptions? It’s a faith-based-project.

Anyone who claims peer-reviewed research is rigorous has some kind of delusional faith that humans aren’t human.

Genomic responses in mouse models poorly mimic human inflammatory diseases

By  Junhee Seok et al.


A cornerstone of modern biomedical research is the use of mouse models to explore basic pathophysiological mechanisms, evaluate new therapeutic approaches, and make go or no-go decisions to carry new drug candidates forward into clinical trials. Systematic studies evaluating how well murine models mimic human inflammatory diseases are nonexistent. Here, we show that, although acute inflammatory stresses from different etiologies result in highly similar genomic responses in humans, the responses in corresponding mouse models correlate poorly with the human conditions and also, one another. Among genes changed significantly in humans, the murine orthologs are close to random in matching their human counterparts (e.g., R2 between 0.0 and 0.1). In addition to improvements in the current animal model systems, our study supports higher priority for translational medical research to focus on the more complex human conditions rather than relying on mouse models to study human inflammatory diseases.


13 February, 2013

Babies delivered by Caesarean section at higher risk of asthma and allergies

This is a tiny study that offered NO evidence of clinical significance for the differences observed.  Most of it is sheer speculation -- albeit speculation of a conventional sort

Babies delivered by Caesarean miss out on protective bugs that could help prevent a host of disorders in childhood and later life, warn researchers.

They found significant differences in the gut bacteria found in infants born surgically and naturally.

Babies fed formula milk, rather than being breastfed, also lacked bacteria that may be protective, according to a new study in the Canadian Medical Association Journal.

Researchers said the findings would increase concern about potential lifelong effects for the baby from the soaring rate of Caesareans.

Although emergency Caesarean births can be life-saving, planned surgery is recognised as riskier for mothers because they are more likely to develop complications and spend twice as long in hospital as women having a natural delivery.

The latest study adds to worries about the hazards for infants after previous research suggested children born surgically are at double the risk of obesity in childhood, with a higher risk of developing type 1 diabetes and asthma.

Although the exact reasons are unknown, surgical babies may be missing out on physiological changes that happen during labour including exposure to bugs which are necessary for the immune system to mature.

The rate of surgical deliveries in England is almost 25 per cent, adding up to more than 190,000 a year. In some parts of London one in three hospital deliveries is by Caesarean.

The study looked at data on 24 healthy infants, as part of the larger Canadian Healthy Infant Longitudinal Development study, who were representative of Canadian newborns with 25 per cent born by Caesarean and 42 per cent breastfed exclusively at 4 months of age.

The researchers used new DNA sequencing technology to investigate the gut bacterial composition of the babies, a technique that allows detection of virtually all the bugs present.

Previous studies of this type have been conducted using laboratory cultures, which are limited as about 80 per cent of intestinal microbes cannot be grown in culture.

The researchers found infants born surgically were lacking a specific group of bacteria found in infants delivered naturally, even if they were breastfed.

Infants strictly formula-fed, compared with babies that were exclusively or partially breastfed, also had significant differences in their gut bacteria.

Co-author Dr Anita Kozyrskyj, of the University of Alberta, said: ‘Our findings are particularly timely given the recent affirmation of the gut microbiota as a ‘super organ’ with diverse roles in health and disease, and the increasing concern over rising Caesarean delivery and insufficient exclusive breastfeeding.’

The potential long-term consequences of decisions regarding mode of delivery and infant diet are ‘not to be underestimated’, said the study report.

‘Infants born by Caesarean delivery are at increased risk of asthma, obesity and type 1 diabetes, whereas breastfeeding is variably protective against these and other disorders’ it said.

Researcher Meghan Azad, of the University of Alberta, said: ‘We want parents (and physicians) to realize that their decisions regarding C-section and breastfeeding can impact their infant’s gut microbiome, and this can have potentially lifelong effects on the child’s health.’

Experts believe gut bacteria play a role in stimulating the immune system.  Because infants born surgically are not exposed to beneficial bacteria in the birth canal, they might take longer to accumulate good bugs, which delays exposure to microbes that kick start the immune system.

Dr Rob Knight, a scientist at the University of Colorado, Boulder, Colorado, United States, in a related commentary, said: ‘Children born by Caesarean delivery or fed with formula may be at increased risk of a variety of conditions later in life; both processes alter the gut microbiota in healthy infants, which could be the mechanism for the increased risk.’


Report: Salt being subtly trimmed from many foods

I don't suppose that there is any risk of widespread salt deficiency but it would be a matter of serious concern if there were

Salt has quietly been slipping out of dozens of the most familiar foods in brand-name America, from Butterball turkeys to Uncle Ben's flavored rice dishes to Goya canned beans.

A Kraft American cheese single has 18 percent less salt than it did three years ago. The salt in a dollop of Ragu Old World Style pasta sauce is down by 20 percent. A handful of honey Teddy Grahams has 33 percent less salt. A squirt of Heinz ketchup is 15 percent less salty.

Their manufacturers are among 21 companies that have met targets so far in a voluntary, New York City-led effort to get food manufacturers and restaurateurs to lighten up on salt to improve Americans' heart health, Mayor Michael Bloomberg announced Monday. While it's unclear whether consumers have noticed the changes, campaigns aim to get more salt out of the national diet in the coming years — a challenge for an ingredient that plays a role in the taste, preservation and even texture of food.

Salt reduction has become a recent focus of public health campaigns in the city and elsewhere. Salt, or sodium chloride, is the main source of sodium for most people.

Sodium increases the risk of high blood pressure, a major cause of heart disease and stroke. Dietary guidelines recommend no more than 2,300 milligrams of sodium a day, equal to about a teaspoon of salt; the American Heart Association suggests 1,500 milligrams or less. But average sodium consumption in the U.S. is around 3,300 milligrams, the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention have found.

Officials said the first step was a meaningful one.

"The products they're making healthier are some of America's most beloved and iconic foods," noted Bloomberg, a fan of Subway's meaty Italian BMT sandwiches, which are now 27 percent less salty.

Health officials say Americans get the vast majority of their salt from processed and prepared foods, and not necessarily the foods they'd imagine: Bread and rolls are the No. 1 source.

"The problem is not the salt on the table. The problem is the salt on the label," city Health Commissioner Dr. Thomas Farley said.

The amount of salt in any given food item can vary widely. A slice of white bread can have 80 to 230 milligrams of sodium, for example. A cup of canned chicken noodle soup has 100 to 940 milligrams. A 1-ounce bag of potato chips ranges from 50 to 200 milligrams.

In one of a series of healthy-eating initiatives on Bloomberg's 11-year watch, the city announced voluntary salt guidelines in 2010 for various restaurant and store-bought foods. Besides trimming salt levels in the foods by 25 percent by 2014, the campaign aimed to reduce consumers' overall sodium intake by 20 percent in the same timeframe. Interim targets for the foods were set for 2012.

For instant hot cereals, as an example, the guidelines called for a 15 percent salt reduction by last year and a 31 percent cut by 2014.

A company can hit the target for a category, such as canned soup, even if not every product makes the mark.

Boston-based cafe chain Au Bon Pain lowered salt in sandwiches and breads by getting suppliers to use fresh vegetables, whole grains and herbs, CEO Sue Morelli said in a release.


12 February, 2013

Junk food linked to asthma and eczema in children

The last sentence below is the operational one

Eating junk food just three times a week may lead to asthma and eczema in children, scientists have found.

The high saturated fat levels in food such as burgers lower children's immune systems, it is believed.

A research project involving more than 50 countries found that teenagers who ate junk food three times a week or more were 39 per cent more likely to get severe asthma. Younger children were 27 per cent more at risk.

Both were also more prone to the eye condition rhinoconjunctivitis, according to The Sun newspaper

But just three weekly portions of fruit and vegetables could cut that risk by 14 per cent in the younger group and 11 per cent among the teens, it is believed.

Researchers from New Zealand's Auckland University looked at the diets of 181,000 youngsters aged six to seven and 319,000 aged 13-14.

The scientists then asked if the children had allergy symptoms.

They wrote in the journal Thorax, where the study is published: "Fast food may be contributing to increasing asthma, rhinoconjunctivitis and eczema.

"Regular consumption of fruit and vegetables is likely to protect against these diseases."

In the UK alone 1.1 million children already suffer with asthma and one in five get eczema.

The team of researchers warn that their results do not prove cause and effect


Red tape holding back clinical trials

A system of overbearing regulation is preventing researchers from running clinical trials which could lead to new treatments for diseases like cancer, leading experts claim. 

The amount of red tape needed to test new drugs on patient volunteers is still holding back trials despite efforts by ministers to streamline the system, researchers say.

Regulations put in place by the European Union which are designed to protect patients may actually be delaying the development of treatments which could cure them.

Even after being given ethical approval for example, a trial must be signed off by a host of managers at every single site where it is taking place, which can include dozens of hospitals and clinics across Europe.

The director of a leading research institute told the Telegraph: "There is a lot of regulation around clinical trials which many people involved in them say is impairing their ability to do as many trials as they would like to do.

"A lot of people in the field would say there is too much overbearing regulation which is not actually protecting patients at all and is hampering our ability to undertake as many trials as possible."

Judith Bliss, deputy head of clinical studies at the Institute of Cancer Research, said the additional paperwork also added to the cost of trials because more staff are needed to meet the requirements.

She said: "Because the level of paperwork you have to have now ahead of trials is so much more detailed than it was historically, the resources you need have really increased.

"There are less trials being funded because individual trials cost more, and there are very good research questions out there but the trials can not be funded."

The regulatory burden means trials of well-established drugs to treat different diseases - for example the use of the diabetes drug Metformin for cancer patients - are treated as "high risk" despite a wealth of evidence showing the therapy is safe, she said.

"Nobody wants trials to be run badly or on the cheap," she said. "Everyone wants to do safe trials but also wants results to be out as quickly as possible to inform the future treatment of patients."

Prof Peter Johnson, chief clinician of Cancer Research UK said progress had been made in recent years but more work is needed to make the trial process less cumbersome.

He said: "Research has been heavily burdened by regulation, most of which does not contribute to the safety of participants or the quality of information you get from the trial.

"Things never change as fast as you would like them to but it is fair to say the government has taken this seriously and are working to streamline the set-up and conduct of clinical trials."


11 February, 2013

Parents should not be allowed to feed their children

Karl Marx would applaud.  He saw the family as a barrier against his ideas

The Coalition’s advisors on school food said head teachers should prevent pupils bringing their own lunches into school – and ban them from visiting fast food outlets – amid continuing fears over the state of children’s diets.

It was claimed that the move would effectively force parents to pay for school dinners – allowing staff to spend more money upgrading kitchens and generating healthy canteen food.

