FOOD & HEALTH SKEPTIC ARCHIVE
Posts by Dr. John Ray, monitoring food and health news -- with particular attention to fads, fallacies and the "obesity" war
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A major cause of increasing obesity is certainly the campaign against it -- as dieting usually makes people FATTER. If there were any sincerity to the obesity warriors, they would ban all diet advertising and otherwise shut up about it. Re-authorizing now-banned school playground activities and school outings would help too. But it is so much easier to blame obesity on the evil "multinationals" than it is to blame it on your own restrictions on the natural activities of kids
NOTE: "No trial has ever demonstrated benefits from reducing dietary saturated fat".
A brief summary of the last 50 years' of research into diet: Everything you can possibly eat or drink is both bad and good for you
"Let me have men about me that are fat... Yond Cassius has a lean and hungry look ... such men are dangerous." -- Shakespeare
These kids are all "obese" according to Britain's moronic National Health Service
31 July, 2012
Teenager suffering from bizarre food disorder only eats chips and cheese and suffers panic attacks at the thought of fresh vegetables
Interesting that a severely limited diet for 8 years seems to have caused no harm aside from her being overweight. It shows how adaptible the human physiology is. Having NONE of the vaunted "5 a day" appears to have had no effect on anything
A teenager suffering from food phobia has had nothing but cheese and chips for eight years – because other food petrifies her.
Abi Stroud suffers panic attacks at the thought of eating fresh fruit and vegetables and even seeing someone peel a banana makes the 18-year-old heave.
The A-level student’s average weekly diet consists of three blocks of mature cheddar, three bags of frozen chips and three bags of bread – but only from the right brands.
Abi, from Newport, Wales, began refusing food aged ten and says she is so embarrassed by her phobia that she has never had a boyfriend.
The unusual condition, called Selective Eating Disorder (SED), means she has a phobia of almost all foods, leaving her scared of trying anything new and was once reduced to tears by a teacher who tried to tempt her to try a chicken nugget.
Abi said: ‘I'm living off chips and cheese and I hate it. I'm so embarrassed about it - I've never had a boyfriend because I'm worried about what he would think.
‘I never go out for dinner with friends or eat with other people because so I'm worried about being expected to eat something else.
Abi will only eat food prepared by her mother Debra, 42, but will extend to bread and chips from her local takeaway when her mother and father Russell, 42, are away.
As she is finishing her A-levels the prospect of University which looms come September is terrifying the teen. 'I'm going to uni in September and I really want to get help so I can enjoy myself and not have to think about chips and cheese.’
The student’s condition has been a part of her life for eight years and Abi believes it may be connected to her grandmother’s death with whom she was very close.
She said: ‘When I was 10 I stopped eating just about everything. I physically couldn't put something I didn't want into my mouth.
‘I don't remember when it happened but it was around the time my nana died and it could have had a psychological effect. ‘If someone asks me to try something else it makes my heart race. The smell hits me first, then the thought of the texture on my tongue.
‘Once on a school trip my teachers tried to get my to eat a chicken nugget and I burst into tears.
‘It's so embarrassing that I pretend to like things when I don't. If someone posts a picture of food on Facebook, I'll say it looks really good. But in reality I'd never touch it."
As well as chips and cheese, Abi makes chip butties using white bread - but only if it's the right brand.
She goes without breakfast, has a plate of chips and cheese for lunch then another for dinner with a chip butty to finish.
Her diet had a severe effect on her health. By the age of 16, Abi weighed 15 stone and went to the doctor to find out more about her phobia, but was dismissed.
She said: "The doctor said it was a phase I was going through and basically told me I needed to get over it or I would never have children and probably die young - I was devastated.’
However, instead of changing her diet and introducing healthier food, Abi started eating less to control her weight.
‘I cut down on the amount of chips and cheese I was eating because I still couldn't face changing my diet."
Last year Abi was referred to a specialist who diagnosed her with SED - and through diet and exercise she slimmed to 13 stone. She said: ‘Now I know it's not just me being a fussy eater I feel more confident. ‘I'm determined to try something new.'
Mayor Bloomberg pushing NYC hospitals to hide baby formula so more new moms will breast-feed
Like the good Leftist he is, a resort to coercion is a reflex for him
The nanny state is going after moms. Mayor Bloomberg is pushing hospitals to hide their baby formula behind locked doors so more new mothers will breast-feed.
Starting Sept. 3, the city will keep tabs on the number of bottles that participating hospitals stock and use — the most restrictive pro-breast-milk program in the nation.
Under the city Health Department’s voluntary Latch On NYC initiative, 27 of the city’s 40 hospitals have also agreed to give up swag bags sporting formula-company logos, toss out formula-branded tchotchkes like lanyards and mugs, and document a medical reason for every bottle that a newborn receives.
While breast-feeding activists applaud the move, bottle-feeding moms are bristling at the latest lactation lecture. “If they put pressure on me, I would get annoyed,” said Lynn Sidnam, a Staten Island mother of two formula-fed girls, ages 4 months and 9 years. “It’s for me to choose.”
Under Latch On NYC, new mothers who want formula won’t be denied it, but hospitals will keep infant formula in out-of-the-way secure storerooms or in locked boxes like those used to dispense and track medications. With each bottle a mother requests and receives, she’ll also get a talking-to. Staffers will explain why she should offer the breast instead.
“It’s the patient’s choice,” said Allison Walsh, of Beth Israel Medical Center. “But it’s our job to educate them on the best option.”
Lisa Paladino, of Staten Island University Hospital, said: “The key to getting more moms to breast-feed is making the formula less accessible. This way, the RN has to sign out the formula like any other medication. The nurse’s aide can’t just go grab another bottle.”
Some of the hospitals already operate under the formula lockdown.
“New York City is definitely ahead of the curve,” said Eileen DiFrisco, of NYU Langone Medical Center, where the breast-feeding rate has surged from 39 to 68 percent under the program.
Breast-feeding in the first weeks gives a baby a critical healthy start, many medical experts say. It helps the digestive system develop and protects the baby with the mother’s immunities. Nursing also helps the mother recover from childbirth.
But not everyone is convinced. “They make formula for a reason, and the FDA makes sure it’s safe,” said Roxanne Schmidt, whose 14-month-old twins were fed with formula from birth. “Locking it up is just wrong.”
30 July, 2012
Night shifts can raise risk of heart attacks and strokes by more than 40%
Ya gotta laugh. Shift workers had more heart attacks but were not more likely to die young! So shift work must be GOOD for some other things!
Shift work can dramatically increase the risk of heart attacks and strokes, warn researchers. A study of two million people found shift workers are almost 25 per cent more likely to suffer.
Night shift workers run the highest risk of 41 per cent, says a study published on the British Medical Journal website bmj.com.
People working shifts also have higher levels of unhealthy behaviours such as eating junk food, sleeping badly and not exercising, which are linked to heart problems. But researchers said they took this into account - and the excess risks remained.
The latest study is the biggest analysis of shift work and likelihood of vascular problems including heart attacks, strokes and angina.
Shift work has long been known to disrupt the body clock and be linked to high blood pressure, high cholesterol and diabetes, but the overall impact on cardiovascular health has been unclear.
A team of international researchers analysed the results of 34 studies involving 2,011,935 people to investigate whether shift work was associated with major vascular events.
Shift work was defined as evening shifts, irregular or unspecified shifts, mixed schedules, night shifts and rotating shifts, and the studies also contained day workers or the general population for comparison.
Altogether 17,359 had some kind of coronary event, 6,598 had heart attacks and 1,854 had ischaemic strokes caused by lack of blood to the brain. These events were more common among shift workers than other people.
Shift work was associated with a 23 per cent increased risk of heart attack, 24 per cent rise in coronary events and five per cent extra strokes.
These risks remained consistent even after adjusting for factors such as study quality, socioeconomic status and unhealthy behaviours in shift workers.
Night shifts were linked with the steepest increase in risk of 41 per cent for coronary events. However, shift work was not associated with increased death rates from any cause.
Daniel Hackam, Clinical Pharmacologist, Stroke Prevention & Atherosclerosis Research Centre (SPARC), London, Ontario, Canada, said the relative risks might appear modest, but millions of people do shift work which means the overall risks are high.
He said screening programmes could help identify and treat risk factors, such as high blood pressure and cholesterol levels.
‘Shift workers should be educated about cardiovascular symptoms in an effort to forestall or avert the earliest clinical manifestations of disease’ he added.
There has been mounting evidence that night shift working might boost cancer risk because of the disruption to the body clock and hormone production.
Previous research found a link between night shifts and increased risk of breast cancer in women.
In 2007 the International Agency for Research on Cancer concluded that shift work was ‘probably carcinogenic’.
Are statins good for asthma?
Admitted below is that the side-effects of statins may make the cure worse than the disease
Asthma sufferers may soon have a new weapon against their condition. A study suggests those taking the cholesterol-lowering drugs statins alongside inhaled corticosteroids are half as likely to require hospital attention.
Researchers at the University of Mississippi studied 479 patients on statins and inhaled corticosteroids, and 958 just taking corticosteroids.
At least one asthma-related hospitalisation was observed in 3.79 per cent of the first group, compared with 6.47 per cent of the second group. Those on statins were much less likely to go to A&E – 4.18 per cent compared with 9.08 per cent.
‘This is the most promising study yet,’ says consultant physician Dr Shahid Hamid, at Princess Royal University Hospital in Kent.
‘We know statins have uses beyond the treatment of heart conditions. 'They have anti-inflammatory properties, which means they have other – as yet mostly unexplored – purposes. Asthma is an inflammatory condition so there is clearly a link.’
He says doctors are aware patients admitted to hospital with pnuemonia have a better prognosis if given statins.
‘However, there has been controversy about taking statins for asthma and they may have unpleasant side effects.
‘It is still too soon to start prescribing statins as a matter of course. If you are on statins and have asthma, you must report any change in your condition,’ says Dr Hamid.
29 July, 2012
As I was critical of the HRT scare from the beginning, I am pleased to see this
It has been 10 years since an alarming US study found HRT increased a woman's risk of breast cancer, strokes and heart attack. But a decade later, medical professionals agree that those findings were flawed.
Doctors say the pharmaceutical industry has withdrawn from sale half of all the available therapies, while extreme product warnings are unnecessarily frightening and outdated.
But there is still confusion amongst women and GPs about the best treatment.
Gynaecologist Dr John Eden, head of the Sydney Menopause Centre at the Royal Hospital for Women, says the 2002 Women's Health Initiative Study in the US changed the lives of millions of women.
"It terrified women, there's no doubt about that, it was laced with fear," he said. "Probably the most dramatic example is that before Women's Health Initiative (WHI) I would hardly ever prescribe an anti-depressant, since WHI I've become an expert in anti-depressants, and that's because I see there's a small group of women, probably around one-in-eight, who have severe, intractable sweats and flushes day and night for the rest of their lives."
Margaret Miller is one of those with severe symptoms. "It was pretty uncomfortable. You're sitting in a meeting room, you might have 20 other people in that meeting and all of sudden you start - it looked like your head started to leak with water and it drips down your face; it is so embarrassing," she said.
The 56-year-old endured more than two years of this before turning to Hormone Replacement Therapy.
She was aware of the WHI study linking HRT with a higher risk of breast cancer but nothing else worked. "I was the stage where I would have taken a cyanide tablet. I didn't care as long as it stopped the sweats and this itching and this terrible feeling all the time that you weren't human," she said.
The US study saw women abandon HRT in droves but a decade on doctors say many did so unnecessarily, because the findings were flawed.
Dr Eden says the majority of participants were aged over 60, were not newly menopausal and would not normally be treated. In fact, for many women under 60, doctors say the benefits outweigh the risks.
Australasian Menopausal Society president Dr Jane Elliott says women should have had easier access to HRT. "I think a whole decade of women have missed out on the option of that treatment," she said. "It's not for everyone, it's not a panacea, but it certainly should be something where women at least feel they can consider it."
Dr Elliott says the options are now limited and the warnings on products are extreme.
"The problem is the actual number of TGA (Therapeutic Goods Administration) options has decreased in Australia," she said. "The number of PBS (Pharmaceutical Benefits Scheme) options has decreased in Australia and there are what's called black box warnings on HRT preparations that women read. They're really out date."
Dr Eden agrees. "We've lost almost half of our hormone therapies over the last decade and the pharmaceutical industry is quite open about it, they've withdrawn them because of business reasons, sales have gone down and that means we've got fewer choices now," he said.
And the bureaucrats don't care
A spokeswoman for the Therapeutic Goods Administration says the extreme warnings on HRT products are considered current.
She says the safety information would not change without a comprehensive review, which is normally initiated by an application from the sponsor of the product.
Science May Have Just Beaten Prostate Cancer
How do you know when your new cancer drug is working better than expected? When they shut down the clinical trial so that every participating patient can receive it.
Johnson & Johnson's Zytiga is kind of a big deal. The FDA approved its use last year for advanced prostate cancer patients who had already received chemo but whose cancer had still metastasized. Prostate cancer is typically treatable for the 200,000 American men who contract it annually, as long as it is caught before it spreads. Once it does, the cancer typically goes to bones where it becomes resistant to normal testosterone-blocking hormonal therapies. Zytiga, however, is a unique cancer-fighting compound that penetrates cancerous cells and shuts down its testosterone production—quickly killing off the damaged cells and preventing their spread. What's more, Zytiga remains effective after the cancer metastasizes and other drugs lose their punch.
What the new study from the UCSF Helen Diller Family Comprehensive Cancer Center—presented yesterday at the American Society of Clinical Oncology's annual meeting in Chicago—shows is that Zytiga can be prescribed much earlier in the disease's progression, specifically before metastasization, with incredible results.
1,088 prostate cancer patients in 12 countries participated in the trial. Each man received the standard low-dose prednisone treatment, with half also getting Zytiga and the other receiving a placebo. Researchers almost immediately discovered that, in the Zytiga group, the cancer progressed at only half the speed as the control group, with patients reporting significantly less pain and a noticeable delay before they had to undertake chemo. The results are so stupendous that the trial was cancelled to allow every patient access to the drug.
"After that first bottle, my pain went away and I just felt like my life was turning around," Rodolfo Chavez, 83, a former longshoreman from San Pedro told SFGate. "I'm still taking them. I'm on my 10th bottle and supposed to get another bottle today."
The FDA has yet to approve Zytiga for earlier use and won't do so until at least next year when the study's final results are published but this could be a beacon for late-stage prostate cancer patients who have otherwise run out of treatment options.
28 July, 2012
27 July, 2012
Amazing: A failure reported -- followed by a last minute save
"Negative" results are so rarely reported that my eyes nearly popped out when I saw the article immediately below. A big study into intake of calcium and vitamin D found that they had no beneficial effect at all!
But my cynicism returned when I saw the article immediately following it. The "failed" study was led by Alison Avenell and it seems that she was very disappointed by her results. So she called on a big Danish knight in statistical armour to rescue her.
The second study below rescues her hypothesis. But it does so only by rounding up a whole heap of previous studies and amalgamating their data into one big statistical blob comprising 70,528 people. Only then was he able to squeeze out some evidence in favour of Alison's hypothesis. The Abstracts from both studies are given below.
All I can say is that if you have to use 70,000 people to find some effect, it is a pretty weak effect and not one that anybody should bother about. Quite tiny relationships can be demonstrated as statistically significant on samples of as few as 200 people.
And there are many pitfalls in meta-analyses. The selection of which datasets to include is notoriously arbitrary, for instance
Long-Term Follow-Up for Mortality and Cancer in a Randomized Placebo-Controlled Trial of Vitamin D3 and/or Calcium (RECORD Trial)
By Alison Avenell et al.
Context: Vitamin D or calcium supplementation may have effects on vascular disease and cancer.
Objective: Our objective was to investigate whether vitamin D or calcium supplementation affects mortality, vascular disease, and cancer in older people.
Design and Setting: The study included long-term follow-up of participants in a two by two factorial, randomized controlled trial from 21 orthopedic centers in the United Kingdom.
Participants: Participants were 5292 people (85% women) aged at least 70 yr with previous low-trauma fracture.
Interventions: Participants were randomly allocated to daily vitamin D3 (800 IU), calcium (1000 mg), both, or placebo for 24–62 months, with a follow-up of 3 yr after intervention.
Main Outcome Measures: All-cause mortality, vascular disease mortality, cancer mortality, and cancer incidence were evaluated.
Results: In intention-to-treat analyses, mortality [hazard ratio (HR) = 0.93; 95% confidence interval (CI) = 0.85–1.02], vascular disease mortality (HR = 0.91; 95% CI = 0.79–1.05), cancer mortality (HR = 0.85; 95% CI = 0.68–1.06), and cancer incidence (HR = 1.07; 95% CI = 0.92–1.25) did not differ significantly between participants allocated vitamin D and those not. All-cause mortality (HR = 1.03; 95% CI = 0.94–1.13), vascular disease mortality (HR = 1.07; 95% CI = 0.92–1.24), cancer mortality (HR = 1.13; 95% CI = 0.91–1.40), and cancer incidence (HR = 1.06; 95% CI = 0.91–1.23) also did not differ significantly between participants allocated calcium and those not. In a post hoc statistical analysis adjusting for compliance, thus with fewer participants, trends for reduced mortality with vitamin D and increased mortality with calcium were accentuated, although all results remain nonsignificant.
Conclusions: Daily vitamin D or calcium supplementation did not affect mortality, vascular disease, cancer mortality, or cancer incidence.
But you can't keep true believers down
Vitamin D with Calcium Reduces Mortality: Patient Level Pooled Analysis of 70,528 Patients from Eight Major Vitamin D Trials
Lars Rejnmark, Alison Avenell, et al.
Introduction: Vitamin D may affect multiple health outcomes. If so, an effect on mortality is to be expected. Using pooled data from randomized controlled trials, we performed individual patient data (IPD) and trial level meta-analyses to assess mortality among participants randomized to either vitamin D alone or vitamin D with calcium.
Subjects and Methods: Through a systematic literature search, we identified 24 randomized controlled trials reporting data on mortality in which vitamin D was given either alone or with calcium. From a total of 13 trials with more than 1000 participants each, eight trials were included in our IPD analysis. Using a stratified Cox regression model, we calculated risk of death during 3 yr of treatment in an intention-to-treat analysis. Also, we performed a trial level meta-analysis including data from all studies.
Results: The IPD analysis yielded data on 70,528 randomized participants (86.8% females) with a median age of 70 (interquartile range, 62–77) yr. Vitamin D with or without calcium reduced mortality by 7% [hazard ratio, 0.93; 95% confidence interval (CI), 0.88–0.99]. However, vitamin D alone did not affect mortality, but risk of death was reduced if vitamin D was given with calcium (hazard ratio, 0.91; 95% CI, 0.84–0.98). The number needed to treat with vitamin D plus calcium for 3 yr to prevent one death was 151. Trial level meta-analysis (24 trials with 88,097 participants) showed similar results, i.e. mortality was reduced with vitamin D plus calcium (odds ratio, 0.94; 95% CI, 0.88–0.99), but not with vitamin D alone (odds ratio, 0.98; 95% CI, 0.91–1.06).
Conclusion: Vitamin D with calcium reduces mortality in the elderly, whereas available data do not support an effect of vitamin D alone.
26 July, 2012
Flame retardant risks overblown
Senator Frank Lautenberg (D-N.J.) and 25 members of Congress recently sent a letter to EPA Administrator Lisa Jackson urging quick action on regulations related to a class of flame retardant chemicals called polybrominated diphenyl ethers (PBDEs).
Supposedly, consumers are in grave danger from these chemicals, and EPA needs to act quickly. The lawmakers lament in their letter that the EPA “must undertake lengthy rulemaking processes” before regulating these chemicals.
We should be glad that EPA has to take time to consider the science because their actions may do more harm than good if they act too quickly.
