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, 2014

Eating fruit and vegetables can stop you having a heart attack – but only if you are a WOMAN

The fact that it applied to women only suggests that it is a random result.  It's self-report data only so is weak to start with

Eating fruit and vegetables could stop you having a heart attack - but only if you are a woman.

Young females who eat a healthy diet are less likely to develop clogged arteries from a build up of plaque, which can lead to heart attacks or stroke, compared with those who eat a less balanced diet.

However the same benefit does not apply to men - and scientists don't know why, saying the phenomenon 'warrants further investigation'.

The study, comprised of more than 2,500 people in the U.S, reinforces the importance of developing healthy eating habits early in life.

Previous research was able to find that middle aged adults who eat a lot of fruit and vegetables are less likely to have heart attacks or strokes, but the effect on young adults is less clear.

Women in their 20s who said they ate between eight and nine servings of fruit and vegetables a day as part of a 2,000 calorie diet were 40 per cent less likely to develop a build up in their arteries called 'plaque', or coronary artery calcification.

This was when compared with those in their 40s who ate only three or four servings a day, whose chance of developing the build up was much higher.

This trend carried on even after other lifestyle behaviours like smoking, exercise and sugary drink consumption were accounted for.

The study also took into consideration current eating habits, further demonstrating how dietary patterns affect younger people as well.

Dr Michael Miedema, of the Minneapolis Heart Institute, said: 'Several other studies have also suggested a diet high in fruits and vegetables is less protective in men, but we do not have a good biological reason for this lack of association.

'It is an important question because lifestyle behaviours, such as a heart healthy diet, are the foundation of cardiovascular prevention and we need to know what dietary components are most important.'


Can an Atkins-style diet really fight depression? Research suggests low-carb, high-fat foods can drastically improve mental health

Sounds promising

They say you are what eat, and we all know the difference a better diet makes to our complexion and our waistlines. But what about our heads?

An increasing number of scientists are pointing to the Ketogenic diet - similar in nature to the low-carb, high-protein Atkins and Caveman meal plans, which have shown promising results in the treatment of depression and bipolar disorder.

'It's a very new field; the first papers only came out a few years ago,' Michael Berk, a professor of psychiatry at the Deakin University School of Medicine in Australia tells The Washington Post.  'But the results are unusually consistent, and they show a link between diet quality and mental health.'

A Ketogenic diet typically restricts the intake of carbs to no more than 50g a day. A good rule of thumb is to follow the 60/35/5 rule in which 60 per cent of calories come from fat, 35 per cent from protein, and five per cent from carbs. Grass-fed meat, fish, dairy, nuts and avocado are top of the list in terms of foods that comply.

Jodi Corbit, a 47-year-old mother from Catonsville, Maryland, had been battling depression for decades before adopting the Ketogenic diet in a bid to lose weight. To her surprise, she not only shifted several pounds, but also her lifelong depression.

'It was like a veil lifted and I could see life more clearly,' she explains. 'It changed everything.'

Dr El-Mallakh, a professor of psychiatry at the University of Louisville, believes there is a 'strong link' between Ketogenic eating and mental health. He authored a book on the subject, Bipolar Depression, and last year published two case studies to support his findings.

One 32-year-old woman from San Fransisco, suffering from bipolar, who declined to be named, tried the Atkins diet three years ago. 'I noticed within a day or two the marked difference in my head,' she recalls. 'It felt clear for the first time in years and years.'

She contacted Dr El-Mallakh in an attempt to spread the word. 'It surprised me how little information was out there, because for me it was life-changing,' she said, adding that she had been symptom-free ever since adopting the diet.

The Ketogenic diet has long been used, as far back as 500 BC in fact, to treat seizures, and widely-published research has shown that it can result in an up to 90 per cent decrease in seizures for patients with epilepsy.

It's also been shown to help with Alzheimer's, Parkinson's and even cancer. Scientists admit they aren't entirely sure why this is, and it's still more of an association  than a direct cause and effect.

Dr Mallakh has pointed out that many of the drugs proven to help with bipolar depression have anti-seizure properties, which has established a link between the high-fat, low-carb diet and its effects on the brain, if nothing else.

But there are skeptics, particularly when it comes to how the diet may affect the body long term.

Just last month, we reported that nutritionist Dr T Campbell was hitting back against the low-carb craze with his new book, The Low-Carb Fraud.

Ignoring its apparent mental benefits, he argues that the standard American diet is already too high in protein and fat, an imbalance that is merely worsened with this sort of diet. 'Low-carb, high-protein, high-fat diets cause high cholesterol - a major indicator of heart disease and cancer risks,' he suggests.

Dr Volek, a dietician and professor at the University of Connecticut disagrees. 'It was nothing short of an epiphany when I changed to a Ketogenic diet 20 years ago,' he told The Examiner. 'There are very few people that a Ketogenic diet could not help.'


30 March, 2014

'Organic food does not cut women's cancer risk' - study

The usual finding

Eating pesticide-free organic food does nothing to reduce a woman's risk of developing cancer, according to a study.

Researchers instead found that there was a small increased risk of breast cancer seen in consumers who opted for organic produce.

They asked 600,000 women aged 50 or over whether they ate organic food and monitored their health for nine years.

In total, around 50,000 of the women developed one of 16 of the most common cancers during the study period.

A comparison between 180 women who never ate organic food and 45,000 who "usually" or "always" chose organic found no difference in overall cancer risk.

In fact, they saw a small increased risk of breast cancer in organic consumers. But this result could be due to other factors or pure chance, the scientists said.

A reduction in the risk of the blood cancer non-Hodgkin lymphoma was also linked to eating organic, but again scientists said this may not be a genuine association.

Professor Tim Key, a Cancer Research UK-funded scientist at Oxford University, said: "In this large study of middle-aged women in the UK we found no evidence that a woman's overall cancer risk was decreased if she generally ate organic food.

"More research is needed to follow-up our findings of a possible reduction in risk for non-Hodgkin lymphoma."

There have been widely-reported concerns that pesticides commonly used in food production might increase cancer risk, but so far the evidence has been inconclusive.

Conventionally-grown fruit and vegetables contain very small pesticide residues.

The new findings were published in the British Journal of Cancer, which is owned by Cancer Research UK.

Dr Claire Knight, the charity's health information manager, said: "This study adds to the evidence that eating organically grown food doesn't lower your overall cancer risk.

"But if you're anxious about pesticide residues on fruit and vegetables, it's a good idea to wash them before eating.

"Scientists have estimated that over 9 per cent of cancer cases in the UK may be linked to dietary factors, of which almost 5 per cent are linked to not eating enough fruit and vegetables.

"So eating a well-balanced diet which is high in fruit and vegetables - whether conventionally grown or not - can help reduce your cancer risk."

The latest findings are certain to upset supporters of organic food, who include a number of celebrities such as Gwyneth Paltrow, who have claimed there is a “cocktail effect” of pesticides.

The study’s findings were questioned by Peter Melchett, director of policy at the Soil Association, which campaigns “for healthy, humane and sustainable food, farming and land use”.

He said: “We find it strange that a 21 per cent decrease in non-Hodgkin lymphoma cancer, among women who reported usually or always eating organic food, is being so readily dismissed by Cancer Research UK.

“They seem to have a poor understanding of what pesticides are found in and how pesticides get into food.

“Many modern pesticides are ‘systemic’ which means they are in every part of the plant and can’t be washed away whatever consumers do when they prepare food.”

Mr Melchett said the most-commonly found pesticide in British food, according to government testing, is Monsanto’s in bread because it is sprayed on wheat just before harvest.

“Dr Claire Knight says that if people are anxious about pesticides they should wash food before eating it: we’d be interested to know how she expects consumers to wash loaves of bread,” he said.

The Soil Association claims four out of five households in the UK buy organic foods, for a variety of reasons.

Mr Melchett went on: “These range from the benefits organic brings to wildlife – no system of farming is more bee-friendly – to the fact that organic standards prohibit GM crops and ingredients, harmful hydrogenated fats and controversial artificial food colours and additives.

“People also buy organic to reduce their exposure to pesticides – 320 of which can be routinely used in non-organic farming.”

Mr Melchett also questioned the researchers’ methodology, including what he claimed was the failure to monitor the women’s weight and physical activity regularly during the study.

He added: “It’s widely accepted that studying the relationship between diet and cancer is very challenging, given that processes that lead to development of cancer can operate over a lifetime and are hard to separate.”


Good news! Scientists say it's HEALTHY to be overweight - but only if you are over 65

An Australian study shows that older people with a higher body mass index live for longer.

Scientists at Deakin University, in Melbourne, found people over the age of 65 who fell into the overweight category of BMI were least likely to die.

They found that the lowest risk of death was among those with a BMI of about 27.5, which is considered overweight according to the World Health Organisation.

They also found that mortality rates were much higher among those with a BMI between 22 and 23 – this is within the normal range.

‘It is time to reassess the healthy weight guidelines for older people,’ lead author Professor Caryl Nowson said.

‘Our results showed that those over the age of 65 with a BMI of between 23 and 33 lived longer, indicating that the ideal body weight for older people is significantly higher than the recommended 18.5 to 25 “normal” healthy weight range.’

The research team reviewed studies published between 1990 and 2013 that reported on BMI and risk of death in people aged 65 years and over.

Collectively these studies followed around 200,000 people over an average of 12 years.

The results showed that people with a ‘normal’ BMI of 21 to 22 were 12 per cent more likely to die.

They also revealed that people with a BMI of 20 to 20.9 were 19 per cent more likely to die and people with a BMI of 33 to 33.9, which is classed as obese, were eight per cent more likely to die.

Professor Nowson suggests that most older people need to get off the weight loss bandwagon.  She said: ‘These findings indicate that, by current standards, being overweight is not associated with an increased risk of dying.

‘Rather, it is those sitting at the lower end of the normal range that need to be monitored, as older people with BMIs less than 23 are at increased risk of dying.’

Advice on ideal body weight should take into account factors other than BMI, Professor Nowson said.

‘Factors such as chronic diseases and the ability to move around need to be considered as there is no real issue with being in the overweight range unless it is preventing people from moving around freely,’ she added.

‘Rather than focussing on weight loss, older people should put their efforts into having a balanced diet, eating when hungry and keeping active.

‘Putting too much emphasis on dietary restrictions also increases the risk malnutrition in this age group. Malnutrition in older people is not well recognised as this can occur even when BMI is in the overweight range.’

The study was published in The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition.


28 March, 2014

What kills more people than AIDS, diabetes and road injuries?

This is very speculative.  Very WHO.  How do you sort out all causes of deaths worldwide?  Many studies of "illness" caused by pollution just asssume that pollution is the cause

Air pollution killed seven million people in 2012, more people than AIDS, diabetes and road injuries combined.

One in eight deaths worldwide can be attributed to breathing tainted air, making it the world’s largest environmental health risk, the Geneva-based World Health Organisation said in a report on Tuesday, today doubling its previous estimates for pollution fatalities.

The biggest culprit is poor ventilation of indoor heaters and cookers, the agency said.

The WHO revised the number because the deadly effect of air contaminants, which extends beyond respiratory problems to heart attacks, strokes and cancer, are now better understood. Low- and middle-income nations in Asia accounted for more than 70 per cent of deaths related to air contamination in 2012, the report shows.

‘‘Few risks have a greater impact on global health today than air pollution,’’ Maria Neira, director of the WHO’s department for public health, environmental and social determinants of health, said in a statement. ‘‘The evidence signals the need for concerted action to clean up the air we all breathe.’’

Indoor smoke killed about 4.3 million people and outdoor air pollution killed about 3.7 million in 2012, the WHO said.

There’s some overlap between deaths from indoor and outdoor factors, the agency said. The WHO previously estimated two million deaths in 2004 from indoor pollution and 1.3 million in 2008 from outdoor air contamination.

‘‘Poor women and children pay a heavy price from indoor air pollution since they spend more time at home breathing in smoke and soot from leaky coal and wood cook stoves,’’ Flavia Bustreo, the WHO’s assistant director-general for family, women and children’s health, said in the statement.

The new estimates show a stronger link between air pollution and cardiovascular disease such as stroke and heart ailments, in addition to the known connection with respiratory disease, according to the report.

Outdoor air pollution can cause lung cancer and increase the risk of bladder cancer, a World Health Organisation agency said in October, ranking it as a carcinogen for the first time.

Premature deaths and health problems from air pollution cost China as much as $US300 billion ($329.34 billion) a year, an official has found, report says, calling for a new urbanisation model for the world's second-largest economy.

"As China prepares for the next wave of urbanisation, addressing environmental and resource constraints will become increasingly more urgent because much of China's pollution is concentrated in its cities," said the joint report by the World Bank and the Development Research Centre of the State Council, China's cabinet.

High mortality levels and other health problems from China's notorious air pollution are estimated to cost the country from $US100 billion to more than $US300 billion a year, said the report, which was 14 months in the making.

Writing in the Lancet in December, former Chinese health minister Chen Zhu cited studies showing air pollution caused up to 500,000 premature deaths a year in China.

Tuesday's report said the long-term consequences could include birth defects and impaired cognitive functions because young children and infants are severely affected by poor air quality.

China's rapid urbanisation over the last three decades -  a key part of its economic boom - has avoided some common ills such as large-scale slums and unemployment, the report said.

"But strains have begun to emerge in the form of rising inequality, environmental degradation, and the quickening depletion of natural resources," it said.

Much of the new urban land was taken from farmers at prices often no more than 20 per cent of market values, and the amount of available farmland is now close to the minimum level necessary to ensure food security, said the report.

If current trends continue, an additional 34,000 square kilometres - an area about the size of the Netherlands - will be needed to accommodate the growth of cities in the next decade, it added.

China needs to reform the way it expands its cities and curb inefficient urban sprawl, which has sometimes produced ghost towns and wasteful property development, the report said.

On current trends China will spend $US5.3 trillion on urbanisation over the next 15 years - but with more efficient, denser cities the country could save about $US1.4 trillion, or 15 per cent of its gross domestic product last year, World Bank managing director Sri Mulyani Indrawati told a conference in Beijing on Tuesday.

The report proposed six areas for reform including more efficient land management that better benefits farmers, and adjustments to the "hukou" residence registration system to give migrant workers equal access to basic public services.

It also called on Beijing to step up its law enforcement on pollution.

China's Premier Li Keqiang vowed to "declare war" on pollution at the country's annual legislative gathering this month, and announced new measures to add to a raft of others issued over the past year.


Alzheimer's Disease risk may begin in the womb

If you are a  mouse

A pregnant mother's eating habits may influence her unborn child's chances of developing Alzheimer's, new research has suggested.

Scientists found that offspring of mice fed a high-fat diet were more likely as adults to experience impaired blood flow in the brain, a feature linked to the disease.

When the offspring were also fed a high-fat diet their brains became less able to rid themselves of harmful amyloid protein, which accumulates in sticky tangles in the brains of Alzheimer's patients.

More work is needed but the study could have important implications for humans, the researchers believe.

Lead scientist Dr Cheryl Hawkes, from the University of Southampton, said: "Our preliminary findings suggest that mothers' diets during pregnancy may have long-term effects on their children's brains and vascular health.

"We still need to do more work to understand how our findings translate to humans, but we have known for some time that protecting mothers' health during pregnancy can help lower the risk of health problems for their children.

"Our next step will be to investigate how our findings could relate to Alzheimer's disease in people. We hope these results could provide a new lead for research to understand how to prevent the disease."

The research was presented at the Alzheimer's Research UK conference taking place in Oxford this week.

Dr Eric Karran, director of research at the charity, which funded the study, said: "It's important to remember that this research is in mice, but these results add to existing evidence suggesting that the risk of Alzheimer's disease in later life is affected by our health earlier in life.

"This study goes one step further by suggesting that what happens in the womb may also be important. We're pleased to have funded this research, which has shed new light on the complex picture of Alzheimer's risk.

"Alzheimer's is a complicated disease and it's likely that our risk is affected by a number of different genetic and environmental factors.

"Research to understand these factors can help equip us to take steps to prevent the disease, but in the meantime, evidence suggests we can lower our risk by eating a healthy, balanced diet, doing regular exercise, not smoking and keeping our blood pressure and weight in check."


27 March, 2014

Drink tequila, lose weight? How sugars found in the Mexican spirit have 'tremendous' potential to fight obesity

If you are a mouse

The sugar that gives tequila its kick could also help us stay slim.  Researchers say the plant sugars that are fermented to create the Mexican spirit hold ‘tremendous’ potential in the battle of the bulge.

Tests show the sugars from the cactus-like agave plant (which are not the same as in the more commonly known agave syrup) raise levels of a gut hormone that tells the brain it is time to stop eating.  The hormone also keeps food the stomach for longer, enhancing the feeling of fullness.

If that wasn’t enough, the slightly-sweet tasting sugars known as agavins aren't processed by the body – meaning they can’t make us fat.

The lack of absorption by the body also means they should be free of headaches and other side-effects that artificial sweeteners can cause.

Mice given water laced with agavins ate less and lost more weight than animals given water containing artificial sweeteners.

Their blood glucose levels also fell, suggesting that the sweetener could also be useful for diabetics, said researchers at the National Meeting of the American Chemical Society in Dallas.

Mexican researcher Mercedes López said agavins are in a ‘tremendous position for consumption by diabetics and the obese’.   He added: 'We believe agavins have a great potential as a light sweetener.'

Previous research suggests they also strengthen the bones.

Unfortunately, agavins lose their health-boosting properties when processed – meaning drinking tequila won’t have the same effect


'Astonishing' new cancer drug could extend the lives of terminally-ill patients and eliminate their symptoms overnight....with virtually no side effects

A new version of an old strategy.  Looks promising

A new ‘miracle’ pill which could extend the lives of terminally-ill cancer patients and eliminate their symptoms overnight is being trialled by British researchers.

The medicine, which is said to have virtually no side effects, is taken in a single dose every morning and effectively switches off the mechanisms of leukaemia and lymphoma.

Unlike traditional forms of treatment like chemotherapy and radiotherapy, it has none of the debilitating side effects such as hair loss, tiredness and sickness.

Cancer patients at Derriford Hospital in Plymouth, Devon, were the first in the world to trial the new drug, which is a new class of Bruton's Tyrosine Kinase (BTK) inhibiting drugs.

They said the breakthrough treatment left them feeling better immediately and has had no side effects to date.

One terminally ill man given just months to live before the trials says he's ‘fighting fit’ - more than a year-and-a-half later.

The world-first project is being led by Professor Simon Rule, a globally-renowned expert in haematology and researcher at Plymouth University Peninsula Schools of Medicine and Dentistry.

He says the new pill has the potential to transform the lives of desperately ill patients and eliminate the need for costly, gruelling bouts of chemotherapy.

Professor Rule said: ‘The astonishing thing about these drugs is that they have virtually no side effects, which is unprecedented from my experience. In some patients the effects are immediate.

‘Patients with lots of symptoms, particularly those with lymphoma, will feel better the next day after taking the medication.’

Current cancer therapies, such as chemotherapy, intensive chemo-immunotherapy, or stem cell transplants are effective but patients frequently relapse and eventually run out of further options.

The new oral pill works by blocking a protein which causes growth in cancerous cells which in turn caused the infected cells to die and leaves healthy cells unaffected.

The drug was first trialled on David Hodge, 74, from Plymouth, Devon, who has battled chronic lymphocytic leukaemia for 17 years.

Mr Hodge was given months to live because his immune system was so badly damaged and had become resistant to all other treatments.

He spent the first night of the trial in hospital before returning for regular check-ups over the subsequent 20 months.

He said: ‘I think with any new trial or drug, or with chemotherapy there's a little bit of trepidation but I'm a Christian and I prayed about this and I got great peace about it.

‘Even if it proves at this moment to be of little use to me, I trust that with fine tuning it will prove to be significant to those taking the drug later on.

‘It's just like, well it's better than taking paracetamol. I take the medication first thing in the morning at 6 o'clock and then go back to bed for an hour.

‘Afterwards I get up and get on with my day; I'm fighting fit. I've had no problems, no side effects, nothing.’

The next phase of Professor Rule's study will see BTK trialled against standard chemotherapy to see if it can become a viable long-term replacement.

He said: ‘This will completely change the way we manage these diseases. We have access to the next generation of the drug to be part of the next trial phases.

‘This is not a cure for cancer but it will mean we are significantly improving our patients' life expectancy and quality of life; similar to managing a chronic condition.

‘I have yet to come across another class of drugs in my career that has been so successful for leukaemia or lymphoma.

‘I have done a lot of drug trials in my career, this drug and its predecessor, which I was fortunate to be the first person in Europe to use - they are transformational as far as I am concerned.

‘Normally, what you expect with trials like this is that you treat a patient for a period of time and often what happens is the drug doesn't work.

‘The side effects make you stop the trial or the disease doesn't respond for very long. What is very exciting about this drug is the effects are continuing and there are no emerging side effects.

‘The next stage will be chemo-free treatment. We've been talking about it for years and now it might be a reality.

‘This has the very real prospect of changing the management of these difficult forms of cancer.'


26 March, 2014

CDC: Higher cancer risk for kids living near busy roads

This is a bit of a nonsense.  Why review only 7 studies?  Did all the others show no effect?  And did they all control for income?  Probably not -- in which case we may be looking at a poverty effect.  The journal article is "Residential Traffic Exposure and Childhood Leukemia"

Young children who are exposed to high levels of vehicle exhaust — such as what they'd encounter living near busy roads in urban areas — appear to have a greater risk of childhood leukemia, according to a Centers for Disease Control and Prevention review of seven previous studies.

The CDC's systematic review, published in the April issue of the American Journal of Preventive Medicine, says that in the USA an estimated 30%-45% of people in large urban areas live near major roads, "suggesting increased exposure to traffic-related air pollution and risk of adverse health outcomes."

The article says the studies reviewed by the CDC suggest "that childhood leukemia is associated with residential traffic exposure during the postnatal period, but not during the prenatal period."

The review found that children diagnosed with leukemia were "50% more likely to live near busy roads than children without leukemia," said Vickie Boothe, a CDC health scientist and lead author of the Journal article. "While the study found a link, it does not prove that living near a busy road causes leukemia."

The incidence of childhood cancer in the nation has been increasing since 1975, the report says. The most common form of childhood cancer is leukemia, representing about one-third of all cancers among children 14 and younger. The cause is unknown for about 90% of childhood leukemia cases.

The seven previous studies reviewed by the CDC researchers involved just over 8,000 children, said Tegan Boehmer, a CDC epidemiologist and a co-author of the article.

Previous research has demonstrated a connection between residential traffic proximity and such health problems as asthma, cardiovascular disease and premature mortality.

This was the first comprehensive scientific review of studies assessing the association between residential traffic exposure and childhood cancer. The article notes that a 2010 special report by the Health Effects Institute on its review of five childhood cancer studies concluded there was "inadequate and insufficient" evidence to determine causality between exposure to traffic pollution and childhood cancers.

Boothe and Boehmer say further research is needed to establish a cause-and-effect relationship between traffic and childhood leukemia, and to determine specifics on volume of traffic and distance from it that create a risk.

The study suggests that "precautionary public health messages and interventions designed to reduce population exposure to traffic might be warranted."