Ministers have already agreed to introduce compulsory cookery classes for seven- to 14-year-olds under a newly revamped National Curriculum.

From 2014, children will receive new lessons in nutrition and cooking techniques, eventually building up a repertoire of 20 dishes by the time they leave secondary school.

Henry Dimbleby and John Vincent, co-founders of the Leon restaurant chain, who have been appointed to lead a review of school meals, said the move would improve children’s understanding of the importance of a healthy diet.

But they suggested that more radical action may be needed to boost standards of food consumed in schools themselves over lunchtime.

Mr Dimbleby said: "There’s still too much processed food in school canteens. Some of the meals I ate were a bit institutional – meat and two veg – and there is undoubtedly work to be done.”

Currently, around 40 per cent of children eat school meals, with the remainder bringing in packed lunches or leaving school at lunchtime to visit local fast food stores.

Speaking to The Sunday Times, Mr Dimbleby, son of the broadcaster David Dimbleby, said schools should consider banning packed lunches and requiring pupils to remain on site over lunch to drive up investment in school catering services.

He suggested billions of pounds was needed to enable all schools to provide high-quality healthy options for pupils.

"What we need to do is lift uptake from 40 per cent to 80 per cent over five years to make school meals solvent again,” he said. "Rather than ask government to subsidise a structurally bust system, we want the system to become solvent by getting more customers to pay for school dinners.”

Mr Dimbleby said that head teachers should effectively police packed lunches themselves, considering an all-out ban or restrictions on the type of food that can be included. This would prevent parents sending children to school with sugary and high-fat food.

"Because of the criticism school dinners underwent, there is a legacy in our minds as parents that you are going to feed your kids bad food if you give them school dinners,” he said. "But that is not true because scientific analysis shows cooked meals are healthier than packed lunches.”


The Jekyll and Hyde happy pill: It's brought relief to millions but is linked to suicide, low libido and birth defects, and we still don't know how Prozac works
The "paradoxical" reactions (INCREASED suicide ideation) are a real concern so all patients should be alerted to that possibility at the time of prescription. 

Undoubtedly, Prozac has revolutionised the way that we talk about depression. Thirty years ago, the condition was often considered evidence of ‘weak character’. It wasn’t something a doctor could tackle.

The D-word was largely taboo: people went to their GPs with ‘nerves’ or ‘anxiety’. Often, doctors put them on tranquilisers such as Valium, which carried a serious risk of addiction and of side-effects such as confusion, amnesia and aggression.

Then came Prozac. When doctors and patients saw that depression seemed to respond to this new medication, the world began to view the condition more as a treatable illness than as a character defect.

Prozac was an instant hit, and prescriptions quickly soared. Within ten years of its launch in 1988, it was responsible for more than a quarter of pharmaceutical giant Eli Lilly’s £6 billion annual income.

And its use continues to rise. In the UK between 2010 and 2011, the drug was prescribed 4.2?million times on the NHS, an increase of 100,000 on the previous year. This was at a cost of more than £19?million, according to health service figures.

That sales success is even more astonishing when you consider that it was originally intended as a blood-pressure pill.

Its American developer, Eli Lilly, had found that the chemical constituent of Prozac, fluoxetine, reduced hypertension in some animals. But tests failed in humans. Then it was trialled as an anti-obesity therapy. Again it failed. But when the company tried it on five volunteers with mild depression, they found it had a remarkable power to lighten their moods.

Marketing experts then rebranded fluoxetine as an antidepressant with a name that combined  positivity with zap. Prozac was offered to doctors as a one-stop, problem-free fix.

Tales of antidepressant-driven redemption then began to fill the best-seller lists, led by Elizabeth Wurtzel’s memoir, Prozac Nation. These were followed by a rash of Prozac-swallowing celebrity tell-alls, in autobiographies by the likes of TV personality Ulrika Jonsson, ex-pop star Kerry Katona and former footballer Paul Gascoigne.

Prozac’s success created a new class of similar antidepressants, called SSRIs — selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors. These are believed to work by blocking the brain’s ability to re-absorb a ‘feelgood’ brain chemical called  serotonin, thereby increasing its levels in the brain and lifting a  person’s mood.

Other Prozac-type drugs now prescribed in Britain include citalopram (brand name Cipramil) and paroxetine (brand name Seroxat).

And Prozac’s use has steadily spread beyond just depression. It is now also used for a range of other psychological ailments, including obsessive compulsive disorder, eating problems, panic disorders and severe premenstrual tension.

In fact, we seem well on the way to using Prozac as a medicine to regulate all our emotions. The American Psychiatric Association has just voted to alter its recommendations about SSRI drugs.

The changes, which will be published in a manual known worldwide as the ‘psychiatrist’s bible,’ will make it more likely that doctors will begin routinely to give SSRI drugs to people who are feeling sad because they have just been bereaved.

Until now, the advice in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual has been that people should not be medicated if their depression seems to be caused by the natural grief that follows bereavement. But the new advice allows treatment of grief by Prozac and other SSRIs.

However, in recent years there has been a growing backlash against such drugs.

Critics argue that doctors have become too ready to hand out antidepressants when confronted by unhappy patients — and that patients have become so obsessed with the idea of living perfect, ‘happy’ lives that they demand medication when life fails to match up to expectations.

Phillip Hodson, a psychotherapist and spokesman for the British Association for Counselling and Psychotherapy, argues that growing reliance on Prozac encourages people to avoid the inconvenient emotional realities of life.

‘There is still a prejudice against "having emotions”,’ he says, ‘which means that it is more acceptable to take medication than to admit that there might be something wrong with you.’

As well as the psychological concerns, there are serious medical worries, too.

Fears have been raised about Prozac’s side-effects, particularly on babies and mothers. A study last July reported that children who are exposed to Prozac-type drugs in the womb may have an increased risk of autism. The report, in the journal, Archives of General Psychiatry, found that the autism risk was doubled, though further studies are needed to confirm this.

Despite these worries, some GPs continue to prescribe these anti-depressants to pregnant women, in the belief that the risk to the mother and baby of stopping the medication is actually greater than the danger posed by potential side-effects.

As well as worries about pregnancy, the NHS warns that Prozac carries an increased risk of suicide in some patients. People under 25 in particular may experience suicidal thoughts and a desire to self-harm when they first start taking the drugs, it says.

Adults taking the drug also run a significant risk of losing their libido. It is generally accepted that more than 60 per cent of people taking Prozac suffer some loss of sexual function or satisfaction. A study in the Journal of Sexual Medicine in 2008 says that these difficulties can persist even after the medication has been stopped.

More worryingly, there are serious doubts about what Prozac actually achieves.

In 2008, Irving Kirsch, a professor of psychology at Hull University, studied drug manufacturers’ trials of four common antidepressants. He discovered that mildly and moderately depressed patients in the trials who had been given chemically inactive sugar-pill placebos saw their depression scores improve just as much as those on the real pharmaceuticals.

In other words, the placebo patients were so convinced by the ‘magical’ (and much-promoted) power of antidepressants that their morale improved without any genuine chemical intervention.

Professor Kirsch concluded that Prozac and other SSRI antidepressants probably have a real clinical benefit only for patients with severe levels of depression.

But there is a greater concern over this class of drugs. Even after having been prescribed for a quarter of a century, scientists are still not actually sure how they work.

The idea that they raise levels of ‘feelgood’ serotonin in our brains remains scientifically unproven.

Some tests have shown that increased serotonin levels don’t actually improve mood.

Stafford Lightman, a professor of medicine at the University of Bristol and a leading expert in brain chemicals and hormones, says there is still a great deal we don’t know about SSRIs — not least what they actually do to our brains.

‘It is a bit embarrassing, but the bottom line is that we don’t really know how they work,’ he explains.

‘Basically, we started using these drugs before we understood what they do, because they showed some effectiveness.’

Nevertheless, despite such doubts and potentially dangerous side-effects, no one can argue that millions of people are dependent on the pills and are convinced they can’t cope with life without them.

Whatever Prozac and similar antidepressant drugs actually manage to do, even if it is only to stimulate people’s own powers of self-healing, millions of patients across the world still remain very grateful for them.


10 February, 2013

Lessons in green chemistry

"Green chemistry” has become the latest craze and now government agencies are sponsoring programs to teach it to kids in school. But what exactly is green chemistry? Some say it’s simply about making products safer, but it actually comes loaded with a political agenda that isn’t really about safety—it’s about control.

The ostensive goals of "green chemistry”—safer products—surely can be achieved without government, driven purely by market demand. In fact, industry performs its own version of green chemistry every time it develops new products because after all, businesses don’t succeed by poisoning their customers. They succeed by producing useful and safe products at affordable prices.

But the environmental activists want government-driven green chemistry, which is something completely different than market-driven green chemistry.

Green chemistry’s political formulation is most apparent in California where state bureaucrats are soon to release implementation regulations for the state’s Green Chemistry Initiative, a law passed back in 2009.

The regulations will establish a "chemicals of concern” list, including substances that fit within certain politically derived categories—not because existing uses pose significant risks. For example, hundreds of useful chemicals will be listed because massive doses produce tumors in rodents. Mere listing will demonize these chemicals even though existing consumer exposures are far too low to pose any real risk.

After all, it is the dose that makes the poison. Even broccoli, carrots, and other healthy foods cause tumors in rodents exposed to high doses. But no one would consider placing broccoli on a "concern list.”

According to California regulators, the agency will place about 1,200 chemicals on the concern list, sending signals to consumers, retailers, and manufacturers to avoid these substances. As a result, rather than maintain focus on product performance, affordability, safety, and consumer demand when designing products, manufacturers will be forced to serve the political preferences of regulators.

In the next phase, regulators will develop a "products of concern” list composed of products made with "chemicals of concern.” Woe to the entrepreneur who worked tirelessly to develop a product that ends up on this list. His or her life work may go up in smoke as the product is unfairly deemed dangerous.

For products that remain on the market even after the bad public relations, bureaucrats may call on manufacturers to study whether there are "safer” substitutes and then impose bans and other restrictions.

We should heed lessons that show why such arbitrary and unscientific regulation is more dangerous than the alleged risks it regulates. Consider regulators’ treatment of the chemical Bisphenol A. Manufacturers have safely used it to make clear, hard plastics and resins that have lined food cans for more than 60 years. Regulatory bodies around the world have determined that the benefits of using BPA outweigh any risks.

Still, regulators targeted BPA because environmental activists hyped risks and captured headlines. In 2012, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) banned BPA baby bottles and sippy cups even though an FDA representative told the New York Times that "based on all the evidence, we continue to support its [BPA’s] safe use.” The ban came at the behest of industry, which has already removed these products from the marketplace because of bad public relations created by environmentalist hype.

