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 March, 2013

Could a 'gastric bypass in a pill' spell an end to diets and be the key to tackling obesity?

Probably not.  Any such effect would be marginal.  It's a rodent study anyway

Shedding the pounds without dieting, exercising or resorting to surgery sounds impossibly far-fetched.  But it could one day become a reality, thanks to probiotic tablets full of friendly bacteria – a ‘gastric bypass in a pill’.

The idea was developed from the observation that gastric bypass operations led to changes in bacteria in the gut, as well as quelling hunger and cravings for unhealthy food.

US researchers studied mice before and after they had a gastric bypass.

Three weeks after surgery, they had lost almost a third of their body weight. But tests also showed that their intestines contained fewer of the bugs commonly found in the digestive tracts of fat individuals, and more of those associated with leanness.

The mice were also burning more energy, despite not doing more exercise.

The researchers, from Massachusetts General Hospital and Harvard University, then took the ‘good bacteria’ and transferred it into lean mice.  These animals rapidly lost 5 per cent of their weight, despite not being put on a diet.

The scientists believe the effects could have been greater if the mice had been overweight.

The findings suggest that weight loss following gastric bypass surgery isn’t just due to the operation itself.  Changes in bacteria in the gut also play a role.

It is thought that the bacteria which colonise the digestive system after a gastric bypass produce chemicals which aid weight loss by speeding up the metabolism.

A better understanding of what the bacteria do could lead to new, effective treatments for obesity, one of which could be a pill packed with ‘friendly bacteria’.

But the study’s co-author, Dr Peter Turnbaugh, cautioned that the research is still at an early stage.  He said: ‘It might not be that we will have a magic pill that will work for everyone who’s slightly overweight.

'But if we can, at a minimum, provide some alternative to gastric bypass surgery that produces similar effects, it would be a major advance.’

The study was published in the journal Science Translational Medicine.


Full vaccine schedule safe for kids, no link to autism

A new study finds that children who receive the full schedule of vaccinations have no increased risk of autism.

"This is a very important and reassuring study," says Geraldine Dawson, chief science officer at Autism Speaks, who wasn't involved in the new paper. "This study shows definitively that there is no connection between the number of vaccines that children receive in childhood, or the number of vaccines that children receive in one day, and autism."

The study, published today in the Journal of Pediatrics, is the latest of more than 20 studies showing no connection between autism and vaccines, given either individually or as part of the standard schedule. The paper is the first to consider not just the number of vaccines, but a child's total exposure to the substances inside vaccines that trigger an immune response.

Study authors say they sought to address the fear that multiple vaccines are "overwhelming" children's immune system, possibly contributing to long-term problems. Twenty years ago, children were vaccinated against nine diseases. Today, they're vaccinated against 14, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, which funded the study.

Though kids get more needle sticks, the next-generation vaccines they receive are easier on the immune system than those used two decades ago, says Frank DeStefano, lead author of the new paper and director of the Immunization Safety Office at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

That's because modern vaccines are more sophisticated, using just a few critical particles — called antigens — to stimulate the immune system, DeStefano says. These antigens, found on the surfaces of bacteria and viruses, spur the body to make antibodies, which block future infections.

For example, an older version of the pertussis (whooping cough) vaccine, used until the late 1990s, was made using an entire, killed bacteria. That vaccine, called DTP, exposed the body to more than 3,000 antigens.

A newer, streamlined version, called DtaP, uses only the four to six antigens critical to producing immunity, DeStefano says.

Because of these sorts of improvements, fully vaccinated 2-year-olds are exposed to a total of 315 antigens, the study says.

That's a drop in the bucket compared with the billions of microbes — from bacteria to yeast — that babies encounter in their first hours of life.

The new research confirms the findings of a 2010 study in Pediatrics, which compared babies who received all vaccines on time in the first year of life with those who skipped or delayed their shot. That research found no neuropsychological differences, such as stuttering, facial tics or lower scores on IQ tests.

"A lot of parents are concerned about the number of 'owies' that children get," says Michael Smith, an author of the 2010 study and pediatric infectious disease specialist at the University of Louisville School of Medicine.

"But there's no benefit to delaying vaccines," says Smith, who wasn't involved in the new study. "When you delay your child's vaccines, you put them at risk."

Myths about autism and vaccines have persisted, in spite of the scientific evidence, partly because researchers don't really know what causes autism, Dawson says. "Until we conduct the research to answer the questions about autism's causes and risk factors, parents will continue to have questions," she says.

Research increasingly suggests that many of the underlying changes that cause autism take place before birth, and even before conception. Although parents often notice symptoms of autism only after a child is 12 to 18 months old, research by Dawson and others picked up subtle changes — in eye gaze or even brain patterns — as early as 6 months.

Doubts about vaccines have led to low vaccination rates in some communities, which have fueled flare-ups of once-forgotten diseases such as whooping cough, measles and mumps, Smith says. "If someone gets on a plane from Europe or India where there is measles, then we have measles again," Smith says.

The CDC reported Thursday that the USA had three cases last year of congenital rubella syndrome, an often fatal condition that afflicts the newborns of mothers who contract rubella, or German measles, while pregnant. Affected babies often suffer from a number of painful and life-threatening problems, such as heart defects, deafness, cataracts and mental retardation.

Vaccination has eliminated person-to-person spread of rubella in the Western Hemisphere. All three of the mothers last year were from Africa, where rubella still circulates. One of the babies died.

Though some parents may never believe vaccines are safe, the new study will probably reassure many others, says Karen Ernst of Voices for Vaccines, a group of parents and other vaccine advocates.

"Those who truly benefit from this article are the children of future parents," Ernst says. "These future parents will have more confidence in vaccinating their children on time. It is the job of parent-advocates like our members to speak up and make sure news about articles like this gets out.


29 March, 2013

The cancer clusters that weren’t

A recent post in ACSH Dispatch examines an interesting question: How likely is it that some U.S. communities have elevated cancer rates, a.k.a, "cancer clusters,” because of chemical pollution? The answer: not very.

ACSH points to an enlightening article published in Slate by George Johnson, who notes:

    "Time after time, the clusters have turned out to be statistical illusions—artifacts of chance. … The Erin Brockovich incident, one of the most famous, is among the many that have been debunked. Hexavalent chromium in the water supply of a small California town was blamed for causing cancer, resulting in a $333 million legal settlement and a movie starring Julia Roberts. But an epidemiological study ultimately showed that the cancer rate was no greater than that of the general population. The rate was actually slightly less."

Erin Brockovich, the loud-mouthed extrovert who got it totally wrong  -- at huge expense to others

Johnson also discusses the alleged cancer cluster in Toms River, N.J., which is the subject of a new book: Toms River: A Story of Science and Salvation, by Dan Fagin. But contrary to Fagin’s book, Johnson concludes: "… no matter how hard I squinted at the numbers, I found it hard to be convinced that there had been a cancer problem in Toms River.”

It is true that chemicals cause cancers where people are exposed for long periods of time to very high levels. For example, populations in Taiwan whose drinking water was contaminated with extremely high levels of arsenic for many decades experienced elevated rates of skin cancer. Is that a cluster? Surely it is. Does it convey information about the risks to populations exposed to much lower concentrations? Not particularly.

Yet activists focus on relatively low-level exposures to generate headlines and push regulations, and trial lawyers bring cases to extort large settlements because no one can prove their claims wrong — or right. Ironically, there’s evidence that low-level and long-term exposures to chemicals may have benefits, an effect that scientists refer to as hormesis.

Hollywood has sensationalized "cancer cluster” allegations, producing two major motion pictures – A Civil Action and Erin Brockovich – on the alleged effects of chemicals on various communities. In both cases, tort lawyers claimed that drinking water contaminated by industrial facilities caused cancers in nearby areas. Despite the ability of trial lawyers to win such cases, it is nearly impossible to pin down the causes of such clusters. In 1990, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reported on 22 years of studies that covered clusters in 29 states and five foreign countries. They could not establish a clear cause for any cluster.

Part of the problem is that clusters occur by mere chance. Raymond R. Neutra of the California Department of Health Services finds that we can expect nearly 5,000 such random cancer clusters to exist in any given decade in the United States (Scientific American 275, no. 3 (1996): 85–86.).

The risks of cancer clusters resulting from low-level exposures to chemicals in the environment are simply too low to detect. But allegations about such clusters are good fodder for trial lawyers looking to make a buck, and they serve the agenda of activists who want to pass regulations on chemicals.


When The Nanny State Kills

The government told people to switch from saturated animal fats to unsaturated vegetable fats. But that advice may have killed a lot of people. As David Oliver notes, a recent study "in the British Medical Journal” shows that ”those who heeded the advice” from public-health officials "to switch from saturated fats to polyunsaturated vegetable oils dramatically reduced their odds of living to see 2013,” incurring up to a "60% increase in risk of death by switching from animal fats to vegetable oils.” This possibly deadly medical advice has a long history:

Fifty years ago the medical community did an about-face . . . and instead went all in on polyunsaturated fats. It reasoned that since (a) cholesterol is associated with cardiovascular disease and (b) polyunsaturated fats reduce serum cholesterol levels, it inescapably followed that (c) changing people’s diet from saturated fats to polyunsaturated fats would save a lot of lives. In 1984 Uncle Sam got involved – Time magazine reported on it in "Hold the Eggs and Butter” – and he made a big push for citizens to swap out animal fat in their diet for the vegetable variety and a great experiment on the American people was begun.

As Oliver, an expert on mass torts, points out, it is hard to ”think of any mass tort, or combination of mass torts, that has produced as much harm as the advice to change to a plant oil-based diet” may have done.

Some federal food-safety regulations have also harmed public health, such as the "poke and sniff” inspection method "that likely resulted in USDA inspectors transmitting filth from diseased meat to fresh meat on a daily basis.” The Obama administration has foolishly discouraged potato consumption, even though potatoes are highly nutritious, even as it has subsidized certain sugary and fatty foods, and promoted bad advice about salt.

Governments are killing smokers by banning safer alternatives to cigarettes. The Economist notes that Brazil and Singapore ban e-cigarettes, even though they could save countless lives, since they do not emit the smoke that makes cigarettes lethal. As it points out, "E-cigarettes do not just save the lives of smokers: they bring other benefits too. Unlike cigarettes, they do not damage the health of bystanders. They do not even smell that bad, so there is no public nuisance, let alone hazard, and thus no reason to ban their use in public places.” Countries like Austria and New Zealand restrict their sale, deeming them to be regulated "medical devices.” The Economist laments, "Instead of embracing e-cigarettes, many health lobbyists are determined to stub them out. . . .these objections seem to be driven by puritanism, not by reason. Some health lobbyists are so determined to prevent people doing anything that remotely resembles smoking—a process referred to as ‘denormalisation’—that they refuse to endorse a product that reproduces the pleasure of smoking without the harm.”

Cyprus may be in chaos, threatening another financial crisis in the European Union (EU), but as CEI’s Iain Murray notes, the good old EU knows where its priorities lie — in an effort to ban e-cigarettes. As The Commentator reports:

"On December 19th 2012, the EU produced a proposal for new laws controlling tobacco and e-cigarettes. Under the new proposals, packets of both will likely have to be brazenly branded with warning signs and unsightly images. Fine if you believe this deters people from smoking (which there is scant evidence for), not so fine if you believe that smokers should be more free or indeed encouraged to take up something less harmful to wean themselves off cigarettes."

"The proposed EU directive will make it harder for smokers to switch, and will also ban outright the least harmful tobacco products on the market – a product known as ‘snus’. It will treat e-cigarettes as ‘medicinal products’, causing concern over impossibly high standards and regulations leading to higher manufacturing costs. This means that e-cigarettes may no longer be able to compete in a lower, or even the same price band as cigarettes, which would likely cause smokers to think twice about adopting the healthier option.”

Of course, the EU isn’t alone. The FDA has been riding this pony for years. As my colleague Hans Bader wrote in 2009:

"The FDA is now moving towards banning e-cigarettes, reports syndicated columnist Jacob Sullum. Cigarettes, which contain lots of toxins and cancer-causing agents, aren’t banned, but the FDA wants to ban e-cigarettes, which contain infinitely-smaller amounts of carcinogens, complaining that e-cigarettes contain "detectable levels of known carcinogens and toxic chemicals to which users could potentially be exposed”.

"As public-health expert, and tobacco-industry critic, Michael Siegel notes, this is terrible reasoning by the FDA, since all tobacco replacement products now on the market contain small but "detectable” amounts of known carcinogens. The FDA used to be more reluctant to block smoking alternatives that have small or imaginary risks, but that seems to be changing over the last year.

"A bill supported by the nation’s largest cigarette maker that was signed into law earlier this year by Obama will keep producers of smokeless tobacco from truthfully telling smokers about the fact that smoking is more dangerous to their health than smokeless tobacco. That will harm public health, as advocates like Bill Godshall of Smoke Free Pennsylvania have noted.”


28 March, 2013

Two teas a day reduces prostate cancer risk 'by a third', but coffee offers no benefit

So tea drinkers in a coffee drinking nation (the USA) were more elite and so had better health.  Will the sociological naivety among medical researchers ever stop?

Men who drink at least two cups of tea a day could slash their risk of prostate cancer by more than a third, according to new research.

Regular tea drinkers were 37 per cent less likely to develop a tumour than those who drank it less than once a week.

But there was no benefit from coffee, according to scientists at Maastricht University in the Netherlands, where the latest study was carried out.

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

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

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

But there has been conflicting evidence on the role of popular beverages.

Last year, for example, a study at Glasgow University found heavy tea drinkers were more at risk of the disease.

It tracked the health of more than 6,000 male volunteers over a period of 37 years and found those consuming over seven cups a day had a 50 per cent higher risk of prostate cancer than moderate and non tea drinkers.

But the researchers stressed they could not be sure if tea really was a risk factor, or if drinkers lived to ages where cancer was more common.

In the latest study, the Maastricht University team compared 892 men diagnosed with prostate cancer with a similar number who were in good health, studying their dietary and drinking habits.

The study was carried out on a population of men in the US, where coffee is much more popular.

Only one in five volunteers drank at least one tea a day, compared with nearly 60 per cent when it came to coffee.

But the results, published in the journal Cancer Causes Control, showed two or more teas a day appeared to have a powerful anti-cancer effect, while coffee had none.

The study did not examine how tea might help to prevent prostate tumours but previous investigations have found it contains disease-fighting chemicals, called polyphenols, that may protect vital tissues and organs against an invasion of cancerous cells.

A 2010 study discovered women drinking just one cup of tea a day were ten per cent less likely to suffer ovarian cancer.

In a report on the latest findings researchers said: 'This is further evidence that tea consumption may be a modifiable exposure that reduces the risk of prostate cancer.'


Pesky! Whole Milk Or Skim? Study Links Fattier Milk To Slimmer Kids

The job of parenting toddlers ain't easy. Consider the 2-year-old to-do list: Get tantrums under control. Potty train. Transition from whole milk to low-fat milk.

Speaking from experience, only one of these things was easy.  As my daughter turned 2 in January, we made the simple switch to reduced-fat milk. Done. Don't need to overthink this one, right?

After all, I'm following the evidence-based advice of the American Academy of Pediatrics.

The guidance is based on studies that found children who consumed low-fat milk as part of a reduced-saturated-fat diet had lower concentrations of LDL cholesterol. Given the body of evidence in adults linking high cholesterol to increased risk of heart disease, it makes sense to keep an eye on cholesterol, beginning in childhood.

And if you take fat out of milk, you've also reduced calories, which should help protect kids against becoming overweight. At least, that's been the assumption.

So here's where things gets confusing. A new study of preschool-aged children published in the Archives of Disease in Childhood, a sister publication of the British Medical Journal, finds that low-fat milk was associated with higher weight.

That's right, kids drinking low-fat milk tended to be heavier.

"We were quite surprised" by the findings, Dr. Mark DeBoer told me in an email. He and his co-author, Dr. Rebecca Scharf, both of the University of Virginia, had hypothesized just the opposite.

But they found the relationship between skim-milk drinkers and higher body weights held up across all racial/ethnic and socioeconomic groups. DeBoer says their data also show that low-fat milk did not restrain weight gain in preschoolers over time.

The study included about 10,700 children in the United States. Parents were interviewed about their child's beverage consumption on two occasions: once when the children were 2 years old and again at 4 years. Direct measurements of height and weight (to calculate body mass index) were taken by researchers.

Interestingly, this is not the first study to point in this direction.

In a 2005 study, researchers at Brigham and Women's Hospital reported that skim and 1 percent milk were associated with weight gain among 9-to-14-year-olds.

And a 2010 study by researchers at Children's Hospital in Boston, which also looked at preschool-aged children, found that higher intake of whole milk at age 2 was associated with a slightly lower BMI (body mass index). The researchers concluded that switching from whole milk to reduced-fat milk at 2 years did not appear to prevent weight problems in early childhood.

When you look at these studies together, DeBoer's findings become more intriguing, though it's unclear how higher fat could lead to lower weight.

One theory: It's possible that whole milk gives us a greater sense of satiety.

"This is speculative," says DeBoer, but if you feel fuller after drinking whole-fat milk, "it may be protective if the other food options are high in calories." In other words, if whole-fat milk saves a kid from eating an extra cookie or a second serving of mashed potatoes, he or she may end up eating fewer calories overall.

As the authors acknowledge, one of the shortcomings of the new study is that the researchers did not know how many calories the children were consuming overall or what types of foods they were eating.

So is it time to think anew about switching toddlers to low-fat milk?

"I don't think there is harm in rethinking a recommendation, particularly if there weren't rigorous data behind it," says DeBoer. He says he hopes his results lead to further, more definitive studies.

But not everyone is convinced. "I do think that the recommendation to give low-fat milk at age 2 is sound advice," says Dr. Stephen Daniels, a pediatrician at the University of Colorado and member of the AAP's Committee on Nutrition.

"I don't think the link between low-fat milk and higher weight makes much sense from a biological perspective," he says.

Some of the earliest studies evaluating diets low in saturated fat and cholesterol did find a link to less obesity among girls. And Daniels points out that in the new study, the toddlers who were on low-fat milk were already heavier.

"This leaves open the real chance that parents may have been choosing low-fat milk as a weight-management strategy for those who were already overweight," Daniels says.

Parents, if this leaves you confused, one thing to keep in mind is that — whether it's whole, 2 percent or skim — milk is probably not a major driver when it comes to childhood weight problems. Many studies have shown that sugar-sweetened beverages play a much bigger role.


27 March, 2013

Has your water got sufficient ions?

Beware sarcasm

After so many years of neglect, water appears ready to emerge as a cutting-edge health food.

Perhaps it's the fault of Gatorade, that Technicolor concoction of salt, sugar and water people guzzle to "replenish their electrolytes." The Gatorade inventors, some dweeby physiologists, were just trying to keep football players from collapsing in the Florida heat. They could not have foreseen what was to transpire in the decades ahead as the concept of the "sports drink" took hold, and then, more bizarrely yet, water itself became a symbol of health and status.

With each iteration, beginning with bottled waters derived from glaciers (tres European) to the recent "enhanced water," H2O has moved closer to the first-class cabin. But the latest version is a real head-scratcher: ionised, alkalinised water.

Companies are in the game to sell you a gizmo to run your tap water through. The devices contain electrodes that purport to realign your water, split off some hydrogen atoms along the way, and rid it of various pesky problems so that it will taste better and be healthier and your arthritis will go away. In a week. Maybe two.

Water, in the western world at least, is a strange target for an expensive course in self-improvement. Top-notch plumbing remains perhaps our greatest achievement. We confront many ubiquitous environmental risks daily, but water is not among them. It is safe and unobjectionable. Plus it's cheap - and yet Americans spent $21 billion last year on bottled water.