Food Fetish on Campus

Colleges and universities are embracing "food studies" primarily as another way of pushing leftist beliefs

In the Scarlet Letter, Nathaniel Hawthorne describes one of the characters at the Custom House who is well suited to government work. He is the Inspector, an epicurean so devoid of imagination, feeling, and soul that he is likened to “the beasts of the field.” His mental capacities are limited to the ability to “recollect the good dinners which it had made no small portion of the happiness of his life to eat.” 

I was reminded of that passage as I learned about the latest “studies” endeavor being cooked up on American college campuses: “food studies.”

These days, even in their required classes, students are not likely to get exposure to philosophical concepts like Epicureanism, or to classical authors such as Hawthorne. They’re more apt to take courses that focus on food itself, that tell them essentially, “You are what you eat.”  Food, in other words, carries moral meanings. What you eat and how you eat define you as a moral person, with the new standards of morality aligning with the other lessons of the contemporary campus on race, class, sustainability, animal rights, and gender. 

The latest additions have little to do with legitimate intellectual endeavors like agriculture or nutrition science. Instead, food becomes another lens through which to examine oppression, sustainability, and multiculturalism. 

A surprising number of universities have gone in this direction. The New School has an undergraduate program in food studies, while several offer master’s level programs: Chatham University, New York University, Boston University (a graduate certificate); and New Mexico State University (a graduate-level minor). The Graduate Center of the City University of New York offers an interdisciplinary concentration, and Indiana University even a Ph.D. concentration in Anthropology of Food.

Anthropology is one source of this focus on food, and a legitimate one.  At Emory University the Anthropology Department supervises graduates from the School of Public Health and the Department of Nutrition, and offers a specialization in “Food, Nutrition, and Anthropology.”   

At Spelman College, anthropology professor Daryl White has taught a course called “Food and Culture” for twenty years.  It’s particularly popular among International Studies students, says White, because “Food is the universal solvent. You can talk about it when you can’t talk about anything else.” 

Undoubtedly, food plays a role in cross-cultural communication. But the sociologist authors of Foodies: Democracy and Distinction in the Gourmet Foodscape (the textbook White uses in his current course) present food as significant in a way that goes well beyond cross-cultural communication, as indicated by such chapters as “Eating Authentically” and “The Culinary Other.” They state that “foodies” can appreciate the “peasant cook,” the street vendor, and the master chef. Food studies have become part of the agenda of social justice and multiculturalism, which have come to infiltrate much of the humanities.

Food studies concerns do go beyond food, Professor White acknowledged in an interview in an Atlanta alternative weekly newspaper that ranged into the areas of Southern culture, racism, and Paula Deen. The study of popular culture figures and racism, of course, have long been edging out the traditional subjects on our campuses.

Food studies will now become a minor at Spelman.  It’s an effort White has been spearheading with Kimberley Jackson, who teaches a course on food chemistry, an elective that can fulfill a science requirement for the non-science major. 

The effort for a food studies minor began with nine faculty members applying for and receiving a Mellon grant, White told me. After expected approval at the April curriculum committee meeting, courses should be available in the fall semester in several departments, including economics. A biologist and Chinese language expert will jointly offer a course that explores the development of Chinese cuisine, and the role of lactose intolerance. In the English department a course will investigate food imagery in Toni Morrison’s novels.

You can find the mania over food studies in many states, including North Carolina. At UNC-Chapel Hill, students in the Department of Geography can take “Critical Food Studies,” and others can develop interdisciplinary programs that incorporate courses such as “Food in American Culture” provided through the department of American Studies.

Food studies is also a focus of graduate research in Chapel Hill’s English and Comparative Literature Department. Rachel Norman describes her dissertation on Arab-American literature as “focusing on representations of language and food as practices of oral identity.”  Inger S.B. Brodey, associate professor, lists as among the courses she teaches Asian Food Rituals, cross-listed with Asian Studies.  And Jessica Martel’s dissertation is on "Modernist Form and Imperial Food Politics, 1890-1922.”

Food studies has made its way even down to freshman composition.  Apparently responding to market demand, the textbook publisher Bedford is offering Food Matters with a sample syllabus and recommended “resources” for an entire semester devoted to food studies.  Among the resources are the “documentaries” Forks Over Knives (which advocates a low-fat whole-food, plant-based diet) and Super Size Me (about the evils of the fast food industry), and the books, Fast Food Nation: The Dark Side of the All-American Meal by Eric Schlosser, Barbara Kingsolver’s memoir of her year eating locally, Animal, Vegetable, Miracle, and the 1971 bestseller about the environmental impact of meat production, Diet for a Small Planet. 

Perhaps for the freshman who did not realize he was signing up for a “food studies” composition class, the model syllabus begins by asking, “Do you eat breakfast?  Is it from a box, your garden, or the university cafeteria?” with more questions until: “Have you ever thought about where your food comes from?” Disarming the critic who might think these critiques are “overblown,” Holly Bauer, the author, who teaches English at UC San Diego, tells the student that the issue is “contested terrain” to explore and write about.

There is not much “contesting” among the essays in the book, however.  All seem to harp on  political themes relating to food: “Doberge Cake after Katrina,” by Amy Cyrex Sins, and “Equality for Animals,” by Peter Singer, Princeton bioethics professor. Bedford also includes an excerpt from Michelle Obama’s book, American Grown: The Story of One White House Kitchen Garden and Gardens Across America, along with the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Food Pyramid and Food Plate Nutrition Guidelines.

The prompts for essays convey the idea that eating is fraught with ideological choices. Prompt #1 asks, “What is food?  What is the purpose of food?  What determines what we eat?”  Prompt #2 asks, “What does it mean to eat ethically?” and #3 asks, “What is the future of food?” as it notes the contributors’ concerns with climate change, global hunger, and labor injustice. 

Thus, rather than reading examples of exemplary prose and being asked to write about important issues, students are fed a steady stream of polemics and are given loaded topic questions. 

To put the primary focus on food, rather than ideas and writing, is to act in the manner of Hawthorne’s Inspector, I think.  A similar mistake in emphasis is evidenced in “Immanuel Kant, Cuisine, Fine Art,”  a paper to be presented at an upcoming conference by Texas Tech University history student David C. Simpson, who describes himself as “. . . researching my Master’s Thesis on the history of cuisine as fine art.”  Shouldn’t the primary focus be on Kant? 

To be sure, many of the papers at the Food Studies Association conference in Prato, Italy, where Simpson will present, deal with important topics like food chemistry and health, and perhaps political systems (“Mafia and Italian Food Supply Chain”). Another upcoming conference, that of  the Association for the Study of Food and Society, also offers papers on scientific concerns, alongside such things as “Gender, Race, and Ethnicity” and “Art, Media, and Literary Analyses.”

And, finally, the Food Studies Caucus of the American Studies Association will hold several panels at its meeting, mostly on political topics, like “Food, Debt, and the Anti-Capitalist Imagination” and “How the Other Half Eats: Race and Food Reform from the Slaughterhouse to the White House.” 

“Food studies” has become an academic growth area, adding to the deterioration of the humanities, and to the advancement of leftist ideologies. No doubt our universities will be producing many more “scholars” investigating all aspects of food: food and race, food and capitalism, food and gender, etc.  But we will have fewer graduates familiar with literary and philosophical masterpieces.  Fewer will be able to produce good writing—or real food.


25 March, 2014

Children born to older fathers 'are more likely to be ugly'... but may also live longer

This is just the impressions of two very small groups of people

Older fathers have uglier children, researchers have claimed after linking age to genetic mutations.  The finding comes weeks after leading scientists reported children born to men over the age of 45 run a higher risk of having autism and psychiatric disorders.

With age, sperm-producing cells do not copy a man's DNA as effectively, leading to genetic mutations.

Martin Fielder, an anthropologist at Vienna University, told the Sunday Times: 'Every 16 years the mutation rate doubles. Other researchers found 25 mutations per sperm in a 20-year-old, but at age 40 it is 65 mutations. By 56, it doubles again.

'The effect is very visible - someone born to a father of 22 is already 5-10 per cent more attractive than those with a 40-year-old father and the difference grows with the age gap.'

In contrast, women pass on a maximum of 15 mutations to their baby, regardless of age, according to the study published in the journal Nature.

Surveying a group of six men and six women, researchers showed them each 4,018 photographs of 18-20-year-old men and 4,416 of women the same age, and asked to rate their attractiveness.

Those with older fathers were consistently rated less attractive.

However, the offspring of older men, though less attractive, are likely to outlive their peers with younger fathers, it is claimed.

Professor Lee Smith, a geneticist at Edinburgh University, told the Sunday Times other research found such children have longer telomeres - the caps on the end of chromosomes - which are associated with longer life.

But the mounting research connecting parents' age with autism is cause for concern, experts warn.

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.

In the UK, around one in 100 adults is thought to be affected by autism, mostly men, caused by a combination of genetic and environmental factors.

Researchers said men should be advised about the potential problems in order to help their personal decision-making when it came to having fathering children at older ages.

They warned that advancing paternal age posed a risk of ‘numerous public health and societal problems’.

Among well-known older dads are Simon Cowell, 54, whose son was born earlier this month, and comedian Frank Skinner whose first child was born in 2012 when he was 55.


I've ditched statins for good

As experts clash over proposals that millions more of us take statins to prevent heart disease and stroke, a vascular surgeon explains why he feels better without them

When I had a routine health check-up eight years ago, my cholesterol was so high that the laboratory thought there had been a mistake. I had 9.3 millimoles of cholesterol in every litre of blood — almost twice the recommended maximum.

It was quite a shock. The GP instantly prescribed statins, the cholesterol-lowering drugs that are supposed to prevent heart disease and strokes. For eight years, I faithfully popped my 20mg atorvastatin pills, without side effects. Then, one day last May, I stopped. It wasn’t a snap decision; after looking more closely at the research, I’d concluded that statins were not going to save me from a heart attack and that my cholesterol levels were all but irrelevant.

When I informed my GP of my decision three months later, I wasn’t entirely honest. Rather than say I was sceptical about the drugs, I told my doctor I’d quit the statins because they were causing pain in my arm.

He didn’t bat an eyelid. Evidence from the drug industry published this month – evidence I suspect was heavily reliant on data from the drug industry, as Dr James Le Fanu pointed out on these pages last week – may suggest that side effects are uncommon, but previous studies have found that one in five people on statins suffers adverse side effects, from muscle pain and diarrhoea to memory loss and blurred vision.

The GP simply suggested I try another brand of statin. The sooner the better, he said, given that I’d already been off my prescription for three months. “Hang on,” I said. “Could you give me a blood test first?” When the results came back, he was amazed that my total blood cholesterol was lower than when I’d been on statins. After three months without the pills, it was 5.4mmol/l (5.4 millimoles per litre of blood) compared with 5.7 mmol/l a year earlier.

The only major changes I’d made to my lifestyle since coming off statins were eliminating sugar (including alcohol and starchy foods such as bread) and eating more animal fat. Many experts now believe that sugar is emerging as a true villain in the heart-disease story; while after decades of demonisation, saturated fat has been acquitted of causing heart disease by a recent “meta” analysis of 70 studies by Cambridge University.

Typically, I was eating red meat three or four times a week and enjoying butter, full-fat milk and plenty of eggs. You would have thought that after three months on a diet so high in saturated fat, my cholesterol would have shot back up to pre-statin levels — but no, it came down and has stayed down seven months on. Not only that, but my levels of LDL (so-called bad cholesterol) were also lower than when I’d been on statins, and my ratio of HDL (so-called good cholesterol) to LDL was under four for the first time, an excellent sign, according to medical wisdom.

Not that I cared about any of this.

Yes, it was the statins that originally reduced my cholesterol levels so dramatically. But so what? I believe that high cholesterol has been a scapegoat for too long. Yes, it may, in some circumstances, be an indicator of heart disease but there is no evidence of a causal link. In my view, high total blood cholesterol or high LDL levels no more cause heart attacks than paramedics cause car crashes, even though they are present at the scene.

Just lowering cholesterol with drugs without sorting out the dietary and lifestyle factors that actually cause heart disease is nonsensical. Besides, there are plenty of other, more reliable indicators of heart-disease risk. What further astonished my GP was that on these indicators I was now apparently better off in other ways than when I’d been on statins. My blood pressure was down. For the first time in years, I was slimmer, especially around the belly. My triglycerides — a type of blood fat with a causal link to heart disease — were lower than at any time in the preceding eight years. My fasting blood glucose was at the optimum level, whereas a year earlier it had been too high. My total white blood count — a marker of inflammation — was lower.

My blood test for a marker called glycated haemoglobin (A1c), high levels of which are associated with heart disease and overall mortality, were bang on normal. Finally, my level of c-reactive protein (CRP) — a protein that rises in response to inflammation — was extremely low. So, biochemically, I was in excellent shape, better than when I’d been on the statins. “Have you taken up running?” asked my bemused GP.

No, I’d always run. For years, I’d exercised three times a week, eaten plenty of fish, refrained from smoking and tried to keep my stress levels low. The only thing I’d changed was my intake of sugar and animal fat.

That check-up was seven months ago and now, at 58, I’m not on a single tablet. My GP is happy. I feel better than I have in years and, at the same time, deeply concerned about proposals advising even wider use of statins.

Until 2005, statins were prescribed only to those with at least a 30 per cent or greater risk of having a heart attack within 10 years. This was then reduced to a 20 per cent risk. Now, draft NHS guidelines would have them dished out to those with just a 10 per cent risk — in other words, most men over the age of 50 and most women over the age of 60.

I am a vascular surgeon. Before founding a private clinic in Dorset 11 years ago, specialising in varicose veins, I worked in the NHS for 13 years. Back then, I didn’t question medical guidance on cholesterol, and thought statins were a wonder drug. And so they probably are, for men who have heart disease — not necessarily because they lower cholesterol, but because they may cut other risks such as the inflammation-marker CRP. Exercise, weight loss and omega 3 supplements also lower CRP.

But what about other groups — women, the elderly and people like me who have not been diagnosed with heart disease? The evidence that we will benefit from cholesterol-lowering drugs is ambiguous at best. The 2011 Hunt 2 study, one of the most recent and largest, followed 52,000 men and women in Norway aged 20-74 with no pre-existing heart disease, for 10 years.

The results for women were crystal clear. The lower a woman’s total cholesterol, the greater her risk of dying, either of heart disease or anything else, including cancer. This reflects findings in previous studies.

For men, high cholesterol was associated with heart disease and death from other causes. But so, too, was low cholesterol — below 5mmol/l. Again, this is only an association, not a causal link. A range of between 5mmol/l and 7mmol/l was the optimum level. Guess what? This is already the national average. In addition, numerous studies have linked high cholesterol levels with increased longevity in the elderly.

As for me, I have not been diagnosed with heart disease, and nobody in my family has had a heart attack. However, all four of my paternal uncles and my sister have diabetes. Research from Canada, published last year in the BMJ, has shown that statins raise the risk of diabetes, so that gives me little faith. The controversy over these drugs was reignited last week when Prof Sir Rory Collins from Oxford University warned that doctors’ hesitancy about prescribing them to those at risk could cost lives.

GPs are, by definition, generalists. They don’t have time to read and analyse data from every paper on every medical condition. Even so, in a recent survey by Pulse magazine, six in 10 GPs opposed the draft proposal to lower the risk level at which patients are prescribed statins. And 55 per cent said they would not take statins themselves or recommend them to a relative, based on the proposed new guidelines.

If that doesn’t speak volumes, I don’t know what does.


24 March, 2014

Vitamin D May Lower Cholesterol

Trivial results

Many observational studies have suggested that vitamin D may have benefits for heart health. Now a randomized trial has found that vitamin D appears to reduce levels of LDL, or “bad” cholesterol.

Researchers randomly assigned 576 postmenopausal women to either a daily dose of 400 units of vitamin D and 1,000 milligrams of calcium, or a placebo. They followed them for three years.

By the end of the study, published in Menopause, the vitamin D group had significantly higher serum levels of vitamin D, and a small but notable drop in LDL.

The researchers controlled for initial vitamin D level, smoking, alcohol consumption and more than 20 other variables. They acknowledge that their sample was relatively small and that no conclusions about the effect of vitamin D on cardiovascular health should be drawn from their findings. Still, they say, their randomized, double-blind design and the use of blood tests for vitamin D levels give the study considerable strength.

“We don’t have enough here to say that we’ve figured it all out,” said the lead author, Dr. Peter F. Schnatz, a professor of internal medicine at Jefferson Medical College in Philadelphia. The change in LDL, he said, “is significant, and in the right direction, but maybe not enough to say that we’re going to prevent people from getting heart disease.


Why dark chocolate really IS good for you: Stomach microbes turn cocoa into a natural drug that reduces blood pressure

Study in laboratory glassware only

Love dark chocolate?  Now you can eat it with much less guilt because scientists have discovered why it is so good for us.

Previous studies have found daily consumption of dark chocolate reduces blood pressure and is good for the heart.

Now scientists have discovered why this happens - and its down to how our guts ferment the fibre in cocoa beans.

Researcher Maria Moore, from Louisiana State University said: 'We found that there are two kinds of microbes in the gut: the 'good' ones and the 'bad' ones.

'The good microbes, such as Bifidobacterium and lactic acid bacteria, feast on chocolate.

'When you eat dark chocolate, they grow and ferment it, producing compounds that are anti-inflammatory.'

This naturally forming anti-inflammatory enters the bloodstream and helps protest the heart and arteries from damage.

Bad gut bacteria, such as Clostridia and some strains of Escherichia coli (E.coli) trigger inflammation, leading to bloating, diarrhoea and constipation.

The team tested three types of cocoa powder, the raw ingredient used to make chocolate, in an artificial digestive tract consisting of a series of modified test tubes.

Cocoa contains so-called antioxidant polyphenol compounds, such as catechin and epicatechin, and a small amount of dietary fibre.

Both components are poorly digested and absorbed, but are readily processed by the friendly bacteria in the colon.

'In our study we found that the fibre is fermented and the large polyphenolic polymers are metabolised to smaller molecules, which are more easily absorbed,' said Dr John Finley, who led the Louisiana team.

'These smaller polymers exhibit anti-inflammatory activity. When these compounds are absorbed by the body, they lessen the inflammation of cardiovascular tissue, reducing the long-term risk of stroke.'

The findings were presented at the American Chemical Society's annual meeting in Texas.

Combining cocoa with prebiotics - indigestible food ingredients that stimulate bacterial growth - is likely to enhance the process with beneficial results, said Dr Finley.

'When you ingest prebiotics, the beneficial gut microbial population increases and out-competes any undesirable microbes in the gut, like those that cause stomach problems,' he added.

Prebiotics are found in foods such as raw garlic, raw wheat bran, and cooked whole wheat flour, and are especially abundant in raw chicory root. They can also be obtained from widely available supplements.

Combining dark chocolate with fruits such as pomegranates or acai may also boost its benefits, said Dr Finley


23 March, 2014

Middle-class parents should stop panicking about the internet and let their children explore, says leading psychologist

'Moral panic' about the internet among middle class parents is stunting children's development, a leading psychologist has warned.

Professor Tanya Byron believes that unless parents let their children explore and make mistakes - both in the real-world and online - they will never become 'digitally responsible'.

However, she added that managing these risks, and guiding children through them, is ultimately the responsibility of the adults in their lives, both at home and school.

Speaking at a teacher conference in Birmingham, Professor Byron expressed concerns about the ‘moral panic’ that surrounds young people and the web.

She said: ‘The moral panic is unhelpful. Awareness without life experience can sometimes be challenging – so it’s our responsibility to bridge that gap.’

‘We need to accept that kids are going to take risks online so that we can guide them, just as our parents did when we were allowed to ride our bikes.’

Two-thirds of parents in a recent Co-operative Childcare survey said their children spent significantly less time outside than the parents did.

Eight in ten said their own favourite activities as children involved being outdoors, but only half their children lead the same active life.

British adults said they loved playing ball games, skipping and other traditional outdoor activities.  But their children prefer to get their kicks from a screen, by playing computer games, surfing the internet or watching TV.

Professor Byron continued that because of the internet, children are already ‘incredibly aware’, but many adults are so ‘illiterate when it comes to understanding technology’ that its creating an environment of fear.

She added there’s a ‘perverse irony’ - especially among the middle classes - where parents are not letting their children go out and play, or walk to school alone, but are giving them numerous gadgets, and access to the internet.

They then have access to a global community, and in some cases more dangers, risks and harmful images than they would on the streets, but parents aren’t talking to them about any of it in advance.

‘We need to empower them and focus on making them emotionally resilient digitally as well as being emotionally resilient offline


Government war on big food?

Will big food companies be the next target of extortion by government do-gooders?  Despite the precedent of the Big Tobacco settlement, Politico writes that such a scenario is unlikely, given the lack of a “smoking gun” to prove deliberate manipulation of the food market, i.e., doctoring or withholding nutritional data for profits.

But don’t be too sure.  The kookery percolating one day in college classrooms or left-wing think tanks becomes tomorrow’s norm.  Leftists are bold, cunning and, above all, patient.  Unlike (some) all-or-nothing conservatives, leftists will gladly advance their agendas incrementally.

Politico previously reported that a law firm in Chicago approached sixteen state attorneys general, proposing that they try to recover a portion of their growing obesity-related Medicaid expenses from — you guessed it — private food companies.  Reports vary as to specific targets but consider that former New York City mayor Michael Bloomberg targeted large soda cups, salty foods and trans-fats (Oreos, for instance — that’s you, Nabisco).

Bloomberg, of course, came to embody the very essence of the Nanny State, actually a very misleading description of government overreach.  Nannies, traditionally,  are kind, nurturing and care for small children.  Big government, when shaking down private entities, more resembles a bully, hence, what I propose as its new description, the Bully State.

The motives of a war on Big Food are so patently obvious that just repeating them seems trite.  Still, for anyone completely unaware, government, under the guise of such noble intentions as protecting your health, could well transfer billions of dollars from the private sector to public coffers.  The settlement against Big Tobacco in 1990?s gave the federal and state governments almost $250 billion to spend on smoking prevention programs.  According to some sources, more than 90% of that money went to programs unrelated to smoking prevention.  And that doesn’t even account for the unknown amount of dollars lining the pockets of lawyers (never factor out the lawyers when dissecting the latest Bully State scheme).  A war on just a few big food companies would certainly spike prices up dramatically.

Still, Politico is right in that such a blatant move is unlikely, given that food, unlike cigarettes, is a necessity.  An all-out war will proceed as it already has, stealthily, with a tax on trans-fats here, a lawsuit there, a ban on Happy Meals in this municipality, a stigma against salty snacks in another. . .  In short, incrementally.

Granted, even in a free society, our actions do impact others.  Bad health choices by some can raise costs and premiums for our neighbors.  Still, a rational society weighs the pros and cons and realizes that the benefits of a free, competitive system far outweigh the constraints imposed by the Bully State.  People will invariably make poor food choices:  an extra donut, a Big Mac instead of a salad, etc., but it is the very decadence of food that often brings the greatest joy.  Certainly there are limits to breaking rules (both food-wise and otherwise) and that is where the weight of public opinion and advisement, as opposed to government force, can prompt wiser decision-making.

In short, when consumed moderately, junk food, far from the public pariah as it is portrayed, brings incalculable joy to the world.  Chocolate and potato chips may not extend the years of our lives but just the anticipation of a quick bite can enhance the quality.  It is not an extra inch to the average waistline that we need to fear, it is a bully state that strong-arms private businesses, and taxes, monitors and regulates our most pleasurable moments.  If we are not vigilant, one day giddy decadence will morph into criminal activity.  Call it not a war on Big Food but a war on pleasure.