The baby bottle ban is building pressure for bans on other BPA uses, such as BPA-based resins that line food containers, which help prevent the development of pathogens like E-coli. As a result, BPA resin bans may eventually translate into serious food-borne illnesses.

Still, some people argue that we should at least seek substitutes to "be on the safe side.” They forget that every product on the market prevailed because it was the best to perform the job at an acceptable price at the time. Politically driven substitutes by definition will always be inferior.

Banning safe, useful products simply wastes investment, discourages innovation, and diverts resources from useful enterprises into production of second, best substitutes.

Today’s modern governments will be no better at green product design than were the Soviets at economic planning. But both policies effectively deliver one thing: a recipe for stagnation.


Blowing Second-Hand Smoke

My university is considering a campus-wide smoking ban, justified in part by the claim that second hand smoke kills more than fifty thousand people a year. I am generally suspicious of claims of that sort, so have been trying to explore that one. It turns out that it is a misstatement of a claim in a 2005 report from the California EPA. In that report 50,000 is the midpoint of a range of possible values. In the justification for the proposed ban, it has been converted to a lower bound.

More interesting is the question of where the number comes from. Reading the 2005 report I was unable to answer that question. The number also appears in a Surgeon General's Report, but reading that it is reasonably clear that it is simply repeating the CA EPA figure, not offering an independent estimate.

How could such an estimate be made, given the obvious problems in arranging controlled experiments on the effect of potentially lethal pollutants? One way is by using natural experiments. There have been a number of studies which looked at a city that imposed a smoking ban, compared heart attack death rates after the ban with death rates in comparable cities, and reported a surprisingly rapid and large effect.

There is a problem with that approach. Heart attack deaths in a single city vary randomly—with or without smoking bans, they sometimes go up and sometimes go down. If you want to argue that second hand smoke causes a lot of heart attacks, all you have to do is to find one city where a ban was followed by a decline and report that result. Given the pressure for anti-smoking measures, there are incentives for academics to do so. And even if the researchers are honest and pick their city at random, the study may be more likely to be completed and published if it gets a striking result, especially one that fits what many people want to believe.

One can always find possible problems with studies of controversial issues, especially ones that produce results one does not want to believe, but in this case there is at least some evidence. A 2009 NBER study analyzed all of the data and concluded that there was no effect from smoking bans—cities where the ban was followed by a decline in heart attack deaths were about as common as cities where it was followed by a rise. If that result is correct, it strongly suggests that the conventional view is the result of cherry picking the data.

Which fits my suspicion of scientific "facts" asserted in political controversies, especially ones supported mostly by the fact that  authorities such as the Surgeon General's Report and the CA EPA say they are true. It also fits my more general suspicion of the too popular idea of Official Scientific Truth, to be established by consulting the Official Scientific Authorities rather than by looking at arguments and evidence.

Of course, I too have my biases—not with regard to smoking, since I'm a non-smoker, but with regard to Official Scientific Truth. Can any reader help correct them by pointing me at convincing evidence not merely that second hand smoke has some negative effect, which strikes me as a priori likely, but for the size of the effect? Or at a convincing critique of the NBER paper?


8 February, 2013

Link Between Low Vitamin D And Daytime Sleepiness  -- but not if you are black

Not a good start for suggesting cause/effect relationships

Individuals who find themselves getting sleepy during daytime hours may have vitamin D to blame, but the exact link between the two could depend upon their race, according to a new study.

Lead author David McCarty and colleagues discovered that in most patients, increasing levels of daytime sleepiness were inversely correlated with decreasing levels of vitamin D in their bodies.

However, the opposite was found to be true in African-American study participants, who felt higher levels of tiredness when their vitamin D levels were higher.

"While we found a significant correlation between vitamin D and sleepiness, the relationship appears to be more complex than we had originally thought,” McCarty said in a statement on Friday. "It’s important to now do a follow-up study and look deeper into this correlation.”

In a paper published online in Saturday’s edition of the Journal of Clinical Sleep Medicine, McCarty and colleagues Aronkumar Reddy, Paul Y. Kim, Andrew A. Marino, and Quinton Keigley, all from LSU, describe how they attempted to discover whether or not serum vitamin D levels were correlated with excessive daytime sleepiness, as well as to investigate whether or not a person’s racial background or innate vitamin D deficiency played a role in the relationship between the two.

"The study… involved a consecutive series of 81 sleep clinic patients who complained of sleep problems and nonspecific pain,” the American Academy of Sleep Medicine, which publishes the Journal of Clinical Sleep Medicine, explained.

"All patients eventually were diagnosed with a sleep disorder, which in the majority of cases was obstructive sleep apnea. Vitamin D level was measured by blood sampling, and sleepiness was determined using the Epworth Sleepiness Scale,” they added.

McCarty and his colleagues claim that this is the first study to demonstrate a "significant relationship” between sleepiness levels and vitamin D. They added that the racial factor makes sense because it has been established that higher levels of skin pigmentation is a risk factor for lower vitamin D levels.

While they did not intend for their work to establish a cause-and-effect relationship between the factors, they say that their research — when combined with previous studies — "suggests that suboptimal levels of vitamin D may cause or contribute to excessive daytime sleepiness, either directly or by means of chronic pain.”


High-dose vitamin C 'doubles kidney stone risk'

Maybe the C-fans were less healthy to start with

Regularly taking high-dose vitamin C pills can double the risk of kidney stones, say researchers.  They made their finding after looking at the incidence of kidney stones over 11 years in 23,355 men.

Those who took vitamin C supplements - which typically contain 1,000 milligrammes per tablet - were at twice the risk of developing the stones compared to men who took no vitamins.

Those who took the high-dose pills most regularly were at the highest risk.

But taking vitamin C as part of a multi-vitamin - which tend to contain much lower doses of the vitamin - did not raise the risk, found the researchers from the Karolinska Institute in Sweden.

Kidney stones are small crystals of waste matter that form and can block a part of the organ or the urinary tract, causing intense pain. They affect 10 to 20 per cent of men and three to five per cent of women.

According to the Department of Health, adults need just 40mg of vitamin C a day. Its advice notes that taking high doses can cause stomach pain, flatulence and diarrhoea, but it does not mention kidney stones.

While widely believed to fight off colds, recent trials have shown it has no discernable effect as a preventive agent. However, it does have a modest effect in shortening colds, if taken as a therapeutic medicine once the infection has begun.

Professor Agneta Akesson, who led the Karolinska’s study, published in the journal JAMA Internal Medicine, said: "Given that there are no well-documented benefits of taking high doses of vitamin C in the form of dietary supplements, the wisest thing might be not to take them at all, especially if you have suffered kidney stones previously.”

Dr Carrie Ruxton, from the Health Supplements Information Service, said as the study only looked at men results could not be assumed to be the same for women.

She added: "Since higher dose vitamin C - 500mg per day or more - is proven to reduce the duration of a cold or flu, it is worth taking these in the short-term when required.

"This study looked at people who were habitually taking around 1000mg several times a week.

"It is likely that short-term, sporadic use of higher dose vitamin C does not constitute a risk for kidney stones and can be helpful when people have a cold."


7 February, 2013

Heavy traffic fumes could increase risk of having a small baby

If ever there were an old chestnut, this is it.  Just the usual correlational rubbish that fails to account for third factors.  Though I am pleased to see that the authors did adjust for maternal socioeconomic status.  The message about social class may be beginning to penetrate in these studies.  Income would be more relevant however and, given the small size of the reported effects, an income adjustment could well wipe any differences out entirely

The journal article is: "Maternal Exposure to Particulate Air Pollution and Term Birth Weight: A Multi-Country Evaluation of Effect and Heterogeneity" by Dadvand et al.

Heavy exhaust fumes produced in traffic-jammed cities increase the chances of women giving birth to small babies, researchers say.

A study involving millions of births around the world found that higher air pollution levels raised the risk of low birth weight.

Although small, the effect is said to be statistically significant. At national population scales it could have an important impact on child health, said the researchers.

Babies are underweight at birth if they tip the scales at less than 2,500 grams, or five pounds eight ounces.

They face an increased risk of dying in infancy, as well as chronic poor health and impaired mental development.

The new study, the largest of its kind ever conducted, focused on tiny sooty carbon particles called PM10s and even smaller PM2.5s which are known to be linked to heart and lung problems and early death.

They originate from a number of sources, including diesel exhausts and the chimneys of coal-fired power stations and factories.

Professor Tanja Pless-Mulloli, who led the UK arm of the study at the University of Newcastle, said: 'As air pollution increases we can see that more babies are smaller at birth which in turn puts them at risk of poor health later in life.

'These microscopic particles, five times smaller than the width of a human hair, are part of the air we breathe every day. What we have shown definitively is that these levels are already having an effect on pregnant mothers.'

The research, published in the journal Environmental Health Perspectives, examined the impact of a 10 microgram per cubic metre increase in average exposure to pollution particles over the course of a pregnancy.

For PM10s, this raised the chances of having a low birth weight baby by 0.03 per cent, which was said to be statistically significant. In the case of PM2.5s, a much larger 10 per cent risk increase was seen.

The research also showed a continual trend of elevated low birth weight risk with higher levels of air pollution.

Prof Pless-Mulloli added: 'The particles which are affecting pregnant mothers mainly come from the burning of fossil fuels. In the past the culprit may have been coal fires, now it is primarily vehicle fumes.

'Currently in some parts of London we see around 40 units of particulate air pollution and in Newcastle it is around 20 units but going back to the 1960s we saw around 700 units of air pollution.

'While much has been done to improve air quality, this study shows we can’t be complacent as we’ve shown that clean air is really important for the health of our newborns.'

The scientists collected data on more than three million births at 14 locations in the UK, North and South America, Asia and Australia.

They concluded: 'The estimated combined associations, although relatively small, could be of major public health importance considering the ubiquitous nature of particulate air pollution exposure and therefore the potential for considerable population attributable risk, particularly given evidence of perinatal (around the time of birth) and life-long effects of LBW (low birth weight) on health.'

Dr Tony Fletcher, senior lecturer in environmental epidemiology at the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine, said: 'This new study is very helpful in establishing another health impact of air pollution. Because the average effect is quite small, it needs enormous multi-country studies such as these to quantify the effect.

'The study is of excellent quality and the conclusions are clear: while the average effect on each baby is small and so should not alarm individual prospective parents, for the whole population these small risks add up across millions of people.

'Another reason for London and other large cities to force traffic-related pollution down to lower levels.'