In fact, there isn’t a compelling body of evidence that trace-level consumer exposures to these flame retardants have caused any health problems, whereas there is plenty evidence that they reduce dangerous fire risks.
A study by the American Council and Health shows that the hype about flame retardant risks could actually imperil public health. Author William P. Kucewicz explains:
Life-saving flame-retardant chemicals are under assault. Ignoring the vitally important role these compounds play in preventing or slowing fires, environmental activists advocate banning certain flame retardants on the grounds that biomonitoring studies have found trace amounts of the chemicals in humans, including in breast milk. They hope to get various governmental authorities in the U.S. and overseas to impose strict prohibitions on these flame-retardant chemicals.
At issue is a class of brominated flame retardants known as polybrominated diphenylethers (PBDEs). Within this group, three commercial mixtures of PBDEs are: penta-, octa-, and decaBDE. Each product is a mixture of diphenyl ethers with varying degrees of bromination. These particular PBDEs have widely and frequently been used as flame retardants in furniture foam (pentaBDE); plastics for TV cabinets, consumer electronics, wire insulation, and backcoatings for draperies and upholstery (decaBDE); and plastics for personal computers and small appliances (octaBDE). The chemicals increase valuable escape time in cases of fire by slowing both ignition and the rate of fire growth. (USEPA 2005a)
Efforts to ban these chemicals are deadly serious business. In the U.S., someone dies in a fire every two hours and ten minutes, and the vast majority (85 percent) of these non-firefighter, civilian deaths occur in home fires. The fire death rate is 14.8 persons for every one million Americans. (BFRIP 2002) In view of the public debate and regulatory reviews of PBDEs, a look at some flame-retardancy facts is in order.
Nevertheless, U.S. and European regulators have effectively banned two of the three most prominent PBDE flame retardants. An assortment of states, environmental groups, and foreign governments, moreover, is seeking to ban the third one (i.e., decaBDE) as well, even though there is no credible evidence that the chemical represents a danger to humans or the environment.
Numerous studies, in fact, have concluded that our exposure to the compound is minimal and does not pose an adverse health risk for people at expected exposures. Current evidence shows that the benefits of PBDE flame retardants, in terms of lives saved and injuries prevented, far outweigh any demonstrated or likely negative health effects from their use.
Cheese 'beats diabetes': Just two slices a day could reduce risk of developing the disease, study claims
The effect observed was a tiny one -- too small to guide anything
If you are trying to slim down, you may have crossed cheese off the menu. But scientists have discovered it may actually help prevent diabetes – an illness often triggered by being overweight.
They claim that eating just two slices of cheese a day cuts the risk of type 2 diabetes by 12 per cent. Researchers hypothesised that fermentation of cheese could trigger a reaction that protects against diabetes
The findings go against current health guidelines, which advise cutting back on dairy products and other high-fat foods to help prevent the illness.
British and Dutch researchers looked at the diets of 16,800 healthy adults and 12,400 patients with type 2 diabetes from eight European countries, including the UK. The study, published in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, found that those who ate at least 55g of cheese a day – around two slices – were 12 per cent less likely to develop type 2 diabetes. The risk fell by the same amount for those who ate 55g of yoghurt a day.
For years NHS guidelines have advised against eating too much dairy, cake or red meat as they are high in saturated fat. This is thought to increase cholesterol and raise the risk of diabetes.
But the researchers – including academics from the Medical Research Council, Cambridge – say not all saturated fats are as harmful as others, and some may even be beneficial. One theory is that the so-called ‘probiotic’ bacteria in cheese and yoghurt lower cholesterol and produce certain vitamins which prevent diabetes.
And cheese, milk and yoghurt are also high in vitamin D, calcium and magnesium, which may help protect against the condition.
Diabetes occurs when the body does not produce enough of the hormone insulin to control its blood sugar levels. Symptoms of type 2 diabetes include feeling very thirsty, needing to pass water frequently and constant tiredness.
Although the illness is treatable through methods such as dietary changes, tablets and injections, it can cause serious complications if not properly looked after.
But despite the latest findings, campaigners warned against gorging on cheese and other dairy products in the hope of warding off diabetes. Dr Iain Frame, director of research at the charity Diabetes UK, said: ‘It is too simplistic to concentrate on individual foods. ‘We recommend a healthy balanced diet, rich in fruit and vegetables and low in salt and fat.
‘This study gives us no reason to believe that people should change their dairy intake in an attempt to avoid the condition.’
25 July, 2012
Why growing up in a loving home boosts children's brains and makes them more intelligent
In general, the sequence is likely to be that smart kids tend to have loving parents. High IQ people tend to have a lot of life's pluses and better childcare would be one of them. And smart parents tend to have smart kids. The IQ is a cause, not a result
In the case of severe deprivation, as we see below, however, the stimulation of a good home could make a difference
A loving family helps a child's brain to grow and increases their intelligence and mental abilities, a study suggests.
Researchers found that children in care have less grey and white matter - the two components of the central nervous system - than those brought up in a typical home environment.
Children in foster families have normal levels of white matter, which relays messages in the brain, but less of the grey matter which contains nerve cells and controls muscles, memory, emotions and speech.
Scientists believe the findings could explain why children who spend time in care are statistically more likely to develop issues such as attention deficit hyperactivity disorder and mental health problems.
People who have been in care also have, on average, lower IQ and language skills than those who grew up in loving homes.
The differences in levels of grey and white matter is most likely to be due to varying levels of stimulation required for normal brain development, researchers said.
Many children in care have been exposed to deprivation and neglect, which could be linked to their lower levels of grey and white matter.
The improvement among those who were moved to foster families, however, indicates that it is possible to recover in terms of white matter, which affects learning ability.
The study team, led by researchers from Harvard University and Boston Children's Hospital, examined MRI scans from Romanian orphans aged between eight and 11, some of whom had been transferred to quality foster care homes.
It has published almost 50 research papers since the project began.
Reporting their latest findings in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, the reesearchers wrote: 'In most forms of institutional rearing, the ratio of caregivers to children is low, care is highly regimented and caregiver investment in children is low.
'One of the most likely explanations for the wide range of developmental problems observed among children exposed to institutional rearing is that the deprived environment of an institution does not provide adequate experience on which to scaffold normal brain development.'
One of the study's authors, Dr Charles Nelson, a developmental neuroscientist in Boston, said the findings suggested that there was a sensitive period in the first two years of a child's life, when foster care has the greatest impact on their progress.
'The younger a child is when placed in foster care, the better,' he added.
Aspirin 'can reduce the risk of throat cancer' by targeting cells known to be high risk factor
There have been widespread findings of cancer prevention via aspirin so this may be a goer. Anybody using aspirin daily should however get themselves checked for helicobacter pylori -- as aspirin interacts with helicobacter pylori to cause stomach irritation
Aspirin can reduce the risk of throat cancer, according to a new study.
Aspirin is already known to help stave off a host of diseases, including arthritis, heart disease and strokes, and now researchers say it can reduce the risk of oesophageal cancer.
Last year, 7,610 people in the UK died from oesophageal cancer and in 2009, 8,161 people were diagnosed with the incurable disease.
But researchers say taking aspirin can reduce the risk of Barrett’s esophagus (BE), a condition which affects the cells in the throat and which is the largest known risk factor for oesophageal cancer.
The incidence of oesophageal cancer has been increasing at an alarming rate, with current attempts at targeted screening focusing on identifying BE.
Previous studies have found nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs), particularly aspirin, have been associated with lower death rates for oesophageal cancer.
Although research has analysed NSAID and aspirin chemoprevention for oesophageal cancer or BE progression, few have explored whether the drugs can prevent BE.
Researchers analysed characteristics of 434 patients for factors that might be used in screening and management, discovering those taking aspirin were 44 per cent less likely to have BE.
Results in the Clinical Gastroenterology and Hepatology study also showed men were more than three times more likely to develop the condition than women.
The researchers warn people should not start taking high doses of aspirin to prevent throat cancer, but say further research is being done to see if aspirin should be a considered treatment.
Dr Chin Hur, of the the Massachusetts General Hospital Institute for Technology Assessment, said: 'The protective effect of aspirin use appears robust because the analyses suggests a dose-response relationship in which high-dose aspirin was significantly associated with decreased Barrett’s esophagus risk.
'It would not be advisable at this time for patients to start taking aspirin, particularly at higher doses, if preventing Barrett’s esophagus is the only goal.
'However, if additional data confirms our findings and an individual at high risk for development of Barrett’s esophagus and oesophageal cancer also could derive additional benefits, most notably cardiovascular, aspirin could be a consideration.'
24 July, 2012
Fructose is good for you
This will send the fanatically anti-fructose Robert Lustig into a spin
A new study by researchers at St. Michael's Hospital suggests that fructose may not be as bad for us as previously thought and that it may even provide some benefit.
"Over the last decade, there have been connections made between fructose intake and rates of obesity," said Dr. John Sievenpiper, a senior author of the study. "However, this research suggests that the problem is likely one of overconsumption, not fructose."
The study reviewed 18 trials with 209 participants who had Type 1 and 2 diabetes and found fructose significantly improved their blood sugar control. The improvement was equivalent to what can be achieved with an oral antidiabetic drug.
Even more promising, Dr. Sievenpiper said, is that the researchers saw benefit even without adverse effects on body weight, blood pressure, uric acid (gout) or cholesterol.
Fructose, which is naturally found in fruit, vegetables and honey, is a simple sugar that together with glucose forms sucrose, the basis of table sugar. It is also found in high-fructose corn syrup, the most common sweetener in commercially prepared foods.
In all the trials they reviewed, participants were fed diets where fructose was incorporated or sprinkled on to test foods such as cereals or coffee. The diets with fructose had the same amount of calories as the ones without.
"Attention needs to go back where it belongs, which is on the concept of moderation," said Adrian Cozma, the lead author of the paper and a research assistant with Dr. Sievenpiper.
"We're seeing that there may be benefit if fructose wasn't being consumed in such large amounts," Cozma said. "All negative attention on fructose-related harm draws further away from the issue of eating too many calories."
Traffic light labelling on foods 'could help cut stomach cancers linked to salt'
WCRF are just publicity-hungry panic mongers. They offer no proof of their assertion. But note that one of the world's most long-lived populations -- the Japanese -- consume huge amounts of salt. So even if salt does cause stomach cancer it may have protective effects elsewhere
Food labelling must be improved to cut the number of stomach cancers linked to salt, experts have warned. One in seven cases of stomach cancer in the UK could be avoided by reducing salt intake to recommended levels, research suggests.
Too much salt can promote cancer by damaging the stomach lining, and Britons consume an average of 8.6 grams each a day - 43 per cent higher than the maximum recommended amount.
The World Cancer Research Fund is calling for a standardised form of colour-coded 'traffic light' labelling on foods, which it says would help consumers to better control the amount of salt, sugar and fat they take.
The charity is recommending green labels for foods low in salt (less than 0.3g per 100g), amber for medium content (between 0.3g and 1.5g per 100g), and red for high salt levels (more than 1.5g per 100g).
Kate Mendoza, head of information at the charity, said: 'Stomach cancer is difficult to treat successfully because most cases are not caught until the disease is well established.
'This places even greater emphasis on making lifestyle choices to prevent the disease occurring in the first place - such as cutting down on salt intake and eating more fruit and vegetables.'
Ms Mendoza added: 'Because around three-quarters of the salt we consume is already in processed food when we buy it, WCRF would like to see traffic light labelling on the front of food and drink packaging to give clear guidance on the levels of salt as well as sugar, fat and saturated fat.
'Standardised labelling among retailers and manufacturers - rather than the different voluntary systems currently in place - would help consumers make better informed and healthy choices.'
Each year in the UK around 7,500 new cases of stomach cancer are diagnosed and almost 5,000 people die from the disease. Cutting salt intake to six grams a day could prevent 1,050 of these cases, according to the WCRF.
Excess salt is also linked to high blood pressure, the main cause of strokes and a significant cause of heart disease, as well as osteoporosis and kidney disease.
A Department of Health spokesman said: 'We already know too much salt can lead to conditions such as heart disease and stroke. 'That is why we are taking action through the Responsibility Deal to help reduce the salt in peoples' diets.
'And we are looking at clearer salt labelling on foods as part of our consultation on front of pack labelling. 'We keep these findings under review alongside other emerging research in the field.'
23 July, 2012
Don’t buy into Britain's supermarket spying
Lib-Con plans to ‘nudge’ us into making healthier shopping decisions exposes how anti-democratic nudge theory is
Not content with already nannying and nudging us in various ways, and using sin taxes to regulate our consumption habits, Britain’s Lib-Con coalition government is now pursuing another policy of paternalism. It is aiming to gain access to the shopping habits of 25million people through the information saved on their supermarket loyalty cards, such as the Sainsbury’s Nectar card or Tesco Club Cards. That way, it can work out where we’re going ‘wrong’ in terms of what we buy and eat, and nudge us in the ‘right’ direction.
Supermarkets keep a complete record of all our purchases if we use a club card. But that information was traditionally only used to aim store promotions at customers, based on their previous purchasing habits. Now, prime minister David Cameron says he backs the idea that such information should be used to try to nudge people towards making better, healthier choices. Other senior Tories, however, including health secretary Andrew Lansley, are worried that this all adds up to government snooping.
By getting a glimpse into what people buy from the supermarket, right down to the last rasher of bacon and can of Carlsberg, the government hopes to devise ways to make our weekly shop healthier. People will be targeted with specific health advice. So presumably, those who purchase a case of Stella [beer] on a Friday evening will be subtly alerted to the dangers of alcohol and kindly asked to refrain from drinking too much, while those who regularly purchase white bread will be asked to consider the wholemeal option. Parents might also be chastised if their supermarket shop suggests they aren’t providing their children with a ‘balanced diet’.
An O-word, named after a certain Eric Arthur Blair, comes to mind. The idea of a government agency poring over the public’s shopping habits, and then suggesting healthier options, is a strange and paternalistic one. It assumes the public are too stupid to decide for themselves what to buy and eat. In the government’s eyes, the only reason someone’s Tesco Club Card might show up a lot of beer-buying is because that person is oblivious to the health implications of drinking, and therefore needs a friendly ‘nudge’ in the right direction. It couldn’t possibly be that, despite knowing about the relationship between alcohol and health, he has decided to get pissed nonetheless.
It should come as no surprise that this latest attempt to change people’s choices comes from the Cabinet Office’s Behavioural Insight Team (BIT). BIT, commonly known as the Nudge Unit, was set up two years ago to utilise behavioural economics theory to ‘nudge’ people into making what are considered to be the correct lifestyle choices. The Nudge Unit’s purpose is to find ways to ‘encourage, support and enable people to make better choices for themselves’ – though what qualifies these policy wonks to know what the ‘better choices’ are is unclear.
The Nudge Unit believes that small nudges and external stimuli can encourage people to become healthier. This means it hopes to change the way we perceive and see the world around us, and how we interact with it, too. To the Nudge Unit, the public are a bit like Pavlov’s dogs – ring a bell, provide some new stimulation to the brain, and everyone will unconsciously start salivating at the mouth to make new and improved eating, drinking and lifestyle choices.
The central idea is that people can’t be trusted to make decisions on their own, and so the government must get stuck into our day-to-day lives. But if the average person can’t be trusted to know what the right choice is, why is the Behavioural Insight Team any different? How is it that these people know what the right choices are? Perhaps they view themselves as an enlightened elite who must lord it over the feeble-minded masses, gently nudging us in the right direction, like shepherds herding the sheeple to the land of correct thinking.
This elite mindset is antithetical to democracy. The idea of democracy is that people are able to decide for themselves how to live their lives and also what the future of their society should look like. That is, democracy is, or should be, based on the idea that people know what is in their own best interests. And so we have the right to elect people who we believe will shape society as we would like it to be shaped. The ideas of the Nudge Unit negate this basic principle of democracy; in fact, they call into question the very idea of democracy, which can’t really exist if people are seen as incapable of making good decisions even in the supermarket aisles, never mind the voting booth.
The idea that the government knows what is best for us redefines the democratic relationship, the relationship between free citizens and those who govern. Rather than being viewed as active and conscious agents who should get to say what society should look like, we are turned into a mass to be manipulated by officials who believe they know best what we should look like. Elected politicians are turned from representatives of the demos into shepherds overlooking their fickle flock.
Being overweight does not increase risk of death
An evaluation of national data by UC Davis researchers has found that extra weight is not necessarily linked with a higher risk of death.
When compared to those with normal weight, people who were overweight or obese had no increased risk of death during a follow-up period of six years. People who were severely obese did have a higher risk, but only if they also had diabetes or hypertension.
The findings, which appear in the July-August issue of The Journal of American Board of Family Medicine, call into question previous studies -- using data collected when obesity was less common -- linking higher short-term mortality with any amount of extra weight.
"There is currently a widespread belief that any degree of overweight or obesity increases the risk of death, however our findings suggest this may not be the case," said Anthony Jerant, professor of family and community medicine and lead author of the study. "In the six-year timeframe of our evaluation, we found that only severe obesity was associated with an increased risk of death, due to co-occurring diabetes and hypertension."
Based on the study, Jerant recommends that doctors' conversations with patients who are overweight or obese, but not severely obese, focus on the known negative effects of these conditions on mental and physical functioning, rather than on an increased short-term risk of death.
By contrast, Jerant added that it is important for doctors to talk with severely obese patients who also have diabetes or hypertension about their increased short-term mortality risk and treatment, including weight loss.
"Our results do not mean that being overweight or obese is not a threat to individual or public health," said Jerant. "These conditions can have a significant impact on quality of life, and for this reason alone weight loss may be advisable."
In conducting the study, Jerant used nationwide data from 2000 to 2005 of nearly 51,000 adults aged 18 to 90 years who participated in the Medical Expenditure Panel Surveys on health-care utilization and costs. The surveys include information on health conditions such as diabetes and hypertension.
Body mass index (BMI), or weight adjusted for height, was calculated for each respondent. The study categorized people as underweight (BMI < 20), normal weight (BMI 20 to < 25), overweight (BMI 25 to < 30), obese (BMI 30 to 35) or severely obese (BMI > 35).
Mortality was assessed using the National Death Index. Of the 50,994 people included in the UC Davis analysis, just over 3 percent (1,683) died during the six years of follow-up.
The investigators found that severely obese people were 1.26 times more likely to die during follow-up than people in the normal weight group. However, if people with diabetes or hypertension were eliminated from the data, those who were overweight, obese or even severely obese had similar or even lower death rates than people of normal weight. Consistent with a number of prior studies, underweight people were nearly twice as likely to die than people with normal weight, regardless of whether diabetes or hypertension was present.
The prevalence of overweight and obesity has increased dramatically in recent decades. An estimated one-third of all U.S. adults over age 20 are obese and another one-third are overweight. In addition to diabetes and hypertension, health problems associated with these conditions include heart disease, osteoarthritis and sleep apnea.
The relationship between weight and mortality is a controversial topic in public health. Although studies based on data collected 30 years ago showed that mortality risk rose as weight increased, analyses of more recently collected data, including the current one, call this assumption into question.
"Our findings indicate that the risk of having an above-normal BMI may be lower than in the past," said Jerant. "While this study cannot explain the reasons, it is possible that as overweight and obesity have become more common, physicians have become more aware of associated health issues like high blood pressure, cholesterol and blood sugar, and are more aggressive about early detection and treatment of these conditions."
Jerant said that the six-year period of his investigation limits the ability to make assumptions about the link between unhealthy weight and the risk of death over a longer timeframe.
"We hope our findings will trigger studies that re-examine the relationship of being overweight or obese with long-term mortality," said Jerant.
22 July, 2012
Drinking alcohol? That’s not normal!
Attempts by anti-drinking killjoys to ‘denormalise’ an everyday activity are getting ever more patronising
Yet more health recommendations have been issued by the self-appointed guardians of ‘public health’, this time in an attempt to stave off Britain’s supposedly toxic drinking culture. The new proposals hope to change people’s attitudes by ‘denormalising’ alcohol consumption, but they really just end up treating adults like children.