21 March, 2014

Saturated fat 'ISN'T bad for your heart': Major study questions decades of dietary advice

Guidelines urging people to avoid ‘unhealthy’ fat to stave off heart disease are wrong, according to a major study.

After decades of advice on the harm done by saturated fat such as butter, scientists have found no evidence of a link with heart problems.

A ‘mega’ study which analysed a huge amount of existing data also said so-called healthy polyunsaturated fats, such as sunflower oil, had no general effect on the risk of heart disease.

In contrast, a dairy fat called margaric acid ‘significantly reduced’ risk, while two kinds of saturated fat found in palm oil and animal products had only a ‘weak link’ with heart disease.

Two types of omega-3 fatty acid found in oily fish – EPA and DHA – and the omega-6 fat arachidonic acid were linked to a lower risk of heart disease. But omega-3 and omega-6 supplements appeared to have no benefit.

This study comes in the wake of growing controversy over the relative importance of sugar and fat in the diet.

Fats have long been blamed for obesity and heart disease, but some scientists now say there is evidence that fat may have been unfairly demonised and sugar is really to blame.

Lead researcher Dr Rajiv Chowdhury, from Cambridge University, said: ‘These are interesting results that potentially stimulate new lines of scientific inquiry and encourage careful reappraisal of our current nutritional guidelines.

‘Cardiovascular disease, in which the principal manifestation is coronary heart disease, remains the single leading cause of death and disability worldwide. In 2008, more than 17million people died from a cardiovascular cause globally.

‘With so many affected, it is critical to have appropriate prevention guidelines which are informed by the best available scientific evidence.’

The team, whose results appear in the journal Annals Of Internal Medicine, conducted a ‘meta-analysis’ of data from 72 studies involving 600,000 participants in 18 countries.

The technique can reveal trends that may be masked in individual small studies but become obvious when they are amalgamated.

A key finding was that total saturated fat, whether measured in the diet or the bloodstream, showed no association with heart disease.

The study fails to ‘yield clearly supportive evidence for?...?guidelines that encourage high consumption of polyunsaturated fatty acids and low consumption of saturated fats’.

Almost four decades ago advice began to emerge from scientific and medical bodies to cut back on saturated fats found in cream, butter and less lean meat. Last year, however, London cardiologist Dr Aseem Malhotra told the British Medical Journal it was time to bust the myth of the role of saturated fat in heart disease, which was based on faulty interpretation of scientific studies.

He said yesterday: ‘This huge and important study provides even more evidence that our focus purely on saturated fat as the number one dietary villain in causing heart disease has been misplaced when we should be focusing on food groups.

‘Our over-consumption of processed food is what is driving much of the increasing burden of chronic disease currently plaguing the Western world.  ‘Poor diet is responsible  for more disease than physical inactivity, alcohol and  smoking combined.

‘Furthermore, nutritional supplements have no proven benefit for the vast majority of people. It’s better for the body to gain essential nutrients from just eating real food.’

Professor Jeremy Pearson, associate medical director at the British Heart Foundation which co-funded the study, said: ‘This analysis of existing data suggests there isn’t enough evidence to say that a diet rich in polyunsaturated fats but low in saturated fats reduces the risk of cardiovascular disease.

‘But large-scale clinical studies are needed, as these researchers recommend, before making a conclusive judgment.’

The industry-backed Health Supplements Information Service said that while the study showed only a modest protective effect of omega-3 fats, the trials involving omega-3 supplements nearly all involved non-healthy participants, which was likely to give misleading results.


W.H. pastry chef quits: ‘I don’t want to demonize cream, butter, sugar and eggs’

Michelle Obama may have pushed the White House pastry chef a bit too far with her constant requests to replace fatty foods like cream and butter with lower-calorie options: He’s quit, calling the decision “bittersweet,” various media reported.

Bill Yosses, who was hired in 2007 under the George Bush administration, has announced he’s leaving his position in June and heading to the private sector in New York to teach people some healthy eating tactics, The New York Times reported.

While he admits part of his healthy eating influence came right from Mrs. Obama — who’s known for pushing her “Let’s Move” exercise and nutrition program around the nation — he also said that he’s not fully prepared to give up old-timey type ingredients that she’s deemed a threat, the New York Post reported.

“[She’s] definitely an inspiring boss,” he said, to The New York Times. “She has done [her campaign] with humor and good will, without preaching, just the way you would hope.”

But, he added, to the paper: “I don’t want to demonize cream, butter, sugar and eggs.”

Mr. Yosses, 60, said he was forced by Mrs. Obama and her healthy eating cohorts to replace “the usual blitzkrieg” of butter, cream and other like ingredients with fruit purees, honey or agave, the New York Post reported.


20 March, 2014

Millions of healthy Britons are set to be prescribed them, but why do many GPs say they won't take statins?

As Dr Chand says, the litmus test is if you get better by stopping the pills.  Many do. It shows that the pills are the cause of the problems, not just a coincidence

He’d been a GP for a quarter of a century and had written ‘tens of thousands of statin prescriptions’.  Then two years ago, Dr Kailash Chand, too, started taking the cholesterol-lowering pills to protect his heart.

As Dr Chand, who is the deputy chairman of the British Medical Association  — the doctors’ union — explains: ‘I was in my late 50s and I’m Asian, so I ticked various boxes for being at raised risk of heart disease. It seemed the sensible thing to do.’

Within two weeks, however, Dr Chand, who is now 60, began experiencing pains in his back and legs unlike anything he’d suffered before.  ‘Mostly it was a dull ache,’ he says, ‘but for a couple of days a week the pain was crippling and I had to take painkillers.’

This went on for two years and — bad news for his heart — forced Dr Chand to give up badminton, his favourite form of exercise.

Initially, Dr Chand had assumed the pain was something that would pass.  In fact, it worsened, and the bouts became more frequent. He also began to have problems sleeping and started to wonder about possible causes.

‘I didn’t even consider statins,’ he says. ‘I was wondering instead about things like too much travelling or bad posture when sitting.  'I did various checks, like a liver function test, X-rays and an MRI scan. All came back clear.

‘So last year I thought it was worth seeing what would happen if I stopped taking the drug.  'Within two to three weeks my back and legs began to feel a lot better and my sleep improved.

‘For me that was the litmus test that showed that the statin was the cause of the problem.’

Dr Chand is certainly not alone. Muscle pain is the most frequently reported statin side-effect and while estimates of the numbers affected adversely by statins vary, according to one eminent U.S. cardiologist, 20 per cent of healthy men on the drugs say they have significant side-effects.

With seven million Britons taking statins, that could mean up to 1.5?million are being affected.

Yet according to a study published last week, Dr Chand and all the others are almost certainly mistaken.

A major analysis of 29 trials of statins by researchers at the National Heart and Lung Institute at Imperial College, London, concluded that the drugs are practically free from side-effects.

When people say they are suffering symptoms such as muscle pains, insomnia, fatigue or gut problems caused by statins, claim the scientists, they are making a false link.

Just because twinges and aches appear shortly after you’ve started on a statin prescription doesn’t mean the drug caused it. (Other known side-effects of statins, such as memory problems, blurred vision, ringing in the ears and skin problems, were not included in this review.)

Dr Chand, for one, is far from convinced by these new findings: ‘I know the difference between twinges and a new sensation that is quite specific and doesn’t go away.’


Do Moms Who Work Less Have Healthier Babies?

Pregnant women and their newborns tend to be healthier when the economy is worse, a new study shows. Why? Probably less stress

Imagine you lived in Barcelona and lost your job, like thousands of Spaniards did each year of the most recent recession. And also, imagine you were pregnant. Would you sit around the house, anxiously sending out job applications and stress-snacking on churros? Or would you take long walks in the Mediterranean sun and stop at farmers' markets along the way?

Spanish moms, it seems, often choose the latter.

Libertad González, an associate professor at the Universitat Pompeu Fabra, recently examined the health of registered newborns in Spain from 1981 to 2010, and she cross-referenced the data with the unemployment rate in each of the country's provinces at the time. With each 10 percent increase in unemployment, she found, the neonatal death rate dropped by 7 percent, and the percent of babies with low birth weights decreased by 3 percent.

The reason? During recessions, mothers consistently reported being in better health, and they exhibited healthier behaviors: “They smoke and drink less, exercise and sleep more, and weigh less,” Gonzalez wrote.

Her findings mesh with past research in the U.S. showing that health improves during periods of low economic growth. A 2004 study of American babies, for example, also found that those born in periods of high unemployment had fewer birth defects, were more likely to weigh a healthy amount, and were less likely to die.

Research by Chris Ruhm, a public policy professor at the University of Virginia, has shown that people tend to exercise less during economic upswings, and they tend to eat out more—and restaurant meals are usually higher in fat and calories. In Cuba, for example, a period of pronounced, years-long austerity led to a steep drop in obesity and cardiovascular disease because people walked and biked more as public transportation was scaled back.

People who work less also have more time on their hands, so they sleep more and feel less stressed, Ruhm said. And there are fewer cars on the roads, so the air is cleaner and there are fewer car accidents.

“Interestingly, there’s evidence that short-term reductions in income are actually good for you,” he told me.

But how could this be? Wouldn't job loss also cause people to scale back on gym memberships and kale salads? Well, yes. And this is one of those counterintuitive trends that becomes more intuitive once you hear all the caveats.

“When times are bad, people are healthier but not happier."
These studies evaluate overall unemployment and GDP, not job loss at the individual level. That is to say, they only suggest that health improves as the economy overall slows down. So, much of this might have to do with hourly employees working less overtime and spending more of their free time on cooking and jogging. Or it could be that families are feeling pinched and eating out less, rather than becoming totally destitute.

The key here are temporary dips in income. Long-term unemployment, which has skyrocketed in Spain and other parts of Europe, is still terrible for mental and physical health. In fact, it could be that we'll see the reverse of the Spanish results playing out if the women aren't able to return to the workforce and provide stable homes for their kids.

There also might be some self-selection going on. People generally have fewer babies during recessions, so the couples who do procreate in lean times might already be comfortable enough to ensure that their offspring flourish, no matter what. (This factor didn’t explain the healthier babies in the Spanish sample, however.)

And since there are fewer babies being born, it could be that hospitals—especially publicly funded ones like Spain’s—are less busy during economic slumps and can provide better care for each baby as a result.

There’s also one very important downside to recessions—a gradual deterioration in mental health, and an attendant rise in suicides. “When times are bad, people are healthier but not happier,” Ruhm said.

So it could be that this and similar studies are not really an argument for pregnant women to leave the workforce, but simply to scale back their hours. Or to keep their jobs the same, but to live life more like a marginally employed Spanish woman—sleeping enough, walking a lot, and slurping up plenty of gazpacho.


19 March, 2014

Fatness and health among diabetics

The interpretation of weight among diabetics is greatly distorted by the "war" on obesity.  Because diabetes is a nasty condition, researchers are determined to find that obesity causes diabetes, whereas the evidence is at least as good the other way around:  Diabetes causes obesity.  That most fatties don't have diabetes should be sufficient to ignite skepticism in the matter.

The fact that diet can control diabetes does not show that gluttonly causes diabetes.  Just because I put bandaids on scratches, does that mean that bandaids cause scratches?

So I can't see that a population of diabetics tells us much about non-diabetics.  Diabetics are sui generis.

So the study below is not of general interest but is of course interesting to those concerned about diabetes.  There is a popular article here for those who find the journal abstract heavy going.

The results are not nearly as clearcut as some would have it.  The authors are to be praised for the attention they have paid to confounders but that attempt has not clarified the findings.  The difference between smokers and non-smokers is clearly important but the difference in outcome for the two groups is sufficient to be puzzling.  Why do the two groups differ so much? Any answer to that would be speculative so I am inclined to focus on the non-smokers only.  That at least removes an important confounder  -- though the possibility that non-smokers are in important ways more robust from the beginning cannot be excluded.

And the relationship we see there is only weakly linear.  Lifespans for the first four caegories of weight are essentially identical.  It is only among the two fattest categories that there is some elevation of risk.  And, for what it is worth, the skinniest category did have some (slight) elevation of risk  -- echoing findings among non-diabetics.

But in any case no causal inferences should be drawn from this correlational study.  It could be, for instance, that the fatties who die younger do so not because they are fatter but because they have a more severe form of diabetes.  So the conclusion that people should eat less to extend life remains essentially "not proven".

Body-Mass Index and Mortality among Adults with Incident Type 2 Diabetes

By Deirdre K. Tobias et al.


The relation between body weight and mortality among persons with type 2 diabetes remains unresolved, with some studies suggesting decreased mortality among overweight or obese persons as compared with normal-weight persons (an “obesity paradox”).

We studied participants with incident diabetes from the Nurses' Health Study (8970 participants) and Health Professionals Follow-up Study (2457 participants) who were free of cardiovascular disease and cancer at the time of a diagnosis of diabetes. Body weight shortly before diagnosis and height were used to calculate the body-mass index (BMI, the weight in kilograms divided by the square of the height in meters). Multivariable Cox models were used to estimate the hazard ratios and 95% confidence intervals for mortality across BMI categories.

There were 3083 deaths during a mean period of 15.8 years of follow-up. A J-shaped association was observed across BMI categories (18.5 to 22.4, 22.5 to 24.9 [reference], 25.0 to 27.4, 27.5 to 29.9, 30.0 to 34.9, and ?35.0) for all-cause mortality (hazard ratio, 1.29 [95% confidence interval {CI}, 1.05 to 1.59]; 1.00; 1.12 [95% CI, 0.98 to 1.29]; 1.09 [95% CI, 0.94 to 1.26]; 1.24 [95% CI, 1.08 to 1.42]; and 1.33 [95% CI, 1.14 to 1.55], respectively). This relationship was linear among participants who had never smoked (hazard ratios across BMI categories: 1.12, 1.00, 1.16, 1.21, 1.36, and 1.56, respectively) but was nonlinear among participants who had ever smoked (hazard ratios across BMI categories: 1.32, 1.00, 1.09, 1.04, 1.14, and 1.21) (P=0.04 for interaction). A direct linear trend was observed among participants younger than 65 years of age at the time of a diabetes diagnosis but not among those 65 years of age or older at the time of diagnosis (P<0 .001="" br="" for="" interaction="">
We observed a J-shaped association between BMI and mortality among all participants and among those who had ever smoked and a direct linear relationship among those who had never smoked. We found no evidence of lower mortality among patients with diabetes who were overweight or obese at diagnosis, as compared with their normal-weight counterparts, or of an obesity paradox.

N Engl J Med 2014; 370:233-244

A fat old age?

If you are a mouse

CARBS have come in from the cold, with a new study showing that a high-carbohydrate, low-protein diet can help you live longer.

The downside is it will also make you fat.

Sydney University research to be released today found that mice fed a high-carbohydrate, low-protein diet had a longer lifespan and better cardiometabolic health - despite being overweight.

While the study found that a high-protein, low-carbohydrate diet resulted in reduced body fat and food intake, it also led to a shorter lifespan and poor cardiometabolic health.

Darwin health and safety worker Maurice Moore, 58, eats half a loaf of bread every day. "I don't eat it all in the one sitting; I usually have a banana wrapped in bread, asparagus wrapped in bread and peanut butter and strawberry jam on bread," he said.

"I just did a medical for work and scored 96/100, all I needed to pass was 44/100." Mr Moore said he has "never taken a (sick) day off work in (his) life".  "I had a cold in 2011 but that was it," he said.

The study, which could lead to new drugs to control appetite and increase lifespan, compared the effects of 25 different diets in mice.  And it confirmed the fat-reducing effects of low-protein diets.

"The reason most diets fail is because the body's protein target is so potent," co-author Professor David Le Couteur said.

Once the mice in the study satisfied their need for protein, they started to reduce their food intake.

The authors suggest that a diet that consists of 15-20 per cent high-quality protein, low in fat and high in good-quality carbohydrate will deliver the best metabolic health and longest life.

The research, published in the journal Cell Metabolism, also suggests that lifespan could be extended by manipulating the ratio of macronutrients in the diet.

"This research has enormous implications for how much food we eat, our body fat, our heart and metabolic health, and ultimately the duration of our lives," said Professor Steve Simpson. "We have shown calories aren't all the same. We need to look at where they come from and how they interact."


18 March, 2014

Doctor’s Diary: Statins and their side effects

By James Le Fanu

The assertion last week by researchers at London’s Imperial College that statins have virtually no side effects is so contrary to the experience of legions of Daily Telegraph readers over the past few years, it is only reasonable to inquire how they came to this conclusion.

Dr Judith Finegold and her colleagues trawled through the published findings of the 29 drug company-sponsored statin trials and discovered that the number of “serious adverse events” to be similar among those taking the drug as among those on placebo.

I have not discussed Dr Finegold’s findings with her or her team. I do, however, take general issue with the findings of drug companies’ statin trials for various reasons.

First, the companies have a repertoire of strategies for ensuring the participants in their trials have a reduced risk of side effects. This includes excluding those more likely to experience them (such as the elderly) and those unable to tolerate statins, and “under-ascertainment” – that is, not inquiring too closely for the side effects they might cause.

Next, their findings are contradicted by independent surveys that find that muscular aches and pains are a hundred times more frequent than those reported in the clinical trials, while a series of further problems are not even mentioned – decreased energy, exertional fatigue, depression, memory loss, insomnia, reduced libido, etc, etc. It is only to be expected that the drug companies should be reticent about such matters. And it is certainly of interest, as I read via the, that the arrangements between Big Pharma and academic institutions specifically exclude access to the original data on which the claims for the safety of statins are based.

This latest study does not make me a convert to their wider use.


Living near glut of takeaways doubles changes of obesity

It may come as no surprise but people who live and work alongside dozens of takeaways are more likely to be obese  -- which proves that takeaways locate themselves where the customers are.

Living near to a large number of takeaways almost doubles the chance of being obese, a study has shown.

People who were exposed to 49 or more fast food outlets near their home, office or commuting route were found to eat around 40g of extra fat a week and have a higher Body Mass Index.

Researchers at the Medical Research Council have called on local authorities to limit the number of takeaways in a given area to help combat the obesity epidemic.

Dr Thomas Burgoine, lead author of the study from the UK's centre for diet and activity research, based in the Medical Research Council's epidemiology unit at the University of Cambridge, said: "Our study provides new evidence that there is some kind of relationship between the number of takeaway food outlets we encounter, our consumption of these foods, and how much we weigh.

“The foods we eat away from home tend to be less healthy than the meals we prepare ourselves, so it is important to consider how exposure to food outlets selling these high calorie foods in our day-to-day environments might be influencing consumption.

“Taking steps to restrict takeaway outlets in our towns and cities, particularly around workplaces, may be one way of positively influencing our diet and health."

The research, published online in the British Medical Journal (BMJ), is the first UK study to combine data from home, work and commuting and involved 5,442 adults from Cambridgeshire aged 29 to 62.

On average, people were exposed to 32 takeaway outlets - nine each in their local neighbourhood and on their commute, and 14 within a mile of work. There were around 48 per cent more takeaway outlets and fast food joints near work compared to home, the study found.

Researchers examined how much takeaway food people ate using questionnaires for foods such as pizza, burgers, fried food (such as fried chicken) and chips.

They also measured people's Body Mass Index (BMI) as a measure of their weight.

The results showed that people exposed to the highest number of takeaways were 80 per cent more likely to be obese and 20 per cent more likely to have a higher BMI than those with the lowest number of encounters. They also ate more of these types of foods.

The researchers said: "Compared with people least exposed to takeaway food outlets, we estimate those most exposed consumed an additional 5.7g per day of takeaway food, which would constitute a 15 per cent higher consumption than those least exposed.

"In a week, this translates into an additional 39.9g of takeaway food. This weekly amount constitutes more than half a small serving of McDonald's french fries (typically 71g per serving)."

Over the past decade, consumption of food outside the home has increased by 29 per cent, while at the same time, the number of takeaway food outlets has increased dramatically, the researchers said. This, they argued, could be contributing to rising levels of overweight and obesity.

Tracy Parker, heart health dietitian at the British Heart Foundation (BHF), which helped fund the study, said: "We already know that people are spending more than ever on takeaways and food eaten away from home, and that these foods are often less healthy than the meals we make ourselves.

" While this study can't prove someone's local environment can cause them to become obese, it's vital we have the tools to make healthy choices when eating takeaways or food in a restaurant.”


17 March, 2014

Growing evidence that autism is linked to pollution

The journal article is:  Environmental and State-Level Regulatory Factors Affect the Incidence of Autism and Intellectual Disability"
.  What they in fact found was a correlation between the rate of congenital malformations of the reproductive system and autism.  They claimed that the rate of congenital malformations of the reproductive system is a surrogate for environmental exposure  to pollution.  That is drawing a long bow indeed.  Pollution may be one cause of malformations but it is not even clear that it is the main cause.  So the data may tell us nothing about pollution.  Crazy

Researchers studied insurance claims from around 100 million people in the U.S., and used congenital malformations in boys as an indicator for parental exposure to environmental toxins.

Several studies have already shown a link between air pollution and autism, but this latest study published in the journal PLOS Computational Biology is one of the largest to put the two together.

'Autism appears to be strongly correlated with rate of congenital malformations of the genitals in males across the country. This gives an indicator of environmental load and the effect is surprisingly strong,' study author Andrey Rzhetsky from the University of Chicago.

The report looked at birth defects associated with parental exposure to pollution and found a 1% increase in the defects corresponded to a 283% increase in autism.

Although the findings are still being analyzed, researchers say they offer support for the theory that environmental pollutants, in addition to genetics, play a role in the development of autism.

Autism is a developmental disorder that interferes with social and communication skills.

It covers a 'spectrum' of conditions that may be mild or very severe, requiring round-the-clock care.

The scientists found a clear link between being pregnant somewhere with high levels of pollution and having an autistic child.

The findings published this week in the PLOS Computational Biology Journal were culled from health records of over 100 million Americans in an effort to shift research from almost exclusively genetic to include environmental factors.

Essentially what happens is during pregnancy there are certain sensitive periods where the fetus is very vulnerable to a range of small molecules – from things like plasticizers, prescription drugs, environmental pesticides and other things,’ said study author Andrey Rzhetsky.

‘Some of these small molecules essentially alter normal development,’ the University of Chicago professor of genetic medicine and human genetics continued. ‘It’s not really well known why, but it’s an experimental observation.’

The defects were especially noticeable in boys’ reproductive systems, Rzhetsky noted.

Women with the highest levels of exposure to these substances were about 50 per cent more likely to have a child who develops autism.

Most pollutants were more strongly associated with autism in boys than in girls.  Boys are in any case much more likely to have the disorder.

Air pollutants contain many toxins that are known to affect neurological function and fetal development.

One in 88 children suffers from autism, and diagnoses in boys greatly outnumber those in girls, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. No clear cause has been established for the disorder.

‘The environment may play a very significant role in autism, and we should be paying more attention to it,’ said Rzhetsky. ‘We should definitely take into account environmental factors.’


Canine anti-inflammatory points way to 'superbug' killer

Very hopeful

Compounds similar to anti-inflammatory drugs used by veterinarians to treat dogs may be able to fight the drug-resistant "superbugs" that challenge human health, say Australian researchers.