Swapping the butter for margarine 'may be bad for your health'. U.S. scientists claim polyunsaturated fat 'doubles heart risk'

I stopped buying margarine years ago  -- mainly on taste grounds -- but also because I saw medical wisdom as dubious -- JR

For the past 50 years, we have been advised to reduce our intake of saturated animal fats, and eat more of the polyunsaturated vegetable fats found in margarine.

But now scientists in the US claim to have turned that conventional wisdom on its head, with a new analysis of a study carried out between 1966 and 1973. Some of the data had been missing for decades.

The study, conducted in Sydney, followed 458 men aged 30 to 59 who had recently had a heart attack or suffered from angina.

Half were advised to cut their animal fat consumption and replace it with safflower oil – similar to sunflower oil – and safflower oil margarine.

The results, published in the British Medical Journal, showed that those who ate more of these products were almost twice as likely to die from all causes, including heart disease.

They chose the Sydney study because it was the only randomised controlled study to look at the impact of increasing consumption of omega 6 polyunsaturated fatty acid.

Most studies of dietary interventions have involved multiple changes, but the Sydney study looked solely at omega 6.

Omega 6, the most prevalent polyunsaturated fat in most Western diets, is also known as linoleic acid.

It is found in large quantities in vegetable oils such as corn, sunflower, safflower and soybean and in margarines made from these oils.

Once in the body, it is converted into a chemical called arachidonic acid which can trigger the release of other chemicals leading to inflammation, a leading cause of a host of chronic diseases – including heart disease.

The researchers, from the National Institutes of Health in the U.S., say their findings could have ‘important implications for worldwide dietary recommendations’.

But other scientists have criticised the results, saying they did not provide enough evidence to suggest people should change their diets.

Professor Tom Sanders, of King’s College London, said the study was ‘enormously underpowered’, of ‘little relevance to diets today’ and its findings had been refuted by recent better studies.

Professor Brian Ratcliffe, of  Aberdeen University, said: ‘This paper does not provide evidence for changes to the current recommendations for a healthy diet.’

And Victoria Taylor, senior dietician at the British Heart Foundation, said: ‘Our understanding of the effect of different fats on our heart develops all the time as new research into this complex issue is published.

‘Replacing saturated fats with unsaturated alternatives is a well-known recommendation for your heart, which is based on many large and in-depth studies.

‘However, this research highlights the need for us to further understand how different unsaturated fats affect our risk of heart disease.  ‘Whichever fats you use it  is important to be sparing with them.’

Vegetable oils and margarine are supposed to help lower cholesterol and blood pressure and increase weight loss and improve overall health.  But they are some of the most chemically altered foods in our diets, and critics say they should not be promoted as healthy.


6 February, 2013

Watching TV for too long 'cuts male fertility' (?)

Fuller details of the study below here.

Most indices of sperm quality were in fact unrelated to physical activity in the study below and the correlation with sperm count just squeaked in to statistical significance.  Since sperm count is less predictive of fertility than other sperm characteristics  -- such as motility -- drawing any positive conclusions from this data would be unwise.  TV enthusiasts can rest easy.

There are some sensible comments towards the end of the article below

Young men who watch TV for just three hours a day have half the sperm count of men rarely found in front of the box, warn researchers.  For the first time, a study shows falling sperm quality is linked to lower levels of physical activity.

Men who are mostly sedentary lose out to those who are moderately active, says the Harvard University study in the British Journal of Sports Medicine.

Experts say the effect could be due to lack of exercise, or to overheating of the testicles caused by prolonged sitting.

Men wanting to father a child are currently urged against wearing tight underpants to improve sperm quality, while drivers and cyclists may also be at risk.

In the latest study from the Harvard School of Public Health (HSPH), healthy young men who watched more than 20 hours of TV each week had a 44 per cent lower sperm count than those who watched almost no TV.

Men who exercised for 15 or more hours weekly at a moderate to vigorous rate had a 73 per cent higher sperm count than those who exercised less than five hours per week. Mild exercise did not affect sperm quality.

Study leader Dr Audrey Gaskins said ‘We know very little about how lifestyle may impact semen quality and male fertility in general so identifying two potentially modifiable factors that appear to have such a big impact on sperm counts is truly exciting,’

The researchers analysed the semen quality of 189 men between the ages of 18 to 22 participating in the Rochester Young Men’s Study during 2009-2010 at the University of Rochester.

The men were asked about their physical activity and how much time they spent watching TV, DVDs or videos over the previous three months, in addition to health issues that may affect their sperm quality, such as diet, stress levels, and smoking.

Over half the men were of normal weight, and levels of diagnosed infertility were low.

The amount of moderate to vigorous physical activity taken each week ranged from five to 14 hours, while weekly TV screen time varied from four to 20 hours.

Those who watched most TV, 20 hours or more, had a sperm count almost half that of men watching the least, and TV viewing seemed to cancel out the benefits of exercise.

Jorge Chavarro, senior author of the study and assistant professor of nutrition and epidemiology at HSPH, said: ‘The majority of the previous studies on physical activity and semen quality had focused on professional marathon runners and cyclists, who reach physical activity levels that most people in the world cannot match.  ‘We were able to examine a range of physical activity that is more relevant to men in the general population.’

However, he added, while a reduced sperm count has been linked to lower fertility, it does not necessarily ruin a man’s chances of fathering a child.

Dr Allan Pacey, Senior Lecturer in Andrology, University of Sheffield, said ‘The results are intriguing and suggest that men who do regular exercise have higher sperm counts than men who watch a lot of television.

‘On the face of it, this seems like a well conducted study albeit with a relatively small number of participants.  ‘Having said that, the authors appear to have used good methodology and have attempted to control for all of the obvious variables that might differ between the two groups of men (e.g. diet, smoking, Body Mass Index).

‘Their conclusions are plausible, and I would agree that there is evidence to suggest that moderate exercise could change men’s physiology sufficiently to improve testicular health.

‘Similarly, we already know that testicular heating through sedentary jobs or tight underwear can decrease sperm counts and so arguably the same effect might be seen in men who spend too many hours on the sofa watching television.

‘However, it remains to be seen if coaxing a TV watching couch potato into doing some regular exercise could actually improve his sperm count.

'Or whether there exists an unknown fundamental difference between men who like exercise and those who do not which might account for the findings.

‘This should be a relatively easy study to perform, but before all worried men hunt for their sports bag it’s important to note that other research suggests that doing too much exercise can be harmful to sperm production and this study did not examine the type and intensity of exercise their participants were undertaking.

‘My advice would be everything in moderation - and that includes time in the gym as well as watching TV, or perhaps both at the same time!’


High doses of calcium supplements can 'raise men's heart risk by 20%'
Another example of harm from "supplements"

They're bought by the health-conscious to protect their bones against disease as they get older.  But calcium supplements could be harming the men who take them by raising their risk of dying from heart disease, experts have warned.

A study found a 20 per cent higher risk of death in men who take high doses. The link was not found in women.

Hundreds of thousands of adults take the supplements, either prescribed by their doctor against osteoporosis – a disease in which bones become thinner and increasingly fragile – or bought over the counter as ‘bone insurance’.

But the study, involving 388,000 people, found men taking calcium supplements of more than 1,000mg a day had a greater chance of suffering heart disease and dying from it.

However, those achieving high-calcium diets solely through food or drink were not at extra risk, said researchers from the National Cancer Institute in the US. It was the way supplements increase the levels of calcium circulating in the blood which appeared to have an adverse effect on the cardiovascular system.

Britain’s Food Standards Agency recommends adults have 700mg of calcium a day, which should come from dietary sources including milk, cheese and green, leafy vegetables.

Women had no such extra risk, says a report in JAMA Internal Medicine, although some previous trials have found a link.

Researchers followed men and women aged 50 to 71 over an average of 12 years. They recorded 7,904 deaths in men from cardiovascular disease and 3,874 deaths in women.

Supplements containing calcium were used by 51 per cent of men and 70 per cent of women.

Men taking 1,000mg or more in calcium supplements a day had an almost 20 per cent higher rate of heart disease and death than those who did not take supplements.

The report said: ‘Whether there is a sex difference in the cardiovascular effect of calcium supplements warrants further investigation.

‘Given the extensive use of calcium supplements in the population, it is of great importance to assess its use beyond bone health.’

Older women are more at risk of osteoporosis because the rate of  bone loss is accelerated by the menopause. One in two women and one in five men over the age of 50 will break a bone mainly because of the disease.


5 February, 2013

Three servings of milk or yoghurt protects bones

Weak evidence (self-report questionnaire) and possible class bias but believable

Three servings of milk or yoghurt a day can make bones stronger, a new study shows.

US-based academics found middle-aged people who ate at least three servings a day had higher bone mineral density, resulting in bones that were less likely to break.

However, they found no such positive effect from eating cream or ice-cream.

Dr Shivana Sahni, of the Hebrew SeniorLife Institute of Ageing Research, which is affiliated with Harvard University, said: "Dairy foods provide several important nutrients that are beneficial for bone health.

"However, cream and its products such as ice cream have lower levels of these nutrients and have higher levels of fat and sugar.”

The team based their findings on a food frequency survey completed by 3,212 participants from the Framingham Offspring Study, named after a town in Massachusetts.

They said choosing low-fat milk or yoghurt over cream can increase intake of protein, calcium and vitamin D while limiting intake of saturated fats.

Osteoporosis, in which the bone loses density and become brittle, affects millions of older people in Britain. 1 in 2 women and 1 in 5 men over the age of 50 will break a bone, mainly due to poor bone health, according to the National Osteoporosis Society.


"Supplements" can kill

The death of Claire Squires during the London Marathon suggests that using food or drink supplements to improve performance can be as risky as taking steroids

The problem with tragedies waiting to happen is that, eventually, they do happen. For the 30-year-old hairdresser Claire Squires, it was a consuming desire to reach the finishing line, no matter what, in the 2012 London Marathon to raise thousands of pounds for the Samaritans. In the final stretch, she collapsed and died of cardiac failure which, an inquest has heard, was likely to have been brought on by a mixture of extreme exertion and an amphetamine-style supplement, DMAA, which she had put in her water bottle.

DMAA, or "1,3-dimethylamylamine”, may have been subsequently banned, but the market in sports supplements – those associated with body-building in particular – remains vibrant. According to Euromonitor, sales of sports nutrition supplements now exceed £200 million. It is testament to an increasingly toxic quest, especially among young people, for athletic and physical perfection. And they’ll snap up anything that makes that quest more achievable, even though much of it remains largely untested and, on occasion, dangerous. The top sellers include protein powders, bars, gels and capsules, mostly peddled to those who crave impressive pecs. And it’s unnecessarily expensive: a chicken sandwich and a glass of milk provides half the recommended protein intake for the average chap (around 56g, or 45g for women). Most of us eat more protein than we need, anyway.