The killjoys at the UK Faculty of Public Health are suggesting that the government compels alcohol producers to label their products with ‘graphic’ warnings of the dangers linked to alcohol, such as cancer and violence. Meanwhile, NHS Cumbria has put forward proposals to force retailers to create separate tills for the sale of alcohol.
These proposals are a clear attempt to denormalise the widely enjoyed consumption of alcohol by ostracising drinkers. Through the segregation of alcohol from food, great irritation will be caused to the public, as well as making alcohol some kind of unique and separate product. This replicates the practice of forcing supermarkets to sell tobacco at a specific till. It is an attempt to stop alcohol being seen as a usual component of people’s general consumption habits, with the implication that drinking is a dirty habit.
The message would be: ‘Go queue for your booze over there, drunkard, this queue’s for us decent folk buying Vitamin Water and fruit.’ No longer would people be able to select which bottle of red wine to purchase alongside their other food stuffs, or pick up some Cobra beers for the curry they’re also buying, or include a case of Budweiser when planning a barbecue. Unless, of course, they wish to queue up twice. The implication is palpable: such drinking habits aren’t normal.
Including a graphic warning on alcohol bottles and cans is another means to denormalise alcohol, especially the warnings about alcohol causing violence. It is true that some people can get a bit aggressive after a drink, but the vast majority don’t. The attempt to label bottles of beer in such a way is to portray people that drink as prone to throwing their fists around. Thankfully, most people do like a drink and usually refrain from punch-ups, so the proposed demonisation campaign will be seen for the nonsense it is.
These proposals, and the anti-drinking campaign in general, take a rather dismal view of the public. By trying to separate alcohol purchases from food and soft drinks, supporters claim they are trying to stop drinkers ‘buying it on impulse’ and succumbing to temptation. This is a patronising view of people as impulsive children who are likely to see a bottle of wine and want it without thinking. It suggests consumers are as blissfully ignorant as Adam in the Garden of Eden, destined to be led astray by the snake-like ease of purchasing the forbidden fruit of alcohol. Luckily, the modern-day temperance movement, in the form of ‘public health’, will help him resist these temptations.
The plan to label alcohol bottles with health warnings also suggests that people don’t already know the potential risks associated with drinking. It’s common to hear people, after a few nights of heavy drinking, make references to their liver taking a hit, or that it ‘needs to recover’. Although people may not know the exact science behind alcohol and liver disease, they know that alcohol can cause you liver problems, but they just chose to drink anyway. Yet the guardians of public health can’t seem to grasp this basic fact that people know alcohol can cause health issues; they would rather take away the risks and enjoy themselves.
Through the guise of public health, these attempts at changing people’s alcohol consumption habits are an invasion of the private sphere. The consumption, or level of consumption, of a legal product should be no business of the state. People should be trusted to decide for themselves how much alcohol to consume. State legislation, outside of outright prohibition, cannot change people’s drinking habits, nor should it attempt to. The ‘correct’ amount for each person to drink is specific to each person. An impersonal army of bureaucrats can’t gauge how much is too much for every individual. If someone actually is drinking excessively, family and friends are best suited to identify this – and it’s a lot easier for them to help, too. Someone drinking themselves to death is more likely to listen to the appeals of those close to them, rather than some faceless public-health group or a hectoring health minister.
It is not surprising that the means by which the fun-free anti-drinking campaigners attempt to achieve their goals is patronising and treats people like children. That’s because the end to which they strive toward is equally patronising. Attempting to regulate people’s alcohol consumption is to treat adults like children. The government and the anti-drink campaigners view themselves in the same way as a parent, with the adult population being the not-quite-knowledgeable-enough teenager who needs decisions on their alcohol intake imposed by the wiser state-approved authority figure. Thanks, but we’re quite capable of making those judgements for ourselves.
Junk food companies and lack of playgrounds behind obesity crisis, Australian academic says
There is no such thing as "junk" food. A big Mac meal comprises meat, bread, salad and potato. If that is bad we are all in the poo. And the best evidence is that demand levels of fat, salt and sugar are harmless. Too little salt can in fact kill you (Google hyponatremia if you doubt it)
FAT people are not to blame for being overweight, a top Melbourne academic claims.
Dr Samantha Thomas, who spoke at the annual Castan Centre for Human Rights Law Conference in Melbourne, said the war on obesity was failing because society put too much emphasis on personal responsibility.
"Obesity rates are still increasing because we put all the responsibility on the individual, but are completely reluctant to tackle the corporations that are part of the cause - the junk food companies, the soft drink companies, even the town planners who design new suburbs with no backyards or playgrounds," Dr Thomas said.
Dr Thomas, a senior research fellow at the Monash University School of Marketing, said more should be done to prevent obesity, rather than simply telling people to lose weight.
"It is easy to say 'I do the right thing, why don't they?', but for some people, for a variety of reasons, it is very hard to make the right decisions. We really need to create a healthy environment to help people do that," she said.
Dr Thomas said the anti-obesity fight should be similar to the war on smoking, with big tobacco companies blamed rather than individuals labelled weak or lazy.
"With the anti-smoking movement, we realised that tobacco was being heavily marketed at adolescents and we were disgusted," she said. "Junk food is heavily marketed at children and adolescents but, instead of trying to stop that, we just put all the responsibility on parents."
Dr Thomas said more than 60 per cent of the population was overweight or obese, so the situation affected more people than many would admit.
But YMCA Victoria spokesman Stephen Bendle said while environment did play a role in health, people needed to learn to make the right choices themselves.
"The YMCA encourages people to take responsibility for their weight and, just as importantly, for their overall health and wellbeing," Mr Bendle said.
21 July, 2012
20 July, 2012
Eating oily fish regularly ‘can significantly cut risk of prostate death’
This only shows that people who SAY they eat a lot of fish do better. It is a long way from a double blind trial. And it's a data dredging finding anyway. Of the many dietary factors examined, one could show up as significant by chance alone
A diet rich in oily fish can significantly improve prostate cancer victims’ chances of surviving the disease, research shows.
The findings in the American Journal of Epidemiology revealed sufferers who regularly ate the highest amounts of omega-3 fish oil were between 34 and 40 per cent less likely to die from the disease, which kills 10,000 men every year in the UK.
The long-term study at the Harvard School of Public Health in Boston also found the patients who consumed the highest amounts of saturated fats were twice as likely to die from their tumour as those who ate smaller amounts.
The US scientists tracked 525 men who had an average age of 70 and signed up to the study in 1989. By last year, 222 had died from prostate cancer and 268 from other causes.
To see exactly how different types of fat affect survival, scientists at the Harvard School of Public Health in Boston, USA, tracked 525 men from Orebro County in Sweden who had signed up to a long-term study back in 1989 after being diagnosed with prostate cancer.
At the time, the men, who had an average age of 70, were quizzed on their dietary habits, including consumption of different types of fats. For the next 20 years, all the men were followed up to monitor survival rates.
The results showed that, by March 2011, 222 of the men had died from prostate cancer and 268 from other causes. When the researchers compared the causes of death with dietary habits they found the men who regularly ate fish with high oil content were between 34 and 40 per cent less likely to have died from their prostate cancer.
In a report on their findings the researchers said diet appears to have a powerful effect on tumours that are in the early stages of development. ‘Fish consumption may have a modest protective effect on prostate cancer risk and progression, as well as disease-specific mortality.
‘These results suggest early stage tumours may be more responsive to dietary factors and that diet may influence prognosis following a diagnosis of early stage prostate cancer.’
Last year’s study, carried out at the University of California at Los Angeles, found fish oil reduced the number of rapidly dividing cells in the prostate cancer tissue, potentially reducing the chances of the disease spreading to other parts of the body.
Tea acts as antidote for deadly poisons, including ricin
This appears to be a study in laboratory glassware only. It may not work in practice
Scientists believe a simple cup of tea could be a secret weapon to fight terrorism. A chemical in tea can deactivate ricin - a highly-toxic ingredient in deadly terrorist attacks.
Professor Les Baillie said: ‘We already knew that tea had the ability to inhibit anthrax - as long as it is black tea with no milk.
‘Our new findings suggest that if the security services want to counter the threat of ricin, they may find the answer in their morning cup of tea.’
Since the First World War ricin has had a gruesome reputation as a bioweapon. Even a tiny amount can kill a person within two to three days after getting into the bloodstream.
And it comes from the humble castor oil bean, a powerful laxative, used medicinally for centuries, that is available in many health food shops and online.
Academics at Cardiff University’s School of Pharmacy and Pharmaceutical Sciences discovered the use for chemical polyphenol called Epigallocatechin gallate - a principal property of tea.
It inactivated ricin - a highly-toxic substance used in scores of attempted terrorist attacks.
Ricin is used in an arsenal of terrorist weapons, and has already been at the centre of a number of attempted terrorist attacks in the US. It was famously used to kill Bulgarian dissident writer Georgi Markov as he waited for a bus on Waterloo Bridge in London.
Markov was injected with ricin using a poison-tipped umbrella by a suspected KGB agent.
The new discovery follows on from research done by Cardiff scientists which showed tea has an unexpected array of talents outside the morning cuppa.
A team showed chemicals in English breakfast tea - known as polyphenols - were able to kill bacillus anthracis, the organism which causes anthrax and was used in the 2001 US anthrax mail attacks.
Prof Baillie said: ‘These toxins, such as ricin, have been shown to have been used by nasty people, and nasty countries, to do nasty things.
‘With a number of overseas guests arriving in the UK for the Olympics, we think this research could encourage them to drink tea - our national drink - but also naturally encourage their resistance to potentially damaging toxins.’
19 July, 2012
All over 50s 'should be offered polypill': Four-in-one drug could extend life by 11 years and prevent thousands of strokes and heart attacks
This is just faith-healing. There is no demonstrated effect on lifespan or disease incidence
A four-in-one pill to slash the risk of heart disease should be made available for all over-50s, a leading doctor said yesterday.
Professor Sir Nicholas Wald claimed that if just half of those over 50 took the ‘polypill’, which contains a cholesterol-busting statin and a trio of blood pressure drugs, then almost 100,000 heart attacks and strokes would be prevented each year.
Sir Nicholas, who developed antenatal screening for Down’s syndrome and linked passive smoking with lung cancer, said the drug could be approved for use over the counter in the UK in as little as a year and cost less than £1 a day. ‘The net benefits are too large to ignore,’ he added.
The professor, of Queen Mary, University of London, made the recommendation after a study showed taking the tablet every day for 12 weeks gave those in their fifties, sixties and seventies the blood pressure and cholesterol levels of twentysomethings.
Researchers gave the polypill to 84 men and women aged between 51 and 77. They were chosen on the basis of age alone, and not because tests showed they were at a particularly high risk of heart problems.
After taking the tablet for three months, their blood pressure fell by an average of 12 per cent and ‘bad cholesterol’ by 39 per cent, the journal PLoS ONE reports. This gave the participants readings more usually seen in someone decades younger.
It is estimated that if everyone over 50 took the tablet, two in three heart attacks and strokes could be prevented.
Sir Nicholas – a polypill patent-holder – would like the drugs to be prescribed based on age alone.
Rather than going to a GP’s surgery for a series of tests, people would speak to their pharmacist who would ask their age and what medication they are taking before giving them the drug.
Despite concerns that this would lead to many apparently healthy people taking powerful medication, he said: ‘It is specifically designed for healthy people to keep them healthy.
'It is like taking anti-malarials if you are going to Africa – you take them in order to reduce your chance of contracting the disease.’
Dr David Wald, Sir Nicholas’s son and the study’s lead researcher, added: ‘This has the potential to have a massive impact in reducing a person’s risk of a heart attack or stroke. 'It is a pill to prevent people from becoming patients and from dying from two of the most common causes of death in the world.’
The polypill tested by the team, developed by Indian firm Cipla, contains low doses of three blood pressure drugs: amlodipine, losartan and hydrochlorothiazide.
It also contains simvastatin, one of the most widely-used statins. Others in development around the world also include aspirin and folic acid.
Polypill advocates say it is easier to remember one tablet than several drugs to be taken at different times.
But Duncan Dymond, a consultant cardiologist at St Bartholomew’s Hospital in central London, described mass prescription based on age alone as ‘absolutely ridiculous’.
‘When you spray crops, you hope that some of the crops you hit are actually going to need dusting, and accept the fact that you are going to miss some of the crops that will need dusting – and also spray crops that are perfectly healthy. And that is what we will do with this,’ he said.
Natasha Stewart, of the British Heart Foundation, described the research as encouraging, but warned: ‘Medicines are not a substitute for living a healthy lifestyle.’
Australians eating the "wrong" foods?
I don't know what business it is of anybody but the eaters -- and the fact that Australians have one of the world's longest lifespans is not addressed
SOARING obesity rates, falling fruit and vegetable intake and a fast-food industry cashing in on an appetite for fatty foods - Australians seem to be gluttons for punishment.
A damning government report on nutrition and dietary habits said more than 60 per cent of adults and almost a quarter of children aged 2-16 are either overweight or obese.
It's leading to serious health problems such as heart disease and diabetes, costing more than $8 billion a year in health care and lost productivity.
But it's little wonder our waistlines are growing, with almost 30 per cent of the average household food budget spent on fast food and eating out.
The Australian Institute of Health and Welfare report found the average family spent more each week on alcohol than meat, fruit and vegetables.
Even when families buy healthy food, much of it ends up in the bin -- with an average $600 worth of food thrown out annually per household.
Of an estimated total $5 billion worth of food disposed of annually, $1.1 billion was fruit and vegetables.
AIHW spokeswoman Lisa McGlynn said more than 90 per cent of adults did not eat the recommended five serves of vegetables each day -- and half did not eat enough fruit.
"The good news in all this is that we know the state we're in and we know what we can do about it," she said.
"We can all start with small changes like just having a couple of extra pieces of fruit or serves of vegetables."
Newcastle family day-carer Robinanne Lavelle said she often saw parents packing their children's lunch-boxes with processed foods, sandwiches smothered in chocolate spread and lollies.
"We're in a society where we have a lot more money than we did a few decades ago and children are often becoming the ones who choose these products," she said.
"I believe working parents who are short on time might not want the hassle while they are out at the shops so they will buy something just because the children want it."
According to the report, lower income earners, Aborigines and Torres Strait Islanders were most at risk from poor diet and obesity. With healthy food costing up to 30 per cent more for people living in rural and remote regions, they too were at increased risk.
Dietitians Association of Australia spokesman Dr Trent Watson called for a fundamental change in the way authorities tackled the problem, with more funding for prevention.
"Unless we start shaping our health care system to target these determinants of health as an absolute priority, we're going to be in an unsustainable position," he said.
18 July, 2012
How a third of gastric surgery patients put ALL the weight back on
More evidence of the futility of the war on "obesity"
Seventeen firefighters and ambulance staff were needed to carry a 40st woman from her home to an ambulance in Croydon, it was reported last week. At one point, it was thought a window would need to be removed to get the woman out. And a firefighter later told reporters: ‘We are finding we are getting more of these calls.’
Another day in overweight Britain, where one in four adults is now officially obese. The cost to the NHS of treating diabetes — often triggered by excess weight — is a staggering £1.5 million an hour, while experts warn our children may be the first generation to die at an earlier age than their parents.
In the ten years since bariatric (weight loss) surgery was first recommended as a last resort for obesity by government watchdog NICE, the number of operations has increased tenfold.
Eight thousand procedures were carried out in England alone on the NHS last year, most of them either a gastric band — in which a silicone band is fitted around the stomach to make it smaller — or a gastric bypass, where a small pouch is created at the top of the stomach and connected to the small intestine, bypassing the rest of the stomach and bowel.
The aim is to reduce appetite and speed up feelings of fullness — to transform the patient from someone who eats too much into one who simply cannot. Results are often impressive, especially the first post-op months, as the weight falls off.
Surgery can also dramatically reduce the risk of health problems such as heart disease, high blood pressure and type 2 diabetes.
Each operation costs the NHS £3,000 to £10,000, but a study by the Office of Health Economics in 2010 reported that it pays for itself within a year in reduced prescriptions and GP time, and benefit payments.
As obesity rates continue to rise — by 2050 it’s expected that half of all British adults will be clinically obese — many experts are keen to see more people offered surgery.
In April this year, Scottish doctors warned that unless more gastric operations are performed, the costs of treating diabetes and its complications will ‘bankrupt’ the NHS. But now evidence is emerging that this very modern approach to losing weight may not be the panacea it was hoped to be.
A worrying proportion of patients fail to keep the weight off long term, largely because although their stomachs have physically shrunk their addiction to food remains.
In fact, 63 per cent of patients put weight back on within two years of their operation, according to one Brazilian study of 782 patients. Meanwhile, a German review of studies on weight-loss surgery found 30 per cent of patients regained their lost weight between 18 and 36 months.
As a result, growing numbers of patients are requesting a second operation. In a Dutch study of patients who’d had gastric banding, a third needed the operation redone after five years and half after ten years.
‘You must realise this is not the final answer most of the time,’ lead researcher Dr Edo Aarts says.
Most hospitals in the UK now carry out gastric bypasses rather than banding, as these have been shown to be more effective long term.
‘A percentage of patients will not do well,’ says Guy Slater, a bariatric surgeon at St Richard’s Hospital in Chichester. ‘And it’s very hard to predict, because there are so many physiological and psychological variables involved.
‘That’s one of the problems with this type of surgery — and also what makes it so different from any other.’
When weight-loss surgery fails it is not only extremely distressing for the patient, but means they are still at risk of all the health problems linked with obesity, such as joint damage, diabetes, heart disease and stroke.
‘They can become a burden to the NHS again, because either they have revision surgery or need procedures like knee ops because they are overweight again,’ says Jane Ogden, professor of health psychology at the University of Surrey. ‘Weight-loss surgery is cost effective but only if it works.’
Meanwhile, results for a second operation are poor, with a higher risk of complications and death, says Mr Slater, who also practises privately for Streamline Surgical, agrees. ‘I try to avoid it at all costs. I’m always much more nervous doing it the second time than the first time.’
So what’s going wrong?
Crucial to the success of bariatric surgery is that the patient is mentally prepared for the vigorous diet plan they’ll need to stick to for the rest of their lives. Their stomach will only cope with small side-dish size portions.
However, it is possible to stretch the newly reduced stomach by eating a little more each time. So experts agree patients need psychological screening before surgery, to ensure they have the willpower to resist the old temptations. And then, if necessary, they will need aftercare with dietitians and specialists to keep them on track.
‘In the first year, or two years, after the surgery, you feel like you’re walking on air. But three or four years on is a very different thing,’ says Bianca Scollen, of the support group Weight Loss Surgery Info (she herself had surgery eight years ago).
‘In a way, losing the weight is the easy part, it’s changing your lifestyle and keeping it off that’s hard.’
Some people find the sight of their new, slimmer shape is enough to keep them motivated, but for others it’s not so easy.
‘Hunger isn’t just a biological process — it can be about feeling fed up and wanting comfort, or feeling bored,’ says Professor Ogden. ‘Unless patients have changed their attitude towards food, they end up cheating — grazing, or drinking lots of water so their stomach can manage more food.’
Guy Slater agrees. ‘We get rid of the physical hunger, but some people have an emotional hunger that is less easy to get rid of,’ he says.
Under NICE guidelines, NHS patients must receive a psychological assessment before being approved for surgery, as well as regular aftercare appointments. But provision is patchy, because of waiting times for psychologists on the NHS.
‘All our patients have a psychological assessment, and we turn down around one in eight of them, because we don’t feel they’re ready for it,’ says Mr Slater. ‘But this doesn’t always happen elsewhere.
