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

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

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

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

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

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

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


31 January, 2014

Does Vitamin E FUEL cancer in smokers? Supplements may speed growth of tumours

Supplements are getting a pounding lately. Long overdue -- JR

Vitamin E and other common supplements fuel lung cancer in smokers, researchers fear.

They say that rather than preventing tumours, popular antioxidant pills may speed their growth and spread and hasten death.

The experiments were done on mice, but the Swedish researchers believe they are relevant to people.

Cancer Research UK recently said that we should be able to get all the vitamins we need from a healthy diet, without resorting to supplements.

Antioxidants, such as vitamins A, C and E, are credited with protecting against a host of ills, including cancer. However, recent studies have hinted that in some cases they may actually fuel the disease.

When the University of Gothenburg researchers give vitamin E to mice in the very early stages of lung cancer, the disease grew and spread more quickly and the animals died twice as fast.

Experiments on human cells confirmed the finding.

A second antioxidant, a drug used to treat smoking-related lung conditions, had a similar effect.

Vitamin E and other antioxidants are credited with boosting health by mopping up harmful molecules called free radicals, which are unstable and highly reactive so that in animal tissues they can damage cells.

But it is thought that if cancer has already started to develop, antioxidants may actually feed the disease by switching off the body’s natural defences.

Although anyone can have small lung tumours that are yet to be spotted by doctors, they are most common in smokers.

The researchers said the amounts of vitamin E used were similar to those found in supplements.

They advised that the vitamin and other antioxidants are ‘used with caution’ by smokers, lung cancer patients and people with bronchitis, emphysema and other smoking-related lung conditions known collectively as chronic obstructive pulmonary disease.

They said it is too early to give any advice to healthy people – or to say if vitamins speed the spread of other cancers.

The warning, published in the journal Science Translational Medicine, is unlikely to apply to vitamin-rich ‘superfoods’ such as blueberries as they would have to be eaten in huge amounts to provide the levels of antioxidants contained in supplements.

Dr Emma Smith, of Cancer Research UK’s senior science communications officer, cautioned that the study was done on mice and it is not clear what it means for people.

However, she added: ‘There’s no strong evidence that antioxidants or vitamin supplements could reduce cancer risk, and some types of supplement can actually raise the risk.

‘There have also been concerns raised that antioxidants may interfere with cancer treatments. ‘We recommend that people stick to a healthy, balanced diet, which should provide all the nutrients you need without taking supplements.’


Taking multivitamins 'can raise risk of a miscarriage'

Women who take multivitamin tablets while trying to become pregnant are more at risk of having a miscarriage, research shows.

A study of 35,000 mothers-to-be found they were 32 per cent more likely to lose their baby early on if they had taken the supplements regularly in the six weeks before conceiving.

Millions of women rely on the pills to boost their body’s stocks of vital vitamins and minerals and so increase their chances of having a successful pregnancy.

The researchers say in the International Journal of Epidemiology: ‘Women are advised to take multivitamins when they plan to conceive, believing it can do no harm.

‘We found a modest but consistent increased risk of early foetal death in multivitamin users, especially in women with a regular preconceptional intake.’

They said the finding ‘causes concern’ but were unable to explain why multivitamins raised the risk.

The NHS supplies women with multivitamin tablets after the ten-week point of their pregnancies as part of the Healthy Start scheme.

They contain vitamins C, D and B9 (also known as folate), which helps protect babies from spina bifida.

Many women begin taking pills while trying to conceive. But official advice warns only against consuming too much vitamin A.

The latest study, which is the largest of its kind and focused on mothers-to-be in Denmark, was conducted by the universities of Southern Denmark, Aarhus and Pittsburgh in the US.

Taking folate supplements on their own or multivitamins while expecting had a slight beneficial effect. But the study isolated a particular risk of miscarriage among those who took the all-in-one tablets several weeks before conception, around a third of the women.

Compared with taking no pills at all, regular multivitamin use for three or four weeks beforehand saw the chances of losing the baby rise by 23 per cent. For the period of five to six weeks, it was 32 per cent.

Although the authors couldn’t find a reason for the trend, they were able to rule out links with obesity, smoking, poverty, previous miscarriage or difficulty in conceiving.

Professor Lucilla Poston, head of the Division of Women’s Health at King’s College, London, urged women not to panic.

She said: ‘It is critical that the data are not interpreted as evidence against current recommendations for folate supplementation.

‘The authors rightly recommend that further studies are needed. In the meantime, supplements should be taken in accordance with current clinical guidelines.’


30 January, 2014

Drinking during pregnancy 'worse than smoking tobacco or cannabis' and 7,000 babies a year are harmed, warn senior medics

This is not a well-supported judgment. See here and here. There are even findings that mothers who drink moderately have healthier babies. The data on which the mavens below base their judgments will almost certainly be epidemiological and class-confounded

Drinking during pregnancy causes more harm to the unborn child than tobacco smoke or cannabis, according to senior doctors.

They want Government guidelines to be changed to tell women to avoid alcohol altogether rather than once or twice a week.

Paediatricians - who specialise in the care of children - say as many as 1 per cent of babies born in England suffer behavioural or developmental problems due to alcohol exposure.

There are 730,000 births in this country a year meaning as many as 7,000 could be affected.

One consultant said that if women must have one bad habit while pregnant, it would be safer to smoke tobacco or cannabis than drink alcohol.

Dr Neil Aiton, a paediatrician at Brighton and Sussex University Hospitals NHS Trust, said: ‘If it is a choice between a drink, a smoke or a spliff then ‘don’t drink’, would be my recommendation.

‘We have firm evidence that drinking alcohol regularly is damaging. ‘Cigarettes cause babies to be born a bit on the smaller side.

‘There is other evidence but it is minor compared to the long-term neurological and psychological damage that alcohol causes to the nervous system.’

Doctors are calling for government advice to be changed to state that women should not drink alcohol at all either while pregnant or trying to conceive.

The current guidelines state that women should avoid it - but if they do choose to drink to limit it to one or two units a week.

But there are concerns this is misinterpreted by women who assume they can safely have one or two glasses of wine once or twice a week.

A large 250ml glass of wine contains about three units of alcohol and doctors say that women are unwittingly putting their foetuses at risk.

Baroness Sheila Hollins, head of the British Medical Association Board of Science, said: ‘That is quite difficult advice to follow. People don’t know what a unit is.

'The BMA’s advice would be that the elimination of drinking during pregnancy is safest because of the uncertainties of drinking at low to moderate levels.’

The chief medical officer for England Professor Dame Sallie Davies is currently reviewing the guidelines and may change them later this year.

Dr Raja Mukherjee runs for a clinic children and adults with foetal alcohol spectrum disorders (FASDs), a range of symptoms caused by alcohol damage in the womb, which is part of the NHS
She says that although many children are diagnosed as having foetal alcohol syndrome - which has clear physical characteristics - foetal alcohol spectrum disorders are rarely picked up.

Her clinic estimates that between 1 per and 3 per of the population is affected by FASDs but many grow up unaware of the cause of their condition.


Want to avoid the office cold? DITCH the Vitamin C: Washing hands and taking zinc is better at preventing infection

If you are suffering from a cold, read this before reaching for the orange juice.

Consuming vitamin C does little to help your symptoms, a new study suggests.

It found that washing your hands is one of the best defences against the common cold - while zinc tablets can also prevent it.

But they dismiss vitamin C supplements as having no effect.

The new review - looking at medical and non-medical remedies to prevent and treat the common cold - also shows natural remedies often suggested for winter bugs have little evidence supporting them.

Ginseng, gargling, vapour rubs and homeopathy have ‘unclear’ benefits, according to a review published in the Canadian Medical Association Journal.

Antibiotics were also ineffective, because they only work on bacteria when colds are caused by viral infections.

The common cold strikes 930,000 Britons, on average, on any day in winter, with more than 200 viruses to blame.

Adults can expect to suffer between two and five colds a year, although they don’t always lead to symptoms.

Symptoms such as sore throat, stuffy or runny nose, cough and malaise are usually worse for the first three days but can last up to three weeks.

A new review by Dr Michael Allan, of the University of Alberta in Canada, and Dr Bruce Arroll, of the University of Auckland, New Zealand, concludes that clean hands, along with alcohol rubs and gloves, is the best prevention based on findings from 67 trials.

Zinc supplements of 10 or 15mg a day works for children, resulting in lower rates of colds and less time off school caused by colds, they say.

The doctors believe the evidence suggests adults would also benefit from taking zinc.

Researchers also found paracetamol, ibuprofen and perhaps antihistamine-decongestant combinations are among best treatments for a cold.

Ipratropium, a drug used to treat allergies and chronic obstructive pulmonary disorder, may alleviate a runny nose when used in a nasal spray but has no effect on congestion.

Cough medicines show no benefit in children, but may offer slight benefit in adults, while honey has a slight effect in relieving cough symptoms in children over the age of one.

The long-held belief that vitamin C assists in preventing and treating colds, largely comes from research studies of poor quality and inconsistent results, says the review.

Dr Allan said ‘Much more evidence now exists in this area, but many uncertainties remain regarding interventions to prevent and treat the common cold.

‘We focused on randomised controlled trials and systematic reviews and meta-analyses of trials for therapy, but few of the studies had a low risk of bias.

‘However, many of the results were inconsistent and had small effects - for example, vitamin C - which arouses suspicion that any noted benefit may represent bias rather than a true effect.’


29 January, 2014

Fish oil - a healthy choice for men or not?

There have been question marks about taking supplements to prevent health problems ever since research into beta-carotene in the 1990s dropped a bombshell. Back then beta-carotene, the red-orange pigment that colours plant foods like mango and carrots, was a rock star of the nutrient world, with studies suggesting that a beta-carotene-rich diet reduced lung cancer risk. But research giving beta carotene to smokers in the form of supplements, not food, delivered a nasty shock – these supplements appeared to increase lung cancer risk, not reduce it.

There was another surprise last year when US researchers linked a high intake of fish oil from both fish and fish oil supplements to a higher risk of prostate cancer. Until then fish oil had one of the shiniest haloes of any supplement on the shelf - along with evidence that it could help protect the heart and reduce inflammation in rheumatoid arthritis, it was considered generally safe.

This study left many men wondering what to do with their fish oil capsules – keep taking them in the hope of a health benefit or toss them out? Complicating things even more was another smaller study reported last November suggesting that fish oil might help slow prostate cancer growth. So what's a man to do?

Both studies do more to raise questions about fish oil than provide any answers, says Dr David Winkle, President of the Urological Society of Australia and New Zealand.

"Neither study tells us whether fish oil supplements are good for us or not in respect to prostate cancer - they just demonstrate that we need more research," he says, adding that the study linking fish oil to more prostate cancer didn't prove fish oil caused the disease, just that the men in the study with the highest level of fatty acids from fish oil in their blood also had a higher risk of prostate cancer.

"The study underscores the importance of looking critically at whether you need to take supplements generally and also the value of talking to your doctor to help assess what the risks and benefits of taking any supplement, including fish oil, are. Most men who have prostate cancer don't die of that disease and they often have a higher risk of dying from heart disease rather than prostate cancer."

Meanwhile, Dr Garry Jennings Director of the Baker IDI Heart and Diabetes Research Institute has stopped taking fish oil capsules himself – not because of concerns about prostate cancer but because the current evidence shows little benefit for people with a low risk for heart disease.

"However for people with high levels of triglycerides (unhealthy blood fats), fish oil in both supplements and food can help bring these levels down. Fish oil also has a mild blood thinning effect, although not as potent as aspirin," he adds.

Like David Winkle, Jennings was surprised at the finding linking fish oil with cancer.

"Most work I've seen in this area suggests fish oil is generally protective against cancer. But it can be difficult to nail down the reason for associations in some studies. We know that many lifestyle factors associated with heart disease, including being overweight, also increase cancer risk – so it may be that the men with a high intake of fish oil also had risk factors like being overweight. I'm being very speculative but often this can be a reason for a surprising finding in a study.

"But where there is consistent evidence is that people who eat fish appear to be less at risk from heart disease and cancer than people who don't," he says.

As for lifestyle measures that might lower prostate cancer risk, the Urological Society recommends regular exercise and sticking to a healthy weight.

"Poor exercise habits and a poor diet can increase the risk of metabolic syndrome – a cluster of symptoms including obesity and pre-diabetes that can increase the risk of cancer generally," says Dr Winkle.


Do medical scientists deserve respect?

By Rich Kozlovich

Recently Dan Moreland of Pest Control Technology published an article on September 26th, 2013, declaring, “Scientists Deserve Our Respect, Not Our Ridicule”! The truth is there are so many logical fallacies in this article I can’t list them all, but I’ll do my best.

Dan goes on to tell us about a scientist by the name of Dr. John Eng, who received the ‘Golden Goose Award’ because of his research to help diabetics. Anyone who knows someone who suffers from this affliction has to be grateful for his efforts, because these people truly suffer as they age. He and his associates “discovered that the venom of some animals can impact the human pancreas”. In the end the work he and his colleagues did with the saliva of Gila allowed them to develop a compound that stimulated the pancreas, helping to prevent those “debilitating health problems from blindness and nerve damage to kidney failure and heart disease.” And they should be commended! He clearly deserved the recognition he received. So what’s fallacious about that? Nothing, if that was all there was to the article. Let’s explore this.

After outlining the recognition this man so richly deserved Dan goes on to discuss the “Golden Fleece Award” that Senator Proxmire (I know, most of you are too young to remember him) presented to those whom he felt wasted government money, including grant money to academia. While the “Golden Goose Award” is presented positively, The “Golden Fleece Award” is presented negatively in this article. That’s a logical fallacy known as an “incomplete comparison – “in which insufficient information is provided to make a complete comparison.”

The comparison made between the Golden Goose Award and the Golden Fleece Award also gives way to a fallacious logic known as “fallacy of division – assuming that something true of a thing must also be true of all or some of its parts.”

Just because Eng was deserving doesn’t mean everyone else who portrays themself as a 'scientist' is deserving - of awards that is. They are certainly deserving of things commensurate with their work - which I will discuss in a later article - and receiving awards isn't among them. The implication from Dan is that scientists as a whole are being treated unfairly. You may wish to view the “false dilemma fallacy (false dichotomy, fallacy of bifurcation, black-or-white fallacy) – two alternative statements are held to be the only possible options, when in reality there are more.

Then to further enforce this line of false logic Dan states;
“Fortunately, thanks to the efforts of the American Association for the Advancement of Science and forward-thinking legislators like Congressmen Jim Cooper (D-TN) and Charlie Dent (R-PA), as well as our industry’s own Robert Dold Jr., who represented Illinois' 10th Congressional District from 2010-12, Eng’s work was honored at the “Golden Goose” Awards earlier this month in Washington, D.C……. “This was a bi-partisan effort to highlight the benefits of science,” Dold told PCT. “Frankly, we need to highlight all the great things that are occurring in the sciences so we are encouraging our young people to pursue careers that find solutions to problems.”

“Dr. Eng’s research demonstrates the necessity of federally supported basic research,” added Rep. Dent. “In 1992, there was no way of knowing that Gila monster venom contained a compound that would one day change the lives of millions of diabetics. We owe it to future generations to lay the groundwork now for tomorrow’s breakthroughs.”

“Dr. Eng’s research shows that we can’t abandon science funding only because we don’t know where it might lead,” said Rep. Cooper.
While Cooper acknowledges that ‘not every dollar’ is spent worthily he claims he chooses to “support those men and women who think differently about the world, who look at a Gila monster and don’t simply see a common lizard, but a creature with untapped scientific possibilities that could have a positive impact on the health of millions of people around the globe.”

Okay, let’s explore this. First of all claiming that “legislators like Congressmen like Cooper, Dent and “our industry’s own Robert Dold Jr.,” support this is a logical fallacy known as an “appeal to authority, “where an assertion is deemed true because of the position or authority of the person asserting it” Perhaps all these politicos also believe in standing on a hill and waving a flag that says “I stand foursquare for consensus”. Well quite frankly, I don’t care what they think because - it isn’t their money. Its money we don’t have, and the most disturbing thing is most of this borrowed money we give to academia is wasted in a big way, which I will demonstrate in a follow up article. And consensus isn’t science, its politics.

He goes on to call them “forward-thinking”, which clearly implies that those who disagree are backward thinking. And naturally, that makes him and those who agree with him just a little better than those who don’t agree, committing another logical fallacy known as “moral high ground fallacy – in which a person assumes a "holier-than-thou" attitude in an attempt to make himself look good to win an argument.” Is this rhetoric of going “forward” in fact steps backward? I will address this later in the article.

The reality is the very foundations for Dan’s article, and apparently his views on this subject, are founded on another fallacy known as “cherry picking (suppressed evidence, incomplete evidence) – act of pointing at individual cases or data that seem to confirm a particular position, while ignoring a significant portion of related cases or data that may contradict that position.”

The basis for this article is a false analogy – an argument by analogy in which the analogy is poorly suited, and he clearly made a hasty generalization (fallacy of insufficient statistics, fallacy of insufficient sample, fallacy of the lonely fact, leaping to a conclusion, hasty induction, secundum quid, converse accident) – basing a broad conclusion on a small sample.”

While I think research grant money can be an important step toward human progress in medicine, as well as other disciplines; it’s my contention that the vast majority of it amounts to nothing more than academic welfare.

Many years ago 60 Minutes Morley Safer interviewed a ‘scientist’ who received a $100,000 grant ( that was when $100,000 was really a lot of money) to show that people really liked parks, especially when they had grass, trees, streams, rocks, etc. Safer said that to him this appeared to be nothing more than academic welfare? I could have told them all of that without charge. But even more important, just how valid are all these studies on which we have spent billions and impact public policy?

A friend of mine, Dr. Jay Lehr, one of the original group that helped create the EPA and its foundational pieces of legislation, co-wrote the book titled, The Fluoride Wars. He noted over the years there had been thousands of studies regarding fluoride and the impact it may play on human health, many of them conflicting, and many of them with methodological flaws. A team of researchers attempted to establish a minimum acceptable set of standards for the inclusion of a study in their assessments. Among those from York University found only 214 studies out of the thousands that have appeared in print during the period 1951 – 1999 that met their acceptance criteria, and of these, only 26 provided a defensible analysis of the direct impact of fluoridation on dental caries.

Twenty six out of literally thousands were found worthwhile. There are two questions that need to be asked now. First, what was the reaction from the anti-fluoride crowd, and secondly, is this pattern repeated over and over again.

First of all, no study – no matter how well done, no matter how many times it’s replicated, no matter how much evidence we see with our own eyes that supports its conclusions will be acceptable to activists, if it doesn't support their views. One of the anti-fluoride activist leaders, Don Caron, stated:

“I guess the York study wasn’t actually a study as studies go,” he wrote, “because this study didn’t study animals or people, it simply studied studies. Although this was touted to be the study to end all studies, almost immediately both the green party and Fluoride Action Network published their studies of the York study that studied the studies pointed out that this study that studied the studies had left some 3000 studies unstudied, and they called for a study of studies that would study all studies and therefore not necessitate a further study of the study of the studies as the study had done.”

The authors of this study expected kudos for taking a network of foggy studies and creating as system that would lend clarity to this issue in hopes of developing understanding. Instead they received ridicule. The point is this – studies may generate money – but they don’t necessarily generate facts or understanding, and there sure seems to be a large majority within the scientific community that doesn’t care, because 'truth' isn't the holy grail of science. Its grant money!

So then, who are the forward thinkers here, and what award should the majority of these people of science receive? The Golden Goose or the Golden Fleece? Respect or ridicule? I will deal with that in a much larger way in following articles. And the answer to the second question – Yes!


28 January, 2014

Australian scientist to use population data to examine vitamin D claims

THE potential general health benefits of vitamin D supplements will at last be clear to Australians but it is going to take five years to find out. The answer will come from a study of 25,000 people aged 60 to 79, one of the largest projects of its kind in the world.

That vitamin D is important for bone health is accepted, but it is not known what level is needed, says study leader Associate Professor Rachel Neale of the QIMR Berghofer Medical Research Centre.

"People receive conflicting advice about how much sun exposure they need," she says. "Australia is the skin cancer capital of the world. It may be that a vitamin D supplement is enough."

Prof Neale says the jury is still out on whether vitamin D helps prevent cancer, heart disease and other illnesses. "There has been enormous hype.

"We know a moderate level of vitamin D is important for our bone health. What we don't know is how much people need and whether supplementing people improves conditions like cancer.

"We hope this study, linking with Medicare records and cancer registries, will provide some definitive answers and advice.

Prof Neale says Australia spends $150 million a year on vitamin D testing, despite the fact that testing is unreliable and "we don't even know what blood level to aim for".

The present recommendation is that people will achieve enough vitamin D with moderate sun exposure, but people who receive no sun exposure should supplement their vitamin D intake with about 400 international units a day, she says.

The outcome of the study could improve the case for mandatory fortification of foods such as bread, Prof Neale says.

Royal College of Pathologists spokesperson Dr Paul Glendenning said the study would help answer important questions. "It will help determine if there is a case for routine supplementation and routine monitoring of vitamin D.

"We understand that vitamin D has an action in many different parts of the body. This study will help answer whether the amount of vitamin D circulating in the blood is important to those diverse functions.


Study: Coffee may boost long-term memories

People who had caffeine after looking at images apparently better at distinguishing them from similar ones the next day. Longer term effects were not examined

A cup or two of coffee could boost the brain’s ability to store long-term memories, researchers in the US claim.

People who had a shot of caffeine after looking at a series of pictures were better at distinguishing them from similar images in tests the next day, the scientists found.

The task gives a measure of how precisely information is stored in the brain, which helps with a process called pattern separation that can be crucial in everyday situations.

If the effect is real, and some scientists are doubtful, then it would add memory enhancement to the growing list of benefits that moderate caffeine consumption seems to provide.

Michael Yassa, a neuroscientist who led the study at Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore, said the ability to separate patterns was vital for discriminating between similar scenarios and experiences in life.

“If you park in the same parking lot every day, the spot you choose can look the same as many others. But when you go and look for your car, you need to look for where you parked it today, not where you parked it yesterday,” he said.

Writing in the journal Nature Neuroscience, Yassa describes how 44 volunteers who were not heavy caffeine consumers and had abstained for at least a day were shown a rapid sequence of pictures on a computer screen. The pictures included a huge range of items, such as a hammer, a chair, an apple, a seahorse, a rubber duck and a car.