So why all the excitement about ionised water? And didn't we go through this already with air? We were going to ionise air, too, to purify it - until that didn't work out so well. In fact, Sharper Image, a purveyor of one of these air ioniser products, lost a large lawsuit because of their too optimistic claims.

Having read many articles and viewed countless videos about ionisation and alkalisation of water, I remain uncertain how the technology being hawked will help a single soul. There isn't even a crummy clinical trial to criticise. Nothing.

Even by health fad standards, the science around ionisation and alkalinisation is remarkably thin. Here is the claim: We are ingesting food and drink that is set at a disadvantageous pH. You remember pH, the measure of acidity and its opposite, alkalinity (or baseness, as in acid-base balance), where perfect Swiss neutrality is 7.0. Any number below 7.0 refers to an acidic substance and any number above, alkaline.

A more important pH to remember is this: 7.4. That's the pH of the human bloodstream. We work very hard to stay exactly there. Every chemical reaction, all trillion or two our cells crank through daily, is optimised for 7.4. The body does not work well outside a tight range between 7.35 and 7.45; indeed much more variation and you're liable to drop dead. Here's an example of how seriously our body takes its ambient pH. People with emphysema retain carbon dioxide in the distorted nooks and crannies of their lungs, and the carbon dioxide converts to a mild acid that would upset the body's entire acid-base balance. Your heroic kidneys compensate for the extra acid by hanging onto bicarbonate, thereby maintaining the 7.4 pH and keeping the body from collapsing.

The body has a floating buffer system that shifts back and forth from the mildly alkaline (bicarbonate) to the mildly acidic (carbonic acid), depending on the need. The stomach, though, is a factory of harsh acid, creating a pH of 2 or so - the better to denature bacteria and viruses and anything else that might make you sick. So the idea that moving some water from a pH of 7.0, where it usually lives, to a pH of maybe 8.5 and claiming a major health triumph is quite puzzling. The premise, I think, is that slightly increasing the pH in your stomach will keep the stomach from having to secrete so much acid and in turn spare the pancreas from squirting out so much bicarbonate, thereby giving all your organs a bit of a holiday. And that holiday means we don't have pains or arthritis or die, maybe.

So that's alkalinisation. Ionising water for health is even more difficult to comprehend, but here goes: The ioniser splits water into its component parts, hydrogen and oxygen. The idea is that cleaving emancipates enslaved atoms from water's neutral charge (hydrogen is positive and oxygen is negative) and that this liberation is salutary. You're suddenly full of electricity, and everything feels better! This view that more ions are welcome stands in direct opposition to the free radical theory of disease. There, the bad guy is - you guessed it - a rogue negative charge looking for some unsuspecting molecule to glom onto and destroy, making you age and get arthritis and grey hair and all the problems that ionisation sets out to cure.

Water ionisation and alkalinisation is another fad without science to support it or even a particularly interesting group of nuts pitching it.

But so what? One could argue that there is nothing wrong with snake oil, that the crime is victimless but for the money lost. Surely it is unlikely that people will ionise or alkalinise their way to illness. There is harm, however, in all of this, similar to the harm that comes from tolerating a parallel universe of chronic Lyme and antioxidant cures and autism-causing vaccines and countless other persistent, willful misconceptions of what cold-hearted, gimlet-eyed science long ago has disproved.

Medicine and science are fragile entities, easily tarred and assaulted. People love to hate conventional remedies and advice, the schoolmarmish admonishments to eat less, exercise more and wear a seat belt for gosh sake. How much more fun to embrace a retro-futuristic water ioniser that does whatever it does and makes the willies all go away. Stacked up against that sort of promise, what chance does methodical, earthbound science really have? Eventually it is the physician who seems the narrow-minded, dim-witted charlatan stuck on boring Earth, heavy shoes pulled down by gravity. Because it turns out that it is not science that people want but science fiction.


Parkinson's drug 'helps' the elderly think younger and reap the rewards from the choices they make

At least this is a study of actual live people --JR

A drug used to treat Parkinson’s Disease could help older people make better decisions, say researchers.

As you get older you begin to lose the ability to learn from experiences, meaning you are less likely to be able to predict the chance of getting a reward from choices made.

This part of the brain, called the nucleus accumbens, is responsible for interpreting the difference between expected reward and actual reward.

These predictors, which come from a brain chemical called dopamine, helps us learn from our actions and in turn make better decisions in the future.

However, a drug widely used on Parkinson’s sufferers could help reverse this process helping older people think as they did when they were younger, according to a new study published in journal Nature Neuroscience.

Dr Rumana Chowdhury, who led the study at the Wellcome Trust Centre for Neuroimaging at University College London, said: 'We know that dopamine decline is part of the normal aging process so we wanted to see whether it had any effect on reward-based decision making.

'We found that when we treated older people who were particularly bad at making decisions with a drug that increases dopamine in the brain, their ability to learn from rewards improved to a level comparable to somebody in their twenties and enabled them to make better decisions.'

Researchers used behavioural testing and brain imaging techniques, to investigate the decision-making process in 32 healthy volunteers aged in their early seventies compared with 22 volunteers in their mid-twenties.

Older participants were tested on and off L-DOPA, a drug that increases levels of dopamine in the brain known as Levodopa, widely used to treat Parkinson’s.

The participants were asked to complete a behavioural learning task called the two-arm bandit, which mimics the decisions that gamblers make while playing slot machines. Players were shown two images and had to choose the one that they thought would give them the biggest reward.

Their performance before and after drug treatment was assessed by the amount of money they won in the task.

Dr Chowdhury said: 'Older volunteers who were less able to predict the likelihood of a reward from their decisions, and so performed worst in the task, showed a significant improvement following drug treatment'.

Researchers also looked at brain activity as particpantsn played the game using functional Magnetic Resonance Imaging (MRI).

They measured connections between areas of the brain that are involved in reward prediction using a technique called Diffusor Tensor Imaging (DTI).

The findings reveal that the older adults who performed best in the gambling game before drug treatment had greater integrity of their dopamine pathways.  Older adults who performed poorly before drug treatment were not able to adequately signal reward expectation in the brain - this was corrected by L-DOPA and their performance improved on the drug.

Dr John Williams, Head of Neuroscience and Mental Health at the Wellcome Trust, said: 'This careful investigation into the subtle cognitive changes that take place as we age offers important insights into what may happen at both a functional and anatomical level in older people who have problems with making decisions.

'That the team were able to reverse these changes by manipulating dopamine levels offers the hope of therapeutic approaches that could allow older people to function more effectively in the wider community.'


26 March, 2013

Traffic pollution causes as much childhood asthma as passive smoking (?)

This old chestnut seems to have eternal life.  There is no new data here -- just the hoary old epidemiological speculation

A study conducted in 10 European cities found that 14 per cent of chronic childhood asthma was due to pollution near busy roads.  This is similar to the burden linked to inhaling second hand tobacco smoke.

Between 4 per cent and 18 per cent of asthma cases in children are associated with passive smoking.

Lead scientist Dr Laura Perez, from the Swiss Tropical and Public Health Institute in Basel, said: 'Air pollution has previously been seen to trigger symptoms but this is the first time we have estimated the percentage of cases that might not have occurred if Europeans had not been exposed to road traffic pollution.

'In light of all the existing epidemiological studies showing that road traffic contributes to the onset of the disease in children, we must consider these results to improve policy making and urban planning.'

The findings are reported in the online version of the European Respiratory Journal.

Scientists used data from existing studies showing that children exposed to higher levels of traffic pollution also had higher rates of asthma.

A method known as population attributable fractions was employed to assess the impact of pollution near roads.

This calculates the proportional reduction in disease or death that would occur if exposure to a risk factor was lowered.

The results took account of differences in the health of different city populations, as well as other factors including passive smoking and socio-economic background.


Sweet! Just in time for Easter, scientists find chocolate cuts risk of stroke  -- but only if you're lying down

A lot of maybes below

Just in time for Easter, it's the news chocolate lovers have dreamt of – official confirmation that their favourite guilty pleasure can be good for you.

New research shows that eating just a single chocolate bar has a direct effect on the brain and may cut the risk of stroke.

Previous research has shown eating dark chocolate in moderation could be good for you. But the latest study, in the journal Neurology, shows for the first time how chocolate affects blood vessels.

Researchers at Glasgow University measured the speed of blood flowing through the biggest artery in the brain while subjects ate chocolate lying down.

They found that the chocolate had an effect on carbon dioxide levels which affected blood vessels, improved blood flow and, in turn, impacted on brain cells.

Professor Matthew Walters, who led the study, told The Mail on Sunday: 'Consumption of a normal chocolate bar was associated with a change in stiffness of the blood vessels.  'Our data is consistent with a direct effect of chocolate on the brain blood vessels.

'It raises the possibility that there is a direct effect of some component of the chocolate on blood vessels. This is plausible because of the flavonoid molecules contained in chocolate.

'We think a reduction in stroke risk may be caused by chocolate changing how brain blood vessels behave.'

The beneficial flavonoids, found in the cacao plant and others, are antioxidants that contribute to the prevention of heart disease.

However, chocolate  also has a high sugar and fat content which can cause obesity –  a definite risk factor for strokes.

Tom Solomon, professor of neurology at Liverpool University, said: 'We have to take the findings with caution.'


25 March, 2013

You might as well stay on the couch because keeping fit 'can't stop our muscles ageing'

Millions of us spend hours sweating and straining in the gym hoping to keep ourselves looking younger than our years.  But when it comes to slowing down the ageing process, you might as well stay on the couch.

According to scientists, regular exercise will not stop our muscles losing their tone and shape. The findings challenge the long-held belief that inactivity is largely responsible for muscle wastage in our older years.

Professor Jamie Timmons, from Loughborough University, said the research shows 'a simple link between muscle ageing and lack of exercise is not plausible'.

He added: 'When it comes to tackling ageing, experts are advising the Government that muscle ageing is caused by factors such as inactivity. However, we looked at the changes in human muscle with age, in both people from the UK and the USA.

'We did not observe physical activity altering the age-related biological changes. So for some people exercise might produce some good functional effects, but for others it will not stop the loss of muscle.'

Professor Timmons said a quarter of people 'just cannot grow muscle tissue' even when they make an effort to be physically active.

And he stressed that a 'one-size-fits-all' approach will not be effective when it comes to stopping muscles from withering away.

The researchers found specific chemical markers, or fingerprints, for muscle ageing. Once they identified the chemical signatures, the scientists were able to see how they reacted to endurance training.

They were looking for improvements in the patients who were exercising. But they soon realised that the volunteers' hard work in the gym did not stop their muscles from deteriorating.

Professor Timmons, who specialises in systems biology at Loughborough's Sport, Exercise and Health Sciences department, said: 'We found there is absolutely no connection. The major problem with ageing is loss of muscle, but 25 per cent of people don't respond to exercise and grow muscle.'

He warned that repetitive exercise could cause more than one in ten people to suffer high blood pressure and place 9 per cent at higher risk of diabetes. He said: 'Our public health strategy is to focus on physical activity, which in many cases doesn't work.

'For some people, the focus may be better spent on looking at their diet or sleep.'

The findings will come as bad news to exercise-obsessed stars who have attempted to maintain their youthful looks.

Despite her rigorous fitness regime, it is often pointed out that Madonna's hands and the veins on her arms make her look every one of her 54 years.

Last year Meg Ryan, 51, turned heads for all the wrong reasons after being spotted with blood vessels protruding from her arms.

And Sex And The City star Sarah Jessica Parker, now 47, has been forced to reduce her daily workout after her designer gowns revealed her bulging veins and sinewy biceps.

Prominent veins are usually a sign of over-exercising, and they become more evident as the body ages.


Response to Drescher on cancer and chemicals

Last week, Fran Drescher responded to my Huffington Post article on cancer trends, and today I posted a reply on the Independent Women’s Forum Inkwell blog. In a nutshell, I praise Drescher for her work promoting early detection and a healthy lifestyle that includes both a good diet and exercise, but her focus on chemicals as a significant cancer cause is problematic.

Her basic argument on the Huffington Post was as follows: Most cancers are caused by "environmental factors” and since trace chemicals are present in the human body we should take action to eliminate or reduce them if for no other reason than to simply err on the safe side.

It’s true that "environmental factors” are the cause of most cancers, but researchers define these factors as anything but genetics. As I noted in my article and elsewhere, environmental factors include tobacco, dietary choices, infections, natural radiation, and reproductive behavior among other things. Trace chemicals in consumer products are not a demonstrated cancer source.

What about the fact that chemicals are found in the human body? In its Fourth National Report on Human Exposure to Environmental Chemicals the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) explains: "The presence of an environmental chemical in people’s blood or urine does not mean that it will cause effects or disease.” The real question is: Is exposure from consumer products ever really high enough to raise concerns about cancer?

"These everyday exposures are usually too small to cause health problems,” says the Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry in its booklet titled "Chemicals, Cancer and You.” In fact, as humans increased our use of manmade chemicals, cancer rates have declined—the reverse of what you’d expect if they posed significant risks.

Finally, the idea that we should eliminate certain products "to be on the safe side” ignores the fact that these chemicals have benefits. When we arbitrarily eliminate them — either by regulation or simply bad publicity — we lose those benefits and potentially create more risks. For example, bans on the pesticide DDT — rather than policies to manage risks — have contributed to millions of deaths every year. Similar policies to ban chemicals used to make plastics and resins — including medical devices, blood bags, water bottles, and sanitary food packaging – may create additional risks for society, including some that are deadly.

So to erring on the "safe” side, I’d rather we focused on science, risk assessment, and ultimately consumer choice.


24 March, 2013

Eating too much salt blamed for 2.3 million deaths a year worldwide... ten times more than sugary drinks (?)

This is just epidemiological batshit -- based  on the profound wisdom that correlation is causation.  I would like to see just ONE case of a person eating normal foods and in normal health who clearly died of excess salt consumption.  And even the epidemiology is not kind to the claim.  Japanese eat huge amounts of salt but are unusually long-lived.  That's one heck of an "outlier"

Excessive salt consumption accounts for an estimated 2.3 million deaths a year overshadowing the dangers of consuming sugary drinks.

Fifteen per cent of all deaths from heart attacks, strokes and other heart-related diseases throughout the world in 2010 were caused by eating too much salt according to research presented at the American Heart Association.

A recent Harvard study had found that sugary drinks contribute to the deaths of around 180,000 people annually, but these latest finding are much more worrying.

'National and global public health measures, such as comprehensive sodium reduction programs, could potentially save millions of lives,' said lead author of the study and associate professor of medicine and epidemiology at the Harvard School of Public Health Dariush Mozaffarian.

'The burden of sodium is much higher than the burden of sugar-sweetened beverages.  'That’s because sugar-sweetened beverages are just one type of food that people can avoid, whereas sodium is in everything.'

The researchers analyzed 247 surveys of adult sodium intake, stratified by age, gender, region and country between 1990 and 2010 as part of the 2010 Global Burden of Diseases Study, an international collaborative study by 488 scientists from 303 institutions in 50 countries around the world.

Nearly one million of these deaths – 40 percent of the total -- were premature, occurring in people 69 years of age and younger.

Sixty per cent of the deaths occurred in men and 40 percent were in women. Heart attacks caused 42 percent of the deaths and strokes 41 percent. The remainder resulted from other types of cardiovascular disease.

Eighty-four percent of these deaths due to eating too much sodium were in low and middle-income countries, rather than high-income countries.


Computer games: Court rightly finds a scientific "consensus" to be wrong

Do gooders regularly condemn computer games despite a lot of evidence that they do no harm.  The collective body of American psychologists has regularly ignored the body of research in their own field and joined the alarmists.  Chris Ferguson has written a long paper showing that SCOTUS was right to hose down the alarmists.  Below is just the summary.  I wonder what, if anything,  the obnoxious Susan Greenfield will have to say about it

In June 2011 the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that video games enjoy full free speech protections and that the regulation of violent game sales to minors is unconstitutional. The Supreme Court also referred to psychological research on violent video games as "unpersuasive” and noted that such research contains many methodological flaws. Recent reviews in many scholarly journals have come to similar conclusions, although much debate continues.

Given past statements by the American Psychological Association linking video game and media violence with aggression, the Supreme Court ruling, particularly its critique of the science, is likely to be shocking and disappointing to some psychologists.

One possible outcome is that the psychological community may increase the conclusiveness of their statements linking violent games to harm as a form of defensive reaction. However, in this article the author argues that the psychological community would be better served by reflecting on this research and considering whether the scientific process failed by permitting and even encouraging statements about video game violence that exceeded the data or ignored conflicting data.

Although it is likely that debates on this issue will continue, a move toward caution and conservatism as well as increased dialogue between scholars on opposing sides of this debate will be necessary to restore scientific credibility.

The current article reviews the involvement of the psychological science community in the Brown v. Entertainment Merchants Association case and suggests that it might learn from some of the errors in this case for the future.


22 March, 2013

Men who have daughters after the age of 50 are 'twice as likely to have a grandchild with autism'

This is all rather improbable and the effect is small anyway.  It is unusual to have children late in life and for some such people late marriage may reflect poor mental health.  That they pass on a tendency towards poor mental health should be no surprise.  Thus it is probably poor mental health rather than age which is the causative factor

Men who have daughters when they are over 50 have almost double the risk of a grandchild being diagnosed with autism.  The risk to grandchildren from older fathers of sons is also higher than for younger dads, warn psychiatrists.

Mounting research suggests the older age of parents might be partly responsible for growing numbers of children with autism, but for the first time the risk of autism in the grandchild has been linked to the age of the grandfather at the time of his child's birth.

Findings from a new study suggest that genetic risk factors for the condition accumulate over generations.

Researchers from Britain, Sweden and Australia analysed the family and psychiatric records of almost 6,000 individuals with autism born in Sweden from 1932.  The data was compared with that from 31,000 unaffected members of the population.

The age when grandfathers on both sides had children was analysed and details of any psychiatric diagnosis considered.

The study found that autism risk in a grandchild increased the older the grandfather was when his son or daughter was born.

Men who had a daughter at the age of 50 or older were 1.79 times more likely to have a grandchild with autism than those aged 20 to 24.  Having a son at 50 or older increased a man's chance of having an autistic grandchild 1.67 times.

The findings were published in the journal JAMA Psychiatry.

In the UK, around one in 100 adults is thought to be affected by autism, mostly men, although the true rate is far higher according to some researchers.

Autism is an umbrella term for a range of developmental disorders that have a lifelong effect on someone's ability to interact socially and communicate.

Study co-author Dr Avi Reichenberg, from King's College London's Institute of Psychiatry, said:

'We tend to think in terms of the here and now when we talk about the effect of the environment on our genome. For the first time in psychiatry, we show that your father's and grandfather's lifestyle choices can affect you.

'This doesn't mean that you shouldn't have children if your father was old when he had you, because whilst the risk is increased, it is still small. However, the findings are important in understanding the complex way in which autism develops.'

Lead researcher Emma Frans, from the Karolinska Institute in Stockholm, said: 'We know from previous studies that older paternal age is a risk factor for autism

'This study goes beyond that and suggests that older grandpaternal age is also a risk factor for autism, suggesting that risk factors for autism can build up through generations.'

Autism is known to be caused by a combination of genetic and environmental factors.

Previous studies have shown that fathers aged 50 and older are more than twice as likely to have a child diagnosed with autism than younger fathers, while some research suggests older mothers may also be more at risk.

Experts think the link with paternal age could be explained by genetic errors creeping into sperm production as men get older.

The new research suggests that 'silent' mutations that leave a son or daughter unaffected may increase the risk of autism in later generations.

A combination of mounting mutations and interactions with other risk factors including persistent environmental chemicals in the body could finally cause the disorder to emerge.


Statins bad for kidneys (and other things)

Taking statins in high doses increases the risk of emergency hospital treatment for kidney damage, warn researchers.