‘We try to spot the people who are going to need the psychological support after their operation and try to get their GP to put a programme in place, but it’s very difficult with funding.’ It’s also vital that patients are properly prepared for the realities of life after surgery. Most patients will be left with large folds of excess skin that’s vulnerable to infection.
Some suffer depression as a result of the dramatic transformation to their body and the effect it has on their relationships, lifestyle and sense of identity.
Another risk is ‘transfer addiction’ — where, denied food, patients develop other dependencies, such as gambling and alcohol.
The NHS will only offer the surgery to those with a Body Mass Index (BMI) of 40 or above (or 35 and above if you also have a serious health condition such as type 2 diabetes or high blood pressure).
An estimated one million Britons qualify on the basis of their BMI but as a result of growing NHS waiting lists more people are going private.
One company, BMI Healthcare, has seen a 20 per cent year-on-year increase in requests.
But private providers don’t have to provide any psychological support and, often, patients are just given the option to pay extra for it.
Some providers also don’t offer sufficient aftercare, vital to protect against weight regain and, because of the risk of complications such as infections, vomiting, gastric bands that slip or leak and intestinal blockages.
The number of negligence claims against independent bariatric surgeons doubled in the two years between 2008 and 2010, according to the Medical Defence Union, the doctors’ insurers.
Common complaints included failure to obtain consent from the patient about the risks involved.
Bariatric surgery is often seen as the easy solution to a growing problem — but it won’t work unless the patient changes their mind, as well as their body.
Diabetes drug costing just 2p could beat prostate cancer by shrinking tumours
A diabetes drug costing as little as 2p a tablet could offer a major breakthrough in the treatment of prostate cancer.
Research has shown that the medicine, called metformin, causes tumours to shrink by slowing the rate at which cancerous cells grow.
If the results are confirmed in bigger trials, it raises the possibility that men could be given the cheap, readily available drug as soon as they are diagnosed.
Nearly 40,000 cases of prostate cancer are diagnosed every year in the UK and 10,000 men die from it – the equivalent of more than one an hour.
The risks of developing a tumour increase with age, and there is a strong genetic element to the disease.
Metformin is widely used on the NHS to treat patients with type 2 diabetes.
But recent studies highlighting the drug’s effects against a variety of tumours have generated considerable excitement among cancer researchers looking for powerful new treatments.
Last year, scientists discovered it could slash the risk of ovarian cancer by around 40 per cent.
And Cancer Research UK is currently funding a major five-year study, involving early 5,000 British women with breast cancer, to see if the drug will stop the disease returning and boost survival rates.
Other research teams around the world are investigating metformin’s powers against skin, lung and pancreatic cancer, with promising early results.
In the latest breakthrough, doctors at the Princess Margaret Hospital in Toronto, Canada, tested the drug on 22 men after they noticed that it stunted prostate cancer cell growth in laboratory experiments.
All of the men had been diagnosed with tumours and were due to undergo surgery to have their prostates removed.
For six weeks before their operation, each one took 500mg of metformin three times a day, during which time researchers measured the rate at which the tumour cells multiplied.
The results, presented at the recent American Association for Cancer Research annual meeting in Chicago, showed malignant cells grew at a significantly slower rate once the men were put on the drug, suggesting metformin might be able to keep tumours under control.
The findings support a 2009 study which found that men taking metformin every day to control their diabetes were up to 44 per cent less likely to develop prostate cancer.
Dr Anthony Joshua, a cancer specialist who carried out the latest study, said: ‘We compared what the prostate cancer looked like when it was first diagnosed to what it looked like when it was removed.
‘And although these are preliminary results, it appeared to reduce the growth rate of prostate cancer in a proportion of men.’
Metformin works by reducing the amount of glucose produced by the liver and helping cells mop up sugar that is circulating in the bloodstream, preventing damage from excessive blood sugar levels.
At about £30 per patient per year – or just 6p to 8p a day – it could be a highly cost-effective way to tackle prostate tumours.
Eleanor Barrie, Cancer Research UK’s senior science information officer, said: ‘Larger trials will tell us more in the next few years.’
17 July, 2012
Life's a beach: Living near the coast is healthier than living inland, researchers say
Living by the sea is generally esteemed so it is the wealthier members of any given community who will get the limited real estate available by the sea. And the richer you are, the healthier you generally are. So this is a wealth effect not an effect of the sea
Not only do we like to be beside the seaside, but it seems it may actually be good for us. Those who live near the coast tend to be healthier than those who set up home further inland, according to a study.
Scientists analysed data from the 2001 census and compared how healthy respondents said they were with how close they lived to the sea.
The researchers from the European Centre for Environment and Human Health – part of the Peninsula College of Medicine at the University of Exeter – concluded that, on average, the closer we live to the sea, the more likely we are to report good health.
The analysis also showed that the link between living near the coast and good health was strongest in the most economically deprived communities.
Study lead author Dr Ben Wheeler said: 'We know that people usually have a good time when they go to the beach, but there is strikingly little evidence of how spending time at the coast can affect health and well-being.
'By analysing data for the whole population, our research suggests that there is a positive effect, although this type of study cannot prove cause and effect.'
Researchers looked at the proportion of people who reported their health as being 'good', rather than 'fairly good' or 'not good' and then compared this with how close those respondents lived to the coastline.
They also took into account the way that age, sex and a range of social and economic factors, like education and income, vary across the country.
The results show that, on average, populations living by the sea report rates of good health more than similar populations living inland.
Previous research from the Devon-based academics had shown that the coastal environment also provided significant benefits in terms of stress reduction.
Researchers said one reason those living in coastal communities may attain better physical health could be due to the stress relief offered by spending time near the sea.
Dr Wheeler added: 'We need to carry out more sophisticated studies to try to unravel the reasons that may explain the relationship we're seeing.
'If the evidence is there, it might help to provide governments with the guidance necessary to wisely and sustainably use our valuable coasts to help improve the health of the whole UK population.'
Three glasses of wine a week could reduce chance of arthritis by half
The old merry-go-round. Alcohol is good for you one day and bad the next. They actually say that nobody knows the effect of heavy drinking below, which is some relief from the usual dogmatism
The next time someone offers you a glass of wine, be grateful - it could save you from the agony of arthritis. Women who indulge in moderate drinking halve the risk of certain forms of the illness, researchers have found.
Swedish academics found that women who drank at least three medium-sized glasses of wine a week - or the equivalent in beer or spirits - were up to 52 per cent less likely to develop rheumatoid arthritis.
Around 400,000 Britons are affected by this type of arthritis and the majority are women, aged 40 to 70. It causes pain and swelling in the hands, wrists and feet and can make everyday tasks almost impossible.
Currently doctors are unable to prevent or cure the illness and they can only offer treatment to alleviate pain. The illness is caused by the body's own immune system - which normally fights infection - attacking the cells lining the joints.
Scientists believe that alcohol can counter this process because it lowers the body's immune response. But they have not been able to establish whether drinking more alcohol reduces the risk even further.
In this latest study, scientist from the Karolinska Institute in Stockholm studied 34,100 women aged 39 to 84. They had all filled in surveys on how often they had drunk wine, spirits or beer over the course of a year
Those who drank at least three 150 ml glasses of wine, one pint of beer or two measures of spirits over a week were 52 per cent less at risk from rheumatoid arthritis.
Daniela Di Guiseppe, a PhD student who contributed to the research said: `The results of this study indicate that moderate consumption of alcohol may reduce the risk of developing rheumatoid arthritis among women.'
`These results are in accordance with the inverse association between moderate alcohol consumption and risk of cardiovascular disease and add to the evidence that moderate alcohol consumption is not harmful and can be protective against such a chronic disease as rheumatoid arthritis.
`However, the effect of higher doses of alcohol on the risk of rheumatoid arthritis remains unknown.'
Professor Alan Silman, medical research director of Arthritis Research UK said: `Small amounts of alcohol are also known to be beneficial in reducing the risk of other conditions such as heart disease, also an inflammatory disease, so the study is also telling us something about the mechanism of inflammation.
`However, it's important to stress that the paper isn't saying that excessive amounts of alcohol are good for you.
`And it must be remembered that drinking alcohol in excess can be especially dangerous in rheumatoid arthritis patients who are taking some anti-rheumatoid drugs that may cause liver damage, and anti-inflammatory painkillers which can lead to gastro-intestinal problems, which can be exacerbated by alcohol.'
This latest study will add to the debate over whether alcohol is healthy - and if so, how much we should drink.
For years scientists have claimed that drinking small amounts every day may help prevent heart attacks and strokes. But recently Oxford academics cast doubt on this evidence by urging the public not to drink any more than three glasses of wine a week.
16 July, 2012
Breastfeeding your baby for six months will 'keep you slim in later life'
Breastfeeding is mainly a middle class thing these days and middle class people tend to be slimmer anyway so saying that breastfeeding CAUSES slimness is very myopic
Many mothers have long believed that breastfeeding helps them to get their figure back after giving birth. Now scientists have found it can help them to stay slim for decades. They discovered that women who breastfed their babies even for a few months after the birth were less likely to be obese 30 years later.
The Oxford University researchers worked out that for every six months a woman gives her baby breast milk, she loses around 2lb - depending on her initial weight and height.
Although this may not sound much, the academics claim that it could help prevent thousands of deaths from cancer, heart problems and other illnesses related to obesity.
Doctors and midwives are growing increasingly concerned that many women are becoming obese by gaining weight during pregnancy, which they never manage to shift after the birth.
Oxford University researchers worked out that for every six months a woman gives her baby breast milk, she loses around 2lb - depending on her initial weight and height
If they go on to have several children, they will become progressively fatter with every pregnancy.
The latest study - involving more than 740,000 women - provides compelling evidence that breastfeeding could help reverse this weight gain, and then help women keep the weight off for good.
Breastfeeding uses up large amounts of energy and experts have previously calculated it burns 500 calories a day - the same as a typical gym session.
Now academics have worked out that for every six months a woman breastfeeds her baby, her body mass index - the measurement of obesity - falls by 1 per cent. An average woman who is 5ft 6ins tall and weighs 11st 1lb would have a BMI measurement of 25, which is classified as overweight.
But if her BMI was to fall by 1 per cent it would be about 24.75 - which is deemed `healthy' - and she would weigh 10st 13lb.
The lead author of the paper, Dr Kirsty Bobrow, from Oxford University, said: `We already know breastfeeding is best for babies, and this study adds to a growing body of evidence that the benefits extend to the mother as well - even 30 years after she's given birth.
`Pregnant women should be made aware of these benefits to help them make an informed choice about infant feeding.' The researchers also point out that breastfeeding may help prevent thousands of deaths related to obesity from cancer, heart disease and diabetes.
Professor Dame Valerie Beral, director of the Cancer Epidemiology Unit at Oxford University, who was also involved in the study, said: `Our research suggests that just six months of breastfeeding by UK women could reduce their risk of obesity in later life.
`A 1 per cent reduction in BMI may seem small, but spread across the population of the UK that could mean about 10,000 fewer premature deaths per decade from obesity-related conditions, such as diabetes, heart disease and some cancers.'
The study, published in the International Journal of Obesity, surveyed 740,600 women whose average age was 57. They had all answered questions about how many children they had and the total number of months they had spent breastfeeding.
The research also found that women were more likely to be obese if they had several children.
This backs up the concerns of health professionals that many gain weight during pregnancy which they don't lose after the birth of their babies.
According to the latest figures from the Department of Health, almost three quarters of new mothers start their babies off on breast milk.
This is far higher than the six in ten who breastfed in the 1990s and the rise follows numerous `breast is best' campaigns.
The World Health Organisation recommends that women breastfeed their babies for at least six months but many give up because they find it uncomfortable or are worried that their babies are struggling to get enough milk.[
Poisonous advice from the "environmental working group"
by Angela Logomasini
Here we go again. The Environmental Working Group (EWG) has issued its 2012 Shopping Guide to Pesticides in Produce — which is the eighth edition to unfairly demonize healthy fruits and vegetables. EWG issues these reports annually using data from the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) and the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) that actually show the opposite of what the greens claim: pesticide residues are so minute that they pose little to no health risks to U.S. consumers.
In fact, USDA explains its findings in a May 2012 press statement: “Similar to previous years, the 2010 report shows that overall pesticide residues found on foods tested are at levels well below the tolerances set by the EPA. The report does show that residues exceeding the tolerance were detected in 0.25 percent of the samples tested. For baby food –included for the first time in this report – the data showed that no residues were found that exceeded the tolerance levels.”
In other words, this report showed that 99.75 percent of samples tested contained residues well below EPA’s “safe level.” Wow, that’s an impressive success rate! It’s a very strong indicator that U.S. consumers have nothing to fear from trace pesticides on their food.
What about the 0.25 percent that had levels above EPA standards? Consumers need not fear even those. Such slight exceedances have no public health impact because EPA standards are exceedingly stringent so that even a child could be exposed at levels thousands of times higher without ill effect.
However, by discouraging the consumption of healthy foods like apples, celery, and blueberries, EWG may contribute to increased cancer and other health risks!
For more information, see my op-ed that addressed their 2009 guide.
15 July, 2012
Breastfeeding linked to nut allergies
The best prevention of nut allergy is introduction to it early in life. As it is palatable and soft, it seems probable that peanut butter is widely used by mothers who are trying to get the infant off breastfeeding. So their babies build up better immunity. So the causation is probably very different from what is suggested below. It is probably TOO LITTLE exposure to peanut products that disadvantages breast-fed children
BABIES who are solely breastfed for the first six months of life are more likely to develop a nut allergy than those introduced earlier to food, an Australian study shows.
The study investigated the link between breastfeeding and nut allergies in children starting primary school in the ACT.
It found the risk of developing a nut allergy was one-and-a-half times higher in children who were only breastfed in their first six months.
But children fed food and fluids other than breastmilk were protected against nut allergies, the Australian National University study found.
"Our results contribute to the argument that breast feeding alone does not appear to be protective against nut allergy in children," said the ANU Medical School's Professor of General Practice, Marjan Kljakovic. "It may, in fact, be causative of allergy," he said.
"Over time, health authorities recommendations for infant feeding habits have changed, recommending complementary foods such as solids and formula be introduced later in life.
"Despite breast feeding being recommended as the sole source of nutrition in the first six months of life, an increasing number of studies have implicated breast feeding as a cause of the increasing trend in nut allergy.
"Peanut allergy accounts for two-thirds of all fatal food-induced allergic reactions.
"It is important for us to understand how feeding practices might be playing a part," he said.
Prof Kljakovic said about 3.9 per cent of children starting school in the ACT had a nut allergy - almost twice the rate of British children of the same age.
The research was published in the International Journal of Pediatrics.
'I can't serve you. You're pregnant"
I think the lady discriminated against should sue. People are surely entitled to take the best scientific advice available
Dining with a friend in California last month, a member of popular parenting website BabyCenter was aghast when a waitress refused to serve her alcohol because she was pregnant.
"My friend ordered a glass of wine and before the server walked off, I said I would like one as well," she wrote. "She said she can't serve me. I said, 'My OB says a glass of wine in moderation is ok.' She replied that she has heard that before and still refused to serve me. I was flabbergasted, embarrassed and downright p*ssed. I ate my meal with my friend and decided not to make a scene. When I got home that night I looked up the law. Essentially she violated my civil rights, and discriminated against me."
The incident set comment feeds afire, with impassioned arguments from both sides of the great moral divide as to whether restaurants have the right to refuse service and, indeed, if one should indulge in even the occasional tipple while pregnant.
The hotly debated post was published the same day the findings of a Danish study on the effects of low and moderate drinking in early pregnancy were made available. In the research, doctors from Aarhus University Hospital and the Institute of Public Health, Medical Psychology Unit at the University of Copenhagen, Denmark, looked at the incidence of adverse neuropsychological effects among five-year-olds whose mothers were recruited from the Danish National Birth Cohort during their first antenatal visit - with 1628 women taking part.
Defining lower levels of alcohol consumption as one-to-four drinks per week, moderate as five-to-eight and high levels as nine or more, and classifying binge drinking as five or more drinks in one sitting, researchers found that low-to-moderate weekly drinking in early pregnancy had no significant impact on IQ, attention span, or executive functions such as planning, organisation and self-control. They also discovered that high levels of alcohol were associated with lower attention span.
However, the study authors stress that the amount of alcohol in a standard drink varies significantly from country to country and conclude that the most conservative advice for women is to abstain from alcohol during pregnancy.
"High prenatal exposure to alcohol has consistently been associated with adverse effects on neurodevelopment. Areas such as intelligence, attention and executive functions have been found to be particularly vulnerable. However, less is known about the effects of low to moderate, weekly average consumption levels and binge drinking," said co-authors Ulrik Schioler Kesmodel and Erik Lykke Mortensen. "Our findings show that low to moderate drinking is not associated with adverse effects on the children aged five. However, despite these findings, additional large scale studies should be undertaken to further investigate the possible effects."
Professor Elizabeth Elliott, faculty member of Paediatrics and Child Health at The University of Sydney and Children's Hospital, Westmead, counters the findings by saying that foetal alcohol spectrum disorders such as birth defects, brain and organ damage and problems with development, growth and learning are well recognised and associated with differing levels of alcohol exposure during pregnancy. She adds that it's impossible to set a "safe" level of drinking and warns that research suggesting otherwise could easily be misconstrued by a lay audience.
"We have to be very careful and the media has to be careful of these issues that are potentially harmful. If you've got someone who does drink during pregnancy they will be reassured with that sort of message and they'll think, 'Oh, that's fine. I can keep going,'" she said. "One of the problems that women tell us is that they get mixed messages. They get messages that it's okay, not okay, one drink can hurt them, binge drinking is the only thing that hurts them. What we are saying is that the safest option - as the National Health and Medical Research Council and Department of Health and Ageing propose in their guidelines - is that women avoid alcohol during the period of pregnancy and when planning a pregnancy."
Currently pregnant with her first child, Ellen Adele has decided to abstain from drinking but says even that draws a reaction. Recalling a recent dinner with a room full of doctors, she says they expressed surprise at her decision and suggested that the no alcohol rule is more to deter people from drinking excessively than anything else. However, it's a theory she's unwilling to try out.
"I've heard that the guidelines are purposefully strict to deter problem drinkers, rather than prevent all alcohol consumption, but I don't want to make any decisions that might result in my baby being born with an abnormally small head," she said. "Everything you read says there is not enough evidence about safe levels of alcohol consumption during pregnancy, and as such it's not a risk I'm prepared to take."
Beyond abnormal facial features and other visually evident birth defects, Vicki Russell, National Project Co-ordinator of The National Organisation for Foetal Alcohol Syndrome and Related Disorders, says the true extent of foetal alcohol exposure can take years to establish.
"Determination of any adverse impact on a child probably cannot be qualified until the child is five-to-six years or more in age. Learning and memory cannot be easily assessed in very young children," she said. "It affects the individual in very unique ways and will continue to affect each person across their lifespan, not just in infancy or childhood."
Laura Pulini isn't worried. Never a heavy drinker, the proud mum of one-year-old Isaac admits to having the odd glass of wine throughout her pregnancy after seeing friends and family members do the same without consequence. Usually ordering a "watered down" drink such as a shandy or wine spritzer, she never felt judged for her decision and reports being readily served in restaurants.
"I would definitely be taken aback if someone felt the right to comment on my choice to enjoy the occasional drink throughout my pregnancy," she said. "However I think if I was regularly getting intoxicated and drinking at a level that was unsafe then I would think it is more acceptable to step in and say something."
Adele agrees that while drinking in moderation while pregnant is a personal choice people are entitled to scientifically based opinions on pregnant women's behaviour and should intervene if it looks like they're going to harm themselves or their unborn child.
"From what I know about pregnant ladies, none of us take this business lightly," she said. "My own super-high level of neuroticism seems quite standard across my cohort and as such I would assume that any woman I saw drinking probably only has one drink a month, and has researched the risks completely. Those women who drink like they're unencumbered, however, deserve the full wrath of the pregnancy police."