When each image flashed up on the screen, the person watching had to say whether the object was normally found indoors or outside, but they were not asked to memorise the pictures. At the end of the task, each volunteer was randomly assigned either a 200mg caffeine pill or a placebo. A typical cup of coffee contains around 150mg caffeine.

The next day, the scientists brought the volunteers back and sat them down at the computer again. This time, the sequence of images included many they had seen the day before, but some were new and others were similar. The similar images varied in how close to the originals they were. Some showed the same object from a different angle, while others were a similar type of object, such as a different design of hammer to the one they had seen before.

For this part of the study, the volunteers had to say whether each image was either new, old or similar to one they had seen the day before. According to Yassa, the caffeine and placebo groups scored the same except when it came to spotting the similar images. In this task, the caffeine group scored around 10% higher, he said.

“What I’ve taken from this is that I should keep drinking my coffee,” Yassa told the Guardian. “Our study suggests there’s a real learning and memory benefit, but other studies suggest caffeine is associated with increased longevity, and a resistance to Alzheimer’s disease. In moderate amounts, it could have beneficial effects for health.”

Yassa said it was unclear how caffeine might help the storage of memories, but one theory is that it leads to higher levels of a stress hormone called norepinephrine in the brain that helps memories get laid down.

Some scientists, however, say they need more evidence to believe the effect. George Kemenes, a neuroscientist who studies memory at Sussex University, said the statistical techniques used in the paper were not good enough to prove the effect was real. “I have reservations. If the statistics aren’t right the whole story, beautiful as it is, unravels,” he said.

“Even if this was solidly true, which in my view it isn’t, it wouldn’t prove that caffeine has a memory-enhancing property. It wouldn’t call this an improvement in long-term memory.”

Jon Simons, who works on memory at Cambridge University, said the study was interesting and carefully designed, but the effect needed to be shown in a larger number of people. “The claim that caffeine affects the consolidation of memories is based on quite a small effect that would really benefit from replication in a larger sample to be convincing,” he said.


27 January, 2014

Chocolate and red wine 'can beat diabetes,' study claims

This is just another correlational study and the data is self-report so much caution is in order. There could well be a class effect at work. There is a critical commentary on the study here

Eating high levels of flavonoids including anthocyanins and other compounds (found in berries, tea, and chocolate) could offer protection from type 2 diabetes - according to research from the University of East Anglia (UEA) and King’s College London.

Findings published today in the Journal of Nutrition reveal that high intakes of these dietary compounds are associated with lower insulin resistance and better blood glucose regulation.

A study of almost 2,000 people also found that these food groups lower inflammation which, when chronic, is associated with diabetes, obesity, cardiovascular disease, and cancer.

Prof Aedin Cassidy from UEA’s Norwich Medical School led the research. She said: “Our research looked at the benefits of eating certain sub-groups of flavanoids. We focused on flavones, which are found in herbs and vegetables such as parsley, thyme, and celery, and anthocyanins, found in berries, red grapes, wine and other red or blue-coloured fruits and vegetables.

“This is one of the first large-scale human studies to look at how these powerful bioactive compounds might reduce the risk of diabetes. Laboratory studies have shown these types of foods might modulate blood glucose regulation – affecting the risk of type 2 diabetes. But until now little has been know about how habitual intakes might affect insulin resistance, blood glucose regulation and inflammation in humans.”

Researchers studied almost 2,000 healthy women volunteers from TwinsUK who had completed a food questionnaire designed to estimate total dietary flavonoid intake as well as intakes from six flavonoid subclasses. Blood samples were analysed for evidence of both glucose regulation and inflammation. Insulin resistance, a hallmark of type 2 diabetes, was assessed using an equation that considered both fasting insulin and glucose levels.

“We found that those who consumed plenty of anthocyanins and flavones had lower insulin resistance. High insulin resistance is associated with Type 2 diabetes, so what we are seeing is that people who eat foods rich in these two compounds – such as berries, herbs, red grapes, wine– are less likely to develop the disease.

“We also found that those who ate the most anthocyanins were least likely to suffer chronic inflammation – which is associated with many of today’s most pressing health concerns including diabetes, obesity, cardiovascular disease, and cancer.

“And those who consumed the most flavone compounds had improved levels of a protein (adiponectin) which helps regulate a number of metabolic processes including glucose levels.

“What we don’t yet know is exactly how much of these compounds are necessary to potentially reduce the risk of type 2 diabetes,” she added.

Prof Tim Spector, research collaborator and director of the TwinsUK study from King’s College London, said: “This is an exciting finding that shows that some components of foods that we consider unhealthy like chocolate or wine may contain some beneficial substances. If we can start to identify and separate these substances we can potentially improve healthy eating. There are many reasons including genetics why people prefer certain foods so we should be cautious until we test them properly in randomised trials and in people developing early diabetes.”

‘Intakes of Anthocyanins and Flavones Are Associated with Biomarkers of Insulin Resistance and Inflammation in Women’ by Jennings A, Welch AA, Spector T, Macgregor A, and Cassidy A, is published in the Journal of Nutrition on Monday, January 20, 2014.


'Eggs contain formaldehyde and bananas have ethene gas': Teacher reveals the ingredients of normal foods to de-bunk the myth of 'chemical-free living'

They sound like horrific chemicals you'd find in processed food. But aspartic acid, isoleucine and ethyl butanoate are in fact found in a banana.

Likewise - did you know that when you eat an egg, you're eating glutamic acid, E160e and even formaldehyde?

The images below and their list of ingredients were made by James Kennedy, a high school chemistry teacher from Melbourne, Australia. He says the aim of the project was to dispel the fear that has become associated with the word 'chemicals'.

He told MailOnline: 'As a high-school chemistry teacher, I made these posters for my students as a visual introduction to our Organic Chemistry course.

'I wanted to erode the fear that many people have of ‘chemicals’, and demonstrate that nature evolves compounds, mechanisms and structures far more complicated and unpredictable than anything we can produce in the lab.

'These posters aim to show that chemistry isn't artificial and dangerous; but that chemistry is natural and everywhere. 'The chemistry of fun, friendly, everyday objects like bananas is more complicated and more fascinating than that of, say, a bomb.'

He added that chemistry has suffered in recent years from a negative image.

'Pesticides, poisons, drugs and explosives seem to dominate the public's perceptions of Chemistry while the other sciences bask in a much more positive light.

'Mostly, this is because chemistry lacks a charismatic, public teacher like David Attenborough or Brian Cox, who currently inspire students into Biology and Physics, respectively. Chemistry only has Walter White from Breaking Bad, and he's done the industry a great disservice".

He added that all of the information was from reputable sources.

'The constituent ingredients were found on a nutritional analysis website; the color and preservative components were from old botany books; and the flavor compounds were found in published, peer-reviewed gas spectroscopy analyses of the volatile aromatic compounds in each fruit.


26 January, 2014

Why taking vitamin D is 'pointless': Review finds taking supplement does little to prevent chronic disease or early death

Good for Rickets but not much else

Scientists claim there is no evidence to support taking vitamin D supplements to stave off chronic disease and early death - and results of several multi-million dollar trials currently under way are unlikely to alter this view.

A new review examines existing evidence from 40 randomised controlled trials - the gold standard for proving cause and effect - and concludes that vitamin D supplementation does not prevent heart attacks, strokes, cancer, or bone fractures in the general population by more than 15 per cent.

In fact, vitamin D supplements probably provide little, if any, health benefit, according to the study published in The Lancet Diabetes & Endocrinology journal.

In Britain, the supplements market is worth £700 million a year - a growth of 16 per cent in five years - and the most popular pills are multi-vitamins and fish oils, which contain vitamin D.

Some scientists assumed vitamin D, which is produced naturally by exposure to sunlight, could protect against disease because patients with cancer, heart disease or Alzheimer’s, or who died prematurely, often had very low levels of the nutrient.

However, evidence from some trials suggests that rather than vitamin D deficiency leading to disease, these illnesses stop the body from producing vitamin D - so sufferers have lower levels.

Last month, a review of 462 studies involving more than a million adults said a lack of vitamin D was not a trigger for many common illnesses.

In the latest study, Dr Mark Bolland of the University of Auckland, New Zealand, and colleagues used several types of review of existing studies, including a ‘futility analysis’, to predict whether future research results might sway existing evidence.

The results of their study suggest the effect of vitamin D, taken with or without calcium, on heart attacks, strokes, cancer, and total fracture lies below a ‘futility threshold’.

This means there would be no point in taking supplements as it would have little effect on health outcomes.

For hip fractures, the results of some trials even suggested an increased risk with vitamin D supplementation.

The authors’ analysis of whether vitamin D supplementation can reduce death rates by five per cent or more was inconclusive.

Professor Karl Michaëlsson, of Uppsala University in Sweden, writing in a Lancet commentary, said: ‘Without stringent indications - i.e. supplementing those without true vitamin D insufficiency - there is a legitimate fear that vitamin D supplementation might actually cause net harm.’

Two months ago the chief medical officer, Dame Sally Davies, called for free vitamins to be given to children after it emerged that a quarter of youngsters are short of vitamin D. Presently it is only available on prescription to under fives from low income families.

In addition, pregnant women and those who are breastfeeding are advised to take one vitamin D tablet a day - which they can get on prescription - to ensure their baby’s bones are healthy.

Dr Carrie Ruxton from the Health Supplements Information Service, said three quarters of Britons have vitamin D intakes which are below the recommended level, with children and older people at particular risk.’

She said: ‘Rickets, once thought to have largely disappeared in the UK, has returned, in particular among children of Asian and African descent who have darker skins, but the disease is also seen in Causasian children usually in areas of urban deprivation.

She said the new review did not look at vitamin D’s role in bone health, instead focusing on chronic conditions such as cancer.

She added: ‘Vitamin D supplements are not intended for treating any disease conditions, and it is disappointing this review did not address the essential role of vitamin D in bone and musculoskeletal health.

‘In the light of the findings that 75 per cent of the British population have below recommended intakes of vitamin D and that vitamin D is essential for bone health as well as a number of other physiological functions, consideration should be given to everyone taking a vitamin D supplement all year round.


Lingonberries 'halt the effects of high-fat diet' (?)

This is only a rodent study with the mice fed huge amounts of the stuff so generalizability is very weak. Nonetheless, many sub-arctic people have very little in the way of fresh fruit and veg. available but do have the very hardy lingonberrries available. That such people stay healthy has been attributed to their consumption of lingonberries. So they are clearly nutritionally valuable

Everyone dreams of being able to eat chocolate and pizza all day without putting on a pound. Now researchers could have found a simple way of making this dream a reality. Scientists in Sweden found eating lingonberries could prevent weight gain in people with a high-fat diet.

The researchers, at Lund University, discovered the berries almost completely prevent weight gain in mice fed a high-fat diet.

They discovered the Scandinavian berries – which are sometimes known as cowberries in the UK - also lower blood sugar levels and cholesterol.

The research team conducted their study using a type of mouse that easily stores fat and, therefore, can be regarded as a model for humans who are overweight and at risk of diabetes.

Some of the mice were fed a low-fat diet, while the majority of the animals were fed a diet high in fat. They were then divided into groups, where all except a control group were fed a type of berry – lingonberry, bilberry, raspberry, crowberry, blackberry, prune, blackcurrant or acai berry.

When the mice were compared after three months, it could be observed that the lingonberry group had by far the best results.

The mice that had eaten lingonberries had not put on more weight than the mice that had eaten a low-fat diet - and their blood sugar and insulin readings were also similar to those of the ‘low-fat’ mice.

Their cholesterol levels and levels of fat in the liver were also lower than those of the animals who received a high-fat diet without any berries.

However, according to the Lund University researchers, people should not see the findings as an excuse to eat an unhealthy diet.

Lovisa Heyman told MailOnline: 'While the findings in mice are exciting, it should absolutely not be interpreted as a license to eat an unhealthy diet as long as you add lingonberries! 'But we certainly hope to investigate if lingonberries could be part of dietary strategies to prevent obesity also in humans.'

This is the first study of this kind using lingonberries.

‘That is probably because lingonberries are mainly eaten in Scandinavia. At international conferences, I always have to start by explaining what they are, and showing the audience a jar of them,’ said Ms Heyman, a PhD student in Experimental Medical Science.

Blackcurrants and bilberries also produced good effects, although not as pronounced as the lingonberries.

The acai berries, on the other hand, came last, although they had actually been included in the study for the opposite reason – the researchers wanted to see how well the Nordic berries would do in comparison with the Brazilian ‘super berry’.

‘Instead, the opposite happened. In our study, the acai berries led to weight gain and higher levels of fat in the liver,’ said Karin Berger, diabetes researcher at Lund University.

The good results from lingonberries may be due to their polyphenol content, according to the researchers.

The team will now continue to work on understanding the molecular mechanisms involved in the effect of lingonberries. They will also see whether the effect can be observed in humans.

‘Up to 20 per cent of our mice’s diet was lingonberries. It isn’t realistic for humans to eat such a high proportion.

‘However, the goal is not to produce such dramatic effects as in the “high-fat” mice, but rather to prevent obesity and diabetes by supplementing a more normal diet with berries,’ said Dr Berger.

However, the Lund researchers do not recommend people start eating large quantities of lingonberry jam. Boiling the berries can affect their nutrient content and jam contains a lot of sugar. Frozen lingonberries on cereal or in a smoothie are considerably better.

‘If anyone wonders – yes, we now eat lingonberries on a regular basis,’ said Ms Heyman.

Lingonberries are edible fruit that are native to forests and tundra in northern Europe and North America. They are very popular in Sweden and are commercially cultivated in some parts of the U.S. They are most commonly used in jams, compotes, juices, smoothies and syrups.

In the UK, they are not normally available in supermarkets but can be bought from IKEA and some specialist stores


24 January, 2014

Why shift work is linked to so many health problems such as cancer and diabetes: Study finds it damages 1,500 genes

Overinterpreted data. Study showed that some genes have a circadian rhythm, nothing more

Shift work could damage almost 1,500 genes - explaining why it has been linked to a range of health problems, a study shows.

Disruption to the timing of sleep - also caused by jet lag - is feared to increase the risk of breast cancer, heart disease, diabetes and other life-threatening illnesses.

The researchers found disrupting the body’s natural 24 hour cycle disturbed the rhythm of genes.

To assess the effect on the body of this disruption, researchers placed 22 participants on a 28-hour day schedule without a natural light-dark cycle.

As a result their sleep-wake cycle was delayed by four hours each day until they were sleeping 12 hours out of sync with a normal day.

Blood samples showed that after this experiment the volunteers had a six-fold reduction in the number of genes that displayed a ‘circadian rhythm’ - a rhythm with an approximately 24 hour period.

Professor Derk-Jan Dijk, of the Sleep Research Centre at the University of Surrey, said: ‘We have found about six per cent of genes have a circadian rhythm - this means their activity is higher at certain times of the day than others.

‘We think those triggered mainly by day could be concerned with the immune function and those at night are involved in regulating other genes.

‘The study has important implications because we now need to discover why these rhythms exist and think about the consequences of that.

‘If we put people through these protocols we are influencing very basic processes deep down which could explain why shift work has been implicated in increasing the risk of a range of health problems.’

The human body is believed to have about 24,000 genes - suggesting more than 1,400 could be vulnerable to a change in sleeping habits.

Professor Dijk said all the participants were in their 20s and the study was carried out in very carefully controlled lab conditions.

He said: ‘It would be nice to involve more people but you can see why this would be quite difficult. We were taking blood samples round the clock. It’s a trade-off.’

He hopes his findings, published in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, will be a ‘stepping stone’ to larger studies in the future.

Professor Dijk said: ‘By disrupting sleep - and eating patterns - we are changing molecular processes by causing disturbances in the rhythm of genes.

‘This research may help us understand the negative health outcomes associated with shift work, jet lag and other conditions in which the rhythms of our genes are disrupted.

‘The results also imply sleep-wake schedules can be used to influence rhythmicity in many biological processes which may be very relevant for conditions in which our body clocks are altered such as in ageing.’

Doctors have been worried for years that our 24/7 culture could have unintended consequences for human health with more than four million people – 17 per cent of employees - in the UK now working shifts.

One study showed night shifts triple the risk of heart disease while mental health problems, cancer, depression, diabetes, obesity and strokes have also been linked to poor sleeping habits.

Study co-author Dr Simon Archer said: ‘Over 97 per cent of rhythmic genes become out of sync with mistimed sleep which really explains why we feel so bad during jet lag or if we have to work irregular shifts.’


Fish oil could help prevent Alzheimer's and also give you a bigger brain

Class effect probably. The fish eaters were more middle class

Eating more fish could give you a bigger brain - and greater protection against diseases such as Alzheimer’s, claim researchers.

They found people with higher levels of the omega-3 fatty acids found in fish oil may also have larger brain volumes in old age.

This would be the equivalent to preserving one to two years of brain health, says a new study published in the journal Neurology.

Shrinking brain volume is a sign of Alzheimer’s disease as well as normal aging.

Britons are currently advised to eat fish at least twice a week, including one portion of oily fish.

One of the key omega-3 fatty acids is docosahexaenoic acid (DHA), which is thought to help nerve cells communicate with each other. The richest source of the nutrient is oily fish, such as herring, mackerel and sardines.

For the US study, levels of omega-3 fatty acids including DHA in red blood cells were tested in 1,111 women who were part of the Women’s Health Initiative Memory Study. Eight years later, when the women were aged around 78, MRI scans were taken to measure their brain volume.

Those with higher levels of omega-3s had larger total brain volumes eight years later.

Those with twice as high levels of fatty acids (7.5 vs. 3.4 per cent) had a 0.7 per cent larger brain volume, with the increase measuring up to two inches (6cm).

Study author James Pottala, of the University of South Dakota in Sioux Falls and Health Diagnostic Laboratory Inc. in Richmond, Virginia, said lower levels of fatty acids were linked to smaller-sized brains.

He said: ‘These higher levels of fatty acids can be achieved through diet and the use of supplements, and the results suggest that the effect on brain volume is the equivalent of delaying the normal loss of brain cells that comes with aging by one to two years.’

Those with higher levels of omega-3s also had a 2.7 per cent larger volume in the hippocampus area, the brain’s key memory centre.

In Alzheimer’s disease, the hippocampus begins to shrink even before symptoms appear.

Dr Pottala said: ‘Our study suggests that a higher tissue reserve of omega-3 fatty acids may slow the loss of cognitive function that can accompany brain atrophy.

‘It adds to growing literature suggesting that higher omega-3 tissue levels, which can be achieved by dietary changes, may hold promise for delaying cognitive ageing and/or dementia.’ The best dietary source of omega 3 fatty acids is oily fish because the human body cannot produce omega-3 fatty acids.

White fish is also a healthy food including cod, haddock and plaice although it contains lower levels of essential fatty acids.

Dr Laura Phipps of Alzheimer’s Research UK charity, said: ‘There has been mixed evidence as to the benefits of omega-3 fish oils on the brain and whether they may protect against memory decline and dementia.

‘This study suggests that higher levels of omega-3 fatty acids in blood are linked to larger brain size but the possible reasons for this association need further investigation. ‘We know that the brain gets smaller in people with dementia, but it is unclear from the study what effect larger brain size would have on memory and thinking in the volunteers or their long-term risk of developing dementia.

‘The best way to assess whether omega-3 could protect against dementia is through clinical trials and so far, trials of omega-3 supplementation have not shown benefits in protecting against cognitive decline.’

Dr Doug Brown of the Alzheimer’s Society, said: ‘It’s interesting to see that eating more fish could lead to larger brain volume, particularly in the hippocampus - an area of the brain that comes under attack in dementia.

‘We know that brain shrinkage can be linked to dementia and larger brain volumes could indicate a better ability to cope with the ravages of the condition, but it’s a big leap to draw this conclusion.

‘Whilst interesting, this study still leaves us in the dark about what effect eating fish has on the development of dementia.’


23 January, 2014

Men in their 40s more likely to have children with mental disorders as biological clocks are ticking

Men who leave it to late in life to have children may be less well adjusted to start with -- and pass that on to their children

CHILDREN born to dads in their 40s and older are significantly more likely to develop mental health disorders than those with much younger fathers.

A study led by University of Queensland psychiatrist John McGrath has found the offspring of older fathers are particularly at risk of mental retardation, autism or schizophrenia compared with those born to dads in their mid-20s.

Professor McGrath, based at the Queensland Brain Institute, said that overall, children born to fathers aged 45 or over had a 34 per cent higher risk of developing a mental disorder.

He said the study was further evidence the biological clock ticked for men as well as women.

The researchers used Danish health registers to study almost 2.9 million people born between January 1955 and December 2006, particularly looking at the age of their parents.

They then tracked the mental health history of those involved in the study over a 16-year period to the end of 2011, when more than 218,000 of them were treated for a first episode psychiatric disorder.

Professor McGrath said the risk for psychiatric disorders, particularly mental retardation, autism and schizophrenia, started increasing after a father's 29th birthday.

"It goes up steadily from that age," he said. "In Australian society, and in societies all around the world, we are delaying parenthood. If you look at the mean age of fatherhood, it's getting later.

"There may be some unintended consequences of this delayed reproductive pattern. It may be that the offspring have an increased risk of some brain disorders."

Professor McGrath said older fathers about to welcome a new child into the world should "not panic" given the infrequent nature of the disorders.

"By far, most kids of older dads are perfectly fine," he said. "There are many good things about having an older father as well; obviously, better socio-economic status and they tend to be better educated."

Professor McGrath suggested the new results lend weight to the hypothesis that sperm contained more DNA errors as men aged.

"The evidence is very strong that the offspring of older dads have an increased risk of genetic mutations," he said.

The Danish study, published in JAMA Psychiatry , found the children of teenage mums were also at increased risk of psychiatric issues, most commonly substance abuse, mental retardation and behavioural conditions, such as attention deficit disorder.

"Researchers believe this is probably due to psychosocial factors related to young parenthood," Professor McGrath said.


Could copper pyjamas stop you getting a hospital superbug?

It is hard to see how something outside the wound could affect what goes on in the wound

The birth of her first son Alfie in September 2012 should have brought nothing but joy to Gemma Wilby.

Instead, it left the 30-year-old barmaid from Caterham in Surrey fighting a life-threatening infection as the wound from her emergency Caesarean became infected with the drug-resistant superbug MRSA.