They found patients taking high potency statins had a 34 per cent higher risk of being hospitalised for acute kidney injury, compared with those taking low doses.

Those in the high-risk group were taking 40 milligram and higher statin pills.

More than eight million adults take statins, with most taking 20-40 mg of simvastatin a day. They are the most widely prescribed drugs in the UK, with about 61 million prescriptions in England alone in 2011.

Anti-cholesterol drugs are used to reduce the risk of cardiovascular disease, with higher doses for those most at risk, and previous research has suggested they may trigger  kidney side effects.

Canadian researchers carried out an analysis comparing patients prescribed high potency statins to those who were prescribed low potency statins in seven Canadian provinces and two international databases (UK and U.S.) between 1997 and 2008.

The health records of two million people were used from the Canadian Network for Observational Drug Effect Studies for those with and without chronic kidney disease. The average age was 68 years.

The drugs Rosuvastatin at doses of 10mg or higher, atorvastatin at doses of 20mg or higher, and simvastatin at doses of 40mg or more were defined as high potency and all others as low potency.

High potency statin users were 34 per cent  more likely to be hospitalised for acute kidney injury (AKI) compared with low potency statin users in the first 120 days of treatment.

Rates were not significantly increased in patients with chronic kidney disease. This risk seemed to remain elevated for two years after starting treatment.

The researchers estimate that 1,700 patients with no previous kidney problems need to be treated with a high potency statin instead of a low potency statin in order to cause one additional hospitalisation.

But the risk could have been ‘underestimated’ they say in a report in the online medical journal

The researchers conclude that prescribing high potency statins is ‘associated with an increased rate of hospital admission with AKI compared with lower potency statins’.

The most serious adverse reaction to statins is myopathy in about one in 1,000 users, resulting in muscle pain, tenderness and weakness.

This condition can progress to rhabdomyolysis - a complete breakdown of muscle cells that can lead to kidney failure and death.

In some patients muscle weakness may persist even after stopping the drugs.

Other side-effects include cataracts, constipation or diarrhoea, headaches, loss of appetite and loss of sensation or pain in the nerve endings of the hands and feet.

The Medicines and Healthcare Regulatory Products Agency has warned about additional risks of sleep disturbances, memory loss, sexual dysfunction, depression and (very rarely) interstitial lung disease.

The risk of type 2 diabetes is raised by 12 per cent with high dose statins compared with moderate doses, according to a study.

Lead researcher Professor Colin Dormuth, of the University of British Columbia, Vancouver, said further investigation was necessary to determine how statins might be causing kidney injury.

It could be due to the increased risk of rhabdomyolysis, or  because use of statins can deplete the body's stores of CoQ10, a naturally-occurring nutrient important for energy production in cells.

Some studies suggest statins may protect against health problems, including blood clots, Alzheimer's and eye disorders, by maintaining a healthy supply of blood to the brain.

They may also cut the risk of dying from pneumonia.


21 March, 2013

Feeling anxious or depressed 'dramatically increases' the risk of dying from a heart attack

A lot of depressed people probably had good reason for it:  Poorer health.  My health problems sometimes depress me.  So the depression is a symptom, not a cause

Feeling depressed or anxious dramatically increases the chances of heart patients dying, new research suggests.

Death rates among those with heart disease who also suffer from anxiety and depression are tripled, one study found.

A separate team showed that moderate or severe depression increased the risk of death among patients with heart failure four-fold.

Almost 1,000 patients with an average age of 62 took part in the heart disease study, published in the Journal of the American Heart Association.

All answered questions about their feelings immediately before and after an invasive hospital procedure.

Doctors used tests based on common symptoms to decide whether participants were depressed or anxious.

Among the 133 patients who died during the next three years, 55 suffered from either one or both of the conditions.

Anxiety and depression were found to influence the risk of death in different ways. High blood pressure was strongly linked to anxiety, which on its own doubled the risk of dying from any cause.

Depression was more associated with behavioural risk factors, such as smoking and not taking medication.

Previous studies have already found that depression reduces the survival of heart disease patients and triples the risk of heart attacks.

However, this may have been partly because depressed patients are likely to be anxious as well, experts believe.

'Many studies have linked depression to an increased risk of death in heart disease patients,' said lead scientist Dr Lana Watkins, from Duke University Medical Centre in Durham, North Carolina.

'It's now time for anxiety to be considered as important as depression and for it to be examined carefully.'

As well as being more likely to die, depressed patients with heart failure had double the chance of finding themselves hospitalised, the other study found.

Heart failure is a condition that causes extreme exhaustion as a result of blood not being pumped around the body efficiently.

A total of 402 men and women from the state of Minnesota with heart failure took part in a depression survey.

Based on the answers, 59 per cent were classified as having no depression, 26 per cent as having mild depression, and 15 per cent as having moderate to severe depression. The patients had an average age of 73.

Even those who reported mild depression had an almost 60 per cent increased risk of dying over the following 18 months.

Moderate to severe depression pushed up the risk four times compared with patients who were not depressed.

Only a third of the seriously depressed patients were taking medication for their condition, according to the findings published in the journal Circulation: Heart Failure.

'We measured depression with a one-time questionnaire so we cannot account for changes in depression symptoms over time,' said Dr Alanna Chamberlain, from the Mayo Clinic, Rochester, Minnesota, who led the study.

'Further research is warranted to develop more effective clinical approaches for management of depression in heart failure patients.'


Pesky! Overweight people with heart disease are 30% LESS likely to die early than their thinner counterparts

It's widely believed that being overweight is bad for your heart and can lead to premature death.

But new study shows that overweight heart disease sufferers are actually 30 per cent less likely to die early than their counterparts of a healthy weight.

The researchers, from University College London, also found that even obese cardiac patients are 15 per cent less likely to die young than those of a normal weight.

Dr Mark Hamer, the study leader, told MailOnline: ‘The most plausible reason is that the obese patient is treated more aggressively because they have more risk factors – like high cholesterol and high blood pressure – which mean that doctors prioritise them, but that is just speculation.

‘We didn’t really get to the bottom of it but it certainly shows that it is a bad idea to focus on weight – BMI is not always a good marker of health.’

He explained that it is important to look at other factors, such as exercise, because people can improve the health of their heart significantly by exercising, even if they do not lose weight.

Dr Hamer and his colleagues followed 4,400 cardiac patients who took part in the Health Survey for England and the Scottish Health Survey.

They found that less of the overweight patients died in the seven years that they were followed than did the normal weight patients.

The researchers at UCL were not the first to find that overweight heart patients had a lower chance of premature death than normal weight ones.

Dr Hamer also explained that there is some data from previous studies to support the suggestion that overweight patients receive more aggressive treatment.

Other recent research has shown that heart attack survivors who are exposed to air pollution are more likely to die young.

Experts at the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine monitored more than 154,000 patients treated for heart attacks and angina for an average period of 3.7 years.

They found that higher levels of tiny sooty particles in the air increased death rates among survivors of acute coronary syndrome by 12 per cent.

Another recent study showed that all people who are overweight may outlive their thinner counterparts.

Men and women who are slightly plump - essentially carrying a few extra pounds - have longer lives than those of a normal weight, according to a study of more than three million people

However, those who were any bigger than this were around a third more likely to die during the months or years they were being studied than those of normal weight.



20 March, 2013

Want to slim AND repair creaky knees? Have a milkshake (?)

Nothing works for long

Liquid diets have had an image problem — the idea of losing weight by mixing sachets of powder into meal replacement milkshakes or soups makes dietitians very unhappy.  They worry that losing weight too quickly could be bad for you, and such plans don’t teach you how to eat healthily afterwards.

Indeed, many people do quickly put all the weight back on.

And then there are the pyramid-selling techniques behind some of these liquid diets, which have caused doctors to be especially cautious about making use of them.

But that poor image could be due a rethink following compelling new research suggesting low-calorie liquid diets can tackle obesity and reverse type 2 diabetes.

And it was backed by an editorial in the British Journal of General Practice last month.

For three months, all your food comes in the form of a nutritionally balanced drink. Either fruit or savoury-flavoured, it supplies 800 calories a day.

‘It’s a bit of a shock for the patients to start with,’ says Mahri Swanson, the practice nurse at the surgery. She adds: ‘These are people who could have been eating 3,000-4,000 calories a day.

‘For the first few days they are really hungry. But, surprisingly, most quite quickly say it’s OK, and within a week aren’t craving food.’

According to the February issue of the British Journal of General Practice, about 30 per cent of the 90 people taking part lost 15 to 20 kilos and kept it off for a year with a lot of support.

Several Scottish health authorities are planning to make liquid diets available through GPs  as a result.

Professor Mike Lean, chair of human nutrition at Glasgow University and a lead researcher on the trial, is having discussions with Diabetes UK about funding for a larger controlled trial of 200 people to properly test the  diabetic benefit.

‘The rising number of people who are obese or diabetic is going to cost billions,’ says Professor Tony Leeds, an obesity specialist who runs a clinic at the Central Middlesex Hospital in London and has been treating patients with liquid diets for years.

‘If these results are repeated, the savings could be huge.’

Indeed, in Denmark a liquid diet is about to become the first-line treatment for people with osteoarthritis of the knee.

This follows a study which found that when 175 osteoarthritis patients were put on a liquid diet they not only lost a lot of weight, nearly all of which was fat, but more than 60 per cent also showed significant improvement in pain and disability.

‘Until a few years ago all that was on offer for these patients was painkillers and advice to lose weight that rarely worked for long,’ says Professor Henning Bliddal, a rheumatologist at Frederiksberg Hospital who led the study.

‘Osteoarthritis normally makes bones weaker by reducing bone mineral density.

'But the bones of patients on the liquid diet improve, possibly because it contains the recommended daily allowance for all amino acids, fatty acids vitamins and minerals.

'This means they get extra vitamin D, which is vital for building bones.

‘About ten per cent of people over 55 have bad knees and are overweight, and the diet has changed the way we treat them,’ adds Professor Bliddal, who is running a trial to test the possibility that it can improve the structure of damaged cartilage in the knee.

The Danish study, published in the European Journal of Clinical Nutrition in 2011, concluded that the liquid diet was ‘effective and safe’.

In fact, despite concerns that a rapid drop in calories might be bad for you, emerging evidence suggests it may lower cholesterol levels.

Some researchers have even suggested it might even reduce asthma symptoms.

But whatever calorie restriction regimen — diet or liquid diet — it’s clear that a supportive and effective follow-up programme to make sure that the weight stays off is vital.

This has been a key part of the Scottish trial.

And it’s the special focus of the Rotherham Institute for Obesity, which over the past three years has helped the local population of 250,000 lose 17 tons between them — and halved the weight loss surgery rate in the first year (30 fewer patients have had the surgery, saving around £300,000).

The institute takes 2,000 referrals a year.

‘Our team of dietitians, fitness experts, psychologists and cooks make sure they have a good chance that any weight they have lost stays off,’ says Dr Matthew Capehorn, who heads the scheme and is also clinical director of the National Obesity Forum.

Under official guidelines from the National Institute for Health and Clinical Excellence (NICE), low-calorie diets are available on the NHS for people ‘who are obese and have reached a plateau in weight loss’.

The hope is that the new evidence will give GPs more confidence to use them.


Taking Vitamin D in pregnancy 'does not help babies develop stronger bones'

Levels of vitamin D in pregnant women may not affect the baby’s bone health - contrary to official advice, say scientists.

They found no link between a mother’s levels of the vitamin while carrying the child, and the latter’s bone health at the age of 10.

Current NHS guidance says all pregnant and breastfeeding women should take a 10 microgram vitamin D supplement every day, because it is believed to help build stronger bones in their offspring.

Professor Debbie Lawlor, who led the Children of the 90s study at Bristol University, said there was ‘no strong evidence’ that pregnant women should be taking vitamin D supplements.’

But other experts said some groups of women such as those getting little sunlight and the obese were more at risk of low vitamin D stores and they should still be encouraged to do so.

The study published in The Lancet medical journal assessed vitamin D levels in 3960 women throughout their pregnancy.

The bone mineral content (BMC), a measure of bone health, of their child was then assessed at an average age of 9.9 years.

Researchers measured vitamin D levels at all stages of pregnancy.

Levels were higher in summer months and lower among non-white mothers and those who smoked during pregnancy, but overall there was no significant link between a mother’s vitamin D levels and her child’s BMC.

Dr Tony Falconer, President of the Royal College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists, said ‘We know that Vitamin D regulates the amount of calcium in the body, which helps to keep bones and teeth healthy, and low levels have been associated with problems relating to the baby’s bone formation and a higher risk of diseases such as rickets and osteoporosis in later life.

‘Some women are more at risk of having low vitamin D levels, these women include those of south Asian, black African, black Caribbean, or Middle Eastern origin, women who have limited exposure to sunlight, obese women (pre-pregnancy BMI >30) and those who eat a diet low in vitamin D. It is particularly important these women get their required dose.

‘As healthcare professionals, it is our role to reinforce the importance for proper diet and nutrition during pregnancy and throughout a woman’s lifespan.

'It is important that at-risk women are informed, at their first antenatal booking, of the importance of adequate vitamin D during pregnancy and after, to maintain their own and their baby’s health.

‘Further research is needed to look at vitamin supplementation including potential benefits, harms and optimal dosing.’


19 March, 2013

Crooked science at a major university

Crookedness that became known only because of one honest Chinese statistician  -- who got fired over it.  Maybe it's my Sinophilia showing but I think the Chinese in this matter are the only ones who come out of this with any honour.  The Chinese man involved in the fraud at least had the grace to commit suicide  -- while all the whites are stonewalling and covering up -- with no hint of penitence.

The journal should obviously have published  Yuan's critique immediately.  There was no need to refer it back to the crooked authors.  I have had several critiques of my work published without prior reference to me -- JR

The numbers didn’t add up.  Over and over, Daniel Yuan, a medical doctor and statistician, couldn’t understand the results coming out of the lab, a prestigious facility at Johns Hopkins Medical School funded by millions from the National Institutes of Health.

He raised questions with the lab’s director. He reran the calculations on his own. He looked askance at the articles arising from the research, which were published in distinguished journals. He told his colleagues: This doesn’t make sense.

"At first, it was like, ‘Okay — but I don’t really see it,’” Yuan recalled. "Then it started to smell bad.”

His suspicions arose as reports of scientific misconduct have become more frequent and critics have questioned the willingness of universities, academic journals and the federal government, which pays for much of the work, to confront the problem.

Eventually, the Hopkins research, which focused on detecting interactions between genes, would win wide acclaim and, in a coup for the researchers, space in the pages of Nature, arguably the field’s most prestigious journal. The medical school even issued a news release when the article appeared last year: "Studies Linked To Better Understanding of Cancer Drugs.”

What very few readers of the Nature paper could know, however, was that behind the scenes, Yuan’s doubts seemed to be having profound effects.

In August, Yu-yi Lin, the lead author of the paper, was found dead in his new lab in Taiwan, a puncture mark in his left arm and empty vials of sedatives and muscle relaxants around him, according to local news accounts — an apparent suicide.

And within hours of this discovery, a note was sent from Lin’s e-mail account to Yuan. The e-mail, which Yuan saved, essentially blamed him for driving Lin to suicide. Yuan had written to Nature’s editors, saying that the paper’s results were overstated and that he found no evidence that the analyses described had actually been conducted. On the day of his death, Lin, 38, the father of three young daughters, was supposed to have finished writing a response to Yuan’s criticisms.

The subject line of the e-mail to Yuan, sent by an unknown person, said "your happy ending.”

But in the seven months since, he has wondered why no one — not the other investigators on the project, not the esteemed journal, not the federal government — has responded publicly to the problems he raised about the research.

The passions of scientific debate are probably not much different from those that drive achievement in other fields, so a tragic, even deadly dispute might not be surprising.

But science, creeping ahead experiment by experiment, paper by paper, depends also on institutions investigating errors and correcting them if need be, especially if they are made in its most respected journals.....

While Yuan was growing increasingly skeptical of the lab’s methodology, Yu-yi Lin, who was also working at the lab, was trying to extend it. In the past, it had been applied to the yeast genome; Lin would extend it to the human genome — and this would become the basis of the Nature paper.

Lin, who was from Taiwan, was an up-and-comer. As a graduate student at Johns Hopkins just a few years before, he’d won an award for his work in cell metabolism and aging. He was also arranging for a prestigious spot at National Taiwan University.

At one point, when he was still at the Boeke lab at Hopkins, Lin asked Yuan to help analyze the data that would become the basis for the Nature paper, Yuan says. Yuan said he declined to get involved because he thought the methodology still had deep flaws.

Interactions between Lin and Yuan at the lab were few, Yuan said, and at any rate, Yuan had other things to worry about. He was slowly being forced out. He was demoted in 2011 from research associate to an entry-level position. A disagreement over whether Yuan should have asked Boeke if he wanted a byline on a paper erupted into further trouble, e-mail and other records show.

The Johns Hopkins spokeswoman, Hoppe, declined to discuss Yuan’s job termination.

On Dec. 15, 2011, Yuan was forced to leave the lab. He wasn’t allowed to make copies of his cell collection. He spent the next month trying to keep his mind busy. He read books about JavaScript and Photoshop, which he thought would enrich his research abilities. As he looked for other research jobs, he sensed that he had been blackballed.

Then, in February 2012, the Nature paper was published.

The research was a "profound achievement” that would "definitely be a great help to solve and to treat many severe diseases,” according to a news release from National Taiwan University, where Lin was now working.

Upon reading it, Yuan said, he was astonished that Lin had used what he considered a flawed method for finding genetic interactions. It had proved troublesome in the yeast genome, he thought. Could it have possibly been more reliable as it was extended to the human genome?

Lin, Boeke and their co-authors reported discovering 878 genetic interactions, or "hits.”

But Yuan, who was familiar with the data and the statistics, reanalyzed the data in the paper and concluded that there was essentially no evidence for any more than a handful of the 878 genetic interactions.

One of the key problems, Yuan wrote to the Nature editors, was that the numerical threshold the investigators used for determining when a hit had arisen was too low. This meant they would report far more hits than there actually were.

Yuan also calculated that, given the wide variability in the data and the relative precision required to find a true hit, it would have been impossible to arrive at any conclusions at all. By analogy, it would be like a pollster declaring a winner in an election when the margin of error was larger than the difference in the polling results.

"The overwhelming noise in the ..... data and the overstated strength of the genetic interactions together make it difficult to reconstruct any scientific process by which the authors could have inferred valid results from these data,” Yuan wrote to the editors of Nature in July.

His analysis attacks only the first portion of the paper; even if he is correct, the second part of the paper could be true.

Nevertheless, Yuan wanted Nature to publish his criticism, and following instructions from the journal, he forwarded his letter to Boeke and Lin, giving them two weeks to respond.

Just as the two weeks were to elapse, Boeke wrote to Nature asking for an extension of time — "a couple weeks or more” — to address Yuan’s criticism. Boeke explained that end-of-summer schedules and the multiple co-authors made it difficult to respond on time.

A day later, Lin was discovered dead in his office at National Taiwan University.

If there was a suicide note, it has not been made public, and it is difficult to know what went through Lin’s mind at the end of his life. The apparent suicide and the e-mail to Yuan suggest only that Lin may have been distraught over the dispute; they do not prove that he acted improperly.

Shortly after the Nature paper appeared, Yuan hired lawyer Lynne Bernabei to challenge the way he was terminated at Hopkins.

In late August, Yuan asked the Nature editors again whether they would publish his criticism. Lin was dead, but Boeke and the others had had a month to respond, and Yuan hadn’t heard a thing.

On Sept. 28, a Nature editor informed Yuan by e-mail that the journal was still waiting on a fuller response from Boeke and that "experiments are being done and probably a Correction written.”