14 July, 2012
13 July, 2012
Lead paint rule all wet
If you are planning home renovations, expect to pay extra if you live in an older home. A federal court has ruled that a U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) rule related to lead paint applies to all homes built before 1978 — without exceptions. That means regulatory costs will be passed on to homeowners, even where lead paint poses little-to-no health threats.
Lead paint can be an issue for children under six years old that are chronically exposed to relatively high levels of peeling paint and related dust. Health impacts range from lead poisoning in severe cases to modest impacts on learning ability. Risks exist largely in older homes that are not properly maintained, often in low-income neighborhoods where residents cannot afford proper repairs and upkeep. Lead paint does not pose the same problem for people over the age of six.
Fortunately, the problem has diminished over the past several decades. Since 1997, the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) reports that the number of children with elevated lead blood levels found in their surveillance samples has declined from 7.61% to 0.83% by 2008.
Nonetheless, a 2008 EPA rule requires that those contracted to perform home remodeling and repairs must take an eight-hour course and gain certification before they can work on homes that might contain lead paint. Before beginning a project, remodelers must also test for lead paint in these older homes in the areas they plan to work. If lead paint is present, the contractor must implement “lead free-work practices,” as defined by the regulation. According to EPA, these practices are designed to contain the work area to minimize dust, and ensure thorough cleanup.
Originally, the rule allowed homeowners who did not have children six years of age and younger, or pregnant women living in the home, to opt out of lead-safe work practices because the risks of lead in those cases are negligible. But the Obama EPA eliminated that provision in 2010. According to EPA estimates, elimination of the opt-out rule increased regulatory costs by more than $500 million in the first year, by more than $300 million in the second year, and by more than $200 million in the following years.
The National Association of Home Builders (NAHB) opposed the elimination of the op-out option rule and argued its case before the D.C. Circuit Court, but the court has recently ruled the law valid. The only hope for change now lies with Congress. Senator James Inhofe (R-Okla.) and Rep. John Sullivan (R-Okla.) both have introduced legislation to restore the op-out provisions (H.R. 5911 and S. 2148).
The Obama regulation’s cost is “substantial,” says NAHB, because it
increases the cost of the rule without providing a corresponding benefit. … NAHB is concerned that home owners will turn to unlicensed contractors, decide to do the project themselves, or defer maintenance instead of paying the additional $2,400 our members estimate is added to the cost of every project subject to the regulation.
An article in The Fiscal Times  detailed the impact on one small business in Ohio:The new rule’s detailed compliance requirements, related paperwork, and purchases of EPA required equipment added thousands of dollars to the cost of doing business and made it much harder for her [owner Kathy Faia] to compete for remodeling contracts. Business has dropped off by more than two thirds, and she had to lay off one of her workers. ‘I’m just barely hanging on,’ she says. ‘They [the EPA] are over-regulating and sucking all of the fun out of the remodeling business.’
Requiring homeowners without any children in their home to comply with the lead-paint rule does nothing to address lead-paint problems and likely provides zero health benefits. It does make it difficult for many small businesses to survive. And ironically, regulations that make remodeling more expensive could exacerbate the cases where health risks exist by discouraging repairs that would otherwise reduce lead-paint-based risks.
Big people don’t need Big Government
Blaming obesity on food sellers implies only regulations can save us
The public health community has gone whole hog in placing blame for obesity on our "obesogenic" environment that steers us toward overeating and exercising too little. "Obesogenic" is the fancy term for something – like, say, that burger or hot dog you're planning to throw on the grill this weekend – that the public health community claims causes obesity.
The Institute of Medicine released a 462-page report in May arguing that blaming the obese for their own problems is not an effective solution to our obesity epidemic. And in June, editors of a prominent medical journal began a series on "Big Food," claiming that companies control what we eat – thus lending support for the strategy of blaming sellers for creating an "obesogenic" environment.
Blaming sellers feels good at first, but is misguided at best and detrimental at worst because it falsely implies that only government can solve our weight problems.
One key assumption of public health paternalists is that citizens do not recognize various personal health risks associated with obesity. This is a silly objection on its face – even children understand that a regular diet of ice cream and pizza is not good for your health. But there's also data to support this notion: A 2008 study in the American Journal of Health concluded that overweight Americans' own mortality predictions were "reasonably close" to those generated from actual life tables for U.S. adults.
Public health scolds also assume we don't have sufficient incentives to deal with our own body weight. This runs counter to the multibillion-dollar market for diet books, health foods, weight-loss centers and surgeries, exercise equipment and athletic clubs – clear evidence that people are concerned over their weight.
But never mind the evidence – according to the experts, we've met the enemy, and it's us. And their solution to reducing calories is increasing the size of government. Unfortunately, government-imposed solutions like "fat taxes" have a less-than-stellar track record of getting results.
For instance, economists have recently demonstrated that even an enormous 58 percent tax on soda would drop the average body mass index by only 0.16 points – a trivial effect since obesity is defined as a BMI of at least 30. People who consume a lot of soda simply pay the higher taxes, substitute into lower-priced soda, or take advantage of bulk discounted purchases. (As is always the case with excise taxes like these, the poor shoulder a relatively heavier burden.)
Experience with tobacco-control programs also suggests that few of these "fat tax" dollars will find their way to obesity-control programs. For instance, the CDC reported in May that only 2.4 percent of total state tobacco revenue received in 2010 were used for tobacco-control programs. State governments happily siphoned these dollars for their own fiscal needs. Expect the same "bait and switch" with tax dollars on soda and other products with no public health gain.
The hard truth is that governments have no special expertise in solving obesity, and no public mandate to do so. Contrast this with the dynamic market for weight-loss products, which encourages the best strategies, eliminate the failures, and consistently offers new and better alternatives. Demands for real solutions prompt supply by eager entrepreneurs with products that no government bureaucrat could ever imagine.
In the mind of public health paternalists, solutions that allow individuals to address their unique needs are given short shrift as interventions come one-size-fits-all. But the evidence suggests that real solutions begin at the level of individuals and end with market solutions, without falling into the trap of blaming business or society for our problems.
12 July, 2012
Obesity PROTECTS you from diabetes
The findings below are the exact opposite of what is usually asserted. And this was a pretty good study, controlled for social class, among other things. Also found that being overweight has little or no impact on your lifespan
Body Mass Index, Diabetes, Hypertension, and Short-Term Mortality: A Population-Based Observational Study, 2000-2006
Anthony Jerant, MD and Peter Franks, MD
Background: Published studies about the association of obesity with mortality have used body mass index (BMI) data collected more than 10 years ago, potentially limiting their current applicability, particularly given evidence of a secular decline in obesity-related mortality. The objective of this study was to examine the association between BMI and mortality in a representative, contemporary United States sample.
Methods: This was a population-based observational study of data from 50,994 adults aged 18 to 90 years who responded to the 2000 to 2005 Medical Expenditures Panel Surveys. Cox regression analyses were employed to model survival during up to 6 years of follow-up (ascertained via National Death Index linkage) by self-reported BMI category (underweight, <20 kg/m2; normal weight, 20-<25 [reference]; overweight, 25-<30; obese, 30-<35; severely obese, ?35), without and with adjustment for diabetes and hypertension. Survival by BMI category also was modeled for diabetic and hypertensive individuals. All models were adjusted for sociodemographics, smoking, and Medical Expenditures Panel Surveys response year.
Results: In analyses not adjusted for diabetes or hypertension, only severe obesity was associated with mortality (adjusted hazard ratio, 1.26; 95% confidence interval, 1.00-1.59). After adjusting for diabetes and hypertension, severe obesity was no longer associated with mortality, and milder obesity (BMI 30-<35) was associated with decreased mortality (adjusted hazard ratio, 0.81; 95% confidence interval, 0.68-0.97). There was a significant interaction between diabetes (but not hypertension) and BMI (F [4, 235] = 2.71; P = .03), such that the mortality risk of diabetes was lower among mildly and severely obese persons than among those in lower BMI categories.
Conclusions: Obesity-associated mortality risk was lower than estimated in studies employing older BMI data. Only severe obesity (but not milder obesity or overweight) was associated with increased mortality, an association accounted for by coexisting diabetes and hypertension. Mortality in diabetes was lower among obese versus normal weight individuals.
Australia: More official abuse of "child welfare" provisions
You can be an Aboriginal child who is badly abused and neglected by your parents and the authorities will do nothing. But get FAT and that is another matter. Obesity is mostly genetic so this is punishing people for something over which they have little control. And harassing people about it just makes it worse. People may slim down for a while but in well over 90% of the cases they will eventually put it all back on again -- and more
VICTORIAN welfare authorities have begun using extreme obesity as a reason to support children being separated from their parents - and experts predict more cases as the population gets fatter.
The Department of Human Services has cited obesity in at least two child protection court cases this year.
One case involved a pre-teenage boy who weighed 110 kilograms and the other a teenage girl whose waist circumference of 169 centimetres was greater than her height. The department would not reveal the exact number of cases.
Associate Professor John Dixon, of the Baker IDI Heart and Diabetes Institute, said he expected more such cases, but that they would not become common.
"I would not want parents out there with overweight or obese children to in any way feel that it's through their negligence that we have a growing obesity issue in children today," Associate Professor Dixon said.
"That would be very wrong indeed … This is a community problem, an Australia-wide, a global problem that we're not addressing very well at the moment.
"We shouldn't be blaming the parents for our environment. The parents and the children who are obese are really victims of the environment."
In the teenage girl's case, experts stressed to the department that her weight problem needed urgent attention.
She had gained 30 kilograms in 18 months and was described by a Children's Court magistrate as "incredibly unhealthy … To hear that her waist measurement is greater than her height is so concerning."
The court was told it would be impossible for her to reduce her weight to a healthy range within a year and a more realistic goal was to lose 15 to 20 kilograms and keep it off. Doctors had concluded that the weight gain was not genetic and had to have come from eating. [Of course it comes from eating --but it is the genetics that causes the overeating]
The girl's mother told the court that she wanted her daughter returned home or placed in residential care. The department said foster care was not an option because there were no families available who could help with her needs.
The magistrate ordered the girl remain legally in the care of the state. She and her mother had had a breakdown in their relationship that had led to the girl not living at home.
In the case of the pre-teenage boy who weighed 110 kilograms, another magistrate ordered that he be removed from his mother's care and put into a "therapeutic setting".
The boy had been referred for medical intervention but it had no effect and he had been sitting in his room, eating and inactive.
The department said it could not work with the boy's mother until he was removed from her care.
A spokesman for the department told The Age that obesity was not of itself grounds for child protection workers to become involved with a family.
But he said "obesity may be a symptom of other issues that could place a child at risk or harm that would warrant child-protection involvement".
Some of Victoria's most obese children are referred to the Weight Management Clinic at the Royal Children's Hospital.
But The Age understands that the clinic is struggling with a lack of resources to deal with families where there are several obese children who need intervention.
Non-urgent referrals to the clinic face a wait of between nine months and a year, but the clinic warns that in some cases, the delay could be longer. A smaller clinic operates at Melton.
Associate Professor Dixon said there were many determinants of obesity in children and adolescents but parental neglect was not usually considered to be one. "Severely obese adolescents and their parents are under enormous stress and there are often other issues in the family," he said.
"It wouldn't only be obesity that would lead to a child being removed."
He said any cases where extremely obese children were removed from their families should be seen as rare.
Associate Professor Tim Gill, of Sydney University's Boden Institute of Obesity, Nutrition, Exercise and Eating, said if the only reason for removing a child from their parents was weight, it was not appropriate.
"There are a whole range of issues which drive weight gain, particularly in children," Associate Professor Gill said.
"We are going to see more children in that [extreme] weight category and in some ways, yes, it's a failure of parents, but it also reflects a failure of society - that we could create a circumstance that would allow and encourage kids to overeat and under-exercise to such an extent that they get to that weight."
11 July, 2012
Australian study finds junk food products making confusing nutrition claims
The underlying assumptions in the article below are largely conventional superstition and nothing more. The best double blind studies, for instance, show that a low fat diet has NO EFFECT on health. And reducing salt can be positively harmful
CHILDREN are being conned by food companies who are making fatty and sugary foods appear to be healthy, an Adelaide study suggests.
Some of Australia's most popular brands, including Kellogg's and Nestle, have been accused of making food that appeals to children look healthier than it actually is, the Flinders University study shows.
Researchers, led by lecturer Kaye Mehte, found 157 products on a major supermarket chain's shelves with packaging designed to appeal to children through the use of cartoons, competitions and give-aways.
More than three-quarters of these products were deemed to be unhealthy, because they are high in fat and sugar.
However, more than half of them had prominent nutrition claims on the packaging, boasting that the product is, for example, "99% fat free", "high in calcium" or has "no artificial colours", they found.
"This has the potential to mislead and confuse children as well as parents who would be more inclined to purchase products carrying claims about health and nutrition", Dr Mehte said.
Jane Martin, executive manager of the Obesity Policy Coalition said that "using these techniques to attract children to unhealthy food at a time when childhood obesity is at record levels is simply unethical".
A Nestle spokeswoman denied the company misled children or made unhealthy food appear to be healthy. A Kellogg's spokesman said products had daily intake guidelines which show the amount of sugar, salt, fat, sodium and kilojoules per serving on the front of the packs.
It's Best to Take Government Health Advice with a Pinch of Salt
Mayor Bloomberg's recent decision to outlaw the Big Gulp in New York City in the name of promoting public health made news headlines as well as fodder for some pretty scathing one-liners from the late night comedians. But this is no laughing matter.
While Americans instantly saw the stupidity of such easily skirted regulations (one can just get a free refill or purchase two smaller-sized drinks) they shouldn't dismiss Mayor Bloomberg's actions as just the folly of one eccentric politician. In fact, one reason to oppose such efforts (beyond the obvious fact that it's far outside scope of government to act as the nation's Weight Watchers sponsor) is that these regulations are completely ineffective and based on dubious and outdated science.
Take the federal government's oversight of salt--an ingredient Mayor Bloomberg has also tried to vilify. Last year, the Food and Drug Administration - the federal agency with regulatory authority over American food manufacturers - invited the public to comment on the agency's planned "approaches to reducing sodium consumption." The FDA received hundreds of comments, the majority of which opposed government meddling in this area.
Many of the negative comments centered on the agency's reliance on dated and inaccurate information about sodium in the American diet. One glaring example of this was present in the very invitation for comments, in which the FDA cited a 2005 study to claim that "research" shows sodium to be "contributory factor in the development of hypertension, which is a leading cause of heart disease and stroke." More recent studies contradict that 2005 study and many of the other studies on which the FDA relies.
Here are just a few: In 2006, the American Journal of Medicine published a study of 78 million Americans which concluded that the "evidence linking sodium intake to mortality outcomes is scant and inconsistent." Similar results were shown in a 2007 study published in the European Journal of Epidemiology which found that "salt intake was not consistently related to CVD [cardiovascular disease] or mortality in our study" but that an "increased risk of mortality was observed for high salt intake in overweight Finnish subjects." This seems to back up a Swedish study conducted in 2011 and published in the journal Nature in which researchers found factors other than salt had an impact on a subject's blood pressure; in this case, genetic factors. To some, this might seem like commons sense. One doesn't need a study to understand that multiple factors impact a person's blood pressure -- obesity, exercise, genetics, dietary habits and other lifestyle choices.
More recent studies are actually warning against sodium reduction. In a study released last year and published in the American Journal of Hypertension, two Danish researchers who analyzed 167 other studies on salt actually warned that "the `science' on which the FDA policy on sodium reduction is based is dubious" and that "the present recommendations may kill people instead of saving them."
Additional evidence pointing to the danger of limiting salt was just revealed in a study published in the American Journal of Hypertension in which researchers examined 23 separate studies on the eating habits of some 360,000 individuals. In the surprising results, the researchers actually found those who consumed low levels of sodium had more negative health outcomes than those who ate a high-salt diet. The most critical bit of information to emerge from this study was that the individuals with the lowest mortality rate consumed between one and 2.5 teaspoons of salt a day-a range above what the FDA currently advises Americans to consume. The study warned that sodium levels below or above the range identified in the study puts a person at risk for disease.
Yet despite these impressive new studies, the FDA continues to push for regulations on this singular item-salt. In fact, in May 2012, the agency reaffirmed its intention to regulate salt by including in its 2012 - 2016 strategic plan the goal to "reduce sodium content in the food supply" in order to help consumers "choose a healthier diet and reduce the risk of chronic disease."
This goal contradicts the FDA's own mission statement which states that the agency is "responsible for advancing the public health by. helping the public get the accurate, science-based information they need to use medicines and foods to maintain and improve their health."
The FDA is therefore in violation of its mission when it refuses to consider the new research-science-based information-on salt. It begs the question: why is the FDA dangerously and aggressively pushing Americans to reduce their salt intake when the latest research clearly indicates their levels are perfectly healthy? Why does the FDA continue to promote the latest Dietary Guidelines which tell Americans to consume less than one teaspoon of salt a day-an amount considered dangerous by the new research?
There is a simple yet depressing answer to those questions: regulation has become paramount to public health. The FDA's refusal to consider the latest research on salt proves without a doubt the agency is driven by a political agenda; not science.
While Americans might view these food regulations as silly inconveniences or the pet-projects of a particular politician, they must understand that these efforts erode our basic freedoms and just might be making us less healthy. Individuals must be in charge of their own food decisions and their own health by consulting with their doctors to determine what's best for them and their families. As the FDA and certain politicians have shown, government's one-size-fits-all solutions are too often guided by politics, not science.
10 July, 2012
Playmate kills kids
A killer is on the loose. As many as 900 children may have died as a result of one person, and the number is still rising. Sometime this month, the number of children made ill because of this menace is expected to top 100,000. Children across America now are infected with diseases that were once declared eliminated largely because of the efforts of this individual.
This killer isn't a terrorist or a war criminal, it's nude model and television personality Jenny McCarthy. Rather than living behind bars or hiding shamefully in exile, McCarthy is busy hosting a reality show on NBC and appearing on the cover of this month's issue of Playboy, earning paychecks almost as large as her (very ample) cup size.
So how did a Playboy Playmate-turned television tomboy end up with the blood of so many children on her hands?
In 2005, McCarthy received devastating news. Her 3-year-old son, Evan, had been diagnosed with autism. Like most parents, McCarthy searched for causes and cures. Regrettably, one of the places she found answers was in a widely discredited 1998 paper by British medical researcher Andrew Wakefield that linked a common vaccine to an increase in rates of autism.
Armed with Wakefield's research, McCarthy used her fame as a platform to spout scientifically spurious anti-vaccination rhetoric. In order to spread her belief that vaccines caused autism, McCarthy wrote a series of parenting books, made hundreds of public appearances and appeared on shows such as "The Oprah Winfrey Show," lining her pockets and convincing hundreds and hundreds of thousands of parents not to vaccinate their kids along the way.
Wakefield's study was always viewed with overwhelming skepticism in the medical and scientific communities. In 2004, it was determined that he had falsified his research and no scientific proof linked vaccines to autism. Wakefield had invented the data after being bribed more than $600,000 by lawyers hoping to bring lawsuits against drug companies that manufactured vaccines.
In 2010, Wakefield's medical license was, thankfully, revoked. Later the same year, McCarthy came forward with the claim that her son was cured of autism as a result of treatments including aromatherapy, electromagnets, vitamins, a gluten-free diet and other such silliness. In truth, her son never had autism in the first place. He was simply misdiagnosed and is now a healthy 8-year-old kid, albeit with a dishonest dope for a mother.
Despite the fact that the study that she relied on for her facts was as fake as a deed to the Brooklyn Bridge, and her son, whom she claimed had contracted autism through a vaccination, never had autism in the first place, that hasn't stopped her anti-vaccine campaign. She continues to defend Wakefield's study and urge parents not to vaccinate their children.