The non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) act on bacteria in a way that is fundamentally different from current antibiotics and stop bacterial DNA from replicating, says Associate Professor Aaron Oakley of the University of Wollongong, who led the research.

Excitingly today his team reports in Chemistry & Biology that some NSAIDs have a weak antibiotic effect against the notorious drug-resistant "golden staph" infection that is a major problem in post-operative care.

Oakley says the "serendipitous" find highlights the importance of a protein called the 'sliding clamp' as a possible target for a whole new class of antibiotics.

It's a vital protein for all bacteria and, when it is disabled, bacteria are unable replicate or repair their DNA and so can't reproduce, Oakley says.

The clamp acts as a "mobile workstation", tethering molecules that need to interact with the DNA as it replicates.

"The sliding clamp protein is doughnut shaped," he says. "Its job is literally to slide along the DNA. It's elegantly simple - think of a ring on a piece of string."

A special binding site on the sliding clamp can grasp a range of different molecules that need to interact with the 'string' of DNA during replication.

'Holy Grail'

Finding a drug that could interrupt this process was a "Holy Grail" for Oakley who had homed in on a chemical family called carbazoles as possible good blockers of the sliding clamp site.

As part of the drug discovery process, scientists routinely search databases of chemical structures to find structures similar to ones that are already known to give a good effect - in the hope of finding something even better.

A search like this found that carprofen, a non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drug given by vets to dogs, was another member of the carbazole family.

And a literature search showed there had been reports that carprofen had a weak antibiotic effect - but nobody knew how it was acting.

Oakley's team went on to show carprofen did indeed act as a weak antibiotic and using X-ray crystallography they could see the carprofen molecule sits snugly in the binding site of the sliding clamp protein.

He believes it is quite likely that other carbazoles will have stronger antibiotic effects than carprofen, and his team is now investigating these.

Desperate need

Oakley wondered whether other inflammatory drugs such as aspirin also had antibiotic effects.

"We ended up testing about 20 other NSAIDs," he says. "Some didn't work, and some did."

Some of the NSAIDs tested had activity against the infamous golden staph bacteria, Staphylococcus aureus.

"It's a notorious bug," says Oakley, "that has acquired resistance to a lot of different antibiotics and it occurs a lot in post-operative infections. There's a desperate need for new antibiotics due to resistance to the existing compounds."

But the two most commonly used NSAIDs in human medicine - aspirin and ibuprofen - have quite different chemical structures from carprofen and did not show antibiotic activity.

"It's a nice study and it's an important area of research," says Professor Andrew Abell of the University of Adelaide, who was not involved in the work.

"The mechanism of action is totally different to existing antibiotics, so the bugs haven't had a chance to build up resistance to these [compounds].

"I think this highlights that you can't dictate research. This is an observation they made almost in a serendipitous way. You can't plan it. You've got to have your wits about you ... to exploit an observation like this when it comes along."


16 March, 2014

Bad gut bacteria named as Crohn's culprit

Hopeful news

Researchers believe they have uncovered the identity of the bacteria involved in the inflammatory bowel disease known as Crohn's.

The findings could help predict how severe the disease will be and lead to more targeted treatments, say Dr Ramnik Xavier of Harvard University, who is senior author of a new study published today in Cell Host and Microbe.

"What we have is a microbial atlas of Crohn's Disease - obviously the next step is to find out how these bacteria cause inflammation," says Xavier.

In Crohn's Disease the walls of the intestine become inflamed, which can lead to cramping pain in the abdomen, diarrhoea and bleeding from the rectum, among other symptoms.

Both genetic and environmental factors are believed to lead to Crohn's, says Xavier.

He says the current hypothesis is that people with certain gene variants can develop an abnormal immune response to gut bacteria, when there is a change in the profile of their gut bacteria - their 'microbiome'.

To investigate the microbiome involved in Crohn's Disease, Xavier and colleagues from 28 gastroenterology centres across North America, investigated gut bacteria in 447 children who had just recently acquired the disease and had yet to be treated.

Tissue biopsies

In the largest study of its kind, the researchers compared biopsies taken from different locations of the gastrointestinal tract of the children with Crohn's and compared these with samples taken from 221 non-affected children. They collected samples from inflamed and non-inflamed sites of the gut, and from patients' stools.

"We then also validated the findings that we identified in this cohort in an independent children and adult population of about 800 patients," says Xavier.

They found in patients with Crohn's disease, there was an increase in pathological bacteria (such as Enterobacteriaceae, Pasteurellaceae, Veillonellaceae, and Fusobacteriaceae), and a decrease in less beneficial ones (such as Erysipelotrichales, Bacteroidales, and Clostridiales).

"There is an increase in the so-called inflammation-associated bacteria and there is a decrease in bacteria that are good for health," says Xavier.

Interestingly, the researchers found that giving antibiotics actually increased pathological microbes while killing off beneficial ones.

"This suggests the use of antibiotics in early-onset Crohn's Disease probably needs to be revisited," says Xavier.

Currently the conventional treatment for Crohn's is immunosuppressive drugs.

Xavier says the findings may provide a "blueprint to develop microbial therapeutics" in which, for example, drugs are developed to target specific metabolites from the pathological microbes.

The study also found the more pathological bacteria present, the more inflammation there was, suggesting the ratio between the two types of bacteria could be used to help predict the severity of the disease, says Xavier.

Important findings

Australian gastroenterologist, Professor Warwick Selby, from the Royal Prince Alfred Hospital and the University of Sydney says the new study addresses the limitations of previous research.

Most previous studies have looked at bacterial profiles in stools but Xavier and colleagues show the need to look at bacteria in tissue biopsies from the site of the disease, says Selby.

"The fact they had consistent changes found on tissue samples is very important," he says.

Also previous studies have tended to be in people who have already commenced treatment, which itself may affect the microbiome, adds Selby.

But, he says, it's still unclear whether the changed microbiome found by Xavier and team was there before the people developed Crohn's or came as a result of inflammation.

"Is it the chicken or the egg?" says Selby. "Are these bacteria driving the inflammation or are they there because the tissue is inflamed and that's the environment that they like to live in?"

He says answering this would require a study of tissue samples from family members who don't have Crohn's disease to see if they have these changes as well. Other future studies should also look at whether treatment alters the microbiome.

Selby agrees that if the bacteria identified are indeed causing inflammation, the findings could help the development of more targeted treatments for Crohn's Disease.


Could getting married save your life? Women are far less likely to die from heart disease if they have a partner, researchers claim

Or is it that healthier people are more likely to get married?

Married women are 28% less likely to die from heart disease than unmarried women - and it's all down to nagging.

Researchers say that even though marriage makes no difference to women's chances of developing heart disease, they are more likely to get treatment early is a partner constantly encourages them to.

They also believe that getting married can lead to lifestyle changes, and mean women are more likely to take medication.

The findings come from the latest analysis of data from a large UK study of women's health run by Oxford University researchers, the Million Women Study.

This new study, published in the journal BMC Medicine, included 730,000 women who were on average 60 years old.

Over a nine-year period, 30,000 of these women developed heart disease and 2,000 died from the condition.

The scientists behind the study admit they do now know the reasons for this difference.

However, Dr Sarah Floud and colleagues at Oxford University's Cancer Epidemiology Unit suggest one explanation could be that the partners of married women may encourage them to seek early medical treatment for symptoms.

'Married women were no less likely to develop heart disease than women who were not married, but they were less likely to die from it,' Dr Floud said.

'This means that, over 30 years, about three in 100 married women would die from heart disease compared with about four in 100 women who are not married or living with a partner.'

Other studies have also shown that partners tend to encourage their spouses to take medication and make changes in unhealthy lifestyles.

The findings come from the latest analysis of data from a large UK study of women's health run by Oxford University researchers, the Million Women Study.

This new study, published in the journal BMC Medicine, included 730,000 women who were on average 60 years old.

Over a nine-year period, 30,000 of these women developed heart disease and 2,000 died from the condition.

The researchers found that married women, or those living with a partner, had the same risk of developing heart disease as unmarried women (this included single, widowed and divorced women).

But the chance of dying from heart disease was 28% lower.

The study took many factors into account that could have influenced the results, such as age, socio-economic status and lifestyle, but the lower risk of death from heart disease remained.


14 March, 2014

Need a guilt-free alternative to orange juice? New fruit juice derived from a FLOWER could be the answer

There is no evidence cited in support of the claims below and there is very little about it online generally.  Dubious

With sugar coming under fire for causing obesity and heart disease, many people are looking for an alternative to their breakfast orange juice.

Now, one drinks company claims it has come up with a revolutionary beverage that can counteract the negative effects of sugar.

The drink contains a naturally occurring compound called Pinitol - derived from the Asian flower bougainvillea. Pinitol has been shown to help prevent blood sugar spikes

This, it is claimed, can mitigate some of the harmful effects associated with sugar by lowering the blood sugar surges that occur in the body after a person consumes something sweet.

Pinitol is registered as a prescription supplement for the prevention of lifestyle-related diseases by the Food and Drug Administration.

It has also recently been officially approved as an effective natural ingredient for diabetes prevention by South Korea.

The Simply Great Drinks Company - which has created juices with extracts of apple, carob and grape - says the blend was created by a team of bio-medical consultants led by Dr Sepe Sehati.

He said: ‘There are a number of modifiable risk factors involved in causing diabetes.  ‘A significant one is constant over-stimulation of the complicated mechanism that keeps our blood sugar at the optimum level.

‘When over-stimulated by enormous surges of sugar from sweets and soft drinks the pancreas can gradually become exhausted and the production of insulin diminishes, resulting in diabetes.

‘Pinitol has been shown to significantly lower the area under the plasma glucose response curve and in doing so it lowers the surges of sugar.’

He added: ‘The science has provided compelling evidence that Pinitol can have benefits for treating hyperglycaemia, insulin resistance state and the associated complications.

'Future research is warranted and underway to provide more definitive answers.’

Dr Sehati explained that drinking a 125ml glass of the drink every day for 12 weeks is enough to have the desired effect on blood sugar. He said: ‘The approach is a major breakthrough in tackling some of the harmful effects of sugar in juice and juice drinks.’


Sensible people really DO live longer: Personality is 'as important' as family history when it comes to health

That reckless people are more likely to come to harm is surely not big news

We are all used to having our blood pressure and BMI checked by a GP, but now researchers are claiming doctors should also assess people’s personalities.

U.S. researchers say this is important in helping young adults avoid serious health problems later in life.

In fact, they say personality is as important as family medical history and smoking habits in determining future health.

The researchers, at Duke University in North Carolina, say this is because personality determines how well a person will look after themselves.

For example, they say people who are conscientious are much less likely to develop health problems than those who are not.

Dr Norman Anderson explained: ‘The best health care is one that treats the whole person including how their personality traits impact their attitudes and behaviours vis-à-vis their health.

The researchers say that being conscientious is the most important character trait in determining future health.

They say that their research showed people who are conscientious when they are 26 are in much better health at 38 than those who are not conscientious in their 20s.

Dr Salomon Israel, from Duke University, said: ‘Among the least conscientious, 45 per cent went on to develop multiple health problems by age 38, while just 18 per cent of the most conscientious group developed health problems.

‘Individuals low in conscientiousness were more often overweight, had high cholesterol, inflammation, hypertension and greater rates of gum disease.’

Conscientious people are more likely to have active lifestyles, maintain healthy diets and have more self-control, so are less likely to smoke or abuse alcohol and drugs, the study noted.

This could explain the relationship between the character trait and better health, the researchers said.

To carry out the study the scientists examined data from a New Zealand health and development study involving 1,037 people born between April 1972 and March 1973.

The participants were assessed about every two years from birth until they were 38 years old.

At age 26, the participants nominated a person who knew them well, such as a parent, spouse or friend, to describe their character.

Researchers also gathered participants' clinical health information and risk factors commonly recorded by doctors, including income, education levels, smoking habits, weight, current and past illnesses and family medical history.

At age 38, the participants had physical examinations that checked for abnormalities of liver and kidney functions, blood pressure, heart and lung fitness, vascular inflammation and periodontal disease.

‘Personality traits can be measured cheaply, easily and reliably, and these traits are stable over many years and have far-ranging effects on health,’ said Dr Israel.

‘Our findings suggest that in addition to considering “what” a patient has among risks for chronic age-related diseases, physicians can benefit from knowing “who” the patient is in terms of personality in order to design effective preventive health care.’


13 March, 2014

Fish will keep you active: Eating plenty in old age can reduce chance of medical or physical illness by 39%  -- if you are Japanese

This is just correlational and self-report rubbish

Researchers from the National Institute of Health and Nutrition in Japan asked more 1,000 men and women to fill in a questionnaire designed to assess their mental and physical fitness.

Questions included how easy they found it to use public transport or pay bills and how much they visited friends or were asked for advice.

They were also quizzed about what they ate.

Those who ate the most animal protein were 39 per cent less likely to have failed mentally or physically seven years later.

Protein is key for building the muscle needed to protect against falls and fractures but it is thought the body finds it harder to absorb and process the nutrient as we age.  As a result we need more of it to remain healthy.

However, high amounts of protein only men – perhaps because they lose more muscle in old age.

Fish may have been particularly good because of the other nutrients it contains, such as omega-3 fatty acids, which are credited with health benefits from easing the pain of arthritis to staving off dementia.

Writing in the Journal of the American Geriatrics Society, the researchers said that physical and mental decline have an ‘enormous effect’ on hospitals and care homes and the economy and it is imperative to find ways to keep the elderly healthy for longer.

They added: ‘Keeping a higher protein intake could contribute to maintaining elderly functional capacity.’

The research chimes with a high-profile study released last week.  It found that eating lots of animal protein, such as meat and cheese, in middle-age can be as deadly as smoking.

However, it concluded that protein is beneficial in old age.


Girls who are obese at 11 'get lower GCSE results': Effect of weight can be difference between C and D grade

Of course it can.  Most obesity is among poor people and the poor are dumber.  The researchers claim to have controlled for SES but that consisted of the mother's education only.  They did not control for income.  That is a no-no question in most surveys

A study found that girls who were dangerously overweight at 11 did less well at school at 16.  The effect was big enough to make the difference between gaining a C and a D at GCSE.

The British researchers said that while the health effects of obesity receive a lot of attention, the problems do not end there.

They also warned that the knock-on effects could be lifelong.

Latest figures show that almost 20 per cent of 10 to 11 year olds in England are obese. A further 15 per cent are overweight.

The researchers analysed data from a long-running study of children born in the Bristol area in the early 1990s.

This included IQ at age eight, weight through the teenage years and school results.

No clear effect was found for boys but crunching the figures showed that girls who were obese at 11 did less well in tests at 11 and 13.

They also fared less well in maths, science and English GCSEs at 16.

The study, published in the International Journal of Obesity also showed that the longer the child was obese, the bigger the effect on their schoolwork.

Strikingly, the effect of obesity remained even when factors such as socio-economic status, the amount of exercise done and depression were taken into account.  IQ, measured at age eight , was also factored in.

Given this, the researchers aren’t entirely sure why obesity affects how a child does at school but some research has suggested it slows the development of the brain.

It is also possible that the psychological scars of obesity run deep.

For instance, bullying by other children may lower self-esteem and lead to youngsters taking more time off school and so missing lessons.

Teachers may also treat obese children differently to their normal-weight classmates.

The researchers tried to account for depression the study but say they may not have been able to factor in the full effect of the stigma of obesity on mental health.

Teenage boys are thought to be less sensitive to the effects of bullying than girls, perhaps explaining why no link was found for males.

With poor school grades having a knock-on effect on higher education and employment, the effects of being obese as young as 11 could be long-lasting.

Lead researcher, Professor John Reilly, of the University of Strathclyde, said: ‘Further work is needed to understand why obesity is negatively related to academic attainment but it is clear that teenagers, parents and policymakers in education and public health should be aware of the lifelong educational and economic impact of obesity.’

Dundee University researcher Dr Josie Booth said: ‘The key message is that obesity has a wide-reaching impact and we need to be doing more to help children attain a healthy lifestyle.’

Dr David Haslam, chairman of the National Obesity Forum, hit out at schools for rewarding children with chocolate and punishing them by stopping them from playing football.

He added: ‘It is not only academic achievement, marriage and university prospects are also lower in obese kids.  ‘It is very worrying and it is another dimension to the obesity problem.

‘Everybody thinks about obesity and diabetes but when you think that success in life is affected by your weight, it is pretty serious.’


12 March, 2014

Alcohol link to premature birth: Just three drinks a week in early pregnancy can double the chance

This is just the usual inconclusive correlational rubbish -- and based on self-report at that.  Social class effects must be expected too.  There are plenty of studies that come to opposite conclusions

Just three drinks a week in early pregnancy can double the chances of having a premature or unexpectedly small baby - with middle class mothers most at risk, warn researchers.

Even two drinks a week - the maximum limit in official guidelines - increases the risk of preterm delivery or an unexpectedly small baby, says a new study.

But it shows middle class mothers habitually drink more than this at a time when the growing baby is most likely to come to harm from alcohol.

Researchers at Leeds University claim the only safe level of drinking in pregnancy - and when planning to have a baby - is none at all.

Researcher Camilla Nykjaer, of the university’s nutritional epidemiology group, said ‘Our findings suggest that women should be advised to abstain from alcohol when planning to conceive and throughout pregnancy.’

The Department of Health recommends that women who are pregnant and trying to conceive should not drink alcohol, and never more than 1-2 units a week.

In the latest study led by Professor Janet Cade, 1,264 women at low risk of birth complications in Leeds completed food frequency questionnaires before and during pregnancy.

They were asked how often they drank alcohol, and what type it was, at four time points: in the four weeks before conception; and in each of the subsequent three months, or trimesters, throughout the pregnancy.

Alcohol consumption was significantly higher before conception and in the first three months of pregnancy than subsequently.

On average they had 11 drinks a week before getting pregnant, four during the first three months and just under two units a week later on.

Around half of the women drank more than the recommended maximum two weekly units during the first trimester.

Almost four out of 10 said they drank more than 10 units a week in the period leading up to conception.

Those who drank more than two units a week tended to be older, educated to degree level, of white ethnicity, and more likely to live in affluent areas.

Some 13 per cent of the babies born were underweight, 4.4 per cent were smaller than would be expected and 4.3 per cent were born prematurely.

Drinking during the first three months of pregnancy was most strongly linked to these outcomes, says a report published online in the Journal of Epidemiology and Community Health.

Women who drank more than two weekly units were at double the risk of giving birth to an unexpectedly small or premature baby than women who drank no alcohol at all.

But even women who didn’t exceed the maximum recommended alcohol intake at this time were still more likely to have a premature birth.

Drinking in the month before conception was also linked to a higher risk of restricted fetal growth, indicating this may also be a critical period, it says.

Dr Nykjaer said ‘We found the first trimester to be the period most sensitive to the effect of alcohol on the developing fetus.

‘Women adhering to guidelines in this period were still at increased risk of adverse birth outcomes.

‘Although the Department of Health advises avoiding alcohol, the guidelines do give a bit of leeway and our research supports abstinence’ she added.

The issue of how much is safe to drink during pregnancy has caused controversy in recent years.

In 2007, the Department of Health published guidance saying pregnant women should avoid drinking alcohol altogether, as should those trying to conceive.

Such women should never drink more than one or two units once or twice a week, it says.  This replaced previous guidance which said it was safe for pregnant women to drink one to two units of alcohol per week.

The Government said its update was not based on new research, but was to provide consistent advice to all women.

The National Institute for Health and Care Excellence also advises women to avoid alcohol in the first three months of pregnancy.

Heavy drinking in pregnancy is linked to Foetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorder (FASD) in children, which can cause a range of physical, mental and behavioural problems.

Dr Nykjaer stressed that pregnant women should not be scared by the findings.

She said ‘We have found an effect in a population of women that helps reinforce guidelines but the effect in an individual woman would be quite small.’ She said women in the study may have under-reported their drinking because of the ‘taboo’ surrounding alcohol and pregnancy.

As a result the effect on prematurity and growth may have come from larger intakes of alcohol than the study suggested, she said.

Prof Andrew Whitelaw, Professor of Neonatal Medicine, University of Bristol, said ‘This is further evidence that even moderate amounts of alcohol are toxic to the growing fetus and direct toxicity is further worsened by the increased complications of premature birth.

‘As 38 per cent of the women admitted risky drinking (over 10 units/week) before pregnancy and pregnancy is sometimes discovered late, the advice has to be to avoid alcohol completely when trying to conceive.’

Dr Ron Gray, Senior Clinical Research Fellow, National Perinatal Epidemiology Unit, Nuffield Department of Population Health, University of Oxford, said the study’s design made it difficult to draw any sound conclusions and the results could be due to chance or other factors.

He said ‘Further research on whether there is any completely safe amount to drink during pregnancy remains necessary, but in the meantime pregnant women should follow the advice from the UK Chief Medical Officers to avoid alcohol during pregnancy.’


The eminent doctor who is convinced ADHD doesn't exist: In fact, says Dr RICHARD SAUL, the symptoms can have routine causes and drugs do more harm than good

I remember when disruptive kids were just "naughty".  They got the cane instead of drugs.  They all turned out OK -- JR

Distracted, fidgeting and squirming in his seat, the 13-year-old boy in my consulting room was exhibiting all the classic signs of an attention disorder.

His desperate mother hoped that I could do something for her son, who had become sluggish and unfocused at school, did not seem to care that his academic performance was declining, and claimed to feel 'too tired' for sport, which he used to enjoy.

He had been diagnosed with ADHD - Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder - and been taking medication for a year but, to the despair of his teachers and mother, his behaviour had not improved at all.

I was not at all surprised. Why? Because, after 50 years of practising medicine and seeing thousands of patients demonstrating symptoms of ADHD, I have reached the conclusion there is no such thing as ADHD.

This so-called condition has apparently spread like wildfire across the globe in recent years, with a huge increase in its diagnosis and medication. More than 4?per cent of adults and 11?per cent of children in the U.S. have been diagnosed with ADHD - a leap of more than 40?per cent in the past decade. It's now the most common mental health disorder in the UK and affects around 2 to 5?per cent of school-age children.

Prescriptions for the stimulants used to treat it, including Ritalin, doubled for children and quadrupled for adults in the UK between 2003 and 2008. But these stimulants - so-called because they're designed to stimulate parts of the brain that are not thought to be working properly - frequently do not help, and instead cause a range of side-effects, some dangerous. They can even make symptoms worse.

To treat ADHD as a condition, rather than a set of symptoms, is doing a terrible, and dangerous, disservice to the children and adults who are diagnosed with it. There is no doubt that the symptoms - an inability to pay attention to details, fidgeting, interrupting, difficulty staying seated, impulsive behaviour - exist.

But to lump them together and turn them into a diagnosis of ADHD, then to treat this so-called condition with stimulants, is like treating the symptoms of a heart attack - such as severe chest pain - with painkillers, rather than tackling the cause of them by repairing the heart. It is dangerous, neglectful and wrong.

Back in the Seventies, I believed in ADHD. It seemed to explain the attention issues that affected so many children. But over the years I've come to realise that the symptoms actually had a whole range of underlying causes that were being ignored because of the knee-jerk diagnosis of ADHD.

As I argue in my new book on the subject - which has generated a furious controversy in America, where I work as a behavioural neurologist - we've become stuck in a cycle of misdiagnosis of ADHD and over-prescription of stimulants such as Ritalin. Only by properly investigating, identifying and treating these causes can we help our patients.