Even though she was given the most powerful antibiotics available, underwent surgery to remove the infected tissue and even had maggot therapy (where the disinfected fly larvae are used to clean the wound), six weeks later nothing had improved.

Her doctors said it was one of the worst cases of MRSA infection they had ever seen.

'I thought I was going to die,' recalls Gemma, who lives with her partner and Alfie's father Mark Minick, a 32-year-old chef.

'I was really scared. I was in so much pain and so feverish I couldn't even cuddle Alfie. I felt like a freak, and the wound was so badly infected you could smell it several feet away.'

Yet just six weeks later the infection had completely healed. As unlikely as it sounds, Gemma insists that the solution was a pair of pyjamas she bought for £49.99.

The pyjamas were made from fabric with fine strands of copper running through it.

Copper has a long history as an anti-bacterial agent. In 2,500BC, copper salts were used as wound dressings by the Ancient Egyptians. Roman and Greek sailors used to place a copper coin in their drinking water to prevent it fouling during long voyages.

But it is only in the past ten to 15 years, with the rise of drug-resistant superbugs, that copper's antimicrobial properties have attracted renewed attention. There have since been dozens of studies highlighting the extraordinary power of copper to destroy potentially lethal organisms such as MRSA, E.coli and Clostridium difficile.

When these bacteria come into contact with copper surfaces, they rapidly self-destruct. It is thought that copper effectively punches holes in the outer membrane of bacteria, viruses and fungi in such a way that the cells implode.

This makes it very unlikely that superbugs will learn to become resistant to the treatment.

'When bugs come into contact with a copper surface, they are like a boat that has sprung a leak - the copper floods in and engulfs the organism,' says Professor Bill Keevil, a microbiologist and director of the environmental healthcare unit at Southampton University.

Professor Keevil's experiments show that when bugs encounter a copper surface, they are killed off in under 90 minutes. His team placed ten million bacteria on a square centimetre of stainless steel (used for door handles, taps and other fittings in most hospitals), and on pure copper.

The results, published in the Journal of Hospital Infection in 2008, showed bacteria survived on the stainless steel for several days. But within 90 minutes, there was no trace of them on the copper.

Last year, a study by scientists at the Medical University of South Carolina reported that MRSA infection rates among intensive care patients were more than halved if copper alloy surfaces replaced steel or plastic ones.

'When bugs come into contact with a copper surface, they are like a boat that has sprung a leak - the copper floods in and engulfs the organism'

Another study found that spraying steel fittings with a copper coating virtually eradicated bugs.

In the NHS, copper's use has been confined to a handful of hospitals taking part in bug-busting trials - yet these studies all found that copper led to a dramatic reduction in bacteria on surfaces.

At the moment, most NHS trusts try to combat superbugs through strict hygiene, mainly involving alcohol-based gels for hands, and chlorine products, such as bleach, for sterilising surfaces.

But evidence suggests chlorine provides only short-lived sterility, and corrodes surfaces, allowing bugs to 'hide' in grooves and cracks.

Meanwhile, repeated contact with alcohol-based hand gels can lead to dry and cracked skin.

Leading microbiologists confess they are baffled and frustrated by the NHS's failure to use copper.

'It's a great shame because the science is absolutely solid,' says Dr Vanya Gant, consultant in microbiology and infection at University College London Hospital.

Five years ago, Dr Gant and his colleagues helped to develop a range of gels and handwashes made from liquid copper to tackle hospital superbugs. The rationale was that although copper surfaces work well, they still have to be kept scrupulously clean to kill bacteria - and once a layer of residue builds up, perhaps from alcohol gels used by staff, the copper becomes less effective.

'We took copper and enhanced its antibacterial capacity in liquid form by over a thousand times,' says Dr Gant. 'In trials we took four wards and cleaned them either as normal, using chlorine or detergent, or with copper solution - and found a significant reduction in all known bacteria by cleaning with liquid copper.'

Dr Gant then joined forces with a company called Micron Clean to develop microfibre cleaning cloths pre-loaded with copper solution.

But the NHS trusts they approached preferred to stick with conventional cleaning methods. 'So we gave up,' says Dr Gant. 'I am not a businessman.'

When it comes to copper surfaces, hospitals often cite expense as a reason not to replace existing fittings, says Dr Tony Worthington, a microbiologist at Aston University in Birmingham.

Stainless steel currently trades for between £1,800 and £2,400 a tonne, while copper fetches nearly £4,500. But as Dr Worthington points out: 'We've got stainless steel which doesn't work and copper which does. It's a no-brainer.'

The costs of installing copper in hospital wards could be recouped within two months, due to fewer infections and patients leaving hospital sooner, according to a report in June 2013 by the York Health Economics Consortium, which is part of York University.They looked at installing copper in an intensive care unit on surfaces such as bedrails and chairs.

But can copper fabrics have the same benefits?

'Yes,' says Professor Keevil. 'When bacteria come into contact with copper in the clothing, it kills them.' Tests suggest that washing the fabric at any temperature doesn't weaken its effect.
'Copper fabrics are now being looked at for wound healing,' adds Professor Keevil. 'Copper stimulates several enzymes that promote healing. It has great potential for things such as diabetic ulcers that won't heal.'

Gemma Wilby found her copper pyjamas through a friend who works for the supplier Copper Clothing. Within days of her Caesarean at Croydon University Hospital, it was clear her wound was infected. Two weeks later Gemma was discharged, on high-dose antibiotics, as it was thought she would do better at home.

However, her GP sent her back for urgent hospital treatment. Under general anaesthetic, she was given a 'debridement', where rotting flesh is removed. But they couldn't remove all the affected tissue and, as a last resort, Gemma was given maggot therapy. Usually the maggots live for about five days: Gemma's wound was so toxic, they died within a day.

In desperation, after a month on antibiotics she turned to the copper pyjamas, which are made from 40 per cent copper-infused yarn and a fabric derived from bamboo.

Gemma wore the pyjamas virtually round the clock, and after two weeks she noticed that the wound was gradually shrinking.

'I was very cynical about them at the beginning, and the infection control nurses who came to my house warned it could take a year for the wound to heal properly.

'They were amazed at the speed of my recovery. After a few weeks, when there was no longer any sign of infection, they thought they must have made a mistake.'

Croydon University Hospital is now carrying out experiments with copper clothing for staff and bedding for maternity patients.

Experts agree that copper fabrics won't help most healthy people. But it may be worth investing in them if you need surgery and fear picking up a hospital infection.


22 January, 2014

Too many hands in the sugar bowl

IT can be a long time between global flu epidemics if you work at the World Health Organisation, where the struggle to fill the working day must seem interminable.

No wonder director-general Margaret Chan is constantly looking round for the next big thing. "It's not just Big Tobacco any more," Chan told a health conference in Finland last year. "Public health must also contend with Big Food, Big Soda and Big Alcohol."

Gone are the days when the WHO would justify its existence trying to control Big Malaria or offer relief from Big Malnutrition. Today's pressing task is to eliminate the scourge of sugar and bring an end to the pandemic of podginess now sweeping the globe.

The nanny state has been recast as the nanny planet and the WHO has assumed responsibility for our diet as it seeks to turn back what Chan calls "the globalisation of unhealthy lifestyles".

The increase in global obesity, says Chan, "is not a failure of individual willpower," but "a failure of political will to take on big business".

Sugar is the new tobacco, say cloistered activists like Liverpool University's Simon Capewell who fear "sugary drinks and junk foods are now pressed on unsuspecting parents and children by a cynical industry".

Ordinary people are held to be no more responsible for what they put in their mouths than curious toddlers who swallow brightly coloured beads.

Cheap and plentiful food contributes to what the activists call "an obesogenic environment". Toblerone is no longer a triangular treat that evokes happy images of the Swiss Alps; it is a "poor lifestyle choice" that has been determined by forces beyond your control.

Yet if we agree with the WHO that the world is -- so to speak -- getting rounder, it surely demonstrates the triumph of global capitalism in the war against want.

Global wealth and global health are inseparable. A baby born in 2014 can expect to live to 70 on average, twice as long as one born before World War I.

Yet this has not stopped the long campaign to turn obesity from a private to a public health issue from gathering momentum.

Chan compares it to the 19th-century sanitation movement that correctly identified open sewers running through household basements in rapidly industrialised cities as a health problem.

Convinced that diseases like cholera were spread by invisible airborne spores rising from the stinking drains, they thought it was enough to pump human effluence straight into the Thames.

A few kilometres down river, the water was pumped back out again for domestic use.

It took the cholera epidemic of 1854 and the forensic work of John Snow for the penny to drop. The parasitic micro-organism vibrio cholera spread through water.

The airborne miasma theory was fiction. In their ignorance, the do-gooders had made things worse, though it was not their style to admit it.

Now, as then, the illiberal tone of public health rhetoric and its contempt for the wisdom of common people should make us cautious.

Chan and her colleagues could be right, and the discovery of a causal link between excess sugar and Type 2 diabetes as strong as that between smoking, cancer and heart disease may be just around the corner.

A reasonable person, however, looking at the track record of those now demonising sugar, would conclude it is equally likely that they are wrong or have exaggerated the link to the point of absurdity.

Certainly, no reasonable observer would accept Chan's conspiracy theory about the malevolent behaviour of big corporations, which irredeemably colours her view.

Since the early 1960s, when the lipophobes seized the obesity debate and pushed the sucrophobes into a corner, food manufacturers have gone out of their way to market products lower in saturated fat that the so-called experts thought were the problem.

They did so not out of malevolence or benevolence, but because they thought they could make a profit marketing margarine with a healthy twist, to appeal to educated, affluent and health conscious consumers.

Yet, after more than 50 years of trying, scientists have failed to provide conclusive evidence that lowering fat intake reduces weight or reduces the risk of heart disease in the general population.

The variety of low-fat products has increased incrementally and consumption of full-fat products has declined. As we are constantly reminded, however, it has not stopped us getting fat.

Last year, the British Medical Journal editorialised: "The sugar-versus-fat debate is far from over, but the pendulum is now definitely swinging away from fat as the root of all evil."

The sucrophobes, derided and excluded from health conferences in the 1960s and criticised for their fat scepticism, are now in charge.

The WHO has cut its recommended daily sugar threshold from 10 teaspoons to five, yet an irrefutable link between sugar, obesity and disease is as elusive as ever.

Indeed, there are some awkward facts that the anti-sugar lobby would prefer us to ignore.

In common with other developed countries such as Britain and the US, sugar consumption per person is in long-term decline in Australia.

Between 1938 and 2004 annual sugar consumption fell from 55kg per person to 47kg. Since then it has fallen off even faster. Consumption in 2011 was about 42kg.

We may be larger than we used be, but the chances of dying from heart disease in Australia have halved since the 70s. Type 2 diabetes is far too common, but rates are still comfortably below the OECD average.

Nevertheless, Australian sugar growers like Paul Schembri are concerned at the escalating campaign. "We are very proud of the product we produce," he told Mackay's Daily Mercury last week. "We don't take kindly to having our brand trashed."


Energy drinks do as much harm as drugs: Ban them from schools, urges health expert

These drinks do seem rather problematical -- though less so than alcohol

Energy drinks are as harmful as drugs and should be banned from schools, according to a government adviser.

Drinks such as Monster, Red Bull and Relentless combine sugar and caffeine in such high quantities that children are becoming hyperactive and difficult to control.

Some 500ml cans contain the equivalent of more than 13 teaspoons of sugar and 160mg of caffeine – which is about the same as in four cans of cola.

Yesterday government adviser John Vincent warned: ‘Energy drinks are effectively another form of drugs.’

Mr Vincent, who co-founded the Leon restaurant group, is part of a team recruited by the Government to improve the nutrition of meals served to youngsters. He said: ‘The amount of sugar and caffeine in these drinks is in our view effectively allowing drugs into schools.

‘We don’t do that and neither do we think that should be part of school life. It has a hugely damaging effect on their ability to concentrate, how they feel and it is having health effects.’

X Factor judge Sharon Osbourne also said yesterday that she blamed energy drinks for a seizure suffered by her daughter Kelly last year. The 29-year-old spent five days in hospital after having a fit and collapsing.

And evidence from teachers and pupils is that children who drink these cans may report feeling sick, shaky and dizzy.

Ian Fenn, headmaster of Burnage Media Arts College in Manchester, has banned the drinks following requests from staff.

He told the BBC: ‘Staff came to me and said – at a school where we are very conscious about the nutritional value of what they eat – we cannot allow boys to bring in drinks that are really unhealthy for them and consume not one, but two or three.’

Claire Duggan, a schools public health adviser, said some children report feeling unwell after downing the drinks. ‘They say the rush that it gave them could be quite scary if you drank it very fast,’ she added.

The Food Standards Agency advises that children limit their intake of drinks that are high in caffeine. A spokesman added that consuming the drinks ‘could potentially lead to short-term effects such as increased excitability, irritability, nervousness or anxiety’.

Some children are even opting to have an energy drink for breakfast rather than a bowl of cereal. A survey published in the autumn found that one in 20 teenagers goes to school on a can of energy drink.

Brian Lightman, of the Association of School and College Leaders, said: ‘They are in no fit state to be in the classroom. They can be hyperactive, and it can have a very negative effect on their behaviour.’

The British Soft Drinks Association code of conduct states that energy drinks should not be sold in schools. But a Freedom of Information request last year found some academies – which have the right to opt out of national standards on school food and nutrition – were selling the drinks.

An association spokesman said: ‘We are clear that energy drinks are not recommended for children, and we want to get that message across to young people and parents.’


21 January, 2014

Smoking, drugs during pregnancy 'can turn baby gay', neuroscientist Dick Swabb claims

One would have to see the studies behind these claims but I suspect that a lot of them will be just epidemiological speculation. His comments on alcohol during pregnancy are an extreme view. Other writers come to the opposite conclusion -- e.g. here and here

SMOKING and drug use during pregnancy can raise the chance of having a child who turns out to be gay, a leading neuroscientist claims.

Dr Dick Swabb, professor of neurobiology at Amsterdam University, argues the development of the brain during pregnancy and early childhood is directly linked to the kind of people we become in adulthood, according to Britain’s Sunday Times.

Dr Swabb’s new book, We Are Our Brains, cites multiple academic studies showing how an expectant mother’s lifestyle could possibly affect her baby.

One compared women whose mothers were given synthetic oestrogen during pregnancy between 1939 and 1960 in order to reduce the risk of miscarriage. The drug worked as it was intended, but it also turned out to increase the likelihood of bisexuality and lesbianism in the daughters of the women who took it.

"Pre-birth exposure to both nicotine and amphetamines increases the chance of lesbian daughters," Dr Swabb says.

"Pregnant women suffering from stress are also more likely to have homosexual children of both genders because their raised level of the stress hormone cortisol affects the production of foetal sex hormones."

Dr Swabb also links a mother's alcohol intake to possible lower IQ in her child. "In women who drink a lot, cells that were meant to migrate across the foetal brain can end up leaving the brain altogether," he said.

"Even in women who drink just a glass of wine a day we see effects [such as] lower IQ and hyperactivity. There is no safe level."


Brain damaged teen makes amazing recovery after fish oil treatment

A TEENAGER who was left with severe brain damage after a brutal hit-and-run has made an amazing recovery, which his parents attribute to fish oil.

Grant Virgin was left with a horrific list of injuries after being struck by the car in September 2012, including a torn aorta, a traumatic brain injury, compound bone fractures and spinal fractures. Doctors said the boy, then 16, probably wouldn't live through the night.

But Grant’s mother, JJ, wouldn’t accept their recommendation "to let him go". "It's like, how dare you not fight for my son's life?" JJ told CNN. "It really took us ... getting very aggressive and assertive to save our son's life, because they weren't going to do it."

From then on, Grant’s family vowed to try everything they could to bring him back – even if it meant going against doctor's orders.

Grant underwent multiple surgeries to stabalise his body, but he remained in a coma with severe brain damage.

That’s when a friend suggested the Virgins try progesterone, an unorthodox treatment associated with reduced inflammation in the brain and improved brain function.

Grant’s parents started rubbing progesterone cream onto their son. Soon after, JJ says, he woke up and began speaking simple words and phrases: "Let’s go" or "I love you", repeated over and over.

Heartened, the Virgins thought fish oil might help speed his recovery after learning that the brain’s cell wall is partly comprised of the same omega-3 fatty acids.

"If you have a brick wall and it gets damaged, wouldn't you want to use bricks to repair it?" Dr Michael Lewis, founder of the Brain Health Education and Research Institute, told CNN. "By supplementing using (omega-3 fatty acids) in substantial doses, you provide the foundation for the brain to repair itself."

While previous results were patchy, JJ said she put Grant on an aggressive 20-gram-per-day regimen of fish oil – the highest dose ever known to have been administered.

"If someone said to me, you know what, you can give him fish oil, you can give him better nutrition, you'll get maybe 5 per cent (improvement), I'll take that," she said.

Two days later, JJ was shocked to receive a late-night call from her son. "I get this call like midnight, and I'm asleep, and I wake up the next morning and go, 'Did Grant call me and did we have this whole conversation?" she said. "I just remember waking up the next morning going, 'I must have dreamed that, that couldn't have possibly happened.’"

The family drove to the hospital the next day and found that Grant was not only able to talk, but focus his eyes and recognise people – just two months after doctors had written him off.

Grant is still a long way off making a full recovery and his family doesn’t expect him ever to return to his previous level of ability. But they say he is progressing every day.

"I think one of the saddest things is to get to a place and have someone tell you, 'You should just let your son die,' and you don't have the information to make the right decision," JJ said.

"There is such hopelessness about brain injury and there shouldn't be."


20 January, 2014

Chinese herbal medicine slows the development of type 2 diabetes, study claims

Restraint in eating is all that is needed to control pre-diabetes

Traditional Chinese herbal medicines can stave off the onset of diabetes, a new study has revealed. A clinical trial found herbs were comparable to prescriptions for controlling pre-diabetes.

Researchers say their findings show traditional Chinese herbal medicines hold promise for slowing the progression from pre-diabetes to an official diabetes diagnosis.

Pre-diabetes is diagnosed when a person has developed elevated blood sugar levels, but glucose levels have not yet risen to the point of developing type 2 diabetes.

People who are pre-diabetic face a heightened risk of developing type 2 diabetes as well as heart disease and stroke.

One of the study's authors, Doctor Chun-Su Yuan, of the University of Chicago, said: 'With diabetes evolving into a serious public health burden worldwide, it is crucial to take steps to stem the flood of cases.

'Patients often struggle to make the necessary lifestyle changes to control blood sugar levels, and current medications have limitations and can have adverse gastrointestinal side effects.

'Traditional Chinese herbs may offer a new option for managing blood sugar levels, either alone or in combination with other treatments.'

During the trial, 389 people at 11 research sites in China were randomly assigned to take either a capsule containing a mixture of 10 Chinese herbal medicines or a placebo.

For a year, they took capsules of either the Chinese herb mixture, called Tianqi, or the placebo three times a day before meals.

All the participants received a month of lifestyle education at the outset of the trial and met with nutritionists several times during the course of the study. Their glucose tolerance was measured on a quarterly basis.

At the end of the trial, 36 participants in the Tianqi group and 56 in the placebo group had developed diabetes.

The analysis found taking Tianqi reduced the risk of diabetes by 32.1 per cent compared with the placebo, after adjusting for age and gender.

The overall reduction in risk was comparable to that found in studies of diabetes medications acarbose and metformin, and study participants reported few side effects from the Tianqi herbs.

Tianqi includes several herbs that have been shown to lower blood glucose levels and improve control of blood glucose levels after meals.

One of the study's lead authors, Doctor Xiaolin Tong, of Guang'anmen Hospital in Beijing, China, said: 'Few controlled clinical trials have examined traditional Chinese medicine's impact on diabetes, and the findings from our study showed this approach can be very useful in slowing the disease's progression.

'More research is needed to evaluate the role Chinese herbal medicine can play in preventing and controlling diabetes.'

The study has been accepted for publication in the Journal of Clinical Endocrinology and Metabolism (JCEM).


First tobacco, then booze, then sugar: the control freaks who would happily ban everything

By James Delingpole

In this week's Spectator I have a rant about all those pressure groups you see quoted in all the papers pretty much every day. Some are small, obscure and marginal – Bright Blue, the think tank for Lib Dems who want to play at being Tories, comes to mind – while some sound superficially respectable – the British Medical Association, say. What they all have in common is that they tend, on the whole, to lend far, far too much credibility to a hardcore of professional activists whose tedious and unhelpful opinions we would most of us do better to ignore completely.

Christopher Snowdon is very good on this. In the last month, he has been fighting mano a mano against the health campaigners who think we're experiencing an "obesity epidemic", the meddlers who – on no solid evidence whatsoever – would have us impose a minimum price on alcohol, and Action On Sugar, the hysterics who argue that "sugar is the new tobacco" and who previously (under the name Consensus Action on Salt and Health) tried to stop food tasting of anything.

Can you imagine campaigns as ludicrous as this being launched, say, in the 1970s or 1980s? No you can't because not even the most extreme killjoy zealot would have dared. With bans, as with so many of the fascistic gestures you associate with the authoritarian left, it's a Pastor Niemoller thing:

First they came for the smokers, but I said nothing for I thought (like Jeremy Clarkson did) it might help me give up; next they came for the boozers and I thought "well I can always drink at home"; next they came for the salt and the sugar and anything deep fried…

Or to put it another way, it works according to the same principles as the "thin end of the wedge" or the "slippery slope."

Left-liberals often deny that slippery slope exists. "Well of course we're not interested in banning everything. Just the really dangerous stuff. Tobacco." Then, of course, when they've pretty much regulated tobacco out of existence their locust eyes turn to new territory. Mm: alcohol. Mm: sugar. Mm. salt… etc

Snowdon has found a perfect example of this in a pamphlet produced by the BMA in 1985

The 'thin end of the wedge…'?

A further deception is the industry's appeal: "Where will they stop?" The industry argues that if advertising is stopped because tobacco is dangerous, then advertising for cars, motor cycles, alcohol, sugar, aircraft travel and any other potentially dangerous product could also be banned.

All of these products can endanger health, but they are dangerous only when abused. Tobacco is the only advertised product which is hazardous when used as intended.

Snowdon comments:

With the BMA now demanding a total advertising ban not only on alcohol but also on a whole range of food, the author of this document must be feeling like a bit of a chump today.