Such a correction has not appeared.

So as a last attempt, he figured he’d try the federal government, which paid for much of the research. But the government suggested that the threat to the federal research, if there was any, ended with Lin’s death.

"It is our understanding that these allegations are being investigated by Johns Hopkins University,” said the letter from the Office of Research Integrity.


What if New York's Nanny Is Actually a Thug?

And what will they let the government do to us next?

 What if a dictator in America used the force of law to tell you what to eat? What if the same dictator told you what to drink? What if the dictator told you the sizes of the containers in which you could purchase a lawful beverage? What if the dictator just made up the rules according to his own personal taste? What if the product he regulated was lawful, sold nearly everywhere and consumed by nearly everyone? What if that product came in flavors and degrees of sweetness the dictator didn't like? What if that product was part of a huge national market that provides choices to consumers and jobs for those who want them? What if that product was simple soda pop?

What if the dictator declared that you could consume all the soda pop you wish to consume, but you need to purchase it in small containers? What if the enforcement of this container-size rule raised the price of soda pop? What if the container size was just something the dictator dreamed up? What if the dictator believed his judgment was superior to yours with respect to deciding what you should drink and how you should drink it?

What if the dictator pretended his container-size restrictions were based on sound science? What if he hired and appointed medical personnel who feared for their jobs if they did not agree with him? What if he ordered those people to support his container-size regulations whether or not they agreed that this is the proper role of government? What if he constituted these medical lackeys into a Board of Health? What if the Board of Health pretended it seriously studied the detrimental effect of sugar-based soda pop on human beings but never did?

What if the rules for container size were written in secret? What if those rules were so complicated that a judge concluded they would be impossible to enforce? What if the rules only applied to certain sugar-based drinks, such as soda pop and coffee, but not to others, such as chocolate milk and alcohol? What if the rules only applied to some stores and shops but not to all? What if the rules were so ridiculous that in order to buy a cup of coffee larger than 16 ounces, they required you to put milk and flavoring and sugar in yourself, and the seller of the coffee could not lawfully help you or do so for you, even at your request?

What if under the fundamental law of the land the dictator was not authorized by law to write laws but only to enforce them? What if the dictator knew that the governing body elected by the people to write laws would never write the laws he wanted because its members like power and fear losing it, which could happen if they try to tell the voters who elected them how to live? What if the dictator never presented his proposals on sugar-based drinks to the elected governing body because he knew they'd be rejected?

What if the dictator was more interested in his own legacy as a reformer than in personal liberty in a free society? What if he believed he could write any law and regulate any event because his knowledge of human behavior and unintended consequences was superior to that of the people he swore to serve?

What if the same dictator once made campaign contributions to members of the governing board so that they would change the fundamental law of the land -- which only the people directly can lawfully change -- so as to let the dictator stay in office longer than the fundamental law permitted? What if that law could only be changed by the voters themselves, but the dictator persuaded the lawmakers to take his campaign cash and change the fundamental law for him? What if the dictator was very unpopular but continued to impose his will on the people because he desperately wanted a legacy?

What if some people who sell soda pop challenged the dictator in a court he did not control? What if a judge of that court told the people they could buy soda and coffee in whatever sizes it was sold because the dictator did not have the power to regulate their intake of liquids? What if the judge even recognized that there are areas of human behavior immune to regulation by the government?

What if all of this really happened? What if this is not a fable but a fair recounting of life today in America's biggest city? What is the state of human freedom in New York City when the mayor can tell people what soft drinks to consume and how to consume them and the voters let him do it? What will they let the government do to us next?


18 March, 2013

The key to preventing a stroke? One coffee and four cups of green tea a day, say scientists

It is not clear who the comparison group is here.  I would have thought that ALL Japanese drank tea or coffee.  People in Japan who drink neither must be very poor  -- and THAT may be the reason for their worse health

When it comes to choosing between tea or coffee, the best answer may be to opt for both.

Scientists have found that individuals who enjoy a daily cup of coffee were 20 per cent less likely to have a stroke compared to those who shunned the drink.  And those that drank at least four cups of green tea a day also benefitted from a similarly reduced stroke risk.

But as the popular beverages are thought to protect against the often fatal condition in different ways, the study suggests regularly drinking both could provide the greatest benefit.

Researchers looked at the drinking habits of almost 84,000 Japanese adults over a 13-year period.

'This is the first large-scale study to examine the combined effects of both green tea and coffee on stroke risks,' said lead author Dr Yoshihiro Kokubo, from Japan's National Cerebral and Cardiovascular Centre.

'You may make a small but positive lifestyle change to help lower the risk of stroke by adding daily green tea to your diet.'

The study, published in American Heart Association's journal Stroke, found that the greater amounts of coffee or green tea consumed, the lower their stroke risk.

The report found that 'combination of higher green tea and coffee consumptions contributed to the reduced risk of stroke as an interaction effect for each other.'

But even in lower quantities, green tea helped protect against the condition, with those drinking between two to three cups seeing their chance of a stroke fall by 14 per cent.

Participants in the study were 45 to 74 years old and were free from cancer and cardiovascular disease, and all the findings were adjusted to take into account age, sex and lifestyle factors like smoking, alcohol, weight, and exercise.

Green tea drinkers in the study were more likely to exercise compared to non-drinkers, while coffee drinkers tended to be younger, and were more likely to smoke and take exercise

Although it is unclear how green tea affects stroke risks, scientists believe a compounds known as catechins may provide some protection to blood vessels.

Several chemicals in coffee are believed to provide a boost to health, including caffeine and chlorogenic acid, which researchers suggest could help cut stroke risks by lowering the chances of developing type 2 diabetes.

Both drinks also helped to protect from the risk of heart attacks, according to the researchers.  'The regular action of drinking tea, coffee, largely benefits cardiovascular health because it partly keeps blood clots from forming,' said Dr Kokubo.'

Research last year found the more coffee you drink, the less likely you are to die from a number of different ailments, including heart disease, respiratory disease, diabetes and infections - but not cancer.

Researchers at the National Cancer Institute, National Institutes of Health, Maryland, said they could not establish whether coffee was the cause of a lowered risk of death, but there was definitely a link.

The research, published in The New England Journal of Medicine, followed 229,000 men and 173,000 women aged between 50 and 71, between 1995 and 2008. Participants were classified according to how much coffee they drank.

There were 52,000 deaths during the period, with an 'inverse association' between coffee consumption and death. This means the greater the amount of coffee participants drank, the lower their risk of dying during the study.


Could manuka honey beat drug-resistant superbugs?

There has long been persuasive anecdotal evidence about this so it is good to see it put on a firmer footing

It is a natural medicine used for thousands of years to clean wounds and fight bacteria.  Now, however, honey could hold the key to combating the very modern threat of drug-resistant superbugs.

A study has shown that manuka honey can fight back on two fronts. Not only can it help to kill MRSA and other superbugs, it can also prevent bacteria from becoming resistant to antibiotics.

The danger of the rise of bugs which do not succumb to drugs was outlined this month by the Chief Medical Officer.

Professor Dame Sally Davies described it as a ‘ticking timebomb’ which could leave millions vulnerable to untreatable germs within a generation.

But a study in Australia offers a solution. At the University of Technology Sydney (UTS), tests were carried out on manuka, kanuka and clover honeys to find which was best at treating bacteria commonly found in chronic skin wounds

Researchers looked at key ingredients known to inhibit bacterial growth.

The best at doing this was Comvita medical-grade manuka honey, made by bees foraging on New Zealand’s manuka trees.

When combined with common antibiotics, the treatment hampered the spread of bacteria on wounds.

Crucially, scientists found the honey prevented the bugs from developing any resistance to the antibiotic.

Professor Liz Harry, of UTS, said: ‘Manuka honey should be used as a first resort for wound treatment, rather than the last resort, as it so often is.’

Commercial honey bought at shops is not suitable as it needs to be sterilised to make it medical grade.

Infections are becoming more difficult to defeat but no new class of antibiotic has been discovered since the 1980s.

It follows a previous study that found manuka honey is effective against more than 80 different types of bacteria, including hospital superbug MRSA.

Professor Liz Harry at UTS said: ‘We have shown bacteria do not become resistant to honey in the laboratory. Consistent with these facts, we also found that if MRSA were treated with just rifampicin [antibiotic], the superbug became resistant very quickly,’ she said.

‘However, when manuka honey  and rifampicin are used in combination to treat MRSA, rifampicin-resistant MRSA did not emerge. In other words, honey somehow prevents the emergence of rifampicin-resistant MRSA – this is a hugely important finding.’

With overuse of antibiotics partly blamed for the increase in resistant superbugs, GPs will be asked to prescribe fewer antibiotics to patients.

Dr Harry added: ‘With the existence now of bacteria that are resistant to all available antibiotics, and the death of new antibiotics on the market, manuka honey should be used as a first resort for wound treatment, rather than the last resort as it so often does.

‘What we need is an acceptance by society that antibiotics are not going to provide all that we hoped for when they were discovered in the 1940s; and that we need to start getting very serious about using alternatives to this, or use honey in addition to them.’

While all types of honey have some antibacterial properties, the ingredients of manuka honey make it particularly powerful.

It is possible to buy dressings that already contain the honey, as well apply honey directly to bandages and other dressings.

However, supermarket honey will not do.  Any honey used be sterilised to make it of medical grade.


17 March, 2013

Breast cancer patients who eat cheese, yogurts or ice cream could HALVE their chances of survival

This is based on self-report data so is very low-quality information without controls.  Maybe the fatty food eaters were working class and less healthy because of that

One ice cream or yoghurt a day could hinder the survival of women with breast cancer, scientists say.  Those with the disease who eat a single portion daily of a product containing full-fat milk could be 50 per cent more likely to die.

US scientists suspect this is because milk and other dairy foods contain the hormone oestrogen, which encourages tumour growth.

There is already some evidence that diet plays a role in improving the chances of surviving cancer and preventing it returning. But this is the first study to show such a strong link between dairy products and breast cancer.

Around one in eight women will develop breast cancer at some point in their lives and there are around 50,000 new cases a year.

Although survival chances are far better than other forms of the illness it still leads to 11,800 deaths annually.

Scientists from the Kaiser Permanente research centre in California looked at the records of 1,500 women diagnosed with breast cancer between 1997 and 2000.

They had all completed questionnaires on how often they consumed dairy products, the sizes of portions and what specifically they ate.  The most common were ice cream, yogurts, cheese, full-fat lattes and hot chocolates.

The scientists found that those who ate just one portion of one of these products a day were 50 per cent more likely to die from the illness within 12 years.

They point out that most milk consumed in Britain and the U.S. comes from pregnant cows and is rich in the hormone oestrogen.  This is known to trigger tumour growth and there are particularly high levels in full-fat dairy foods.

In fact women who ate one portion of full-fat dairy a day were 64 per cent more likely to die from any cause - not just breast cancer.

Dr Bette Caan, who led the research said: 'High-fat dairy is generally not recommended as part of a healthy diet. 'Switching to low-fat dairy is an easy thing to modify.'

Many women who have just been diagnosed with breast cancer ask their doctor whether they should change their diet.

But so far there is just too little research on the subject for them to give any specific advice.

Susan Kutner, chair Kaiser Permanente Northern California Regional Breast Care Task Force, said: 'Women have been clamouring for this type of information.

'They're asking us, 'Tell me what I should eat?' With this information, we can be more specific about recommending low-fat dairy products.'

Sally Greenbrook, Senior Policy Officer at Breakthrough Breast Cancer, said: 'This study specifically looks at women who have already been diagnosed with breast cancer and how low or high fat dairy products may affect them.

'Any women who have had breast cancer and are concerned about their diet should discuss this with their doctors.

'For a number of health reasons it's advisable that all women should follow a healthy balanced diet. It helps you to maintain a healthy weight which, together with good practices such as lower alcohol intake and regular physical activity, can help to reduce your breast cancer risk and improve overall well-being.

'There are many risk factors for breast cancer, not just diet.' 


New Analysis Says Evidence Lacking for HRT-Breast Cancer Link

I said this from the beginning  -- and I have never received one cent from drug companies etc. -- JR

Although several large studies in recent years have linked the use of hormone therapy after menopause with an increased risk of breast cancer, the authors of a new analysis claim the evidence is too limited to confirm the connection.

Dr. Samuel Shapiro, of the University of Cape Town Medical School in South Africa, and his colleagues took another look at three large studies that investigated hormone therapy and its possible health risks -- the Collaborative Reanalysis, the Women's Health Initiative (WHI) and the Million Women Study.

Together, the results of these studies found overall an increased risk of breast cancer among women who used the combination form of hormone therapy with both estrogen and progesterone. Women who have had a hysterectomy and use estrogen-only therapy also have an increased risk, two of the studies found. The WHI, however, found that estrogen-only therapy may not increase breast cancer risk and may actually decrease it, although that has not been confirmed in other research.

After the WHI study was published in July 2002, women dropped hormone therapy in droves. Many experts pointed to that decline in hormone therapy use as the reason breast cancer rates were declining.

Not so, Shapiro said: "The decline in breast cancer incidence started three years before the fall in HRT use commenced, lasted for only one year after the HRT drop commenced, and then stopped."

For instance, he said, between 2002 and 2003, when large numbers of women were still using hormone therapy, the number of new breast cancer cases fell by nearly 7 percent.

In taking a look at the three studies again, Shapiro and his team reviewed whether the evidence satisfied criteria important to researchers, such as the strength of an association, taking into account other factors that could influence risk. Their conclusion: The evidence is not strong enough to say definitively that hormone therapy causes breast cancer.

The study is published in the current issue of the Journal of Family Planning and Reproductive Health Care.

The new conclusion drew mixed reactions from experts.

In an editorial accompanying the study, Nick Panay, a consultant gynecologist at the Queen Charlotte's & Chelsea Hospital in London, supported the conclusions of the new analysis. "If there is a risk, the risk is small, and the benefits of HRT can be life-altering," he wrote. "It is vital that we keep this in perspective when counseling our patients."

The hormone therapy in use today, Panay said, is lower in dose than those used in the previous research. "In principle, we tend to start with lower doses than we used to and increase as required until full symptom relief has been achieved," he said.

What is needed now, he said, is a clinical trial in which the hormone therapy in use today is compared with placebo, to evaluate the risks and benefits.

Another expert took a more middle-of-the-road view about the potential link.  "It would be hard to say the entire decline [in breast cancer rates] is due to the decline in HRT use," said Dr. Steven Narod, the Canada Research Chair in Breast Cancer at the University of Toronto.

According to Dr. Susan Gapstur, vice president of epidemiology for the American Cancer Society, the new analysis overlooks some other important information. "Indeed, there is a much larger body of scientific evidence from clinical trials and from observational epidemiologic studies comparing breast cancer incidence rates in women who used HRT to those who did not that demonstrate the risks and benefits of HRT for chronic diseases," she said.

"Women need to discuss with their doctors the risk and benefits of taking HRT for the primary prevention of chronic disease, including breast cancer," she added.

Narod said hormone replacement is an excellent therapy for some women. Therapy that includes progesterone carries more risk, he said, and limiting use to five years or less seems wise.

Shapiro has performed consulting work for the manufacturers of hormone therapy, and Panay has received grants from pharmaceutical companies.


15 March, 2013

Zolpidem (Ambien, Stilnox) is good for you!

Sleeping pills could actually IMPROVE your memory, claims controversial new research. (It gives you constipation, though)

Taking sleeping tablets could help improve your memory, according to controversial new research.

A team of researchers claim to have discovered the mechanism that enables the brain to build-up memories – and say they found that a commonly prescribed sleeping tablet containing zolpidem enhances this process.

They hope the discovery could lead to new sleep therapies that could improve memory for ageing adults and those with dementia, Alzheimer's and schizophrenia.

The findings contradict a wealth of previous research that has suggested that sleeping pills can have devastating effects on health, including memory.

The new research claims to have demonstrated, for the first time, the critical role that sleep spindles play in consolidating memory in the hippocampus.

Sleep spindles are bursts of brain activity that last for a second or less during sleep.

Earlier research found a link between sleep spindles and the consolidation of memories that depend on the hippocampus, the part of the brain that is involved in memory forming, organising, and storing.

The research team say they showed that the drugs could significantly improve that process, far more than sleep alone.

Lead author of the study, Dr Sara Mednick, a psychologist from the University of California Riverside, said: ‘We found that a very common sleep drug can be used to increase memory.  ‘This is the first study to show you can manipulate sleep to improve memory.

‘It suggests sleep drugs could be a powerful tool to tailor sleep to particular memory disorders.’

But previous research has suggested that sleeping pills taken by more than a million Britons significantly increase the risk of dementia.  Pensioners who used benzodiazepines – which include temazepam and diazepam – are 50 per cent more likely to succumb to the devastating illness, a Harvard University study found. [Irrelevant!  Zolpidem is NOT a benzodiazepine]

They work by changing the way messages are transmitted to the brain, which induces a calming effect but scientists believe that at the same time they may be interfering with chemicals in the brain known as neurotransmitters, which may be causing dementia.

The new study tested normal sleepers, who were given varying doses of sleeping pills and placebos, allowing several days between doses to allow the drugs to leave their bodies.

Researchers monitored their sleep, measured sleepiness and mood after napping, and used several tests to evaluate their memory.

They found that zolpidem significantly increased the density of sleep spindles and improved verbal memory consolidation.

Dr Mednick said: ‘Zolpidem enhanced sleep spindles in healthy adults producing exceptional memory performance beyond that seen with sleep alone or sleep with the comparison drug.

‘The results set the stage for targeted treatment of memory impairments as well as the possibility of exceptional memory improvement above that of a normal sleep period.’

Dr Mednick also hopes to study the impact of zolpidem on older adults who experience poor memory because individuals with Alzheimer's, dementia and schizophrenia are known experience decreases in sleep spindles.

Dr Mednick, who began studying sleep in the early 2000s, says sleep is a very new field of research and its importance is generally not taught in medical schools.

‘We know very little about it,’ she said.  ‘We do know that it affects behaviour, and we know that sleep is integral to a lot of disorders with memory problems.

‘We need to integrate sleep into medical diagnoses and treatment strategies. This research opens up a lot of possibilities.’


Sixty-four Percent of Schoolchildren Fed on Federal Subsidies

Sixty-four Percent of Schoolchildren Fed on Federal Subsidies
Not so long ago in this republic, most parents of school-age children would frequently visit grocery stores where they would use their own money to buy things like peanut butter and jelly, and bologna and cheese to make lunches for their kids to haul to school in brown paper bags.  It was an American tradition.

Now, like other great things about America, brown-bag lunches are being driven to extinction by politicians seeking inordinate government control over our lives.

In fiscal year 1969 (which started in 1968), there were approximately 47,906,000 American children enrolled in elementary and high schools, according to the U.S. Census Bureau. During the average school month in that year, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture, approximately 19,400,000 of these students ate lunches subsidized by the National School Lunch Program.

That means that in 1969, about 40 percent of all elementary and high school students ate federally subsidized lunches.

Not all these lunches were free. The USDA divides lunches funded by the National School Lunch Program into three categories: "free," "reduced price" and "full price." (Last year, the USDA reimbursed schools $2.86 for each "free" lunch they served, $2.46 for each "reduced price" lunch, and $0.27 for each "full price" lunch.)

Of the 19,400,000 students who ate federally subsidized lunches in 1969, 2,900,000 ate "free lunches." Of the 31,600,000 students who ate federally subsidized lunches in 2012, 18,700,000 ate "free lunches."

Between 1969 and 2012, when there were 49,485 students in elementary and high school, the percentage of students eating any category of federally subsidized lunch increased from about 40 percent to about 64 percent. At the same time, the percentage eating "free" lunches increased from about 6 percent to about 38 percent -- a more than sixfold increase.