In the case of the 13-year-old boy, I ordered a series of blood tests. These showed he had an iron deficiency: after school, while his mother was out at work, he binged on junk food that was high in sugar but low in iron.

Iron deficiency (anaemia) causes physical fatigue, poor attention and concentration, and memory problems. As soon as his iron intake improved, with iron pills and more fish, fruit, vegetables and nuts, his performance and behaviour improved hugely, too.

The ADHD diagnosis and the stimulants had masked the real problem, as is so often the case.

In France, a study in 2004 found 84?per cent of children diagnosed with ADHD were iron deficient, compared with 18?per cent of 'non-ADHD' children. Yet time and time again, doctors miss the real problems - some serious, some easily correctable - by automatically reaching for the ADHD label.

In my book, I identify more than 20 causes of the symptoms that are called ADHD.

Sometimes there is nothing wrong at all, but because of the high awareness of ADHD, parents, teachers and even patients themselves know about the 'condition' and are eager to have it treated - and busy doctors are all too ready to oblige with a quick, catch-all diagnosis of ADHD.

I've turned away countless students who have come to me claiming to have ADHD and asking for a stimulant to help them concentrate, hoping that it will sharpen their performance. But many other doctors willingly prescribe them.

The definition of ADHD has become ever broader in recent years. The checklist of symptoms used to diagnose it now includes a failure to pay close attention to details, seeming not to listen, losing things frequently, being 'too disorganised' and forgetful, fidgeting with hands or feet, getting up when meant to be seated, talking excessively, blurting out answers, interrupting or intruding on others.

The definitions are so subjective - how much talking is 'excessive'? How disorganised is 'too disorganised?' - it is no wonder that more and more children and adults are being diagnosed across the Western world.

Many ADHD patients have other conditions, such as depression, bipolar disorder and schizophrenia. These are said to 'co-exist' with ADHD, but in my view they're the actual cause of the 'ADHD' symptoms. Treat them and you will treat the ADHD.

Failing to treat them and pumping the patient with stimulants instead only makes things worse.

The side-effects of stimulants include reduced appetite (dangerous for children, who need a good diet), sleep disturbance (tiredness can exacerbate attention problems), anxiety, irritability, depressed moods, delayed puberty and, in adults, sexual problems (such as erectile dysfunction).

And long-term use of stimulants makes people resistant to them, meaning they need higher and higher doses. The drugs can damage memory and concentration, and have even been linked to reduced life expectancy and suicide.

Yet stimulants are being prescribed more and more frequently, creating a health time bomb and neglecting the real causes of the problems.

A seven-year-old girl was brought to me because she was disruptive in class, fidgeted and talked loudly. She had been diagnosed with ADHD and prescribed Adderall (similar to Ritalin), but it caused sleeping problems that made her more disruptive.

I had her eyesight tested and she was found to be significantly near-sighted: her disruptive behaviour in class stemmed from boredom, brought about by the fact she could not see the board properly.

Once she was given glasses, her behaviour improved almost overnight. She no longer had 'ADHD' - or rather, she never had it in the first place. Similarly, many 'distracted' children who stare out of the window, are, in fact, suffering from eye strain and need glasses, not stimulants.

Another common cause of 'ADHD' is simply a lack of sleep. Adults need a minimum of seven hours a night, and schoolchildren ten to 11 hours.

If they don't get it, they can suffer a variety of problems, including many of those identified as ADHD symptoms: poor attention, poor memory and hyperactivity in the daytime.

Technology often causes people to miss out on sleep. Young adults who come to me for medication for ADHD often turn out to be chatting or gaming online late into the night. The light emitted from computers and devices also disrupts the biological rhythms related to sleep.

Studies have shown a high rate of sleep problems in youths with ADHD, yet rather than making the link - that the sleep disorders cause the inattentiveness and hyperactivity -the sleep disorders are said to 'co-exist' with the ADHD.

The same applies to hearing problems. These often go undiagnosed in children, yet they are more acute than ever in our modern world, as there is so much background noise to contend with, from mobile phones to traffic.

Children with even minimal hearing loss are likely to be labelled as having behavioural problems, when, in reality, they are distracted because they can't hear properly in noisy classrooms.

A nine-year-old boy was brought to me by his worried mother because he was disruptive, inattentive and withdrawn at school. He had been diagnosed with ADHD and put on stimulants, but they had caused weight loss and sleeping problems.

I had his hearing tested: he had more than 50 per cent hearing loss in both ears. After being fitted with hearing aids, his behaviour improved dramatically and he became more sociable.

Not all the underlying causes of behavioural problems can be easily resolved. Another disorder said to  co-exist with ADHD - but which in fact causes the inattention and other problems - is Sensory Processing Disorder (SPD), which affects more than 5?per cent of pre-school children.

People with SPD have trouble dealing with information from their different senses. It's like a neurological traffic jam that prevents the proper processing of information, and causes clumsiness, academic struggles and social and behavioural difficulties.

Some of these symptoms can be misperceived as signs of ADHD and treated with stimulants, which  worsens them. But if the SPD is picked up, it can be treated (though not cured) with therapy.

Even learning difficulties can be missed because of the rush to diagnose ADHD. Thirty per cent of children diagnosed with ADHD may have learning difficulties, but because the focus is on ADHD, treatment for the learning difficulties is either delayed or not given at all.

It's tragic children are left to struggle because their teachers, parents and doctors focus on their behavioural problems, rather than identifying the learning difficulties at their root.

Conversely, children who are very gifted or highly creative can become distracted and disruptive at school if they are not sufficiently challenged. Seeing only the symptoms, not the causes, leads to their frustration increasing and their symptoms worsening.

Tourette's syndrome and OCD (Obsessive Compulsive Disorder), are also frequently mistaken for ADHD as, in an effort to suppress their tics or urges, sufferers can seem distracted or hyperactive, jiggling or squirming in their chairs, and are labelled with ADHD, with the result that the opportunity to treat their condition is missed.

An ADHD diagnosis can even obscure such a potentially dangerous condition as schizophrenia.

Characterised by hearing voices in the head, or having hallucinations, it is rare in children but can manifest itself as impulsive, hyperactive or agitated behaviour, disorganised thinking and speech, and poor eye contact. Schizophrenics need to be treated by a psychiatrist, usually with anti-psychotic medication. Left untreated, schizophrenia is likely to get worse.

Even depression and bipolar disorder are sometimes confused with ADHD. A 12-year-old boy was brought to me because he was throwing tantrums, was distracted and disorganised, sometimes ebullient, sometimes withdrawn.

He had been diagnosed with ADHD but his mood patterns and family history pointed to bipolar disorder, which I treated successfully with medication, hugely improving his quality of life.

Chances to catch a teenage drugs habit early, before it takes hold, are also frequently missed.  Teenagers who appear irritable, distracted, tired or have memory and learning difficulties are given stimulants for ADHD, whereas the real cause of their problems is marijuana, or alcohol.

So what can we do to correct this epidemic of misdiagnosis and this worrying tendency to over-prescribe stimulants that leave the true causes untreated?

First, we must learn not to overreact. In many cases medication is unnecessary. Children mature at different rates: just because a six-year-old has not yet learned to sit still for hours in class, it does not mean that he or she has ADHD. Giving such children stimulants is wrong and harmful.

Many people who are convinced they have ADHD or some other condition are simply dealing with a normal level of stress in a faster-paced world. Adjusting your lifestyle - improving your diet, exercising more, sleeping more - can alleviate many symptoms such as irritability or distracted, impulsive behaviour.

Second, we need to rethink what really produces these symptoms. We must discard the decades-old diagnosis of ADHD that doctors, pharmaceutical companies, the media and even patients themselves still cling to.

The heartbreak, health risks and even deaths that this false diagnosis has caused around the world must stop. Only then can people be treated effectively for the very real conditions they are suffering, rather than being failed and neglected by the dangerous myth of ADHD.


11 March, 2014

The sugar war descends to "ad hominem" abuse

Robert Lustig must be feeling on top of the world these days.  Long dismissed as a crank for his war on sugar he is now seeing his crusade become the fad of the day. 

Now that fat has been exonerated as the main cause of obesity, the do-gooders have had to find a new  villain -- and sugar has been elected to that role.

 Your total calorie intake undoubtedly influences your weight but where is the evidence that sugar is more fattening than other calories?  There is none.  So all we see below is abuse and appeals to authority -- plus false claims that obesity is increasing

A radical UN recommendation to halve sugar intake will not be implemented in Britain says a Whitehall adviser on nutrition who has worked for Mars and Coca-Cola.

Professor Ian MacDonald, head of a panel of health experts in charge of drawing up guidelines on sugar, said it will ‘not act’ on the World Health Organisation’s proposal.

The move led to fury yesterday as senior doctors and MPs accused officials of ‘immense arrogance’ for ignoring the suggested limit of six teaspoons a day, in the face of an obesity crisis that threatens to overwhelm the NHS.

And campaigners last night accused Professor MacDonald – who only recently left the pay of the two fast food giants – of being ‘in the pocket’ of the sugar industry.

He is one of six scientists on the panel of eight who have links to manufacturers of sugary foods, including the world’s largest chocolate maker and fizzy drinks producers.

The row comes amid growing concern over the high levels of sugar in everyday foods, which experts believe is a major contributor to obesity, heart disease and diabetes.

Around a quarter of adults in Britain are obese but this is predicted to soar to more than half the population by 2050 and cost the economy £50billion a year.

An average adult eats between 11 and 12  teaspoons of sugar a day – double the new recommendation – while children consume as many as 15.

But referring to the WHO guidelines, Professor MacDonald said: ‘The position, I’ve been informed by the officials, is that actually we would take note of it but we would not act on it.’

He added that the Government would take the recommendations of his own panel, the Carbohydrate Working Group of the Scientific Advisory Committee on Nutrition, rather than those of the WHO.

Graham MacGregor, of the group Action on Sugar and professor of cardiology at the Wolfson Institute of Preventive Medicine, accused Professor MacDonald of ‘arrogance’ about the extent of the health crisis posed by sugar.

He said: ‘To say that he is going to ignore the WHO has an immense amount of arrogance about it.  'Given the fact we are facing an obesity crisis, what is his plan??…?it’s a real timebomb. 'Obesity and diabetes are going to overwhelm the health service in terms of cost. We have to do something.’

Tam Fry, of the National Obesity Forum, said: ‘Ian MacDonald is a leading figure in his discipline.

'The problem is his research money is so dependent on these firms that you have to ask the question, is he in their pocket?’

Luciana Berger MP, Labour’s shadow public health minister, accused the Government of being ‘too close to big businesses to do what’s best for our nation’s health’.

The SACN is expected to produce its own sugar guidelines in June.


Energy drinks 'increase the risk of mental health problems and drug and alcohol abuse'

Rubbish!  This is correlational data only so allows no causal influences.  At most the data suggests the existence of an addictive personality

Energy drinks can lead to mental health problems and drug and alcohol abuse in teenagers, researchers have warned.  Their findings have been published just a day after it emerged a teenager's heart stopped three times after downing 10 Jagerbombs mixed with Red Bull.

The new research, published in the journal Preventive Medicine, found that students prone to depression - and those who smoke marijuana or drink alcohol - are more likely to consume energy drinks.

Among the 8,210 high school students surveyed, nearly two thirds reported using energy drinks at least once in the past year, with more than one in five consuming them once or more per month.

And worryingly, it was the younger high school students who were more likely to consume energy drinks than older ones.

Last month researchers at the University of Michigan reported that teenagers who drink energy drinks are much more likely to also drink alcohol and use drugs. They are also more likely to start smoking.

They suggested this could be because  teenagers who are ‘sensation-seekers’ or ‘risk orientated’ are more likely to drink energy drinks.

In turn, having these character traits means they are also more likely to experiment with other substances.

Energy drinks have been associated with a number of negative health effects, including cardiovascular symptoms, sleep impairment and nervousness and nausea. The side effects are caused by the beverages' high concentration of caffeine.

Study author Dr Sunday Azagba said: 'Marketing campaigns appear designed to entice youth and young adults. It's a dangerous combination, especially for those at an increased risk for substance abuse.'

The researchers from the University of Waterloo and Dalhousie University in Canada, are calling for limits on teens' access to the drinks and reduction in the amount of the caffeine in each can.

Dr Azagba said: 'The trends we are seeing are more than cause for concern, particularly because of the high rate of consumption among teenagers.

'These drinks appeal to young people because of their temporary benefits like increased alertness, improved mood and enhanced mental and physical energy.'

Dr Azagba said: 'In our opinion, at the very least steps should be taken to limit teens' access to energy drinks.'

She added there was also a need to increase public awareness and education about the potential harms of these drinks and to minimise the amount of caffeine available in each drink.

'This won't eliminate the problem entirely, but steps like these can help mitigate harm that appears to be associated with consumption of these drinks.

'This is something we need to take seriously. Change won't happen without a concerted effort.

The study was based on data from the 2012 Student Drug Use Survey, consisting of a representative sample of junior and senior high school students from three provinces in Atlantic Canada.


10 March, 2014

Passive smoking 'dramatically increases' the risk of miscarriage, stillbirth and ectopic pregnancy

The usual rubbish.  Smoking is correlated with IQ.  High IQ people are much less likely to smoke.  And high IQ people have fewer health problems.  We are looking at the effect of IQ here, not smoking.  Dumb people tend both to smoke and have dumb families

Passive smoking increases the risk of miscarriage, stillbirth, and ectopic pregnancy, new research warned.

And the more women are exposed to second hand smoke, the greater the risk, a study in the British Medical Journal reported.

Although it was known smoking while pregnant increases the risk of miscarriage and birth complications, what was less understood was the effect of passive smoking.

The researchers analysed historical data from a large sample of more than 80,000 women who had gone through the menopause, and been part of the Women's Health Initiative (WHI) study.

Just over 5,000 of the women - 6.3 per cent - were current smokers, just under 35,000 – 43 per cent - were ex-smokers, who had smoked at least 100 cigarettes, and just under 41,000 - 50.6 per cent - were non-smokers.  All had been pregnant at least once.

The group of non-smokers was then categorised according to the level of second-hand smoke they had been exposed to during childhood, as an adult at home, and as an adult at work.

The pregnancy outcomes showed that almost one in three of the entire sample - 32.6 per cent - said they had miscarried at least once.  Some 3,552 - 4.4 per cent - had experienced a stillbirth, while 2,033 - 2.5 per cent - had had a tubal ectopic pregnancy.

Younger and better educated women were less likely to miscarry or have birth complications while women of black and minority ethnic backgrounds, and those who were overweight, were more likely to do so.

The study published online in Tobacco Control found women who had never smoked were less likely to miscarry, have a stillborn child or an ectopic pregnancy than either current or former smokers, the data showed.

Compared with non-smokers, women who had smoked during their reproductive years were 16 per cent more likely to miscarry, 44 per cent more likely to have a stillborn child, and 43 per cent more likely to have an ectopic pregnancy.

And these associations were also evident for non-smokers who had breathed in other people's cigarette smoke compared with non-smokers who had not been similarly exposed.

The longer the period of exposure, the greater was the risk for non-smokers.

Those who had experienced the highest levels of lifetime exposure, including more than 10 years as a child, or more than 20 years as an adult at home, or more than 10 years in the workplace, were 17 per cent more likely to miscarry.

They were 55 per cent more likely to give birth to a stillborn child, and 61 per cent more likely to have an ectopic pregnancy.


A tax on sugar would punish the poor for the 'sin' of enjoying the odd Mars bar

By Brendan O'Neill

Remember that 1990 movie Crazy People, in which Dudley Moore and a bunch of mental patients take over an advertising firm? (Ah, the days before political correctness!) The lunatic asylum inhabited by Moore and his mates starts churning out brutally honest, sometimes bawdy adverts, free of the euphemisms and exaggerations PR men normally use to hawk their wares and campaigns. Their slogan for a Greek travel agency, for example, is: "Forget Paris. The French can be annoying. Come to Greece. We're nicer." Who could argue with that?

I often find myself wondering what slogans these mental patients cum spin-free PR men might come up with for modern-day campaigns. How about the current drive to slap a tax on sugary foods, this week endorsed by the chief medical officer, Dame Sally Davies. There are a lot of impressive-sounding scare words attached to this sugar-taxing frenzy (apparently it's about stalling an obesity epidemic), and science (or science-ish, as I think we should call it) has also been marshalled to the cause of hiking up the price of tasty sweet grub.

But if we were to strip away all the fear-fuelled, science-tinged lingo, if we were to opt instead to promote this initiative in the plain speaking of the crazy people of Crazy People, what might the sugar taxers' slogan be? Simples. It would be: "Poor people are really fat. Let's make them less fat by making Mars bars too expensive for them to buy."

That is the euphemism-free motivation of the urge to tax sugary stuff. In fact, every sin tax, as the great John Stuart Mill referred to artificial hikes in the price of stimulants that have “the sole purpose of making them more difficult to be obtained”, has a disproportionate effect on the poor. Of course they do.

The poor have less disposable income. So if you make cigarettes and alcohol, and now, perhaps, chocolate, more expensive, on the moralistic grounds that consuming such things is bad for you, then you are either going to price the poor out of these pleasurable pastimes or, more likely, make their lives that bit harder by leaving them with less cash at the end of the week once they’ve bought all their sin-taxed stimulants and foods.

If, as experts suggest, a 20pc tax is added to sugary foods, and the cost of a Mars bar rises from 60p to 72p and a can of Coke from 70p to 84p, it won’t affect Dame Sally Davies; it will affect the less well-off, who, every time they buy a Mars, will feel precisely what the fun-allergic finger-waggers of the modern nannying’n’nudging state want them to feel – guilt, concern, panic about what they might have to cut from their weekly shopping list in order to spare that quid for chocolate.

The adman-style finery that has been draped over this campaign to make poor people less fat by making it harder for them to buy Mars bars really deserves to be stripped away. It’s nonsense. So Dame Sally’s claim that “we have a generation of children who, because they are overweight and lack activity, may not live as long as my generation” runs completely counter to the hard scientific fact that life expectancy continues to rise.

When Dame Sally was born in 1949 (sorry to reveal that, Sal), people could expect to live to about 65; those born today are more likely to make it to 80. A boy born in 1949 had a 7.7pc chance of making it to 100; a boy born today has a 26pc chance of hitting that milestone.

It’s just not true to say that the new generation will live for fewer years than older generations. As to Dame Sally’s claim that there is an obesity epidemic – hmm, not so much. Childhood obesity levels are actually declining. They peaked in 2004/2005, when 18pc of boys and 19pc of girls were recorded as obese; in 2012, 14pc of both boys and girls were categorised as obese. The campaign to tax sugar comes with as much stuff and nonsense as any sexed-up advert; it needs a Crazy People-style takedown.

Where is the outrage over this campaign to make it harder for poor people to buy certain foods? At a time when commentators and campaigners bang on about “food poverty” and the spread of food banks, where are the voices of dissent over a proposal to make delicious foods too expensive for oiks to consume?

They’re silent. And it isn’t hard to work out why. It’s because when charity-sector worthies talk about “food poverty”, they don’t mean the inability of the poor to enjoy such wicked things as chips, chocolate or Coke; they mean the poverty of education within certain sections of society that has led whole generations to think it is acceptable to eat fast food, when apparently it isn’t.

The conceit of Crazy People is that the real crazy people are not the mental patients but the admen they elbow aside. So it is with the war on sugar. The crazy ones aren’t those who think it’s acceptable, and fun, to eat a bar of chocolate – it’s the killjoy classes who spin nonsense about an obesity epidemic and slap a Scrooge-like tax on sweets all in the name of making it harder for poor people to indulge in a bit of pleasurable eating.


9 March, 2014

Progressive Mission Creep In Your Diet

Ever heard of the Dietary Guidelines Advisory Committee before? Neither had I before it came up in a discussion with a friend last week. This group meets every five years, under the auspices of the Department of Agriculture and the Department of Health and Human Services, to update and set dietary guidelines for all Americans.

Seems harmless enough, right? Well, much like every government entity that starts out with seemingly good intentions, progressives eventually discover a way for its influence and power to advance their agenda in ways never intended. Such is the case with the DGAC.

Most people don’t care about dietary issues. What you eat is your business. If you want to live on nothing but Doritos and Twinkies until your body grows into your couch and a wall of your house needs to be removed so the forklift can load you into an ambulance, that’s your business.

Obamacare has changed that.

Now that taxpayers are directly subsidizing the health care of others, the government has a financial interest in what people put in their bodies. That gives DGAC more influence and power than it was intended to have. And it is using that influence to advance a progressive social agenda into our food.

The 2010 DGAC collaborated on the creation of the Health and Sustainability Guidelines for Federal Concessions and Vending Operations, which studied and promoted “sustainable” practices that have nothing to do with diet or nutrition, such as: “Offering incentives for using reusable beverage containers,” “using green cleaning and pest control practices,” “using compostable and bio-based trays, flatware, plates and bowls,” and “offering food that is organically, locally or sustainably grown and labeled accordingly.”

What does this have to do with nutrition? If you answer anything other than “nothing,” read it again.

It should come as no surprise that as the 2015 guidelines come together, the DGAC is setting its sights on even more mission creep. In addition to studying nutrition issues well within its purview, it has a subcommittee studying “Food Sustainability and Safety.”

At its first meeting, DGAC had a meeting on “Agriculture/aquaculture sustainability: How, what, and where foods are grown and their relationship with the long-term health of humans and the planet.”

The DGAC is now populated not by nutritionists but by elite progressives, including a big supporter of former New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg’s “soda ban.” That’s not all. Also in its first meeting, you get this: “Several Committee members noted policies that have been implemented that could be reviewed, including changes to the WIC program, the introduction of menu labeling and banning of trans fat. Several additional topics were suggested by Committee members, including food insufficiency/hunger, organic versus traditional growing patterns, immigration and food waste.”

The mandate for DGAC states it will publish its findings and, “The law instructs that this publication shall contain nutritional and dietary information and guidelines for the general public, shall be based on the preponderance of scientific and medical knowledge current at the time of publication, and shall be promoted by each Federal agency in carrying out any Federal food, nutrition, or health program.”

See anything about the environmentalists’ agenda in there?

No, the DGAC’s purpose is to establish and update nutritional guidelines for a healthy, balanced diet, not impose one on people or advance the so-called “green” agenda. But its recommendations carry weight and, if those recommendations venture into these progressive areas, they will have an impact on your wallet too.

Not only could DGAC’s recommendations influence military food allowances, and food stamp and school lunch programs – but nutritional labeling also may be changed dramatically, which will drive up costs for manufacturers and, ultimately, consumers. Market forces, such as increasing the cost of doing business, are often ignored by progressives. But that doesn’t make them go away.

When a government entity’s agenda is not bound by its mandate, the sky is the limit. When progressive elitists are put in charge, they inevitably expand the limits of the sky. Short of abolishing the DGAC, its members need to be limited in both scope and background. A novel idea would be to include nutritionists, food producers and the public through real transparency. Including those with knowledge of nutrition as well as those directly affected by these recommendations would make much more sense than loading the DGAC with coastal elites who live their daily lives in the unreal world of academia. It also wouldn’t be beholden to a progressive agenda of ever-growing government control, which is why it hasn’t happened and probably never will.