But more pertinent is the fact that extra protein does not equal extra muscle. In the opinion of the British Nutrition Foundation, high-protein diets are "erroneously associated with fitness training because of the mistaken belief that this leads to greater strength, since muscle itself is protein”.

If that doesn’t persuade you to step away from the rowing machine, then perhaps you should ponder these statistics, collated for a 2011 NHS report, as you pound the treadmill: a US study of 15 protein powders found them to be laced with heavy metals such as cadmium, arsenic, mercury and lead; some dietary supplements marketed as being safer than those containing anabolic steroids (which mimic the effects of testosterone) contain substances associated with liver damage, stroke, kidney failure and pulmonary embolism (blockages in the artery in the lung).

These dangers are exacerbated by the fact that the products are flogged as foods rather than medicines, and that they are increasingly sold over the internet, still a pharmaceutical Wild West. Online pharmacies operating on the fringes of legality tend not to lose sleep over the welfare of faceless customers; the tills can never ring too loudly. So, supplements are aggressively served up on websites alongside aspirational messages such as "Fuel your ambition”. On one, a suggested meal plan for aspiring body-builders contained no fewer than six separate servings of its protein-building products throughout the day.

Behind these issues, though, lies a profound question: what’s it all for? Why do young men feel the need to bulk up and look buff? They are not only heading to the gym to enhance their body image but also to the operating theatre: in 2011, the number of men having abdominoplasty – a tummy tuck – rose by 15 per cent. Even the removal of "man boobs” is growing in popularity: 790 men were thus de-chested in 2011. It cannot be to attract the opposite sex – just as I’ve never met a man who’d choose a size eight waif over a girl with curves, I’ve never met a woman who dreams of being swept up by a man with rippling biceps and a rock-hard chest.

Perhaps we can blame society’s supposed idea of human beauty, reflected back at us from every magazine stand. Thin, airbrushed women with unsettlingly childlike faces jostle for attention alongside thick, oiled torsos topped by gleaming teeth. These are purveyed as images not only of beauty but also of success. This is what successful people look like: they nibble salad, wear Prada, work out, show discipline.

If you are in any doubt about the "beauty = success” equation, then seek out a book called Beauty Pays by Daniel Hamermesh. It’s a guide to the new discipline of pulchronomics, the study of how being better looking leads to being better off. Hamermesh, who gaily describes himself as no Alec Baldwin, finds the equation almost Einsteinian in its incontestability: the beautiful are more likely to find employment, get paid more, and have more attractive and highly educated spouses. Handsome men earn around 13 per cent more than uglier colleagues; prettier women either earn more or have richer husbands.

It is, Hamermesh insists, nothing short of discrimination against the plain, a fact that we silently acknowledge every time we doll up for a job interview.


4 February, 2013

Marriage? It's good for women's hearts too  -- in Finland

Healthier people are more likely to get married than unhealthy ones and that alone could account for the observed correlation.  Perhaps unhealthy women are particularly unlikely to marry in Finland.  It is a different culture in a number of ways.

Marriage is good for women’s health, not just men’s, according to a study that shows both husbands and wives are far less likely to suffer a heart attack than their single friends.

Previous research has indicated that men gain most of the health benefit from marriage - perhaps because their wives look after them and pester them into seeing the doctor.  But a new Finnish study has found women benefit too.

Both married men and married women have heart attack rates that are considerably lower than single people of the same age. They are also far more likely to survive a heart attack.

The researchers, from Turku University Hospital, looked at 15,330 incidents of ‘acute cardiac syndrome’ - which includes heart attacks and unstable angina - over a 10-year period. Just over half resulted in death within 28 days.

They found both single men and single women were about two-thirds more likely to suffer such an event than those who were married.

Among those who had a heart attack or developed unstable angina, those who were single were up to two-and-a-half times more likely to die within a 28-day period.

Writing in the European Journal of Preventive Cardiology, the authors conceded: "We cannot exclude the possibility that persons with poor health status may be more prone to staying unmarried or getting divorced.”

But they also believed marriage itself helped protect health, due in part to the "social support” between husband and wife.

This could have life saving consequences. For instance, the researchers found married people were more likely to stick to their medication, like statins or aspirin. And married people tended to get help quicker in the event of a heart attack, because the other rang immediately.


Epilepsy drug linked to tenfold increase in autism: researchers

The numbers in this study are too small to be taken very seriously by themselves  and it is  surprising that none of the mothers were given phenytoin, known as unusually safe.   Medical fashion, no doubt.  

But teratogenesis of some kind is a known side-effect for anti-epileptic drugs -- including phenytoin -- so the study takes on some significance because of that. The options for epileptic mothers are not good

Children born to mothers who took an epilepsy drug while pregnant are up to ten times more likely to suffer autism or similar conditions, a study has found.

The study found children born to women who took sodium valproate, known as Epilim, were significantly more likely to suffer autism, attention deficit hyperactivity disorder or dyspraxia.

Researchers warned that women should not stop taking the drug suddenly as fits can harm their unborn child and most women went on to have healthy children.

The findings were published online in the Journal of Neurology Neurosurgery and Psychiatry.

Researchers from Liverpool University, studied 528 women in the north west of England.

Just fewer than half the mothers had epilepsy and all but 34 of whom took antiepileptic drugs during their pregnancy.

Fifty nine mums took carbamazepine; 59 took valproate; 36 took lamotrigine; 41 took a combination; and 15 took other drugs.

Their children were assessed three times up to the age for/of six and their mothers asked if they had consulted specialists about their child's development.

By the age of six, 19 children had been diagnosed with a neurodevelopmental disorder, of these 12 had autism, one had both autism and ADHD, three had ADHD and four had dyspraxia.

Children exposed to valproate alone in the womb were six times more likely to be diagnosed with a neurodevelopmental disorder.

Those exposed to valproate plus other drugs were ten times more likely to have a diagnosis than children whose mothers did not have epilepsy.

It means 12 per cent of children whose mums had taken valproate alone during their pregnancy had a neurodevelopmental problem, as did one in seven of those whose mums had taken valproate with other drugs.

No child born to a mum with epilepsy, but who didn’t take drugs for the condition during her pregnancy, was diagnosed with a neurodevelopmental disorder.

Boys were three times more likely than girls to be diagnosed with a neurodevelopmental disorder, but no significant associations were found for the mother’s age or IQ, length of pregnancy, or epileptic seizure type.

Author of the study Dr Rebecca Bromley, of the Department of Molecular and Clinical Pharmacology, said: "If sodium valproate is the treatment of choice, women should be provided with as much information as possible to enable them to make an informed decision.

"But on no account should pregnant women just stop taking the drug for fear of harming their developing child.”

Dr Gavin Woodhall, Reader in Neuropharmacology at Aston University, said: "This study in man is consistent with what is seen in animal models and should come as no major surprise.

"However, this is only a small study as yet, and it is important to take into account the fact that controlling epilepsy in pregnancy is very important, and most women who are treated for epilepsy during pregnancy go on to have perfectly normal babies.”


3 February, 2013

FDA panel supports increased difficulties for pain patients

Federal health advisors want new restrictions on hydrocodone, the highly addictive ingredient found in Vicodin and other widely abused prescription painkillers.

The Food and Drug Administration's panel of drug safety specialists voted to subject hydrocodone drugs to the same restrictions as narcotics like oxycodone and morphine.

The panel voted 19-10 in favor of the move, which is supported by the Drug Enforcement Agency. The FDA will weigh the vote in its decision-making process.

Hydrocodone is sold in combination pills like Vicodin, which mixes the drug with non-addictive painkillers like acetaminophen. The drug belongs to a family of drugs known as opioids, which include morphine, heroin, oxycodone, codeine and methadone.

Doctors prescribe the medicines to treat pain from injuries, surgery, arthritis and other ailments such as coughs.

Hydrocodone consistently ranks as the first or second most-abused medicine in the U.S. each year, according to the Drug Enforcement Agency.

Panelists who voted for new restrictions said it would send a signal to doctors about the potential dangers of hydrocodone drugs.

"I don't think reclassification is a panacea for the opioid abuse problem in this country, but I think it's an important step to get doctors to rethink their prescribing practices," said Mary Ellen Olbrisch, a professor at Virginia Commonwealth University.

The DEA has asked the FDA to reclassify hydrocodone as a schedule II drug, limiting which kinds of medical professionals can write a prescription and how many times it can be refilled. The Controlled Substances Act, passed in 1970, put hydrocodone combination drugs in the schedule III class, which is subject to fewer controls.

An April, 2012 Drug Enforcement Administration report showed that 42 tons of pure hydrocodone were prescribed across U.S. pharmacies in 2010, enough to give 24 5-milligram Vicodins to every person in the United States.

In 2011, U.S. doctors wrote more than 131 million prescriptions for hydrocodone, making it the most prescribed drug in the country.

Currently a prescription for hydrocodone-containing Vicodin can be refilled five times before the patient has to see a physician again. If the drug is reclassified patients could only receive a single 90-day prescription, similar to oxycodone. The drug could also not be prescribed by nurses and physician assistants.

Panelists who voted against the classification change said it would have unintended consequences, driving addicted patients to obtain the drugs illegally.

"If prescribing decreases, illicit opioid use will increase, with dire consequences," said Dr. John Mendelson, of St. Luke's Hospital in San Francisco. "I think this is a mistake and we will be back here with other problems."

Several physician and pharmacist groups also argued that new restrictions would burden medical professionals and disrupt patient care.

"Rescheduling the products to Schedule II would create significant hardships for all - leading to delayed access for vulnerable patients with legitimate chronic pain," said the National Community Pharmacists Association, in a statement.

The FDA is not required to follow the advice of its expert panelists, though their input is often critical in its decisions.

FDA officials closed the meeting by acknowledging the difficulty of combating hydrocodone abuse, while keeping the drugs available for patients who legitimately need them.

"There is an unquestioned epidemic of opioid abuse, overdose and death in this country, an epidemic we need to address as a society," said Douglas Throckmorton, FDA's deputy director for regulatory programs.  [People are not allowed to make their own decisions about risks they will take?]


Forget hot toddies for a cold - try a flu-busting ICE CREAM instead

Might do some palliative good

 When we are struck down with a streaming cold most of us reach for a mug of comforting chicken soup or a hot toddy.  But one woman has come up with her own novel and somewhat chilling solution - a flu-busting ice cream.

The icy treat is packed full of ingredients that help to treat viral symptoms such as a dollop of honey and liquid pectin (usually found in jam) to soothe an irritated throat.