Federally subsidized lunches cost taxpayers $203.8 million back in 1969 -- or $1.34 billion in inflation-adjusted 2012 dollars. In 2012, federally subsidized lunches cost taxpayers $10.4 billion -- and that does not include the cost of the federally subsidized school breakfast program, which put another $3.3 billion on the taxpayers' tab.

While the inflation-adjusted cost of the school lunch program has increased sevenfold over four decades, there has been a cultural cost, as well.

In the America of brown-bag school lunches, the lunches that were lovingly put in the bags were generally not only bought and paid for by moms and dads, they were made and packed by moms and dads.

But concomitant with the rise of the federally subsidized lunch, there has been a decline in moms and dads.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has published data on unmarried childbearing in America going back to 1940. In that year, only 3.8 percent of the babies born in this country were born to unmarried mothers. That percentage stayed in single digits through 1968, before ticking up to 10 percent in 1969. Since then, it has quadrupled. In 2011, 40.7 percent of the babies born in this country were born to unmarried mothers. And that does not count children who were born to married parents who later divorced.

Politicians may present the federal school lunch program as an act of compassion that they sincerely support with other people's money. It is in fact a weapon liberals employ in their war against the family.

The strategic question is this: Who is going to raise, be responsible for and instill fundamental values in future generations of Americans? Will it be parents or the state?

Modern American liberals want the state to take custody of children from the earliest possible moment. In their vision of society, the state will feed and educate the child in exchange for the child's soul.

And who is more likely to teach children to love what is true and beautiful and to instill in them the spirit of self-reliance that made America prosperous and free? His or her mother and father? Or the people who have created and maintain a school lunch program that now transfers to school administrators a portion of the hard-earned wages of that minority of parents who still lovingly pack the brown bags for their own children each morning before school?


14 March, 2013

Skin cancer risk down by a third in women who regularly take aspirin

There may be something in this.  Aspirin does seem to be widely  beneficial.

Aspirin could help protect women from skin cancer, a study claims.   Researchers found that the longer the painkiller is taken, the lower the risk of developing melanoma.

The study of data from almost 60,000 women over 12 years found that regular aspirin users were 21 per cent less likely to develop skin cancer than non-users.

But those who had taken it for five or more years were 30 per cent less likely to develop melanoma. Data for men was not part of the study.

Every year, around 13,000 people in the UK are diagnosed with malignant melanoma, and 2,200 die from the disease, which is thought to be caused primarily by intense sunbathing or frequent use of sunbeds.

Aspirin has been dubbed the wonder drug, with a recent study claiming that it cut the risk of stomach and bowel cancers by around 40 per cent in regular users. However, long-term use has been linked with stomach bleeds and ulcers.

The research of women aged between 50 to 79 was published in the Journal of Cancer and formed part of the Women’s Health Initiative – a major US investigation into links between lifestyle and the disease.

Study leader Dr Jean Tang said: ‘Aspirin works by reducing inflammation and this may be why using aspirin may lower your risk of developing melanoma.’  She said other painkillers, such as paracetamol, did not lower melanoma.

Ministers will this year consider whether some patients should be prescribed the drug as a preventative measure.

Aspirin has already been shown to be particularly effective against bowel cancer – one of the most common forms of the disease – particularly if patients have a family history of the illness.

It is an established treatment for heart disease patients because it helps prevent the formation of blood clots in the artery which can lead to a heart attack.  For this reason, it is already taken daily by two million UK angina sufferers.

Jessica Harris, of Cancer Research UK, advised caution, however. She said: ‘Aspirin has a range of serious side effects, and at the moment it’s not clear whether the benefits would outweigh the harms, what the right dose might be, or which group of people are most likely to benefit.’

Despite drastic efforts to improve diagnosis and treatment, Britain’s cancer survival rates still lag behind other countries.

Ministers estimated that 11,400 lives could be saved each year if our cancer survival rates matched those elsewhere in Europe.


The inconvenient truth about antibiotics

Doctors, patients and pharmaceutical companies must work together to tame the bacterial threat

When I’m not writing for The Daily Telegraph, I work for the pharmaceutical industry (or vice-versa, depending upon which employer is on the phone to me at the time). It’s difficult to know, sometimes, which is held in lower esteem by the public: newspapers aren’t exactly surfing the crest of a golden era, with the succession of Leveson-aired grievances. But tell people you work for "big pharma”, and depressingly – regardless of how many of them have had their lives improved by the medicines we research, license and sell – too many noses turn up. Yesterday’s news about the paucity of new therapies for antibiotic-resistant infections won’t help. "You make money out of illness” has felt at times the common, if unspoken, complaint.

Well, of course we do: make money, that is. Such income fuels the immense costs of research and development, the basic lab research and clinical development that produces new drugs. In the case of our health-care industries, that model has worked largely to society’s advantage, but the presence of profit doesn’t mean that those of us who work in such research aren’t motivated primarily by a very human mission. Our families acquire infections during routine stays in hospitals, too.

In the new fight against antibiotic resistance, we might learn from the past. I am of the generation of gay men that first confronted the reality of HIV, a virus that we thought would wipe us out. HIV remains a deadly threat, but the combination of refocused research and development, and an educated, activist population, led to the transformation of millions of lives: indeed, it led to the continuation of millions of lives.

A profitable drug industry – one of Britain’s last world-class endeavours – can work for the common good, as that fight against HIV demonstrates, so it is insufficient to lay the blame for the growing resistance of bacterial infections solely at industry’s door – which is not to say that industry shouldn’t change (again, as demonstrated by the retroviral breakthrough). That the threat from drug-resistant strains is real, and will have terrible consequences if not addressed, is not a matter of opinion. The Government’s chief medical officer, Professor Dame Sally Davies, is as right today to raise the danger of that growing resistance, and to demand that bacterial infections rise up the political priority list, as the health secretary, Norman Fowler, was to raise the stakes with viral infections in the Eighties.

The potential health-care crisis can be averted, but it will take a combination of players: big pharma, yes; but governments too (because their regulatory agencies, such as the US Food and Drug Administration or the EU’s European Medicines Agency, set the framework within which we operate, and license our medicines for sale); physicians (because the over-prescription of newer antibiotics in many countries is most probably driving the genetic mutations which lead to ever-more resistant strains; and although the evidence that prescription patterns across a community correlate with resistance within it is mixed, there is quite strong evidence to indicate that the more patients demand an antibiotic, the more likely their GP is to provide it); and farmers.

It beggars belief that American chickens are fed so many antibiotics. If livestock are prone to infection, then we might start by no longer rearing chickens in conditions so inhumane that we shudder to see images of them. The pressure for free-range animals shouldn’t be a middle-class fetish: 80 per cent of the antibiotics sold in the US are used to treat intensively reared chickens, pigs and cows. What’s more, American meat producers aren’t required to document and disclose how they use the drugs.

Regardless, the pharmaceutical industry is continuing to work on new models for R&D, to make antibacterial development more feasible, because the current requirements for such research are so burdensome that few players remain in the field. The EU’s Innovative Medicines Initiative – part-funded by industry – is bringing together major companies to target the development challenges.

Could we, for example, find a way to include data from previous clinical trials, when interpreting the results of the test of a new medicine? Regulators are cautious about such proposals – correctly so, since the use of such "historical controls” can occlude the interpretation of that new drug’s safety and efficacy profiles, upon which a licence to market a medicine is granted. But that challenge, though daunting, is not insuperable, which partly explains why yesterday I was reviewing the CVs of potential PhD students, who want to develop clinical trial methodology that would meet the needs of both regulators and drug developers. Find an acceptable way to maximise the power of existing data, and it could have a dramatic effect on the time required to get a new medicine to the market.

Patients have a role to play, too. When the doctor writes a script for an antibiotic, how many of us take only some of it – up until Friday night, perhaps, when it’s too much of a bore to avoid a drink? Or up until the point that our tummy feels a little queasy? Or until the symptoms diminish, even if doctor patiently underlined the importance of completing the course? How many of us demanded an antibiotic in the first place, when our physician’s opinion was that we didn’t have a bacterial infection?

If we – as physicians and as patients – continue with such behaviour, it will take more than a new clinical trial paradigm to save us. Listen to Dame Sally’s warning: this time, doctor really does know best.


13 March, 2013

Exercising four times a week from childhood 'helps stave off dementia and increases brain power by a third'

Or maybe smarter people are more likely to see value in exercise for both themselves and their children

It is not only our heart and waistline that benefit from lifelong exercise – our brains do too.

Undertaking physical activity four or more times a week from childhood helps improve brainpower in later life by up to a third, and could help stave off the onset of dementia.

While all adults suffer mental decline with greater age, scientists found regular exercise, such as playing sport, jogging, attending the gym or even a brisk walk with the dog, can have a protecting effect on the brain.

More than 9,000 individuals took part in a 40-year study from age of 11. Researchers quizzed them on levels of exercise at regular age intervals, and participants also undertook tests of memory, attention and learning.

The study found participants who exercised weekly throughout their life performed better on tests of memory, learning, attention and reasoning at the age of 50, compared to those who exercised two to three times per month or less.

Men who undertook physical activity more than four times a week were found to have lost a third less of their brainpower by the age of 50, compared to their peers who did no exercise, while women benefit from a 25 per cent reduction.

Even those who exercised once a week saw a boost, with the physical activity helping to slow their mental decline by an average of 10 per cent.

Study leader Dr Alex Dregan, from King’s College London, said: ‘The research shows that any physical activity is beneficial for cognitive function.

‘Current guidelines are for 30 minutes of exercise, five times a week, but the study has found you do not have to take this much exercise to see benefits. Even those that take part in physical activity once a week still benefit.

‘For a man who exercises regularly, the rate of cognitive decline when they reach 50 is reduced by a third, while for women it is a quarter.

‘And the benefits of regular exercise will continue after an individual reaches 50.

'The results suggest that regular physical activity could help delay dementia.’

Government guidelines say that adults aged 19 to 64 should exercise for at least 150 minutes per week, the equivalent of five half-an-hour sessions.

‘It’s widely acknowledged that a healthy body equals a healthy mind,’ said Dr Dregan, whose findings were published in the journal Psychological Medicine.

‘However, not everyone is willing or able to take part in the recommended 150 minutes of physical activity per week.

For these people any level of physical activity may benefit their cognitive well-being in the long-term and this is something that needs to be explored further.

‘Setting lower exercise targets at the beginning and gradually increasing their frequency and intensity could be a more effective method for improving levels of exercise within the wider population.’


Judge blocks New York ban on giant soft drinks

A judge in New York has blocked mayor Michael Bloomberg's planned ban on giant sodas, just a few hours before restrictions on the sale of such drinks were due to come into effect.

Judge Milton Tingling ruled that the measures to restrict soda servings to a maximum of 470 millimetres in fast-food and other restaurants was an "arbitrary" measure and he was barring the plan "permanently".

Monday's decision is a defeat for Mr Bloomberg, who had trumpeted the measure as an important step toward tackling obesity.

Industry lobby groups led by the American Beverage Association and the National Restaurant Association took the city to court over the limited ban.

According to official statistics, some 6000 people in New York die each year from obesity-linked problems. One in eight adult New Yorkers has diabetes, which can be aggravated by sugar consumption.

The New York Board of Health approved the measures last September and they were due to come into force on Tuesday in restaurants and places of public entertainment, such as stadiums.

Under the measures put forward by the city there was nothing to stop people from buying as much soda as they like by refilling smaller containers.

Also, the ban did not extend to drinks sold in supermarkets or any dairy or fruit drinks, many of which also contain huge quantities of sugar.

Diet and alcoholic drinks had also been exempted under the city's plan.


12 March, 2013

Could junk food increase your risk of MS, asthma and eczema? Scientists link SALT to autoimmune diseases for first time

Data from mice and laboratory glassware only.  That would be impressive if backed by epidemiological data on lifespan but it is not

The modern diet of takeaways and microwave meals could be to blame for a sharp increase in conditions such as multiple sclerosis, say scientists.

Multiple sclerosis is one of a host of autoimmune diseases, including alopecia, asthma and eczema, where a person's immune system attacks itself in error.

Now a team of scientists from Yale University in the U.S and the University of Erlangen-Nuremberg, in Germany, say salty diets could be partly to blame.

'This study is the first to indicate that excess salt may be one of the environmental factors driving the increased incidence of autoimmune diseases,' they said.

The team studied the role of T helper cells in the body. These activate and 'help' other cells to fight dangerous pathogens such as bacteria or viruses and battle infections.

Previous research suggests that a subset of these cells - known as Th17 cells - also play an important role in the development of autoimmune diseases.

In the latest study, scientists discovered that exposing these cells in a lab to a salt solution made them act more 'aggressively.'

They found that mice fed a high-salt diet saw a dramatic increase in the number of Th17 cells in their nervous systems that promoted inflammation.

They were also more likely to develop a severe form of a disease associated with multiple sclerosis in humans.

The scientists then conducted a closer examination of these effects at a molecular level.

Laboratory tests revealed that salt exposure increased the levels of cytokines released by Th17 cells 10 times more than usual. Cytokines are proteins used to pass messages between cells.
Too much salt? It may cause more problems than high blood pressure

Too much salt? It may cause more problems than high blood pressure

Study co-author Ralf Linker, from the University of Erlangen-Nuremberg, said: 'These findings are an important contribution to the understanding of multiple sclerosis and may offer new targets for a better treatment of the disease, for which at present there is no cure.'

MS is a neurological condition that affects 100,000 people in the UK.

It develops when the immune system mistakes the myelin that surrounds the nerve fibres in the brain and spinal cord for a foreign body.

It strips the myelin off the nerves fibres, which disrupts messages passed between the brain and body causing problems with speech, vision and balance.

Another of the study's authors, Professor David Hafler, from Yale University, said that nature had clearly not intended for the immune system to attack its host body, so he expected that an external factor was playing a part.

He said: 'These are not diseases of bad genes alone or diseases caused by the environment, but diseases of a bad interaction between genes and the environment.

'Humans were genetically selected for conditions in sub-Saharan Africa, where there was no salt.

'Today, Western diets all have high salt content and that has led to increase in hypertension and perhaps autoimmune disease as well.'

The team next plan to study the role that Th17 cells play in autoimmune conditions that affect the skin.

'It would be interesting to find out if patients with psoriasis can alleviate their symptoms by reducing their salt intake,' they said.

'However, the development of autoimmune diseases is a very complex process which depends on many genetic and environmental factors.'

High-salt intake has already been linked to high blood pressure, and the Department of Health recommends that adults consume no more than 6g of salt a day.

However, in the UK, adults consume an average of between 9g and 12g of salt a day, with three-quarters hidden in everyday foods such as bread.


How sushi can make you FAT: It will shock

Since the Japanese are unusually slim and unusually long-lived, the condemnation of sushi below tends to suggest that the condemnation is based on false premises

Sushi is no longer the sole preserve of the adventurous diner. These days, grabbing a pack for lunch is almost as common as picking up a cheese and pickle sandwich.

The Japanese dish can be bought from every major supermarket (where sales have risen a staggering 88 per cent in the past two years).

Indeed, the British sushi industry — of which Tesco has a 60 per cent market share — is worth more than £56?million annually. 

The main reason for its surge in popularity is its reputation as a healthy meal. Japanese women are among the healthiest in the world, while slender celebrities such as Victoria Beckham, Cheryl Cole and Keira Knightley are all fans of the raw fish dish.

But do sushi’s nutrition credentials — especially the Western version — stack up? Not always, according to dietitian Rachel Beller. In her book Eat To Lose, Eat To Win, she says a ‘light lunch’ of sushi may mean you overdose on calories and carbohydrates.

‘A typical sushi roll contains 290 to 350 calories and has the carbohydrate equivalent of two-and-a-half to four slices of bread,’ says Ms Beller.

‘So a California roll (round rolled sushi, containing a small piece of fish and avocado plus fatty mayonnaise) equals two sandwiches filled with crab sticks (processed fish that is flavoured and coloured to look and taste like crab), a sliver of avocado and a tiny bit of veg.’

Bear in mind a sushi lunch contains two or three of these rolls, a total of up to 1,050 calories, and it’s easy to see how we’re conning ourselves that we’re enjoying a low-calorie, healthy lunch.


11 March, 2013

Fish oil could be the key to beating flu and preventing deaths

No human trials so far

The three viruses that cause flu are a major cause of sickness in the UK and are behind around 4,000 deaths a year.  However, current antiviral drugs don't protect the most seriously ill patients.

Now researchers have found a compound derived from fats found in fish oils prevents death in mice infected with influenza. It even works at advanced stages of the illness.

A flu jab is currently offered by the NHS to 'at-risk' groups including people over 65 and pregnant women.

However, because the winter flu virus mutates each year and new deadly strains develop, it only offers around 60 per cent protection.

Study author Yumiko Imai  from Akita University in Japan, said: 'Given the potential for future lethal pandemics, effective drugs are needed for the treatment of severe influenza, such as that caused by H5N1 viruses.

'We have identified a novel therapeutic target for the treatment of severe influenza that is effective under conditions where known antiviral drugs fail to protect from death.'

Flu causes a sudden high temperature, headache and general aches and pains, tiredness and sore throat. However, it can cause a bacterial chest infection and even life-threatening pneumonia in those in at-risk groups.

Current antiviral drugs are not effective when given to these patients as little as two days after infection.

In an attempt to discover more effective drug targets for influenza, the scientists studied naturally occurring lipids derived from omega-3 fatty acids found in fish oils.

They tested the lipid PD1 on human lung cells that had been infected with various flu strains.

The team found it prevented the the viruses from replicating, including bird flu (H5N1).

Further tests on influenza-infected mice revealed treatment with PD1 in combination with an approved antiviral drug improved survival rates.

It also worked even when given two days after infection.

'Our findings suggest that PD1could serve as a biomarker as well as a much needed antiviral drug for severe and lethal influenza virus infections,' Imai says.

The study was published in the journal Cell.


Recent findings on the health effects of omega-3 fatty acids and statins, and their interactions: do statins inhibit omega-3?

The academic journal article excerpted below admits that the evidence for benefit from fish oil is very wobbly -- JR

Michel de Lorgeril et al.


Early randomized controlled trials (RCTs) demonstrated the health benefits of omega-3 fatty acids (n-3), whereas recent RCTs were negative. We now address the issue, focusing on the temporal changes having occurred: most patients in recent RCTs are no longer n-3 deficient and the vast majority are now treated with statins. Recent RCTs testing n-3 against arrhythmias suggest that n-3 reduce the risk only in patients not taking a statin. Other recent RCTs in secondary prevention were negative although, in a post-hoc analysis separating statin users and non-users, non-significant protection of n-3 was observed among statin non-users whereas statin users had no effect. Recent RCTs testing statins - after the implementation of the New Clinical Trial Regulation in 2007 - are negative (or flawed) suggesting that the lack of effect of n-3 cannot be attributed to a parallel protection by statins. Finally, statins favor the metabolism of omega-6 fatty acids (n-6), which in turn inhibits n-3 and, contrary to n-3, they increase insulin resistance and the risk of diabetes. Thus, n-3 and statins are counteractive at several levels and statins appear to inhibit n-3.


Until 2005, studies consistently provided clear evidence that omega-3 fatty acids (n-3) protect against cardiovascular diseases (CVD) complications [1,2]. They were thought to reduce the risk of arterial atherosclerotic and thrombotic obstruction [3,4]; to increase the myocardial resistance to ischemia-reperfusion injury [5,6]; and to prevent malignant ventricular arrhythmias [7-9]. Animal [5-7] and epidemiological studies [8,9] as well as randomized controlled trials (RCTs) [10-13] all supported that n-3 are protective. This was confirmed in meta-analyses of both prospective cohort studies and RCTs leading to the conclusion that an intake of 250 mg/day of marine n-3 (EPA+DHA (eicosapentanoic acid + docosahexanoic acid)) reduced fatal CVD by 36% when compared to no EPA+DHA [14].