February's Furious Foray Against Food Freedom

February 2014 may go down as the worst month for food freedom since the height of the New Deal era.

The lowlights began with President Obama signing a new trillion-dollar Farm Bill into law. The bill had stalled for two years while lawmakers wrangled over possible cuts. And while this Farm Bill eliminates the pointless direct subsidies paid to farmers, the new law is rife with crop insurance subsidies that will cost taxpayers untold billions.

Soon after, word came that tort lawyers were busy pitching attorneys general in sixteen states on the idea of a broad lawsuit to "make the food industry pay for soaring obesity-related health care costs."

If this sounds familiar, it should. These lawyers are doing nothing more than taking a page out of their own Big Tobacco playbook. What's more, they tried this same approach against the food industry in the early 2000s. It rightly failed.

The same week that news broke of lawyers itching to cash in on the food industry, California legislators proposed adding a warning label to all sweetened drinks like soda sold in the state. The absurd requirement—in the state that practically invented them—would mean these beverages "would be required to carry warning labels for obesity, diabetes and tooth decay."

In case you're begging for it all to end, this month of hell gets worse. The Los Angeles Times reported last week on the mounting concern among farmers across the country—concerns I've raised many times, including here—that the FDA's Food Safety Modernization Act final rules will put many small, organic farmers out of business.

"Over the summer, the owner of the last working farm in Akron, Ohio, which had been supplying produce to locals for 117 years, said he was throwing in the towel and blamed the FDA's new rules," reports the paper. "Don Bessemer told the Akron Beacon Journal that he was up for fighting pests and even drought, but not bureaucrats. Thirty workers lost jobs."

I've spoken with other small farmers who are getting out of the business. And this is before the final rules have even been written.

As this last week of February began, there was still more bad news.

First Lady Michelle Obama announced changes in school food that are timed to coincide with the fourth anniversary of her Let's Move program.

The provision grabbing most headlines around school food this week was the First Lady's proposed elimination of some food marketing from schools. While I think that mandate is well outside power of the federal government, I have little or no problem with the policy itself.

What I oppose strongly, though, is a nefarious but underreported parallel proposal to expand the federal school lunch pogrom.

Problems with the USDA's revised school lunch program are as widely known as they are widespread. I've written about them here, for example. And a new GAO report found that last year's disastrous rollout of the updated National School Lunch Program (which Mrs. Obama also championed) helped drive 1.6 million paying students from the lunch rolls.

Rather than moving to scrap the program for all but the neediest (or, better, encouraging parents to reclaim control of their kids' lunches), the administration is doubling down on a new plan that would result in a dramatic expansion of the number of students who are eligible for free lunches and breakfast—even though they are perfectly able to pay for their meals.

The change "will provide free breakfast and lunch to all students in schools where at least 40 percent of the children are low-income," notes the Washington Post in the last sentence of an 850-word report on the school food announcements this week. "The move is designed to increase participation in the free meals program and to relieve the paperwork burden on schools and is expected to affect 22,000 schools nationwide."

The Robert Wood Johnson Foundation was quick to hail the plan, noting those tens of thousands of schools "will soon be able to provide healthier, free meals to all of their students."

Healthier? Healthier than what, exactly?

I'm not a nutritionist. But here are some of the school lunch offerings in my rather-well-off community of Montgomery County, Maryland for the month of February: whole grain chicken patty sandwich with tater tots, whole grain cheese or pepperoni pizza, hot dog with tater tots, french toast sticks with sausage, mac 'n cheese with whole grain chicken bites, whole grain chicken nuggets with blueberry bread.

So where do Americans—we who eat too many calories—get our calories? As I noted here two years ago here, the USDA's own list of the “Top 25 sources of calories among Americans ages 2 years and older” finds that the top three sources of calories in our diets are grain-based desserts, bread, and chicken. In other words, precisely the foods found on those "healthier," reformulated USDA school lunch menus.

The final assault on food freedom this month came on Thursday, when Mrs. Obama announced the FDA would update its Nutrition Facts panels for the first time in 20 years.

The transformation is largely cosmetic. Many serving sizes would change, reports the New York Times. Some words would move around, while others would be abbreviated. "Percent daily values would shift to the left," reports the Times, and the words "Daily Value" would be replaced with "DV". And "added sugars" would have to appear underneath total sugars (although they are exactly the same substance). And while the FDA looks set to ban most trans fats altogether, the words curiously still appear on the newly proposed Nutrition Facts panel.

These changes will add billions in new packaging and labeling costs for food and beverage manufacturers, many who have already updated their own packages to—among other things—slap the number of calories their foods contain right on the front of the package.

Big changes?

FDA commissioner Margaret Hamburg touted the new labels as "an amazing transformation," reports the Times. Food regulation advocate Prof. Marion Nestle labeled herself "kind of stunned actually."

Others, like me, were less than impressed.

“This is a false victory,” Prof. Barry Popkin told the Times. “It will affect just a small segment of consumers who carefully study nutrition fact panels.”

As the year began, I predicted in a Fox News column that supporters of food freedom would face considerable hurdles in 2014. But even I couldn't have imagined that the year would bring so many challenges. And so fast. With more than 300 days left in the year—and crackdowns on caffeine, salt, trans fats, and other foods and food ingredients looming—I'm ready for this year of false victories to be over.


7 March, 2014

Saturated fat is not bad for health, says heart expert

The word is getting out  -- at long last

NHS guidelines which advise cutting down on high fat foods like butter, cream and chocolate may be putting the public at risk and should be urgently revised, a leading heart scientist has warned.

Diets that are low in saturated fat do not lower cholesterol, prevent heart disease or help people live longer, Dr James DiNicolantonio insists.

He is so concerned about misinterpretation of ‘flawed data’ that he has called for a new public health campaign to admit ‘we got it wrong.’

British health experts and nutritionists backed his comments claiming that for too long ‘uncomfortable facts’ have been stifled by ‘dietry dogma. ’

Saturated fat is traditionally found in butter, cheese, fatty meat, biscuits, cakes and sausages.

But Dr DiNicolantonio, claims sugar and carbohydrates are the real culprits driving high cholesterol and the obesity epidemic and suggested that guidelines should be changed urgently.

“A public health campaign is drastically needed to educate on the harms of a diet high in carbohydrate and sugar.

“There is no conclusive proof that a low-fat diet has a positive effect on health. Indeed the literature indicates a general lack of any effect, good or bad, from a reduction in fat intake.

“A change in recommendations is drastically needed as public health could be at risk.

“We need a public health campaign as strong as the one we had in the 70s and 80s demonising saturated fats, to say that we got it wrong.”

DiNicolantonio points out that the ‘vilification’ of saturated fats dates back to the 1950s when research suggested a link between high dietary saturated fat intake and deaths from heart disease.

But the study author drew his conclusions on data from six countries, choosing to ignore the data from a further 16, which did not fit with his hypothesis, and which subsequent analysis of all 22 countries' data.

Nevertheless the research stuck and since the 1970s most public health organisations have advised people to cut down on fat.

“It seemingly led us down the wrong 'dietary road' for decades to follow", said Dr DiNicolantonio, of Ithica College, New York, writing in the BMJ journal Open Heart.

“This stemmed from the belief that since saturated fats increase total cholesterol (a flawed theory to begin with) they must increase the risk of heart disease."

Experts also believed the diet would lead to less obesity and diabetes - when the exact opposite was true, he added.

In 2009 the Food Standards Agency launched a campaign including a hard hitting television advert which showed a kitchen sink becoming clogged with fat, and suggested that it was having a similar effect on the arteries.

The FSA claimed that too much fat in the diet raises cholesterol levels in the blood, which is a risk factor for coronary heart disease, heart attacks, angina and stroke.

NHS guidelines suggest the average man should eat no more than 30g of saturated fat per day and women no more than 20g.

But Dr DiNicolantonio believes the switch away from fat towards carbohydrates has harmed public health. He suggests the rise in high-carb diet is responsible for the increase in diabetes and obesity epidemic in the US.

The best diet to boost and maintain heart health is one low in refined carbohydrates, sugars and processed foods, he recommended.

Brian Ratcliffe, professor of nutrition at Robert Gordon University, Aberdeen, welcomed his comments.

"For the last three decades, accumulating evidence has not provided strong support for the dietary recommendations regarding reducing fat and saturated fat intake," he said.

"DiNicolantonio does not even touch on the evidence which shows that low-fat diets (admittedly lower than the current recommendations) have been associated with poor mood and even depression.

"Many who adhere to dietary dogma have chosen to ignore the uncomfortable facts that did not fit the hypothesis."

Victoria Taylor, senior heart health dietitian at the British Heart Foundation, advised the public to take a more holistic approach to their diets.

"Fat is just one element of our diet. To look after our hearts long-term, we should look at our diet as a whole. Eating a Mediterranean-style diet rich in fruit, veg, pulses and fish will help lower cholesterol and reduce the risk of coronary heart disease."

However professor Tom Sanders, head of diabetes and nutritional sciences division in the School of Medicine at King's College London, said Dr DiNicolantoni's assessment misrepresented the scientific evidence.

"Refocusing dietary advice on sugar and away from fat modification and reduction is not helpful," he said.

Prof Bruce Griffin, Professor of Nutritional Metabolism at the University of Surrey, added: “To suggest that the theory relating saturated fat to increased total cholesterol is flawed, is nonsense, and contradicts 50 years of evidence-based medicine.

“A more balanced review of the overall evidence would reveal that the risks from saturated fat and refined sugars are not mutually exclusive, but co-exist together in our diet.”

The Scientific Advisory Committee on Nutrition (SACN) is currently reviewing the evidence on dietary carbohydrates and a consultation on new guidelines will begin this summer.

Alison Tedstone, Director of Nutrition and Diet at Public Health England, said: “The totality of the evidence suggests that high saturated fat intake is associated with raising total and low-density lipoprotein (LDL) blood cholesterol levels which, over time, could lead to an increased risk of developing heart disease.

“It is therefore reasonable to conclude that a reduction in saturated fat intake will lower total and LDL blood cholesterol which, in turn, may reduce the risk of developing heart disease."


Are burgers as bad as cigarettes? Unravelling the truth about diet and disease

I wrote on this yesterday but below are some more interesting comments

You’d be forgiven for looking warily at your bacon sandwich this morning, if you’ve seen headlines suggesting that a diet high in animal proteins is nearly as dangerous as smoking. Cheese and meat cause cancer! That carbonara is a time-bomb ticking in your stomach! Quick, go vegetarian!

The news is based on a study in the journal Cell Metabolism, which found that people who got more than a fifth of their daily calories from animal protein were 74 per cent more likely to have died during the study than people who ate less. We’re bombarded with food messages like this, which often seem to change from day to day. Dame Sally Davies, the Chief Medical Officer, has warned about the “addictive” potential of sugar, and the World Health Organisation said yesterday that recommended sugar allowances were too high; an editorial in the journal Open Heart, also published yesterday, suggested that the risk of saturated fats was overblown.

Every Christmas, suddenly, red wine and chocolate become good for us. Last year headlines screamed that eating three sausages a day raises your risk of dying of heart disease by three quarters. It’s hard to know what to make of it all, the what’s-curing-me-and-killing-me-today merry-go-round.

Can eating burgers really be as bad for you as smoking? Before answering that, it’s worth looking at how we know how bad smoking is.

In the late Forties, a man called Richard Doll was given the task of finding out what was behind the dramatic increase in lung cancer deaths. Originally, he and his colleagues thought it was probably the new practice of coating roads with Tarmac. But upon interviewing 649 men with lung cancer in 20 London hospitals, he found one remarkable fact: all but two of them were smokers (he also interviewed a smaller group of women, in which the divide was less dramatic but still very large). He promptly quit smoking. His research had found a simple fact: smoking causes lung cancer, and in fact is the cause of almost all lung cancer.

This caused great excitement. Researchers wondered if other cancers, or other diseases, could be linked as straightforwardly to lifestyle factors. The science of epidemiology – of the causes of disease in populations – had its greatest success since Dr John Snow showed that unclean water caused London’s cholera outbreaks in the 19th century.

But smoking was a low-hanging fruit. There aren’t very many straightforwardly poisonous things that lots of humans imbibe in large amounts and lots of humans don’t touch at all. Working out whether a particular food is good for you, for instance, is fantastically tricky: you can’t prescribe someone a course of celery for 20 years, and compare how well they do to someone on a celery placebo. You have to rely on people reporting what they eat, which they do only unreliably. And unless you have very large samples, it’s hard to tease out causes from mere correlations: how can we know whether celery makes you live longer, or whether people who eat celery tend to live healthier lives generally?

What’s more, the body is very complex, so plausible hypotheses about what will do you good and do you harm often turn out to be false. This is why you should ignore anyone who tells you that you ought to eat pomegranate or chia seeds because they’re good for your liver, or whatever. They have no idea what they’re talking about.

Epidemiologists have, however, been able to tease out broader-brush factors. Red meat, salt, sugar, fat and alcohol are all bad for you in large amounts; eating plenty of fruit and veg is good for you. But exactly how good and how bad, and how much of each you should have, is all very much in dispute. The Cell Metabolism study found a huge increase in cancer risk from animal-protein-rich diets, but most earlier research on related topics had found a far less dramatic impact, of between 10 and 15 per cent.

And that’s the key. None of these studies is the final truth; science is incremental, it learns by degrees, and epidemiology doubly so. Meat, in large quantities, is probably a bit more dangerous than we previously thought, but to say that it is suddenly as dangerous as smoking is to run far ahead of the evidence. And, of course, there are other differences: it’s very difficult to include cigarettes as part of a balanced diet, for instance.

Richard Doll’s discovery paved the way for a remarkable age of public health research, which has led to us knowing far more about what helps us live longer and what kills us than we did half a century ago. But the picture is usually cloudier than university PR departments like to admit. After decades of study, the best, most well-supported advice is still what your mother told you: eat your greens and get plenty of exercise.


6 March, 2014

A ponderous but rather silly article about fat giving you diabetes

I really love it when scientists draw conclusions that are the opposite of what their data shows.  We read:  "Elevated body mass index (BMI) associates with cardiometabolic traits".  But it doesn't.  Bulkier people were found to be somewhat likely to show some indicators of diabetes but were found NOT to be more likely to suffer heart disease or stroke. 

Are we supposed to be bluffed by the imprecise term "cardiometabolic"?  It seems like it.  They had actual diabetics in their samples so why did they not tell us  about the fat/diabetic relationship directly?  Why just tell us about things associated with diabetes?  I don't think it is hard to guess why.  The study's purported conclusions are just wishful thinking  -- but it will still be eagerly and repeatedly reported as evidence of how wicked fat is

Causal Effects of Body Mass Index on Cardiometabolic Traits and Events: A Mendelian Randomization Analysis

Michael V. Holmes et al.


Elevated body mass index (BMI) associates with cardiometabolic traits on observational analysis, yet the underlying causal relationships remain unclear. We conducted Mendelian randomization analyses by using a genetic score (GS) comprising 14 BMI-associated SNPs from a recent discovery analysis to investigate the causal role of BMI in cardiometabolic traits and events. We used eight population-based cohorts, including 34,538 European-descent individuals (4,407 type 2 diabetes (T2D), 6,073 coronary heart disease (CHD), and 3,813 stroke cases).

A 1 kg/m2 genetically elevated BMI increased fasting glucose (0.18 mmol/l; 95% confidence interval (CI) = 0.12–0.24), fasting insulin (8.5%; 95% CI = 5.9–11.1), interleukin-6 (7.0%; 95% CI = 4.0–10.1), and systolic blood pressure (0.70 mmHg; 95% CI = 0.24–1.16) and reduced high-density lipoprotein cholesterol (?0.02 mmol/l; 95% CI = ?0.03 to ?0.01) and low-density lipoprotein cholesterol (LDL-C; ?0.04 mmol/l; 95% CI = ?0.07 to ?0.01).

Observational and causal estimates were directionally concordant, except for LDL-C. A 1 kg/m2 genetically elevated BMI increased the odds of T2D (odds ratio [OR] = 1.27; 95% CI = 1.18–1.36) but did not alter risk of CHD (OR 1.01; 95% CI = 0.94–1.08) or stroke (OR = 1.03; 95% CI = 0.95–1.12).

A meta-analysis incorporating published studies reporting 27,465 CHD events in 219,423 individuals yielded a pooled OR of 1.04 (95% CI = 0.97–1.12) per 1 kg/m2 increase in BMI.

In conclusion, we identified causal effects of BMI on several cardiometabolic traits; however, whether BMI causally impacts CHD risk requires further evidence.


You must not have bacon & egg breakfasts until you are 65

That's what the study described below implies.  Pretty dotty.  It says that all that yummy stuff shortens you life if you are under 65 but lengthens your life if you are over 65.  I don't see how we can see that as anything but a statistical fluke.  So I think the study tells us precisely nothing about diet.  I could go one but others have written before me.  See here.  The research report is:  "Low Protein Intake Is Associated with a Major Reduction in IGF-1, Cancer, and Overall Mortality in the 65 and Younger but Not Older Population"

A diet rich in meat, eggs, milk and cheese could be as harmful to health as smoking, according to a controversial study into the impact of protein consumption on longevity.

High levels of dietary animal protein in people under 65 years of age was linked to a fourfold increase in their risk of death from cancer or diabetes, and almost double the risk of dying from any cause over an 18-year period, researchers found. However, nutrition experts have cautioned that it's too early to draw firm conclusions from the research.

The overall harmful effects seen in the study were almost completely wiped out when the protein came from plant sources, such as beans and legumes, though cancer risk was still three times as high in middle-aged people who ate a protein-rich diet, compared with those on a low-protein diet.

But whereas middle-aged people who consumed a lot of animal protein tended to die younger from cancer, diabetes and other diseases, the same diet seemed to protect people's health in old age.

The findings emerged from a study of 6,381 people aged 50 and over who took part in the National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey (NHANES) which tracks a representative group of adults and children in the US.

The study throws doubt on the long-term health effects of the popular Atkins and Paleo diets that are rich in protein. Instead, it suggests people should eat a low-protein diet until old age when they start to lose weight and become frail, and then boost the body's protein intake to stay healthy. In the over-65s, a high-protein diet cut the risk of death from any cause by 28%, and reduced cancer deaths by 60%, according to details of the study published in the journal Cell Metabolism.

Valter Longo, director of the Longevity Institute at the University of Southern California, said that on the basis of the study and previous work, people should restrict themselves to no more than 0.8g of protein a day for every kilogram of body weight, equivalent to 48g for a 60kg person, and 64g for an 80kg person.

"People need to switch to a diet where only around nine or ten percent of their calories come from protein, and the ideal sources are plant-based," Longo told the Guardian. "We are not saying go and do some crazy diet we came up with. If we are wrong, there is no harm done, but if we are right you are looking at an incredible effect that in general is about as bad as smoking."

"Spend a couple of months looking at the labels on your food. There is a little bit of protein everywhere. If you eat breakfast, you might get 4g protein, but a piece of chicken for lunch may have 50g protein," said Longo, who skips lunch to control his calorie and protein intake.

People who took part in the study consumed an average of 1,823 calories a day, with 51% coming from carbohydrates, 33% from fat, and 16% from protein, of which two thirds was animal protein. Longo divided them into three groups. The high-protein group got 20% or more of their calories from protein, the moderate group got 10 to 19% of their calories from protein, and the low group got less than 10% of calories from protein.

Teasing out the health effects of individual nutrients is notoriously difficult. The apparently harmful effects of a high-protein diet might be down to one or more other substances in meat, or driven by lifestyle factors that are more common in regular red meat eaters versus vegetarians. Other factors can skew results too: a person on the study who got ill might have gone off their food, and seen a proportional rise in the amount of calories they get from protein. In that case, it would be the illness driving the diet, not the other way round.

"I would urge general caution over observational studies, and particularly when looking at diet, given the difficulties of disentangling one nutrient or dietary component from another. You can get an association that might have some causal linkage or might not," said Peter Emery, head of nutrition and dietetics at King's College London.

Gunter Kuhnle, a food nutrition scientist at Reading University, said it was wrong "and potentially even dangerous" to compare the effects of smoking with the effect of meat and cheese as the study does.

"Sending out [press] statements such as this can damage the effectiveness of important public health messages. They can help to prevent sound health advice from getting through to the general public. The smoker thinks: 'why bother quitting smoking if my cheese and ham sandwich is just as bad for me?'"

Heather Ohly at the European Centre for Environment and Human Health in Exeter said: "Smoking has been proven to be entirely bad for us, whereas meat and cheese can be consumed in moderation as part of a healthy diet, contributing to recommended intakes of many important nutrients."

Most people in Britain eat more protein than they need. The British Dietetic Association recommends a daily intake of 45g and 55g of protein for the average woman and man respectively. But according to the British Nutrition Foundation the average protein intake per day is 88g and 64g for men and women.

In a series of follow-up experiments, Longo looked at what might lie behind the apparently damaging effects of a high-protein diet on health in middle age. Blood tests on people in the study showed that levels of a growth hormone called IGF-1 rose and fell in line with protein intake. For those on a high protein diet, rises in IGF-1 steadily increased their cancer risk. Further tests on mice found that a high-protein diet led to more cancer and larger tumours than a low-protein diet.


5 March, 2014

Watson Proposes Offbeat View of Diabetes—Oxidants Too Scarce, Not Too Abundant

The antioxidant religion has been running against the research evidence for a long time  but it is said that bad theories are only cast out by better theories.  That now seems to have happened.  A very distinguished man proposes that it's more oxidants that we need!

Nobel laureate James D. Watson, Ph.D., co-discoverer of the structure of DNA, is forwarding a bold hypothesis—diabetes arises from a deficiency in biological oxidants. This hypothesis directly opposes the usual view, which holds that diabetes is caused by an excess of biological oxidants, or reactive oxygen species (ROS). Biological oxidants are widely believed to cause inflammation that is harmful to pancreatic cells.

    Watson first presented his hypothesis in an article that appeared online February 27 in the Lancet. The article, which is entitled “Type 2 diabetes as a redox disease,” will also be on the cover of the Lancet’s U.S. print edition dated March 1–7. In this article, Watson makes it clear that he developed his hypothesis by considering the role of exercise.

    “Physical exercise has long been widely regarded as essential to human health,” Watson writes. “Yet, we do not know how exercise-stressed skeletal muscle cells that generate reactive oxygen species such as hydrogen peroxide delay—if not prevent—the occurrence and severity of diseases such as type 2 diabetes (as well as dementias, cardiovascular disease, and some cancers).”

    Exercise is recommended for patients with incipient type 2 diabetes—those with high blood sugar levels. In fact, patients often begin exercise before they begin receiving glucose-lowering drugs such as metformin. It struck Watson that while exercise and metformin seem to help not only patients with diabetes, but also patients with cancer, Alzheimer’s disease, and cardiovascular disease, the reasons behind the benefits remain unclear.

    How could exercise, which prompts the body to make large numbers of oxidants, protect against diabetes, which presumably arises from inflammatory processes caused by an excess of oxidants? Perhaps oxidants and their role in inflammation needed a closer look. Clearly, pancreatic tissue in people with type 2 diabetes is indeed inflamed. But could the inflammation be due to something other than an excess of oxidants?

    The body’s cells cannot survive without making both oxidants and antioxidants. “There is a delicate balance between the two,” Watson observes. In a cellular organ called the endoplasmic reticulum, hydrogen peroxide, a well-known ROS, helps forge chemical bonds, which stabilize proteins as they fold.