As a result, the website Jenny McCarthy Body Count blames 895 deaths by preventable illnesses on McCarthy due to her anti-vaccine screeds. The website, which uses reports on vaccine-preventable illnesses published by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention as its basis, also pins the illnesses of 99,135 on McCarthy's ignorant anti-vaccination evangelization.
Cases of mumps and whooping cough are at their highest levels in generations, and measles, which the CDC declared "eliminated" in the United States in 2000, plagued 222 Americans last year -- and McCarthy is almost single-handedly responsible.
It's vital that every parent in America understand that vaccines pose no threat to children, but the consequences of not vaccinating a child may be fatal. For the sake of your children, take healthcare advice from a doctor, not a Playboy Playmate.
Parched and tired all the time? You could have 'dry body' syndrome
Good to hear that there are potential medications for it on the way
Dry eyes are a problem for many of us at some point or another. But when Fiona Sewell started waking each day with her eyelids sticking together and the whites of her eyes a worrying shade of red, she knew something more serious was going on.
‘My eyes constantly felt gritty and uncomfortable — I had poor vision and applying make-up was an ordeal,’ says Fiona, 50, a part-time student from Rugby. ‘Eye drops just seemed to make them worse. 'I was clueless as to what could be causing it.’
She developed other symptoms including a dry mouth, which made swallowing difficult, constipation, abdominal pain and fatigue.
‘First thing in the morning, my mouth would be so dry that when I tried eating I would end up retching and choking,’ she says.
‘The fatigue could be incredible — sometimes I had to stop what I was doing to lie down, and then I’d have the deepest sleep.’
It took eight years before Fiona was finally diagnosed with Sjögren’s syndrome, an auto-immune condition thought to affect up to half a million people in Britain.
The American tennis player Venus Williams recently revealed she has Sjögren’s, and commentators have suggested her shock early departure from the ladies singles at Wimbledon this year was down to fatigue from the condition (though she did manage to win the doubles with her sister Serena).
Sjögren’s occurs when white blood cells attack the body’s secretory glands, including the tear and saliva glands, causing inflammation and reducing the amount of saliva, tears and fluid produced.
This causes a dry mouth and dry eyes, as well as constipation, vaginal dryness, joint pain and fatigue.
‘For reasons no one knows, the immune system malfunctions and causes problems in the glands that keep things moist,’ says Dr Simon Bowman, a rheumatologist at University Hospital Birmingham and Spire Parkway Hospital.
‘We believe B-cells (one of the main types of immune cells) are particularly activated in Sjögren’s, particularly those related to salivary glands. 'But this can have an effect anywhere in the body where lubrication is required.’
It can also trigger inflammation in the joints, causing swelling and pain, and the nervous system, causing loss of feeling in the hands and feet.
Like many auto-immune illnesses, it’s a condition that affects more women than men — 20 to 30 for every man — probably because the female hormone oestrogen can interfere with the immune system.
It is most common in those aged 40 to 60, and doctors believe the menopause — when levels of oestrogen begin to fall — may have a role.
Some patients are prescribed Pilocarpine, a drug that treats the symptoms of dryness by stimulating secretion.
However, there’s no specific medication to tackle the cause, says Dr Bowman. ‘There are quite a few medications that are being used in rheumatoid arthritis and lupus that could be trialled in Sjögren’s, so we’d be keen for the pharmaceutical industry to invest in exploring those options.’
Dr Bowman is leading a £1 million clinical trial on behalf of Arthritis Research UK looking at the drug Rituximab. This is licensed to treat severe rheumatoid arthritis, and works by attacking B-cells.
The hope is that by easing the immune response in this way the drug could dramatically improve dryness and fatigue in Sjögren’s sufferers.
‘There is good background research to suggest Rituximab is worth looking at,’ says Dr Bowman. ‘Our earlier pilot study showed that treating patients with a single course of the drug resulted in some improvement in fatigue. ‘An earlier Dutch study that looked at 30 patients also resulted in improvement in fatigue levels and the dryness symptoms.’
Patients in the new 12-month study will receive two courses of Rituximab or a dummy infusion. Each course is made up of two infusions given two weeks apart — the courses will be given six months apart.
9 July, 2012
'Flab jab' could let you stay slim on a junk food diet by using immune system to fight weight gain
Tested on mice only so far. Side effects would be a big concern. The effect would seem similar to stimulant drugs that were used in the past for weight loss
A ‘flab jab’ that allows people to gorge on junk food yet keep trim could be on the horizon. Scientists have invented an obesity vaccine that uses the immune system to fight weight gain. In tests, mice given a single injection lost 10 per cent of body weight after four days.
What is more, the animals were being fed on high-fat food – suggesting the ‘flab jab’ might allow people to eat badly yet stay slim.
But don’t abandon your diet yet. Leaving aside the other damaging effects on health of eating too much high-fat food, the research is still at a very early stage and the drug is around seven to ten years from the market.
The vaccine works by fooling the body’s immune system into making antibodies against a hormone called somatostatin. Somatostatin, which is made by the brain and the digestive system, interferes with other hormones, leading to the metabolism slowing down and weight being put on.
The antibodies stop it from working, the metabolism speeds up and the pounds fall off.
The mice that shed 10 per cent of their weight after one injection were given a booster jab three weeks after the first which helped to keep their weight in check, the Journal Of Animal Science and Biotechnology reported.
Importantly, levels of other vital hormones were not affected.
Lead researcher Dr Keith Haffer, of US firm Braasch Biotech, said: ‘This study demonstrates the possibility of treating obesity with vaccination.
Although further studies are necessary to discover the long-term implications of these vaccines, treatment of human obesity with vaccination could provide physicians with a drug and surgical-free option against the weight epidemic.’
The difficulty in formulating a safe diet drug means that just one prescription-strength diet pill, Xenical, is on sale in the UK. It prevents the absorption of fats in the body but comes with unpleasant side-effects such as an upset stomach.
Does it pay to eat organic? 'Natural' tomatoes are packed with more disease-fighting antioxidants, claim scientists
The persistent antioxidant religion again. They're actually BAD for you. See the sidebar
It's an argument that continues to exercise consumers and growers across the UK - organic produce may be good for the environment, but is it any better for your health?
A new study has found that when it comes to tomatoes at least, it really may pay off to fork out for the more expensive organic produce. Researchers from the University of Barcelona have found the pesticide-free version of the fruit contains higher levels of disease-fighting chemicals than the conventional kind.
Known as polyphenols, the chemical compounds protect plants against disease and are thought to also benefit human health.
The nutrients have a natural antioxidant effect and studies have suggested they could help halt the spread of certain cancers as well as protect against chronic conditions such as arthritis. Other research has found they can protect against heart disease due to their anti-inflammatory and anti-clotting properties.
The conclusion challenges the Food Standards Agency, which has long dismissed the health gains of organic food. The Government's food watchdog released a report in 2009 that said there was no 'nutritional difference' between organic and conventionally produced food.
The team behind the latest study analysed the chemical structure of the Daniela variety of tomato. They detected 34 different beneficial compounds in both the organic and conventional versions - far more than you would get from a food supplement. However, they found that overall the organic tomatoes contained higher levels of the polyphenols.
The scientists said this difference between organic and conventional tomatoes can be explained by the manure used to grow them.
Lead author Anna Vallverdú Queralt, said: 'Organic farming doesn’t use nitrogenous fertilizers; as a result, plants respond by activating their own defence mechanisms, increasing the levels of all antioxidants.'
Co-author Rosa M. Lamuela, added: 'The more stress plants suffer, the more polyphenols they produce.'
The researchers said further clinical studies are needed to see if the organic tomatoes have a more potent effect on the body than the conventional type.
A team led by Ms Lamuela, had previously proved that organic tomato juice and ketchup contains higher polyphenol content than juice and ketchup made from conventionally grown tomatoes. Tomatoes are known as a super-food as they also contain high levels of vitamin C.
The latest study was published in the Journal of Agricultural and Food Chemistry.
Peter Melchett, Policy Director, Soil Association, said: 'The study by the University of Barcelona which shows that organic tomatoes contain higher levels of antioxidants than non-organic tomatoes confirms a major meta-analysis of all research comparing beneficial nutrients in organic and non-organic food by Dr Kirsten Brandt and others at the University of Newcastle, published in May 2011.'
8 July, 2012
People with kids half as likely to develop colds due to 'psychological benefits of parenthood'
This is pathetic. It hasn't occurred to the galoots below that people who are healthier in the first place might be more likely to have children -- and more of them. Just having a sickly minority with no children in their sample could have produced the results reported
You may think parents couldn't escape from picking up bugs due to the constant stream of virus-ridden children traipsing through their homes. However, scientists have discovered they are actually very adept at batting off illness.
A study from Carnegie Mellon University has found that parents are 52 per cent less likely to develop a cold than those with no off-spring.
Plus they found the more children you have the stronger the effect. While parents with one or two children were 48 per cent less likely to get sick, those with three or more children were 61 per cent less likely to develop a cold.
Surprisingly the scientists don't think this is because parents have immune systems that have been strengthened by constant viral attacks. Instead it comes down to 'mental toughness.' This explains why parents with children living at home and away from home showed a decreased risk of catching a cold.
Study author Professor Sheldon Cohen, said: 'Although parenthood was clearly protective, we were unable to identify an explanation for this association.
'Because we controlled for immunity to the virus, we know that these differences did not occur just because the parents were more likely to have been exposed to the virus through their children.
'Moreover, parents and nonparents showed few psychological or biological differences, and those that did exist could not explain the benefit of parenthood. 'We expect that a psychological benefit of parenthood that we did not measure may have been responsible.'
For the study, Professor Cohen and his team exposed 795 healthy adults between the ages of 18 and 55 to a virus that causes a common cold.
Participants reported their parenthood status, and analyses were controlled for immunity to the experimental virus, viral strain, season, age, sex, race, ethnicity, marital status, body mass, employment status and education.
Overall non-parents were half as likely to develop colds than parents.
Professor Cohen said: 'We have had a long-term interest in how various social relationships influence health outcomes.
'Parenthood was especially interesting to us because it has been proposed that it can have both positive and negative effects on health. For example, being a parent can be stressful but at the same time can be fulfilling, facilitate the development of a social network and provide purpose in life.'
Juicing can wreck your looks: Flaking skin, hair loss and rotting teeth. The latest A-list diet craze has some ugly side-effects
Last month’s news that Jennifer Aniston has become a veg juice devotee, regularly slugging back a concoction of cucumbers, beetroot, spinach, kale, garlic, ginger, carrots and celery, will only fuel the juicing fad.
Because look around any high-end gym or yoga studio these days and you’ll see women swigging something that looks like it’s been scooped from a pond. This is the juice cleanse, or the juice detox — don’t ever refer to it as a diet, that would sound like you’re doing it to lose weight, whereas, of course, this is all about purifying your body.
Popular among A-listers including Salma Hayek, Gwyneth Paltrow and Sarah Jessica Parker, juice detoxes have gone mainstream, with legions of women pulping Tesco’s entire fruit and veg aisle themselves, or paying up to £40 a day — yes, really — to have supplies delivered to their door.
It sounds terribly good for you — just masses of fruit and vegetables all juiced together, filling you full of vitamins, minerals and anti-oxidants. But while if you’re doing it Aniston-style and eating normally for most of the week, it probably won’t do you any serious harm, the truth is that a juice regime that lasts several weeks — or even just several days — could actually be wreaking all sorts of havoc on your health.
To start with it’s unnecessary. Your body doesn’t need to detox, your digestive system doesn’t need to rest, and if you’re seriously worried about your diet and your health, you need to make long-term changes.
‘Juice fasts are simply not sustainable,’ says Natalie Jones, a spokesperson for the British Dietetic Association. ‘So if you’re doing it for health reasons, there’s simply no point. Any weight you lose, you’ll put straight back on again, possibly with extra because short-term, low-calorie crash diets like this mess around with your metabolism.’
You’ll undoubtedly feel hungry as you’re not consuming any of the fibre that helps fill you up, and don’t even think about exercising.
'Have a juice as one of your five-a-day but any more than that won't give you extra benefits, and could do more harm than good'
‘You might be getting a quick sugar rush,’ says Natalie, ‘but you’re not consuming any carbohydrates, so exercising, or even normal daily life is going to be almost impossible. You’ll feel light-headed and exhausted.’
Stomach aches are also a common side-effect of the juice fast.
‘With no fibre in your diet, even after a couple of days, constipation will become a problem, and in the long term, your cholesterol levels could be affected as fibre helps keep them low. So if you’re not getting enough fibre, your cholesterol could shoot up.’
If that’s not miserable enough, you could find that your net calorie intake is higher than if you were eating normally. Because while juicing gives you the same level of vitamins as you’d get from eating the whole fruit or vegetable, your body isn’t using any energy to break down the food so calories from the natural sugars in the juice aren’t offset by those usually used in digestion.
And while you’re undoubtedly getting lots of vitamins, Natalie says that’s not as great as it sounds.
‘Vitamin C is, of course, good for you, but beyond a certain point, more isn’t any better for you. And, if you’re only drinking veg and fruit juices, you’re missing out on a lot of other nutrients such as calcium, protein, vitamin D, essential fats and so on.’
This lack of vitamins and nutrients can have a knock-on effect on your appearance, too.
According to renowned trichologist Philip Kingsley, if you plan to juice for a couple of weeks, you should also plan to see your hair fall out about two to three months later.
‘I’ve seen it many, many times,’ he says. ‘Women come to see me with what appears to be unexplained hair loss, and then, when you trace it back, it turns out that they were on some extreme juice fast a few months before.
‘It’s quite simple, if your body isn’t getting the nutrition it needs, it powers down the processes that it considers as being not essential to life, and one of those is hair production.’
But it’s not just your hair that will suffer.
‘Juicing for anything longer than a couple of days will have a profound effect on your skin,’ says cosmetic dermatologist Dr Sam Bunting. ‘Not only might you find that your skin dries out as you’re not getting any of the essential fatty acids it needs, but if you’ve already got a tendency to dry skin anyway, you may find that you start to develop patches of eczema as the barrier function is compromised.’
And there are long-term issues too.
‘Low-calorie diets like this cause the body’s insulin levels to spike and crash which initially causes break-outs, but over time, this insulin cycle alters the structures of collagen and elastin in the body, making them stiffer, and causing skin to look prematurely old.’
Damage to collagen will also affect your teeth, as it’s collagen fibres that hold them in place. But, even if you manage to retain your gnashers, juice diets are seriously bad news for them, as Dr Uchenna Okoye of London Smiling points out.
‘Juice from vegetables and especially from fruits, which tend to have a higher acid content, can damage the enamel of your teeth in exactly the same way that a fizzy drink would. We consider the acids in fruit and vegetables to be “good” but that’s only in the context of eating the whole thing, not when you’re drinking a super-concentrated juice.’
And the same holds true for the sugars in your juice.
‘Fructose is a natural sugar, but to the body it’s still just a sugar, so too much of it will cause cavities as the bacteria in the mouth feed on it.’
If you are going to drink juices, even just as part of a balanced diet, Dr Okoye recommends always using a straw and never ever brushing your teeth straight after drinking as the sugar and acid softens the enamel of the teeth so you could actually be doing more damage. Ideally she suggests brushing teeth before drinking a juice, and using a fluoride toothpaste which will strengthen the teeth.
So, a lack of energy, a messed-up digestive system, prematurely aged skin, rotting teeth and hair loss — hardly the healthy, cleansed body that juice devotees are aiming for, is it?
‘By all means have a juice as one of your five a day,’ says dietitian Natalie Jones. ‘But any more than that simply won’t give you extra benefits, and could actually end up doing you more harm than good.’
7 July, 2012
6 July, 2012
Adults smacked as children have higher risk of mental illness later on, say scientists
It's possible that children with mood and mental problems are spanked more often because they behave badly. Chicken or egg? The correlation found is tiny anyway
Adults who were hit or smacked as children face higher odds of mental health problems, including mood and anxiety disorders and problems with alcohol and drug abuse, researchers say.
The study is the first to examine the link between psychological problems and spanking while excluding more severe abuse in order to better gauge the effect of corporal punishment alone.
Those who were hit as children were between two and seven per cent more likely to encounter mental issues later, according to the study from the University of Manitoba in Canada.
That figure may seem low as around half of the US population recalls being spanked in childhood. However, it still shows physical punishment can raise the risk of problems later on, experts said.
'The study is valuable because it opens the conversation about parenting,' said Victor Fornari, at North Shore-Long Island Jewish Health System in New York.
The rate 'is not dramatically higher, but it is higher, just to suggest that physical punishment is a risk factor for developing more mental disturbances as an adult,' said Fornari, who was not involved in the study.
Previous research has repeatedly shown that children who were physically abused as youngsters suffer from more mental disturbances as adults, and are more likely to engage in aggressive behavior than kids who were not hit. But these studies have typically included more serious abuse.
The latest study, published in the US journal Pediatrics, was based on a retrospective survey of more than 600 US adults.
It excludes both sexual abuse and physical abuse that left bruises, marks or caused injury.
Instead it focuses on 'harsh physical punishment,' defined as pushing, grabbing, shoving, slapping or hitting as a form of punishment from elders.
While 32 nations around the world have banned corporal punishment of kids, the United States and Canada are not among them.
In the UK parents are allowed to smack their offspring without causing the 'reddening of the skin'.
Using a nationally representative survey sample of 653 Americans, they found that those who recalled experiencing harsh punishment as children faced higher odds of a range of mental problems.
Between two and five per cent of disorders like depression, anxiety, bipolar, anorexia or bulimia were attributable to physical punishment as a child, the study said.
From four to seven percent of more serious problems including personality disorders, obsessive-compulsive disorder and intellectual disabilities were associated with such punishments in childhood.
Researchers stressed that the study could not establish that spanking had actually caused these disorders in certain adults, only that there was a link between memories of such punishment and a higher incidence of mental problems.
The survey data came from the National Epidemiologic Survey on Alcohol and Related Conditions collected between 2004 and 2005, and included adults over age 20.
Participants were asked: 'As a child how often were you ever pushed, grabbed, shoved, slapped or hit by your parents or any adult living in your house?'
Those who answered "sometimes" or greater were included in the analysis.
Roya Samuels, a pediatrician at Cohen Children's Medical Center in New York, said the parents' genes may influence both their response to raising an unruly child as well as their likelihood of passing down certain ailments.
'Parents who are resorting to mechanisms of corporal punishment might themselves be at risk for depression and mental disorders; therefore, there might be a hereditary factor going on in these families,' she said.
Future research could shed more light on the issue. In the meantime, the study offers a reminder that other disciplinary options such as positive reinforcement and removing rewards are viewed more favorably by doctors.
'The reality is, if 50 per cent of the population has experienced being spanked in the past year, most kids are resilient. It is just that there are better ways for parents to discipline kids than spanking,' Fornari said.
'And for some vulnerable kids, the spanking may increase their risk for the development of mental disturbances. So for those reasons it is important to really minimize or extinguish physical punishment.'
The American Academy of Pediatrics opposes striking children for any cause and the Canadian Pediatric Society recommends that doctors strongly discourage the use of physical punishment.
Why Exercise Doesn't Actually Help You Lose Weight
With news stories coming out this week about mandatory BMI screenings and Disney's new emphasis on nutrition in their programming, obesity is yet again making headlines.
And that means the blatantly unworkable solutions to weight gain — eating less and exercising more — have also made an appearance in your favorite news source. Losing weight simply by trying to eat less is problematic for many reasons, and we've covered it here extensively. But isn't exercise a foolproof way to slim down? Maybe not.
Though exercise is considered a necessity for anybody looking to lose weight, a surprising amount of research shows that exercise may do little to help overweight people shed excess weight, and may even make them eat more.
In a recent lecture about exercise, science writer Gary Taubes put the issue to the audience this way: if you were going to a big dinner party and the host told you to come hungry, how would ensure you showed up ready to eat? The audience responded, as most people would, by suggesting that they'd fast for most of the day and engage in some form of exercise, a long walk perhaps.