Consequently, it was proposed to use blood measurements of n-3 as a predictor of CVD complications. The omega-3 index - defined as the percentage of EPA+DHA in blood red cells [15] - reflects the average dietary intake and the tissue levels of EPA+DHA, including those of the heart [16,17]. A high omega-3 index (> 8%) is thought to be associated with a low risk of CVD complications [15] whereas a low omega-3 index (< 4%) is associated with increased risk susceptible to be decreased by a preventive treatment with n-3 (fish oil) supplements. An omega-3 index between 4 and 8% indicates an intermediate risk. The effects of n-3 supplements are, therefore, expected to be different in patients with either high or low omega-3 index with large benefits for those with a low index (that is, high risk) and small or no benefits for those with a high index (that is, low risk). This concept is critical because it suggests that n-3 supplements might be potentially protective against CVD complications only in patients who are n-3 deficient and not in patients who are at high risk for reasons other than an n-3 deficiency. This underlines the fact that n-3 are nutrients and not a drug. So far this concept applies only for CVD, not for other nonvascular and non-cardiac clinical conditions.

Contrary to the expectations, the most recent RCTs - that is, those published after 2005 - did not confirm the protective action of n-3 [18-23]. In a recent meta-analysis examining the efficacy of n-3 supplements (EPA+DHA) in the secondary prevention of coronary heart disease (CHD), authors analyzed 13 RCTs involving 20,485 patients with a history of CHD and concluded that n-3 supplements did not consistently reduce CHD mortality, all-cause mortality and the risk of overall CVD complications [24].


10 March, 2013

Tackling overweight and obesity: does the public health message match the science?

The writers below admit that weight-loss propaganda has failed but think that better propaganda might do the trick.  Good luck with that!

Katherine Hafekost et al.



Despite the increasing understanding of the mechanisms relating to weight loss and maintenance, there are currently no validated public health interventions that are able to achieve sustained long-term weight loss or to stem the increasing prevalence of obesity in the population. We aimed to examine the models of energy balance underpinning current research about weight-loss intervention from the field of public health, and to determine whether they are consistent with the model provided by basic science. EMBASE was searched for papers published in 2011 on weight-loss interventions. We extracted details of the population, nature of the intervention, and key findings for 27 articles.


Most public health interventions identified were based on a simple model of energy balance, and thus attempted to reduce caloric consumption and/or increase physical activity in order to create a negative energy balance. There appeared to be little consideration of homeostatic feedback mechanisms and their effect on weight-loss success. It seems that there has been a lack of translation between recent advances in understanding of the basic science behind weight loss, and the concepts underpinning the increasingly urgent efforts to reduce excess weight in the population.


Public health weight-loss interventions seem to be based on an outdated understanding of the science. Their continued failure to achieve any meaningful, long-term results reflects the need to develop intervention science that is integrated with knowledge from basic science. Instead of asking why people persist in eating too much and exercising too little, the key questions of obesity research should address those factors (environmental, behavioral or otherwise) that lead to dysregulation of the homeostatic mechanism of energy regulation. There is a need for a multidisciplinary approach in the design of future weight-loss interventions in order to improve long-term weight-loss success.


Computer use linked to literacy for pre-schoolers

The bumptious Susan Greenfield won't like these findings.  A truly odious woman.  For nothing more than her own attention-seeking reasons, she has done her best to upset the world's children

PARENTS of screen-loving pre-schoolers can relax. A new Australian study has found four-year-olds who spend more time on the computer have better knowledge of the alphabet than others.

The Murdoch Children's Research Institute survey of 1500 four-year-olds found more than half used a computer at least once a week.

They found this was closely tied to letter recognition, which is linked to reading and spelling ability.

Researcher Professor Sheena Reilly said greater computer use among pre-schoolers "appears to have a positive association with emerging literacy development" and was much better than watching TV.

Computer products, such as keyboard games, are marketed to children as young as nine months old.

"These days you do see lots of kids playing games on iPads and iPhones and even reading books on them," Prof Reilly said.

She said the link between literacy and computers remained significant even when researchers controlled for factors such as socioeconomic status and parental reading ability.

"It is possible that the kinds of activities pre-school children engage in when using a computer, including interacting with the letters on the keyboard, stimulate letter knowledge," Prof Reilly said.

But she acknowledged it was "also possible that pre-school children with strong emergent literacy skills and good letter knowledge are more likely to choose to engage in computer-based activities than those with weaker skills".

Prof Reilly said the study did not distinguish between educational and recreational computer use.

Canterbury mother of three and GP Kirstin Charlesworth said her son Lachlan, 5, played letter and number games on the computer.

"It's no replacement for one-on-one time with a parent, but high-quality computer time has its place," Dr Charlesworth said.

"I think it's important that kids go to school with some idea about computers and how to use them."


8 March, 2013

Processed meat 'is to blame for one in 30 deaths': Big European study says more than a rasher of cheap bacon a day is harmful (?)

Same old same old.  The WCRF bods will be having orgasms over this but it is very poor data.  Self-report data needs lots of controls to be of any weight and neither social class nor social desirability responding were controlled for below. 

Education was controlled but it alone is not a good index of social class. For instance, many educated people do not even have jobs these days, let alone being rich.  And rich people often have poor education.  And there are other class variables.  Class can only convincingly be measured using several indices.  See here for an empirical study of the issues involved in class measurement.

Middle class people are more likely to "say the right thing" and they are healthier anyway.  One notes that the British sub-sample was described as "health conscious people", so they would know well what foods are "correct" according to conventional wisdom.  Regardless of what they actually did, they knew what to say!

And even if we take the data at face value, the correlation with mortality was marginal for processed meat and non-existent for red  meat.  A real storm in a teacup

And the study was a Europe-wide one so it would be interesting to see in which countries a statistically significant  correlation emerged.  My guess:  None of them!  Statistical significance is heavily dependent on sample size so the much smaller sample size for each nation would be unlikely to show significance, given the weak overall effect

Meals containing too much processed meat such as cheap ham [Dear ham is OK?], bacon and sausages could send you to an early grave, a large-scale study has found.

Analysis of the diets and medical history of almost half a million men and women linked processed meat to deaths from cancer and heart disease.

The Europe-wide research, including work by Oxbridge scientists, found that processed meat is to blame for about one in 30 deaths.

The researchers suggested a limit of no more than 20g a day of processed meat - equal to one rasher of cheap bacon.

The warning comes in the wake of the horsemeat scandal which has caused many consumers to question the origins of their food.

Processed meat, made by combining the leftover parts of animals which cannot be sold as good cuts such as steaks and joints, contains high concentrations of fat, including artery-clogging cholesterol.

The researchers from ten European countries quizzed almost 450,000 people, many of them Britons, and tracked their health for an average of 13 years.

They said: `Men and women with a high consumption of processed meat are at increased risk of early death, particularly due to cardiovascular diseases but also cancer.'

Some 26,344 of the participants died over the course of the study, with those who ate the biggest amounts of processed meat being 44 per cent more likely to have died than those who ate the lowest amounts.

The figures for heart disease were striking - those who ate the most processed meat, more than 160g or three sausages a day, were 72 per cent more likely to die of heart disease.

A study last year found that eating 50g of processed meat a day - the equivalent of one sausage or three rashers of bacon - raises the likelihood of cancer by a fifth.

But in the latest, much bigger study, those who ate the most processed meat were almost 50 per cent more likely to suffer an early death, with heart disease the overwhelming cause.

The study, published in the journal BMC Medicine, concluded that a limit of 20g a day of processed meat - equal to a rasher of bacon or one full English breakfast a week - would prevent about 20,000 early deaths in the UK each year.

Tracy Parker, a dietician at the British Heart Foundation, said: `With spring in the air, many of us may be looking forward to sunny barbecues. But this research suggests processed meat, such as sausages and burgers, may be linked to an increased risk of early death.

`However, the people who ate the most processed meat in this study also made other unhealthy lifestyle choices.  `They were found to eat less fruit and vegetables and were more likely to smoke, which may have had an impact on results.'

Professor Karol Sikora, one of Britain's leading cancer specialists and an unpaid member of the industry-backed Meat Advisory Panel, said the key to good health is a balanced diet. He said: `Don't worry about having a bacon sandwich. It is not going to kill you. But don't have four bacon sandwiches every day for your whole life.'

The amount of white meat eaten, such as chicken, was not linked to death rates by the researchers, while small amounts of red meat appeared beneficial.

A Department of Health spokesman said: 'It's important that everyone eats a balanced diet. Eating well and being active can help prevent serious illnesses such as cancer and heart disease later in life.

'Red meat can be part of a balanced diet. But people who eat a lot of red and processed meat should consider cutting down as regularly eating a lot could increase your risk of bowel cancer.

Meat consumption and mortality - results from the European Prospective Investigation into Cancer and Nutrition

By Sabine Rohrmann et al.



Recently, some US cohorts have shown a moderate association between red and processed meat consumption and mortality supporting the results of previous studies among vegetarians. The aim of this study was to examine the association of red meat, processed meat, and poultry consumption with risk of early death in the European Prospective Investigation into Cancer and Nutrition (EPIC).


Included in the analysis were 448,568 men and women without prevalent cancer, stroke, or myocardial infarction, and with complete information on diet, smoking, physical activity and body mass index, who were between 35 and 69 years old at baseline. Cox proportional hazards regression was used to examine the association of meat consumption with all-cause and cause-specific mortality.


Until June 2009, 26,344 deaths were observed. After multivariate adjustment, a high consumption of red meat was related to higher all-cause mortality (HR=1.14, 95% CI 1.01-1.28, 160+ vs. 10-19.9 g/day), and the association was stronger for processed meat (HR=1.44, 95% CI 1.24-1.66, 160+ vs. 10-19.9 g/day). After correction for measurement error, higher all-cause mortality remained significant only for processed meat (HR=1.18, 95% CI 1.11-1.25, per 50 g/d). We estimated that 3.3% (95% CI 1.5-5.0%) of deaths could be prevented if all participants had a processed meat consumption of less than 20 g per day. Significant associations with processed meat intake were observed for cardiovascular diseases, cancer, and 'other causes of death'. The consumption of poultry was not related to all-cause mortality.


The results of our analysis support a moderate positive association between processed meat consumption and mortality in particular due to cardiovascular diseases, but also cancer.



My prophecy about the WCRF has come true.  See here, where the BBC reports both unduly expansive and cautious conclusions from the research.  They even report that red meat is bad for you, when the research showed that it is NOT!  Could the BBC reporter not read what it says in the abstract above:  "After correction for measurement error, higher all-cause mortality remained significant only for processed meat".  Far from being reliable, it would seem that BBC reporters can't even read!

Exercise and sleep

The 6th paragraph below has the point I was going to make

On the heels of news that Canada's adult obesity rates have reached historic highs, a new study offers some extra incentive to hit the gym: a better night's sleep.

Researchers have discovered a "compelling association" between weekly physical activity and improved sleep quality - including reduced incidences of sleep apnea and insomnia - according to a report released Monday. The relationship is so strong, in fact, they say simply adding 10 minutes of walking to your day is likely to improve your Zs.

"There is a relationship there, and it's sequentially greater as people exercise more," said Max Hirshkowitz, an associate professor at Baylor College of Medicine and a sleep researcher with more than three decades in the field. "Really, it confirms what should be common sense."

In a study of 1,000 adults, ages 23 to 60, participants were categorized as either exercisers (with sub-groups for vigorous, moderate and light) or non-exercisers, based on self-reported activity levels.

Though length of slumber appeared unaffected by physical endeavours - both groups averaged six hours and 51 minutes on a weeknight - the quality of sleep proved vastly different. People who engaged in light, moderate or vigorous exercise reported consistently enjoying a good night's sleep at a rate of between 56 and 67%, while sedentary participants' rate was 39%.

Hirshkowitz cautioned, however, that "cause and effect can be tricky." Though he suspects the good health fostered by exercise leads to improved sleep, it's also possible that poor sleep makes people less inclined to exercise.

More than three-quarters of exercisers said their sleep quality over the past two weeks was either "very good" or "fairly good," compared to slightly more than one-half of non-exercisers.

Vigorous exercisers saw particularly positive results during that period: 72% "rarely" or "never" woke up too early and struggled to get back to sleep, and 69% "rarely" or "never" had trouble falling asleep. In the sedentary group, 50% woke up during the night and 24% had difficulty falling asleep every night or almost every night.

Non-exercisers were also more likely to have trouble: staying awake while driving, eating or engaging in social activity over the prior two weeks, reporting such incidences at almost three times the rate of exercisers - 14% vs. 4% to 6%.

In addition, 44% of the non-exercisers carried a moderate risk of sleep apnea - a condition in which a person stops breathing during sleep, vs. 26% for light exercisers, 22% for moderate exercisers and 19% for vigorous exercisers.

Finally, the study provides groundbreaking evidence that a desk job can wreak havoc on your nocturnal peace. Those people who spent less than eight hours per day sitting were significantly more likely to claim "very good" sleep quality than those who sat for eight hours or longer: 22% to 25% vs. 12% to 15%.

"People neglect to think of sleep as one of the fundamental building blocks of life. But without it, the good things lose their goodness and the bad things just get terribly worse," said Hirshkowitz. "Placing your life at the altar of the god of productivity just isn't worth it in the end."

The report - which also includes input from researchers at Arizona State University, the University of Kentucky College of Medicine, Universidade Federal de Sao Paulo and the University of South Carolina - is based on a poll by WB&A Market Research for the National Sleep Foundation. It's considered accurate within 3.1 percentage points, 19 times out of 20


The Fat and the Fired
 Bob Goldman


Put down that jelly donut, friend.

Your Buddha-like figure might make you appear cute and cuddly to some folks, but to the management of your company, those extra ounces of adipose, gathering ominously at what used to be your waist, could get you in serious career trouble.

You knew that being overweight could result in higher cholesterol. Did you also realize that being fat could result in a lower paycheck?

Well, it's true. According to "How Your Bad Diet May Weigh On Your Job Review," a recent article by Jen Wieczner in the Wall Street Journal, that muffin top in your middle is a matter of top priority to your employers, who "are tracking what staffers eat, where they shop and how much weight they're putting on -- and taking action to keep them in line."

Are your bosses concerned about your weight because they care deeply about your well-being? Yes and no. Mostly no. Ask the HR department why they have sent spies to follow your progress through the supermarket, noting how much time you spend loading up on Mallomars and cheese doodles, and you will likely hear some malarkey about lowering "health care and insurance costs, while also helping workers."

This makes no sense at all. Cookies and ice cream may not be health foods, but after a grueling, frustrating, cosmically depressing day at work, the more sugary treats you can stuff down your pie hole, the better you will feel, especially when washed down with beer.

Chug-a-lugging chocolate brownies, whipped cream, five-pound bags of sugar -- they don't call them comfort foods for nothing. And with your management, you deserve a little comfort. Eat well and you might protect your health, but what's the sense of maintaining a perfect body, if your mind has rotted away?

It used to be that companies promoted good health with PowerPoint presentations on the 7 Building Blocks of a Healthy Breakfast. (bacon, more bacon, sausage, more sausage, left-over pizza, clotted cream and a impudent Gewurztraminer.) Now, employers are getting more invasive.

According to the Wieczner article, "1,600 employees at four U.S. workplaces, including the City of Houston, strapped on armbands that track their exercise habits, calories burned and vital signs." Other employers are issuing blood-pressure cuffs and mobile monitors "to track wearers 24/7."

If this seems a somewhat egregious invasion of your personal privacy, you can stand up for your civil rights and perhaps find a more permissive attitude at your next job. Or you could do the sensible thing and volunteer to have a chip implanted in your frontal lobe that will not only monitor all your eating activity, but also immediately report to management if you harbor any negative thoughts about the boss's massive pay check.

Even if your company does not wire you for sound, they can still be checking up on you. As the Journal reporter reports, "Blue Cross and Blue Shield of North Carolina recently began buying spending data on more than 3 million people in its employer group plans. If someone, say, purchases plus-size clothing, the health plan could flag him for potential obesity -- and then call or send mailing offering weight-loss solutions."

Or they could simply send a team of thugs to your house to beat you senseless. When it comes to adopting a weight-loss program, nothing is more motivating than a good beating.

Fortunately, there are some people who are concerned about big brother bosses sticking their noses in our pudding cups. Dr. Deborah Peel, founder of Patient Privacy Rights, "worries employers could conceivably make other conclusions about people who load up the cart with butter and sugar."

Really, it's sad. Our bosses used to worry about stuffing our briefcases with office supplies. Now they're freaked because we're stuffing our shopping carts with kitchen supplies.

As you might expect, the firms who buy this data deny they are trying to identify specific individuals. "And if the targeted approach feels too intrusive," reporter Wieczner explains, "employees can ask to be placed on the wellness program's do-not-call list."

Yes, I'm sure the company will be happy to take you off the wellness list and immediately find you a nice comfy position on the paranoid list.

Bottom line -- in today's workplace, it's no longer enough to watch what you say. You also have to watch what you eat. I suggest a steady diet of crow. Nothing will move your career ahead faster than an empty stomach, an empty mind, and a steady diet of "I'm sorry."

7 March, 2013

How foods that leave a bitter taste in the mouth could prevent asthma attacks


They may create an unpleasant sensation in the mouth, but how we respond to bitter foods could help scientists prevent asthma attacks.

A study found eating something tart stimulates taste receptors in the airway cells which improves airflow by relaxing the muscles.

Some foods such as Thai kale and bitter melon can even dilate airway cells that have already contracted, a process known as bronchodilation.

Scientists from the University of Massachusetts hope the discovery will pave the way for potent new treatments for asthma.

Study leader Dr Ronghua ZhuGe, said: 'I am excited that someday, with more research, there may be a new class of bronchodilators which are able to reverse an asthma attack quicker and with fewer side effects than is currently available to patients.'

He added that experiments in mice suggest the relaxing effects of bitter substances may even be faster and stronger than current asthma treatments.

Bitter taste receptors most likely evolved to help alert the body to potentially harmful foods that have spoiled or are toxic. The receptors have long been thought to only exist in certain cells present in the tongue.

Over the last few years, however, scientists have come to realize that these receptors are present in many other cells throughout the body.

Specifically, bitter taste receptors on smooth muscle cells in the airway act to relax the cells when exposed to bitter-tasting substances.

A hallmark of an asthma attack is excessive contraction of smooth muscle cells, which causes narrowing of the airways and subsequent breathing difficulties.

Dr ZhuGe examined the effect of bitter substances at a cellular level.

During an asthma attack channels on the membrane of smooth muscle cells in the airways open. This allows calcium to flow into the cell, causing it to contract and making breathing difficult.

Dr ZhuGe's findings suggest bitter foods shut down the calcium channels allowing the cells to relax.

Dr ZhuGe said: 'With this new understanding of how bitter substances are able to relax airways, we can focus our attention on studying these receptors and on finding even more potent bitter compounds with the potential to be used therapeutically to end asthma attacks.'

The findings are published in the journal PLOS Biology.


Bananas?! Mother claims fruit has cured her crippling migraines after 20 years

There are various dietary manipulations that help some people with migraines but I doubt that many will share the solution below

A mother-of-two who has been plagued by migraines for almost 20 years says she has been cured after snacking on bananas.

Lisa Poyner, 38, used to suffer episodes that left her bed ridden for days at a time, and tried out dozens of medications to try and relieve her condition.

But she realised she could head off attacks if she snacked on the fruit as soon as she felt the symptoms coming on.

Mrs Poyner said: 'I had been prescribed all kinds of medication before, but nothing ever worked as well as just making sure I eat every couple of hours.