It also contains the spices of cayenne and ginger as they have anti-inflammatory properties that may help you feel less feverish and ease your aching joints.

Orange and lemon juice and included to give a super-dose of vitamin C.

Plus there's a shot of bourbon whiskey in a nod to the traditional hot toddy.

Alcohol acts as an antiseptic and could also make you drowsy making it easier to nod off after a trying day of coughing.

The recipe was the brainchild of an Ice Cream parlour owner in Ohio, according to Time magazine.  Jenni Britton Bauer said her mother and grandmother used to mix up the cocktail when she was poorly and give her a spoonful before bed.

She decided to use her skills to turn the old family recipe into an 'Influenza Sorbet,' calculating that the coldness would help numb virus pain as well.

She produced her first pot in 2004 and included a child-friendly version using a cherry concentrate instead of bourbon.  It proved such a hit that she has been selling it ever since.


1 February, 2013

Let them drink Coke

A campaign group – you know, one of those bodies that sounds official but isn't, and is stuffed full of folk on the public payroll – wants to put a 20p tax on bottles of fizzy drinks. It's to combat obesity, they say.

No, it's about micro-managing our lives, which 'experts' always believe we are unable to manage for ourselves.

The average person gets about 2% of their calories from fizzy drinks. Sure, some people drink a lot more. But will a 20p tax dissuade them? No, it is just a stealth tax at a time when we are over-taxed already. People have strong favourites in soft drinks, and studies show that the tax needs to be a lot higher to make people switch. Even then, they just switch to other sugary but untaxed drinks.

Proponents say the tax would raise £1bn that could be spent on diet education for children. I doubt if any of the money would actually get to that destination. Just think about it:

Presumably some soft drinks will be hit, some not (as there are low-calorie alternatives on the same shelves). The Department of Health will want to set up a quango to decide which should be taxed. Then shopkeepers, who are struggling enough at the moment, would have to separate taxed from untaxed drinks and account for the tax. Then send it to the Revenue, which has to account for it and then send it on to the Treasury, which has to earmark it and send it to the Health and Education departments. They will each need a bureaucracy to decide how to spend it, and another bureaucracy to run the programmes, and a third monitoring bureaucracy to make sure that the money is spent properly. All the tax will really buy is £1bn-worth of bureaucracy.

If we really want to help our children, a better way might be to get bureaucracy out of our hair and pay down the national debt, which saddles every newborn with a £17,600 bill.

Denmark introduced a 'fat tax' a year ago but it was so unpopular that they have now scrapped it. It was supposed to hit things like crisps and chips, but actually was applied to meat, yoghourt, even gourmet cheeses. North German supermarkets did a roaring trade as Danes shopped abroad to escape the tax. Specialist businesses selling meat or cheese were badly hit.

And as our report The Wages of Sin Taxes notes, a tax on soft drinks hits poor families the hardest. Groceries, food and drink, is a much larger part of their budget. But it would not make a scrap of difference to the middle-class campaigners who are advocating it.

It's soda today, what's it going to be tomorrow? Chocolate? Cake? Cheese? Bread? Milk? Spare us, please, to get on with our own lives.


"I’ve been likened to a Holocaust denier”

American academic Joan Wolf tells spiked why the militant lactivists of the breastfeeding lobby found her book Is Breast Best? so hard to swallow

In a classic displacement activity, before writing this article I asked the computer to define breastfeeding. In the top results, one free online medical dictionary defined it as ‘the method of feeding a baby with milk directly from the mother’s breast’, while the World Health Organisation defined it like this: ‘Breastfeeding is the normal way of providing young infants with the nutrients they need for healthy growth and development. Virtually all mothers can breastfeed, provided they have accurate information, and the support of their family, the healthcare system and society at large.’

That pretty much sums up the breastfeeding issue, as it appears in Britain and America in 2013. On one hand, you have the practice of breastfeeding – one way in which mothers feed their new babies. On the other, you have the politics of breastfeeding – the way in which mothers are supposed to feed their new babies.

In the first definition, there are alternatives to breastfeeding; mothers (or indeed, any adults) can feed babies with expressed breastmilk or formula milk. In the second definition, alternatives to breastfeeding are de-normalised and deviant; mothers who choose alternative methods are failing to meet the basic standard set by what ‘virtually all mothers’ can do, and harming their infant’s chances of ‘healthy growth and development’.

Mothers of new babies are only too aware of the politics of breastfeeding. As in many other areas of women’s reproductive lives, the shift from ‘is’ to ‘ought’ has been played out with a vengeance: because science tells us that breastfeeding is better for your infant than formula feeding, new parents are told, then to be a good mother you ought to breastfeed. Research from the University of Kent in 2005 revealed the degree to which this exhortation can make new mothers feel guilty, upset and angry when they ‘fail’ to breastfeed for any length of time – and as the vast majority of mothers stop breastfeeding after six weeks, that’s a lot of guilt.

But it’s not only the effect of breastfeeding promotion on new mothers that should concern us. In 2011, the American academic Joan Wolf, associate professor of women’s studies at Texas A&M University, caused a storm with her book Is Breast Best? Taking on the Breastfeeding Experts and the New High Stakes of Motherhood. And on 13 February, Wolf will expand on her arguments in an open lecture at the University of Kent on ‘Breastfeeding, motherhood, and the politics of care’. I talked to her about the reaction to her critique of breastfeeding, and how this has led her to think about the politics of care more broadly.
You can’t say that!

‘I didn’t set out to write this book’, Wolf tells me. ‘In fact, I assumed breast was best. What I was interested in was how feminists had thought about breastfeeding, a practice that, for all intents and purposes, really can’t be shared with the baby’s father.’ But this quickly led to an awareness that there was more to the story than simply the acceptance of a scientific truth. Drawn into an investigation of the numerous scientific studies cited by those who make the claim that ‘breast is best’, Wolf found that, in fact, the evidence is far less clear cut than it is presented to be.

As she explains in the preface to her book: ‘When studies find an association between breastfeeding and reduced risks [to infant health]… it is not at all clear that one causes the other, and the conclusion that breastfeeding confers health benefits is far less certain than its proponents contend. Indeed, a great deal of evidence suggests that the difference between breastfeeding and bottle-feeding has little impact on the overwhelming majority of infants in the developed world.’

One might think that Wolf’s research would be greeted both as a good news story, and as something not particularly surprising. After all, given the decades of research and millions of dollars that have gone into developing formula milk as a suitable alternative to breastmilk, the fact that in developed societies – where women can afford to buy enough formula, and have the means to sterilise the bottles – the majority of women are not harming their babies’ health by bottle-feeding is a good thing, right? If the issue here is public health, surely what counts is that babies (and their mothers) are healthy?

Er, no. Because what Wolf found, along with others who have dared to research the claims made about breastfeeding, is that You Can’t Say That. The feedback to her book has, she says, ‘been copious and mostly negative’: ‘I’ve been placed in the same camp as Holocaust deniers and advocates of cold fusion. I’ve been accused of hating mothers and children. I’ve also been called a lesbian (gasp) and a feminist (double gasp). One person called me a gender-confused cow.’

This reaction has not just come from advocacy groups and hotheads in the media and policy worlds. Academics – whose role in life is to debate and search for the truth – have, Wolf says, been ‘less churlish but equally unequivocal’: ‘Those who consider themselves scientists accuse me, sometimes with bemusement, of being completely unqualified to judge breastfeeding research… even though, as a PhD in political science, I have been trained in the very methods breastfeeding studies use. Those who write from the humanities dismiss me as part of a broad feminist conspiracy against motherhood. Mostly critics think I’m just plain daft.’

Daft she certainly is not. Wolf is a fiercely intelligent mother-of-two, and a thoroughly nice person to boot. But as she has found, those who attempt to clarify ‘The Science’ around breastfeeding are often met with the furious riposte that they cannot understand this complex information: a classic way in which the ‘evidence-based’ policy and advocacy so in vogue today attempts to clamp down on debate. Those who challenge the orthodoxy of breastfeeding promotion are also met with the eye-rolling assumption that they are alone in their peculiar view that the truth is more complex than a narrow set of correlations, and deliberate attempts to isolate them from mainstream acceptable opinion.

Yet Wolf is not the only person to have found the science on breastfeeding more equivocal than the headlines and public-health advice imply. In just one recent example, an article by the British science journalist Linda Geddes, author of Bumpology, noted that while breastmilk is indeed ‘better than formula milk’ in terms of protecting babies against infections in the short term, ‘when it comes to the much-touted long-term benefits of breastfeeding, such as protection against obesity, diabetes or allergy, the research is less convincing’. Geddes concluded: ‘Certainly women who can’t breastfeed for whatever reason, and who live in countries with a decent standard of healthcare, shouldn’t waste too much time worrying that they are causing long-term damage to their baby’s health.’

More importantly, for all the flak Wolf has received from those attached to the ‘breast is best’ advocacy message, the correspondence she has received from mothers in Britain and the US has confirmed the correctness of her analysis of some of the problems caused by the exhortation to breastfeed. Many of these women, she says, ‘tell nightmarish stories of early parenthood involving unsuccessful breastfeeding, zealous and often callous breastfeeding advocates, and the fear that their bottle-fed infants would be permanently disadvantaged’. She has also heard from ‘lactation consultants’, people who want to help women breastfeed but have been appalled at the coercive aspect of current breastfeeding promotion, and tell of ‘new mothers consumed by guilt, and they question the moral and practical wisdom of pushing all mothers to breastfeed’.
‘Total motherhood’

A rational approach to public-health policy would accept that breastfeeding has health benefits relative to formula feeding, but that these are specific and limited, and cannot justify the effort that the health service puts into exhorting new mothers to breastfeed at all costs - particularly when the consequence seems to be a great deal of misery and anxiety on the part of mothers. So why has this policy push been so one-sided? ‘From a public-health perspective, breastfeeding is healthier than bottle-feeding, and promoting it is a no-brainer because it’s "natural” and "free”’, Wolf explains. ‘Who wouldn’t advocate something that enhances the short and long-term physical and mental health of babies and mothers, requires no public or medical intervention, is good for the environment, and doesn’t cost anything for government, employers, and families?’

Wolf goes on to counter this justification with ‘the rub’: that ‘most of the putative health benefits of breastfeeding are dubious, and breastfeeding is neither natural nor free’. It is not natural, in that women have always found alternative or supplementary ways of feeding their infants, and the idea of what is ‘natural’ today is constructed by a whole number of social, ideological and cultural factors. As she writes in her book, ‘In American public discourse, breastfeeding is a trope in causes resonating from environmental progressivism to religious fundamentalism’; and the amount of effort and public money that goes into encouraging women to breastfeed and ‘supporting’ them in doing so indicates that it is far from being something that women ‘just do’.