The point, says Taubes, is that exercise makes us hungry, which leads us to replace the calories burned by exercising and encourages weight gain. It's a clever hypothetical and many readers would probably treat it as no more. But the data backs it up.
At least four clinical trials have demonstrated that exercise tends to suppress resting metabolic rate. In all four studies overweight participants who engaged in 300-600 calories worth of daily exercise experienced a significant drop in resting metabolism. According to Drs. Jeff Volek and Stephen Phinney, “Although genetically lean people as a group may respond differently, when overweight humans do more than one hour of endurance exercise daily, resting metabolism on average declines between 5% and 15%.”
Commenting on the pair's findings, Dr. John Briffa points out that this down-regulating of the metabolism is probably the effect Taubes is describing. Much like what happens when caloric intake is severely restricted, "The idea that the body would down-regulate the metabolism in response to exercise makes ... intuitive sense," says Briffa. "It’s not too difficult to imagine that the body would have a similar response to increased calorie expenditure ...."
Critics of this argument would likely cite any number of studies which have reached the opposite conclusion. But as the American College of Sports Medicine explains, the best that can be said about the relationship between weight loss and exercise is that "it is reasonable to assume that persons with relatively high daily energy expenditures would be less likely to gain weight over time, compared with those who have low energy expenditures. So far, data to support this hypothesis are not particularly compelling.”
But if this is the case, why do we assume that exercise is key to weight loss? Volek and Phinney argue that it's a matter of mixing up cause and effect.
Thin people exercise a lot compared to overweight people, and assume that they're slim because of all the exercise. Meanwhile, overweight people tend exercise much less, and we all assume that explains their bigger waistlines.
The truth, very likely due to genetics, is that the body composition of both groups explains the exercise habits, not the other way around.
Diet also plays a role. According to researchers at the University of California, San Francisco, people who consume a lot of easily digestible carbohydrates (most Americans) are going to be less willing to exercise because of the metabolic effects of such a diet. Energy that ends up trapped in fat cells (just one of the awesome side effects of a high-sugar diet) isn't available to fuel the rest of the body, and one of the results is lethargy.
None of this means that exercise is unhealthy. To the contrary, exercise is beneficial for many reasons. Research suggests that it's good for your memory, reduces risk of death from cardiovascular disease and some cancers, and may help people manage their depression. So we should exercise because it yields all sorts of health benefits. But, we shouldn't count weight loss among those benefits, because it probably isn't one of them.
5 July, 2012
Jehovah's Witnesses have last laugh: recover best from surgery, despite refusing blood
This confirms findings from Europe
Jehovah's Witnesses, whose faith forbids them from blood transfusions, recover from heart surgery faster and with fewer complications than those who do get blood, a study has found.
Patients who are Jehovah's Witnesses had better survival rates, shorter hospital stays, and fewer additional operations for bleeding than those who had blood transfusions during surgery, the study, published in the Archives of Internal Medicine, showed.
Members of the Jehovah's Witness faith undergo extensive blood conservation before surgery, including red blood cell boosting erythropoietin drugs, iron and B-complex vitamins to guard against anaemia. The practice offered a "unique natural experiment" for scientists to study the effects of the blood management strategy and may point to ways to reduce the need for transfusions, researchers said.
"How we care for Jehovah's Witness patients with this pretty extreme blood conservation doesn't put a patient at increased risk," said one of the authors of the study, Colleen Koch, who is also a professor of anesthesiology at the Cleveland Clinic in Ohio. "Perhaps it needs to be examined more closely [by] applying some of these practices to our routine cardiac surgery patients."
The study included 322 Jehovah's Witness patients and 87,453 other patients who underwent heart surgery at the Cleveland Clinic from 1983 to 2011. All Jehovah's Witness patients refused blood transfusions. In the other group, 38,467 didn't receive transfusions while 48,986 did.
The authors wanted to look at the difference between patients who receive blood transfusions during surgery and Jehovah's Witness patients, who undergo strict blood conservation practices before, during and after surgery, Professor Koch said.
While many patients do not have blood transfusions during and after heart surgery, they also do not undergo the same blood conservation practices as Jehovah's Witness patients, she said.
The study found Jehovah's Witnesses had lower occurrences of a heart attack following surgery and less need for prolonged ventilation. They also had an 86 per cent chance of survival at five years and a 34 per cent chance of survival 20 years after surgery, compared with 74 per cent at five years and 23 per cent at 20 years for non-Jehovah's Witness patients who had transfusions.
Victor Ferraris, who wrote an accompanying editorial in the journal, said there were various ways to conserve blood and prevent the need for a transfusion.
Instead of patients being placed on a heart-lung machine, which takes over the operations of the heart and lungs during surgery, he said doctors may want to consider operating while the heart is still beating to reduce the risk of bleeding and the need for transfusions. Patients can also be given drugs to help reduce their risk of bleeding.
"The question to ask is why don't they do that for everybody," said Dr Ferraris, a professor of surgery at the University of Kentucky in Lexington. "We've proven we can do really good blood conservation and maybe we should expand this to a broader audience and really focus on limiting bleeding and blood transfusion."
Obesity, Larger Waist Size Associated With BETTER Outcomes in Heart Failure Patients
This is not a new finding but interesting to see it replicated
A slim waist and normal weight are usually associated with better health outcomes, but that's not always the case with heart failure patients, according to a new UCLA study.
Researchers found that in both men and women with advanced heart failure, obesity -- as indicated by a high body mass index (BMI) -- and a higher waist circumference were factors that put them at significantly less risk for adverse outcomes.
The study findings are published in the July 1 online issue of the American Journal of Cardiology.
Heart failure affects 5.8 million people, including 2.5 million women. Approximately one-half to two-thirds of heart failure patients are overweight or obese.
Women and men are known to have differences in body composition and body-fat distribution, and this study is one of the first to specifically assess the impact of BMI and waist circumference on women and compare it with men.
The findings also offer further insight into an observed phenomenon in chronic heart failure known as the "obesity paradox": Obesity is a known risk factor for developing heart disease and heart failure, but once heart failure has manifested, being overweight may provide some protective benefits.
"The study provides us with more insight about how both genders of heart failure patients may be impacted by the obesity paradox," said senior author Dr. Tamara Horwich, an assistant professor of cardiology at the David Geffen School of Medicine at UCLA. "Heart failure may prove to be one of the few health conditions where extra weight may prove to be protective."
For the study, researchers analyzed data on advanced heart failure patients treated at UCLA Medical Center from 1983 to 2011. The team assessed 2,718 patients who had their BMI measured at the beginning of heart failure treatment and 469 patients who had their waist circumference measured at the beginning of treatment.
Using standardized measures, the researchers identified men or women as having a high BMI if they were greater or equal to 25 kg/m² -- this included both overweight patients (25 to 29.9 kg/m²) and obese patients (30 kg/m² or greater).
For men, a high waist circumference was considered 40 inches (102 cm) or greater, and for women, 37 inches (88 cm) or greater. This assessment also included patients who were either overweight or obese.
At the two-year follow-up, researchers used statistical analysis and found that in men, a high waist circumference and high BMI were associated with event-free survival from adverse outcomes like death, the need for a heart transplant, or the need for ventricular assist device placement.
Women with a higher BMI also had better outcomes than their normal-weight counterparts, and women with a high waist circumference also trended toward improved outcomes.
Both men and women with a normal BMI and waist circumference were at a substantially higher risk for these adverse outcomes. In fact, a normal BMI was associated with significantly worse outcomes -- a 34 percent higher risk in men and a 38 percent higher risk in women -- than a high BMI.
Normal waist circumference was also associated with an increased risk of adverse outcomes in both genders, with men's risk doubling and women's risk tripling.
"We knew that obesity might provide a protective benefit for heart failure patients, but we didn't know whether this obesity paradox applied specifically to women with heart failure, as well as men -- and it does," Horwich said.
BMI measurement has been used for years as a surrogate measure of body fat. Since it measures all mass -- including lean muscle, which weighs more than fat -- the measurement may not be specific for total body fat. Waist circumference is a newer addition that may provide a more direct connection to body fat, since it measures the fat accumulated around the belly.
"The study also demonstrates how BMI and waist circumference can be used together to provide a more accurate measure of fat in the body to help determine obesity and assess risk," said the study's first author, Adrienne L. Clark, a resident in the department of medicine at the Geffen School of Medicine.
According to Horwich, no one knows exactly why the obesity paradox exists for heart failure patients, but there are several possible explanations.
Being underweight is traditionally associated with a poorer prognosis in heart failure patients. Obesity may be at the other end of the spectrum, and patients may thereby benefit from increased muscle mass, as well as metabolic reserves in the form of fatty tissue. In addition, increased levels of serum lipoproteins that are associated with increased body fat may play an anti-inflammatory role, neutralizing circulating toxins and inflammation-related proteins.
Obese patients also present at an earlier stage of heart failure due to increased symptoms and functional impairment caused by excess body weight, so they may be getting help sooner, which also could improve outcomes, the researchers said.
The next steps in research will include larger studies with longer follow-up times, as well as a closer look at the physiology behind the obesity paradox.
4 July, 2012
Avocado diet 'triples chance of success' for couples undergoing IVF
Just another class effect. The "good" diet described below would have little following among the workers
Eating avocados and dressing salads with olive oil could help women trying to have a baby through IVF, researchers claim. Foods typically eaten as part of the Mediterranean diet may triple the chances of success for women having the fertility treatment.
A study found monounsaturated fat – found in olive oil, sunflower oil, nuts and seeds – was better than any other kind of dietary fat for would-be mothers. Those who ate the highest amounts were 3.4 times more likely to have a child after IVF than those who ate the lowest amounts.
In contrast, women who ate mostly saturated fat, found in butter and red meat, produced fewer good eggs for use in fertility treatment.
US experts behind the study believe monounsaturated fats – which are already known to protect the heart – could improve fertility by lowering inflammation in the body.
The study was presented at the European Society of Human Reproduction and Embryology in Istanbul. It was carried out at Harvard School of Public Health, funded by the US National Institutes of Health.
Study leader Professor Jorge Chavarro said: ‘The best kinds of food to eat are avocados, which have a lot of monounsaturated fat and low levels of other sorts of fat, and olive oil.’
He said the study was small, but the findings merited further investigation. ‘While these results are interesting, this is the first time to our knowledge that dietary fats have been linked to treatment outcome in IVF,’ he said.
Prof Chavarro said higher levels of monounsaturated fat were linked to higher live birth rates, which ‘ultimately people are looking for’.
The study took place among 147 women having IVF at the Massachusetts General Hospital Fertility Center. Their intake of different dietary fats was recorded and the outcome of fertility treatment compared between the highest and lowest third of intake in each category. Women eating the highest levels of all types of fat had fewer good eggs available for use in treatment.
Prof Chavarro said the link was driven by saturated fat intake, while high levels of polyunsaturated fat consumption produced poorer quality embryos.
Higher intakes of monounsaturated fat were linked to a 3.4 times higher live birth rate than those with the lowest intake.
For those eating least, monounsaturated fat made up nine per cent of calories in their diet while it comprised a quarter for those eating the most.
Prof Chavarro said ‘Different types of fat are known to have different effects on biological processes which may influence the outcome of assisted reproduction - such as underlying levels of inflammation or insulin sensitivity. ‘However, it is not clear at this moment which biological mechanisms underlie the associations we found.’
He said fish remained a source of ‘good’ omega 3 fatty acids, although the study was not able to pin down its contribution.
Bacteria found in soil near Easter Island statues could offer treatment for Alzheimer's
A natural drug discovered in the soil of Easter Island could improve the memory of older people - and even treat Alzheimer's, researchers say.
In tests in mice, the drug halted the decline in brain function as they got older, and offered hope that it could also treat depression.
The drug - rapamycin - is a bacterial by-product discovered in the shadows of the island's famous statues. It is already used in transplant patients to prevent organ rejection and now scientists in journal Neuroscience say it can improve learning and help treat cognitive decline. It could even treat conditions like Alzheimer's, they believe.
A team from the University of Texas added the drug to the diet of healthy mice and discovered it improved learning and memory in young mice and memory in elder rodents.
Professor Veronica Galvan said: ‘We made the young ones learn, and remember what they learned, better than what is normal. ‘Among the older mice, the ones fed with a diet including rapamycin actually showed an improvement, negating the normal decline that you see in these functions with age.’
The team also found three ‘happy, feel-good’ neurotransmitters - serotonin, dopamine and norepinephrine - were higher in the mice treated with rapamycin.
This could help explain the effects on memory, she said, and helped back up previous research which showed Alzheimer's like syndromes were lowered in mice treated with the drug.
‘This is super-interesting and something we are going to pursue in the lab,’ she said. It also lowered anxiety and depressive-like behaviour in the mice, she said.
Her colleague Dr Jonathan Halloran used a series of elevated tunnels that led to a catwalk to examine the behaviour of the rodents. Mice prefer tunnels to open spaces and were watched on the catwalk.
Dr Halloran said: ‘All of a sudden the mice are in open space.
‘It's pretty far from the floor for their size, sort of like if a person is hiking and suddenly the trail gets steep. It's pretty far down and not so comfortable.’Mice with less anxiety were more curious to explore the catwalk, he said.
He explained: ‘We observed that the mice fed with a diet containing rapamycin spent significantly more time out in the open arms of the catwalk than the animals fed with a regular diet.’
Similarly, when mice were handled by their tails they would struggle, but depressed mice would struggle less.
‘So we can measure how much and how often they struggle as a measure of the motivation they have to get out of an uncomfortable situation,’ said Dr Galvan.
‘We found rapamycin acts like an antidepressant - it increases the time the mice are trying to get out of the situation. ‘They don't give up; they struggle more.’
3 July, 2012
Drinking coffee lowers risk of most common skin cancer
Proper caution about making inferences from this data is expressed below. It should be stressed that minimal sun exposure is the best way to avoid BCCs
A cup of coffee a day can help keep skin cancer at bay, according to a new study. Researchers found increasing the number of cups of caffeinated coffee you drink could lower your risk of developing the most common form of skin cancer, basal cell carcinoma.
Doctor Jiali Han, associate professor at Brigham and Women's Hospital in the United States, said: 'Our data indicate that the more caffeinated coffee you consume, the lower your risk of developing basal cell carcinoma.
'I would not recommend increasing your coffee intake based on these data alone.
'However, our results add basal cell carcinoma to a list of conditions for which risk is decreased with increasing coffee consumption. This list includes conditions with serious negative health consequences such as type 2 diabetes and Parkinson's disease.'
Even though basal cell carcinoma is slow-growing, it causes considerable illness and places a burden on health care systems. There are an estimated 80,000 new cases in the UK every year.
Dr Han said: 'Given the large number of newly diagnosed cases, daily dietary changes having any protective effect may have an impact on public health.'
Dr Han and his colleagues analysed data from the Nurses' Health Study, a large and long-running study to aid in the investigation of factors influencing women's health, and the Health Professionals Follow-up Study, a study of men.
Of the 112,897 participants included in the analyses, 22,786 developed basal cell carcinoma during the more than 20 years of the two studies. An inverse association was observed between all coffee consumption and risk of basal cell carcinoma.
Similarly, an inverse association was seen between intake of caffeine from all dietary sources - coffee, tea, cola and chocolate - and risk of basal cell carcinoma.
However, consumption of decaffeinated coffee was not associated with a decreased risk of basal cell carcinoma.
Dr Han said: 'These results really suggest that it is the caffeine in coffee that is responsible for the decreased risk of basal cell carcinoma associated with increasing coffee consumption. 'This would be consistent with published mouse data, which indicate caffeine can block skin tumour formation.
'However, more studies in different population cohorts and additional mechanistic studies will be needed before we can say this definitively.'
In contrast to the findings for basal cell carcinoma, neither coffee consumption nor caffeine intake were inversely associated with the two other forms of skin cancer, squamous cell carcinoma and melanoma, the most deadly form of the disease.
Only 1,953 cases of squamous cell carcinoma and 741 cases of melanoma were recorded among the 112,897 participants included in Han's analyses.
Dr Han added: 'It is possible that these numbers are insufficient for any association with coffee consumption to be seen.
'As the study participants are followed for a longer time, the number of cases of these conditions is likely to increase. We may be in a position in 10 years' time to better address this issue.'
The findings were published in the journal Cancer Research.
Hot needle that spares men from impotence by destroying cancer cells
Doctors are using a hot needle to ‘cook’ prostate cancer. The device, which is placed against the diseased prostate gland, uses high temperatures to destroy cancer cells, but leaves the healthy surrounding tissue untouched.
Surgeons say that the fine needle, which is no more than 2mm across, allows them to destroy only the part of the prostate that is diseased, and reduces the risk of side-effects such as impotence and incontinence.
They are now trialling the technique, which has been used previously to treat breast and kidney tumours, on 60 men with early-stage prostate cancer.
This is the most common male cancer, accounting for one in four of all tumours diagnosed in men.
In the UK, there are more than 40,000 cases a year and 10,000 deaths.
There are a number of different treatments, depending upon whether the cancer is contained within the gland, or has spread just outside the prostate or to other parts of the body.
For localised cancers, treatments include watchful waiting (also known as ‘active surveillance’), where doctors closely monitor the development of a tumour, or removal of the gland in a procedure called a radical prostatectomy.
While treatments can be highly effective, there is a risk of side-effects due to nerves being damaged during the procedure. Because of this, there is increasing interest in so-called focused therapies that use high-energy waves to destroy the cancer.
One technique that is increasingly used is high-intensity focused ultrasound (HIFU), which uses soundwaves to destroy the cancer.
Another technique is radio-frequency ablation, which uses a type of electric current that generates heat at the end of a needle-like electrode. This is placed into the tumour and destroys the tissue around the tip of the device.
Scientists believe that this technique can be used to treat more people than high-intensity focused ultrasound.
Professor Raj Persad, urological surgeon at the Bristol Royal Infirmary and Bristol Urological Institute, explains this is because the energy used in high-intensity focused ultrasound is weaker than that used in radio-frequency ablation.
This means ultrasound cannot treat large prostates (because the beam will not penetrate deep enough); it also can’t be used on men who have prostate stones — hard calcium deposits common in older men.
This is because the beam will be blocked — ‘even worse it can be reflected back towards the rectum, causing potential harm to the tissue,’ says Professor Persad.
Radio-frequency ablation does not have these complications, and is now being used in a trial at the Lee Moffitt Cancer Centre and Research Institute in the U.S.
Doctors will perform the procedure on 60 men with early-stage prostate cancer that has not spread outside the gland.
Under general anaesthetic the needle will be inserted through the perineum (the area between the scrotum and the bottom) and doctors will use imaging such as CT scans or MRI to guide the needle into place.
During the hour-long operation the device delivers a blast of electricity at a power of around 20 watts (an electric shaver uses around 50 watts of power).
After six months, the doctors will evaluate the patients’ side-effects, including incontinence, bowel function and impotence.
Commenting on the research, Professor Persad says: ‘This is an interesting trial, and is part of the sea-change in the philosophy of prostate cancer treatment.
‘It represents an attempt to treat only the portion of the gland involved with cancer and avoid unnecessary damage to surrounding structures, which is a risk with “whole gland treatment” such as radical prostatectomy or radical radiotherapy.’
But he cautions neither approach can be used for advanced disease. ‘Not all tumours can be treated in this way — extremely aggressive or high-risk prostate tumours are not suitable for this technique.’
2 July, 2012
Chronic pain is determined by emotions, scientists believe
This is a very dangerous assumption. People have often been told "It's all in your mind" when they in fact have serious illnesses
The emotional state of the brain can explain why different individuals do not respond the same way to similar injuries, say scientists. Some recover fully while others remain in constant pain.
Brain scan studies showed for the first time how chronic pain emerges as a result of an emotional response to an injury.