'Bananas are handy as they're healthy, and good sustenance, so if I feel an attack about to strike, I just grab one straight away.  'I don't even really like bananas very much.'

The supermarket worker from Worthing, West Sussex, now has 'banana breaks' to help her cope.  'I get my banana breaks every couple of hours, and all my colleagues are really understanding,' she said.

'I know that if I feel a migraine coming on, or start to feel a bit spaced out, I can just stop and grab something to eat.'

She said it's important that she tackles a migraine before it becomes full-blown.  'If I suffer a full-on attack it leaves me completely immobile. I can lose my vision and my arms and legs go numb.

'I had been prescribed all kinds of medication before, but nothing ever worked as well as just making sure I eat every couple of hours.

Lisa began to suffer with severe headaches while in her teenage years - but when she gave birth to her sons, Isaac, and Austin, in her late 20s, they got much worse.

Mrs Poyner said: 'My vision blurs, or disappears completely, and I get a tingling sensation in my arms or legs.

'My head feels as though it will burst open - as though it's about to explode. At my worst, I was getting them two or three times a week.

'So many people don't understand how bad they are. People say to me , "Oh, I get terrible headaches too" - but this is not just a headache.

'I've been back and forth to the doctors for more than 20 years, trying to find what triggers them.'

Then the mother-of-two realised they usually came on when she was hungry. Eating carbohydrates, such as a banana, helped to stave off symptoms by keeping blood sugar levels even.

'I was terrified of suffering a migraine when I was alone with my children, especially when they were young, so I made sure I always had something substantial to eat.

'When my children were young I could never imagine going back to work, as I needed a job where I can eat whenever I need to.

'I've been working on a supermarket checkout for the last six months, and my employers are brilliant.

'It might seem a bit weird to carry bananas round with me, but it's helped me to live as close to a normal life as possible.'


6 March, 2013

After all those warnings about saturated fat being unhealthy for hearts... Stop feeling guilty! That juicy steak is good for you

There is no good evidence that saturated fat is bad for you.  Ancel Keys thought it was bad but he looked at heart disease only.  Follow-up studies showed that overall mortality is not affected

Saturated fat has become public enemy number one for heart health, the one food type guaranteed to clog arteries and raise the risk of a heart attack.

But emerging evidence suggests not all saturated fat should be tarred with the same brush — one type of saturated fat, known as stearic acid, may actually protect the heart against disease.

Stearic acid, which is found in beef and pork, skinless chicken, olive oil, cheese, chocolate and milk, is one of many saturated fatty acids found in food. Others include lauric, myristic and palmitic acids.

However, unlike other saturated fatty acids, repeated studies have shown stearic acid has no adverse effect on blood cholesterol levels or other risk factors for cardiovascular disease.

Indeed, it appears to be beneficial — suggesting that red meat and chocolate are not the heart-health disaster zones we assume they are.

When one study published in a recent edition of the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition revealed that eating lean beef on a daily basis improved cholesterol levels, it was the stearic acid in the meat that was said to be responsible for the positive changes.

After five weeks on the diet of daily lean beef, the participants in the study experienced a 5 per cent drop in total cholesterol and around a 4 per cent drop in ‘bad’ LDL cholesterol — almost the same as those on a diet high in fish, vegetable protein and poultry.

Both groups also kept their weight steady. Dr Michael Roussell, one of the study authors from Pennsylvania State University, said that, unlike processed meats such as sausages and ham, unadulterated red meat ‘brings a unique, heart-healthy blend of fats to the table’.

In the UK, the Government’s recommended upper daily limit for women is 20g of saturated fat, while for men it is 30g.
The stearic acid findings mean that so-called 'bad foods', such as cheese and meat, are not as harmful as thought - the key is moderation

The stearic acid findings mean that so-called 'bad foods', such as cheese and meat, are not as harmful as thought - the key is moderation

However, many nutrition scientists agree that myths and misconceptions have led to consumers wrongly thinking that all saturated fat is bad when, in fact, they can eat sensible amounts of foods rich in stearic acid, such as red meat, without fearing for their heart’s well-being.

‘There are different forms of saturated fat, and stearic acid isn’t linked to heart disease,’ explains Glenys Jones, a nutritionist at the Medical Research Council’s Human Nutrition Research Department in Cambridge.

‘Other forms of saturated fat, such as the fat in butter, have a much stronger association and, of course, too much of any fat will result in obesity, which is a risk factor for heart disease itself.’

The confusing twist in the science of saturated fatty acids was recognised as early as 1957, when it was shown that cocoa butter — the fat obtained from the cocoa bean and used to make chocolate — did not raise blood cholesterol as much as butter fat.

And almost 25 years ago, a major study at the University of Texas clearly demonstrated that all saturated fats don’t have the same ill effects.

Scientists reporting in the New England Journal of Medicine found that saturated fats such as butter and coconut oil, which contain negligible amounts of stearic acid, had far more damaging effects on blood fats than red meat or chocolate.

Then, in 2011, the British Nutrition Foundation published a major report that challenged conventional wisdom about the effects of saturated fat in red meat.

In the document, Dr Carrie Ruxton, an independent dietician, confirmed there is ‘no conclusive link’ between cardiovascular disease and red meat that contains some fatty acids, such as stearic acid, that protect the heart.

She added that modern farming methods have cut overall fat levels in red meat.  ‘There is less saturated fat in a grilled pork steak than in a grilled chicken breast with the skin left on,’ she said.

‘Studies have shown favourable effects of lean red meat consumption on blood pressure and cholesterol levels.’

The amount of stearic acid varies from food to food, but cocoa beans and red meat have among the highest proportion.

Of course, the findings are not a green light to gorge on bacon sandwiches and Easter eggs.

On average, our intake of saturated fat is one-fifth more than the upper limit set by the Government, and we still need to heed established dietary advice surrounding heart health.

However, the stearic acid findings mean that so-called ‘bad foods’, such as cheese and meat, are not as harmful as thought — the key is moderation.

‘There is definite evidence that stearic acid has a neutral effect on cholesterol and cardiovascular risk,’ says Dr Emma Williams, a BNF nutrition scientist.

‘However, in many foods stearic acid is lumped together with other saturated fatty acids which are less beneficial and can contribute to a rise in risks.

‘The truth is that no one has ever said people should cut out animal fats completely. Just eat them sparingly.’


Elderly British patients diagnosed with 'acopia' - a disease that does not exist

Elderly patients often do not receive proper treatment because they are subconsciously 'written off' and diagnosed with 'acopia', a condition that does not exist, a former Government adviser on the elderly has said.

Professor David Oliver said that subconscious ageism within the NHS often meant the elderly are not correctly diagnosed and instead sent to care homes for treatable illnesses.

One study found serious conditions such as strokes, heart disease and Parkinson's were being missed. Patients were instead diagnosed with 'acopia', which only means 'failure to cope'.

Patients from the wartime generation typically do not want to "make a fuss", he said, and so do not demand better care.

"Writing ‘acopia’ is basically saying ‘We’re not going to make a proper diagnosis. There’s that subconscious decision-making,” Professor Oliver, who has recently stepped down as National Clinical Director for Older People, told The Times.

Older people are "sometimes being written off and sent to care homes when they had perfectly treatable problems," he said.

He added: "It’s easy for someone to come into hospital, they’ve got some dementia, they’re struggling to walk, and if you don't really say, ‘Right let’s see what we can do to get you back on your feet’ in very short order they’re heading towards a nursing home, and sometimes it needn’t have happened.”

But older patients are often too willing to settle for inadequate care, he said.

"Often older people themselves in this country will be saying, ‘Not at my time of life doctor’, or ‘I don’t want to bother you doctor’.

"With the wartime generation they remember the NHS being founded, and what there was before, and they’re still generationally very grateful for the welfare state, they’re still respectful of professional and authority figures and they don’t generally like to make a fuss.”

He urged doctors to see past common occurrences in old age such as falls and confusion and conduct proper geriatric assessments.


5 March, 2013

Sitting down can send you to an early grave: Why sofas (and your office chair) should carry a health warning...

Cripes!  I should be dead by now!  There are a whole host of studies quoted below  -- far too many for me to go though -- but I gather that they are mostly correlational, which proves nothing

Are you sitting comfortably? Well, don’t. A welter of medical evidence is suggesting that the act of placing your derriere on a seat can cut years off your life.

It seems armchairs, office chairs and sofas can be fatal. Sitting down is increasingly being linked to some of the modern world’s most toxic epidemics, from cancer, heart disease and high blood pressure to stroke.

Last week, researchers at Leicester University added to this grim jigsaw by reporting that time spent sitting is strongly associated with an increased risk of developing type 2 diabetes.

But now, the vast majority of most people’s days are spent sitting — on the commute to work, at work, travelling home, then at the dining table, and lastly on the sofa in front of the TV. On average, it adds up to around ten hours of seatedness a day.

The Leicester University research suggests spending hours sitting down causes the body to accumulate dangerously high levels of sugars and fats in your bloodstream — significantly raising the risk of type 2 diabetes.

Other research last month of more than 60,000 middle-age men by the University of Western Sydney found those who sit more than four hours a day are more likely to experience chronic ailments, such as cancer, heart disease and high blood pressure.

Emma George, the lead researcher, says: ‘The rates of chronic diseases reported by the participants exponentially increased in proportion with the amount of time the participants spent sitting down.’

These problems were independent of other health factors such as age, body-mass index and level of physical activity, according to the report in the International Journal of Behavioural Nutrition and Physical Activity.

The result, according to another Australian study, published in the Archives of Internal Medicine last year, is that people who sit for 11 or more hours a day have a 40 per cent increase in their risk of dying over the next three years, compared with those who sit for only four hours a day.

But why is sitting so dreadful? It seems our bodies were primarily designed for fidgeting around and trying to stand upright.

When we stand, our muscles contract to stop us falling flat on our face. We engage our muscles when we are standing and even more when we walk around. And muscles have an important role in helping to regulate many of our physiological processes.

Muscle contractions help the body to take sugar out of our bloodstreams and use it for energy. The muscles that keep us standing up also seem to produce more of the enzymes that break down fats in the blood, says the Leicester University team.

One danger of sitting for too long is ‘seated immobility syndrome’. The first case was identified in a South Korean medical journal in 2004. The victim, a 24-year-old man, had blood clots in his legs after sitting in the same chair for 80 hours playing an internet game. He needed emergency surgery to save his life.

Since then, the phenomenon has been investigated by Richard Beasley, of Wellington Hospital in New Zealand. He warns that the pressure on the back of the thigh from the front edge of the seat can slow down blood flow.

But are there any practical alternatives to sitting down all day if you work in an office?

The past ten years have seen attempts by bosses to get their staff on their feet, with upright ‘working stations’, and areas for ‘dynamic meeting spaces’ where people can stand and talk. Or they have simply taken chairs away.

However, other research shows how standing up at work seems to encourage people to slack off.

A study of Australian office workers in the journal Human Factors in 2009 found that people perform best at computer tasks when sitting. Standing reduced their work-rate slightly — while walking around while working had an even worse impact.

Asking staff to swap their chairs for stability balls does not help, either. These are designed to make people engage leg and back muscles constantly to stay upright.

However, a study in the Journal of Occupational and Environmental Hygiene this year found that while 200 office workers who sat on stability balls for three months cut their levels of lower back pain by more than half, more than  45 per cent of staff reported that the balls had caused significant pain elsewhere with regular use.


Sex cures migraines?

A lot of men might get lucky over this

A team of neurologists found that sexual activity can lead to "partial or complete relief” of head pain in some migraines.

The study, from the University of Munster, Germany, suggests that instead of using a sore head as an excuse to refuse sex, making love can be more effective than taking painkillers.

Their research, reported in Cephalalgia, the journal of the International Headache Society, found that more than half of migraine sufferers who had sex during an episode experienced an improvement in symptoms.

One in five patients left without any pain at all, while others, in particular male sufferers "even used sexual activity as a therapeutic tool”, they added.

They suggested that sex triggered the release of endorphins, the body’s natural painkillers, through the central nervous system, which can in turn reduce, or even eliminate, a headache.

"The majority of patients with migraine or cluster headache do not have sexual activity during headache attacks,” the study concluded.

"Our data suggest, however, that sexual activity can lead to partial or complete relief of headache in some migraine and a few cluster headache patients.

"Our results show that sexual activity during a migraine attack might relieve or even stop an attack in some cases, and that sexual activity in the presence of headache is not an unusual behaviour.”

They added: "Sex can abort migraine and cluster headache attacks, and sexual activity is used by some patients as acute headache treatment.”

In their research, titled "The impact of sexual activity on idiopathic headaches: An observational study”, the team of neurologists investigated whether sex can trigger headaches.

They also wanted to establish whether there was any substance to anecdotal suggestions that it could actually ease symptoms of migraine and cluster, also known as one-sided, headaches.

An anonymous questionnaire was sent to 800 random migraine patients and 200 similar cluster headache sufferers.

They asked for experience with sexual activity during a headache attack and its impact on headache intensity.

More than a third of migraine patients had experience with sexual activity during an attack and out of these patients, almost two in three reported an "improvement of their migraine attack”.

Almost three in four reported moderate to complete relief and a third reported it worsening.

Those suffering a cluster headache, almost a third had experience with sexual activity, with 37 per cent reporting an improvement to their condition. More than 90 per cent reported moderate to complete relief while 50 reported worsening.

The researchers added: "Some patients, in particular male migraine patients, even used sexual activity as a therapeutic tool.”


4 March, 2013

Why being negative is good for your health: Pessimists are more likely to live longer

Finally the pessimists among us have something to be happy about.   Older people who are blighted by negative thoughts and fear for the future are more likely to live longer, a study has revealed.

Scientists found those with low expectations for a ‘satisfying future’ actually led healthier lives.

A study into 40,000 people found that being ‘overly optimistic’ in predicting a better future was associated with a greater risk of disability and death.

Lead author Frieder R.Lang said: ‘Our findings revealed that being overly optimistic in predicting a better future was associated with a greater risk of disability and death within the following decade.

‘Pessimism about the future may encourage people to live more carefully, taking health and safety precautions.’

The research, based on data collected between 1993 and 2003, asked participants in three different age groups to rate how satisfied they were with their lives and how satisfied they thought they would be in five years.  The age groups were divided into 18 to 39, 40 to 64 and 65 and above.

They were interviewed again five years later, and their satisfaction levels were compared with their own predictions.

A total of 43 per cent of the oldest group – 65 years old and above – had underestimated their future life satisfaction.

While 25 per cent had predicted their future happiness accurately, 32 per cent had overestimated it.

Surprisingly, those in the oldest group who overestimated how happy they would be were found to have a 9.5 per cent increase in reporting disabilities.  They had a ten per cent increased risk of death, the analysis showed.

Older people, who tended to have a ‘darker outlook’ on the future, were said to be more realistic with their predictions and therefore were more likely to be accurate.

In contrast, the optimistic youngsters had the sunniest outlook, overestimating their success.

People who were ‘overly optimistic’ about the days ahead had a greater risk of disability or death within ten years.

The research, published by the American Psychological Association, also found those with higher income were more likely to be at greater risk of disability.

‘Unexpectedly, we also found that stable and good health and income were associated with expecting a greater decline compared with those in poor health or with low incomes,’ said Dr Lang.

‘Moreover, we found that higher income was related to a greater risk of disability.

‘We argue, though, that the outcomes of optimistic, accurate or pessimistic forecasts may depend on age and available resources.

‘These findings shed new light on how our perspectives can either help or hinder us in taking actions that can help improve our chances of a long healthy life.’


How dieting makes you feel guilty about food but doesn't make you thinner

Probably true but the data is weak

It's long been said that diets don't work. But now it's been proven that women dieters do not actually cut the amount they eat – they simply end up feeling guilty about food instead.

Three studies of women found that those who were highly conscious of what they eat did not consume less calories than other women.

But women who dieted differed from women who didn't in one area – they experienced a lot more guilt when it came to eating.

These frequent dieters seem to rob themselves of the pleasure of enjoying food and set themselves up for failure, the findings suggest.

"Despite their good intentions, restraint eaters seem to gain nothing and lose twice," wrote the researchers from Utrecht University, Holland, in the journal Psychology & Health.

"Results indicated that restraint was not associated with food intake, but instead was associated with increased levels of guilt after eating.  "Guilt was explicitly related to food intake."

Some 148 female undergraduates were invited to a laboratory to take part in what they thought was a food-tasting session for a supermarket chain.

They were left alone for ten minutes to sample high calorie foods such as chips and chocolate-covered peanuts and low calorie foods such as crackers and apple slices.

Next they were asked about their emotions, including guilt, and about their attitudes towards food, including how much they diet and how often they worry about what they eat.

The results showed that so-called 'restrained eaters' – who diet often and fret about what they eat and weight fluctuations – had eaten just as much as other women, including just as much high-calorie food.

They also felt greater guilt afterwards, especially in relation to their recent indulgence.


3 March, 2013

Fat people live longer 'because their brains get more nourishment under stress', says obesity doctor

Yikes!  How "incorrect"!

Fat people live longer than their skinny counterparts because their brains get more nourishment under stress, a German obesity expert has claimed.

Achim Peters says that overweight people are more suited to the stresses of modern life because their metabolisms are better able deal with it.

Professor Peters, of Luebeck University in northern Germany and author of the book 'Overweight Myths - Why Fat People Live Longer,' has been studying the brain and weight related issues for three decades. He says it is a myth that fat people die sooner than their thin counterparts.

He said: 'People react to a stressful, uncertain circumstances in two different ways. Some eat and become fat.

'The others refuse food and become thin. The ones who become really ill are the thin ones. The fat ones are, in comparison with the thin ones, much healthier.'

He added that being thin in itself not a problem, but those who lose weight when under stress are in danger.

'We have to worry much more about the thin stressed people than about the fat stressed people. Yet they are not regarded widely as having a problem precisely because they are thin. But in fact they die earliest.'

Professor Peters told a German newspaper that he and his colleagues studied 'toxic stress' brought on by factors outside of an individual's control, such as poverty, bullying, abuse, divorce, low self-esteem and trouble in the workplace.

Individuals who pile on the pounds under such circumstance 'get the nutrients they need to feed their brains.

'When the brain doesn't get them from external sources, it gets them from within - from muscles and even worse, from the organs. Thin stressed people are the least healthy people.'

He went on: 'So far, only the relationship between being overweight and mortality has been studied. The cause of the mortality is not in just being overweight, it lies in stress.'

He said that 'social imbalances' that lead to stress cannot be fixed with diets - rather, it is the duty of government to worry about taking away the stresses of modern day life to get people to shed some weight.  'Society needs to change, not fat people,' he added.

Asked if there is an ideal weight, he said; 'No. Modern research speaks only of weight diversity. Every human being has the survival strategy ideal for his or her life.

'The ostracism of fatties puts pressure on fat people psychologically.'

Indeed, he said, there are studies that prove that fat people earn less, are fired faster and are more often bullied.

He added that the idea that slimness equals beauty 'contributes greatly to the misfortunes of the overweight'.

'If you look carefully there were or are stressful circumstances for fat people who do not seem stressed. But these people have found a solution.

'They have become stress tolerant and in return, get a balanced mood. But they have to pay a price for this - eating.'

There are anti-stress therapies which he said were effective in the longer term and could alter eating behaviour and lead to weight loss.


Most Americans Say the Government Should Let People Drink What They Want

NYC Department of Health and Mental HygieneNew York Mayor Michael Bloomberg's big beverage ban, which takes effect on March 12, imposes a 16-ounce limit on servings of sugar-sweetened drinks sold by bars, restaurants, food carts, and snack stands.