Nope. He's still very much at it. Now a professor of public health based in Australia, Dr Simon Chapman is if anything more zealous than ever. As well as being the scourge of smokers he has also become the scourge of people who want a good night's sleep, arguing that anyone who complains about wind turbine noise is – essentially – just imagining it.


19 January, 2014

Fat fathers-to-be 'have overweight daughters who are at greater risk of diabetes and premature ageing'

If you are a rat

Fat fathers-to-be could end up with overweight daughters who are at greater risk of diabetes and premature ageing, new research warns. A father's diet, weight and health at the time of conception affects the baby’s genes and health. The link is most pronounced in baby girls.

The impact of a mother's health on her children has been well documented but the effect of the health of fathers is new.

The study found that if male rats ate a high fat diet, had diabetes, and were obese, their offspring had altered gene functions in the fat and pancreas.

Two groups of male rats, one diabetic and on a high fat diet, and the other thin and on a normal diet, mated with thin female rats.

Researchers looked at their female offspring and found that the rats with obese fathers had trouble breaking down glucose, even while on a healthy diet.

Specifically, they showed gene function changes in the pancreatic islets, which are responsible for making insulin to control the blood glucose and fat tissue.

This altered gene function may increase the risk of future obesity and premature ageing.

Other genes that were different were those that have been linked to premature ageing, cancer and chronic degenerative diseases.

Dr Margaret Morris, a researcher for the Pharmacology School of Medical Sciences at the University of New South Wales in Sydney said: ‘While scientists have focused on how the maternal diet affects children's health, this study is part of exciting new research exploring the impact of paternal diet on offspring risk of obesity.

‘The fact that similar gene markers were affected in pancreas and fat tissue tells us that some of the same pathways are being influenced, possibly from the earliest stages of life.

‘It will be important to follow up these findings, and to learn more about when and how to intervene to reduce the impact of poor paternal metabolic health on offspring.’

Gerald Weissmann, editor of The Federation of American Societies for Experimental Biology Journal added: ‘For a long time, we've known that the nutrition and health status of women who are pregnant or who want to get pregnant is critical to the health of her offspring, and we've also suspected that the same is true for fathers to a lesser degree.

‘This report is the first step in understanding exactly how the nutrition and health of fathers affects his children, for better or worse.’

The research was published in the FASEB Journal


To him that hath, more will be given him (and her too)

Another indication of general biological fitness

Middle class women have better sex lives than their poorer counterparts, according to new research.

A large scale study found those from the most affluent backgrounds reported more satisfying love lives than less privileged counterparts.

Being comfortable financially improves awareness of sexual needs as well as leading to greater control over the use of contraception, according to the academic study.

Dr Dolores Ruiz, of the Barcelona Public Health Agency, said: 'There is a need to introduce public policies which aim to reduce socioeconomic and gender inequalities we have found in sexual satisfaction, in the use of contraceptives and in abusive sexual relations within the Spanish population.'

The mainly Catholic country’s first national sex survey of almost 10,000 men and women found overall Spaniards are happy with the quality and quantity of their time in the bedroom with nine in ten ‘quite’ or ‘very satisfied’.

But a deeper analysis of the 2009 data also found a link between socioeconomic status and sexual enjoyment, especially among female respondents.

Dr Ruiz said: 'People of a lower socioeconomic status claim to be less satisfied sexually, which especially applies to women, who seem to be more influenced by these factors.'

The study published in the Annals of Epidemiology said those who were more well off appeared to have a 'better awareness of their own needs and a greater capacity for developing their sexuality in a way which is satisfying for them.'

Respondents likewise reported higher satisfaction when they had a stable partner (97 per cent of men, 96 per cent of women) rather than a casual partner and a series of hook ups (88 per cent men, 80 per cent women).

In terms of safe sex, 77 per cent of women and 73 per cent of men had used contraception habitually with a stable partner during the last year, whereas in the case of a casual partner these rose to 92 per cent for women and 86 per cent for men.

In this case, socioeconomic factors influence men as much as women, even with the different types of partner. Dr Ruiz said: 'Those people with a lower socioeconomic status are always those who use less contraception.'

Worryingly, more than 4 per cent of men and 6.5 per cent of women claimed to have had some kind of sexual activity against their will, with 1.6 per cent and 6.1 per cent respectively alleging they had been abused or raped at some time.

Dr Ruiz said: 'Once again, it is particularly women of a lower socioeconomic status who suffer more experiences of sexual abuse. It is important to bear in mind these women also might have more problems when it comes to contacting the various organisations that can provide help for them.'

Although the general sexual health of the young adults was apparently quite good, the research found socioeconomic and gender inequalities in practically all of the aspects studied.

Dr Ruiz said: 'People that have a more disadvantaged socioeconomic status tend to have less satisfying and less safe sexual relations, as well as suffering more experiences of sexual abuse.

'Furthermore, women usually suffer more experiences of sexual abuse than men and they claim to have less sexual gratification during their first sexual intercourse.'

According to the World Health Organisation sexual health 'is a state of physical, emotional, mental and social well being in relation to sexuality; it is not merely the absence of disease, dysfunction or infirmity.

'Sexual health requires a positive and respectful approach to sexuality and sexual relationships, as well as the possibility of having pleasurable and safe sexual experiences, free of coercion, discrimination and violence.'


17 January, 2014

How sex can make you smarter: Scientists say it encourages the growth of brain cells and improves long-term memory

If you are a rodent

It gives night classes a whole new meaning. Having sex makes you smarter, research suggests.

A study found that middle-aged rats made more new brain cells after mating.

Researchers at the University of Maryland also credited frequent sexual activity with increased brainpower.

However, the benefits to the brain were lost if the creatures stopped mating.

A second study, also published last year, suggested that having sex counteracts the effect of stress on the brain – at least in mice.

Psychologist Tracey Shors told a Society for Neuroscience conference that hard work is needed if these cells are to survive.

She said: ‘You can make new cells with exercise, Prozac and sex.

‘If you do mental training, you’ll keep alive more of the cells you produced. ‘And if you do both, now you have the best of both worlds – you’re making more cells and keeping more alive.’


Gene breakthrough restores the sight of people with inherited eye disease and could save thousands from blindness

This sounds very good indeed. Hopefully the effects are lasting

A pioneering therapy could prevent thousands of people from going blind through old age. The treatment, which involves a single injection, has been found to help restore the sight of people who are suffering from inherited eye disease.

Its success in helping two men who were told they would go blind ‘surpassed expectations’ and it could be used to help the hundreds of thousands of people losing their sight through more common, age-related blindness in future.

How the therapy works

Early findings suggest it promotes an improvement for patients on the verge of losing their sight.

It appears to have halted progression of choroideremia, which is caused by a gene defect that destroys light-sensing cells in the retina at the back of the eye.

But researchers said it also had ‘huge’ implications for the treatment of those with common types of blindness affecting retinal cells.

These include age-related macular degeneration – a disorder affecting 200,000 Britons each year for which there is no preventative treatment, although laser surgery and drugs can help.

Professor Robert MacLaren, who led the operations at Oxford Eye Hospital, said he was ‘absolutely delighted’ with the results so far.

‘It is still too early to know if the gene therapy treatment will last indefinitely, but we can say that the vision improvements have been maintained for as long as we have been following up the patients, which is two years in one case.

'In truth, we did not expect to see such dramatic improvements.’

The trial, part-funded by the charity Fight for Sight and reported in The Lancet journal, involved six patients with different stages of choroideremia, a disease caused by a defect in the gene CHM.

Each patient had only one eye treated, so it could be compared with the other.

There was a marked improvement in the vision of two men whose eyesight had been seriously impaired, while the other four subjects – whose vision was so far largely unaffected – retained the same basic level of sight.

The treatment involves a one-off injection of a harmless virus carrying a properly functioning copy of the CHM gene directly into the retina’s light-sensitive cells.

It cannot replace dead cells, but Prof MacLaren believes that it can help heal ‘sick’ cells and protect healthy cells. ‘If we were able to treat people early, we’d be getting the virus in before their vision is lost,’ he said.

However, choroideremia has one defective gene that needs replacing, whereas macular degeneration involves a number of genes that have to be identified. Trials involving six new subjects are being carried out.


16 January, 2014

Do yoga or weight lifting: Study finds 3.5 hours of exercise a week nearly HALVES the risk of diabetes

Probably a class effect. Middle class people more likely to exercise and also healthier in general

Diabetes can be prevented with just half an hour's exercise a day, a study has found.

The research from Harvard University found that the chance of developing type 2 diabetes was cut by between 30 and 40 per cent with just three and a half hours of exercise a week.

Meanwhile, just an hour's workout every seven days can cut the risk by 13 per cent.

The study, which followed 100,000 women, also showed that muscle-strengthening exercises such as weight lifting and yoga also fend off the condition.

Scientists showed that those who did at least 150 minutes of aerobic activity in a week - and at least an hour of muscle-strengthening - had the best results.

Published by tne journal PLOS Medicine, the study was carried out by scientists from Harvard School of Public Health and the University of Southern Denmark.

Researchers studied 99,316 middle-aged and older women, who did not have diabetes at the beginning of the study, for eight years. During the period, 3,491 women developed Type 2 diabetes.

They studied the effects of weekly time spent on resistance exercise, lower intensity muscular conditioning exercises and aerobic moderate and vigorous physical activity.

The researchers said: 'Our study suggests that engagement in muscle-strengthening and conditioning activities (resistance exercise, yoga, stretching, toning) is associated with a lower risk of [Type 2 Diabetes].

'Engagement in both aerobic MVPA [moderate and vigorous physical activity] and muscle-strengthening type activity is associated with a substantial reduction in the risk of [Type 2 diabetes] in middle-aged and older women.

Dr Richard Elliott, research communications officer at Diabetes UK, told the Express: ‘Despite limitations to which this research can be applied to women in general, it underlines the message that leading an active healthy lifestyle can help to reduce the risk of Type 2 diabetes.’


Eat More Venison: The Deer Meat Diet

Deer have been food for millennia. And eating them is "sustainable"!

It’s January. If you resolved to lose weight, forget the cotton ball diet. To become a lean, mean muscle machine: eat venison.

New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg and New York Governor Andrew Cuomo feign to keep us healthy and safe by restricting our dietary choices and attacking our constitutional right to use guns for hunting and self-defense. Both men are dead wrong about health, hunting and guns.

Bloomberg chastises folks who slurp sugary soda pop while lambasting hunters who eat organic, lean, high-protein venison. Meanwhile, Cuomo has been known to holler at the top of his lungs: “No one needs 10 bullets to kill a deer!” Cuomo’s claim is completely irrelevant. You could need ten shots to defend yourself and your family from intruders.

Elites with an entourage of armed guards like Bloomberg and Cuomo prioritize their own political power over our health, safety and freedom. Here are some reasons why you should include more venison—and hunting—in your diet and lifestyle:

Venison is Healthy: Venison is high in protein (there are 24 grams of protein per four ounces of venison) and low in saturated fat (1 gram per four ounces). Venison supplies more iron than beef. Venison also provides you with high levels of B vitamins and all of the ten essential amino acids. Plus, venison is low in both cholesterol and calories.

Conservationist hunting is the most merciful way to kill an animal: In the wild, animals die slow and painful deaths by starvation, disease, or the claws of a predator. Instead of letting an animal die slowly and painfully in Nature, hunters offer a quicker death with less pain and allow animals to serve a higher purpose.

Deer hunters do not kill to mutilate. Rather, hunters kill deer for purposes that include putting food on the table and balancing the animal’s population. Thus, the deer serves a noble purpose instead of rotting or becoming carrion. In addition to the meat, other parts of the animal can also serve a higher purpose. The deer’s hide can be utilized for a rug or for clothing. The pelt, or the skin layer, can be made into leather.

We have an over-population of deer: Bloomberg likes to label hunting rifles as “assault weapons,” as if hunters were out to assault deer. In truth, humans will be assaulted by animals if conservationist hunters do not keep their populations in check.

TIME Magazine reported in December that Coyotes are threatening New York City while black bears are stressing out parents and pet-owners in New Jersey; our population of over 30 million white-tailed deer and 5 million feral pigs is becoming a nuisance: deer cause traffic accidents that kill around 200 Americans a year and feral pigs cause $1.5 billion of annual damage to residential areas.

Here’s an idea: give Bloomberg a pet feral pig as a present. Within ten minutes he’ll be hollering for hunters to rescue him!

Hunting helps you learn about and appreciate nature: As you hunt for your food, you’ll learn about the deer and the surrounding flora and fauna. You’ll naturally educate yourself on the deer’s habitat; rutting behaviors; how they care for their young; and the vegetation that they eat. You’ll learn how to attract them and, in the process of gutting them, you will learn about the animal’s anatomy. Overall, hunting helps you learn so much about the animal that you’ll develop a deep sense of appreciation for the beast that gives you its meat for your sustenance. You will conserve the animal’s population—while enabling the animal to serve a higher purpose.

Stick to your resolution to become healthier in the New Year. But instead of cotton balls, consider a healthier diet—The Deer Meat Diet. In addition to nurturing your own body, you will be caring for Mother Nature.


15 January, 2014

Can exercising for just 60 seconds a week transform your health? The BBC's Dr Michael Mosley says 'fast exercise' is even more powerful than experts thought

No evidence is offered for the assertions below. Diet and lifestyle generally have little impact on longevity. See here for instance. It is often asserted that something in the life of long-lived groups is responsible for the longevity but that is mere speculation.

Genes are the key. Nearly half of males die in or before their 60s. I am still travelling well at age 70, despite living an extremely sedentary life and eating all the "wrong" foods. But there were a lot of nonagenarians in my forebears

The men in my family are not long-lived. My grandfather died in his early 60s (though the fact that he was a Japanese prisoner in Burma during World War II can't have helped), while my father passed away at the relatively early age of 74.

When he died, he was on a dozen medicines and suffering from a range of diseases, including type 2 diabetes, heart failure, prostate cancer and what I suspect was early dementia.

At his funeral, a number of his friends commented on how similar I am to him. This was both flattering and disturbing, because I fear, along with his prominent nose, that I've inherited many of his more unhealthy tendencies.

But I also believe that although genes play a significant role in how well we age, lifestyle is just as important.

Down the centuries there have been lots of anti-ageing therapies, from injecting monkey glands to mega-doses of vitamins. But only a few things have consistently been shown to influence how well we age.

These include not smoking, moderate drinking, eating a diet rich in fruit and vegetables, doing exercise and keeping your weight down.

I've never been a smoker or a heavy drinker and I like fruit and vegetables, so that's not a challenge. But when it comes to doing more exercise and staying slim, well, that has been far trickier.

I found the standard advice - eat less and be more active - largely ineffectual. I kept trying and failing.

Then, a couple of years ago, I began looking into a radically different approach to exercise called High Intensity Training (HIT). The idea is that instead of trying to shed weight and get healthier by jogging for hours, you can get many of the more important benefits of exercise from as little as three minutes of HIT a week.

Everyone agrees that getting more active will add years to your life (around 2.2 years, to be exact). But, more importantly, it will significantly reduce your risk of developing a range of chronic diseases, from cancer to heart failure, dementia to diabetes.

Exercise will also help you sleep better, improve your mood and even perk up your sex life, according to the well-regarded Mayo clinic in the U.S.

But how much should you do? In 2008, a committee of U.S. scientists recommended 150 minutes of moderate exercise a week, while cautioning the necessary amounts 'cannot yet be identified with a high degree of precision'.

This 150 minutes a week remains the recommended level despite the fact that less than 20 per cent of us do anything like that. The most common excuse is a lack of time. That has certainly been mine - which is why the idea of HIT appeals to me.

The principles behind HIT are not new. In Fifties Britain, a young medical student called Roger Bannister was determined to become the first person in the world to run a sub-four-minute mile.
He didn't have lots of spare time for training so he would go down to the track and do interval sprints. These consisted of running flat out for one minute, then jogging for two or three minutes before doing another one-minute sprint.

He would repeat this cycle ten times, then head back to work. The whole thing normally took less than 35 minutes.

In May 1954 he became the first person in the world to break the four-minute mile. Since then almost every middle-distance runner has done interval sprints as part of their training.

Jamie Timmons, professor of systems biology at Loughborough University, has spent many years researching the benefits of what has come to be known as HIT in normal people.

He assured me that three minutes of HIT a week have been shown to improve the body's ability to cope with sugar surges (i.e., your metabolic fitness), and how good the heart and lungs are at getting oxygen into the body (your aerobic fitness).

These two measures are great predictors of future health.


Poor children are more likely to be obese: Study finds weight problems are creating a 'class divide'

I have been saying this for years

Childhood obesity really is creating a class divide, scientists have warned.

In the last decade the problem has started to decline in youngsters from middle class backgrounds while continuing to rise among those from poorer families.

The findings in the U.S. back British researchers who warned four years ago youngsters from less affluent and educated households will find themselves caught in the obesity trap.

Recent studies suggest rates have levelled off, but Professor Robert Putnam and colleagues say the overall trend masks a significant and growing difference between young people of upper and lower class.

The Harvard researchers say that low-income families are less likely to own a car. This means they are prone to buying processed foods higher in fat and sugar with a long shelf-like. Their neighbourhoods also have fewer playgrounds, pavements and recreational facilities.

Children of more educated parents, on the other hand, are more likely to eat breakfast and consume fewer calories from snacks.

Using data from two long-term national health surveys - the National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey and the National Survey of Children's Health - they showed obesity increased similarly for all 12 to 17 year-olds between 1988 and 2002.

Since then it has begun to decline among more well-off children, but has continued to rise among their less privileged counterparts, according to a report in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

Children from better backgrounds also had higher levels of physical activity and consumed fewer calories between 1999 and 2010 compared with the others.

The researchers said this could help explain the growing disparity in obesity among adolescents of different socio-economic status (SES).

Professor Putnam called for public interventions to promote healthy lifestyles among young people - particularly among those of lower SES. He said: 'Socio-economic background influences an individual's food consumption and physical activity patterns. 'Not only are fresh vegetables and fruits costlier than fast food but healthy alternatives are sometimes hard to find in poor neighbourhoods.'

He added: 'Recent reports suggest the rapid growth in youth obesity seen in the 1980s and 1990s has plateaued.

'Although the overall obesity prevalence stabilised, this trend masks a growing socio-economic gradient.

'The prevalence of obesity among high socio-economic status adolescents has decreased in recent years, whereas the prevalence of obesity among their low socio-economic status peers has continued to increase.

'Additional analyses suggest socio-economic differences in the levels of physical activity - as well as differences in calorie intake - may have contributed to the growing obesity gradient.'

In December 2009 researchers at University College London said the numbers of obese children from manual class households were on course to considerably outnumber those from non-manual households.

They said: 'If trends continue as they have been between 1995 and 2007 in 2015 the number and prevalence of obese young people is projected to increase dramatically and these increases will affect lower social classes to a larger extent.'


14 January, 2014

Fruit juice 'shouldn't count in your 5 a day': Some brands have more sugar than cola says obesity tsar

I personally find freshly squeezed orange juice much more satisfying than the bottled variety. I have an electric citrus juicer for the purpose

Fruit juice is so high in sugar it should not count as part of a healthy five-a-day diet, the Government’s obesity tsar has warned. The public should even start watering it down to wean themselves off it, said Oxford professor Dr Susan Jebb.

Some brands of orange juice contain as much sugar as cola and should be taxed because of their potential effect on the nation’s health, she claimed.

Experts say shoppers are now getting confusing messages about food, with a huge range of products saying they count towards a five-a-day diet. Tinned fruit, children’s drinks and even spaghetti hoops are all claiming health benefits – even though they are said to contain potentially unhealthy levels of sugar and salt.

Juice drinks have been singled out as a particular concern – lacking fibre and other nutrients as well as being high in calories. Even pure fruit juice is said to contain a large amount of naturally-occurring sugar – but people end up drinking too much of it because they do not see it as unhealthy.

Dr Jebb, a professor of diet and population health at Oxford University, said: ‘I would support taking it [fruit juice] out of the five-a-day guidance.

‘Fruit juice isn’t the same as intact fruit and it has got as much sugar as many classical sugar drinks.

‘It is also absorbed very fast, so by the time it gets to your stomach your body doesn’t know whether it’s Coca-Cola or orange juice, frankly. I have to say it is a relatively easy thing to give up.

‘Swap it and have a piece of real fruit. If you are going to drink it, you should dilute it.’

A small carton of orange juice contains about two and a half teaspoons of sugar, while a large glass has five. A whole orange has just two teaspoons, but also contains far more fibre – about 3 grams compared to none in juice.

Fruit also makes people feel fuller, helping to cut down on the need for other snacks. Dr Jebb’s comments come after health experts last week urged firms to cut the amount of sugar added to food over concerns it is becoming the ‘new tobacco’.

In 2011, researchers from Leeds University and the University of Bangor also called for fruit juice to be discounted from a healthy diet.

They said it gives the public a ‘sweet tooth’ and discourages them from eating fruit pieces that are far better for health.

The ‘five a day’ campaign was launched by the Department of Health in 2003, with the aim of encouraging Britons to eat five portions of fruit and vegetables every day. Its guidance says smoothies and juices, plus tins of fruit and veg, can count as up to two portions. Oxford researchers have claimed that following the guidelines could prevent 15,000 deaths a year from cancer, strokes and heart disease.

But surveys have found that as little as a fifth of adults and one in ten children meet the target.

A poll of 2,000 adults by the World Cancer Research Fund last year found that an average of 22 per cent of adults in England meet the five a day target. Figures ranged from 17 per cent in the North to 26 per cent in the South.


Viagra pill for women that costs £12 and also helps you slim: Drug could be on bedside cabinets by end of next year

A viagra for women could soon be on the market. In a development that sounds too good to be true, scientists are testing a drug that could boost women’s desire for sex – and also help them lose weight.

The pill, which is being developed with the help of the people behind Viagra, could be on bedside cabinets by the end of next year.

And if that isn’t exciting enough, the tablet could also help men.

With four in ten women saying that their sex life has lost its sizzle at some point, and Viagra already making up to £1.5billion a year, drug companies have long tried to create a female version.

But the strong psychological base to women’s libido means they have struggled to find the right product. Mike Wyllie, one of the team who created Viagra, believes the latest drug being developed by British firm ORLIBID could succeed where others have failed.

The drug, which acts on the brain to increase desire, is a synthetic version of melatonin, a hormone usually associated with tanning. Melatonin also has a role to play in libido – and appetite.