The process involves interaction between two brain regions, the frontal cortex and nucleus accumbens.
Lead scientist Professor Vania Apakarian, from Northwestern University in Chicago, US, said: "The injury itself is not enough to explain the ongoing pain. It has to do with the injury combined with the state of the brain."
The more emotionally the brain reacted to the initial injury, the more likely it was that pain will persist after the injury has healed, he said.
Prof Apakarian added: "It may be that these sections of the brain are more excited to begin with in certain individuals, or there may be genetic and environmental influences that predispose these brain regions to interact at an excitable level."
The research involved 40 volunteers who had all suffered an episode of back pain lasting one to four months.
Four brain scans were carried out on each participant over the course of one year.
The results, published in the journal Nature Neuroscience, made it possible to predict with 85% accuracy which individuals would go on to develop chronic pain.
The nucleus accumbens teaches the rest of the brain how to evaluate and react to the outside world. Prof Apakarian said it may use the initial pain signal to teach other parts of the brain to develop chronic pain. "Now we hope to develop new therapies for treatment based on this finding," he added.
The colonic irrigation fad
Q: How safe is colonic irrigation? I have friends who swear by it as a cure for irritable bowel syndrome (IBS), but I’ve also read that it gets rid of important 'friendly’ bacteria in the gut. Does it benefit people with digestive problems and if so how often is it recommended?
THE GP Rupal Shah
There is no evidence that colonic irrigation is effective at treating IBS, or indeed any other medical condition. The idea that 'detoxification’ is somehow beneficial goes very much against mainstream medical thinking. The colon naturally eliminates waste material and absorbs water and electrolytes, and colonic irrigation has the potential to disturb this balance, leading to dehydration and salt depletion.
THE REGISTERED DIETICIAN Nigel Denby
While there is no evidence to suggest that having a colonic is particularly dangerous, there’s nothing to support the idea that it will really do you any good, either. The same goes for other 'cleansing’ treatments – detox clinics and so on. Our body is perfectly well equipped to do all of these things itself, and forcing the process is likely to give psychological satisfaction rather than any physiological boost.
THE NUTRITIONAL THERAPIST Melanie Brown
Colonic irrigation is based on the theory that impacted faecal waste causes 'auto-intoxication’ but there is no evidence supporting this. The delicate ecosystem of bacteria is almost certainly disrupted so re-population with probiotics is essential. Electrolyte balance may be affected and vitamins B and K, made by gut bacteria, lost. It is an invasive treatment so finding a qualified, experienced therapist is vital
1 July, 2012
Women who work more than 25 hours a week while pregnant 'more likely to have smaller babies'
Probably just a class effect. Working class women may be more likely to have full time jobs and they have more trouble-prone babies anyway. Women from wealthier families may not work at all and, broadly, wealth=health
Pregnant women who work more than 25 hours a week tend to have smaller babies, according to research. They weigh up to half a pound (200g) less than average at birth.
Scientists also found a connection between the amount of time pregnant women spent on their feet at work and the size of their babies, with those standing ‘often’ in jobs such as teaching or sales more likely to have smaller children.
One explanation is that more physically demanding work may reduce the flow of blood to the placenta, limiting the amount of nutrients and oxygen going to the foetus.
Experts do not know why working long hours in an office job would have a similar effect, but it may be due to stress.
Although smaller babies are not necessarily unhealthier, they are at higher risk from breathing problems, heart defects and conditions affecting their digestion. There is also evidence that they are at higher risk of learning difficulties and developmental problems later on.
The researchers from the University Medical Centre in Rotterdam in the Netherlands surveyed 4,680 expectant mothers, who were 30 weeks pregnant. They were asked how many hours they worked a week and whether they ‘often’ spent long periods on their feet.
Those who worked more than 25 hours a week subsequently had babies weighing 5-7oz (148-198g) less than average. The circumference around the heads was nearly half an inch (1cm) shorter.
There were similar results for those who spent long periods on their feet while working during their pregnancy.
The authors, whose study is published in the journal Occupational and Environmental Medicine, said employers should do more to make pregnant women’s jobs as comfortable as possible.
‘Optimising the work environment is important since participation of women in the reproductive age in the workforce continues to increase,’ they said.
‘Preventive measures reducing certain occupational conditions, such as shift work, night hours, standing, lifting and noise, have proven to reduce the risks of adverse birth outcomes.’
Dr Jenny Myers, from Manchester University’s Maternal and Foetal Health Research Centre, said: ‘The observed effects are not big enough to dramatically increase the number of growth-restricted babies, but it is not known whether these very subtle changes in growth trajectory have any significance in the long term.’
Prof Alex Burdorf, the lead author, said: 'We were not surprised that (the babies') head size was smaller in pregnant women who stand for a long time at work, but we were pleasantly surprised to find that it was only by a modest amount - three per cent smaller than average at birth.'
How labour lasts longer for nervous mothers: Birth can take extra 90 minutes if you are worried
This is undoubtedly true. Relaxation is the key to an easy childbirth. In the old days women about to give birth were often given brandy for that reason
Women who are nervous about giving birth have far longer labours – taking an extra hour and a half to deliver their baby, say researchers. Nervous women typically take eight hours to give birth, while those who aren’t scared take six and a half hours.
It is thought up to a fifth of women are scared of giving birth, known as tocophobia. The researchers said scared women release adrenaline, stopping the muscles in their womb from properly contracting and pushing out the baby.
The study also found that those who were frightened were more likely to need an epidural or a caesarean.
And they were less likely to communicate with midwives about problems, so any assistance they may have needed was delayed.
Researchers from the University of Oslo asked 2,206 women who were 32 weeks pregnant to take a psychological test which worked out their fear of childbirth.
Around 7.5 per cent of the women – all first-time mothers – were defined as scared of childbirth.
Lead researcher Samantha Salvesen Adams, of the Health Services Research Centre, Akershus University Hospital, Norway, said: ‘Generally, longer labour duration increases the risk of emergency caesarean section.
‘However, it is important to note that a large proportion of women with a fear of childbirth successfully had a vaginal delivery and so elective caesarean delivery should not be routinely recommended.’
The study, published in BJOG: An International Journal of Obstetrics and Gynaecology, found that nervous women spent one hour and 32 minutes longer in labour.
John Thorp, of BJOG, said: ‘This research shows that women with fear of childbirth are more likely to need intervention and this needs to be explored further so that obstetricians and midwives can provide support and advice.’
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
SALT -- SALT -- SALT
1). A good example of an epidemiological disproof concerns the dreaded salt (NaCl). We are constantly told that we eat too much salt for good health and must cut back our consumption of it. Yet there is one nation that consumes huge amounts of salt. So do they all die young there? Quite the reverse: Japan has the world's highest concentration of centenarians. Taste Japan's favourite sauce -- soy sauce -- if you want to understand Japanese salt consumption. It's almost solid salt.
2). We need a daily salt intake to counter salt-loss through perspiration and the research shows that people on salt-restricted diets die SOONER. So the conventional wisdom is not only wrong. It is positively harmful
3). Table salt is a major source of iodine, which is why salt is normally "iodized" by official decree. Cutting back salt consumption runs the risk of iodine deficiency, with its huge adverse health impacts -- goiter, mental retardation etc. GIVE YOUR BABY PLENTY OF SALTY FOODS -- unless you want to turn it into a cretin
4). Our blood has roughly the same concentration of salt as sea-water so claims that the body cannot handle high levels of salt were always absurd
5). The latest academic study shows that LOW salt in your blood is most likely to lead to heart attacks. See JAMA. 2011;305(17):1777-1785. More here on similar findings
PEANUTS: There is a vaccination against peanut allergy -- peanuts themselves. Give peanut products (e.g. peanut butter -- or the original "Bamba" if you have Israeli contacts) to your baby as soon as it begins to take solid foods and that should immunize it for life. See here and here (scroll down). It's also possible (though as yet unexamined) that a mother who eats peanuts while she is lactating may confer some protection on her baby
THE SIDE-EFFECT MANIA. If a drug is shown to have troublesome side-effects, there are always calls for it to be banned or not authorized for use in the first place. But that is insane. ALL drugs have side effects. Even aspirin causes stomach bleeding, for instance -- and paracetamol (acetaminophen) can wreck your liver. If a drug has no side effects, it will have no main effects either. If you want a side-effect-free drug, take a homeopathic remedy. They're just water.
Although I am an atheist, I have never wavered from my view that the New Testament is the best guide to living and I still enjoy reading it. Here is what the apostle Paul says about vegetarians: "For one believeth that he may eat all things: another, who is weak, eateth herbs. Let not him that eateth despise him that eateth not; and let not him which eateth not judge him that eateth." (Romans 14: 2.3). What perfect advice! That is real tolerance: Very different from the dogmatism of the food freaks. Interesting that vegetarianism is such an old compulsion, though.
Even if we concede that getting fat shortens your life, what right has anybody got to question someone's decision to accept that tradeoff for themselves? Such a decision could be just one version of the old idea that it is best to have a short life but a merry one. Even the Bible is supportive of that thinking. See Ecclesiastes 8:15 and Isaiah 22: 13. To deny the right to make such a personal decision is plainly Fascistic.
Fatties actually SAVE the taxpayer money
IQ: Political correctness makes IQ generally unmentionable so it is rarely controlled for in epidemiological studies. This is extremely regrettable as it tends to vitiate findings that do not control for it. When it is examined, it is routinely found to have pervasive effects. We read, for instance, that "The mother's IQ was more highly predictive of breastfeeding status than were her race, education, age, poverty status, smoking, the home environment, or the child's birth weight or birth order". So political correctness can render otherwise interesting findings moot
That hallowed fish oil is strongly linked to increased incidence of colon cancer
The "magic" ingredient in fish oil is omega-3 fatty acids (n-3 LCPUFA in medical jargon). So how do you think the research finding following was reported? "No differences were seen in the overall percentage of infants with immunoglobulin E associated allergic disease between the n-3 LCPUFA and control groups. It was reported as SUPPORTING the benefits of Omeda-3! Belief in Omega-3 is simply a cult and, like most cults, is impervious to disproof. See also here.
"To kill an error is as good a service as, and sometimes better than, the establishing of a new truth or fact" -- Charles Darwin
"Most men die of their remedies, not of their diseases", said Moliere. That may no longer be true in general but there is still a lot of false medical "wisdom" around that does harm to various degrees -- the statin and antioxidant fads, for instance. And showing its falsity is rarely the problem. The problem is getting people -- medical researchers in particular -- to abandon their preconceptions
Bertrand Russell could have been talking about today's conventional dietary "wisdom" when he said: "The fact that an opinion has been widely held is no evidence whatever that it is not utterly absurd; indeed in view of the silliness of the majority of mankind, a widespread belief is more likely to be foolish than sensible.”
Eating lots of fruit and vegetables is NOT beneficial
The great and fraudulent scare about lead
The challenge, as John Maynard Keynes knew, "lies not so much in developing new ideas as in escaping from old ones".
"Obesity" is 77% genetic. So trying to make fatties slim is punishing them for the way they were born. That sort of thing is furiously condemned in relation to homosexuals so why is it OK for fatties?
Some more problems with the "Obesity" war:
1). It tries to impose behavior change on everybody -- when most of those targeted are not obese and hence have no reason to change their behaviour. It is a form of punishing the innocent and the guilty alike. (It is also typical of Leftist thinking: Scorning the individual and capable of dealing with large groups only).
2). The longevity research all leads to the conclusion that it is people of MIDDLING weight who live longest -- not slim people. So the "epidemic" of obesity is in fact largely an "epidemic" of living longer.
3). It is total calorie intake that makes you fat -- not where you get your calories. Policies that attack only the source of the calories (e.g. "junk food") without addressing total calorie intake are hence pissing into the wind. People involuntarily deprived of their preferred calorie intake from one source are highly likely to seek and find their calories elsewhere.
4). So-called junk food is perfectly nutritious. A big Mac meal comprises meat, bread, salad and potatoes -- which is a mainstream Western diet. If that is bad then we are all in big trouble.
5). Food warriors demonize dietary fat. But Eskimos living on their traditional diet eat huge amounts of fat with no apparent ill-effects. At any given age they in fact have an exceptionally LOW incidence of cardiovascular disease. And the average home-cooked roast dinner has LOTS of fat. Will we ban roast dinners?
6). The foods restricted are often no more calorific than those permitted -- such as milk and fruit-juice drinks.
7). Tendency to weight is mostly genetic and is therefore not readily susceptible to voluntary behaviour change.
8). And when are we going to ban cheese? Cheese is a concentrated calorie bomb and has lots of that wicked animal fat in it too. Wouldn't we all be better off without it? And what about butter and margarine? They are just about pure fat. Surely they should be treated as contraband in kids' lunchboxes! [/sarcasm].
9). And how odd it is that we never hear of the huge American study which showed that women who eat lots of veggies have an INCREASED risk of stomach cancer? So the official recommendation to eat five lots of veggies every day might just be creating lots of cancer for the future! It's as plausible (i.e. not very) as all the other dietary "wisdom" we read about fat etc.
10). And will "this generation of Western children be the first in history to lead shorter lives than their parents did"? This is another anti-fat scare that emanates from a much-cited editorial in a prominent medical journal that said so. Yet this editorial offered no statistical basis for its opinion -- an opinion that flies directly in the face of the available evidence.
11). A major cause of increasing obesity is certainly the campaign against it -- as dieting usually makes people FATTER. If there were any sincerity to the obesity warriors, they would ban all diet advertising and otherwise shut up about it. Re-authorizing now-banned school playground activities and school outings would help too. But it is so much easier to blame obesity on the evil "multinationals" than it is to blame it on your own restrictions on the natural activities of kids
12. Fascism: "What we should be doing is monitoring children from birth so we can detect any deviations from the norm at an early stage and action can be taken". Who said that? Joe Stalin? Adolf Hitler? Orwell's "Big Brother"? The Spanish Inquisition? Generalissimo Francisco Franco Bahamonde? None of those. It was Dr Colin Waine, chairman of Britain's National Obesity Forum. What a fine fellow!
Trans fats: For one summary of the weak science behind the "trans-fat" hysteria, see here. Trans fats have only a temporary effect on blood chemistry and the evidence of lasting harm from them is dubious. By taking extreme groups in trans fats intake, some weak association with coronary heart disease has at times been shown in some sub-populations but extreme group studies are inherently at risk of confounding with other factors and are intrinsically of little interest to the average person.
The "antioxidant" religion: The experimental evidence is that antioxidants SHORTEN your life, if anything. Studies here and here and here and here and here and here and here, for instance. That they are of benefit is a great theory but it is one that has been coshed by reality plenty of times.
Controlling serum cholesterol does not of itself reduce cardiovascular disease. It may even in fact increase it
The absurdity of using self-report questionnaires as a diet record
PASSIVE SMOKING is unpleasant but does you no harm. See here and here and here and here and here and here and here
The medical consensus is often wrong. The best known wrongheaded medical orthodoxy is that stomach ulcers could not be caused by bacteria because the stomach is so acidic. Disproof of that view first appeared in 1875 (Yes. 1875) but the falsity of the view was not widely recognized until 1990. Only heroic efforts finally overturned the consensus and led to a cure for stomach ulcers. See here and here and here.
Contrary to the usual assertions, some big studies show that fat women get LESS breast cancer. See also here and here
NOTE: "No trial has ever demonstrated benefits from reducing dietary saturated fat".
Huge ($400 million) clinical trial shows that a low fat diet is useless . See also here and here
Dieticians are just modern-day witch-doctors. There is no undergirding in double-blind studies for their usual recommendations
The fragility of current medical wisdom: Would you believe that even Old Testament wisdom can sometimes trump medical wisdom? Note this quote: "Spiess discussed Swedish research on cardiac patients that compared Jehovah's Witnesses who refused blood transfusions to patients with similar disease progression during open-heart surgery. The research found those who refused transfusions had noticeably better survival rates.
Relying on the popular wisdom can certainly hurt you personally: "The scientific consensus of a quarter-century ago turned into the arthritic nightmare of today."
Medical wisdom can in fact fly in the face of the known facts. How often do we hear reverent praise for the Mediterranean diet? Yet both Australians and Japanese live longer than Greeks and Italians, despite having very different diets. The traditional Australian diet is in fact about as opposite to the Mediterranean diet as you can get. The reverence for the Mediterranean diet can only be understood therefore as some sort of Anglo-Saxon cultural cringe. It is quite brainless. Why are not the Australian and Japanese diets extolled if health is the matter at issue?
Since many of my posts here make severe criticisms of medical research, I should perhaps point out that I am also a severe critic of much research in my own field of psychology. See here and here
This is NOT an "alternative medicine" site. Perhaps the only (weak) excuse for the poorly substantiated claims that often appear in the medical literature is the even poorer level of substantiation offered in the "alternative" literature.
I used to teach social statistics in a major Australian university and I find medical statistics pretty obfuscatory. They seem uniformly designed to make mountains out of molehills. Many times in the academic literature I have excoriated my colleagues in psychology and sociology for going ga-ga over very weak correlations but what I find in the medical literature makes the findings in the social sciences look positively muscular. In fact, medical findings are almost never reported as correlations -- because to do so would exhibit how laughably trivial they generally are. If (say) 3 individuals in a thousand in a control group had some sort of an adverse outcome versus 4 out of a thousand in a group undergoing some treatment, the difference will be published in the medical literature with great excitement and intimations of its importance. In fact, of course, such small differences are almost certainly random noise and are in any rational calculus unimportant. And statistical significance is little help in determining the importance of a finding. Statistical significance simply tells you that the result was unlikely to be an effect of small sample size. But a statistically significant difference could have been due to any number of other randomly-present factors.
Even statistical correlations far stronger than anything found in medical research may disappear if more data is used. A remarkable example from Sociology: below:"The modern literature on hate crimes began with a remarkable 1933 book by Arthur Raper titled The Tragedy of Lynching. Raper assembled data on the number of lynchings each year in the South and on the price of an acre's yield of cotton. He calculated the correlation coefficient between the two series at -0.532. In other words, when the economy was doing well, the number of lynchings was lower.... In 2001, Donald Green, Laurence McFalls, and Jennifer Smith published a paper that demolished the alleged connection between economic conditions and lynchings in Raper's data. Raper had the misfortune of stopping his analysis in 1929. After the Great Depression hit, the price of cotton plummeted and economic conditions deteriorated, yet lynchings continued to fall. The correlation disappeared altogether when more years of data were added."So we must be sure to base our conclusions on ALL the data. But in medical research, data selectivity and the "overlooking" of discordant research findings is epidemic.
The intellectual Roman Emperor Marcus Aurelius (AD 121-180) could have been speaking of the prevailing health "wisdom" of today when he said: "The object in life is not to be on the side of the majority, but to escape finding oneself in the ranks of the insane."
The Federal Reference Manual on Scientific Evidence, Second Edition says (p. 384): "the threshold for concluding that an agent was more likely than not the cause of an individual's disease is a relative risk greater than 2.0." Very few of the studies criticized on this blog meet that criterion.
Improbable events do happen at random -- as mathematician John Brignell notes rather tartly:
"Consider, instead, my experiences in the village pub swindle. It is based on the weekly bonus ball in the National Lottery. It so happens that my birth date is 13, so that is the number I always choose. With a few occasional absences abroad I have paid my pound every week for a year and a half, but have never won. Some of my neighbours win frequently; one in three consecutive weeks. Furthermore, I always put in a pound for my wife for her birth date, which is 11. She has never won either. The probability of neither of these numbers coming up in that period is less than 5%, which for an epidemiologist is significant enough to publish a paper.
Kids are not shy anymore. They are "autistic". Autism is a real problem but the rise in its incidence seems likely to be the product of overdiagnosis -- the now common tendency to medicalize almost all problems.
One of the great pleasures in life is the first mouthful of cold beer on a hot day -- and the food Puritans can stick that wherever they like