This week Bloomberg urged the New York legislature to make food service businesses throughout the state comply with his pint-size prescription. But the latest Reason-Rupe Public Opinion Survey suggests the busybody billionaire may have trouble selling this policy outside of New York City. Only one in four respondents thought "the sale of drinks larger than 16 ounces" should be prohibited, while 71 percent said it should be allowed. Similarly, 28 percent thought Bloomberg's policy is "an effective way to fight obesity," while 68 percent said it is not. Democrats were considerably more likely than Republicans to favor a 16-ounce limit (33 percent vs. 20 percent), and there was a similar gap between self-identified conservatives and progressives. Looking at age trends, support for the drink diktat was highest among respondents 65 or older, 35 percent of whom thought it was a good idea, and lowest among 45-to-54-year-olds, only 16 percent of whom wanted to tell people how much soda they may order.

Think ProgressThere was more overall support for banning caffeinated energy drinks, an idea embraced by 34 percent of respondents and rejected by 59 percent. One reason an outright ban on energy drinks fared better than a limit on soda servings may be that most of the respondents (61 percent) were under the mistaken impression that energy drinks contain more caffeine per ounce than coffee. Another 25 percent thought the two kinds of beverages have about the same caffeine content, which is also wrong. Only 3 percent correctly said that energy drinks have less caffeine per ounce than coffee. Yellow journalists like New York Times reporter Barry Meier probably can take considerable credit for the public's confusion on this point, although the fact that energy drinks are newer and less familiar than coffee no doubt plays a role as well. (It also helps explain why reporters like Meier view energy drinks with such alarm, even though they pose a demonstrably smaller risk of caffeine overdose than coffee does.) Not surprisingly, support for banning energy drinks, which are especially popular among teenagers and young adults, rises with age. Support was lowest among respondents 34 and younger and highest among respondents 65 and older (23 percent vs. 48 percent).

Four Loko no longer counts as an energy drink, since its manufacturer, Phusion Projects, agreed to decaffeinate the fruity malt beverage in 2010 under pressure from the Food and Drug Administration. But it still contains about the same amount of alcohol per ounce as wine, which worries the Federal Trade Commission. This month the FTC announced that it had forced Phusion Projects to put a new "Alcohol Facts" label on Four Loko warning that each 23.5-ounce can contains what the government considers to be 4.7 servings of alcohol. While 14 percent of the Reason-Rupe respondents thought this information would encourage people to drink less, 17 percent said it would encourage people to drink more, and 63 percent said it would have no impact on consumption. I am proud to say that skepticism was strongest among 45-to-54-year-olds, 69 percent of whom saw the requirement as ineffective. That is also the age group that was most skeptical of Bloombergian beverage regulations, with 83 percent opposing the policy and 81 percent deeming it ineffective. Middle-aged respondents were not quite as libertarian on the subject of energy drinks, however: About two-fifths of them supported a ban.


1 March, 2013

Caesarean babies at higher risk of allergies: Infants born by C-section are five times more likely to suffer common reactions

To state the obvious:  Babies born by C-section probably already have problems  -- or their mother does  -- so THAT could be the cause of later ill health

Caesarian birth greatly increases a baby’s chances of developing allergies, a study has found.

Infants delivered by C-section are five times more likely than those born naturally to become allergic to common triggers such as dust mites and pets, according to the research.

Scientists believe the babies are left vulnerable by avoiding the journey through the birth canal, which would normally expose them to their mother’s bacteria.

The discovery lends support to the 'hygiene hypothesis' that links childhood allergy to over-clean conditions early in life.

Lead researcher Dr Christine Cole Johnson, from the Henry Ford Hospital in Detroit, in the U.S., said: 'This further advances the hygiene hypothesis that early childhood exposure to micro-organisms affects the immune system’s development and onset of allergies.

'We believe a baby’s exposure to bacteria in the birth canal is a major influencer on their immune system.'

Dr Johnson’s team studied 1,258 newborn babies and assessed them when they were one month, six months, one and two-years-old.

By two years of age, babies born by C-section were much more likely to have developed allergies to triggers in the home such as the droppings of house dust mites, and dander, or dead skin, shed by dogs and cats.

Umbilical cord and stool samples from each baby were analysed, together with blood samples from both parents, breast milk and household dust.

Information was also collected on every family’s history of allergy or asthma, household pets, tobacco smoke exposure, baby illnesses, medication use, and aspects of pregnancy.

The results of the research were presented today at the annual meeting of the American Academy of Allergy, Asthma and Immunology in San Antonio, Texas.

Half of all children and teenagers in the UK have experienced allergies by their 18th birthday.

Each year the number of allergy sufferers in the UK increases by 5 per cent, half of whom are children.

An estimated 21 million UK adults have at least one allergy. Ten per cent of children and adults under the age of 45 have two or more allergies.

Maureen Jenkins, director of clinical services at the charity Allergy UK, said: 'During a natural birth the baby travels slowly down the birth canal where it ingests normal bacteria, which has been shown to aid a healthy immune response and protect against allergy.

'In the case of a Caesarean section, the baby has no contact with the birth canal. Instead it is immediately removed from a sterile environment, meaning the chances of developing allergy could be heightened.'


Philadelphia food police swap in costly school lunch menu

School officials at one Philadelphia school have joined an "Eatiquette” program to crack down on unhealthy eating, banning processed food and requiring students to partake in a more family-style dining atmosphere.

"This is more than just eating healthy,” said Marc Vetri, a local chef who operates two restaurants in Philadelphia and who has been hired to provide meals at People For People Charter School, according to The Associated Press. "This is learning how to interact with each other.”

No more cafeteria trays and bench tables. Now students are served on dishes that are passed around circular tables, and they eat off plates using silverware, AP reports. And the food? It’s restaurant fare — like baked zita with a side of fennel salad, and cinnamon apple rice pudding for dessert, AP reports.

The "Eatiquette” plan calls for only fresh ingredients and on-site food preparation, AP says. Processed meats and foods are banned, as well as frozen and canned produce.

The program is costly. At about $1.50 per meal, it’s more than what the school currently pays, AP says. And 80 percent of the students that attend the school receive taxpayer assistance for free or reduced-price meals, AP says.

"It costs more, but we believe there is a benefit,” said one official, who said the program could one day be offset through grant funds, AP reported.


SITE MOTTO: "Epidemiology is mostly bunk"

Where it is not bunk is when it shows that some treatment or influence has no effect on lifespan or disease incidence. It is as convincing as disproof as it is unconvincing as proof. Think about it. As Einstein said: No amount of experimentation can ever prove me right; a single experiment can prove me wrong.

Epidemiological studies are useful for hypothesis-generating or for hypothesis-testing of theories already examined in experimental work but they do not enable causative inferences by themselves

The standard of reasoning that one commonly finds in epidemiological journal articles is akin to the following false syllogism:
Chairs have legs
You have legs
So therefore you are a chair


1). A good example of an epidemiological disproof concerns the dreaded salt (NaCl). We are constantly told that we eat too much salt for good health and must cut back our consumption of it. Yet there is one nation that consumes huge amounts of salt. So do they all die young there? Quite the reverse: Japan has the world's highest concentration of centenarians. Taste Japan's favourite sauce -- soy sauce -- if you want to understand Japanese salt consumption. It's almost solid salt.

2). We need a daily salt intake to counter salt-loss through perspiration and the research shows that people on salt-restricted diets die SOONER. So the conventional wisdom is not only wrong. It is positively harmful

3). Table salt is a major source of iodine, which is why salt is normally "iodized" by official decree. Cutting back salt consumption runs the risk of iodine deficiency, with its huge adverse health impacts -- goiter, mental retardation etc. GIVE YOUR BABY PLENTY OF SALTY FOODS -- unless you want to turn it into a cretin

4). Our blood has roughly the same concentration of salt as sea-water so claims that the body cannot handle high levels of salt were always absurd

5). The latest academic study shows that LOW salt in your blood is most likely to lead to heart attacks. See JAMA. 2011;305(17):1777-1785. More here on similar findings

PEANUTS: There is a vaccination against peanut allergy -- peanuts themselves. Give peanut products (e.g. peanut butter -- or the original "Bamba" if you have Israeli contacts) to your baby as soon as it begins to take solid foods and that should immunize it for life. See here and here (scroll down). It's also possible (though as yet unexamined) that a mother who eats peanuts while she is lactating may confer some protection on her baby

THE SIDE-EFFECT MANIA. If a drug is shown to have troublesome side-effects, there are always calls for it to be banned or not authorized for use in the first place. But that is insane. ALL drugs have side effects. Even aspirin causes stomach bleeding, for instance -- and paracetamol (acetaminophen) can wreck your liver. If a drug has no side effects, it will have no main effects either. If you want a side-effect-free drug, take a homeopathic remedy. They're just water.

Although I am an atheist, I have never wavered from my view that the New Testament is the best guide to living and I still enjoy reading it. Here is what the apostle Paul says about vegetarians: "For one believeth that he may eat all things: another, who is weak, eateth herbs. Let not him that eateth despise him that eateth not; and let not him which eateth not judge him that eateth." (Romans 14: 2.3). What perfect advice! That is real tolerance: Very different from the dogmatism of the food freaks. Interesting that vegetarianism is such an old compulsion, though.

Even if we concede that getting fat shortens your life, what right has anybody got to question someone's decision to accept that tradeoff for themselves? Such a decision could be just one version of the old idea that it is best to have a short life but a merry one. Even the Bible is supportive of that thinking. See Ecclesiastes 8:15 and Isaiah 22: 13. To deny the right to make such a personal decision is plainly Fascistic.

Fatties actually SAVE the taxpayer money

IQ: Political correctness makes IQ generally unmentionable so it is rarely controlled for in epidemiological studies. This is extremely regrettable as it tends to vitiate findings that do not control for it. When it is examined, it is routinely found to have pervasive effects. We read, for instance, that "The mother's IQ was more highly predictive of breastfeeding status than were her race, education, age, poverty status, smoking, the home environment, or the child's birth weight or birth order". So political correctness can render otherwise interesting findings moot

That hallowed fish oil is strongly linked to increased incidence of colon cancer

The "magic" ingredient in fish oil is omega-3 fatty acids (n-3 LCPUFA in medical jargon). So how do you think the research finding following was reported? "No differences were seen in the overall percentage of infants with immunoglobulin E associated allergic disease between the n-3 LCPUFA and control groups. It was reported as SUPPORTING the benefits of Omeda-3! Belief in Omega-3 is simply a cult and, like most cults, is impervious to disproof. See also here.

"To kill an error is as good a service as, and sometimes better than, the establishing of a new truth or fact" -- Charles Darwin

"Most men die of their remedies, not of their diseases", said Moliere. That may no longer be true in general but there is still a lot of false medical "wisdom" around that does harm to various degrees -- the statin and antioxidant fads, for instance. And showing its falsity is rarely the problem. The problem is getting people -- medical researchers in particular -- to abandon their preconceptions

Bertrand Russell could have been talking about today's conventional dietary "wisdom" when he said: "The fact that an opinion has been widely held is no evidence whatever that it is not utterly absurd; indeed in view of the silliness of the majority of mankind, a widespread belief is more likely to be foolish than sensible.”

Eating lots of fruit and vegetables is NOT beneficial

The great and fraudulent scare about lead

The challenge, as John Maynard Keynes knew, "lies not so much in developing new ideas as in escaping from old ones".

"Obesity" is 77% genetic. So trying to make fatties slim is punishing them for the way they were born. That sort of thing is furiously condemned in relation to homosexuals so why is it OK for fatties?


Some more problems with the "Obesity" war:

1). It tries to impose behavior change on everybody -- when most of those targeted are not obese and hence have no reason to change their behaviour. It is a form of punishing the innocent and the guilty alike. (It is also typical of Leftist thinking: Scorning the individual and capable of dealing with large groups only).

2). The longevity research all leads to the conclusion that it is people of MIDDLING weight who live longest -- not slim people. So the "epidemic" of obesity is in fact largely an "epidemic" of living longer.

3). It is total calorie intake that makes you fat -- not where you get your calories. Policies that attack only the source of the calories (e.g. "junk food") without addressing total calorie intake are hence pissing into the wind. People involuntarily deprived of their preferred calorie intake from one source are highly likely to seek and find their calories elsewhere.

4). So-called junk food is perfectly nutritious. A big Mac meal comprises meat, bread, salad and potatoes -- which is a mainstream Western diet. If that is bad then we are all in big trouble.

5). Food warriors demonize dietary fat. But Eskimos living on their traditional diet eat huge amounts of fat with no apparent ill-effects. At any given age they in fact have an exceptionally LOW incidence of cardiovascular disease. And the average home-cooked roast dinner has LOTS of fat. Will we ban roast dinners?

6). The foods restricted are often no more calorific than those permitted -- such as milk and fruit-juice drinks.

7). Tendency to weight is mostly genetic and is therefore not readily susceptible to voluntary behaviour change.

8). And when are we going to ban cheese? Cheese is a concentrated calorie bomb and has lots of that wicked animal fat in it too. Wouldn't we all be better off without it? And what about butter and margarine? They are just about pure fat. Surely they should be treated as contraband in kids' lunchboxes! [/sarcasm].

9). And how odd it is that we never hear of the huge American study which showed that women who eat lots of veggies have an INCREASED risk of stomach cancer? So the official recommendation to eat five lots of veggies every day might just be creating lots of cancer for the future! It's as plausible (i.e. not very) as all the other dietary "wisdom" we read about fat etc.

10). And will "this generation of Western children be the first in history to lead shorter lives than their parents did"? This is another anti-fat scare that emanates from a much-cited editorial in a prominent medical journal that said so. Yet this editorial offered no statistical basis for its opinion -- an opinion that flies directly in the face of the available evidence.

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

12. Fascism: "What we should be doing is monitoring children from birth so we can detect any deviations from the norm at an early stage and action can be taken". Who said that? Joe Stalin? Adolf Hitler? Orwell's "Big Brother"? The Spanish Inquisition? Generalissimo Francisco Franco Bahamonde? None of those. It was Dr Colin Waine, chairman of Britain's National Obesity Forum. What a fine fellow!


Trans fats: For one summary of the weak science behind the "trans-fat" hysteria, see here. Trans fats have only a temporary effect on blood chemistry and the evidence of lasting harm from them is dubious. By taking extreme groups in trans fats intake, some weak association with coronary heart disease has at times been shown in some sub-populations but extreme group studies are inherently at risk of confounding with other factors and are intrinsically of little interest to the average person.

The "antioxidant" religion: The experimental evidence is that antioxidants SHORTEN your life, if anything. Studies here and here and here and here and here and here and here, for instance. That they are of benefit is a great theory but it is one that has been coshed by reality plenty of times.

Controlling serum cholesterol does not of itself reduce cardiovascular disease. It may even in fact increase it

The absurdity of using self-report questionnaires as a diet record

PASSIVE SMOKING is unpleasant but does you no harm. See here and here and here and here and here and here and here

The medical consensus is often wrong. The best known wrongheaded medical orthodoxy is that stomach ulcers could not be caused by bacteria because the stomach is so acidic. Disproof of that view first appeared in 1875 (Yes. 1875) but the falsity of the view was not widely recognized until 1990. Only heroic efforts finally overturned the consensus and led to a cure for stomach ulcers. See here and here and here.

Contrary to the usual assertions, some big studies show that fat women get LESS breast cancer. See also here and here

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

Huge ($400 million) clinical trial shows that a low fat diet is useless . See also here and here

Dieticians are just modern-day witch-doctors. There is no undergirding in double-blind studies for their usual recommendations

The fragility of current medical wisdom: Would you believe that even Old Testament wisdom can sometimes trump medical wisdom? Note this quote: "Spiess discussed Swedish research on cardiac patients that compared Jehovah's Witnesses who refused blood transfusions to patients with similar disease progression during open-heart surgery. The research found those who refused transfusions had noticeably better survival rates.

Relying on the popular wisdom can certainly hurt you personally: "The scientific consensus of a quarter-century ago turned into the arthritic nightmare of today."

Medical wisdom can in fact fly in the face of the known facts. How often do we hear reverent praise for the Mediterranean diet? Yet both Australians and Japanese live longer than Greeks and Italians, despite having very different diets. The traditional Australian diet is in fact about as opposite to the Mediterranean diet as you can get. The reverence for the Mediterranean diet can only be understood therefore as some sort of Anglo-Saxon cultural cringe. It is quite brainless. Why are not the Australian and Japanese diets extolled if health is the matter at issue?

Since many of my posts here make severe criticisms of medical research, I should perhaps point out that I am also a severe critic of much research in my own field of psychology. See here and here

This is NOT an "alternative medicine" site. Perhaps the only (weak) excuse for the poorly substantiated claims that often appear in the medical literature is the even poorer level of substantiation offered in the "alternative" literature.

I used to teach social statistics in a major Australian university and I find medical statistics pretty obfuscatory. They seem uniformly designed to make mountains out of molehills. Many times in the academic literature I have excoriated my colleagues in psychology and sociology for going ga-ga over very weak correlations but what I find in the medical literature makes the findings in the social sciences look positively muscular. In fact, medical findings are almost never reported as correlations -- because to do so would exhibit how laughably trivial they generally are. If (say) 3 individuals in a thousand in a control group had some sort of an adverse outcome versus 4 out of a thousand in a group undergoing some treatment, the difference will be published in the medical literature with great excitement and intimations of its importance. In fact, of course, such small differences are almost certainly random noise and are in any rational calculus unimportant. And statistical significance is little help in determining the importance of a finding. Statistical significance simply tells you that the result was unlikely to be an effect of small sample size. But a statistically significant difference could have been due to any number of other randomly-present factors.

Even statistical correlations far stronger than anything found in medical research may disappear if more data is used. A remarkable example from Sociology: below:
"The modern literature on hate crimes began with a remarkable 1933 book by Arthur Raper titled The Tragedy of Lynching. Raper assembled data on the number of lynchings each year in the South and on the price of an acre's yield of cotton. He calculated the correlation coefficient between the two series at -0.532. In other words, when the economy was doing well, the number of lynchings was lower.... In 2001, Donald Green, Laurence McFalls, and Jennifer Smith published a paper that demolished the alleged connection between economic conditions and lynchings in Raper's data. Raper had the misfortune of stopping his analysis in 1929. After the Great Depression hit, the price of cotton plummeted and economic conditions deteriorated, yet lynchings continued to fall. The correlation disappeared altogether when more years of data were added."
So we must be sure to base our conclusions on ALL the data. But in medical research, data selectivity and the "overlooking" of discordant research findings is epidemic.

The intellectual Roman Emperor Marcus Aurelius (AD 121-180) could have been speaking of the prevailing health "wisdom" of today when he said: "The object in life is not to be on the side of the majority, but to escape finding oneself in the ranks of the insane."

The Federal Reference Manual on Scientific Evidence, Second Edition says (p. 384): "the threshold for concluding that an agent was more likely than not the cause of an individual's disease is a relative risk greater than 2.0." Very few of the studies criticized on this blog meet that criterion.

Improbable events do happen at random -- as mathematician John Brignell notes rather tartly:
"Consider, instead, my experiences in the village pub swindle. It is based on the weekly bonus ball in the National Lottery. It so happens that my birth date is 13, so that is the number I always choose. With a few occasional absences abroad I have paid my pound every week for a year and a half, but have never won. Some of my neighbours win frequently; one in three consecutive weeks. Furthermore, I always put in a pound for my wife for her birth date, which is 11. She has never won either. The probability of neither of these numbers coming up in that period is less than 5%, which for an epidemiologist is significant enough to publish a paper.

Kids are not shy anymore. They are "autistic". Autism is a real problem but the rise in its incidence seems likely to be the product of overdiagnosis -- the now common tendency to medicalize almost all problems.

One of the great pleasures in life is the first mouthful of cold beer on a hot day -- and the food Puritans can stick that wherever they like