Drug companies have long known that melatonin affects sex drive, but have struggled to find a way to package it in a pill, not a jab. The new tablet form is more convenient and has fewer side-effects.

The pills could cause nausea, and regulators will have to be satisfied that they are not addictive.

However, it is thought that women could actually need fewer pills as their treatment progresses.

The company plans to carry out three studies to measure the effects on women, some in Britain. If they show it to be safe and effective, the drug could be on sale in the UK by the end of 2015.

Taken 15 minutes before sex, the tablets could boost libido for more than two hours. Studies of a jab with a similar formula showed it led to satisfying sex more often. Dr Wyllie, who is advising ORLIBID but will not make any money from sales, said: ‘It will be for everyone from those where female sexual dysfunction is destroying their relationships to those just wanting to spice up their sex life.’

It is hoped that at the right dose the drug, which has the working name ORL101, will restore a flagging libido to normal levels without ‘supercharging’ it.

And while the pills are designed to increase sexual desire, they may also curb appetite.

Pricing has yet to be decided but ORL101 is likely to cost a similar amount to Viagra, which sold for up to £12 a tablet when launched.

This means that it is unlikely to be widely prescribed by a health service still struggling to find cash for the treatment of some life-threatening illnesses.

ORLIBID will also investigate whether the drug, which acts on the brain, can help impotent men for whom existing drugs, which target the body, do not work.

Paula Hall, a sex therapist with Relate, said that while women would buy a ‘pink’ Viagra, it will not fix a low libido caused by stress, anxiety or relationship problems.

Dr John Dean, a past president of the International Society for Sexual Medicine, said a drug may help when no medical or psychological cause of problems can be found.

He added: ‘Low sexual desire is by no means a trivial problem. It affects lives, relationships, productivity and satisfaction.’


13 January, 2014

Children who watch too much TV may have 'damaged brain structures'

But is it BECAUSE they watch TV?

Watching too much television can change the structure of a child's brain in a damaging way, according to a new study.

Researchers found that the more time a child spent viewing TV, the more profound the brain alterations appeared to be.

The Japanese study looked at 276 children aged between five and 18, who watched between zero and four hours TV per day, with the average being about two hours.

MRI brain scans showed children who spent the most hours in front of the box had greater amounts of grey matter in regions around the frontopolar cortex - the area at the front of the frontal lobe.

But this increased volume was a negative thing as it was linked with lower verbal intelligence, said the authors, from Tohoku University in the city of Sendai.

They suggested grey matter could be compared to body weight and said these brain areas need to be pruned during childhood in order to operate efficiently.

‘These areas show developmental cortical thinning during development, and children with superior IQs show the most vigorous cortical thinning in this area,’ the team wrote.

They highlighted the fact that unlike learning a musical instrument, for example, programmes we watch on TV ‘do not necessarily advance to a higher level, speed up or vary’.

‘When this type of increase in level of experience does not occur with increasing experience, there is less of an effect on cognitive functioning,’ they wrote.

The authors said the impact of watching TV on the ‘structural development’ of the brain has never before been investigated.

‘In conclusion, TV viewing is directly or indirectly associated with the neurocognitive development of children,’ they wrote.

‘At least some of the observed associations are not beneficial and guardians of children should consider these effects when children view TV for long periods of time.’

The children in the study were an almost even split between girls and boys.

The findings, published in the journal Cerebral Cortex, highlighted an association between TV viewing and changes in the brain but do not prove that TV definitely caused the changes.

Scientists also cannot be sure whether missing out on activities such as reading, playing sports or interacting with friends and family as a result of watching TV could be behind the findings, rather than TV being directly to blame.

But they did say that the frontopolar cortex area of the brain has previously been associated with ‘intellectual abilities'.


Religious people take fewer sick days and are less anxious because spirituality 'offers a buffer against the strains of modern life'

People who are religious are healthier and take fewer sick days, new research suggests. They are also less stressed and anxious at work, the researchers found. Experts believe this could be because spirituality offers a ‘buffer against strains’ of modern life.

A psychologist at the Health and Safety Laboratory in Stockport found that the more religious a person is, the less likely they are to suffer from anxiety, depression or exhaustion.

Dr Roxane Gervais also discovered that employees who are religious feel their lives have more meaning than those who are not.

Dr Gervais surveyed workers in a bid to discover how happy they are in their home and working lives. She found those who attend religious services feel more content within themselves and that they feel connected to a higher being.

Dr Gervais told The Telegraph: ‘As the pace of work and life accelerates, people long for meaning, and the younger generation in particular is looking for more than just a big pay cheque at the end of the month.

‘My research shows that religiosity in the workplace may act as a resource, making people more resilient to cope with the many challenges of working life.

‘Such personal beliefs could be very helpful not only for employees, but also for employers providing people with a buffer zone.’ As a result, she says employers should be encouraged to be understanding and supportive of their employees’ beliefs.

Dr Gervais’ findings are to be presented at the Annual Conference of the British Psychological Society’s Division of Occupational Psychology’s in Brighton.

The research comes just after it was revealed that people who have a spiritual side have a 'thicker' section of brain tissue than those who do not.

The research, from Columbia University, also suggested that this thickening of the brain’s cortex could help to stave off depression.

The study authors believe this could suggest being religious changes the structure of the brain in a way which reduces depression risk.


12 January, 2014

Sugar is 'the new tobacco': Health chiefs tell food giants to slash levels by a third

It looks like Loony Lustig has finally convinced somebody of the truth of his Quixotic crusade. Pity most of his fellow scientists are not convinced

Food giants are being told to cut the amount of sugar they use because it has become the ‘new tobacco’.

Doctors and academics say levels must be reduced by up to 30 per cent to halt a wave of disease and death.

They found that even zero-fat yoghurts can contain five teaspoons of sugar, while a can of Heinz tomato soup has four.

The equivalent of 11 teaspoons are found in a small Starbucks caramel Frappuccino with whipped cream. A Mars bar has eight.

‘Sugar is the new tobacco,’ said Simon Capewell, professor of clinical epidemiology at the University of Liverpool.

‘Everywhere, sugary drinks and junk foods are now pressed on unsuspecting parents and children by a cynical industry focused on profit not health.

The obesity epidemic is generating a huge burden of disease and death.

Obesity and diabetes already cost the UK over £5billion a year. Without regulation, these costs will exceed £50billion by 2050.’

Professor Capewell is part of a new US-UK campaign group – Action on Sugar – that says asking firms to make voluntary changes has failed.

The typical Briton consumes 12 teaspoons of sugar a day and some adults consume as many as 46. The maximum intake recommended by the World Health Organisation is ten, although this guideline is likely to be halved.

The UN agency says there is ‘overwhelming evidence coming out about sugar-sweetened beverages and other sugar consumption’ being linked to obesity, diabetes and cardiovascular disease.

A study by Action on Sugar found surprisingly high levels of sugar in many foods, including savoury products and healthy options.

The Pret a Manger Very Berry Latte with milk has 26.9g of sugar – the equivalent of seven teaspoons. Yeo Valley Family Farm 0% Fat Vanilla Yogurt has five.

Even Glaceau Vitamin Water, which is owned by Coca-Cola, has the equivalent of four teaspoons of sugar in a 500ml bottle.

Action of Sugar said food firms should be able to reduce the amount of sugar they add to products by 20 to 30 per cent within three to five years, taking 100 calories a day out of the typical diet.

This would be enough to halt or even reverse rising levels of obesity and associated ill-health, it claimed.

Graham MacGregor, a professor at the Wolfson Institute of Preventive Medicine in London and chairman of Action on Sugar, said: ‘We must now tackle the obesity epidemic both in the UK and worldwide.

‘We must start a coherent and structured plan to slowly reduce the amount of calories people consume by slowly taking out added sugar from foods and soft drinks.

‘This is a simple plan which gives a level playing field to the food industry, and must be adopted by the Department of Health to reduce the completely unnecessary and very large amounts of sugar the food and soft drink industry is adding to our foods.’

Dr Aseem , the group’s science director, said: ‘Added sugar has no nutritional value whatsoever, and causes no feeling of satiety.

‘Aside from being a major cause of obesity, there is increasing evidence that added sugar increases the risk of developing type 2 diabetes, metabolic syndrome and fatty liver.

‘We must particularly protect children from this public health hazard and the food industry needs to immediately reduce the amount of sugar that they are adding, particularly to children’s foods, and stop targeting children with massive advertising for high calorie snacks and soft drinks.’

But sugar manufacturers rejected the claims of the health experts saying they were not supported by the consensus of scientific evidence.

Sugar Nutrition UK said the World Health Organisation published a review last year that found that any link between diabetes and body weight was due to overconsumption of calories and was not specific to sugar.

It said: ‘There have also been numerous studies, which have investigated potential links between sugar and diabetes, with experts from the British Dietetic Association, European Food Safety Authority, and Institute of Medicine being very clear that diabetes is not caused by eating sugar.

Respected expert committees have reviewed the evidence over many years and all have concluded that the balance of available evidence does not implicate sugar in any of the so-called lifestyle diseases.’

And Barbara Gallani, of the Food and Drink Federation, an industry group, also denied sugar was responsible for obesity.

She said the industry already provided clear information on sugar levels to consumers, using figures and colour-coded labels.

‘Sugars, or any other nutrient for that matter, consumed as part of a varied and balanced diet are not a cause of obesity, to which there is no simple or single solution,’ she added.

Professor Shrinath Reddy, a cardiologist at the Harvard School of Public Health and member of the WHO panel of experts, disputed this conclusion.

He said there was ‘overwhelming evidence coming out about sugar-sweetened beverages and other sugar consumption links to obesity, diabetes and even cardiovascular disease’.

Yoni Freedhoff, assistant professor of medicine at the University of Ottawa, said sugar needed again to become an occasional treat rather than a regular ‘crutch’. He said that added sugar had found its way into virtually everything we eat.


Sugar not as bad as tobacco say nutrition experts

Warnings that eating sugar is as dangerous to human health as smoking tobacco or drinking alcohol have been dismissed as "nuts" by nutrition experts and a former health secretary.

Andrew Lansley, who was health secretary until 2012 and is now the Commons Leader, insisted that sugar is an essential component of food and that the comparison with tobacco was inaccurate.

His comments were echoed by a number of nutritional scientists who said the claims, which were made by a group of doctors campaigning for a reduction in the levels of sugar in food, were alarmist and misleading.

The doctors, who launched their campaign Action on Sugar on Wednesday, warned that sugar in processed foods was “the new tobacco” in terms of the risk it posed to human health.

They said that the obesity crisis could be reversed within five years if the food industry cut the amount of sugar they put into food by 30 per cent, and claimed that sugary snacks had become the “alcohol of childhood”.

But Mr Lansley said the comparison with tobacco was not appropriate and that consumers would likely reject dramatic reductions in sugar.

Speaking during his weekly question and answer session in the Commons, he said: "You can't simply slash the sugar in food otherwise people simply won't accept it.

“That is what they are looking for. I don't think it is helped by what I think are inaccurate analogies. I just don't think the analogy between sugar and tobacco is an appropriate one.

"I think we have to understand that sugar is an essential component of food, it's just that sugar in excess in an inappropriate and unhelpful diet."

Nutrition experts from around the country also criticised the attempt to compare sugar with tobacco, saying blaming a single nutrient for obesity overlooked the other aspects of the nation’s diet that contribute excessive calories.

Professor Susan Jebb, a diet and population health expert at the University of Oxford said: “The scale of the obesity problem in this country clearly needs greater action to improve the nation’s diet.

“But we need to move away from a reductionist approach which blames individual nutrients, such as sugar, and instead take a more holistic approach if we are going to reduce diet-related disease.”

Dr Victoria Burley, a senior lecturer in nutritional epidemiology at Leeds University, described the comparison with alcohol and tobacco as “nuts”.

She said: It’s total hyperbole, quite crazy. The epidemiology for smoking causing cancer is strong.

“You can look at figures and see that one quarter of cancer deaths are linked to smoking, that’s something like 43,000 deaths a year.

“There is certainly evidence that obesity is linked to cancer and coronary heart disease but there is little evidence that there is a causal link between sugar and obesity.

“So you can’t say with any certainty that sugar is a cause of death.

“Consumption of sugar has been decreasing steadily since the 1960s. Sales of sweets, jams and preserves have all gone down.

She added that sugar can be a useful nutrient for those who are physically active or trying to gain weight.

Professor Naveed Sattar, an expert in metabolic medicine at Glasgow University, insisted that it is only when sugar is consumed excessively that it becomes harmful.

He said: “The truth is that sugar on its own is not necessarily bad if overall calorie intake matches calorie burn and individuals are normal weight and healthy.

“However, when the diet leads to overconsumption of calories – here excess fat or sugar can both be stored as excess fat in important body organs such as the liver or muscle increasing health risks such as diabetes, liver disease and associated conditions.”

Action on Sugar is aiming to help the public to avoid products that contain hidden sugars and warns that children are a particularly vulnerable group.

The group lists flavoured waters, sports drinks yogurts, ketchup, bread and ready meals as being particularly high in sugar. A can of Coca Cola, for example, contains nine teaspoons of sugar while a 0% fat yogurt contains five teaspoons of sugar.


10 January, 2014

Study: ‘No Statistical Correlation’ Between Fine Airborne Particles, Premature Death

There's no evidence to support the Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA) longstanding claim that fine airborne particulate matter measuring 2.5 micrograms or less (PM2.5) is killing thousands of Americans every year, according to the first comprehensive study of its kind.

The study, entitled “Airborne Fine Particulate Matter and Short-Term Mortality,” was released on last month. It compared air quality data collected statewide by the California Air Resources Board to 854,109 death certificates issued by the state Department of Public Health documenting 94 percent of all deaths in California between 2007 and 2010.

The study’s author, Johns Hopkins-trained biostatistician Steve Milloy, used a traditional epidemiological approach in an attempt to duplicate EPA’s findings, but found “no correlation between changes in ambient PM2.5 and mortality” from any cause of death.

“EPA says that when PM2.5 levels go up, people die every day,” Milloy told “But if PM2.5 is killing people, my data would show it, especially in Los Angeles, which has some of the worst air quality in the U.S. Not only was there no relationship there, I found a negative correlation in the LA area.”

“The lack of correlation was confirmed by examination of unusual spikes in PM2.5 and mortality. No spike examined indicated any sort of relationship to the other variable,” Milloy noted in the study. In fact, in some cases PM2.5 levels “are trending downward, [while] deaths are trending in the opposite direction.”

“If a significant causal relationship between PM2.5 and mortality existed, that relationship should have been visible in this study. But it was not,” he concluded.

Milloy also found “no evidence” to support EPA claims that the elderly and those with heart and lung disease were “more vulnerable than the general population to the effects of PM2.5.”

The findings are at odds with EPA’s longstanding claim that breathing particles 1/30th the diameter of a human hair is deadly. Since 1997, that claim has been central to EPA’s regulation of particulate matter under the Clean Air Act, and is currently used to justify additional stringent regulations on emissions from vehicles, factories, farms, power plants and even wood-burning stoves.

“An extensive body of scientific evidence indicates that breathing in PM2.5 over the course of hours to days (short-term exposure) and months to years (long-term exposure) can cause serious public health effects that include premature death and adverse cardiovascular effects,” EPA states.

In 2011, former EPA Administrator Lisa Jackson testified before Congress that reducing particulate matter would have “an identical impact to finding a cure for cancer.” A total of 574,743 Americans died of cancer that year, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).

And in a Feb. 2012 letter to House Energy and Commerce Committee chairman Fred Upton (R-Fla.), Jackson’s successor, Gina McCarthy, then former assistant administrator in EPA’s Office of Air and Radiation, wrote that “there is no threshold level of fine particle pollution below which health risk reductions are not achieved by reduced exposure.”

Milloy told that he did the study because EPA refused to release any of the taxpayer-funded research data underlying these claims.

“My study opened it up to questioning. Anybody can get this data and see whether there’s a relationship. If they get a different answer than I did, we can go back and see what happened,” he said. “That’s the scientific method.”

“As it stands now, only EPA-funded researchers do the work and review the work, and nobody gets to see the data. These are very expensive regulations, and the alleged benefits are entirely based on this PM/death relationship.”

Last August, the House Science, Space and Technology Committee issued its first subpoena in more than two decades, seeking what chairman Lamar Smith (R-Tex.) called “the secret science [EPA] uses as the basis for costly air regulations.” But EPA has only partially complied with the congressional subpoena, according to a committee spokesman.


Americans with less education have shorter life spans - research

Consistent with the observation that there is a general syndrome of biological fitness which includes high IQ. It has long been known that smart people live longer and are healthier. And IQ is mostly inborn

Americans who have never finished high school are now sicker than ever, and have much shorter life expectancy rates. In fact, those with no high school diploma are expected to die nine years earlier than someone with a college degree. A strong link between health and education are more significant nowadays versus how they were looked at previously according to a policy brief by the Virginia Commonwealth University Center on Society and Health and the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation.

Even though the life span in the US is on the rise, Americans who do not have a high school diploma are facing much turmoil in terms of their health. Life expectancy has dipped down for Caucasians, especially white women who do not have 12 years of basic schooling. On top of it all, if low rates of education are present then it usually means higher amounts of diseased and disabled people, thus placing a lot of pressure on a person’s mental health.

Americans that are 25 years of age with no high school diploma are statistically expected to pass away nine years earlier than college graduates would. One vivid illustration of how the land of the free is being affected is by looking at the level of diabetes. By the year 2011, the amount of diabetes had gone up just 7 percent in college graduates versus 15 percent in adults that had not graduated from high school.

Research noted in the policy brief points out that being educated does not only increase the life expectancy rate, but also saves money and makes for a more productive economy. People with very little education face higher medical expenses and are not as productive in the workplace—indicating that poor education is pricey for employers by and large.

On the flipside, health advantages of a decent education offer greater opportunities to get health insurance, and a much better salary to afford a healthier way of living. "I don't think most Americans know that children with less education are destined to live sicker and die sooner," Steven H. Woolf, M.D., director of the VCU Center on Society and Health said, "It should concern parents, and it should concern policy leaders. In today's knowledge economy, policymakers must remember that cutting 'non-health' programs like education will cost us more in the end by making Americans sicker, driving up health costs and weakening the competitiveness of our economy."

Woolf and his team hope, through the center’s Education and Health Initiative, they can help make people more aware of the connection between health and education. In the near future, the facility will distribute briefs on why investing in one’s education is also an investment on their overall health.


9 January, 2014

Sleeping pill Stilnoct (zolpidem/ambien) can increase the risk of heart attacks, scientists claim

This finding probably shows only that Taiwanese in poor health have more insomnia

A sleeping pill prescribed to thousands of patients can increase the risk of heart attacks by up to 50 per cent, according to scientists.

Research carried out among heart attack victims found that numbers were higher among those who had taken zolpidem tablets, prescribed in the UK under the name Stilnoct and in the US as Ambien.

Scientists have linked taking zolpidem to an increased threat of heart attacks, and believe that taking the equivalent of 60 of the pills can increase the risk by as much as 50per cent.

Even taking just four pills with a dose of 35 miligrams per year increases the risk of a life-threatening cardiac episode by 20per cent.

The study, which was carried out by experts at the China Medical University in Taiwan, is the first to link zolpidem with cardiovascular problems.

Drug manufacturers Sanofi Inc have refuted the finding and said there are no known adverse cardiac reactions to zolpidem.

Experts can not be completely sure that the pills are responsible for heart problems.

However, scientists, who presented their findings at the world’s biggest cardiology conference in Dallas, Texas, say further and wider-reaching investigations into possible side effects of the drug are required following the study of more than 5,000 people.

Scientists who compared 5,000 heart attack victims with 20,000 healthy adults claimed there was a higher rate of heart attacks among those who took zolpidem.

The findings, revealed at the annual meeting of the American Heart Association, showed that even taking the pills sporadically can increase the risk of suffering a heart attack.

'The risk of an acute myocardial infarction (heart attack) was greatly increased with zolpidem exposure,' the report said, according to the Daily Express.

As part of a separate study the China Medical University scientists found that taking the equivalent of a 10mg zolpidem tablet every week can double the risk of a patient suffering a damaged aorta blood vessel.

According to the scientists the medication can increase the threat of an aortic dissection, where the vital aorta blood vessel is torn with potentially fatal results as it can cause internal bleeding.

In a statement Sanofi Inc said that that known adverse reactions to the drug did not include acute myocardial infarction or aortic dissection.

It said: 'We stand behind the substantial body of clinical data demonstrating the safety and efficacy of zolpidem, which was first approved in France in June 1987, amounting to 26 years of real-world use and 24 billion nights of patient therapy worldwide.'

Around five million people in Britain are prescribed z-hypnotics, including zolpidem, for insomnia every year.

However, there have been an increasing number of fears over their safety and it is recommended that patients should take the lowest dose possible for no more than four weeks.

In 2012, the US Food and Drug Administration said that the recommended dosages of zolpidem should be halved to to five milligrams because of concerns that the medication can remain in the bloodstream for longer than initially thought.

An unrelated study carried out last year showed increased rates of cancer-related deaths among people taking all varieties of sleeping pills, not just z-hypnotics.


Sweets made of bacteria fight off tooth decay

This was an extremely small study so must be regarded as preliminary only

Sweets that slash levels of harmful bacteria in the mouth could be a new weapon against tooth decay. They are designed to stop the bugs that cause decay from sticking to the surface of teeth, where they trigger erosion.

Instead, the harmful bacteria are swallowed in saliva and then flushed out of the body.

The sugar-free sweets work by using a type of 'friendly' probiotic bacteria (lactobacillus paracasei) to bind to the harmful type (streptococcus mutans).

As the sweet is sucked, the friendly bacteria are released into the saliva. They then lock on to the corrosive type, forming a clump, which reduces the harmful bacteria's ability to stick to the surface of teeth.

As a so-called 'friendly' bacterium, found in some probiotic yoghurt drinks, for example, lactobacillus is a group of organisms that helps break down food, absorb nutrients and fight off bugs that might cause diseases such as diarrhoea.

The boiled sweets, developed by German firm Organobalance GMBH, could be targeted at children to try to avoid the early onset of tooth decay.

Rotten teeth in British children costs around £45?million a year to treat and by the age of 15, teenagers have had an average of 2.5 teeth filled or removed due to decay.

A recent survey suggested one in four five-year-olds in England already has tooth decay.