    Watson suggests that when there is not enough oxidation in the endoplasmic reticulum, proteins emerge unfolded and cannot function. This, he proposes, causes the inflammation that harms the pancreas, sometimes causing type 2 diabetes.

    Watson’s thinking is described by a press release issued by Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory, where Watson is chancellor emeritus: “Watson suggests [that] exercise, which promotes oxidation, plausibly can have a beneficial effect on those with high blood sugar. Such benefit would be lessened if not abolished, he speculates, if such an individual consumed large quantities of antioxidants—just as athletes who take large quantities of antioxidant supplements do not seem to benefit or benefit less from their exertions.”

    The release indicates that Watson is planning a scientific meeting at Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory later this year, which he hopes will launch a larger scientific effort to investigate the mechanisms through which exercise improves health. “Just about every doctor I've ever known tells every patient who is capable of doing so to exercise,” notes Watson. “I think exercise helps us produce healthy, functional proteins. But we really need to have some high-quality research to demonstrate this.”


America’s Angriest Store

There's a lot of egotism in food faddery.  Faddists think that they are wiser and above the herd.  They tend to love themselves deeply. Humility is not their thing.  Most are probably Leftists  -- JR

Nils Parker asks how  Whole Foods Attracts Complete Shitheads

I’ve shopped at Whole Foods in every time zone, in at least 10 different cities: LA, San Francisco, Seattle, Denver, Austin, Chicago, Milwaukee, New York, DC and Richmond, VA. I love Whole Foods. Scratch that, I love the products Whole Foods sells, no matter what other people might have to say about them. Maybe the simplest way to phrase it is, I love whole foods. Whole Foods as an experience, that’s a whole other matter.

But here’s what sucks for Whole Foods: it has nothing to do with their employees. Across the board, across the country, they have been helpful, knowledgeable, and cordial. I’ve received phenomenal service in every department: from the beer fridge to the butcher counter to the bulk aisle. I now know everything there is to know about lentils, for instance, thanks to a guy stocking roma tomatoes in the produce section of the downtown Milwaukee store, who took the time to explain why he used red lentils for his curried lentil dish a couple nights before.

The problem with Whole Foods is their regular customers. They are, across the board, across the country, useless, ignorant, and miserable. They’re worse than miserable, they’re angry. They are quite literally the opposite of every Whole Foods employee I’ve ever encountered. Walk through any store any time of day—but especially 530pm on a weekday or Saturday afternoon during football season—and invariably you will encounter a sneering, disdainful horde of hipster Zombies and entitled 1%ers.

They stand in the middle of the aisles, blocking passage of any other cart, staring intently at the selection asking themselves that critical question: which one of these olive oils makes me seem coolest and most socially conscious, while also making the raw vegetable salad I’m preparing for the monthly condo board meeting seem most rustic and artisanal?

If you are a normal human being, when you come upon a person like this in the aisle you clear your throat or say excuse me, hoping against hope that they catch your drift. They don’t. In fact, they are disgusted by your very existence. The idea that you would violate their personal shopping space—which seems to be the entire store—or deign to request anything of them is so far beyond the pale that most times all they can muster is an “Ugh!”

Over the years I have tried everything to remain civil to these people, but nothing has worked, so I’ve stopped trying. Instead, I walk over to their cart and physically move it to the side for them. Usually, the shock of such an egregious transgression is so great that the “Ugh!” doesn’t happen until I’m around the corner out of sight. Usually, all I get is an incredulous bug-eyed stare. Sometimes I get both though, and when that happens, I look them square in the eye and say “Move. Your. Cart.” I used the same firm tone as Jason Bourne, with the hushed urgency of Jack Bauer and the uncomfortable proximity of Judge Reinhold.

From their reaction you’d think I just committed an armed robbery or a sexual assault. When words fail them, as they often do with passive aggressive Whole Foods zombies, the anger turns inward and they start to vibrate with righteous indignation. Eventually, that pent up energy has to go somewhere, and like solar flares it bursts forth into the universe as paroxysms of rage.

Outside the four walls of a Whole Foods, you might recognize these people as Gawker commenters or Twitter shamers. Inside, they are the breathless, self-important shoppers who just can’t believe!! that it’s taking this long to check out. They are busy, they have somewhere to be. Don’t these people in the other six open checkout lanes that are each 3 shoppers deep understand that, WTF??!?

I was in line at the Wrigleyville Whole Foods in Chicago one night last spring, behind a thin, angular bird-faced man in his 40s who was beside himself that he hadn’t already been magically checked out and bagged up. The place was a madhouse, every checkstand was open, and each one had a line, but that was not enough of an explanation for this guy. He wanted to know why things weren’t moving faster, why there weren’t more checkstands, why he was still here for crying out loud! He kvetched about it to anyone who would listen, screeching his complaints into the already deafening din of America’s angriest store.

I was in a hurry too, so I was not without sympathy for those who had places to go and people to see, but circumstances were such that none of us were floating out of there effortlessly like when you hit all the lights riding up one of the avenues in Manhattan on your way to dinner or a meeting. All you needed was a pair of eyeballs to see that. Still, this guy was undeterred. If he had to be pissed off and unhappy, he was going to make damn sure the rest of us were pissed off and unhappy as well.

When I was in my 20s, I would have shut this guy up myself or changed lanes and let him know exactly why. But that doesn’t really work in your 30s, and it certainly doesn’t get you anywhere with insufferable dickheads like this guy. So instead of trying to resist him or ignore his protestations, I took a page from the martial arts playbook and used his momentum against him.

“This is getting ridiculous,” I told him. “You should go talk to somebody.”

“You think?” he responded, all talk as usual with these types.

“Absolutely,” the woman behind me said. Who is this woman, I wondered, which side of the force did she belong to?

“You’re right, I’m gonna do it.”

The woman’s support pushed the Birdman over the top.

“I’ll save your spot,” I assured him.

We watched as he marched to the Customer Service desk and button-holed some unsuspecting manager. The conversation seemed to start well enough. Birdman spoke passionately, but not disrespectfully. The manager listened thoughtfully, nodding in all the right places, absorbing all of Birdman’s self-important, self-indulgent demands. When it was his turn to speak though, Birdman afforded the manager no such courtesy. He interrupted every five seconds, his arms flailing like an inflatable dancing man on the roof of a mattress superstore, his head involuntarily thrusting toward the manager like a clucking chicken to emphasize his point.

Birdman was back in line moments later, down but not defeated. Now he was talking about writing an email to the president of Whole Foods.  “He needs to know about these things!”

Before too long, it was his turn to empty his basket onto the checkstand conveyor belt. It was a cornucopia of produce and vegan meals for one. You mean to say this peach of man is still single?!? Stop playin’. The checker had just started in on his produce—single artichoke, $2.49—when Birdman perked up.

“Oh, I forgot something. I’ll be right back.”

Are you kidding me? We’d been in line for at least 10 minutes. Instead of taking that time to make sure he had everything on his list that he stored on his grocery app on his new iPhone, he used it to bitch and moan. I couldn’t believe it. The woman behind me could believe it even less. So she took matters into her own hands: she walked around me, fetched Birdman’s basket from underneath the checkstand, swept all his groceries back into it and plopped the basket down at the end of the line. I could have hugged this woman. If I had the power, I would have crowned her Queen of America and her next move would have been to Washington DC to fix Congress (and the horrible people who shop at those Whole Foods stores).

When Birdman returned, clutching a tub of plain yogurt, he walked straight to the front of the register and stopped dead. No one said a word to him. He said a word to no one. He could not have been more confused if he’d come back and everyone was dead. He peeked his head over to the lanes on either side of us, like maybe he’d come back to the wrong checkstand. He looked to the end of the counter, thinking maybe the checker had scanned everything and bagged it up already. He looked under the checkstand, like his groceries were a set of keys or a remote control that had fallen under a sofa.


For my part, I had already checked out and was just finishing payment. I only had a few things. The woman behind me was unloading her cart. This aspect, especially, did not compute for Birdman. We were supposed to be behind him. There are no double cutsies in the Whole Foods checkout line, like, everyone knows that. He whipped around in the beginnings of a whirling dervish. Was he being punked? Was his humanity being disregarded? That’s when he saw his groceries, back in his basket, on the cement floor slid to the back of the line.

He wanted to scream at us—at me, at the checker, at the woman, at the manager—but he didn’t have the guts. That would have required open, direct conflict. Instead he just screamed. At the ceiling. And the floor. And the magazine rack. People on each side of us stopped and stared. I guess you could call my reaction bemused, I’m not exactly sure. But there was no mistaking the reaction of the woman behind me: she burst out laughing, bless her heart.

Birdman didn’t care. He couldn’t control himself. The anger had to come out, and it had to come out right then and there. Like a campy movie where  someone finds out they’ve been tricked or betrayed—or if it’s a gross-out comedy, something happens to their balls—and lets out a scream that echoes through the countryside and across cuts.

I think about that evening every time I walk into a Whole Foods during rush hour. I look for the tell-tale signs of another Birdman—impatience, over-reaction, constipated rage—and I find it every time. Then I wonder, why are these people all so angry? Is it something about Whole Foods that brings it out of them? Is it just their proximity to other miserable souls just like them? Is it the outward projection of inner self-loathing brought on by the feeling of utter helplessness in the face of social pressure to pay higher prices for organic, GMO-free, gluten-free, paleo, macro, whole foods?

Yet Whole Foods is not the only game in town. Wherever there is a Whole Foods there is always a Ralph’s, a Pic n Save, a Safeway nearby. In some cities there are national and regional grocery chains that straddle the line between down market and up market: Trader Joe’s, HEB, Gelson’s, Outpost, etc. There is always a choice.

Or is there?

I would bet if you asked all these angry, hateful trolls trundling to their hybrids in the parking lot trying to reconcile a $200 grocery bill with three measly paper bags full of groceries, they’d say No. They’d say they have to shop at Whole Foods because of something someone else in their family likes that they can’t find anywhere else. They always have an explanation, but it’s really just an excuse. They try to justify it, but it’s always a rationalization.

As someone with a relative high up the ladder at Whole Foods, I feel for him and for the enterprise (as much as you can feel for a business, anyway). Whole Foods tries to bring to market the best products an area’s surrounding farms and suppliers have to offer, in a socially conscious way with high-touch customer service at the point of sale. Yet in doing so, they’ve brought out the worst in the people who are attracted to that idea. Or perhaps more accurately, their idea attracts the worst kind of people. I don’t know. It is a frustrating irony for which they should not be held responsible. There isn’t much to do, after all, when your core demographic happens to be a living, breathing hashtag.


4 March, 2014

Aspirin risks may outweigh benefits in healthy adults

Healthy adults who take daily aspirin to stave off heart disease may be inviting more harm than benefit, according to a new review of past studies.

Adults face a crush of conflicting health messages about aspirin and the role it plays as a preventive medicine.

In an attempt to bring clarity to the topic, UK researchers sifted through the most recent evidence from nine randomized controlled trials - which are considered medicine's gold standard - and other systematic reviews of such trials. They found a total of 27 studies between 2008 and 2012 that fell within their criteria.

"Too many healthy people think that aspirin will prevent heart attacks and cancer," said Dr. Peter Sandercock of the Centre for Clinical Brain Sciences at the University of Edinburgh in Scotland.

Sandercock has extensive research experience in this subject, but was not involved in the current study.  "This shows that if you are healthy, with no symptoms of cardiovascular disease, then it's not sensible to take regular aspirin. It won't improve your health," he told Reuters Health.

The study, he said, reminded him of another recent report that suggested vitamin supplements may not have clear benefits for healthy people (see Reuters Health story of December 16, 2013, here:

"There is a plethora of evidence in this area but nobody has drawn together the advantages and disadvantages of aspirin in a systematic way," said Paul Sutcliffe of Warwick Medical School at the University of Warwick in England.  He led the study published in the open-access journal PLOS ONE.

"We need to be extremely careful about promoting the daily use without fully understanding all the evidence," Sutcliffe told Reuters Health.  "All I would say is to not stop taking aspirin without talking to your doctor," he added.

People who have had strokes or heart attacks have a hardening of their arteries, which leads to the formation of blood clots, Sandercock said. Various cardiovascular diseases contribute to the formation of these clots and daily aspirin is widely known to break down those clots and prevent further problems, he added.

Past research has generally shown that a person who experiences a minor stroke has a zero to 15 percent chance of experiencing another stroke the following year, Sandercock said.  "Aspirin could reduce the stroke risk by one-quarter, and that big benefit outweighs the small bleeding risk," Sandercock said.

In their review, Sutcliffe and his colleagues linked regular aspirin intake to the avoidance of 33 to 46 deaths from any cause in 10,000 people over a 10-year period. However, 46 to 49 major bleeds and 68 to 117 gastrointestinal bleeds in 10,000 people in a 10-year period also occurred as a result.

This translates to a 37 percent increased risk of stomach bleeding and 38 percent increased risk of hemorrhagic stroke, the researchers report.

"The study is just another meta-analysis of published overall trial results and contains no new data," said Dr. Peter Rothwell, a clinical neurologist at the University of Oxford in England. He was not involved in the current study.

"The question of the balance of risk and benefit of aspirin is important," Rothwell wrote in an email. "But superficial meta-analyses of very limited published data are not, unfortunately, able to cast any useful light."

Sandercock noted that "science is cumulative."  "Health messages get very confusing in the press - for example, you hear butter is good for you and then that you shouldn't eat butter," Sandercock said.

"Sometimes we need to remind people of good health messages like this one," he added, which shows that "If you are healthy, the harms of daily aspirin cancel out the benefits


They're already called 'vertically challenged' - but are short people intellectually challenged too?

The connection between height and IQ is well known.  It is however usually expressed as tall men being brighter

They are already cursed with the rather unflattering label of ‘vertically challenged’.

Now experts say short people may also be intellectually challenged too - or at least in comparison to their taller counterparts.

A new study has found a link between IQ and height, suggesting that those who are shorter are on average more likely to be less intelligent.

Academics identified genes that influence both height and IQ, and said there was a ‘significant genetic correlation’ between the two factors.

The research, which covered more than 6,800 unrelated people, is the first to analyse DNA markers in such a way.

Riccardo Marioni, from Edinburgh University’s Institute of Genetics and Molecular Medicine, said the link was small but important.

He said: ‘We tested whether DNA-based genetic similarities among people related to their similarities in height and intelligence.

‘Previous studies have used twin or family data to examine similarities between height and intelligence, whereas ours was the first to examine this using actual DNA markers in unrelated people.

‘What we found was a small association between height and intelligence such that people who are taller tend to be smarter.’

The claim is likely to be disputed by millions in Britain who fall short of the average height, 5ft 3in for women and 5ft 9in for men.

One is certain to be John Bercow, Speaker of the House of Commons, who at 4ft 5ins is dwarfed by his 5ft 11in wife, Sally.

But among those who appear to prove the theory is David Cameron, who is 6ft 1in is blessed with both height and intelligence.

Others include actress Kate Beckinsale, who studied French and Russian literature at Oxford and is fluent in both languages.

Stephen Fry, the host of QI, the puzzle-based television show, is 6ft 5in.

Marioni conducted his study in partnership with academics from Aberdeen University and University College London.

They based their findings on data compiled from thousands of people recruited for the Scottish Family Health Study between 2006 and 2011.

IQ was measured by tests which examined reaction times, powers of recall and linguistic ability.

Previous studies have linked short stature to heightened risk of cardiovascular disease.

Higher IQ has been linked to longevity and a decreased risk of coronary heart disease, stroke and suicide.

Previous studies have also claimed that short-man syndrome, known as the Napoleon complex, does exist.  Researchers at Oxford University recently found that feeling smaller makes people paranoid, distrustful and scared of others.  In fact, men of about 5ft 4in have been shown to be 50 per cent more likely to be jealous and distrustful of their partners than those measuring 6ft 6in.

Studies have also claimed smaller people are more likely than taller ones to have poor mental health.


3 March, 2014

The Obesity Rate for Children Has Not Plummeted  -- Despite what the New York Times tells you

I saw the research report concerned a couple of days ago and found it so straightforward that I was going to reproduce the abstract here without comment.  So I was quite amazed that the NYT claimed that the research said the opposite of what it actually said.  Even supermarket tabloids tend to be better than that.   I was pleased therefore to see that Razib Khan has torn into the NYT over their sensationalism.  Razib's comments below are followed by the journal abstract  -- JR

Common sense tells you that if you run enough trials, by chance, you will occasionally get an unexpected outcome. When scientists deem a result “statistically significant,” they're just saying that given their default expectations (e.g. around 50/50 for a coin toss), the outcomes obtained are unlikely to have occurred by random chance. A fair coin is unlikely to land on heads nine out of 10 tosses, so such an outcome suggests the coin is probably not fair. Unlikely is not the same as impossible, and if you look long and hard you will inevitably stumble upon random events that seem novel but are just the outcome of chance.

I bring this up because earlier this week the New York Times trumpeted: “Obesity Rate for Young Children Plummets 43% in a Decade.” A surprising discovery, and a pretty big deal, right? The article spread like wildfire on Twitter and Facebook. For once, some heartening news about the health of this nation! My immediate reaction, however, was that there must be something we don’t know about obesity to get such a massive change in such a short period of time. Then I started reading.

From the perspective of the researchers themselves, the continuing obesity problem seems to be the most important finding.
The warning signs are right there in the Times piece, where by the third paragraph the reporter, Sabrina Tavernise, reveals that “About 8 percent of 2- to 5-year-olds were obese in 2012, down from 14 percent in 2004.” The six-percentage-point difference in absolute terms results in the 43 percent relative difference. The Times’ headline blared the relative figure because the absolute drop is just not that impressive.

My curiosity was piqued enough to look at the original report from which the Times (and the Washington Post, USA Today, and CNN, to name a few) drew the findings. It appears in the Journal of the American Medical Association and comes from a group of researchers with Centers for Disease Control and Prevention affiliations—both legitimate institutions. The report's closing two sentences are telling: “Overall, there have been no significant changes in obesity prevalence in youth or adults between 2003-2004 and 2011-2012. Obesity prevalence remains high and thus it is important to continue surveillance.” Would you have anticipated such a downbeat conclusion from the newspaper headlines? I doubt it. When evaluating the total sample across age groups, rather than just 2- to 5-year-olds, there hasn’t been any change at all. From the perspective of the researchers themselves, the continuing obesity problem seems to be the most important finding.

The study itself illuminates why we should be skeptical of the headlines about the study. Here is how its authors lay out exactly why one should be cautious about even the most optimistic findings, the 43 percent drop in obesity in the 2-to-5 age bracket:

In the current analysis, trend tests were conducted on different age groups. When multiple statistical tests are undertaken, by chance some tests will be statistically significant (eg, 5% of the time using ? of .05). In some cases, adjustments are made to account for these multiple comparisons, and a P value lower than .05 is used to determine statistical significance. In the current analysis, adjustments were not made for multiple comparisons, but the P value is presented.

More plainly, the researchers are acknowledging that, yes, if you do enough comparisons and interpretations across various age cohorts, you're bound to turn up an exciting statistically significant result eventually. If you do 10 flips of enough coins, you will at some point flip one to land on heads 10 times. This isn’t fate—it’s probability, and it’s inevitable in the long run. In order to separate out the noise from the real significant results, the authors should have held themselves to a higher standard. Instead they repeatedly declare that they did not and admit that the significant decline in obesity in the age group in question should be treated with caution. In isolation, the result in the decline in obesity has a 1 in 33 chance of being due to random chance (P value: 0.03). But remember that they kept checking for changes in obesity over the years, so looking at the whole study, the random chance of getting these results is much higher than 1 out of 33.

So, two primary takeaways. The first concerns how the sausage is made in modern science, and the question is: Why was this even published in the first place, with all the caveats? Because a great deal of research manages to get published. Where there’s a will, there’s a way. So when you read a headline that appears too good to be true, remember: Just because it appears in a reputable journal does not mean that a study has “proved” anything.

A far bigger issue is that studies like these, and the headlines that result, drive the discussion about public health and policy in this country. The media seizes on sexy results, amplifies them without due skepticism, and the public is misled. This can impact billions of dollars allocated to campaigns meant to capitalize on the supposed implications of scientific studies. It's hardly an academic footnote in this case. Commentators are already attempting to adduce the reasons for the decline in obesity in this age, pointing to the dietary changes in preschool menus, awareness campaigns, and exercise programs that specifically target tots.

Let’s not congratulate these policies just yet, because the most likely upshot is that this finding won't be verified over time. In other words, it is probably a statistical fluke. I will be thrilled if studies with more methodological rigor prove me wrong.


Prevalence of Childhood and Adult Obesity in the United States, 2011-2012

Cynthia L. Ogden et al


Importance: More than one-third of adults and 17% of youth in the United States are obese, although the prevalence remained stable between 2003-2004 and 2009-2010.

Objective: To provide the most recent national estimates of childhood obesity, analyze trends in childhood obesity between 2003 and 2012, and provide detailed obesity trend analyses among adults.

Design, Setting, and Participants: Weight and height or recumbent length were measured in 9120 participants in the 2011-2012 nationally representative National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey.

Main Outcomes and Measures: In infants and toddlers from birth to 2 years, high weight for recumbent length was defined as weight for length at or above the 95th percentile of the sex-specific Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) growth charts. In children and adolescents aged 2 to 19 years, obesity was defined as a body mass index (BMI) at or above the 95th percentile of the sex-specific CDC BMI-for-age growth charts. In adults, obesity was defined as a BMI?greater than or equal to?30. Analyses of trends in high weight for recumbent length or obesity prevalence were conducted overall and separately by age across 5 periods (2003-2004, 2005-2006, 2007-2008, 2009-2010, and 2011-2012).

Results:  In 2011-2012, 8.1% (95% CI, 5.8%-11.1%) of infants and toddlers had high weight for recumbent length, and 16.9% (95% CI, 14.9%-19.2%) of 2- to 19-year-olds and 34.9% (95% CI, 32.0%-37.9%) of adults (age-adjusted) aged 20 years or older were obese. Overall, there was no significant change from 2003-2004 through 2011-2012 in high weight for recumbent length among infants and toddlers, obesity in 2- to 19-year-olds, or obesity in adults. Tests for an interaction between survey period and age found an interaction in children (P?=?.03) and women (P?=?.02). There was a significant decrease in obesity among 2- to 5-year-old children (from 13.9% to 8.4%; P?=?.03) and a significant increase in obesity among women aged 60 years and older (from 31.5% to 38.1%; P?=?.006).

Conclusions and Relevance: Overall, there have been no significant changes in obesity prevalence in youth or adults between 2003-2004 and 2011-2012. Obesity prevalence remains high and thus it is important to continue surveillance.


Hope for pancreatic cancer patients as jab that kills rogue cancer cells is developed

All theory so far

A vaccine that fights pancreatic cancer has begun clinical trials in the UK.  Experts at The Clatterbridge Cancer Centre - who treat over 28,000 patients a year - are working with other UK researchers to create the vaccine. It will be used in conjunction with traditional treatments.

The pancreas is a gland which produces and releases vital substances such as digestive enzymes and insulin - which regulates blood sugar levels.

Symptoms tend to manifest once the cancer is advanced and include unexpected weight loss, upper abdominal pain and jaudice - all of which could be a multitude of illnesses. So the condition is often diagnosed late.