The notion that breastfeeding is ‘free’ ignores the fact that breastfeeding women need extra nutrition to produce their milk, and – more importantly, in modern Western societies – there are direct costs associated with exclusive breastfeeding for a long period of time, such as when it delays women’s return to their paid jobs. Hence the importance of her critique of the overblown scientific claims made about breastfeeding, and her recognition of the need to look at the cultural and social context in which women have fed their babies over the years, which reveal these practices to be anything but ‘natural’.

In her book, Wolf discusses a deeper rationale for why breastfeeding promotion has continued apace, despite all the problems with the ‘breast is best’ message, which she describes as an ideology of ‘total motherhood’, framed within a wider ‘risk culture’. Total motherhood, writes Wolf, ‘stipulates that mothers’ primary occupation is to predict and prevent all less-than-optimal social, emotional, cognitive, and physical outcomes; that mothers are responsible for anticipating and eradicating every imaginable risk to their children, regardless of the degree or severity of the risk or what the trade-offs might be; and that any potential diminution in harm to children trumps all other considerations in risk analysis as long as mothers can achieve the reduction’. In short, it is a ‘moral code in which individual mothers are ultimately held responsible for any harm that befalls their children’.

Like Frank Furedi’s analysis of ‘paranoid parenting’, Wolf’s theory of ‘total motherhood’ shows how our current society’s obsession with risk and uncertainty has resulted in a highly deterministic approach to parental behaviour, in which a parent’s behaviour and identity is constructed around the goal of keeping children safe from all manner of hypothetical harms. This goal is, of course, unachievable (all kids will have accidents and health problems at some point in their lives, no matter what we do); yet in striving to achieve the goal we diminish our ambitions and narrow our vision. Wolf notes that ‘total motherhood is rooted in the traditions of domesticity and "scientific motherhood”’, where women’s primary focus is on the private responsibilities of child-rearing, which she is instructed to do under expert advice.

One important difference between now and the era of scientific motherhood, however, is the extent to which the project of ‘risk management’ has become deeply ingrained into parents’ own identity, in a context where we are in thrall to an avalanche of scientific advice but less trusting of professionals to interpret this (often conflicting) advice for us. ‘Never before has information been so comprehensive and widely available and reached so far into individual lives, holding out the promise of manipulating increasingly narrower details of existence’, Wolf writes. This leads to a situation that ‘sets women, future mothers, and then mothers the impossible task of gathering, evaluating, and acting on information about an infinite number of risks that might interfere with not just normal but optimal fetal and child development’.

Within the confines of total motherhood, good mothers don’t drink alcohol or eat cheese in pregnancy; they breastfeed their babies and read obsessively to their toddlers; they supervise their older children’s every social interaction and hover over their schoolwork in fear of a tiny fall in grades. Good mothers don’t just worry about health risks but all risks - for even the most mundane aspects of social life, such as falling out with friends, have now been reconfigured as events that can damage irrevocably a child’s future chances of success and happiness.

This obsessive monitoring and worrying makes us very stressed and often quite miserable. And yet, we buy it! In the casual conversations of everyday life, mothers (and fathers) joke about the impossibility of living up to the standards of total motherhood, and implicitly resist the desirability of organising your whole life around the minutiae of what your child ate for lunch and whether he is playing with the right number of the right friends. But in wider discourse, it is very rare to hear parents say that they don’t actually care whether their child eats five pieces of fruit and vegetables a day, or that they want bossy officials to leave them alone and let them worry about something more important instead. Rather, strategies of resistance to the ideology of total motherhood tend to be evasive and apologetic, couched less in the language of ‘I won’t’ than in the language of ‘I can’t’.

This is particularly clear when it comes to breastfeeding - for as Wolf explains, ‘these days it is virtually impossible to make a real choice about how to feed your baby’, as ‘the options are so skewed toward breastfeeding, the discourse so laden with moral freight, that breastfeeding appears to be the only legitimate option.’

She continues: ‘Of course, most women do end up using formula, and what I find interesting is that those who explain themselves publicly, on blogs and in books and articles, tend to stress either that they had no choice (for example, they couldn’t produce enough milk, the baby wouldn’t latch on) or that formula feeding was better for the baby in their particular circumstances. In other words, mothers have internalised and accepted that they should breastfeed, and when they don’t, they look for ways to convey that the decision was made for the baby’s benefit. Few mothers will say, "I didn’t breastfeed because I didn’t want to”, and leave it at that.’

The morally fraught character of what is, essentially, a practical choice about how best to feed your baby is not confined to breastfeeding. The way that people now worry about and apologise for their everyday behaviours and choices has to do, Wolf explains, with ‘how people justify seemingly irresponsible behaviour in a neoliberal culture, where choice is completely bound up with moral responsibility and every choice says something about your integrity as a person’. For Wolf, this explains the policy turn towards ‘nudging’ people towards better behaviours: a strategy that is, in her view, ‘even more objectionable than bans because it masquerades as "choice”, a word that invariably conceals the social structures that stratify compliance’.
The politics of care

I ask Wolf to elaborate on her thoughts about the politics of care, which she will be discussing in her February lecture. ‘The first questions I had after writing Is Breast Best? and confronting its reception had to do directly with mothers and children’, she explains. ‘How do we reject total motherhood without abandoning children? How can we agitate for the needs of families without conflating mothers’ and children’s wellbeing or pitting mothers and children against each other?

‘But the more I reflected, the more I realised that total motherhood has to do with far more than mothers and children. It’s about women and caring, the reality that women do the lion’s share of all care work. I want to look more at the relationship between what I call total motherhood and caring more broadly defined. It seems to me that breastfeeding is only one example of a much more comprehensive narrative in which women are constructed as the natural and optimal providers of virtually all forms of care, and in a society where caretaking is unsupported, this kind of thinking puts women at serious disadvantage.’

There is an important body of sociological work in the US, by Arlie Russell Hochschild and others, which grapples with the problem of ‘care’ in late modern societies. As women’s participation in the workforce has become accepted and expected, and as women are assumed to have ambitions beyond the confines of home and family, the taken-for-granted nature of care has become complicated and challenged – particularly in relation to young children or the elderly, where care involves very practical commitments of time and money.

Some approaches to this question - like Wolf’s - emphasise the impact upon women. ‘I think we need to unpack the reflexive coupling of mothers and children in political discourse as part of a broader effort to rearticulate what it means to be a society that actually cares about people’, she explains. ‘The truth is that the more we advocate for "mothers and children”, the more we cement the notion that women are uniquely responsible for caretaking, and this has far-reaching consequences for virtually everyone: children; mothers and fathers who are married or single, straight or gay; men and women without children; elderly parents; extended families; and communities.’

In attempting to unpack this problem, Wolf has been drawn again to a critique of science. ‘Because we tend these days to look to science to tell us how to do everything, I think it’s critical to investigate the role that different sciences play in constructing women as caretakers’, she says. ‘At the moment I’m immersed in analysing a 20-year-long government-funded study on childcare, and what I’m finding is that the social-science research, not unlike the epidemiological research on breastfeeding, is fraught with all kinds of undemonstrated assumptions about mothers. My hope is that if we can continue to deconstruct the scientific narrative about total motherhood, we can begin to recast, and think more equitably about, all kinds of caring.’

The debate about care is a huge one, which raises questions about everything from the role of the family to the current status of women. But I am already convinced that Wolf is right on one thing: the answer to this social question is not going to be found in the pages of scientific studies.


SITE MOTTO: "Epidemiology is mostly bunk"

Where it is not bunk is when it shows that some treatment or influence has no effect on lifespan or disease incidence. It is as convincing as disproof as it is unconvincing as proof. Think about it. As Einstein said: No amount of experimentation can ever prove me right; a single experiment can prove me wrong.

Epidemiological studies are useful for hypothesis-generating or for hypothesis-testing of theories already examined in experimental work but they do not enable causative inferences by themselves

The standard of reasoning that one commonly finds in epidemiological journal articles is akin to the following false syllogism:
Chairs have legs
You have legs
So therefore you are a chair


1). A good example of an epidemiological disproof concerns the dreaded salt (NaCl). We are constantly told that we eat too much salt for good health and must cut back our consumption of it. Yet there is one nation that consumes huge amounts of salt. So do they all die young there? Quite the reverse: Japan has the world's highest concentration of centenarians. Taste Japan's favourite sauce -- soy sauce -- if you want to understand Japanese salt consumption. It's almost solid salt.

2). We need a daily salt intake to counter salt-loss through perspiration and the research shows that people on salt-restricted diets die SOONER. So the conventional wisdom is not only wrong. It is positively harmful

3). Table salt is a major source of iodine, which is why salt is normally "iodized" by official decree. Cutting back salt consumption runs the risk of iodine deficiency, with its huge adverse health impacts -- goiter, mental retardation etc. GIVE YOUR BABY PLENTY OF SALTY FOODS -- unless you want to turn it into a cretin

4). Our blood has roughly the same concentration of salt as sea-water so claims that the body cannot handle high levels of salt were always absurd

5). The latest academic study shows that LOW salt in your blood is most likely to lead to heart attacks. See JAMA. 2011;305(17):1777-1785. More here on similar findings

PEANUTS: There is a vaccination against peanut allergy -- peanuts themselves. Give peanut products (e.g. peanut butter -- or the original "Bamba" if you have Israeli contacts) to your baby as soon as it begins to take solid foods and that should immunize it for life. See here and here (scroll down). It's also possible (though as yet unexamined) that a mother who eats peanuts while she is lactating may confer some protection on her baby

THE SIDE-EFFECT MANIA. If a drug is shown to have troublesome side-effects, there are always calls for it to be banned or not authorized for use in the first place. But that is insane. ALL drugs have side effects. Even aspirin causes stomach bleeding, for instance -- and paracetamol (acetaminophen) can wreck your liver. If a drug has no side effects, it will have no main effects either. If you want a side-effect-free drug, take a homeopathic remedy. They're just water.

Although I am an atheist, I have never wavered from my view that the New Testament is the best guide to living and I still enjoy reading it. Here is what the apostle Paul says about vegetarians: "For one believeth that he may eat all things: another, who is weak, eateth herbs. Let not him that eateth despise him that eateth not; and let not him which eateth not judge him that eateth." (Romans 14: 2.3). What perfect advice! That is real tolerance: Very different from the dogmatism of the food freaks. Interesting that vegetarianism is such an old compulsion, though.

Even if we concede that getting fat shortens your life, what right has anybody got to question someone's decision to accept that tradeoff for themselves? Such a decision could be just one version of the old idea that it is best to have a short life but a merry one. Even the Bible is supportive of that thinking. See Ecclesiastes 8:15 and Isaiah 22: 13. To deny the right to make such a personal decision is plainly Fascistic.