Streptococcus mutans, the most harmful bacterium in the mouth, feeds on sugar in the diet, which it ferments into an acid that burns holes in the surface of a tooth.

At the moment the only effective way to reduce bacteria numbers is to brush and floss regularly to reduce plaque (because plaque is where harmful bacteria congregate).

The sweets were developed after laboratory tests on rats showed that lactobacillus paracasei reduced levels of harmful microbes in the mouth.

The lactobacillus paracasei were first treated with heat, which stops them multiplying in the mouth but means they can still be recognised by the harmful bacteria which bind to it. To test it on humans, researchers developed a range of flavours containing heat-treated strains of the friendly bug.

They recruited 60 adults and split them into groups. Some ate sweets containing lactobacillus paracasei, and others ate identical-looking sweets with no bacteria.

Over one-and-a-half days, all the volunteers ate five sweets. Each time, researchers tested saliva samples to measure levels of the tooth-eating organism.

The results, published in the journal Probiotics and Antimicrobial Proteins, showed 75?per cent of those given the bacteria-loaded sweets had significantly lower levels of streptococcus mutans after eating only one sweet and this reduction persisted throughout the experiment. Those on placebo sweets also saw a slight reduction in the 'bad' bacteria, but researchers think this might have been because they were more inclined to suck for longer - creating more saliva to flush the mouth out - because they knew they were taking part in an experiment.

The sweets could be available within the next year or two. Scientists are also developing toothpastes and mouthwashes containing the friendly bacteria.

Commenting on the findings, Dr Nigel Carter, chief executive of the British Dental Health Foundation, said: 'This adds to the growing belief that probiotics have an important role to play in improving oral health.'


8 January, 2014

Mother confined to a wheelchair with chronic fatigue walks again after drinking two litres of protein milkshake a DAY

Looks like her symptoms reflected a dietary deficiency. Unusual that she needed protein. A normal diet should provide that. Her personal deficiencies and sensitivities may not be widely shared

A mother-of-three who was left confined to a wheelchair with chronic fatigue is walking again - thanks to a daily diet of two litres of milkshakes.

Jeanette Elisha-Elliss, 47, suffered the mystery illness for three years before her health dramatically deteriorated.

Her weight plunged, her hair began to fall out and she experienced terrifying episodes of complete paralysis.

Doctors failed to find an effective treatment so Jeanette, who had spent four months in a wheelchair, started doing her own research.

She bought a Ph test and discovered a lack of minerals was causing her body to shut down.

Jeanette, a former art teacher, found her cure lay in whey protein shakes.

She bought a big tub for £20 and mixed herself shakes with water every two hours - day and night - as well as large amounts of beetroot juice which is high in nitrates.

She was stunned when her spasms of paralysis disappeared after just two days and she managed to walk in a fortnight.

Mrs Elisha-Elliss said: 'The hospital and doctors couldn’t help me so I had to help myself. I was up in the middle of the night drinking beetroot juice and protein shakes. I was pretty much overdosing on various nutrients.

'The science is out there. People are turning to the internet because they know they are ill, even when medical tests suggest they are not.

'Doctors are missing vital signs of acidity in the body, hormone and neurological disorders.

'Patients are criticised for turning to the internet, but like many other, I felt I had no choice.'

Mrs Elisha-Elliss, of Belstead, Suffolk, started to lose muscle control in May, shortly after marrying gardener Kevin, 51.

She went to her GP and was immediately referred to hospital because she was showing the signs of a stroke.

But blood, urine and EMG tests all came back blank and doctors were unable to find a diagnosis.

Jeanette says she was dismissed as a hypochondriac by hospital staff in Ipswich and decided to take her treatment into her own hands.

She believes her symptoms were linked to low mineral and amino acid levels in her body - something not tested for by doctors.

Jeanette has now managed to balance her hormone levels, lower her blood pressure, stabilise her weight and regain her short-term memory.

The protein shakes help address her lack of amino acids while the beetroot juice helps maintain the level of nitrates in her system.

They work together to trigger receptors for both the nervous system and the hormone levels.

Mrs Elisha-Elliss claims it is this lack of this nutrition that led to her spasms of paralysis and extreme tiredness.

She has now written a book about her experience called The Eli Diet Theory - hopes to educate others on the importance of diet to good health.

She added: “We are putting our faith into some medical professionals who believe they know more about our bodies than we do.

'Trying to suggest you have any understanding of a condition leaves you open to criticism, judgement and possible labels of hypochondria.

'By not understanding basic human biochemistry, patients are being pushed towards antidepressant and psychiatric doctors who are even less qualified to diagnose organic medical problems.

'Although people are living longer, we are not getting healthier.'

Nutrition coach Susan Hart confirmed that protein shakes and beetroot juice can improve health - but recommended a natural source.

She said: “Each case has to be treated on an individual basis but it is understandable how taking protein in this instance would have had a dramatic effect.

'The main things we need protein for are energy and muscle mass. It makes up our bodies building blocks so without it you are certainly going to feel the effects.

'The protein supplement shakes are always really precise so they are good in the sense that you can see the exact levels of what you’re putting in your body.

'My advice would be to try a natural source of protein first as the supplements tend to contain a lot of sugar and carbohydrates. I would go for eggs or grilled chicken.'

A spokeswoman from The Ipswich Hospital NHS Trust said: 'We are aware of Mrs Ellis’ concerns and we have responded to them accordingly. We wish Mrs Ellis all the best with the publication of her new book.'


Eating plenty of fruit and veg can protect against asthma -- if you are a mouse

Eating plenty of fruit and vegetables protects against asthma, according to new research.

Mice fed a diet high in fibre had less inflamed lungs when exposed to the house dust mites that trigger the condition than those given little of the healthy food.

The researchers said the findings published in Nature Medicine may apply to humans and underline how what we eat can influence immune cell development and disease outside of the gut.

A previous study found asthma and irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) could be caused by the same inflammatory reaction. People who suffer from IBS are twice as likely to have asthmatic symptoms as well.

IBS is a common digestive disorder that produces a range of symptoms including cramp, a feeling of bloating, and a change or disruption of bowel habit, such as constipation or diarrhoea.

Dr Benjamin Marsland, of the University of Lausanne, Switzerland, said: 'Over recent decades, the incidence of allergic asthma has increased in developing countries, while the consumption of dietary fibre has decreased in these countries.'

His team found mice fed a low fibre diet developed increased lung inflammation in response to dust mites whereas those whose food was enriched with pectin found in the cell walls of plants had reduced allergic airway disease.

The soluble fibre used to combat constipation altered the composition of bacteria in the gut.

Once ingested, these bugs process the fibre and release metabolites, called short chain fatty acids, which enter the blood and influence the development of immune cells elsewhere in the body, including those entering the lung.

Dr Marsland said the work highlights the importance of roughage and provides a cellular mechanism for controlling asthma.

He added: 'Moreover, these data can be interpreted within the contect of epidemiological studies showing as fibre content in the diet has decreased, the incidence of allergies has increased.

'Taken together, our findings support the concept intervention strategies targeting diet are a valuable approach for not only intestinal diseases but also respiratory inflammatory diseases.'

Dietary fibre has many known benefits, including reduced risk of heart disease and certain cancers with health organisations around the world recommending daily minimum levels.

But most people in western countries like Britain, Australia and the United States eat much less fibre than they require to remain healthy.


7 January, 2014

A diet to cure diabetes: Patients were able to come off tablets after two months on severe low calorie regime

The explanation given below for the good results is unduly complicated. The results could simply be seen as the effect of giving the pancreas a rest

A crash diet that has been medically approved could help millions of Britons defeat diabetes. Men and women suffering from the disease were able to throw away their tablets after going on an extreme low-calorie diet for just two months.

And 18 months later, some were still free of symptoms and said they were astonished at the dramatic improvement in their health.

So far the diet has only been tested on a handful of patients. But a £2.4million trial involving 280 diabetics is about to get under way. These men and women will live on meal replacement shakes and soups. They will be allowed to take in only 800 calories a day – an amount many people will consume in their lunch.

Type 2 diabetes, which normally develops in middle age, is the most common form of the condition with 3million sufferers in the UK alone. The disease occurs when the pancreas does not make enough insulin and the insulin that is made does not work properly.

Newcastle University’s Professor Roy Taylor believes fat surrounding vital organs could be the key to understanding the condition. This fat is thought to clog up the pancreas and liver, cutting insulin production and stopping insulin from being used properly.

But crash dieting plunges the body into starvation mode, the fat is burned off and the vital organs are then freed up.

The original trial – involving 11 men and women – found consuming only weight loss shakes, salad and non-starchy vegetables for eight weeks could reverse diabetes.

Fat levels in the pancreas returned to normal and the organ was able to pump out insulin without running into any problems.

And three months after the end of the diet, seven out of the 11 participants were still diabetes-free.

Even 18 months later, at least four of the patients found that they had no signs of diabetes.

Gordon Parmley, 69, of Stocksfield in Northumberland, came off his diabetes tablets after taking part in the trial. He said: ‘It’s astonishing really that a diet – hard as it was – could change my health so drastically.’

And Professor Taylor said: ‘I believe that this study will lead to a quantum leap forward in our understanding of how best to manage type 2 diabetes.’

The new, much larger trial, which will be co-led by Glasgow University researcher Mike Lean, will see if the success can be repeated in large numbers of people.

It will look at how easy they find it to follow the diet – and see how long they remain healthy after they have started to eat normally again.

Professor Lean said: ‘If our analysis shows this approach is both effective and cost-effective, our aim would be to produce a programme that could be implemented in the NHS as soon as possible.’

And Dr Matthew Hobbs from Diabetes UK, which is funding the trial, said: ‘Type 2 diabetes will always be a serious condition. ‘But perhaps it won’t always be seen as a condition that people have to manage for the rest of their lives and one that worsens inevitably over time.

‘If we can do this safely, on a bigger scale as part of routine care, then a low-calorie liquid diet would be a real game changer in terms of reducing people’s risk of devastating health complications such as amputation and blindness.’

However the research has no implications for people with type 1 diabetes, in which the pancreas is damaged by the body’s own immune system.

And the charity has advised people not to embark on the diet themselves, strongly urging anyone determined to try it to speak to their GP first.


Neurologist Richard Saul says ADHD does not exist

POP quiz: Is the proportion of American children suffering from the disease known as attention deficit and hyperactivity disorder ...

a) Less than 5%, as we believed before the early 1990s?

b) More than 11%, and rising, as suggested by CDC statistics?

c) Zero?

The correct answer is (c), says neurologist Richard Saul in his forthcoming book, ADHD Does Not Exist: The Truth About Attention Deficit and Hyperactivity Disorder, which is sure to cause controversy when it hits the shelves in February.

After a long career treating patients complaining of such problems as short attention spans and an inability to focus, Saul is convinced ADHD is a collection of symptoms, not a disease, and shouldn't be listed in the American Psychiatric Association's Diagnostic and Statistical Manual.

Treating ADHD as a disease is a huge mistake, according to Saul. Imagine walking into a doctor's office with severe abdominal pains and simply being prescribed painkillers. Then you walk away, pain-free. Later you die of appendicitis.

Patients show up at the clinic with their own ADHD diagnoses these days, simply because ADHD is in the air all around us - and because they want to score some delightful drugs like Adderall or Ritalin, or because their parents want an easy way to get them to sit down and shut up.

Adderall and Ritalin are stimulants, though, and the more you take them the more you develop a tolerance for them, which can lead to a dangerous addiction spiral.

The term attention deficit disorder was made official in 1980, when it appeared in that year's edition of the DSM (the label changed to ADHD seven years later).

Subsequent editions have steadily loosened the definition, and diagnoses have skyrocketed accordingly - from 7.8% in 2003 to 9.5% in 2007 to 11% in 2011.

That's one in nine children, two-thirds of them boys, who are being slapped with the ADHD label. Two-thirds of these children have been prescribed a stimulant.

"ADHD makes a great excuse," Saul notes. "The diagnosis can be an easy-to-reach-for crutch. Moreover, there's an attractive element to an ADHD diagnosis, especially in adults - it can be exciting to think of oneself as involved in many things at once, rather than stuck in a boring rut."

In private practice, Saul found himself wondering, what other problems do these patients have besides being easily distracted? One girl he treated, it turned out, was being disruptive in class because she couldn't see the blackboard. Correct diagnosis: myopia. She needed glasses, not drugs.

A 36-year-old man who complained about his addiction to online games and guessed he had ADHD, it turned out, was drinking too much coffee and sleeping only four to five hours a night. Correct diagnosis: sleep deprivation. He needed blackout shades, a white-noise machine and a program that shut all his devices off at midnight.

A young man who asked, "Can't you just ask me a few questions and write me a prescription?" simply left the office when Saul started probing too deeply into whatever was ailing him.

One by one, nearly all of Saul's patients turned out to have some disease other than ADHD, such as Tourette's, OCD, fragile X syndrome (a genetic mutation linked to mental retardation), autism, foetal alcohol syndrome, learning disabilities or such familiar conditions as substance abuse, poor hearing or even giftedness. A boy who was disruptive and inattentive in math class (but no other) was, simply, bored by the material and needed to be advanced a grade to regain his concentration.

In a few cases, there was simply no diagnosis. One adult who thought she had ADHD and had been prescribed stimulants by another doctor got a different take from Saul. He advised her to instead return to her habit of exercising regularly and cut back on work hours. "I now realise it wasn't ADHD," she told him later, pleased with the progress she made as a result. "It was just life."

The explosion in ADHD diagnoses and related prescriptions of stimulants is not without substantial costs. Potentially addictive drugs are not to be given out like Skittles.

"I know of far too many colleagues," Saul writes, "who are willing to write a prescription for a stimulant with only a cursory examination of the patient, such as the 'two-minute checklist,' for ADHD."

Two minutes to jot down a prescription may lead to years of consequences: short-term side effects of stimulants include loss of sleep, increased anxiety, irritability and mood problems. Over the long term, use of these drugs can lead to unhealthy weight loss, poor concentration and memory, even reduced life expectancy or self-destructive behaviours not excluding suicide.


6 January, 2014

Could a tipple in pregnancy be good for baby? Study suggests mothers-to-be who drink lightly have better adjusted children

Mothers-to-be who indulge in a light tipple actually go on to have better adjusted children than those who abstain, a study has claimed.

Advice on drinking in pregnancy has varied from a complete ban to moderate consumption – amid fears that it could contribute to miscarriage and child developmental problems.

But the latest research looked at mothers in Denmark who drank ten bottles of white wine – or 90 units – over the course of the pregnancy.

Their offspring were both emotionally and behaviourally better adjusted than those of teetotal mothers.

The mothers who did drink were also likely to be from well-educated backgrounds with healthier lifestyles.

However, psychologist Janni Niclasen, who carried out the research, warned it was important to emphasise that the findings were not an invitation to pregnant women to drink alcohol.

She said: ‘At first sight this makes no sense, since alcohol during pregnancy is not seen as beneficial to child behaviour.

‘But when you look at the lifestyle of the mothers, you find an explanation. Mothers who drank 90 units or more of alcohol turn out to be the most well-educated and healthiest lifestyle over all.

‘Further, it is a question of taking account of childhood-related psychological factors like attachment between mother and child in this type of study.

This is a problem because we know that attachment is a very significant predictor for child cognitive and mental health.

‘Therefore, it should be taken into account in our statistical analysis.’

Miss Niclasen, of the University of Copenhagen, examined the results of a large population survey carried out by the Danish health and medicine authorities.

She only studied the alcohol consumption of women who drank small quantities during pregnancy, so the results do not show the effect on children whose mothers drank heavily.

The population study involved 100,000 pregnant women interviewed on three separate occasions about their consumption – twice in pregnancy and when the children were aged six months. When the children were seven, 37,000 women were contacted again.

Since 2007, the Department of Health has advised that alcohol should be avoided altogether during pregnancy. However, women who do decide to drink are advised to have no more than one or two units, once or twice a week.

The National Institute for Health and Care Excellence advises women to avoid alcohol in the first three months of pregnancy.

The Royal College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists says women should abstain. But it also says that evidence shows that one or two units, once or twice a week, are acceptable after 12 weeks of pregnancy.


I am the 70s child of a health nut. And I wasn’t vaccinated

Amy Parker

I am the 70s child of a health nut. I wasn’t vaccinated. I was brought up on an incredibly healthy diet: no sugar till I was one, breastfed for over a year, organic homegrown vegetables, raw milk, no MSG, no additives, no aspartame. My mother used homeopathy, aromatherapy, osteopathy, we took daily supplements of vitamin C, echinacea, cod liver oil.

I had an outdoor lifestyle; I grew up next to a farm, walked everywhere, did sports and danced twice a week, drank plenty of water. I wasn’t even allowed pop; even my fresh juice was watered down to protect my teeth, and I would’ve killed for white, shop-bought bread in my lunch box once in a while and biscuits instead of fruit like all the other kids.

We only ate (organic local) meat maybe once or twice a week and my mother and father cooked everything from scratch – I have yet to taste a Findus crispy pancake and oven chips were reserved for those nights when mum and dad had friends over and we got a “treat.”

As healthy as my lifestyle seemed, I contracted measles, mumps, rubella, a type of viral meningitis, scarlatina, whooping cough, yearly tonsillitis, and chickenpox, some of which are vaccine preventable. In my twenties I got precancerous HPV and spent 6 months of my life wondering how I was going to tell my two children under the age of 7 that mummy might have cancer before it was safely removed.

So having the “natural immunity sterilised out of us” just doesn’t cut it for me. How could I, with my idyllic childhood and my amazing health food, get so freaking ill all the time?

My mother was the biggest health freak around–she would put most of my current “crunchy” friends to shame. She didn’t drink, she didn’t smoke, she didn’t do drugs and we certainly weren’t allowed to watch whatever we wanted on telly or wear plastic shoes or any of that stuff. She LIVED alternative health. And you know what? I’m glad she gave us the great diet that we had, I’m glad that she cared about us in that way.

But it just didn’t stop me getting childhood illnesses.

My two vaccinated children, on the other hand, have rarely been ill, have had antibiotics maybe twice in their lives, if that (not like me who got so many illnesses which needed treatment with antibiotics that I developed a resistance to them, which led me to be hospitalized with penicillin-resistant quinsy at 21–you know that old fashioned disease that killed Queen Elizabeth I and which was almost wiped out through use of antibiotics).

My kids have had no childhood illnesses other than chickenpox, which they both contracted while still breastfeeding. They too grew up on a healthy diet, homegrown organics etc. Not to the same extent as I did, though, as I was not quite as strict as my mother, but they are both healthier than I have ever been.

I find myself wondering about the claim that complications from childhood illnesses are extremely rare but that “vaccine injuries” are rampant. If this is the case, I struggle to understand why I know far more people who have experienced complications from preventable childhood illnesses than I have EVER met with complications from vaccines. I have friends who became deaf from measles. I have a partially sighted friend who contracted rubella in the womb. My ex got pneumonia from chickenpox. A friend’s brother died from meningitis.

Anecdotal evidence is nothing to base decisions on. But when facts and evidence-based science aren’t good enough to sway someone’s opinion, then this is where I come from. After all, anecdotes are the anti-vaccine supporter’s way. Well, this is my personal experience. And my personal experience prompts me to vaccinate my children and myself. I got the flu vaccine recently, and I am getting the whooping cough booster to protect my unborn baby. My natural immunity from having whooping cough at age 5 will not protect him once he’s born.

I understand, to a point, where the anti-vaccine parents are coming from. Back in the 90s when I was a concerned, 19-year-old mother, frightened by the world I was bringing my child into, I was studying homeopathy, herbalism and aromatherapy; I believed in angels, witchcraft, clairvoyants, crop circles, aliens at Nazca, giant ginger mariners spreading their knowledge to the Aztecs, the Incas and the Egyptians and that I was somehow personally blessed by the Holy Spirit with healing abilities.

I was having my aura read at a hefty price and filtering the fluoride out of my water. I was choosing to have past life regressions instead of taking anti-depressants. I was taking my daily advice from tarot cards. I grew all my own veg and made my own herbal remedies.

I was so freaking crunchy that I literally crumbled. It was only when I took control of those paranoid thoughts and fears about the world around me and became an objective critical thinker that I got well. It was when I stopped taking sugar pills for everything and started seeing medical professionals that I began to thrive physically and mentally.

If you think your child’s immune system is strong enough to fight off vaccine-preventable diseases, then it’s strong enough to fight off the tiny amounts of dead or weakened pathogens present in any of the vaccines.

But not everyone around you is that strong, not everyone has a choice, not everyone can fight those illnesses, and not everyone can be vaccinated. If you have a healthy child, then your healthy child can cope with vaccines and can care about those unhealthy children who can’t.

Teach your child compassion, and teach your child a sense of responsibility for those around them. Don’t teach your child to be self serving and scared of the world in which it lives and the people around him/her. And teach them to LOVE people with ASD or any other disability for that matter, not to label them as damaged.

“Those of you who have avoided childhood illnesses without vaccines are lucky. You couldn’t do it without us pro-vaxxers.”
And lastly but most importantly for me – knowingly exposing your child to childhood illnesses is cruel; even without complications these diseases aren’t exactly pleasant. I don’t know about you, but I don’t enjoy watching children suffer even with a cold or a hurt knee. If you’ve never had these illnesses you don’t know how awful they are – I do.

Pain, discomfort, the inability to breathe or to eat or to swallow, fever and nightmares, itching all over your body so much that you can’t stand lying on bed sheets, losing so much weight you can’t walk properly, diarrhea that leaves you lying prostrate on the bathroom floor, the unpaid time off work for parents (and if you’re self employed that means NO INCOME), the quarantine, missing school, missing parties, the worry, the sleepless nights, the sweat, the tears and the blood, the midnight visits to A and E, sitting in a doctor’s waiting room on your own because no one will sit near you because they’re rightfully scared of those spots all over your kid’s face.

Those of you who have avoided childhood illnesses without vaccines are lucky. You couldn’t do it without us pro-vaxxers. Once the vaccination rates begin dropping, the less herd immunity will be able to protect your children. The more people you convert to your anti-vax stance, the quicker that luck will run out.


5 January, 2014

Shedding some light: vitamin D pills useless, say researchers

It is good for your bones, it wards off rickets in children, but spending money on vitamin D supplements to prevent cancer and other non-skeletal diseases could be a waste of money, the medical journal The Lancet says.