Treatment ideally involves removal of the tumour, though such surgery is only suitable for up to 20 per cent of patients. Chemotherapy and radiotherapy may also be offered.

The idea behind the vaccine is that it will be offered after surgery. 

One reason for the very low survival rate is that although the cancer may appear to have gone into remission, the cells may have spread across the body and later form secondary tumours.

The immune system doesn't recognise the cells so they are able to multiply.

`The vaccine will work to manipulate the body's immune system to recognise microscopic cancer cells, meaning a patient is able to fight any remaining cells before the cancer forms again in any other parts of the body,' says Professor Daniel Palmer, chair of medical oncology and one of the trial leads.

It works along the same lines as any vaccine - by injecting a little of the disease into the body the immune system is stimulated.

Usually patients would be offered chemotherapy, and should this be thought appropriate, they will still receive it alongside the vaccine, which has minimal side effects - fatigue and nausea may be experienced.

Immunotherapy is being explored for many types of cancer. Previous research has shown that it can destroy surviving cancer cells and has minimal side effects.

The first `cancer vaccine' was approved in 2010 for prostate cancer and immunotherapy is currently showing great promise in lung cancer treatment.

`Immunotherapy is an exciting area of research in the field of pancreatic cancer. We look forward to hearing about the results,' says Maggie Blanks, CEO of the Pancreatic Cancer Research Fund.


2 March, 2014

Children born to older fathers have a higher incidence of autism and poor performance at school

Some of the effects reported in this study are astoundingly strong (e.g. for ADHD and bipolar) -- much stronger than what has been found in earlier studies of  similar populations (e.g. here).  That does of itself suggest some artifact.  The obvious artifactual confounder -- social class -- was however taken into account in the study design.  Paternal education and income were controlled for.  The remaining possibility is IQ.  It seems likely that low IQ Swedish men might have difficulty partnering and consequently tend to produce children much later in life.  And IQ is of course associated with all sorts of health variables.  I would have to be more familiar with Swedish culture and society to suggest other confounders, however

Children born to older dads run a higher risk of having autism, psychiatric disorders and performing badly at school, researchers have warned.

They found children conceived when fathers were 45 and older were on average three and a half times more likely to have autistic problems compared with the offspring of men in their early 20s.

The risk was even higher at 24-fold for bipolar disorder and 13-fold higher for ADHD, says a report in JAMA Psychiatry journal.

Researchers warned that advancing paternal age posed a risk of `numerous public health and societal problems'.

They said men should be advised about the potential problems in order to help their personal decision-making when it came to having fathering children at older ages.

Among well-known older dads are Simon Cowell, 54, whose son was born earlier this month, and comedian Frank Skinner whose first child was born in 2012 when he was 55.

Mounting research suggests the older age of parents might be partly responsible for growing numbers of children with autism.

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.

In the UK, around one in 100 adults is thought to be affected by autism, mostly men, caused by a combination of genetic and environmental factors.

Experts think the link with paternal age could be explained by genetic errors creeping into sperm production as men get older, which build up over time.

In the latest study, researchers studied people born in Sweden from 1973 to 2001 and estimated the risk of psychiatric problems such as autism, bipolar disorder and attention deficit hyperactivity disorder, and academic trouble.

The study used several models to establish estimates of risk depending on the father's age, including comparisons of siblings, cousins and first-born cousins.

It concluded there was a 3.5 fold higher risk of autism among children of fathers aged 45 and over, compared with dads aged 20 to 24 years old.

Those born to older fathers had a 13-fold extra risk of ADHD, 24-fold higher risk of bipolar disorder, and double the risk of suicide attempts and substance abuse.

There was also a higher risk of academic problems such as failing a grade and low attainment.

Researcher Brian D'Onofrio, of Indiana University, Indiana, U.S., said: `Advancing paternal age is associated with an increased risk of psychiatric and academic morbidity, with the magnitude to risks being as large, or larger, than previous estimates.'

Dr D'Onofrio added: `We were shocked by the findings.

`The specific associations with paternal age were much, much larger than in previous studies. In fact, we found that advancing paternal age was associated with greater risk for several problems, such as ADHD, suicide attempts and substance use problems, whereas traditional research designs suggested advancing paternal age may have diminished the rate at which these problems occur.'

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.


Paternal Age at Childbearing and Offspring Psychiatric and Academic Morbidity

Brian M. D'Onofrio et al.


Importance:  Advancing paternal age is associated with increased genetic mutations during spermatogenesis, which research suggests may cause psychiatric morbidity in the offspring. The effects of advancing paternal age at childbearing on offspring morbidity remain unclear, however, because of inconsistent epidemiologic findings and the inability of previous studies to rigorously rule out confounding factors.

Objective:  To examine the associations between advancing paternal age at childbearing and numerous indexes of offspring morbidity.

Design, Setting, and Participants:  We performed a population-based cohort study of all individuals born in Sweden in 1973-2001 (N?=?2?615?081), with subsets of the data used to predict childhood or adolescent morbidity. We estimated the risk of psychiatric and academic morbidity associated with advancing paternal age using several quasi-experimental designs, including the comparison of differentially exposed siblings, cousins, and first-born cousins.

Exposure:  Paternal age at childbearing.

Main Outcomes and Measures:  Psychiatric (autism, attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder, psychosis, bipolar disorder, suicide attempt, and substance use problem) and academic (failing grades and low educational attainment) morbidity.

Results:  In the study population, advancing paternal age was associated with increased risk of some psychiatric disorders (eg, autism, psychosis, and bipolar disorders) but decreased risk of the other indexes of morbidity. In contrast, the sibling-comparison analyses indicated that advancing paternal age had a dose-response relationship with every index of morbidity, with the magnitude of the associations being as large or larger than the estimates in the entire population. Compared with offspring born to fathers 20 to 24 years old, offspring of fathers 45 years?and older were at heightened risk of autism (hazard ratio [HR]?=?3.45; 95% CI,?1.62-7.33), attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder (HR?=?13.13; 95% CI,?6.85-25.16), psychosis (HR?=?2.07; 95% CI,?1.35-3.20), bipolar disorder (HR?=?24.70; 95% CI,?12.12-50.31), suicide attempts (HR?=?2.72; 95% CI,?2.08-3.56), substance use problems (HR?=?2.44; 95% CI,?1.98-2.99), failing a grade (odds ratio [OR]?=?1.59; 95% CI,?1.37-1.85), and low educational attainment (OR?=?1.70; 95% CI,?1.50-1.93) in within-sibling comparisons. Additional analyses using several quasi-experimental designs obtained commensurate results, further strengthening the internal and external validity of the findings.

Conclusions and Relevance:  Advancing paternal age is associated with increased risk of psychiatric and academic morbidity, with the magnitude of the risks being as large or larger than previous estimates. These findings are consistent with the hypothesis that new genetic mutations that occur during spermatogenesis are causally related to offspring morbidity.

JAMA Psychiatry. Published online February 26, 2014

The pill that could slow aging: Researchers reveal groundbreaking study to extend lifespan and improve health of  elderly mice

A groundbreaking new study could hold the key to living longer and remaining healthy in old age.

US researchers found a protein called SIRT1 extended the lifespan of mice, delaying the onset of age related health problems.

It also improved their general health, lowering cholesterol and even warding off diabetes.

Although the study was carried out in mice, researchers say it could eventually be used in humans.

Researchers led by Dr. Rafael de Cabo of the National Institute on Aging at the National Institutes of Health tested the effects of a small molecule that activates SIRT1, called SIRT1720, on the health and lifespan of mice.

'Here, we show for the first time that a synthetic SIRT1 activator extends lifespan and improves healthspan of mice fed a standard diet,' says Dr. de Cabo.

'It illustrates that we can develop molecules that ameliorate the burden of metabolic and chronic diseases associated with aging.'

The researchers also found that SRT1720 significantly extended the average lifespan of mice by 8.8 percent.

Supplementation also reduced body weight and body fat percentage, and it improved muscle function and motor coordination throughout the animals' lives.

The investigators found that SRT1720 supplementation led to decreases in total cholesterol and LDL-cholesterol levels, which might help protect against heart disease, and improvements in insulin sensitivity, which could help prevent diabetes.

SIRT1 and its sister protein SIRT2 are known to play a important roles in metabolism across a wide range of species.

They are involved in DNA repair and gene regulation, and may help to prevent diabetes, heart disease and cancer.

The animals were given the supplement from the age of six months and for the rest of their lives, alongside a standard diet.

However, experts warn the study is still at a very early stage, and had not yet been tested in humans.


Front page to the original of this blog

Posts here by Dr. John Ray

I am pleased to report that when my son was a toddler, the first thing he learned to say was his McDonald's order.

SITE MOTTO: "Epidemiology is mostly bunk"

Where it is not bunk is when it shows that some treatment or influence has no effect on lifespan or disease incidence. It is as convincing as disproof as it is unconvincing as proof. Think about it. As Einstein said: No amount of experimentation can ever prove me right; a single experiment can prove me wrong.

Epidemiological studies are useful for hypothesis-generating or for hypothesis-testing of theories already examined in experimental work but they do not enable causative inferences by themselves

The standard of reasoning that one commonly finds in epidemiological journal articles is akin to the following false syllogism:
Chairs have legs
You have legs
So therefore you are a chair


1). A good example of an epidemiological disproof concerns the dreaded salt (NaCl). We are constantly told that we eat too much salt for good health and must cut back our consumption of it. Yet there is one nation that consumes huge amounts of salt. So do they all die young there? Quite the reverse: Japan has the world's highest concentration of centenarians. Taste Japan's favourite sauce -- soy sauce -- if you want to understand Japanese salt consumption. It's almost solid salt.

2). We need a daily salt intake to counter salt-loss through perspiration and the research shows that people on salt-restricted diets die SOONER. So the conventional wisdom is not only wrong. It is positively harmful

3). Table salt is a major source of iodine, which is why salt is normally "iodized" by official decree. Cutting back salt consumption runs the risk of iodine deficiency, with its huge adverse health impacts -- goiter, mental retardation etc. GIVE YOUR BABY PLENTY OF SALTY FOODS -- unless you want to turn it into a cretin

4). Our blood has roughly the same concentration of salt as sea-water so claims that the body cannot handle high levels of salt were always absurd

5). The latest academic study shows that LOW salt in your blood is most likely to lead to heart attacks. See JAMA. 2011;305(17):1777-1785. More here and here on similar findings

PEANUTS: There is a vaccination against peanut allergy -- peanuts themselves. Give peanut products (e.g. peanut butter -- or the original "Bamba" if you have Israeli contacts) to your baby as soon as it begins to take solid foods and that should immunize it for life. See here and here (scroll down). It's also possible (though as yet unexamined) that a mother who eats peanuts while she is lactating may confer some protection on her baby

THE SIDE-EFFECT MANIA. If a drug is shown to have troublesome side-effects, there are always calls for it to be banned or not authorized for use in the first place. But that is insane. ALL drugs have side effects. Even aspirin causes stomach bleeding, for instance -- and paracetamol (acetaminophen) can wreck your liver. If a drug has no side effects, it will have no main effects either. If you want a side-effect-free drug, take a homeopathic remedy. They're just water.

Although I am an atheist, I have never wavered from my view that the New Testament is the best guide to living and I still enjoy reading it. Here is what the apostle Paul says about vegetarians: "For one believeth that he may eat all things: another, who is weak, eateth herbs. Let not him that eateth despise him that eateth not; and let not him which eateth not judge him that eateth." (Romans 14: 2.3). What perfect advice! That is real tolerance: Very different from the dogmatism of the food freaks. Interesting that vegetarianism is such an old compulsion, though.

Even if we concede that getting fat shortens your life, what right has anybody got to question someone's decision to accept that tradeoff for themselves? Such a decision could be just one version of the old idea that it is best to have a short life but a merry one. Even the Bible is supportive of that thinking. See Ecclesiastes 8:15 and Isaiah 22: 13. To deny the right to make such a personal decision is plainly Fascistic.

Fatties actually SAVE the taxpayer money

Obesity does NOT causes diabetes. But insatiable eating is a prominent symptom of diabetes. So diabetes DOES cause obesity, which accounts for the correlation between the two things. The streets are full of fatties who don't have diabetes. How come? If conventional medical theory were correct we should be in the midst of an epidemic of diabetes. A recent high quality study has also found that fatties are LESS likely to die of diabetes

Elite people frequently express disapproval of red meat eating as a way of expressing their felt superiority to the ordinary people who eat it

IQ: Political correctness makes IQ generally unmentionable so it is rarely controlled for in epidemiological studies. This is extremely regrettable as it tends to vitiate findings that do not control for it. When it is examined, it is routinely found to have pervasive effects. We read, for instance, that "The mother's IQ was more highly predictive of breastfeeding status than were her race, education, age, poverty status, smoking, the home environment, or the child's birth weight or birth order". So political correctness can render otherwise interesting findings moot

That hallowed fish oil is strongly linked to increased incidence of colon cancer

The "magic" ingredient in fish oil is omega-3 fatty acids (n-3 LCPUFA in medical jargon). So how do you think the research finding following was reported? "No differences were seen in the overall percentage of infants with immunoglobulin E associated allergic disease between the n-3 LCPUFA and control groups. It was reported as SUPPORTING the benefits of Omeda-3! Belief in Omega-3 is simply a cult and, like most cults, is impervious to disproof. See also here.

"To kill an error is as good a service as, and sometimes better than, the establishing of a new truth or fact" -- Charles Darwin

"Most men die of their remedies, not of their diseases", said Moliere. That may no longer be true in general but there is still a lot of false medical "wisdom" around that does harm to various degrees -- the statin and antioxidant fads, for instance. And showing its falsity is rarely the problem. The problem is getting people -- medical researchers in particular -- to abandon their preconceptions

Bertrand Russell could have been talking about today's conventional dietary "wisdom" when he said: "The fact that an opinion has been widely held is no evidence whatever that it is not utterly absurd; indeed in view of the silliness of the majority of mankind, a widespread belief is more likely to be foolish than sensible.”

Eating lots of fruit and vegetables is NOT beneficial

The great and fraudulent scare about lead

Phthalates harmless

The challenge, as John Maynard Keynes knew, "lies not so much in developing new ideas as in escaping from old ones".

"Obesity" is 77% genetic. So trying to make fatties slim is punishing them for the way they were born. That sort of thing is furiously condemned in relation to homosexuals so why is it OK for fatties?


Some more problems with the "Obesity" war:

1). It tries to impose behavior change on everybody -- when most of those targeted are not obese and hence have no reason to change their behaviour. It is a form of punishing the innocent and the guilty alike. (It is also typical of Leftist thinking: Scorning the individual and capable of dealing with large groups only).

2). The longevity research all leads to the conclusion that it is people of MIDDLING weight who live longest -- not slim people. So the "epidemic" of obesity is in fact largely an "epidemic" of living longer.

3). It is total calorie intake that makes you fat -- not where you get your calories. Policies that attack only the source of the calories (e.g. "junk food") without addressing total calorie intake are hence pissing into the wind. People involuntarily deprived of their preferred calorie intake from one source are highly likely to seek and find their calories elsewhere.

4). So-called junk food is perfectly nutritious. A big Mac meal comprises meat, bread, salad and potatoes -- which is a mainstream Western diet. If that is bad then we are all in big trouble.

5). Food warriors demonize dietary fat. But Eskimos living on their traditional diet eat huge amounts of fat with no apparent ill-effects. At any given age they in fact have an exceptionally LOW incidence of cardiovascular disease. And the average home-cooked roast dinner has LOTS of fat. Will we ban roast dinners?

6). The foods restricted are often no more calorific than those permitted -- such as milk and fruit-juice drinks.

7). Tendency to weight is mostly genetic and is therefore not readily susceptible to voluntary behaviour change.

8). And when are we going to ban cheese? Cheese is a concentrated calorie bomb and has lots of that wicked animal fat in it too. Wouldn't we all be better off without it? And what about butter and margarine? They are just about pure fat. Surely they should be treated as contraband in kids' lunchboxes! [/sarcasm].

9). And how odd it is that we never hear of the huge American study which showed that women who eat lots of veggies have an INCREASED risk of stomach cancer? So the official recommendation to eat five lots of veggies every day might just be creating lots of cancer for the future! It's as plausible (i.e. not very) as all the other dietary "wisdom" we read about fat etc.

10). And will "this generation of Western children be the first in history to lead shorter lives than their parents did"? This is another anti-fat scare that emanates from a much-cited editorial in a prominent medical journal that said so. Yet this editorial offered no statistical basis for its opinion -- an opinion that flies directly in the face of the available evidence.

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

12. Fascism: "What we should be doing is monitoring children from birth so we can detect any deviations from the norm at an early stage and action can be taken". Who said that? Joe Stalin? Adolf Hitler? Orwell's "Big Brother"? The Spanish Inquisition? Generalissimo Francisco Franco Bahamonde? None of those. It was Dr Colin Waine, chairman of Britain's National Obesity Forum. What a fine fellow!


Trans fats: For one summary of the weak science behind the "trans-fat" hysteria, see here. Trans fats have only a temporary effect on blood chemistry and the evidence of lasting harm from them is dubious. By taking extreme groups in trans fats intake, some weak association with coronary heart disease has at times been shown in some sub-populations but extreme group studies are inherently at risk of confounding with other factors and are intrinsically of little interest to the average person.

The "antioxidant" religion: The experimental evidence is that antioxidants SHORTEN your life, if anything. Studies here and here and here and here and here and here and here and here, for instance. That they are of benefit is a great theory but it is one that has been coshed by reality plenty of times.

Controlling serum cholesterol does not of itself reduce cardiovascular disease. It may even in fact increase it

The absurdity of using self-report questionnaires as a diet record

PASSIVE SMOKING is unpleasant but does you no harm. See here and here and here and here and here and here and here

The medical consensus is often wrong. The best known wrongheaded medical orthodoxy is that stomach ulcers could not be caused by bacteria because the stomach is so acidic. Disproof of that view first appeared in 1875 (Yes. 1875) but the falsity of the view was not widely recognized until 1990. Only heroic efforts finally overturned the consensus and led to a cure for stomach ulcers. See here and here and here.

Contrary to the usual assertions, some big studies show that fat women get LESS breast cancer. See also here and here

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

Huge ($400 million) clinical trial shows that a low fat diet is useless . See also here and here

Dieticians are just modern-day witch-doctors. There is no undergirding in double-blind studies for their usual recommendations

The fragility of current medical wisdom: Would you believe that even Old Testament wisdom can sometimes trump medical wisdom? Note this quote: "Spiess discussed Swedish research on cardiac patients that compared Jehovah's Witnesses who refused blood transfusions to patients with similar disease progression during open-heart surgery. The research found those who refused transfusions had noticeably better survival rates.

Relying on the popular wisdom can certainly hurt you personally: "The scientific consensus of a quarter-century ago turned into the arthritic nightmare of today."

Medical wisdom can in fact fly in the face of the known facts. How often do we hear reverent praise for the Mediterranean diet? Yet both Australians and Japanese live longer than Greeks and Italians, despite having very different diets. The traditional Australian diet is in fact about as opposite to the Mediterranean diet as you can get. The reverence for the Mediterranean diet can only be understood therefore as some sort of Anglo-Saxon cultural cringe. It is quite brainless. Why are not the Australian and Japanese diets extolled if health is the matter at issue?

Since many of my posts here make severe criticisms of medical research, I should perhaps point out that I am also a severe critic of much research in my own field of psychology. See here and here

This is NOT an "alternative medicine" site. Perhaps the only (weak) excuse for the poorly substantiated claims that often appear in the medical literature is the even poorer level of substantiation offered in the "alternative" literature.

I used to teach social statistics in a major Australian university and I find medical statistics pretty obfuscatory. They seem uniformly designed to make mountains out of molehills. Many times in the academic literature I have excoriated my colleagues in psychology and sociology for going ga-ga over very weak correlations but what I find in the medical literature makes the findings in the social sciences look positively muscular. In fact, medical findings are almost never reported as correlations -- because to do so would exhibit how laughably trivial they generally are. If (say) 3 individuals in a thousand in a control group had some sort of an adverse outcome versus 4 out of a thousand in a group undergoing some treatment, the difference will be published in the medical literature with great excitement and intimations of its importance. In fact, of course, such small differences are almost certainly random noise and are in any rational calculus unimportant. And statistical significance is little help in determining the importance of a finding. Statistical significance simply tells you that the result was unlikely to be an effect of small sample size. But a statistically significant difference could have been due to any number of other randomly-present factors.

Even statistical correlations far stronger than anything found in medical research may disappear if more data is used. A remarkable example from Sociology: below:
"The modern literature on hate crimes began with a remarkable 1933 book by Arthur Raper titled The Tragedy of Lynching. Raper assembled data on the number of lynchings each year in the South and on the price of an acre's yield of cotton. He calculated the correlation coefficient between the two series at -0.532. In other words, when the economy was doing well, the number of lynchings was lower.... In 2001, Donald Green, Laurence McFalls, and Jennifer Smith published a paper that demolished the alleged connection between economic conditions and lynchings in Raper's data. Raper had the misfortune of stopping his analysis in 1929. After the Great Depression hit, the price of cotton plummeted and economic conditions deteriorated, yet lynchings continued to fall. The correlation disappeared altogether when more years of data were added."
So we must be sure to base our conclusions on ALL the data. But in medical research, data selectivity and the "overlooking" of discordant research findings is epidemic.

The Truth About Ancel Keys. Keys was a brilliant man but his concentration on heart disease misled him. He was right that high fat intake predicted high rates of heart disease (though it was ANIMAL fat in particular that was the "culprit") but he overlooked that the same intake predicted LESS mortality from other causes. The same narrow vision led him to be the earliest prominent advocate of the "Mediterranean diet" hypothesis. It's true that Mediterraneans have less heart disease but they have more of other causes of death, so that Mediterranean countries do not have particularly long lifespans when compared with other developed countries. If there are any lessons about diet to be learned from lifespans, it is un-Mediterranean countries like Australia and the Nordic countries that one should look to.

The intellectual Roman Emperor Marcus Aurelius (AD 121-180) could have been speaking of the prevailing health "wisdom" of today when he said: "The object in life is not to be on the side of the majority, but to escape finding oneself in the ranks of the insane."

The Federal Reference Manual on Scientific Evidence, Second Edition says (p. 384): "the threshold for concluding that an agent was more likely than not the cause of an individual's disease is a relative risk greater than 2.0." Very few of the studies criticized on this blog meet that criterion.

Improbable events do happen at random -- as mathematician John Brignell notes rather tartly:
"Consider, instead, my experiences in the village pub swindle. It is based on the weekly bonus ball in the National Lottery. It so happens that my birth date is 13, so that is the number I always choose. With a few occasional absences abroad I have paid my pound every week for a year and a half, but have never won. Some of my neighbours win frequently; one in three consecutive weeks. Furthermore, I always put in a pound for my wife for her birth date, which is 11. She has never won either. The probability of neither of these numbers coming up in that period is less than 5%, which for an epidemiologist is significant enough to publish a paper.

Kids are not shy anymore. They are "autistic". Autism is a real problem but the rise in its incidence seems likely to be the product of overdiagnosis -- the now common tendency to medicalize almost all problems.

One of the great pleasures in life is the first mouthful of cold beer on a hot day -- and the food Puritans can stick that wherever they like


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