Fatties actually SAVE the taxpayer money

IQ: Political correctness makes IQ generally unmentionable so it is rarely controlled for in epidemiological studies. This is extremely regrettable as it tends to vitiate findings that do not control for it. When it is examined, it is routinely found to have pervasive effects. We read, for instance, that "The mother's IQ was more highly predictive of breastfeeding status than were her race, education, age, poverty status, smoking, the home environment, or the child's birth weight or birth order". So political correctness can render otherwise interesting findings moot

That hallowed fish oil is strongly linked to increased incidence of colon cancer

The "magic" ingredient in fish oil is omega-3 fatty acids (n-3 LCPUFA in medical jargon). So how do you think the research finding following was reported? "No differences were seen in the overall percentage of infants with immunoglobulin E associated allergic disease between the n-3 LCPUFA and control groups. It was reported as SUPPORTING the benefits of Omeda-3! Belief in Omega-3 is simply a cult and, like most cults, is impervious to disproof. See also here.

"To kill an error is as good a service as, and sometimes better than, the establishing of a new truth or fact" -- Charles Darwin

"Most men die of their remedies, not of their diseases", said Moliere. That may no longer be true in general but there is still a lot of false medical "wisdom" around that does harm to various degrees -- the statin and antioxidant fads, for instance. And showing its falsity is rarely the problem. The problem is getting people -- medical researchers in particular -- to abandon their preconceptions

Bertrand Russell could have been talking about today's conventional dietary "wisdom" when he said: "The fact that an opinion has been widely held is no evidence whatever that it is not utterly absurd; indeed in view of the silliness of the majority of mankind, a widespread belief is more likely to be foolish than sensible.”

Eating lots of fruit and vegetables is NOT beneficial

The great and fraudulent scare about lead

The challenge, as John Maynard Keynes knew, "lies not so much in developing new ideas as in escaping from old ones".

"Obesity" is 77% genetic. So trying to make fatties slim is punishing them for the way they were born. That sort of thing is furiously condemned in relation to homosexuals so why is it OK for fatties?


Some more problems with the "Obesity" war:

1). It tries to impose behavior change on everybody -- when most of those targeted are not obese and hence have no reason to change their behaviour. It is a form of punishing the innocent and the guilty alike. (It is also typical of Leftist thinking: Scorning the individual and capable of dealing with large groups only).

2). The longevity research all leads to the conclusion that it is people of MIDDLING weight who live longest -- not slim people. So the "epidemic" of obesity is in fact largely an "epidemic" of living longer.

3). It is total calorie intake that makes you fat -- not where you get your calories. Policies that attack only the source of the calories (e.g. "junk food") without addressing total calorie intake are hence pissing into the wind. People involuntarily deprived of their preferred calorie intake from one source are highly likely to seek and find their calories elsewhere.

4). So-called junk food is perfectly nutritious. A big Mac meal comprises meat, bread, salad and potatoes -- which is a mainstream Western diet. If that is bad then we are all in big trouble.

5). Food warriors demonize dietary fat. But Eskimos living on their traditional diet eat huge amounts of fat with no apparent ill-effects. At any given age they in fact have an exceptionally LOW incidence of cardiovascular disease. And the average home-cooked roast dinner has LOTS of fat. Will we ban roast dinners?

6). The foods restricted are often no more calorific than those permitted -- such as milk and fruit-juice drinks.

7). Tendency to weight is mostly genetic and is therefore not readily susceptible to voluntary behaviour change.

8). And when are we going to ban cheese? Cheese is a concentrated calorie bomb and has lots of that wicked animal fat in it too. Wouldn't we all be better off without it? And what about butter and margarine? They are just about pure fat. Surely they should be treated as contraband in kids' lunchboxes! [/sarcasm].

9). And how odd it is that we never hear of the huge American study which showed that women who eat lots of veggies have an INCREASED risk of stomach cancer? So the official recommendation to eat five lots of veggies every day might just be creating lots of cancer for the future! It's as plausible (i.e. not very) as all the other dietary "wisdom" we read about fat etc.

10). And will "this generation of Western children be the first in history to lead shorter lives than their parents did"? This is another anti-fat scare that emanates from a much-cited editorial in a prominent medical journal that said so. Yet this editorial offered no statistical basis for its opinion -- an opinion that flies directly in the face of the available evidence.

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

12. Fascism: "What we should be doing is monitoring children from birth so we can detect any deviations from the norm at an early stage and action can be taken". Who said that? Joe Stalin? Adolf Hitler? Orwell's "Big Brother"? The Spanish Inquisition? Generalissimo Francisco Franco Bahamonde? None of those. It was Dr Colin Waine, chairman of Britain's National Obesity Forum. What a fine fellow!


Trans fats: For one summary of the weak science behind the "trans-fat" hysteria, see here. Trans fats have only a temporary effect on blood chemistry and the evidence of lasting harm from them is dubious. By taking extreme groups in trans fats intake, some weak association with coronary heart disease has at times been shown in some sub-populations but extreme group studies are inherently at risk of confounding with other factors and are intrinsically of little interest to the average person.

The "antioxidant" religion: The experimental evidence is that antioxidants SHORTEN your life, if anything. Studies here and here and here and here and here and here and here, for instance. That they are of benefit is a great theory but it is one that has been coshed by reality plenty of times.

Controlling serum cholesterol does not of itself reduce cardiovascular disease. It may even in fact increase it

The absurdity of using self-report questionnaires as a diet record

PASSIVE SMOKING is unpleasant but does you no harm. See here and here and here and here and here and here and here

The medical consensus is often wrong. The best known wrongheaded medical orthodoxy is that stomach ulcers could not be caused by bacteria because the stomach is so acidic. Disproof of that view first appeared in 1875 (Yes. 1875) but the falsity of the view was not widely recognized until 1990. Only heroic efforts finally overturned the consensus and led to a cure for stomach ulcers. See here and here and here.

Contrary to the usual assertions, some big studies show that fat women get LESS breast cancer. See also here and here

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

Huge ($400 million) clinical trial shows that a low fat diet is useless . See also here and here

Dieticians are just modern-day witch-doctors. There is no undergirding in double-blind studies for their usual recommendations

The fragility of current medical wisdom: Would you believe that even Old Testament wisdom can sometimes trump medical wisdom? Note this quote: "Spiess discussed Swedish research on cardiac patients that compared Jehovah's Witnesses who refused blood transfusions to patients with similar disease progression during open-heart surgery. The research found those who refused transfusions had noticeably better survival rates.

Relying on the popular wisdom can certainly hurt you personally: "The scientific consensus of a quarter-century ago turned into the arthritic nightmare of today."

Medical wisdom can in fact fly in the face of the known facts. How often do we hear reverent praise for the Mediterranean diet? Yet both Australians and Japanese live longer than Greeks and Italians, despite having very different diets. The traditional Australian diet is in fact about as opposite to the Mediterranean diet as you can get. The reverence for the Mediterranean diet can only be understood therefore as some sort of Anglo-Saxon cultural cringe. It is quite brainless. Why are not the Australian and Japanese diets extolled if health is the matter at issue?

Since many of my posts here make severe criticisms of medical research, I should perhaps point out that I am also a severe critic of much research in my own field of psychology. See here and here

This is NOT an "alternative medicine" site. Perhaps the only (weak) excuse for the poorly substantiated claims that often appear in the medical literature is the even poorer level of substantiation offered in the "alternative" literature.

I used to teach social statistics in a major Australian university and I find medical statistics pretty obfuscatory. They seem uniformly designed to make mountains out of molehills. Many times in the academic literature I have excoriated my colleagues in psychology and sociology for going ga-ga over very weak correlations but what I find in the medical literature makes the findings in the social sciences look positively muscular. In fact, medical findings are almost never reported as correlations -- because to do so would exhibit how laughably trivial they generally are. If (say) 3 individuals in a thousand in a control group had some sort of an adverse outcome versus 4 out of a thousand in a group undergoing some treatment, the difference will be published in the medical literature with great excitement and intimations of its importance. In fact, of course, such small differences are almost certainly random noise and are in any rational calculus unimportant. And statistical significance is little help in determining the importance of a finding. Statistical significance simply tells you that the result was unlikely to be an effect of small sample size. But a statistically significant difference could have been due to any number of other randomly-present factors.

Even statistical correlations far stronger than anything found in medical research may disappear if more data is used. A remarkable example from Sociology: below:
"The modern literature on hate crimes began with a remarkable 1933 book by Arthur Raper titled The Tragedy of Lynching. Raper assembled data on the number of lynchings each year in the South and on the price of an acre's yield of cotton. He calculated the correlation coefficient between the two series at -0.532. In other words, when the economy was doing well, the number of lynchings was lower.... In 2001, Donald Green, Laurence McFalls, and Jennifer Smith published a paper that demolished the alleged connection between economic conditions and lynchings in Raper's data. Raper had the misfortune of stopping his analysis in 1929. After the Great Depression hit, the price of cotton plummeted and economic conditions deteriorated, yet lynchings continued to fall. The correlation disappeared altogether when more years of data were added."
So we must be sure to base our conclusions on ALL the data. But in medical research, data selectivity and the "overlooking" of discordant research findings is epidemic.

The intellectual Roman Emperor Marcus Aurelius (AD 121-180) could have been speaking of the prevailing health "wisdom" of today when he said: "The object in life is not to be on the side of the majority, but to escape finding oneself in the ranks of the insane."

The Federal Reference Manual on Scientific Evidence, Second Edition says (p. 384): "the threshold for concluding that an agent was more likely than not the cause of an individual's disease is a relative risk greater than 2.0." Very few of the studies criticized on this blog meet that criterion.

Improbable events do happen at random -- as mathematician John Brignell notes rather tartly:
"Consider, instead, my experiences in the village pub swindle. It is based on the weekly bonus ball in the National Lottery. It so happens that my birth date is 13, so that is the number I always choose. With a few occasional absences abroad I have paid my pound every week for a year and a half, but have never won. Some of my neighbours win frequently; one in three consecutive weeks. Furthermore, I always put in a pound for my wife for her birth date, which is 11. She has never won either. The probability of neither of these numbers coming up in that period is less than 5%, which for an epidemiologist is significant enough to publish a paper.

Kids are not shy anymore. They are "autistic". Autism is a real problem but the rise in its incidence seems likely to be the product of overdiagnosis -- the now common tendency to medicalize almost all problems.

One of the great pleasures in life is the first mouthful of cold beer on a hot day -- and the food Puritans can stick that wherever they like