The finding is the latest attack on the very healthy and growing supplement industry, estimated to generate $1.5 billion in Australian sales a year.

Only last month the US journal Annals of Internal Medicine said most vitamins and mineral supplements did not prevent chronic disease or death, that their use among healthy adults was not justified, that they wasted money and that they should be avoided.

While evidence supports the importance of vitamin D for bone health, Lancet's editorial said the results of myriad randomised controlled trials were "almost unanimous" in concluding vitamin D supplements provided protection from few, if any, other diseases.

"It looks increasingly likely that low vitamin D is not a cause but a consequence of ill health," said The Lancet Diabetes & Endocrinology journal. The sunshine vitamin has been touted as giving protection against cancer, heart attack, diabetes, dementia and autoimmune and inflammatory diseases.

But the French review of nearly 500 studies that appeared in The Lancet found its benefits in reducing the risk of diseases were largely unconfirmed in 172 randomised controlled trials.

"Associations between vitamin D and health disorders reported by investigators of observational studies are not causal," lead author Philippe Autier said. "Low vitamin D could be the result of inflammatory processes involved in the occurrence and progression of disease."

About 70 per cent of Australians take some form of vitamin or mineral supplement, many of which include D3. It is estimated that about 50 per cent of Americans, 30 per cent of Britons and many Australians take standalone D supplements.

The Royal College of Pathologists of Australasia has estimated that at least half the 4 million tests for vitamin D deficiency taken each year should not have been done. It recommended testing and supplements only for people with conditions such as osteoporosis or chronic kidney failure, which are known to decrease vitamin D, or for those with dark skin.

A college spokesman, Paul Glendenning, said the Lancet article reflected the latest thinking on vitamin D. Other medical organisations, including the Australian and New Zealand Bone and Mineral Society and the Endocrine Society, had reached similar conclusions.

Dr Glendenning said there was no evidence to support widespread screening of the population or treatment with supplements.


Food Freedom Dodged Bullets in 2013

For food freedom, 2013 was a banner year that saw the defeat of several potentially awful laws and regulations.

While my 2012 highlights focused mainly on the year's many success stories, this year's highlights look a bit different. Why? It's not that the year didn't result in successes for food freedom. It did (see here, here, or here, for example).

But when I look back on 2013, the year appears to me largely to be a story not of the good news that happened but of the bad news that didn't. And that's good news.

Here are five key examples that explain why 2013 was sweet thanks to laws and regulations that didn't come to fruition.

1) FDA Bows to Pressure, Scraps Proposed Food Safety Modernization Act Rules

Last year the FDA proposed two key rules for implementing the Food Safety Modernization Act, a sweeping food safety overhaul that became law in 2011. I hated the FSMA from the get go, arguing it would cost a ton of money and wouldn't make our food safer. Once the FDA released this set of proposed rules for public comment last year, the only legitimate criticism of my initial skepticism was that I hadn't been skeptical enough. Nearly $1 billion to make food up to 5% safer, all while putting small farmers out of business? No thanks. Blowback against the proposed rules was so great that the FDA was forced earlier this month to scrap the proposed rules and start all over. That's a tremendous victory.

2) New York City's Soda Ban Loses in Court (Twice!)

The reviled and unconstitutional proposal by New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg's health department to ban some subjectively large soda choices forced a lawsuit in 2012. The plaintiffs--a diverse coalition that includes groups representing unions, restaurants, and soda companies--won the first round in court this past spring. New York State Judge Milton Tingling referred to the ban in his decision as “fraught with arbitrary and capricious consequences." An appeals court upheld Judge Tingling's decision this past summer. New York City has one last chance to rescucitate the ban before the state's highest court. But, as I wrote in the wake of Judge Tingling's ruling, the soda ban is dead.

3) Voters Reject Washington State's Mandatory GMO Labeling Law

Washington State voters rejected a ballot measure that would have forced food makers around the country to slap a "contains GMOs" label on food products sold in the state. I'm opposed to mandatory labeling like this for a variety of reasons. Instead, I support voluntary labeling. Voters in Washington State--along with those in California, where a similar ballot measure was rejected last year--appear to agree with me. And while Connecticut's state legislature became the first to pass a mandatory GMO labeling measure, the law is so convoluted it will likely never take effect.

4) Another Farm Bill Fails to Pass

Congress passes an awful Farm Bill laden with billions of dollars in needless subsidies every five years. That's been the case for more than six decades. But that Farm Bill clockwork is no longer. Sure, the subsidies are still there. And that needs to change. But passage of a new Farm Bill is no longer a given. In fact, Congress failed to pass a new Farm Bill in 2012 and 2013 despite pleas from typically powerful supporters--farm state congressmen, national and state farmers unions, and the USDA. While it would be an overstatement to suggest these farm interests have lost their considerable power, their legislative failures and largely ignored Chicken Little clucks--along with the broad consensus that farm subsidies are a waste of taxpayer money--don't bode well for the future of the Farm Bill. And that's great news.

5) "Ag Gag" Laws Lose Steam

2013 was a bad year for so-called "ag gag" laws, which criminalize various facets of information gathering pertaining to the treatment of farm animals. And that's a good thing for farmers, consumers, and animals alike. First, Tennessee Governor Bill Haslam vetoed a bill that would have created an ag gag law in his state. Then, PETA and other animal rights groups sued Utah in federal court, seeking to overturn that state's ag gag law. As I wrote earlier this year, those who claim filming farm animals shouldn’t be protected under the Constitution because it’s a “politically motivated” means of popularizing an “anti-meat agenda” appear to be unfamiliar with the Constitution. One needn't love PETA to recognize that a government that can take away the rights of members of that group may do so to the rights of people in other marginalized groups.

2013 will go down as the year of big, bad, scary things that might have happened but didn't. From the FDA scrapping its proposed Food Safety Modernization Act rules to the failure of mandatory GMO labeling to New York City's flailing soda ban, I'm happy to raise a glass to the bullets that food freedom dodged in 2013.


3 January, 2014

'Gorgeous girls eat meat': New diet book says the secret to staying slim is replacing bread with beef jerky

A paleo diet does seem to work for some

A new diet book claims that the secret to staying slim is eating like a cave woman by sticking to foods that our ancestors could 'catch, pluck, or dig up'.

In Cavewomen Don't Get Fat: Ancient Secrets to Rapid Weight Loss, author Esther Blum introduces a paleo-based eating plan with a twist - which she calls 'Paleo Chic' - and it's not exactly vegetarian-friendly.

'Gorgeous girls eat meat,' she said on The Today Show, explaining that carnivorous snacks are key to 'raising dopamine and seratonin levels in the brain' and 'getting a lean, healthy body.'

However, she cautions that 'it has to be meat raised on grass because it contains Omega 3 fatty acids.' In Ms Blum's food plan, all calories are not created equal.

'Here’s a simple fact: unprocessed foods such as fresh fruits and vegetables, lean meats and fish always—and I mean always—contain fewer calories than processed foods,' she wrote.

For example, on the show she paired organic beef with low-sugar, antioxidant rich raspberries, almonds and avocados.

Lunch was a bread-free sandwich that the author made with a salmon cake between two pieces of lettuce, and for dinner she substituted zucchini for regular pasta to get a carbohydrate fix for dinner.

Co-anchor Kathie Lee Gifford looked unimpressed after sniffing the beef jerky, saying 'this is what I feed my dogs in the afternoon.'

But both Ms Gifford and Hoda Kolb were fans of the turkey and avocado combination that Ms Blum recommended to fight the afternoon crash.

The author explains that she went back to the ways of our ancient ancestors after finding that the 'modern' approach was making people unwell.

'Sixty pounds of grain and thirty pounds of sugar—as the typical American does each year—is making us fat, sick, and tired', she writes.

She adds that, since diet is responsible for 80 percent of weight loss - with exercise accounting for 20 percent - it is crucial to get control of this element.

'Every time one of my clients says, "I eat a healthy diet, but I am not losing weight. Why not?" I know that she is eating the wrong kinds of healthy foods.'

She advises that dieters adapt a plan of 'clean eating' - which means ditching the empty calories found in processed food, and filling up on nutritionally dense, natural foods instead.

Ms Blum promises that eating healthier food means that dieters can actually eat more. 'You’ll be eating in order to ignite your metabolism, not to ramp it down,' she says.

Ms Blum writes that 'our bodies are designed to run on fewer carbohydrates than most of us are accustomed to eating.'

So she advises ditching high-gluten foods - which includes all types of grains including wheat, rye, oats, spelt and others.

Dieters should also avoid 'neocarbs' including enriched flour products, sugar-infused drinks and foods, genetically beefed-up grains and animal products. 'We need to step away from factory-generated food and move, instead, back into the bush,' she said.

Acceptable protein sources include pastured poultry, grass-fed beef and wild fish. Nuts are allowed, but should be limited to the 'amount equal to what could be found in nature,' which she says is around 1/4 cup.

Instead, Dr Blum suggests choosing naturally occuring - and fiber-dense -fruits and vegetables.

Dr Blum says that this style of eating provides benefits other than weight loss: Paleo Chic eaters become more protected against harmful food additives, hormones and other chemicals.

'Mother Nature, thank our stars and garters, isn’t a major corporation that puts profits over people, so by eating Paleo Chic, we not only nip those cravings but also get to keep some cold cash in our pockets.'


Why codeine painkillers don't work for millions - and may even harm your health

Dr Paul Debenham suffered tremendous pain while recovering from surgery for skin cancer. ‘I was given lots of codeine-based medicines but they seemed to do nothing for me,’ recalls Paul, 60, a biotech entrepreneur.

He followed his doctors’ instructions carefully, believing that if he took the painkillers for long enough they would start working. But they didn’t.

‘The pain was particularly intense in my neck where I’d had lymph nodes removed — I assumed it was because they’d sliced through nerves. It was some of the worst pain I’d ever experienced and it was constant for many weeks.’

But he felt there was little to be done. ‘It didn’t occur to me to complain to my doctors as I was on the maximum dose and I just thought it reflected how ill I was, not that the drugs weren’t working.

‘At the time I was more concerned with staying alive, as the cancer was quite advanced and had spread to lymph nodes under my arms and in my neck,’ says Paul, who lives in Newbury, Berkshire, with his wife Kathy, 60, and daughter Lara, 21.

Several weeks after the surgery Paul’s pain finally disappeared. But it was only six years later, while developing new genetic tests as part of his job, that he suddenly realised why the medication had not touched his pain.

Paul, who has a PhD in molecular biology, was working with Professor Bob Smith, an expert in drug metabolism at Imperial College, London, who had identified differences in the way our bodies respond to drugs. Professor Smith had worked out that these differences may be linked to variations in genes controlling enzyme production.

Enzymes are proteins, made in the liver, which control the speed of chemical reactions in our bodies. They help to break down drugs so the body can use them. Professor Smith found that gene variations can affect certain enzymes so that too much or too little of a chemical is produced. For example, an enzyme called CYP2D6 breaks down codeine into morphine to provide pain relief.

Codeine, which is given for mild to moderate pain, is a cheap drug for GPs to prescribe and is widely used — in 2012 there were nearly 19 million NHS prescriptions for painkillers containing codeine, including co-codamol (codeine and paracetamol), the tenth most prescribed drug in the UK. Codeine is also an effective cough suppressant, used in many non-prescription cough medicines and cold remedies.

The problem is that an estimated 7 to 10 per cent of the population have a gene variation which means they don’t make enough CYP2D6 to obtain pain relief from codeine. Up to six million Britons may be affected in this way, although most are unaware of it.

Tests confirmed that Paul’s body can’t make enough of the enzyme. He explains: ‘If you don’t make enough CYP2D6 you can take as much codeine as you like but it won’t make a blind bit of difference. It’s as simple as that.’

But that is not the only issue with this particular enzyme. There is another group of people who produce too much CYP2D6, so codeine is broken down too quickly in their bodies. This creates a fast ‘hit’ which then rapidly wears off, explains Dr Martin Johnson, a GP and pain specialist for the Royal College of General Practitioners.

‘These so-called rapid metabolisers experience a quick morphine hit when the drug is broken down. The effects of the dose then wear off too quickly, so they start clock-watching until their next dose. In some rare cases this fast-acting effect has caused respiratory depression (when breathing stops), particularly in children, and even deaths.’

This is why children recovering from surgery are now no longer given codeine-based pain relief, and why children’s cough medicines no longer contain the drug.

Dr Johnson suggests that there may be even more fast metabolisers than non-metabolisers — and that put together they could amount to about 30 per cent of the population.

‘Patients often keep taking codeine in the vain hope that it will work eventually — but all they experience are the side-effects, such as constipation (it slows down gut movement in the intestine) and none of the pain-relieving benefits,’ says Dr Johnson.

‘They might return to their GP for a higher dose and still not get any relief.

‘Then there are all the people who buy over-the-counter codeine products, who also get no pain relief.

‘There could be huge numbers of people on medication that doesn’t work for them, or works too quickly to control pain effectively.’

Yet there are alternatives, including paracetamol, ibuprofen, diclofenac and other anti-inflammatories. Exercise can help with pain too — particularly for people with arthritis.

Codeine is not the only drug metabolised by CYP2D6. There are some 25 others including the opioid painkiller tramadol, certain antidepressants known as selective serotonin re-uptake inhibitors, or SSRIs, which include Prozac and Zoloft, and antipsychotic drugs used to treat mental illness.

Beta-blockers prescribed for high blood pressure and the breast cancer drug tamoxifen, taken by 13,000 women, also fall into this category.

Dr Debenham says it’s a big issue. ‘If a woman is taking tamoxifen, as a side-effect she may experience hot flushes, and sometimes SSRIs are prescribed for these.

Certain types of SSRI are also metabolised by the CYP2D6 enzyme, so the two drugs compete for the small amount of enzyme in the liver — this could mean that the cancer-suppressing action of tamoxifen doesn’t work as there is not enough CYP2D6 to metabolise the drugs.’

Jo Cumming, of the charity Arthritis Care, says patients frequently ring its helpline in tears because codeine is not working for them. ‘Many have simply not been told that it doesn’t work for everyone, so they soldier on, believing that if they keep taking it or just up their dose it will work eventually. Or they stop taking it and don’t tell their doctor.

‘We encourage them to go back to their GP so they can be switched to something else.’


2 January, 2014

Sugar: How sweet it is ... and how bad it is

This is just a reprise of the old Robert Lustig crusade. Very few medical researchers agree with him -- as the overall evidence is far from clear

Hormones drive the development of breast and buttock fat in women at puberty. They drive hunger during pregnancy. Is it really so unlikely that they could also drive how much we eat, how much we exercise, and how much we store as fat?

We don't need to look far to find the hormones involved. Insulin, and its partner leptin, drive the packing and unpacking of fat cells and the signals that tell our brain it has had enough and is no longer hungry. Each responds to sugar.

And please don't tell me sugar is "a natural part of life", as the ads used to say. In his massively viewed YouTube lecture Sugar: The Bitter Truth, childhood obesity expert Robert Lustig makes the point that until relatively recently pure sugar was inaccessible, protected by either fibre (sugar cane is extraordinarily tough) or bees.

Ordinary sugar is half glucose and half fructose. There are about 16 teaspoons in a 600 millilitre drink. The glucose triggers a surge of insulin that packs fatty acids into fat cells and temporarily prevents them getting out. It also directs glucose to muscles where it is stored as glycogen. The fructose helps build insulin resistance and also resistance to leptin, the chemical messenger that turns off the feeling of hunger. The greater our exposure to fructose, the longer we feel hungry and the more insulin we produce, directing fat to our fat cells (fructose itself is turned into fat).

Lustig says Americans are producing twice the insulin they were 25 years ago.

None of this would matter much if it was merely making us big, but it is also driving high blood pressure, strokes and heart attacks. It's helping kill us.

Australia's soft drink industry is wrong when it says "all kilojoules matter, it doesn't matter where those kilojoules come from". Some drive hunger itself, making the "federal budget" approach of eating less and exercising more extraordinarily difficult.

Until recently the National Health and Medical Research Council was relatively unconcerned. Its dietary guidelines advised that "a moderate amount of sugar in daily meals is not a problem …

"In fact, spreading a little jam on wholemeal bread or sprinkling a little sugar to wholegrain breakfast cereal can make these nutritious foods more enjoyable to eat."

Not now. The new guidelines issued in February for the first time tell Australians to limit their consumption of "foods and drinks containing added sugars such as confectionery, sugar-sweetened soft drinks and cordials, fruit drinks, vitamin waters, energy and sports drinks".


Vitamin E may slow Alzheimer's disease

Very limited results

RESEARCHERS say vitamin E might slow the progression of mild-to-moderate Alzheimer's disease - the first time any treatment has been shown to alter the course of dementia at that stage.

In a study of more than 600 older veterans, high doses of the vitamin delayed the decline in daily living skills, such as making meals, getting dressed and holding a conversation, by about six months over a two-year period.

The benefit was equivalent to keeping one major skill that otherwise would have been lost, such as being able to bathe without help. For some people, that could mean living independently rather than needing a nursing home.

Vitamin E did not preserve thinking abilities, though, and it did no good for patients who took it with another Alzheimer's medication. But those taking vitamin E alone required less help from caregivers - about two fewer hours each day than some others in the study.

"It's not a miracle or, obviously, a cure," said study leader Dr Maurice Dysken of the Minneapolis VA Health Care System. "The best we can do at this point is slow down the rate of progression."

The US Department of Veterans Affairs sponsored the study, published on Tuesday by the Journal of the American Medical Association.

No one should rush out and buy vitamin E, several doctors warned. It failed to prevent healthy people from developing dementia or to help those with mild impairment ("pre-Alzheimer's") in other studies, and one suggested it might even be harmful.

Still, many experts cheered the new results after so many recent flops of once-promising drugs. "This is truly a breakthrough paper and constitutes what we have been working toward for nearly three decades: the first truly disease-modifying intervention for Alzheimer's," said Dr Sam Gandy of Mount Sinai School of Medicine in New York. "I am very enthusiastic about the results."

About 35 million people worldwide have dementia, and Alzheimer's is the most common type. In the US, about 5 million have Alzheimer's. There is no cure and current medicines just temporarily ease symptoms.

Researchers don't know how vitamin E might help, but it is an antioxidant, like those found in red wine, grapes and some teas. Antioxidants help protect cells from damage that can contribute to other diseases, says the federal Office on Dietary Supplements.
Many foods contain vitamin E, such as nuts, seeds, grains, leafy greens and vegetable oils. There are many forms, and the study tested a synthetic version of one - alpha-tocopherol - at a pharmaceutical grade and strength, 2000 international units a day.


1 January, 2014

'Bad' cholesterol that causes heart attacks now linked to Alzheimer's: Clumps stick to brain cells affecting memory and mood

But note that statins did no good -- as usual: "No association was found between statin use and PIB index, and controlling for cholesterol treatment in the statistical models did not alter the basic findings."

The ‘bad’ type of cholesterol – which causes heart disease – is linked to Alzheimer’s, researchers have found.

Such cholesterol has previously been associated with a narrowing of the arteries.

Now a study has revealed that the bad type is related to the amyloid peptide protein in the brain, which is present in Alzheimer’s.
A study has revealed that the bad type of cholesterol - which causes heart disease - is related to the amyloid peptide protein (pictured) in the brain, which is present in Alzheimer's

A study has revealed that the bad type of cholesterol - which causes heart disease - is related to the amyloid peptide protein (pictured) in the brain, which is present in Alzheimer's

In patients affected by disease, clumps of the protein stick to brain cells, affecting memory, mood and behaviour.

The discovery may explain the well-known link between raised cholesterol and an increased risk of Alzheimer’s.

Researchers found the link depended on whether people had more good cholesterol, known as high density lipoprotein (HDL), or the bad form called low density lipoprotein (LDL).

High levels of LDL can lead to narrowed arteries and heart disease, whereas HDL is protective.

The new US research suggests the two kinds of cholesterol have the same effect on the brain as on the heart.

Study leader professor Bruce Reed, from the University of California at Davis, said: ‘Unhealthy patterns of cholesterol could be directly causing the higher levels of amyloid known to contribute to Alzheimer’s, in the same way that such patterns promote heart disease.’

The scientists looked at 74 men and women aged 70 and over. All had brain scans using a tracer chemical that binds with amyloid plaques in order to highlight them on the images.

Higher fasting levels of LDL and lower levels of HDL were both associated with more amyloid in the brain, according to the findings published online in the journal JAMA Neurology.

Professor Reed said: ‘This study provides a reason to certainly continue cholesterol treatment in people who are developing memory loss, regardless of concerns regarding their cardiovascular health.’

Fellow author Dr Charles DeCarli said the discovery was a ‘wake-up call’ for those with a poor cholesterol balance.

Dr Laura Phipps, of Alzheimer’s Research UK, said: ‘The findings add to existing evidence that cholesterol could play a role in the Alzheimer’s disease process.

‘The best way to keep our brain healthy is to eat a balanced diet, maintain a healthy weight, not smoke, exercise regularly and keep blood pressure and cholesterol in check.’


Associations Between Serum Cholesterol Levels and Cerebral Amyloidosis

Bruce Reed et al


Importance Because deposition of cerebral ?-amyloid (A?) seems to be a key initiating event in Alzheimer disease (AD), factors associated with increased deposition are of great interest. Whether elevated serum cholesterol levels act as such a factor is unknown.

Objective To investigate the association between serum cholesterol levels and cerebral A? during life early in the AD process.

Design, Setting, and Participants A multisite, university medical center–based, cross-sectional analysis of potential associations between contemporaneously assayed total serum cholesterol, high-density lipoprotein cholesterol (HDL-C), low-density lipoprotein cholesterol (LDL-C), and cerebral A?, measured with carbon C11–labeled Pittsburgh Compound B (PIB) positron emission tomography. Seventy-four persons (mean age, 78 years) were recruited via direct outreach in stroke clinics and community senior facilities following a protocol designed to obtain a cohort enriched for cerebrovascular disease and elevated vascular risk. Three patients had mild dementia. All others were clinically normal (n = 33) or had mild cognitive impairment (n = 38).

Results Cerebral A? was quantified using a Global PIB Index, which averages PIB retention in cortical areas prone to amyloidosis. Statistical models that controlled for age and the apolipoprotein E ?4 allele revealed independent associations among the levels of LDL-C, HDL-C, and PIB index. Higher LDL-C and lower HDL-C levels were both associated with a higher PIB index. No association was found between the total cholesterol level and PIB index. No association was found between statin use and PIB index, and controlling for cholesterol treatment in the statistical models did not alter the basic findings.

Conclusions and Relevance Elevated cerebral A? level was associated with cholesterol fractions in a pattern analogous to that found in coronary artery disease. This finding, in living humans, is consistent with prior autopsy reports, epidemiologic findings, and animal and in vitro work, suggesting an important role for cholesterol in A? processing. Because cholesterol levels are modifiable, understanding their link to A? deposition could potentially and eventually have an effect on retarding the pathologic cascade of AD. These findings suggest that understanding the mechanisms through which serum lipids modulate A? could offer new approaches to slowing A? deposition and thus to reducing the incidence of AD.

JAMA Neurol. Published online December 30, 2013

Why those 'superfruits' may just be a costly rip-off... and you’d do just as well eating a humble potato!

Is the antioxidant religion faltering at last?

Believe the hype and they’re the natural solution for everything from cancer, heart disease and dementia to ageing skin, poor eyesight and insomnia.

No wonder ‘superfruits’ pop up in cereals, desserts, snack bars, juice, face cream — even designer gin.

But though it is claimed that goji berries, acai juice, pomegranates and cranberries are rooted in ancient medicine, the explosion in their use is, in fact, a modern phenomenon.

Two out of three juices launched last year claimed to contain superfruit. A major launch in 2011 was Cherrygood — a fruit juice made in part from an imported American cherry supposedly very high in antioxidants.

One glass will give ‘the equivalent health benefits of around 20 portions of fruit and vegetables’. Though the company offers no proof of that claim, Cherrygood has been a hit, with all supermarkets and health stores stocking it.

But anti-obesity campaigners point out it has as much sugar as cola — about 5?tsp in a 250ml serving. Cherrygood Plus has 9?tsp sugar.

Despite doubts around the science, superfruits and their spin-offs keep coming. Last year saw the launch of a ‘supertree’ — the powder of the bark of the African baobab, which you mix into yoghurt or water to get ‘six times more vitamin C than oranges’.

Meanwhile, Waitrose is busy pushing yuzu lemonade, from a Japanese citrus fruit that has ‘three times as much vitamin C as lemons’.

Sales are soaring of fibre and potassium-rich goldenberries, a dried version of the South American cape gooseberry.

Predicted for success in 2014 is the gac fruit from Vietnam, a spiky orange with flesh that looks like raw meat. It contains lycopene — an antioxidant also found in tomatoes — which is said to combat prostate cancer.

Also coming up is the Chilean wineberry, a miniature blueberry from Patagonia, with ‘three to four times more antioxidants than goji berries’.

Most of these fruits are sold dried or as juice — transporting fresh fruit raises costs. The nutrients will not be damaged if the drying is done carefully, but some, such as cranberries, are sprayed with sugar as part of the process.

Most juice versions of superfruits contain extra sugar in the form of concentrated apple or grape juice, which still allows them to claim ‘no added sugar’.

Still it seems that if eaten or drunk in moderation, none of the superfruits will do you any harm. But will they do you any good?

All the superfruits claim they contain a big dose of vitamin C, but the simple fact is that there are no diseases prevalent in Britain that have anything to do with vitamin C deficiency.

Many foods have vitamin C, including bread and jam, because acids containing it are often used as a preservative.

The skin of a medium-sized potato will give you 45 per cent of the daily recommended dose.

Taking extra vitamin C is not believed to do much good, despite the popular belief that it fends off colds and flu.

A review of 30 studies in 2007 concluded that the benefits of taking vitamin C supplements for such illnesses were not worth the expense.

Sioned Quirke, a senior dietitian for the NHS in Wales, says: ‘We often find that people who can afford to buy these products are following a healthy, balanced diet and do not need additions. And they are painfully expensive.’

She believes the poor and unhealthy are being taken advantage of, citing one patient spending £75 or more on food supplements in a health shop. These included dried superfruits and juices, which can cost as much as £20 a litre. ‘People are gullible, especially when they are desperate for a miracle cure. These shops prey on them. Some people will be living on crisps for the next week because they can’t afford a proper diet.’

So, is there anything in the superfruit claims?

The most interesting evidence is around polyphenols and bioflavonoids, found in large amounts in superfruits. These are forms of antioxidants, as is vitamin C.

Oxidation produces harmful agents called free radicals that are blamed for a host of problems, from the formation of cancers to ageing. Half of all Americans are said to take antioxidant supplements.

But though millions have been spent over two decades researching antioxidants, the science is still far from convincing.

Cancer experiments have shown positive results, but only in lab animals. The most impressive study of berries and disease — carried out by Harvard University on 93,000 women for 18 years — did find that those who ate three portions of strawberries and blueberries a week had 34 per cent less chance of having a heart attack than those who had one portion a month.

Researchers speculated antioxidants in the berries might play a role, but so might lifestyle. Women who rarely eat fruit are also less likely to take exercise.

One of Britain’s top toxicologists, Professor David Colquhoun, of University College, London, says that in the case of the antioxidant beta-carotene and vitamin E supplements, studies show these are more likely to raise your risk of dying early. A major review of studies in 2012 concluded there was not enough evidence to support people taking antioxidant supplements.

Professor Colquhoun told me he has never read any science on nutrition that has persuaded him to alter his already healthy diet.

His stark verdict is: ‘Antioxidants are useless, and some are dangerous.’

Government regulators agree their beneficial effects have not been proved. In Europe and the U.S., food safety agencies have moved to try to limit manufacturers’ claims — though with little effect, as any health food website will show.

Shops are more careful — Holland & Barrett, Britain’s largest health chain, stocks 114 products that contain antioxidants. But the store only says these ‘may help’ rather than claiming specific benefits.

Some say the best effect of superfruits may take place a long way from the bodies of those who buy them.

The fashion for goldenberries, a high-potassium, high-fibre fruit sold in Marks & Spencer, Whole Foods and Holland & Barrett, is bringing employment to poor farmers in the Andes. Growing coca for cocaine is the only other valuable crop.

‘All fruits are superfruits in their own way,’ says Sioned Quirke. ‘None is going to guide you to the Promised Land, but try to meet the five-a-day fruit and veg aim by eating a variety of whole fruits — not just juices, which often are just sugar and flavour — and you’ll begin to optimise your health.’


Front page to the original of this blog

Posts here by Dr. John Ray

I am pleased to report that when my son was a toddler, the first thing he learned to say was his McDonald's order.

SITE MOTTO: "Epidemiology is mostly bunk"

Where it is not bunk is when it shows that some treatment or influence has no effect on lifespan or disease incidence. It is as convincing as disproof as it is unconvincing as proof. Think about it. As Einstein said: No amount of experimentation can ever prove me right; a single experiment can prove me wrong.

Epidemiological studies are useful for hypothesis-generating or for hypothesis-testing of theories already examined in experimental work but they do not enable causative inferences by themselves

The standard of reasoning that one commonly finds in epidemiological journal articles is akin to the following false syllogism:
Chairs have legs
You have legs
So therefore you are a chair


1). A good example of an epidemiological disproof concerns the dreaded salt (NaCl). We are constantly told that we eat too much salt for good health and must cut back our consumption of it. Yet there is one nation that consumes huge amounts of salt. So do they all die young there? Quite the reverse: Japan has the world's highest concentration of centenarians. Taste Japan's favourite sauce -- soy sauce -- if you want to understand Japanese salt consumption. It's almost solid salt.

2). We need a daily salt intake to counter salt-loss through perspiration and the research shows that people on salt-restricted diets die SOONER. So the conventional wisdom is not only wrong. It is positively harmful

3). Table salt is a major source of iodine, which is why salt is normally "iodized" by official decree. Cutting back salt consumption runs the risk of iodine deficiency, with its huge adverse health impacts -- goiter, mental retardation etc. GIVE YOUR BABY PLENTY OF SALTY FOODS -- unless you want to turn it into a cretin

4). Our blood has roughly the same concentration of salt as sea-water so claims that the body cannot handle high levels of salt were always absurd

5). The latest academic study shows that LOW salt in your blood is most likely to lead to heart attacks. See JAMA. 2011;305(17):1777-1785. More here and here on similar findings

PEANUTS: There is a vaccination against peanut allergy -- peanuts themselves. Give peanut products (e.g. peanut butter -- or the original "Bamba" if you have Israeli contacts) to your baby as soon as it begins to take solid foods and that should immunize it for life. See here and here (scroll down). It's also possible (though as yet unexamined) that a mother who eats peanuts while she is lactating may confer some protection on her baby

THE SIDE-EFFECT MANIA. If a drug is shown to have troublesome side-effects, there are always calls for it to be banned or not authorized for use in the first place. But that is insane. ALL drugs have side effects. Even aspirin causes stomach bleeding, for instance -- and paracetamol (acetaminophen) can wreck your liver. If a drug has no side effects, it will have no main effects either. If you want a side-effect-free drug, take a homeopathic remedy. They're just water.

Although I am an atheist, I have never wavered from my view that the New Testament is the best guide to living and I still enjoy reading it. Here is what the apostle Paul says about vegetarians: "For one believeth that he may eat all things: another, who is weak, eateth herbs. Let not him that eateth despise him that eateth not; and let not him which eateth not judge him that eateth." (Romans 14: 2.3). What perfect advice! That is real tolerance: Very different from the dogmatism of the food freaks. Interesting that vegetarianism is such an old compulsion, though.

Even if we concede that getting fat shortens your life, what right has anybody got to question someone's decision to accept that tradeoff for themselves? Such a decision could be just one version of the old idea that it is best to have a short life but a merry one. Even the Bible is supportive of that thinking. See Ecclesiastes 8:15 and Isaiah 22: 13. To deny the right to make such a personal decision is plainly Fascistic.

Fatties actually SAVE the taxpayer money

Obesity does NOT causes diabetes. But insatiable eating is a prominent symptom of diabetes. So diabetes DOES cause obesity, which accounts for the correlation between the two things. The streets are full of fatties who don't have diabetes. How come? If conventional medical theory were correct we should be in the midst of an epidemic of diabetes. A recent high quality study has also found that fatties are LESS likely to die of diabetes

Elite people frequently express disapproval of red meat eating as a way of expressing their felt superiority to the ordinary people who eat it

IQ: Political correctness makes IQ generally unmentionable so it is rarely controlled for in epidemiological studies. This is extremely regrettable as it tends to vitiate findings that do not control for it. When it is examined, it is routinely found to have pervasive effects. We read, for instance, that "The mother's IQ was more highly predictive of breastfeeding status than were her race, education, age, poverty status, smoking, the home environment, or the child's birth weight or birth order". So political correctness can render otherwise interesting findings moot

That hallowed fish oil is strongly linked to increased incidence of colon cancer

The "magic" ingredient in fish oil is omega-3 fatty acids (n-3 LCPUFA in medical jargon). So how do you think the research finding following was reported? "No differences were seen in the overall percentage of infants with immunoglobulin E associated allergic disease between the n-3 LCPUFA and control groups. It was reported as SUPPORTING the benefits of Omeda-3! Belief in Omega-3 is simply a cult and, like most cults, is impervious to disproof. See also here.

"To kill an error is as good a service as, and sometimes better than, the establishing of a new truth or fact" -- Charles Darwin

"Most men die of their remedies, not of their diseases", said Moliere. That may no longer be true in general but there is still a lot of false medical "wisdom" around that does harm to various degrees -- the statin and antioxidant fads, for instance. And showing its falsity is rarely the problem. The problem is getting people -- medical researchers in particular -- to abandon their preconceptions

Bertrand Russell could have been talking about today's conventional dietary "wisdom" when he said: "The fact that an opinion has been widely held is no evidence whatever that it is not utterly absurd; indeed in view of the silliness of the majority of mankind, a widespread belief is more likely to be foolish than sensible.”

Eating lots of fruit and vegetables is NOT beneficial

The great and fraudulent scare about lead

Phthalates harmless

The challenge, as John Maynard Keynes knew, "lies not so much in developing new ideas as in escaping from old ones".

"Obesity" is 77% genetic. So trying to make fatties slim is punishing them for the way they were born. That sort of thing is furiously condemned in relation to homosexuals so why is it OK for fatties?


Some more problems with the "Obesity" war:

1). It tries to impose behavior change on everybody -- when most of those targeted are not obese and hence have no reason to change their behaviour. It is a form of punishing the innocent and the guilty alike. (It is also typical of Leftist thinking: Scorning the individual and capable of dealing with large groups only).

2). The longevity research all leads to the conclusion that it is people of MIDDLING weight who live longest -- not slim people. So the "epidemic" of obesity is in fact largely an "epidemic" of living longer.

3). It is total calorie intake that makes you fat -- not where you get your calories. Policies that attack only the source of the calories (e.g. "junk food") without addressing total calorie intake are hence pissing into the wind. People involuntarily deprived of their preferred calorie intake from one source are highly likely to seek and find their calories elsewhere.

4). So-called junk food is perfectly nutritious. A big Mac meal comprises meat, bread, salad and potatoes -- which is a mainstream Western diet. If that is bad then we are all in big trouble.

5). Food warriors demonize dietary fat. But Eskimos living on their traditional diet eat huge amounts of fat with no apparent ill-effects. At any given age they in fact have an exceptionally LOW incidence of cardiovascular disease. And the average home-cooked roast dinner has LOTS of fat. Will we ban roast dinners?

6). The foods restricted are often no more calorific than those permitted -- such as milk and fruit-juice drinks.

7). Tendency to weight is mostly genetic and is therefore not readily susceptible to voluntary behaviour change.

8). And when are we going to ban cheese? Cheese is a concentrated calorie bomb and has lots of that wicked animal fat in it too. Wouldn't we all be better off without it? And what about butter and margarine? They are just about pure fat. Surely they should be treated as contraband in kids' lunchboxes! [/sarcasm].

9). And how odd it is that we never hear of the huge American study which showed that women who eat lots of veggies have an INCREASED risk of stomach cancer? So the official recommendation to eat five lots of veggies every day might just be creating lots of cancer for the future! It's as plausible (i.e. not very) as all the other dietary "wisdom" we read about fat etc.

10). And will "this generation of Western children be the first in history to lead shorter lives than their parents did"? This is another anti-fat scare that emanates from a much-cited editorial in a prominent medical journal that said so. Yet this editorial offered no statistical basis for its opinion -- an opinion that flies directly in the face of the available evidence.

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

12. Fascism: "What we should be doing is monitoring children from birth so we can detect any deviations from the norm at an early stage and action can be taken". Who said that? Joe Stalin? Adolf Hitler? Orwell's "Big Brother"? The Spanish Inquisition? Generalissimo Francisco Franco Bahamonde? None of those. It was Dr Colin Waine, chairman of Britain's National Obesity Forum. What a fine fellow!


Trans fats: For one summary of the weak science behind the "trans-fat" hysteria, see here. Trans fats have only a temporary effect on blood chemistry and the evidence of lasting harm from them is dubious. By taking extreme groups in trans fats intake, some weak association with coronary heart disease has at times been shown in some sub-populations but extreme group studies are inherently at risk of confounding with other factors and are intrinsically of little interest to the average person.

The "antioxidant" religion: The experimental evidence is that antioxidants SHORTEN your life, if anything. Studies here and here and here and here and here and here and here and here, for instance. That they are of benefit is a great theory but it is one that has been coshed by reality plenty of times.

Controlling serum cholesterol does not of itself reduce cardiovascular disease. It may even in fact increase it

The absurdity of using self-report questionnaires as a diet record

PASSIVE SMOKING is unpleasant but does you no harm. See here and here and here and here and here and here and here

The medical consensus is often wrong. The best known wrongheaded medical orthodoxy is that stomach ulcers could not be caused by bacteria because the stomach is so acidic. Disproof of that view first appeared in 1875 (Yes. 1875) but the falsity of the view was not widely recognized until 1990. Only heroic efforts finally overturned the consensus and led to a cure for stomach ulcers. See here and here and here.

Contrary to the usual assertions, some big studies show that fat women get LESS breast cancer. See also here and here

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

Huge ($400 million) clinical trial shows that a low fat diet is useless . See also here and here

Dieticians are just modern-day witch-doctors. There is no undergirding in double-blind studies for their usual recommendations

The fragility of current medical wisdom: Would you believe that even Old Testament wisdom can sometimes trump medical wisdom? Note this quote: "Spiess discussed Swedish research on cardiac patients that compared Jehovah's Witnesses who refused blood transfusions to patients with similar disease progression during open-heart surgery. The research found those who refused transfusions had noticeably better survival rates.

Relying on the popular wisdom can certainly hurt you personally: "The scientific consensus of a quarter-century ago turned into the arthritic nightmare of today."

Medical wisdom can in fact fly in the face of the known facts. How often do we hear reverent praise for the Mediterranean diet? Yet both Australians and Japanese live longer than Greeks and Italians, despite having very different diets. The traditional Australian diet is in fact about as opposite to the Mediterranean diet as you can get. The reverence for the Mediterranean diet can only be understood therefore as some sort of Anglo-Saxon cultural cringe. It is quite brainless. Why are not the Australian and Japanese diets extolled if health is the matter at issue?

Since many of my posts here make severe criticisms of medical research, I should perhaps point out that I am also a severe critic of much research in my own field of psychology. See here and here

This is NOT an "alternative medicine" site. Perhaps the only (weak) excuse for the poorly substantiated claims that often appear in the medical literature is the even poorer level of substantiation offered in the "alternative" literature.

I used to teach social statistics in a major Australian university and I find medical statistics pretty obfuscatory. They seem uniformly designed to make mountains out of molehills. Many times in the academic literature I have excoriated my colleagues in psychology and sociology for going ga-ga over very weak correlations but what I find in the medical literature makes the findings in the social sciences look positively muscular. In fact, medical findings are almost never reported as correlations -- because to do so would exhibit how laughably trivial they generally are. If (say) 3 individuals in a thousand in a control group had some sort of an adverse outcome versus 4 out of a thousand in a group undergoing some treatment, the difference will be published in the medical literature with great excitement and intimations of its importance. In fact, of course, such small differences are almost certainly random noise and are in any rational calculus unimportant. And statistical significance is little help in determining the importance of a finding. Statistical significance simply tells you that the result was unlikely to be an effect of small sample size. But a statistically significant difference could have been due to any number of other randomly-present factors.

Even statistical correlations far stronger than anything found in medical research may disappear if more data is used. A remarkable example from Sociology: below:
"The modern literature on hate crimes began with a remarkable 1933 book by Arthur Raper titled The Tragedy of Lynching. Raper assembled data on the number of lynchings each year in the South and on the price of an acre's yield of cotton. He calculated the correlation coefficient between the two series at -0.532. In other words, when the economy was doing well, the number of lynchings was lower.... In 2001, Donald Green, Laurence McFalls, and Jennifer Smith published a paper that demolished the alleged connection between economic conditions and lynchings in Raper's data. Raper had the misfortune of stopping his analysis in 1929. After the Great Depression hit, the price of cotton plummeted and economic conditions deteriorated, yet lynchings continued to fall. The correlation disappeared altogether when more years of data were added."
So we must be sure to base our conclusions on ALL the data. But in medical research, data selectivity and the "overlooking" of discordant research findings is epidemic.

The Truth About Ancel Keys. Keys was a brilliant man but his concentration on heart disease misled him. He was right that high fat intake predicted high rates of heart disease (though it was ANIMAL fat in particular that was the "culprit") but he overlooked that the same intake predicted LESS mortality from other causes. The same narrow vision led him to be the earliest prominent advocate of the "Mediterranean diet" hypothesis. It's true that Mediterraneans have less heart disease but they have more of other causes of death, so that Mediterranean countries do not have particularly long lifespans when compared with other developed countries. If there are any lessons about diet to be learned from lifespans, it is un-Mediterranean countries like Australia and the Nordic countries that one should look to.

The intellectual Roman Emperor Marcus Aurelius (AD 121-180) could have been speaking of the prevailing health "wisdom" of today when he said: "The object in life is not to be on the side of the majority, but to escape finding oneself in the ranks of the insane."

The Federal Reference Manual on Scientific Evidence, Second Edition says (p. 384): "the threshold for concluding that an agent was more likely than not the cause of an individual's disease is a relative risk greater than 2.0." Very few of the studies criticized on this blog meet that criterion.

Improbable events do happen at random -- as mathematician John Brignell notes rather tartly:
"Consider, instead, my experiences in the village pub swindle. It is based on the weekly bonus ball in the National Lottery. It so happens that my birth date is 13, so that is the number I always choose. With a few occasional absences abroad I have paid my pound every week for a year and a half, but have never won. Some of my neighbours win frequently; one in three consecutive weeks. Furthermore, I always put in a pound for my wife for her birth date, which is 11. She has never won either. The probability of neither of these numbers coming up in that period is less than 5%, which for an epidemiologist is significant enough to publish a paper.

Kids are not shy anymore. They are "autistic". Autism is a real problem but the rise in its incidence seems likely to be the product of overdiagnosis -- the now common tendency to medicalize almost all problems.

One of the great pleasures in life is the first mouthful of cold beer on a hot day -- and the food Puritans can stick that wherever they like


"Tongue Tied"
"Dissecting Leftism" (Backup here)
"Australian Politics"
"Education Watch International"
"Political Correctness Watch"
"Greenie Watch"
"Food & Health Skeptic"
"Immigration Watch International" blog.


Coral Reef Compendium
"Marx & Engels in their own words"
"A scripture blog"
"Some memoirs"
To be continued ....
Queensland Police -- A barrel with lots of bad apples
Australian Police News
Of Interest


"Eye on Britain"
"Leftists as Elitists"
Socialized Medicine
Western Heart
QANTAS -- A dying octopus
BRIAN LEITER (Ladderman)
Obama Watch
Obama Watch (2)
Dissecting Leftism -- Large font site
Michael Darby
AGL -- A bumbling monster
Telstra/Bigpond follies
Optus bungling
Vodafrauds (vodafone)
Bank of Queensland blues

There are also two blogspot blogs which record what I think are my main recent articles here and here. Similar content can be more conveniently accessed via my subject-indexed list of short articles here or here (I rarely write long articles these days)

Main academic menu
Menu of recent writings
basic home page
Pictorial Home Page
Selected pictures from blogs (Backup here)
Another picture page (Best with broadband. Rarely updated)

Note: If the link to one of my articles is not working, the article concerned can generally be viewed by prefixing to the filename the following: