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


30 April, 2009

The TRUTH about all those dodgy health claims, by one of Britain's top researchers


From vitamin supplements to detox kits, alternative medicines to supermarket foods, we are bombarded every day with extravagant claims about the health benefits of the products we put into our shopping baskets. But can we trust those claims? That's what renowned scientist Professor Lesley Regan sets out to discover in a fascinating new television series.

She's the researcher whose investigation into anti-ageing products caused shockwaves in an industry built around impressive claims that are rarely properly researched - and sparked a stampede for Boots No 7 Protect and Perfect serum, which she identified as one of the few beauty creams that actually worked.

Now, Professor Regan is applying her trademark scientific training to examine the health credentials of an even wider range of products for her latest BBC2 series. And not only has she discovered some bestsellers have little evidence backing them up, she believes many companies are, in fact, touting spurious claims. Here, she shares a few of her intriguing findings...


In Britain, we now spend £10 million a year on diet pills and patches. But while prescription weight loss tablets have real science behind them, do over-the-counter varieties too? When I set about trying to find out by asking the producers of popular diet products to send me details of their research, many companies flatly refused.

The Pink Patch said no evidence of its effectiveness actually exists, while Formoline L112 said they couldn't provide a copy as their research hasn't ever been published. Lipobind sent research results showing the tablets do bind with fat - but admitted they were yet to investigate whether the pills actually help people lose weight.

Only one company sent a paper showing a clear link between weight loss and their product - a herbal diet pill, called Zotrim, which makes you feel full. Their research had been published in a reputable journal and conducted with a control group to compare any placebo effect. Although statistics were not included, these are said to be significant. Yet I would still like to see more evidence as the study has never been repeated.

But even when diet pills are shown in studies to help weight loss, the results can still be meaningless. The secret is in the small print. For the instructions usually say that pills must be taken alongside a low-calorie diet and an exercise plan. They even say they should be taken before meals with a large glass of water - which will act as a bulking agent and stop you eating so much.

To prove this point, I developed my own diet pill and asked 17 overweight people to try it for a month, alongside a balanced diet and a sensible exercise plan. More than 70 per cent of the volunteers lost weight and believed the tablets had worked. Unbeknown to them, though, the tablets were simply sugar, a placebo - which shows the power of mind over matter. Yet I could easily use my results to launch an impressive marketing campaign, - as many companies do.

Diet and nutrition books are another minefield. There are 54,000 such books published worldwide, yet the authors need no qualifications and their diets are rarely scientifically proven. Anyone can call themselves a nutritionist. Readers must bear in mind that just because a diet book is published, doesn't mean the plan actually works.


Foods marketed at dieters are proliferating, with supermarket shelves stocked full of foods for different eating plans - low fat, low carb, low calorie, high protein. But consumers must make sure they carefully read the label as these claims can be very misleading. We assume products labelled 'reduced fat' and 'light' will be better for us - but they can still be relatively high in fat and calories.

The only regulation in place is that foods labelled 'low fat' must contain 3 per cent or less fat, and 'fat free' must not contain more than 0.5 per cent fat - so these are usually a good buy. It's worth comparing nutrition labels, though, as 'low fat' could still contain more calories than standard versions.

Food manufacturers are always trying clever ways to make their foods appear healthy. An advert for Jaffa Cakes claiming they only contain one gram of fat each was recently banned by the Advertising Standards Authority because a cake weighs only 10 grams - meaning they actually contain 10 per cent fat.

And processed foods marketed as healthy are often anything but. This is because they contain large amounts of sugar and salt, and, through processing, have lost many of their nutrients.

'Whole grain' is another marketing craze, and although whole grain foods are healthy, just because something contains fibre doesn't mean much. A product must be high or rich in fibre to have any real benefit.

But some prepared foods can actually be a healthier option than fresh. For example, frozen peas contain more nutrients than fresh peas. This is because fresh peas lose a lot of their goodness during the time it takes to transport them from field to shop to dinner plate.


As a population, we also spend millions of pounds on vitamin supplements. But the simple truth is that people with a balanced diet don't need them, as even manufacturers admitted to me. Yet it is usually consumers who already have a balanced diet - the worried well - who take them, while those who have poor diets, and so could benefit from supplements, don't bother.

The result is that often people taking vitamin supplements end up getting far more of a vitamin than they actually need - which can do more harm than good. Evidence shows some nutrients have a range of adverse effects at high doses. A study of pregnant women taking 1,000mg of Vitamin C showed they gained no benefit but had an increased prevalence of premature delivery.

And the evidence which vitamin manufacturers cite as showing the benefits can be rather more complicated than it seems. For example, Immunace, which reportedly boosts the immune system, claims to have been proven in a 'ground breaking trial' - but when I asked for this research, I discovered it had actually been carried out on HIV positive people in Bangkok.

Another Vitabiotics product, Visionace, a supplement to maintain good eyesight, claims to have been independently verified, but again the research was not done on healthy recruits but on people with a specific eye condition called Marginal Dry Eye. Experts say you can't compare the benefits of someone with a damaged immune system or poor eyesight to healthy people.

The only vitamin worth taking is folic acid for pregnant women. That is scientifically proven to be beneficial: nothing else is.

Yet standing in a pharmacy, staring at the array of different varieties, even I sometimes start wondering about them myself. That is the result of the mass hysteria which clever marketing has created.

One supplement which has grown increasingly popular is fish oils, which people now generally believe can make you smarter. Yet the evidence is far from unanimous. EYEC market their fish oils as being beneficial for all children - yet their data comes from a study showing the supplement boosted the performance of a group of children with special needs.

Indeed, a new marketing trend which causes me some concern is the targeting of children. Or rather their parents, who are led to believe certain breakfast foods can improve their children's performance. In fact, the crucial thing is for kids to eat something in the morning, and it doesn't much matter what . .


The power of perception means a lot of products succeed where, scientifically, they should fail. The marketing is so powerful that people actually believe the benefits are occurring when they are not. This is particularly obvious in painkillers. Aspirin, paracetamol and ibuprofen can be bought very cheaply, yet people choose expensive branded versions which cost ten times as much yet have the same basic ingredients.

Some luxury brands promise to perk people up but simply contain added caffeine. People would be just as well off buying the cheap paracetomal and drinking a cup of coffee.

Often, painkillers are said to target different issues such as migraine, period pain or back ache. Yet as far as I can see, there is actually nothing different about them.

Again, with pain relief, it is often perception that matters. I carried out a study on a rugby team which took two painkillers, believing one to be their usual favourite brand and one a cheaper version. They thought the former worked much better - but in fact they were both their favourite painkiller.

Research shows, too, that the larger a pill the better it is perceived to work, and the reason most painkillers are sold in packs to be taken two at a time - rather than simply double the dose in one tablet - is because people believe two pills work better than one. It is quite extraordinary the effect perception alone can have on pain - and manufacturers know that.


I believe that similar effects explain the burgeoning alternative medicine industry. A popular part of this is homeopathy, which nine million people trust to work for them. But, in fact, the solution sold is a highly diluted liquid, meaning only a very slim chance of the dose containing any active ingredients. And while practitioners wear white labcoats and surround themselves with an aura of science, there is in fact no real scientific backing for their remedies.

Again, I tested the placebo effect of homeopathy, giving insomniacs my own 'homeopathic sleep remedies' - in fact simply sugar balls. Yet the volunteers reported 'remarkable' effects and actually slept better, simply due to believing in the tablets and wanting them to work.

Herbal supplements, on the other hand, can be highly effective. Echinacea is proven to help fight infections and garlic can lower cholesterol - though the benefits of Evening Primrose Oil and Ginseng are rather less certain.

But because herbal remedies are so powerful, they can have sideeffects and need to be treated with respect. Consumers' belief that natural means safe is wrong. They can also interfere with normal medication. For example, St John's Wort can interfere with the body's ability to absorb the contraceptive pill, and so stop it from working.


Detox products that claim to work through herbal ingredients should be treated with suspicion as most appear ineffective. When I spoke to people who design these products, nobody could even tell me what these packs are actually supposed to be detoxing. After all, our kidneys and liver are brilliantly effective at detoxing themselves already.

The packets tell people to stop drinking alcohol or caffeine and to eat healthily while taking them - which is likely to bring far more health benefits than the actual detox supplement. People would be better off simply following the advice and forgetting the product. Detox products are typical of the way many health and beauty companies are not interested in basing their developments on science - only their advertising campaigns. Yet customers assume the products they are buying are properly proven and researched. That is why we all need to be more enquiring about the products we buy. If the claims sounds too good to be true, it probably is.

Although I have investigated as a scientist, anyone can seek out information about what they are being told by companies about a product. When spending money we should ask ourselves: 'What is the science behind this? Where is the evidence?' If there is none, then step away. If consumers become savvier and more questioning, then manufacturers will soon realise they need to provide better science - and better products.



It may be no tall tale: A few inches taller or shorter could signal a risk for some diseases. It is discreetly not mentioned below but the overall balance is in favour of tall people

From Danny Devito to Yao Ming, the world is filled with short people and tall people and everyone in between. While factors such as nutrition influence height differences, much of that variation depends on genes. After all, both of Ming’s parents were basketball stars, and Devito’s were not.

But the genes that made Ming grow to 7 feet 6 inches and Devito stop growing several feet shorter could be important for more than sports. Changes in how height genes work could not only add or subtract a few centimeters from leg length, but could also affect underlying cell biology in ways that can lead to disease, recent research suggests.

Statistical studies find that shorter people are more likely to get heart disease, diabetes and osteoarthritis. Other studies show that the same genes that make healthy cells multiply to make a person grow taller can also make cancer cells proliferate in tumors. On the other hand, genes that make bones grow longer can form extra cartilage in joints, protecting them from the ravages of osteoarthritis.

The long and short of it is that height genes might affect health as well as height — although scientists don’t completely understand how.

Some genes that have been implicated in determining height have been well-studied for their connections to particular diseases, but not as well-studied for how they affect height. And while statistical links between height and disease are robustly documented, scientists don’t completely understand if or how the same genes could set the foundation for both height and disease.

Pinning down that connection could have payoffs for treating disease and ensuring health.

“When you take a kid to the pediatrician, the first thing they do is measure the child’s height,” says geneticist Guillaume Lettre of Children’s Hospital Boston and of the Broad Institute, in Cambridge, Mass. He is coauthor of a study that identified several genes associated with height.

Growing too fast or too slow could be a sign of health problems such as hormone imbalances. But if the genes controlling height were well known, pediatricians could easily determine whether a short-for-their-age child simply inherited the gene variants that denote a more diminutive stature, or actually has a more serious condition, Lettre says.

Linking height genes to health is difficult, though, because details of the genetic pathway to height are complex. Many genes work together to create normal variations in height. So far, the suspicion that height genes affect health is supported mostly by statistical studies.

In 2001, for instance, epidemiologist David Gunnell of the University of Bristol in England and colleagues found that taller people can face a 20 to 60 percent greater risk for various cancers, including of the breast, prostate and colon.

Last year, epidemiologist Luisa Zuccolo, also of Bristol, followed up on Gunnell’s work with a study focused on the link between height and prostate cancer. The risk of developing prostate cancer increased by 6 percent for every 10 centimeters over the median height of the 1,357 men in the study, Zuccolo and colleagues reported in Cancer Epidemiology, Biomarkers & Prevention. Despite the link, height was still less of a risk factor than age and family history, but “understanding why height is associated with prostate cancer could help us to understand its causes,” Zuccolo says.

One molecule that taller people have in abundance compared with shorter people is insulin-like growth factor 1, or IGF-1. The insulin-like molecule stimulates the growth of cells and tissues, and higher levels of the molecule have also been linked to the incidence and progression of several different types of cancer. IGF-1 can bind to the tumors of cancers of the breast, prostate and bladder, stimulating the growth of tumor cells. Zuccolo speculates that the IGF-1 gene could link height and prostate cancer.....

A height and cancer suspect

Genome-wide association studies offer one way to sift through the human genome by comparing genomes of thousands of people for variations associated with a specific trait. To hunt for height genes, researchers try to identify genetic variations that crop up more often in shorter people or taller people.

So far, several studies have related about 40 different genes to height. But more genes are likely to be found, says Gonçalo Abecasis, a statistical geneticist at the University of Michigan in Ann Arbor who collaborated on two of the studies. “There are lots of different genes that each only make a small contribution to height,” he says.

The researchers expect that the list of height genes will run into the hundreds. “We’re making progress, but there are many more height genes to find,” says geneticist Michael Weedon of the Peninsula Medical School in Exeter, England.

Weedon and his colleagues used genome-wide association studies to identify height gene candidates and found that the gene at the top of their list is also a well-known cancer gene. Variants of the high-mobility group A2 gene, called HMGA2, correlated with small variations in height within a population of just over 19,000 people, the researchers reported in Nature Genetics in 2007. That study was the first evidence that small variations in the gene could produce normal height differences among people.

“Sometimes it’s hard to link the gene you find to a height-related function — but this one was easy,” says Lettre, a coauthor on the study.

Scientists already knew that rare HMGA2 mutations could have severe effects on body size. Take 13-year-old Brenden Adams of Ellensburg, Wash., for example. An average-sized newborn, Adams began growing faster than anyone could explain and now stands 7 feet and 3 inches.

At first, doctors couldn’t figure out why. Then they took a look at his chromosomes. A portion of one copy of Adams’ chromosome 12 is inverted, as if a piece of the chromosome had broken off, flipped around and then reattached. The genes on this inverted section seemed to be undamaged — except for where the chromosome broke, which turned out to be at HMGA2.

Azra Ligon and Brad Quade of Brigham and Women’s Hospital and Harvard Medical School in Boston studied Adams’ case. They aren’t sure exactly how the change to HMGA2 is making Adams grow so much, but they speculate that the chromosome inversion disrupted the normal regulation of the gene.

The HMGA2 gene encodes a protein that activates other genes by rearranging how DNA is stored. To package huge amounts of DNA inside each cell, the DNA is twisted and coiled into the chromosomes, then compacted in an orderly fashion so that the correct section is easily available when needed. The HMGA2 protein recognizes and binds to specific twists in chromosomes in order to activate the genes needed for a wide array of biological processes, including the growth and proliferation of cells.

Weedon and colleagues speculate that mutations in the HMGA2 gene can affect how much of the protein is produced.

Previous work also showed that the HMGA2 gene is active only during embryo development in both mice and people. In mature tissues, gene activity was almost undetectable, a sign that the gene may not have much effect on the later stages of growth and development.

“It seems that the contribution of this gene is laid down early in life,” says geneticist Peter Visscher of the Queensland Institute of Medical Research in Brisbane, Australia.

But the gene does get turned on at later stages in cancerous cells. HMGA2 proteins are found in the tumors of several different types of cancer, including those of the breast, pancreas and lung, suggesting that the gene may help cancer cells grow and proliferate. But scientists don’t know whether the increased risk of cancer in taller people has anything to do with differences in the HMGA2 gene. While HMGA2 is implicated in both cancer and height, “the mechanistic dots have not yet been connected,” says Lettre.

“Right now, we fall short of explaining exactly how HMGA2 controls height,” he says. “We don’t know exactly how variations in HMGA2 that correlate with height could affect how the gene works.”

And while genes such as HMGA2 are already well-characterized because of their roles in disease or development, little is known about many of the height genes that the statistical studies turn up.

Figuring out what these genes do could explain the links between height and disease. “We’re not there yet,” says Abecasis. “But when you start looking at all these different genes, you find that they are linked to lots of different things.”

Adds Lettre: “We’re interested in learning more about how genes control height. But we’re hoping that some of the height genes will have other effects on health too.” That would help the scientists gain insights into the biological processes of growth. “Time will tell, but that is certainly a hope.”

The short path to osteoarthritis

Taller people may be at a higher statistical risk of cancer, but short people face height-related disease risks too.

A gene called growth differentiation factor 5, or GDF5, is related to height; it encodes a protein important for bone and cartilage growth and skeletal development. Geneticist Karen Mohlke of the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill and her colleagues found that slight differences in the GDF5 gene caused differences of about 0.3 to 0.7 centimeters in height. The people on the shorter end of these differences were more likely to have the particular GDF5 variant associated with osteoarthritis, a type of arthritis caused by the breakdown of cartilage in joints.

People with lower levels of the GDF5 protein have shorter bones and less cartilage in their joints. Shorter people are more susceptible to osteoarthritis because they have less cartilage to wear down.

“It makes sense that a reduction in GDF5 would decrease bone growth and lead to reduced height,” says Gonçalo Abecasis, a statistical geneticist at the University of Michigan in Ann Arbor and a coauthor of the study, which was published in Nature Genetics in 2008. “And as well as this, there would be less cartilage in the joints, which could increase susceptibility to osteoarthritis,” he says.

More here

29 April, 2009

Drug that prevents prostate cancer may be here within a year

The evidence for any effect of the drug is quite weak. Only small differences were shown

The world's first drug to prevent prostate cancer could be on sale in as little as a year. In tests, Avodart cut cases in men at high risk of the disease by almost a quarter. Researchers described the results as exciting and said in time the drug could be widely used to stave off the cancer.

Prostate cancer is the most common cancer in British men, with almost 35,000 cases a year and 10,000 deaths. It is curable if caught early but conventional treatments, including drugs, surgery and radiotherapy, carry a risk of side-effects including loss of libido and impotence. Options for stopping the disease from developing in the first place are limited to following a healthy diet.

Researcher Gerald Andriole, of Washington University School of Medicine in the U.S., tracked the health of 8,200 men aged between 50 and 75 for four years. All were judged to be at high risk of prostate cancer. Blood tests had showed them to have high levels of PSA - a protein linked to the cancer - but biopsies had declared them to be free of the disease.

Half took Avodart and half took a dummy drug. After two years, prostate cancer was found in 17.2 per cent of men who took the placebo, compared to 13.3 per cent who took Avodart. After four years, the disease was diagnosed in another 11.8 per cent of men taking the dummy drug but just 9.1 per cent of those on the active drug.

Overall, Avodart cut the development of prostate cancer by 23 per cent. Dr Andriole said it was likely the drug had zapped tumours that started out too small to be detected by biopsy. 'I think the medication caused some of those cancers to shrink and probably caused a lot of them to grow a lot slower,' he said. The researcher said the drug could be used to keep the cancer at bay in men who, like those in the trial, had high PSA levels but negative biopsies.

Avodart is made by GlaxoSmithKline which funded the study. The drug is already approved to treat enlargement of the prostate and could be cleared to prevent cancer in as little as a year. Side-effects such as impotence and the development of 'man breasts' are relatively rare but do occur.

Experts welcomed the study but said more work was needed to show if Avodart was effective in prostate cancer prevention. Professor Jonathan Waxman, of Imperial College London, said a four-year-trial was too short to prove the real worth of the drug. He said: 'The disease is very common and to have something you could put in the water to decrease the risk of getting the disease would be very important but I'm not sure it's this drug.' He added there was clear evidence a healthy diet helped prevent the disease. Vitamin D may also be beneficial.

And statins may offer protection too. Cholesterol-busting drugs taken by millions of men to cut their risk of heart attacks and stroke may also ward off prostate cancer. A 15-year study of almost 2,500 men aged between 40 and 79 found that only 6 per cent of those taking statins were diagnosed with the disease - a third of the figure for the non-statin users. [That's because you have to be pretty healthy to tolerate statins in the first place]

Urologist Dr Rodney Breau said: 'In recent years it has been suggested statin medications may prevent development of cancer. However, until now, there has been limited evidence to support this theory.'

Researchers at the the Mayo Clinic in Minnesota also found statin users had less than half the chance of developing an enlarged prostate and the problems in passing urine associated with it. However, they told the American Urological Association's annual conference that more research was needed to prove statins were pivotal in prostate health.

Elsewhere, a study has shown that vitamin D could also provide a powerful weapon against the cancer. A daily dose cut or stabilised signs of the disease in 60 per cent of patients monitored. The effect was as dramatic as that achieved by some cancer drugs. Vitamin D however is much cheaper --costing pennies a tablet.

Researcher Professor Jonathan Waxman, of Imperial College London, stressed patients should not start taking the vitamin without first speaking to their GP and they should continue with conventional treatments.


'Bleach bath' benefit for eczema

The effect here appears to be quite strong -- as it should be. Bleach is a strong germicide

Adding bleach to the bath may be an effective treatment for chronic eczema, US researchers say. In a study of 31 children, there was significant improvement in eczema in those who had diluted bleach baths compared with normal baths. The Pediatrics study also showed improvements were only on parts of the body submerged in the bath.

UK experts stressed the treatment could be extremely dangerous and should only be done under the care of a specialist.

Children with bad eczema suffer from chronic skin infections, most commonly caused by Staphylococcus aureus, which worsen the eczema that can be difficult to treat. Some children get resistant MRSA infections. Studies have shown a direct correlation between the number of bacteria on the skin and the severity of the eczema. It has been shown that bacteria cause inflammation and further weaken the skin barrier.

In the study, researchers randomly assigned patients who had infection with Staphylococcus aureus to baths with half a cup of sodium hypochlorite per full tub or normal water baths for five to 10 minutes twice a week for three months. They also prescribed a topical antibiotic ointment or dummy ointment for them to put into their nose - a key site for growth of the bacteria.

Eczema severity in patients reduced five times as much as those on placebo. But there was no improvement in eczema on the head and neck - areas not submerged in the bath.

"We've long struggled with staphylococcal infections in patients with eczema," said study leader Dr Amy Paller, from Northwestern University in Chicago. She added they saw such rapid improvement in the children having bleach baths that they stopped the study early. "The eczema kept getting better and better with the bleach baths and these baths prevented it from flaring again, which is an ongoing problem for these kids. "We presume the bleach has antibacterial properties and decreased the number of bacteria on the skin, which is one of the drivers of flares."

Professor Mike Cork, head of dermatology research and a consultant at Sheffield Children's Hospital, said antiseptic baths had been used as a treatment for eczema for quite a while but the trial was important because it highlights the benefits from reducing bacteria. "But people should not start putting bleach in their children's bath. "Bleach used incorrectly could cause enormous harm to a child with atopic eczema while, in the hands of an expert, it can as this trial indicates lead to benefit."

He added the trial highlighted the need for children with uncontrolled eczema to be referred to a specialist for treatment.


28 April, 2009

UK: Suicides “unchanged by antidepressant pill ban”

So they'll relax the ban now? Not likely! That would mean admitting that they jumped to conclusions and so hurt a lot of people

Restrictions on teenagers' use of antidepressants have had no measurable impact on suicide rates, a study says. In 2003, regulators warned against use of the drugs in the under-18s after concerns from clinical trials that some patients may become suicidal.

Bristol university analysis of suicide rates among 15 to 19-year-olds in 22 countries from 1990 to 2006 found no change in the wake of the restrictions. Antidepressant use in young people in the UK fell by 50% after the warnings.

The expert committee put together to assess the safety of the drugs said at the time of the restrictions that the harmful effects of most SSRI antidepressants outweighed the benefits in young people. Only fluoxetine (Prozac) should be used and only then in severe cases, the committee said.

Some mental health experts have raised concerns that limits on prescribing antidepressants may have led to increased levels of untreated depression.

Research into the effects of the changing use of antidepressants has been hampered by the fact that suicide in teenagers is a relatively rare event and trends are subject to random fluctuations.

In an attempt to get a clearer picture, a team from the University of Bristol looked at suicide rates in 15-to-19 year olds from 22 countries between 1990 and 2006. Overall, they could not detect any differences after antidepressant use was restricted, they reported in the journal Pharmacoepidemiology and Drug Safety. Study leader Dr Ben Wheeler said the team had set out with the hypothesis that restrictions on antidepressant use would have caused a reduction in the rates of suicide. But the results showed "no clear beneficial effect" of the regulation on youth suicide rates, he said.

Some other studies in the US and Canada had suggested that falling use of the drugs had caused an effect of increasing teenage suicides after rates had previously been going down, but there was no evidence of that in this data, he added.

Professor Ian Wong, a paediatric medicines expert from the London School of Pharmacy, said a survey they had done a few years ago suggested that over half of specialists disagreed with the stricter regulations. "The evidence is not that strong regarding SSRIs causing suicide but they restricted it because they said there's no clear evidence they work. "We're just starting another survey to see if they have changed their minds."

Professor David Cottrell, spokesman for the charity Young Minds and dean of medicine at the University of Leeds, said the results could suggest the risk of suicide with antidepressants was all a "big red herring", but also that the change in advice and more careful monitoring had mitigated any risk associated with reduced prescribing. "It depends which way you look at it but I think it's good news. "There's no evidence of a rise in suicide which means young people are still being treated; there's no evidence it made things worse."


'Cancer risk of nicotine gum and lozenges higher than thought'

Nicotine chewing gum, lozenges and inhalers designed to help people to give up smoking may have the potential to cause cancer, research has suggested. Evidence for the link does seem rather nebulous, however

Scientists have discovered a link between mouth cancer and exposure to nicotine, which may indicate that using oral nicotine replacement therapies for long periods could contribute to a raised risk of the disease. A study led by Muy-Teck Teh, of Queen Mary, University of London, has found that the effects of a genetic mutation that is common in mouth cancer can be worsened by nicotine in the levels that are typically found in smoking cessation products.

The results raise the prospect that nicotine, the addictive chemical in tobacco, may be more carcinogenic than had previously been appreciated. “Although we acknowledge the importance of encouraging people to quit smoking, our research suggests nicotine found in lozenges and chewing gums may increase the risk of mouth cancer,” Dr Teh said. “Smoking is of course far more dangerous, and people who are using nicotine replacement to give up should continue to use it and consult their GPs if they are concerned. The important message is not to overuse it, and to follow advice on the packet.” Most nicotine replacement products have labels advising people to cut down after three months of use and to stop completely after six months.

Mouth cancer affects nearly 5,000 people each year in Britain and is usually linked to smoking, chewing tobacco or drinking alcohol. It is often diagnosed at a late stage, and consequently has a poor prognosis.

Although nicotine is acknowledged as the addictive element in cigarettes its role in cancer has long been disputed. It is not as potent a carcinogen as other chemicals found in tobacco smoke, such as tar, but some previous research has suggested that it may also contribute to the formation of tumours. Nonetheless, it is much less dangerous than cigarettes and is therefore used in a wide variety of smoking cessation products that allow addicts to satisfy a craving for the chemical without smoking.

In the new research, published in the journal Public Library of Science One, Dr Teh’s team has investigated the role of a gene called FOXM1 in mouth cancer. A mutation that raises the activity of this gene is commonly found in many tumours, and is also present in pre-cancerous cells in the mouth, the scientists found. This raised expression can then be worsened by exposure to nicotine, according to Dr Teh. “If you already have a mouth lesion that is expressing high levels of FOXM1 and you expose it to nicotine, it may add to the risk of converting it into cancer,” he said. “Neither the raised FOXM1 nor nicotine is alone sufficient to trigger cancer, but together they may have an effect. “The concern is that with smokers, you are looking at people who are already at risk of oral cancer. I’m worried that some may already have lesions they don’t know about in the mouth, and if they keep on taking nicotine replacement when they stop smoking products they will not be doing themselves any good.”

The findings could also lead to new ways of diagnosing mouth cancer while it is still in its early stages and easier to treat.

Dr Teh emphasised that smokers should not stop their attempts to give up. “There is no doubt about the harmful effects of smoking, so smokers should make every effort to quit.”


27 April, 2009

Fat is the new smoking

Do you have a spare tire? Some bulges? Do your thighs rub together? Do you have a big gut? Well, be prepared to be ostracized.

They already did a number on smokers. It used to be you could smoke almost anywhere, from the supermarket to your workplace. And then they started passing laws until you now have to go to smoke areas which are usually outside and away from everywhere else. Even though OSHA had to admit that second-hand smoke in the workplace cannot affect people except under extreme conditions.
“Field studies of environmental tobacco smoke indicate that under normal conditions, the components in tobacco smoke are diluted below existing Permissible Exposure Levels (PELS.) as referenced in the Air Contaminant Standard (29 CFR 1910.1000)…It would be very rare to find a workplace with so much smoking that any individual PEL would be exceeded.” -Letter from Greg Watchman, Acting Ass’t Sec’y, OSHA, to Leroy J Pletten, PHD, July 8, 1997
But relentless anti-smoking ads and a successful attempt to ban smoking in most movies and TV has resulted in smokers being made social pariahs. So now they are going after fat people. The arsenal of mendacity and fraud they’re using comes in many forms. The latest broadside is to link obesity to global warming.
HIGH rates of obesity in richer countries cause up to a billion extra tonnes of greenhouse gas emissions every year, compared with countries with leaner populations, according to a study that assesses the additional food and fuel needs of the overweight. The finding is particularly worrying, scientists say, because obesity is on the rise in many rich nations. “Population fatness has an environmental impact,” said Phil Edwards, from the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine. “We’re all being told to stay fit and keep our weight down because it’s good for our health. The important thing is that staying slim is good for your health and for the health of the planet.”
So do China and India have less greenhouse gas emissions than Canada and Germany? After all, China and India have “thinner” people. The answer is of course, no. This is a false claim like many of those the AGW crowd makes. But making false statements didn’t stop the anti-smoking crusaders who made it seem like smoking a cigarette automatically gives you get lung cancer. And it’s gotten so bad many places are using their anti-smoker bias to deny smokers their civil rights. Using the same logic, they can start doing that to the “obese.”

Mind you, the obesity epidemic burst onto the scene when the government changed their obesity ratings by using a bogus Body Mass Index (BMI) chart so off base that muscular people like The Rock or Arnold Schwarzenegger would suddenly be rated obese. Many athletes are rated as obese under these standards. But the media naturally just ran with the press releases that claimed there was a sudden obesity epidemic sweeping the nation. And then came the articles stating it was causing health costs to soar and something must be done about it.

They are using the obese as a scapegoat for health costs. And now airlines are making fat people pay double for air fare. The reason fat people spill over into the next seat is because they keep making the seats narrower. They have been doing that for years. And suddenly, with the obesity epidemic, it “became a problem.” If you read the comments on some of the articles talking about it there are lots of rabble saying things like “Good! Make those fatties pay triple!”

Be careful what you wish for. If they get away with doing this to people out of shape, they will find some other group to target next and soon you may be in the crosshairs. Everywhere you look they are trying to ban something and make a group out to be the fault of it all. If you’re a conservative, the Obama DHS is calling you a domestic terrorist. Some in the MSM are calling you greedy racists.

As long as we let others define us as something we’re not, they will get away with it. It’s time we stop letting them do that.


Viagra faces minuscule rival

In one of the first medical applications of nanotechnology – the science of tiny particles – scientists have developed a fast-acting treatment for impotence that could rival Viagra. The drug’s minute particles can be absorbed directly through the skin, causing a sexual response within minutes. The treatment has so far only been tested in animals but the researchers behind it say the same approach could also benefit humans.

Viagra and other drugs have to be taken orally, meaning they take some time to be digested and then have effects throughout the body. Some users can suffer side-effects such as headaches, facial flushing and indigestion.

The nanoparticle approach, by contrast, worked in less than 10 minutes and its effects seem to be limited to the relevant parts of the body, according to the researchers. Kelvin Davies of the Albert Einstein College of Medicine in New York, who oversaw the research, said the results showed the potential for “nano-medicines”. He said the nanoparticles “can facilitate transport of erectogenic agents. It localises the therapeutic impact without the potential consequences due to systemic absorption”.

In the study, to be published today at the annual meeting of the American Urological Association, Davies and his colleagues loaded the nanoparticles with nitric oxide, a chemical that occurs naturally in the body where it makes blood vessels expand and fill with blood. They applied the particles to the skin of rats bred to suffer from impotence. They observed a rapid and strong response.

The potential market for such drugs is extensive. Viagra has become one of the world’s most popular medicines with about 40m pills prescribed in Britain alone since its launch in 1998. Many more have been obtained from online pharmacies.

Some believe such treatments benefit relationships pointing to the fact that about a fifth of marital breakdowns are at least partly linked to men suffering erectile dysfunction. Other evidence has, however, shown that such drugs give older men the confidence to start new relationships with younger women and quit the marital home.

Viagra has been cited in many split-ups, including that of of Wendy and Johnny Kidd, parents of the models Jodie and Jemma and the first marriage of the comedian Vic Reeves.


26 April, 2009

Addicted to fat, sugar? Retrain your brain

Kessler is too much of a nut even for California. He was unceremoniously fired last year as Dean of the medical school at the University of California, San Francisco. So treat his colourful assertions with caution. "Conditioning" might have some small role but your weight is mostly genetically determined

Food hijacked Dr. David Kessler's brain. Not apples or carrots. The scientist who once led the government's attack on addictive cigarettes can't wander through part of San Francisco without craving a local shop's chocolate-covered pretzels. Stop at one cookie? Rarely. It's not an addiction, but it's similar, and he is far from alone. Kessler's research suggests millions share what he calls "conditioned hyper- eating," a willpower-sapping drive to eat high-fat, high-sugar foods even when they're not hungry.

In a book being published next week, the former Food and Drug Administration chief brings to consumers the disturbing conclusion of numerous brain studies: Some people really do have a harder time resisting "bad" foods. It's a new way of looking at the obesity epidemic that could help spur fledgling movements to reveal calories on restaurant menus or rein in portion sizes.

"The food industry has figured out what works. They know what drives people to keep on eating," Kessler says. "It's the next great public-health campaign, of changing how we view food, and the food industry has to be part of it." He calls the culprits foods "layered and loaded" with combinations of fat, sugar and salt, and often so processed that you don't even have to chew much.

Overeaters must take responsibility, too, and basically retrain their brains to resist the lure, he cautions. "I have suits in every size," Kessler writes in "The End of Overeating." But, "once you know what's driving your behavior, you can put steps into place" to change it.

At issue is how the brain becomes primed by different stimuli. Neuroscientists increasingly report that fat-and-sugar combinations in particular light up the brain's dopamine pathway, the same pleasure-sensing spot that conditions people to alcohol or drugs. Where did you experience the yum factor? That's the cue, sparking the brain to say, "I want that again!" as you drive by a restaurant or plop down before the television.

"You're not even aware you've learned this," says Dr. Nora Volkow, chief of the National Institute on Drug Abuse and a dopamine authority who has long studied similarities between drug addiction and obesity. Volkow is a confessed chocoholic who salivates just walking past her laboratory's vending machine. "You have to fight it and fight it," she says.

Conditioning isn't always to blame. Numerous factors, including physical activity, metabolism and hormones, play a role in obesity. The food industry points out that stores and restaurants are giving consumers more healthful choices, from substitutions of fruit for french fries to selling packaged foods with less fat and salt.

Kessler, now at the University of California-San Francisco, gathered colleagues to help build on that science and learn why some people have such a hard time going healthier. First, the team found that even well-fed rats will work increasingly hard for sips of a vanilla milkshake with the right fat-sugar combo but that adding sugar steadily increases consumption. Many low-fat foods substitute sugar for the removed fat, doing nothing to help dieters eat less, Kessler and University of Washington researchers concluded.

Then, Kessler culled data from a major study on food habits and health. Conditioned hypereaters reported feeling loss of control over food, a lack of satiety and were preoccupied by food. About 42 percent of them were obese, compared with 18 percent without those behaviors, says Kessler, who estimates that up to 70 million people have some degree of conditioned hypereating.

Finally, Yale University neuroscientist Dana Small had hypereaters smell chocolate and taste a chocolate milkshake inside a brain-scanning MRI machine. Rather than getting used to the aroma, as is normal, hypereaters found the smell more tantalizing with time.


Eating disorders hitting five-year-olds

This is appalling. The only reasonable explanation for this recent upsurge is the recent upsurge in government persecution of "incorrect" eating: The "obesity" war. As with so many government programs, the unintended consequences are dire. Government should butt out of what people eat as weight is mostly genetic anyway.

EATING disorders are biting deeper into childhood, an expert has warned after conducting a study which included a five-year-old with the potentially fatal condition. Sloane Madden says demand for critical care beds at The Children's Hospital at Westmead, in Sydney, has surged over the past 12 months for children who were severely malnourished because of an Early Onset Eating Disorder (EOED).

The condition commonly linked to teenage girls was now becoming increasingly prevalent in Australian girls, and boys, aged 10 to 12 and even younger, he said. "Our own experience at the children's hospital, we have had a 50 per cent increase in demand for beds, and we haven't seen that increase in demand in hospitals looking after older adolescents with eating disorders,'' Dr Madden said. "At the moment, we have eight children in the hospital where we normally take six and we've got another five waiting for beds. "What we are seeing clinically, and what is being reported anecdotally around the world is that kids are presenting in greater numbers at a younger age,'' he said.

It was not just a case of the children being fussy eaters, said the Westmead-based child psychiatrist, as speaking to the children revealed a desire to be "thinner''. "They certainly will tell you that they believe that they are fat, that they want to be thinner, and they have no insight into the fact that they are malnourished and they are literally starving themselves to death,'' he says.

"And the parents when they see us are really quite terrified but they are extremely grateful that someone is finally taking their child's illness seriously.''

Dr Madden says children are often "medically unstable'' when brought to hospital with very low blood pressure, heart rate and temperature which "basically is putting them at risk of dying''. They often needed to be tube-fed, and placed on anti-depressant or anti-psychotic medication, but if treated early their chance of full recovery was were good.

However, Dr Madden's study of all Australian children with EOED from 2002 to 2005 shows there is a trend to late diagnosis diagnosis, meaning children being hospitalised with more more physical complications. "It makes us very concerned that these children are being misdiagnosed, or they are being diagnosed late and not being referred for appropriate care,'' he says.

Of the 101 cases of EOED uncovered by the study, there were 74 girls and 25 boys aged five to 13 (gender was not specified in two cases). Extrapolating this data, Dr Madden estimates Australia's incidence of EOED now stands about 1.4 cases for every 100,000 children aged five to 13 years. Of those, 1.1 cases would require a hospital intervention, according to the research published in the latest edition of the Medical Journal of Australia.

The number of cases is expected to rise, Dr Madden says, unless there is a change in the media's obsession with fat and weight. "I think that there needs to be a move away from this focus on weight and numbers and body fat, and a focus on healthy eating and exercise,'' he says. "You can see that in current (television) programs like The Biggest Loser, where it is all about numbers and weight, it's not helpful for those people and it's certainly not helpful for this group of kids.''


25 April, 2009

The anti-salt craze again

I know of no deaths that can non-speculatively be traced to excess salt intake but I can show you lots from hyponatremia (too little salt). See e.g. here

Most of the salt we eat in our diets is hidden in the likes of processed foods and ready-made meals such as sandwiches. And that's the rub with salt. No matter how much we cut back during cooking and at the table, we are still likely to exceed the recommended daily maximum of 6g because 85 per cent of our intake is buried in places we least expect it - in everything from our favourite sarnies [sandwiches], to biscuits, cereals, curries and crisps.

We don't need any additional salt in our diet and it only became popular when we got used to the taste after using it to preserve foods. It may enhance flavour, but it also increases your odds of developing high blood pressure, heart disease and stroke [speculation only] - so much so that some experts now refer to it as a toxin.

Salt has been vying with smoking and obesity as the new Public Enemy No 1 since the Food Standards Agency launched a campaign to cut national consumption. The organisation believes that half the British population are currently eating too much of it, and that cutting consumption by the equivalent of just half a teaspoonful a day could prevent as many as 70,000 strokes and heart attacks every year.

Most people in Britain are already well aware of the [supposed] link between salt intake and high blood pressure, and the resulting damage to the circulation that leads to stroke and heart attack, and have started to cut back. Salt sales are down from 55,000 tonnes a year in 1985 to less than 30,000 tonnes a year today, but the impact on the amount that we actually consume has been negligible because the drop pales into insignificance when compared with the 220,000 tonnes added every year to processed or pre-prepared foods such as sandwiches.

Reducing the amount of salt consumed at home is relatively easy. The palate quickly adjusts in much the same way that it does when you stop taking sugar in tea or coffee, and within four to six weeks most people no longer miss it. Unfortunately their efforts are rarely rewarded because the vast majority of their salt daily intake is likely to be hidden in processed foods and spotting this is very difficult.

And then there is the artery- clogging fat. You could be forgiven for thinking that a Marks & Spencer Vegetarian Cheese and Chutney Sandwich would be a healthy option for a quick bite when you are in a hurry. Yet, according to Which?, it contains more fat than a Big Mac, and more calories than you care to think about.

But fat and salt make foods palatable and tasty, and encourage you to buy them. Until we all adapt our palates to a low- salt, low-fat diet, don't expect the retailers to discontinue their most profitable lines without enormous amounts of pressure. And until they do, and I wouldn't hold your breath, read all labels carefully and choose accordingly.


Pancreatic cancer therapy 'hope'

Promising early results for a drug for pancreatic cancer have been reported by a team of UK and US scientists. The drug, which targets a molecule called PKD involved in tumour growth, also seemed effective in animal tests on lung cancer, the researchers said. The findings are especially encouraging because there are few treatments available and survival is poor. Human trials should start within 18 months, the American Association for Cancer Research conference was told.

PKD is a family of molecules called kinases which provide a signalling function between the outside and inside of the cell. Also involved in cell survival and the formation of new blood vessels, PKD was discovered to be potentially key target in tumours by UK researchers some years ago. A team at Cancer Research Technology Ltd - a company owned by Cancer Research UK - then developed molecules which would inhibit the effects of PKD. The latest results on the resulting drug, known as CRT0066101, show it inhibits the growth of pancreatic tumours in mice and works in lung cancer models. It is thought that future studies may show the drug to be effective on a wider range of cancers.

Human trials should be starting after safety studies have been completed, they researchers said. CRT's discovery laboratories director Dr Hamish Ryder said the team focused on pancreatic and lung cancer tumours because they are cancers with a "significant unmet medical need".

Dr Sushovan Guha, who leads the laboratory at MD Anderson Cancer Center and collaborated in the project, added he was optimistic about the drug's potential. In addition to killing cancer cells, it is hoped the drug will stop tumours growing and spreading by blocking blood vessel growth. "This would mean it offers a double action treatment but this needs to be proved through further work."

Sue Ballard, the founder of Pancreatic Cancer UK, said the disease caused 5% of cancer deaths but only received 1% of disease funding. "There is a great lack of really effective treatments, surgery gives the best chance if done early but even in that situation it can recur or spread. "This research is in the very early stages but anything that's starting to show promising results is vitally needed."


24 April, 2009

Britain's chief medical attention-seeker is at it again

She quotes no proof of the evils of computers that she discusses because she has none. It is all just her speculation, full of "might be"s and "could be"s. She appears to have no children herself but somehow knows all about them. My son was a heavy computer user since he was a tot but he is now in adulthood very sociable and socially popular. He also has a degree in mathematics and is making good progress towards his doctorate in the subject. So a fat lot of harm heavy computer use did him! Computers can bring kids together. I have seen plenty of examples of it. The lonely nerd would probably be lonely anyway. The lady below needs to get out more. She might learn something. She has probably never even heard of a LAN party. If she had, her discussion below would not have been so unbalanced. As it is, she is just farting at the mouth below

Can you imagine a world without long-term relationships, where people are unable to understand the consequences of their actions or empathise with one another? Such conditions would not only hamper our happiness and prosperity - they could threaten our very survival. Yet this imagined existence isn't as far away as it seems. It is a plausible future. For we are developing an ever deeper dependence on websites such as Facebook, Twitter and Second Life - and these technologies can alter the way our minds work.

As a neuroscientist, I am aware of how susceptible our brains are to change - and our environment has changed drastically over the past decade. Most people spend at least two hours each day in front of a computer, and living this way will result in minds very different from those of past generations. Our brains are changing in unprecedented ways. We know the human brain is exquisitely sensitive to the outside world - this so-called 'plasticity' is famously illustrated by London taxi drivers who need to remember all the streets of the city, and whose part of the brain related to memory is generally bigger than in the rest of us as a result. Indeed, one of the most exciting concepts in neuroscience is that all experience leaves its mark on your brain.

But while adults' brains can change, it is children who are most at risk, for their brains are still growing - and may not have yet had a full range of experiences in three dimensions. Yet 99 per cent of children and young people use the internet, according to an Ofcom study. In 2005, the average time children spent online was 7.1 hours per week. By 2007, it had almost doubled to 13.8 hours. As an expert on the human brain, I am speaking out as I feel we need to protect the young.

Of course, this idea may not be welcomed - when someone first linked smoking and lung cancer, people didn't like that idea; some derided them because they enjoyed smoking. But parallels could well be drawn with this, and I believe similar precautionary thinking should be set in train, as in turn was needed for sunbathing and carbon emissions. We must take this issue of computers seriously because what could be more important than the brains of the next generation?

Three areas of computing are likely to have the most marked effect - social networking sites such as Facebook, MySpace and Twitter, imagined online societies such as Second Life, and computer games.

Facebook turned five years old in February. Arguably, it marks a milestone and a highly significant change in our culture - millions of individuals worldwide are signing up for friendship through a screen. Half of young people aged eight to 17 have their own profile on a social networking site. But two basic, brain-based questions still need to be addressed. First, why are social networking sites growing? Secondly, what features of the young mind, if any, are threatened by them?

In modern life, the appeal of social networking sites to children is easy to understand. As many parents now consider playing outside too dangerous, a child confined to the home can find at the keyboard the kind of freedom of interaction that earlier generations took for granted in the three-dimensional world of the street. Though to many children screen life is even more appealing. Philip Hodson, a fellow of the British Association for Counselling and Psychotherapy, suggests that: 'Building a Facebook profile is one way that individuals can identify themselves, making them feel important and accepted.'

Social networking sites satisfy that basic human need to belong, as well as the ability to experience instant feedback and recognition from someone, somewhere, 24 hours a day. At the same time, this constant reassurance is coupled with a distancing from the stress of face-to-face, real-life conversation. Real-life chatting is, after all, far more perilous than in the cyber world as it occurs in real time, with no opportunity to think up clever responses, and it requires a sensitivity to voice tone, body language and even to physical chemicals such as pheromones.

None of these skills is required when chatting on a networking site. In fact, one user told me: 'You become less conscious of the individuals involved (including yourself), less inhibited, less embarrassed and less concerned about how you will be evaluated.' In other words, Facebook does not require the subtleties of social skill we need in the real world. Not only will this impair individuals' ability to communicate - and build relationships - it could completely change how conversation happens.

Maybe real conversation will give way to sanitised screen dialogues, in much the same way as killing, skinning and butchering an animal to eat has been replaced by the convenience of packages of meat on the supermarket shelf. Perhaps future generations will recoil with similar horror at the messiness, unpredictability and personal involvement of real-time interaction.

Other aspects of brain development may also be in line for a makeover. One is attention span. If the young brain is exposed to a world of action and reaction, of instant screen images, such rapid interchange-might accustom the brain to operate over such timescales. It might be helpful to investigate whether the near total submersion of our culture in screen technologies over the past decade might in some way be linked to the threefold increase over this period in prescriptions for Methylphenidate, the drug prescribed for ADHD.

A second difference in the young 21st-century mind might be a marked preference for the here-and-now, where the immediacy of an experience trumps any regard for the consequences. After all, when you play a computer game, everything you do is reversible. You can switch it off or start again. But the idea that actions don't have consequences is a very bad lesson to learn, when in life they always do. And in games the emphasis is on the thrill of the moment. This type of activity can be compared with the thrill of compulsive gambling.

The third possible change is in empathy. This cannot develop through social networking because we are not aware of how other people are really feeling - we cannot pick up on body language when we are communicating through a screen. As a result, people could become almost autistic. One teacher wrote to me that she had witnessed a change over the 30 years she had been teaching in the ability of her pupils to understand other people and their emotions. She pointed out that previously, reading novels had been a good way of learning about how others feel and think....

More speculative rubbish here

Aspirin now under attack!

Kids worldwide have been given this stuff for generations -- but suddenly it's wrong. But again it's all speculation

Children under 16 should not be given the ulcer treatments Bonjela or Bonjela Cool mint gel because of potential health risks, the medicines watchdog warns today. The Medicines and Healthcare products Regulatory Agency (MHRA) issued a precautionary alert on pain relief gels for the mouth that contain salicylate salts. These have the same effect on the body as aspirin, which is not recommended for those under the age of 16.

Bonjela is among the pain relief gels that contain the salts, which have been linked to Reye’s syndrome, a rare but potentially fatal condition in children. It is thought [There a lot of silly things thought. I have pretty silly thoughts myself at times] that a previous viral infection, such as flu or chickenpox, and exposure to aspirin could cause Reye’s syndrome, a metabolic disorder that can cause serious liver and brain damage.

The MHRA said that Bonjela’s adult formulations — designed to relieve the pain and swelling caused by mouth ulcers and denture and brace sores — were not recommended for children, but that Bonjela Teething Gel was safe. In a statement, the Agency added: “This is a precautionary measure only and there are no new safety concerns.

“The advice is being introduced due to a theoretical risk that these products could increase the possibility of a child developing Reye’s syndrome — a rare but serious condition,” the agency said. “There are a number of options and alternative treatments for pain associated with teething and mouth ulcers. If parents, carers or young people are unsure how best to treat these problems they should ask a GP, health visitor, dentist or pharmacist.” [Eating peanuts rapidly cures any mouth ulcers I get. So there's some free advice]

As of April 16, three suspected serious adverse drug reaction reports were received by the MHRA in association with the use of oral gels containing choline salicylate. All three cases were in children and all ended up in hospital. However, Reye’s syndrome was not confirmed in any child. The MHRA also received another four reports of vomiting or diarrhoea in children after the use of Bonjela, three of which related to the child being given the gel for teething pain. All made a full recovery.

June Raine, the MHRA’s director of vigilance and risk management of medicines, said the advice brought the products into line with others containing aspirin. “We are not aware of any confirmed cases but, when there are alternatives available, any risk is not worth taking. The new advice is to stop using these products in children and young people under 16, and to use alternative treatments.

“For infants with teething there is helpful advice in the Department of Health’s Birth to Five publication.” Reckitt Benckiser, the manufacturer of Bonjela, said that it had redesigned packaging to make it easier for consumers to choose the right gel in light of the new recommendations. Bonjela and Bonjela Cool will now be clearly labelled Adults and Children over 16 and the packaging for Bonjela Teething Gel has also been changed. The company added: “There have been no confirmed cases of Reye’s syndrome associated with Bonjela or Bonjela Cool, which remain safe and effective treatments for adults and children 16 years and over.

“The MHRA’s new advice on oral salicylate gels for use in under-16s does not affect Bonjela Teething Gel . . . has been specially formulated to provide targeted relief without the use of salicylates.”


23 April, 2009

Food giant cutting salt content

Economic suicide in pursuit of a chimera. People LIKE salt so many will buy other brands. Salt is also a major preservative so Unilever will have to use more of other preservatives -- and wait for the shrieks about that! Then they will have to cut the preservatives. Then people start dying of food poisoning. Then Unilever gets hit with huge wrongful death lawsuits. Unilever managers are betting the company on this. I'm glad I'm not a shareholder

FOOD giant Unilever said it would cut the salt in almost all its 22,000 products, claiming it was the first to set comprehensive salt reduction goals to boost public health. "Unilever's aim is to reduce the salt content of its products by the end of 2010 to help people reach the daily recommended dietary intake of six grams (of) salt per person," the company statement said.

Unilver's Australian brands include Continental, Flora and Streets.

A further reduction would lower this to five grams by 2015 in line with World Health Organisation guidelines. "Unilever is the first food company that sets worldwide goals for salt reduction across its entire product range," the company claimed.

Marketing vice-president Gaby Vreeken described the plan as "ambitious", but said it could and should be done to prevent cardiovascular disease and deaths attributed to high salt intake. "The challenge lies in achieving these results without compromising on the flavour, quality and shelf life of our products," said Ms Vreeken. The company said it would use other spices and aromatic herbs.

About 75 per cent of total salt intake comes from processed foods like bread, cheese, meat, sauces and soups.

"Consumers will be more likely to adapt their taste preference to lower levels of salt if the food industry as a whole reduces salt levels," said Unilever.


The fast food junkie who ate nothing but McDonald's and lost weight

It's not the usual diet recommended to drop those stubborn remaining pounds, but Doug Logeais ate only McDonald's for a month and lost weight. The 40-year-old was determined to get rid of the flab, but also wanted to treat himself by eating at his favourite fast-food restaurant - albeit the healthy option. And amazingly after sticking with his bizarre diet for 30 days, he lost 15lbs - shedding more than half in the first week alone.

'I've tried every diet in the book, but the only way for me to lose weight was eating at McDonald's every day,' said Logeais, who had no involvement from the fast food giant in his experiment. 'I'm not kidding - only McDonald's, 30 days, breakfast, lunch and dinner. 'The slogan at McDonalds is 'I'm Lovin' It'. For me it's 'I'm Losin' It' because the weight just came right off,' he added.

Logeais's experience is in stark contrast to that of filmmaker Morgan Spurlock. In his famous 2004 documentary, Super Size Me, Spurlock limited himself to eat only McDonald's food for 30 days. As a result the 32-year-old Spurlock gained 24-and-a-half pounds, a 13 per cent body mass increase and experienced mood swings, sexual dysfunction and liver damage. [But Spurlock gorged himself]

Fortunately for Logeais, from San Diego, California, he was able to overcome his lifelong battle with the bulge. 'I've struggled with my weight my whole life and if someone said something worked for them I would try it the next day,' he said. 'But ultimately it just wouldn't work for me. I've been carrying about 30 extra pounds for about eight years and I couldn't get rid of it no matter what I tried.

'Right after I turned 40 I knew I had to lose some weight - I looked on the internet and checked my BMI, my Body Mass Index, and because I'm 5ft 9in and weighed about 215 pounds it said I was obese. 'I knew I had to do something different.'

Part of his problem had been that every time he went on a diet he was unable to avoid the pull of stepping into his favourite fast-food chain, so he came up with a solution. 'I thought if I could actually eat at McDonalds and lose weight I'd incorporate the best of both worlds - I'm eating at my favourite place and I'm losing weight. So that's where this whole project started,' he said.

Key to his diet was that although he was dining in a fast-food chain he was being very careful with what he actually consumed - with occasional treats. 'I would always go for the healthier option, but I would once in a while go for a chocolate chip cookie or the chicken McNuggets. Those are great. 'But everything in moderation. If you go in there you don't always have to order a Big Mac with large fries. The whole thing is everything in moderation. 'There is good food in almost any restaurant you go in to,' he added.

But there was one food that made it particularly hard to stick to. 'The place smells like French fries - and I love 'em, they have the best fries - but I haven't had French fries in 30 days. 'They have a great breakfast burrito, with sausage and egg,' he said of his diet choices.

'For lunch I would have either a grilled chicken snack wrap or a side salad. 'And for dinner I would always go for one of their larger salads.

However it wasn't just all down to following a McDonald's diet. 'You can't just eat this and lose weight - you have to exercise as well,' he said. 'There's a lot of cardio that went into this, and a lot of sit-ups as well. I am doing an hour of cardio in the morning, which is either running up a mountain or working out with a trainer three times a week.'

Ultimately, he insists that as quirky as his diet exercise may first sound, it all comes down to basic principles. 'There's no secret here - it's all about diet and exercise,' he added.


22 April, 2009

Stay slim to save the planet

The latest excuse for fatty-bashing. It won't stop the fatties eating, though

Overweight people eat more than thin people and are more likely to travel by car, making excess body weight doubly bad for the environment, according to a study from the London School of Hygiene & Tropical Medicine.

"When it comes to food consumption, moving about in a heavy body is like driving around in a gas guzzler," and food production is a major source of greenhouse gases, researchers Phil Edwards and Ian Roberts wrote in their study, published in the International Journal of Epidemiology.

"We need to be doing a lot more to reverse the global trend toward fatness, and recognize it as a key factor in the battle to reduce (carbon) emissions and slow climate change," the British scientists said.

They estimated that each fat person is responsible for about one tonne of carbon dioxide emissions a year more on average than each thin person, adding up to an extra one billion tonnes of CO2 a year in a population of one billion overweight people. The European Union estimates each EU citizen accounts for 11 tonnes of greenhouse gas emissions a year.


British Fast food police: Caribbean takeaway closed down for opening too close to schools

The hit squad had prepared their raid long in advance. At 10am eight police officers, some in anti-stab vests, joined three council employees on the doorstep of the Bamboo Joint takeaway. Their mission? To stamp out the practice of selling jerk chicken within 400 metres of a secondary school.

Yesterday, the Jamaican cafe in Leytonstone, East London, became the first takeaway in the country to be given a closure order under guidelines banning the sale of fast food near educational establishments. Its owners were given three days to shut up shop. They were informed by Waltham Forest Council that their small premises, on a busy high street, was not only within 400 metres of a secondary school but also within 200 metres of a primary school and 100 metres from a public park. The action is intended to combat child obesity by reducing the number of shops selling unhealthy fast food near schools and parks.

Co-owner Maureen Farrell, who opened the Bamboo Joint six weeks ago, said she felt she was being victimised by a council which was acting 'completely over the top'. 'They told us that it's because we are too near a school, but this street is full of takeaways selling fish and chips and burgers. 'It's ridiculous. They just arrived here this morning and told us they were shutting us down. It looks like we are terrorists or something. 'But all we are doing is selling good food. It's not even unhealthy. We sell Jamaican-style rice and peas, and jerk chicken. 'It is not greasy stuff. And we hardly have any schoolchildren in here at all.'

The bylaw was introduced by Labour-dominated Waltham Forest in March and applies only to those takeaways yet to receive planning permission. It prevents them from opening close to one another and puts a limit on the total number in the borough's town centres. The fast food ban has not been adopted nationwide but its progress is being monitored by other local authorities who could copy it.

Council leader Clyde Loakes said: 'This fast food outlet has not got planning permission and has absolutely no chance of getting it, because of its proximity to a park and a school, so we're closing it down. 'A lot of fast food outlets do their business with schoolchildren, in competition with the healthy schools agenda. We have a responsibility to look beyond the next year or two to the health of our children and young people.'

The Metropolitan Police was unable to explain why it had such a strong presence in the raid.


21 April, 2009

Will blueberries make you slim?

They will if you are an obesity-prone rat, apparently. This appears to be an unpublished study so the findings must be treated with caution at this stage. Was it a double-blind study, for instance?

Eating blueberries could help you lose weight, scientists revealed yesterday. Already regarded as a 'superfood' because of their high vitamin and antioxidant content, the berries may also have the power to trim excess fat from our bodies. Experts in the U.S. who carried out the latest study into the berries' health benefits, believe they may change the way the way we processes fat and sugar in our diet.

Their findings were presented to the Experimental Biology convention in New Orleans after tests on obese rats. Researchers found that if the animals were given meals enriched with blueberries, they lost fat from their stomachs. Belly fat is linked to an increased risk of heart disease and diabetes. The rats also showed improved blood sugar levels and lower cholesterol.

Although the tests were carried out on rats, scientists from the University of Michigan hope they have implications for human health. The results offered 'tantalising clues' to the potential of blueberries to reduce cardiovascular disease and Metabolic Syndrome which can lead to heart attacks, diabetes and strokes.

In the tests, researchers used freeze-dried blueberries crushed into a powder. The rats' food contained just two per cent of the preparation. Even though the rats belonged to a breed which is prone to obesity, after 90 days they had less abdominal fat than those on a normal feed. They also showed lower cholesterol and 'improved fasting glucose and insulin sensitivity which are measures of how well the body processes glucose for energy,' the team said. The benefits 'were even better when combined with a low-fat diet', their report added, giving rats lower body weight, less overall fat and healthier livers.

The effect is thought to be due to the high level of phytochemicals - naturally occurring antioxidants - that blueberries contain. Lead researcher Mitchell Seymour, of the university's Cardioprotection Research Laboratory, said: 'Blueberry intake affected genes related to fat-burning and storage.

Dr Steven Bolling, a heart surgeon and head of the laboratory, added: 'Our findings in regard to blueberries and the naturally-occurring chemicals they contain, show promise in mitigating health conditions.'

Blueberries are rich in vitamins C and E, as well as other antioxidants such as anthocyanins and phenolics. They help protect the body against degenerative diseases. Another study recently found that blueberries contained a chemical called pterostilbene which could help prevent colon cancer.


Bid to help obese lose weight with Ventolin

THE main ingredient in Ventolin, the drug that has been used to treat asthma sufferers for 40 years, could soon help obese people shed up to five kilograms a week. An Australian firm is in talks to develop a slow-release capsule form of salbutamol, known as r-salbutamol, which it claims can reduce body weight by 2 to 3 per cent a week and could be on the market in three years. Stirling Products says it could prove to be a "massive blockbuster" because salbutamol had been proven safe and obesity and its related illnesses were soaring in Western countries.

Salbutamol administered to asthmatics acts on smooth muscle to reduce bronchial spasms, but managing director Peter Boonen said a capsule form of the drug could "turn off fat receptors". "It will move weight fairly rapidly, but it won't be available over the counter," he said. "Doctors will prescribe it for 14 days, then review progress."

Salbutamol is a beta-2 agonist, which has the same effect on the adrenergic system as exercise, resulting in weight loss, an increase in muscle mass and a reduced appetite. It is rapidly excreted in urine but tolerance usually develops within days. It has been listed as a fat-loss drug on bodybuilding websites and some athletes report taking up to 16 milligrams a day, but it has never gained ground as a credible treatment for obesity because the long-term side effects of oral r-salbutamol have not been tested on humans.

Stirling has tested the drug on obese rats and beagle dogs but is awaiting confirmation on a deal with a pharmaceutical company before applying to the Therapeutic Goods Administration for approval to conduct human trials.

"Short-term drug therapy can't be the long-term solution to a chronic problem," said Louise Baur, the director of weight management services at the Children's Hospital at Westmead.

R-salbutamol is being tested as a growth enhancer in pigs with a trial due to start in Canada next month. It is expected to improve lean meat yields for pork producers.

Months ago, Stirling was promoting r-salbutamol as a treatment for obese dogs and cats, but Mr Boonen said that since the company's restructure in February, the focus was now "more on humans". "Is everyone screaming for a drug for their fat kitten? I'd say the answer to that is no." Stirling has also scuttled plans to produce bottled water for pets. It had announced it would sell about $US20 million ($27.8 million) worth of PetQuench in three years, but Mr Boonen said: "If you want water for your dog, you get it out of the tap so there was no market for it."


20 April, 2009

Official cake looniness in Britain

Can a cake kill you? According to the Government it can. The Department of Health has just spent £500,000 on advertisements that demonise, of all the things they could demonise, a small, iced cake. These ads, aimed at mothers and placed in women's weekly magazines, show a photograph of a healthy young girl biting into a type of fairy cake. The doomy caption underneath reads: 'Is a premature death so tempting?'

Not quite as tempting, perhaps, as beating health ministers with the paddle attachment on your mixer until they howl for mercy or form soft peaks, whichever happens first.

Unsurprisingly, the ads - part of a £75 million health campaign - have been rubbished by critics ranging from parents and chefs such as Delia Smith to the National Obesity Forum. All concur that a homemade cake at a party as an occasional treat for a child is absolutely fine. Making such cakes look like poison will, ultimately, only prove to be counterproductive and frighten children in the process.

And really, it is not home baking that is the difficulty here, it is the haunting lack of it - and other basic cooking skills - that is at the root of the problem.


Treatment that zaps prostate cancer cells developed by scientists

Powerful particles that seek out and burn up prostate cancer tumours are being developed by British scientists. The treatment would allow doctors to treat the cancer at the same time as spotting it. It could also allow earlier diagnosis, raising the chances of survival and cutting the number of distressing side-effects. The first patients could be given the treatment in three years and it could be in widespread use in ten.

The condition is the most common cancer in British men, with 35,000 cases a year and 10,000 deaths. It is curable if caught early, but conventional treatments – including drugs, surgery and radiotherapy – carry the risk of side-effects including loss of libido and impotence.

In addition, the blood test used to diagnose the disease is unreliable, meaning that fledgling cancers can be missed until they have spread to other parts of the body and are much harder to treat.

The breakthrough by scientists at Leicester University centres on tiny particles capable of seeking out and destroying prostate cancer cells. The particles, each one-fiftieth the width of a human hair, are armed with molecules that stick to the surface of prostate tumour cells. They are also magnetic so they show up on MRI scans allowing the cancer to be detected. After the tumour is spotted, the nanoparticles are zapped with radio waves, releasing a burst of heat that kills the cancer cells.

Although the work is at a very early stage, scientists believe it could lead to the cancer being detected a year before the patient notices symptoms. Researcher Dr Glenn Burley said: 'The nanoparticles are a lot more sensitive and targeted so they can spot smaller changes in the gland which would not show up in a blood test. 'The earlier you can detect tumours the better. With conventional treatment there's also a significant delay between diagnosis and treatment but nanoparticles could save time, depending on the length of waiting lists, because they kill the tumour at the same time.'

Co-researcher Dr Wu Su said the treatment could cut the need for surgery and costs to the NHS. He added: 'Prostate cancer cure rates have been predicted on early diagnosis and treatment. 'The technology we're developing offers the potential of both identification and early treatment of prostate cancer in a selective manner.' The technique could also be used to detect and burn up breast, bowel and liver cancer cells, researchers believe.

John Neate, of the Prostate Cancer Charity, gave a cautious welcome. He said: 'Even if the research does have a positive result, we will have to wait some years before answers from this study might arrive by the hospital bedside, but every journey starts with the first step.' Mr Neate added: 'It is promising that the increasing profile of prostate cancer over recent years has attracted new scientific interest.


19 April, 2009

Irresponsible medical scares over vaccines bear fruit

London suffering from shocking rise in rare 'Victorian' diseases

London is suffering a startling rise in diseases associated with Victorian times, official figures reveal today. Rare infectious illnesses including typhoid, whooping cough and scarlet fever have soared by 166 per cent in the past two years, with the number of cases of mumps - a disease easily prevented with vaccine - rising from 125 in 2007 to 393 last year - an increase of 214 per cent. Justine Greening, the shadow minister for London, said infection rates in the capital are markedly higher than the national averages.

The rise could be a result of parents refusing the MMR jab after now-debunked claims in 2001 that it might be linked to autism. Mumps can lead to hearing loss and damage the nervous system in adults.

The figures also showed cases of the highly-contagious whooping cough have quadrupled in the five years to 2007, from 63 to 252. Symptoms include choking spells and vomiting and can cause death, especially in young infants. Meanwhile cases of scarlet fever, which causes high fevers, rashes, and severe damage to internal organs, are up 153 per cent since 2005, with 501 infected in London last year. Typhoid, which is associated with poor sanitation and hygiene, has risen steadily since 2004, from 45 to 127 cases per year.

The Conservatives claimed the Government was partly to blame for failing to invest enough in public health and to appoint school nurses. Ms Greening, MP for Putney, said: 'The rise of these highly infectious and potentially fatal diseases in our city is truly alarming. 'The Government must do more to ensure the public health of Londoners.'


Diabetics in stem-cell trial go for years without insulin jab

Patients with type 1 diabetes who received an experimental stem-cell treatment have been able to go as long as four years without needing insulin, researchers say. Stem-cell transplants have effectively "reversed" the condition and freed a small group of patients from the need to have daily injections to control their condition.

Type 1 diabetes, also known as "insulin-dependent" diabetes, occurs when the body loses the ability to produce enough insulin to regulate blood sugar levels. Distinct from type 2 diabetes that is associated with obesity, it is usually diagnosed in childhood and typically requires lifelong insulin therapy in the form of injections or pumps. But patients given a transplant of stem cells made from their own bone marrow have regained the ability to produce the vital hormone, and have managed to cease their insulin injections for an average of are involved in the production of natural insulin in the body, Dr Burt said. One patient did not use insulin for four years, four patients remained insulin-free for three years and three patients for two years, and four patients did not use insulin for more than a year after treatment with the stem cells, Dr Burt said.

To find out if the change was lasting the research team measured levels of C-peptides, a marker that shows how well the body is producing insulin. They found levels increased "up to 24 months after transplantation and were maintained until at least 36 months". Even in the group that had to restart insulin there was a significant increase in C-peptide levels that lasted at least two years. "At the present time [it] remains the only treatment capable of reversing type 1 diabetes mellitus in humans," the team wrote. A potential drawback is that it is likely to work only within three months of the diagnosis of diabetes in patients, before the immune system has destroyed all the body's own islet cells.

Iain Frame, director of research at the charity Diabetes UK, said: "Preliminary findings from this small study were reported in 2007. Although this remains an interesting area of research, the importance of a limited extension to this study should not be overstated - this is not a cure for type 1 diabetes. "As we said in 2007, we would like to see this experiment carried out with a control group for comparison of results and a longer-term follow-up in a greater number of people."

He added: "It is crucial to find out whether this is associated with the timing of the treatment or possible side-effects of it rather than the stem cell transplant itself. "It would be wrong to unnecessarily raise the hopes of people living with diabetes about a new treatment for the condition on the back of the evidence provided in this study."


18 April, 2009

Post-op transfusions for cardiac patients ‘wasting blood supplies’

Blood transfusions routinely carried out after heart surgery could be wasting vital blood supplies and putting patients at risk, researchers suggest.

Cardiac surgery uses almost ten per cent of all donor blood in Britain. Although the benefits of red-cell blood transfusions for managing life-threatening bleeding are clear, researchers at the University of Bristol believe that routine transfusions given after cardiac operations may be unnecessary and cause more medical problems than they solve. Most decisions to transfuse after surgery are made on the basis of a patient’s haemoglobin level, regarded as a measure of the blood’s ability to deliver oxygen around the body.

The level of haemoglobin that causes a doctor to transfuse varies widely and research in non-cardiac surgical fields has shown that lowering the level that “triggers” transfusion reduces the chance of developing deadly infections, blood clots or kidney failure as well as the use of blood, they suggest.

The new research, funded by a £1 million grant from the National Institute for Health Research Health Technology Assessment (NIHR HTA), will examine if withholding blood transfusions until a patient reaches a lower haemoglobin threshold will improve the outcome for cardiac surgery patients and also reduce hospital costs.

Gavin Murphy, a senior lecturer in cardiac surgery at University Hospitals Bristol NHS Foundation Trust, who will lead the study, said: “Unnecessary blood transfusions increase healthcare costs both directly, because blood is an increasingly scarce and expensive resource, and indirectly, due to complications associated with transfusion. “Transfusion may cause complications by reducing patients’ ability to fight off infection and respond to the stress that surgery puts on the body, as well as [rarely] by transmitting viral infections present in donor blood.”

The research will take the form of a randomised controlled trial at several hospitals across the UK. Patients identified from both outpatient and in-patient waiting lists will be invited to take part before surgery takes place.

Barnaby Reeves, Professorial Research Fellow in Health Services Research at the University of Bristol, said: “The primary outcome will be the number of patients affected by sepsis, stroke, heart attack or kidney failure during the first three months after surgery. “We believe that withholding transfusion until the lower haemoglobin level is reached will reduce both complications and hospital costs.”


Doctors hail 'miracle jab' that will heal adult's bones as fast as children's

An injection that spurs adults' bone into healing as quickly as children's could revolutionise the treatment of fractures, doctors believe. The drug teriparatide more than doubles the speed at which broken bones mend - and greatly reduces pain, a study found. Researchers described some of the recoveries as 'miraculous', with patients confined to wheelchairs by long-standing fractures able to walk again.

They say teriparatide, which is already used to prevent osteoporosis, could have a profound impact on the treatment of broken bones. Given once a day as an injection at home, it could be used to mend fractures that have resisted healing, as well as common and painful breaks for which there is currently no treatment other than letting nature take its course. Pensioners and those in late middle age are likely to be the biggest beneficiaries, as bone loses its ability to heal with age. But professional athletes, soldiers and others who need to recover from bone damage as quickly as possible for their career could also find it useful.

Studies show that teriparatide, also known as Forsteo, works by boosting production of stem cells - 'master' cells with the ability to turn into other cell types, including bone and cartilage. Researcher Dr J Edward Puzas said: 'In many people, as they get older, their skeleton loses the ability to heal fractures and repair itself. 'With careful application of teriparatide, we believe we've found a way to turn back the clock on fracture healing through a simple, in-body stem cell therapy.'

The researchers, from the University of Rochester Medical Centre in New York State, were alerted to the possibilities of the drug when treating people with osteoporosis, or brittle bones. Dr Susan Bukata said: 'I had patients with severe osteoporosis, in tremendous pain from multiple fractures throughout their spine and pelvis, who I would put on teriparatide. 'When they would come back for their follow-up visits three months later, it was amazing to see not just the significant healing in their fractures, but to realise they were pain-free - a new and welcome experience for many of these patients.'

The researchers tried the drug on 145 patients with unhealed fractures, half of whom had been in pain for at least six months. After two to three months of injections, 93 per cent of the fractures healed and pain was greatly eased, a recent meeting of the Orthopaedic Research Society heard. Dr Bukata said: 'It takes three to four months for a typical pelvic fracture to heal. But during these three months, patients can be in excruciating pain because there are no medical devices or other treatments that can provide relief. 'Imagine if we can give patients a way to cut the time of their pain and immobility in half. 'That's what teriparatide did in our initial research. 'We saw complete pain relief, callus (cartilage) formation and stability of the fracture in people who had a fracture that up to that point had not healed.'

The team are now comparing the recovery of pelvic fracture patients given teriparatide for four months with another group given a dummy drug. But the need for further largescale trials means even if all goes well, teriparatide is around six years from being routinely used to mend breaks.


17 April, 2009

Births at home as safe as hospital, study suggests

There is a lot of ideology surrounding home births so these results should be treated with caution. Successful homebirth programs are the ones with rapid access to hospitals if things start to go wrong -- and in some places that may mean access to a private hospital as triage for pregnancy problems at government hospitals can sometimes be shockingly lax. Hospitals kill babies too

Midwives are calling for a "seismic shift" to enable more women to give birth at home after a study suggesting that home deliveries can be as safe as those in hospital. Research covering nearly 530,000 births in the Netherlands found that women had a no greater risk of their baby dying or becoming ill if they gave birth at home rather than in hospital. The Royal College of Midwives said that the study was a "major step forward" in showing that home births were safe for women with low risk of complications, but added that the NHS would need a fundamental reorganisation to support more home births.

The Government has promised all women in England a choice of where they would prefer to give birth by the end of this year, but experts say that a lack of community midwives could make this unrealistic in many areas. According to the RCM Royal College of Midwives an extra 5,000 full-time midwives are needed urgently to fulfil this and other pledges on maternity, but ministers have promised only to recruit an extra 3,400 full-time midwives by 2012.

Louise Silverton, the deputy general secretary of the college, said that "to begin providing more home births there has to be a seismic shift in the way maternity services are organised. "The NHS is simply not set up to meet the potential demand for home births, because we are still in a culture where the vast majority of births are in hospital. There also has to be a major increase in the number of midwives because they are the people who will be in the homes delivering the babies."

Celebrity mothers including Davina McCall and Charlotte Church are credited with making home births more popular, but less than 3 per cent of all births in England and Wales took place at home in 2006, the latest figures show. This compares with nearly one in three (30 per cent) of all births taking place at home in Holland.

Lying down during the early stages of childbirth may prolong the agony of labour, a review of medical evidence by the Cochrane Collaboration suggests. Researchers found that the first stage of labour was significantly shorter for women who kneel, stand up, walk around or sit upright. The review by the Cochrane Collaboration, the organisation that promotes evidence-based medicine, used data from 21 studies involving 3,706 women in developed countries since the 1960s. The first stage of labour was about an hour shorter in those who adopted upright positions compared to those who lay down, the researchers said.

Annemarie Lawrence, of the Institute of Women's and Children's Health at the Townsville Hospital in Queensland, Australia, commented: "In most developing countries, women stand up or walk around as they wish during the early stages of birth with no ill effects. Based on these results, we would recommend that women are encouraged to use whichever positions they find most comfortable, but are specifically advised to avoid lying flat."


Childhood photos could hold the secret to your marriage

Happiness is largely a disposition and it is no surprise that happy people are less likely to get dissatisfied with their marriages

If you ever wondered whether your marriage might end in divorce, the answer might lie in a family album. According to scientists it is possible to predict whose marriages will fail by looking at photographs taken decades earlier. Those with the brightest smiles are more than three times as likely to have a strong marriage than those who frown their way through family outings as a child or teenager. Even snaps taken at the age of five yield clues about the path a person's life will take.

'Smile intensity predicted whether or not participants divorced at some point in their lives,' said the researchers. 'The less intensely participants smiled, the more likely they would be divorced later in life.' To make the link, the researchers asked almost 650 adults for pictures taken during their final year of school and rated the brightness of their smiles. The men and women ranged in age between 21 and 87, meaning some of the snaps were 70 years old.

The scientists, from DePauw University in Indiana, then asked the volunteers if they had ever been divorced - and matched their answers with the data on their smiles. Those with the weakest smiles were more than three times as likely to have been through a divorce than those who beamed their way through their teenage years, the journal Motivation and Emotion reports.

A second experiment, which included pictures taken when people were as young as five confirmed the finding. The researchers think it is possible that happy sorts are more likely to try to work through rocky spots in relationships. Alternatively, those with a sunny disposition may marry similarly upbeat souls. It is also possible that happiness is contagious.


16 April, 2009

Health freaks do harm again

Eight years ago, engineers and officials in Washington, D.C. decided to give the go-ahead for a program that would eliminate the "potentially carcinogenic by-products" of chlorine in tap water. The program replaced chlorination with chloramination, and it worked. However, in the next three years, hundreds of families with homes fitted with lead pipes in the District of Columbia were exposed to dangerously high lead levels. Unknown to scientists at the time, the chlorine in tap water served as a 'binder' for the lead pipes, keeping a certain amount of lead from dissolving in the water. In 2004, the chlorination method was restored. Still, in the first half of that year, 74 out of 108 household taps sampled had lead concentrations above the "EPA action level," some astronomically so.

Numerous studies confirm that very low levels of lead in blood are linked to short attention spans and reading problems in children. In adults, low levels are linked to high blood pressure and an increased risk of death from heart disease and stroke. If not detected early, children with high levels of lead in their bodies can suffer from brain and nervous system damage, stunted growth, and hearing problems.

An investigation by Rebecca Renner of Salon has revealed that the Center for Disease Control(CDC) had withheld evidence of dangerously high levels. An influential CDC report released in 2004 (and since cited by officials in Seattle to calm nervous parents) downplayed the role that chloramination played in the D.C. lead crisis, saying that it "might have contributed a small increase in blood lead levels." However, according to Renner, "the results of thousands of blood tests that measured lead contamination in children were missing from the report, potentially skewing the findings and undermining public health. Further, the CDC discovered in 2007 that many young children living in D.C. homes with lead pipes were poisoned by drinking water and suffered ill effects. Parents wondered whether the water could have caused speech and balance problems, difficulty with learning, and hyperactivity. Yet the health agency did not publicize the new findings or alert public health authorities in D.C. or other federal agencies that regulate lead, such as the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency or Housing and Urban Development."

The principle author of the 2004 CDC lead report, Mary Jean Brown, stands by her conclusion that exposure to lead was minor, on the grounds that only tests that revealed low lead levels were lost.

A government scientist spoke to Renner about Brown's justification for excusing the 'lost data.' "When CDC learned the data was missing, someone could have called the lab and asked for it. If it was the lab's mistake, they would have sent the data." Environmental engineer Marc Edwards of Virginia Tech is conducting his own investigation, and found that numerous high results were also omitted.

Edwards was disturbed by what he found in his re-examination of drinking-water and lead blood-level data. In 2007, Edwards filed a complaint of scientific misconduct with the CDC, alleging that Brown knew about serious flaws in the data but refused to acknowledge them when writing the 2004 CDC report.

CDC is not the only authority implicated in the cover-up of D.C.'s lead problem. Also under fire for their handling of the crisis is the city's Water and Sewer Authority and Health Department (WASA). WASA sent inspectors to the homes of children with elevated blood lead to look for the source. A congressional hearing forced officials to testify that in every case the assessments showed that water was not the source of the child's lead exposure. But a recent re-assessment, conducted by Edwards, revealed that water was the sole source of the blood poisoning in some homes.

Even though hundreds of test showed blood-lead levels that were much higher than so-called "EPA action levels" for three years, the EPA admitted to knowing about the "massive" lead problem "a few months" before the public knew, according to Salon News. "At first we didn't think it was a big problem and WASA for the most part complied with the rules," Rick Rogers, who supervised EPA's work on the lead crisis in Washington, told Salon.

The parents of young twins, who believe lead exposure caused developmental problems with their children, filed a $200m lawsuit in February.


Study shows flat chests hit fertility rate

The conclusions about fertility below are inferential rather than direct but are plausible

THE modern generation of women, with successful careers and high stress levels to match, could find their super-powered lifestyle is affecting their fertility. An international comparison of women in 37 different populations and cultures shows that career women are more likely to look like Keira Knightley than Marilyn Monroe, even though the hourglass figure has previously been linked with improved fertility.

The research, published in the recent issue of the journal Current Anthropology, examines the shape of women around the world by comparing their waist-to-hip ratio, which is calculated by dividing a woman's waist circumference by the circumference of her hips.

University of Utah anthropologist Professor Elizabeth Cashdan says there is evidence the hormonal profile linked to a slim-waisted, non-curvy shape favours women in "resource competition, particularly under stressful and difficult circumstances".

The study suggests women who experience heavy work stress and are driven to succeed suffer a hormonal shift with their oestrogen levels affected by increases of androgens, hormones linked to competitiveness and strength.

Professor Cashdan says a small waist and large hips have significant fitness benefits for women. Those women with a waist-to-hip ratio of 0.7, meaning their waist is 70 per cent the size of their hips, are less prone to chronic disease and are typically considered to be more attractive. For a comparison, the study looks at the measurements of 240 Playboy centrefolds and finds they have an average waist-to-hip ratio of 0.68. The average female waist-to-hip ratio is 0.82.

Fertility Society of Australia president Professor Peter Illingworth says it is accepted that extremes in body shape can affect fertility. "If women are severely underweight or severely overweight, it affects the way that they ovulate and it affects their capacity to carry a child," he says.

He describes the anthropological findings as "interesting" and relevant on a wide scale. "I think we're looking at subtle effects across a whole population rather than an effect that would make a big difference of an individual woman's chances of having a baby."


15 April, 2009

Taxing soda to make you stop drinking it

The food police are closing in on their next target: a soda tax. New York City's health commissioner, Thomas Frieden, is leading the way. He's the guy who purged trans fats from the city's restaurants and made them post calorie counts for menu items. Lately he's been pressuring food companies to remove salt from their products.

Now he's going after soda. Writing in the New England Journal of Medicine, Frieden and Kelly Brownell, the director of Yale's Rudd Center for Food Policy and Obesity, propose a penny-per-ounce excise tax on "sugared beverages." That's nearly $3 per case. Why so much? Because this tax, unlike the petty junk-food taxes of yesteryear, is designed to hurt. Its purpose is to discourage you from buying soda, on the grounds that soda, like smoking, is bad for you.

Persuading Americans to regulate soda the way we regulate cigarettes won't be easy. Isn't soda a kind of food? Isn't food a good thing? And isn't it a matter of personal choice? Doesn't taxation to control people's eating behavior cross a fundamental line of liberty? In their article, Frieden and Brownell methodically attack these objections. Going well beyond science, they lay out a political battle plan for the war on junk food.

Step 1 is to convince us that soda isn't really food. If you think this can't be done, wake up: Frieden has already done it to trans fats. In the NEJM article, he and Brownell spurn the notion that soft drinks are sacred because "because people must eat to survive." They tartly observe that "sugared beverages are not necessary for survival."

Step 2 is to associate soda with products we already stigmatize and regulate as harmful. On this point, the authors quote Adam Smith: "Sugar, rum, and tobacco are commodities which are nowhere necessaries of life, which are become objects of almost universal consumption, and which are therefore extremely proper subjects of taxation."

Step 3 is to persuade you that one person's soda consumption harms others, thereby transcending personal liberty. The authors write: "The contribution of unhealthful diets to health care costs is already high and is increasing—an estimated $79 billion is spent annually for overweight and obesity alone—and approximately half of these costs are paid by Medicare and Medicaid, at taxpayers' expense. Diet-related diseases also cost society in terms of decreased work productivity, increased absenteeism, poorer school performance, and reduced fitness on the part of military recruits, among other negative effects."

The Medicare argument is dubious, since, as my colleague Daniel Engber points out, fat people die younger and thereby save the program years of coverage. But the really cheeky pitch is the one about military recruits. Apparently, Coke is now a menace to national security.

Step 4 is to target kids, because our urge to protect them makes us more amenable to paternalism. "Sugared beverages are marketed extensively to children and adolescents" and "now account for 10 to 15% of the calories consumed by children and adolescents," Frieden and Brownell observe. In fact, soda makers "exploit the cognitive vulnerabilities of young children, who often cannot distinguish a television program from an advertisement." New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg echoes this plea: "We have to do something to help our children."

Step 5 is to tempt policymakers with cash flow. "A third consideration is revenue generation," the authors note. "A penny-per-ounce excise tax would raise an estimated $1.2 billion in New York State alone."

Step 6 is to persuade voters that the tax is for their health, not for cash flow. Frieden and Brownell note the political importance of this message: "[A] poll of New York residents found that 52% supported a 'soda tax,' but the number rose to 72% when respondents were told that the revenue would be used for obesity prevention."

Three years ago, I thought the movement to legislate against junk food was politically futile. But that was before the successful assaults on trans fats, calorie counts, and opening fast-food restaurants. Those victories, apparently, were just the appetizers. The next course is behavior modification through taxation. And this article is the recipe.


Scientists find drug that destroys Alzheimer's protein

A NEW approach to treating Alzheimer's passed its first clinical test when a drug developed by scientists was shown to clear the brain of a damaging protein linked to the disease. The drug completely removed a protein called SAP from the brains of five Alzheimer's patients, suggesting that it may be a potential therapy for the incurable degenerative condition.

While the study was not designed to investigate whether the drug had therapeutic benefits, its results were so promising that the scientists behind it are now seeking up to £4 million ($8 million) to test it on a larger group. "There is a severe need for a treatment for Alzheimer's, and there is nothing available that works well," said Mark Pepys, of University College London, who is leading the research. "Nothing else looks promising at the moment, and this is a pretty good, safe option. We can't guarantee it will work, but it's got a good shot."

The drug, known as CPHPC, was first developed by Professor Pepys almost 10 years ago as a possible treatment for amyloidosis, a disease in which amyloid proteins accumulate in the body's organs, often with fatal results.

While Professor Pepys is still investigating the drug for this purpose, and has signed a deal with GlaxoSmithKline to develop it, he is also pursuing it as a possible Alzheimer's therapy. Alzheimer's also features the build-up of amyloid plaques, in this case in brain cells, making CPHPC a good candidate for treatment.

In the new study, published in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, CPHPC was given to patients aged between 53 and 67 who had mild to moderate Alzheimer's disease. After three months the drug cleared all SAP from their brains. The study was too short to show whether this had any clinical effect but none of the patients deteriorated during the research period. "The complete disappearance of SAP could not have been confidently predicted, and the drug, also to our surprise, entered the brain," Professor Pepys said.

Martin Rossor, of UCL Institute of Neurology, who also worked on the research, said: "The safety of CPHPC, together with the novel action of the drug in removing SAP, is very encouraging."


14 April, 2009

The anti-fat fat man

Kelly Brownell, grandfather of the Twinkie Tax and author of the recent book Food Fight, regularly attacks restaurants and food suppliers for providing the food that Americans want: "The classic dodge of the food industry now is to blame the obesity problem on physical activity or lack of personal responsibility," he asserts. Brownell has said he wants to "get away from these arguments about personal responsibility." Yet when it comes to his own weight, the AP reports:
He sports a good-size paunch thanks, he says, to a book project that has kept him relatively sedentary and snack-prone for the last year or so. In photographs taken a few years back, Kelly Brownell looks much trimmer.
Brownell demonstrates the same disregard for parental responsibility that he exhibits for personal responsibility. In Food Fight, he writes that relying on parents is a "failed experiment" and implies parents can't be trusted to care for their own children any more than if they were trapped animals. He testified to Congress in 2002: "If children have healthy foods available, they'll eat healthy foods. If they have unhealthy foods available, they'll eat those ... Animals will do the same thing when put in a cage." Big Brother Brownell would rather trust government restrictions to manage what children eat.

Brownell also supports obesity lawsuits. In a statement announcing the Public Health Advocacy Institute's 2004 "Legal Approaches to the Obesity Epidemic" conference (the 2003 event was "intended to encourage and support litigation against the food industry"), he endorsed lawsuits as another way to control everyone else's behavior. And, trying once more to remove food from the realm of personal responsibility, he moderated a panel at the 2004 conference titled: "Are Some Foods Addictive?"

"Zoning laws," Brownell writes in Food Fight, should be used to "prohibit the operation of businesses selling food within a certain distance of schools." Brownell also recommended in the newsletter of the Puritanical Center for Science in the Public Interest that activists "develop a militant attitude about the toxic food environment, like we have about tobacco." (Will Brownell develop such a militant attitude about his own "toxic" environment at home that caused his own issue?) And what about consumers' freedom to eat what they please? Nonsense, says Brownell. Even smoking "became so serious that society overlooked the intrusion on individual rights for the greater social good."

Of course, Brownell uses Food Fight to heavily promote (what else?) taxes on foods he doesn't like. So he wants to "hit junk-food junkies where it hurts: in their wallets." Consumer taxes, he argues, "can generate considerable revenue and appear to drive down sales of these foods ... The aim of the taxes to decrease consumption of unhealthy foods must be made explicit."

Attacks on "unhealthy" snacks may be trademark Brownell, but even he admits: "No good foods, no bad foods may be true for an individual." That's the position of nutrition professionals, but Brownell argues "from a public health point of view" that "no good foods, no bad foods is a highly unproductive philosophy." Why? "Because it makes all food equal." That makes it harder for Brownell's band of food cops to push their hefty taxes on our tasty snacks.

Brownell's book includes a few remarkable admissions. Speaking of food marketing, he concedes: "There is only circumstantial evidence that the ads cause poor eating." But lack of good science doesn't stop him from complaining about advertising for applesauce and 100 percent juice drinks.

Brownell even acknowledges that being overweight isn't necessarily a health risk:
Groundbreaking work on fitness and weight has been done by [epidemiologist Steven] Blair and colleagues at the Cooper Institute. They have shown that the advantages of being fit are striking and that people can be fit even if they are fat ... and thus have lowered risk of disease. A remarkable finding is that heavy people who are fit have lower risk than thin people who are unfit.

'Double whammy' malaria drug hope

A new "double whammy" malaria drug which works on its own and reverses resistance to other drugs is being developed by US researchers. The drug contains a chemical which prevents the malaria parasite getting rid of a toxic by-product of feeding on red blood cells. It also disables a genetic defence that prevents the existing drugs chloroquine and quinine working, Nature reports. But the team says it could be at least 10 years before the drug is available.

There are around 250 million cases of malaria and 880,000 deaths worldwide each year.

The drug, developed by Jane Kelly and colleagues at Portland State University, is called an acridone derivative. It targets the way mosquitoes digest haemoglobin in red blood cells, from which they take amino acids as their food. A substance called haem, a by-product of this process, is toxic to the malaria parasites, carried by mosquitoes, so they have to convert it into a pigment called haemozoin. This drug prevents that conversion taking place, meaning the toxic pigment remains.

It is the same effect as that of chloroquine and quinine. But the researchers have found that, as well as working on its own, the acridone can restore and enhance the effectiveness of these other drugs too. Malaraia parasites have developed a genetic mutation preventing chloroquine and quinine absorption, and expelling them from the parasite's body. This new drug is able to disable that defence mechanism, allowing the chloroquine and quinine to do their job.

The researchers have successfully tested the compound in the lab and on mice, however they need to do more animal studies on the safety and effectiveness of the drug before they move on to human studies. It is also relatively inexpensive to make and has so far appeared to be safe in tests.

Dr Mike Riscoe from Portland State University who worked on the study, said: "What we wanted was to design a molecule that would be of itself an antimalarial drug, but that would have the power to work together with drugs like chloroquine and quinine, even against parasites that were resistant to those drugs. "We would hope to make existing drugs like chloroquine and quinine useful again, so combining those with this new one could help to combat the rising tide of drug resistance in this neglected disease.

But Dr Jane Kelly, who led the research, warned: "In the pharmaceutical industry, it can take 10 years and $1bn for a drug to be usable in humans, so we are still a long way away from that."


13 April, 2009

Surgical treatment 'can cure high blood pressure'

Is this another example of a medical miracle that eventually turns into an iatrogenic disaster? It may be treating a symptom rather than curing the cause

A surgical treatment for high blood pressure could cure millions of sufferers without the need for powerful drugs. The operation appears to permanently alleviate the chronic condition, which affects about a third of all adults in the UK and is a major cause of strokes and heart attacks.

It works by destroying bundles of nerves that line the artery supplying blood to the kidneys. In some people these nerves are thought to encourage the kidneys to retain salt, which contributes to high blood pressure. Doctors have developed a technique to blast the nerves with concentrated radiowaves to stop them from working. Clinicians found this had an almost immediate effect in lowering blood pressure. The effects were still apparent in patients 12 months later.

Most of the 50 patients in the Australian trial had dangerously high blood pressure but multiple drugs to control their condition had not worked. Experts claim that if further trials are as successful, most patients could benefit from the operation, known as radio frequency ablation and reported in The Lancet. It could be available in two years.


How the shape of your brain shows what kind of personality you have

Was phrenology right after all? Psychologists have long known that personality is highly hereditary so the findings below are not very surprising

Scientists may one day be able to find out what a young child’s personality will be like by simply scanning their brain, new research has shown. New research has found that the shape of your brain gives a clue to what type of person you are.

The differences in the shape of the brains of 85 people were scanned and measured. They found that larger or smaller amounts of tissue in certain areas of the brains were linked to specific personality traits. The discovery raises the startling possibility of being able to discover a young child’s future personality by analysing the shape of their brain.

The four main personality types were classified by psychiatrists as ‘novelty-seeking’, ‘harm avoidance’, ‘reward dependence’ and ‘persistence’. Those with a novelty-seeking personality had an area of the brain above the eye sockets which was larger than in other people, according to Professor Annalena Venneri of the University of Hull. ‘Novelty seekers’ were likely to act impulsively while those bracketed in the harm avoidance group were usually pessimistic and shy.

Those who were hard-working were part of the ‘persistence’ group while inveterate gamblers with an addictive personality were likely to be part of the ‘reward dependence’ category. People with ‘reward dependence’ personalities had brains with far less tissue in the fronto-striatal section of the brain. Damage to the fronto-striatal area is often linked to autism.

People with harm-avoidance personalities had significantly smaller volumes of tissue in brain regions called the orbito-frontal area and the posterior occipital region. The research suggests that children are born with certain personalities and also indicates that their brain develops differently depending on the type of person they become.


12 April, 2009

Children who eat porridge for breakfast 'get better exam results'

Seeing I had porridge for breakfast every day until I was 16, I am inclined to agree with this article -- but it wasn't REAL porridge studied below. The study is utter crap anyway. If it shows anything, it shows that correcting nutritional deficiencies is helpful -- not exactly news. Could the fact that "Children received supplements" just somehow be relevant??

Feeding children high energy breakfast foods such as porridge at a young age boosts their exams results at school, new research suggests. Children who followed such a diet before their third birthday had improved scores in reading and problem-solving tests compared to their peers, it was revealed.

In a study that provides some of the strongest links yet between nutrition and academic performance, academics said it also increased the likelihood of remaining in education for longer. It had a particular effect on girls. Research has already shown that food rich in omega 3 such as fish improves reading, writing and spelling among children.

The latest study, based on research using a kind of porridge eaten in Guatemala but made with corn rather than oats, suggests a wider link between food and brain power. John Maluccio, lead author and assistant professor of economics at Middlebury College, Vermont, said: "Before this study, only limited evidence spanning childhood to adulthood existed to support claims about the long-term effects of early childhood nutrition. "This study confirms that the first three years of life represent a window of opportunity when nutrition programs can have lifelong benefits on a child's development, particularly in education."

The study was based on children in Guatemala eating "atole". It was made with corn, rather than the traditional British oats used in porridge, although they share high protein levels. It was mixed with dry skimmed milk and sugar. Children received supplements between 1969 and 1977, the study, published in the Economic Journal, said.

In 2002 and 2004, researchers returned to Guatemala and collected information on school results. Men and women who received atole as children achieved higher scores on reading comprehension tests and on non-verbal cognitive tests, it was revealed. Women taking part in the study were more likely to remain in education for another year.

The research was conducted in Guatemala by the Institute for Nutrition in Central America and Panama, Emory University, the International Food Policy Research Institute (IFPRI), the University of Pennsylvania and Middlebury College.

John Hoddinott, a co-author and IFPRI senior research fellow, said: "We have long known that nutrition interventions can provide significant benefits in terms of a child's health and development. "This study in Guatemala is important because it shows that improving nutrition in early childhood can have significant educational payoffs into adulthood."

Jacqui Lowdon, a paediatric dietician from the British Dietetic Association, said the food used in the study would have a similar protien content to normal porridge, but added that poor diet among the children tested may be responsible for the dramatic results. “We already know that good nutrition is important for long-term health and especially important for brain development in the first few years of life,” she said.


New scar treatment Avotermin may change the face of surgery

People left with unsightly scars from injuries or surgery may soon be able to tone down their blemishes with a new drug, research suggests. Tests indicate that the healing drug has the potential to reduce scarring when administered before a surgical operation or on existing scars if the suture is redone.

The drug, a synthetic cell-signalling agent called avotermin, is injected under the skin at the site of the wound before and after an incision is made or surgery is carried out on an existing scar. Results from the tests, published in The Lancet, show that it improved the appearance of scars noticeably – as judged by panels of lay volunteers and experts.

The scientists who led the study said that in some cases the drug reduced redness and "lowered" the scar, making it feel more like normal skin. In others, it improved scars to the point that they could be located only with temporary tattoo markers.

Earlier research had identified transforming growth factor beta3 (TGFbeta3), a cytokine signalling molecule that sends messages between cells, as a possible anti-scarring therapy.

Three trials were conducted on groups of volunteers who were given centimetre-wide puncture wounds in their arms. The incisions were deep enough to penetrate the skin to underlying muscle. Varying doses of avotermin, an artificial form of TGFbeta3, were injected at the wound site both before and 24 hours after injury. Scarring appearance was assessed using a 100-point scale. The higher the number given, the more noticeable the scar was judged to be.

Trial participants ranged widely in age and were split into two groups, one receiving the anti-scarring therapy and the other a dummy treatment. In two trials, lower doses of the drug improved scarring appearance by up to eight points after 12 months. A third trial using higher doses resulted in improvements of as much as 64 points. About a third of the participants experienced a high level of improvement, a third had slight improvement, and in a third of cases there was no change. No side effects were reported. Avotermin affected the orientation, density and thickness of the collagen fibres that cause scarring, the studies showed.

Professor Mark Ferguson, from the University of Manchester, said that the treatment suggested that major changes to scarring treatment were possible. He said that with 42 million Europeans and 43 million Americans undergoing surgery every year, it could be of enormous benefit, adding that a trial into revision surgery – when people have an existing scar recut and sewn up – was also under way. “Some people got a really dramatic effect, where the scar was almost imperceptible. We had to tattoo temporary markers to either end of the cut because 12 months later we couldn’t see where the scar was,” he said. “If the drug continues to work and be approved it could be used in surgeries, following trauma and burns, from road traffic accidents to elective surgery and cosmetic procedures.”

Professor Ferguson and his colleagues wrote in The Lancet paper that they detected “substantial differences in collagen organisation in some participants, with avotermin-treated scars more closely resembling the basket-weave pattern of normal skin”.

The researchers added: “With low doses injected locally around the time of surgery, avotermin is a well tolerated and convenient treatment. These studies suggest that avotermin has potential to provide an accelerated and permanent improvement in scarring.”

Brendan Eley, chief executive of the Healing Foundation, said that TGFbeta3 had been one of the "holy grails" of anti-scarring therapy for some time, and described the results as encouraging. “That the impact on scar formation is both structural and aesthetic is very promising. What impact these therapies could have on patients with complicated and potentially disfiguring wounds – that’s the exciting next step of this work which the clinical community will await with eager anticipation," he said.


11 April, 2009

Research shows sex can lead to good health and a longer life

What! It more likely shows that people in poor health are less likely to have sex. The usual Godlike certainty below that they just somehow KNOW the causal path

SEX can help fight flab, ward off colds and make you live longer. “There is definitely a correlation between health and sex. If you are healthier, you are going to have more sex," Jennifer Bass, of the British sex research centre The Kinsey Institute, said. “Making love provides a cardiovascular workout and floods the body with feel-good chemicals.”

A survey by the American Association Of Retired Persons has revealed that sex is associated with good health and a longer life, The Sun reports. Almost half of over-50s - 44 per cent - who described their health as excellent or very good had intercourse at least once a week. But just 20 per cent of those with only fair or poor health made love this often.

Also, men who have sex less than once a month are twice as likely to have a fatal heart attack than men who make love at least twice a week. “Sex is great for the cardiovascular system but how much you get out depends on how much effort you put in," The Sun's Dr Carol Cooper said. “If it’s not getting your heart racing, you’re doing it wrong. “Patients with heart problems sometimes worry about dying on the job, but that’s very rare. If you can manage two flights of stairs you are probably fit enough for sex.”

Because it boosts circulation, sex increases the supply of oxygen to cells and stimulates the activity of various organs and systems within the body. And a regular dose of sex is just as good as a trip to the gym or a session with a personal trainer. “Just 30 minutes of sex will burn around 200 calories, so if you have sex five days a week, that’s equivalent to two-and-a-half hours in the gym," The Sun's fitness expert Nicki Waterman said.


CA-MRSA - the killer in our midst


Sean Fisher couldn’t see the armies of toxic bacteria deep inside his right thigh, killing off wave upon wave of white blood cells sent forth to defend him; he didn’t know that a battalion of invaders was charging straight for his lungs, but the 10-year-old felt so ill he probably wouldn’t have cared. He’d spent the night before vomiting violently and enduring painful cramps, cradled in the arms of his mother, Vicky, until dawn.

Only the afternoon before, this normally strong and fit boy had been shifting rocks on the family’s idyllic rainforest enclave in Wondecla, 90km southwest of Cairns, with his older brother, Jack, mum and older sister, Terri. Just a couple of hours afterwards he complained of a tingling and burning sensation in his leg, upon which Vicky noticed a mysterious red rash rising up. Perhaps an insect bite, she thought. But as the night advanced, she suspected it was something far more troubling.

Once daylight broke, the 41-year-old mother, whose husband was away working in the mines in Papua New Guinea, wasted no time. She helped her son, now limping badly and deathly pale, into the family wagon for the 30-minute drive to the nearest hospital at Atherton. By the time he was admitted he was complaining of chest pain, had a fever of 40.3 degrees and his skin was breaking out in dark red, swollen pustules. Meningococcal disease, Vicky fretted. But a battery of blood tests revealed little more than an infection running out of control, and with Sean’s condition deteriorating, baffled doctors transferred him to Cairns Base Hospital. There a doctor took a photograph of the rash engulfing his torso, scalp, face and ears.

After almost three days, with the microbe still unknown and medical options running out, Sean was airlifted to Mater Children’s Hospital in Brisbane where he was immediately wheeled to intensive care, hooked up to a ventilator and drip-fed the antibiotic of last resort, vancomycin. Doctors put his chance of survival at 30 per cent. “There was so much infection in his lungs,” says Vicky, “that his X-rays were white.” With hope draining away she fell to her knees in the hospital chapel, “pleading with God not to take my baby away.”

The head of intensive care, after receiving the results from a CT scan and further blood tests, rolled Sean on to his side to examine an abscess on his pelvis. Sean yelled in agony but the specialist had a diagnosis consisting of six strange letters: CA-MRSA, or community acquired methicillin-resistant staphylococcus aureus, a new super-bug that lives not in hospital wards but in the outside world.

“I’d never heard of it,” says Vicky. “I’d read about golden staph, but not MRSA or CA-MRSA.” After continuing on high-dosage vancomycin, Sean began to make a slow but steady recovery. When he was discharged from hospital five weeks later, he had only 30 per cent lung capacity and was learning to walk again. Only now, four months later, is Sean anywhere near being the active boy he once was.

It turns out Sean is one of the lucky ones. Sydney teenager Reis Gray wasn’t so fortunate. The strapping 190cm 17-year-old returned home from guitar lessons one Tuesday evening sniffling and feeling lethargic. The next day his mother, Julie, drove him to the local GP, who prescribed a course of antibiotics. When his colour didn’t improve over the next 24 hours, a worried Julie phoned her mother, a retired nurse, but Reis insisted, “I’m fine, Mum. I don’t feel any pain.”

But he wasn’t fine and on Friday morning Julie dragged him out of bed (“I just need to sleep,” he moaned) and drove him to the GP, who took his pulse and immediately called an ambulance. Just before Reis was intubated in accident and emergency at Westmead Hospital, he asked, “Am I going to be all right, mum?”

“Of course you are, sweetheart,” Julie replied without hesitation, genuinely believing that in a Sydney hospital in the 21st century, brimming with cutting-edge technology, that her healthy, outdoorsy son, who hadn’t been in a hospital since he was born, would make a swift recovery. But it was to be the last time she heard Reis’s voice.

Astonished doctors took one look at his X-rays and scheduled a double lung transplant – three-quarters of Reis’s lung tissue was missing, eaten away by the bug. But before any transplant they had to halt the runaway infection in its tracks. They launched a barrage of antibiotics against it but the infection shook them all off like confetti.

This bright, gregarious young man – who enjoyed footy, fishing, and jamming with his dad, Warren, in the garage – never regained consciousness. Which didn’t stop him battling his insidious assailant for 24 more days, until his heart finally gave out. “He was the baby of the family, the one who always made us laugh,” says Julie, who has two older children, Josh, 20 and Jessica, 23. “He had his whole life ahead of him.”

In the middle of the dining table where we are talking, Reis smiles back at us from a white-framed photograph, a handsome young man with a lick of chestnut hair tumbling over his forehead. On a mantelpiece opposite stands a shiny wooden box. Inside rest his ashes.


10 April, 2009

Traffic pollution can harm babies in the womb, claim researchers

Ho hum! This claim is a hardy perennial and so is the poor quality of the evidence that it is based on. Polluted areas are less prestigious and therefore cheaper and therefore inhabited by losers generally. And the findings bore that out. The researchers observed and rightly controlled for a lot of these "loser" characteristics in their sample -- but it seems likely that they did not get them all -- drug abuse, for instance. The cause of the less healthy babies is in the nature of losers (more risky behaviour etc.) -- not in the pollution

Exposure to traffic pollution during pregnancy could harm babies in the womb, a study shows. The risk of a delivering a baby of small weight rose significantly with each increase in pollution levels during the first three months and final three months of pregnancy. Researchers believe restricted fetal growth may be linked to traffic pollution or living close to a major road.

Epidemiologist Professor David Rich, of the University of Medicine and Dentistry of New Jersey, and colleagues said it was unclear how air pollution restricts fetal growth. Previous research suggests air pollution might alter cell activity - or cut the amount of oxygen and nutrients a baby receives while in the womb.

Prof Rich, whose findings are published online in the Journal of Epidemiology and Community Health, said: "A body of evidence is emerging from several countries on the adverse consequences of ambient air pollution on fetal/birth outcomes, including pre-term birth and fetal growth restriction."

The researchers based their findings on almost 336,000 births in New Jersey between 1999 and 2003 and daily readings of air pollution from monitoring points around the state from the US Environmental Protection Agency.

Mothers of small, and very small birth weight babies were more likely to be younger, less well educated, of African-American ethnicity, smokers, poorer, and single parents than mothers with normal birth weight babies. But levels of ambient air pollutants were linked to restricted fetal growth, even after taking account of these risk factors.

Prof Rich said: "These findings suggest ambient air pollution, perhaps specifically traffic emissions during early and late pregnancy and/or factors associated with residence near a roadway during pregnancy, may affect fetal growth.

"Further, pregnancy complications may increase susceptibility to these effects in late pregnancy."


Gwyneth Paltrow's Shampoo Cancer Link Claim Dismissed By Scientists

Another addled-brain "celebrity".

Gwyneth Paltrow has come under fire from health experts after she warned shampoo could be linked to cancer. Writing on her website, The Shakespeare In Love star explains her concerns arose after she read research about what she calls "environmental toxins", which are found in products such as shampoo and lotion. Paltrow claims that these toxins could be linked to a rise in diseases such as asthma and cancer in children, and warns pregnant women to be careful.

She writes, "Fetuses, infants and toddlers are basically unable to metabolize toxins the way adults are, and we are constantly filling our environment with chemicals that may or may not be safe."

However, leading bacteriologist Professor Hugh Pennington has slammed her claims, describing them as "loopy." He says, "It does annoy me when celebrities use their position to spout nonsense. They have a perfect right to their views, even if they are loopy, but they do hold a position of influence."

Other experts at British charity Cancer Research UK have also dismissed Paltrow's theories, claiming there is no evidence to support her assertion that childhood cancer rates had increased "exponentially."


9 April, 2009

Bacon sandwich really does cure a hangover

A bacon sandwich really does cure a hangover - by boosting the level of amines which clear the head, scientists have found

Researchers claim food also speeds up the metabolism helping the body get rid of the booze more quickly. Elin Roberts, of Newcastle University's Centre for Life said: "Food doesn't soak up the alcohol but it does increase your metabolism helping you deal with the after-effects of over indulgence. So food will often help you feel better.

"Bread is high in carbohydrates and bacon is full of protein, which breaks down into amino acids. Your body needs these amino acids, so eating them will make you feel good."

Ms Roberts told The Mirror: "Bingeing on alcohol depletes neurotransmitters too, but bacon contains a high level of aminos which tops these up, giving you a clearer head."

Researchers also found a complex chemical interaction in the cooking of bacon produces the winning combination of taste and smell which is almost irresistible. The reaction between amino acids in the bacon and reducing sugars in the fat is what provides the sandwich with its appeal.

Ms Roberts said: "The smell of sizzling bacon in a pan is enough to tempt even the staunchest of vegetarians. There's something deeper going on inside. It's not just the idea of a tasty snack. There is some complex chemistry going on. "Meat is made of mostly protein and water. Inside the protein, it's made up of building blocks we call amino acids. But also, you need some fat. Anyone who's been on a diet knows if you take all the fat from the meat, it just doesn't taste the same. We need some of the fat to give it the flavour."

She explained that the reaction released hundreds of smells and flavours but it is the smell which reels in the eater. "Smell and taste are really closely linked," she said. "If we couldn't smell then taste wouldn't be the same."


Institute of Cancer Research finds melanoma gene trigger

Not those wicked genes again! The Left would surely tell us that it is all due to "poverty"

MOST melanoma skin cancers may be triggered by a gene mutation that causes cells to become cancerous after excessive exposure to the sun. The discovery could lead to better treatments for the most deadly form of skin cancer after scientists at Britain's Institute of Cancer Research established the BRAF gene mutation is often the first event in the cascade of genetic changes leading to melanoma.

Scientists already knew the BRAF gene was frequently damaged in patients with melanoma, but it was unclear if this was a cause or effect of the cancer.

The British institute published its findings in the journal Cancer Cell. "Our study shows that the genetic damage of BRAF is the first step in skin cancer development," said lead author Richard Marais. "Understanding this process will help us develop more effective treatments for the disease."

The hope is that knowing the genetics behind skin cancer will lead to the development of targeted drugs that can fix the faulty genetic machinery.

While melanoma accounts for only a small percentage of skin cancers, it is responsible for most skin cancer deaths. The disease is characterised by the uncontrolled proliferation of pigment-producing skin cells called melanocytes. Over-exposure to sunlight is to blame for at least two-thirds of cases as DNA in sunburnt skin cells becomes damaged, leading to the genetic mutations.


8 April, 2009

Hay fever 'could be cured by sex', say Iranians

Wishful thinking?

Hay fever symptoms could be alleviated by sexual intercourse, scientists have hypothesised, while admitting their recommendation does suffer from practical obstacles.

Researchers claim that sex constricts the blood vessels which unblocks bunged up noses and clears streaming eyes. Iranian scientists found the nasal system is linked to the reproductive system. So far experts at the Tabriz Medical University have not performed clinical trials to test their theory.

But if they are proved right then male sufferers need no longer rely on antihistamine drugs, some of which have been known to cause high blood pressure and blocked noses.

Neurologist Sina Zarrintan claims his method would be a lot more pleasurable, cheaper and need only be done whenever the symptoms become really bad. He said: "It can be done from time to time to alleviate the congestion and the patient can adjust the number of intercourses depending on the severity of the symptoms."

Not everyone agrees though. Mohammed Amin Abolghassemi Fakhree from Tabriz University poured scorn on the idea. He added: "There are some limitations in using ejaculation as a treatment of nasal congestion, such as not being applicable out of home and not having any sex partner."


Last night a lipstick saved my life: How a spot of lippy could prevent a fatal fall

Says cosmetics company. Maybe women who are healthy have more incentive to take care of their appearance and so would have fewer falls whatever they did

It may infuriate their waiting husbands, but women who insist on applying make-up before going anywhere could be saving themselves from disaster. Scientists have found that the ritual of applying lipstick and blusher acts as a type of stretching exercise which can improve balance and coordination. This is particularly important for older women, for whom a fall can cause serious injury or even death. Each year, more than 700,000 people over 65 in the UK have to go to hospital after a fall. Those who break a hip have a 20 per cent chance of dying within a year and falls are the leading cause of death for the over-75s.

The apparent benefits of make-up emerged from a study of 100 women from 65 to 85 at the University of St Etienne in France. They were fitted with special insoles to test their centres of gravity and a belt to monitor their posture. The researchers found that those who put on make-up every day had much better balance and posture, and suffered fewer falls.

Dr Patricia Pineau, who led the study, said: 'These women stood up straight and suffered fewer falls. They held themselves differently to those who did not wear make-up.' Dr Pineau, director of research communications at the cosmetics company L'Oreal Group, added: 'It could help to prevent many debilitating falls.' The findings are to be presented at the World Congress of Gerontology in Paris. Last year, a study concluded that gentle yoga exercises can cut the risk of painful falls in old age.

Just two months of classes improved muscle strength, balance and flexibility, making falls and fractures less likely. Women who took part in the programme of exercises, designed specifically for over-65s, also felt more confident, the U.S. research found. Even if falls do not cause broken bones or head injuries, they can leave older people fearful and dependent on others for everyday chores.

One reason the elderly are most at risk is that the nerves most distant from the brain, such as in the foot, tend to decline in activity as part of the ageing process. Damage from a fall is often made worse by underlying osteoporosis, the brittle bone disease.


7 April, 2009

Could taking Vitamin E harm your baby's heart?

Oh no! This cannot be! Vitamin E is one of those miraculous "antioxidants". Seriously, though, a 900% increase in risk makes it seem like a real hazard. Epidemiologists regularly go ga ga over a 30% increase in risk -- or less. But the "high" and the "safe" doses in the study differ only slightly so it is all a bit mad. I don't think the case is proven at all. But for once I endorse the official advice (at the end of the article). Journal abstract here

Pregnant women have been warned that taking even modest amounts of vitamin E can dramatically increase the risk of heart defects in babies. Expectant mothers who consume only three-quarters of the recommended daily amount of the vitamin, either through food or supplements, have up to nine times the risk that their child will be born suffering a heart abnormality, a study showed. The same link between heart damage and vitamin E was seen in women who had taken similar levels of the vitamin in the month preceding conception. Last night leading obstetricians said women should avoid vitamin E supplements if they are planning to conceive or are pregnant.

Vitamin E, found in nuts, seeds, vegetable oils and eggs, is an antioxidant and is thought to help skin stay healthy and ease the misery of premenstrual syndrome.

During pregnancy it was previously thought to help protect against miscarriage. The recommended daily intake, according to EU rules, is 20mg a day. However researchers from the Erasmus MC, University Medical Centre, in Rotterdam found women who had taken over 14.9mg a day during the first two months of pregnancy were up to nine times more likely to have a child with a heart defect. This risk was repeated for women who had consumed more than 14.9mg a day in the month prior to conception according to the study, published in the British Journal of Obstetrics and Gynaecology.

The exact mechanism which could lead vitamin E to cause an increased risk of heart damage is not yet known, but experts believe it plays a crucial role in early fetal growth.

The study examined the diets of 267 women whose child was born with a heart defect and 324 women whose children were born healthy. Mothers whose children had a heart defect showed significantly higher dietary vitamin E intake, averaging 13.3 mg per day compared with 12.6mg. A total of 89 of these mothers - 32 per cent - had a daily vitamin E intake above 14.9mg. The study authors said the results demonstrate that a high maternal intake of vitamin E 'is associated with a 1.7 to nine-fold increased congenital heart defect risk'.

Last night an eminent obstetrician, Professor Stuart Campbell, said: 'This work has to be confirmed but I think there is enough evidence for the Government to advise pregnant women not to take vitamin E supplementation in pregnancy.' Another expert, Professor Andrew Shennan, said: 'I do not advise taking any extra vitamins - C or E - because we simply don't know if it is safe, particularly in pregnancy.'

However, Dr Carrie Ruxton, an independent nutritionist and scientific adviser to the Health Supplements Information Service, said vitamin E was an essential nutrient and it was 'premature' to recommend that pregnant women avoid foods and supplements containing it.

The Department of Health said pregnant women should supplement a healthy diet only with extra folic acid, to guard against spina bifida, and vitamin D, to boost bone strength.


Rude Prime Minister needs more meat?

Australian Prime Minister Kevin Rudd is on a weight-loss diet that cuts out red meat

CRITICISM of Kevin Rudd's outburst on a flight from Papua New Guinea is completely over the top, Treasurer Wayne Swan has said. The Prime Minister was forced to apologise for yelling at a 23-year-old Royal Australian Air Force (RAAF) female flight attendant because he was not served the meal he wanted during the flight to Australia in January.

Opposition frontbencher Julie Bishop said yesterday that Mr Rudd was a bully and his behaviour would be unacceptable in any Australian workplace. Ms Bishop said the incident was not just rude, it was sexist and Mr Rudd had abused his position in an unequal power relationship. "This is a very powerful man in a privileged position bullying a female defence member whose job it is to wait on the Prime Minister as he travels around the world on a taxpayer-funded private jet," Ms Bishop told ABC TV yesterday. "Bullying behaviour by the Prime Minister in particular towards a female member of our serving defence force is totally unacceptable. "The kind of bullying that reduced her to tears and ended up in an incident report being filed ... would not be accepted in any workplace across Australia. It reflects very badly on him." ....

Opposition frontbencher Nick Minchin said Australians were seeing the real Kevin Rudd, whom people in parliament were already familiar with. "He's been quite appropriately nicknamed Kevin Rude ... as a result of this episode," Senator Minchin said. "Those of us who work and live in Parliament House have known for years there's two sides to Kevin Rudd, and that behind closed doors he's prone to temper tantrums and this sort of belittling and very bad behaviour with his own staff.

In London, Mr Rudd attempted to play down the incident and pleaded for understanding. "As I said, we're all human - we all make mistakes, your Prime Minister included," he said.

But maybe there is another explanation. According to Karen Inge, head of nutrition at the Victorian Institute of Sport, iron deficiency was the reason behind Mr Rudd's rude behaviour. "If you cut down on red meat it can reduce your iron levels. The major role of iron is to carry oxygen in the blood. If you have low oxygen it makes you tired. It's not rocket science. You only have to look at a child who is tired to see how cranky they are. When you are tired you don't often react in the best way possible," Ms Inge said.


6 April, 2009

Different brain responses found in believers and non-believers -- to the advantage of believers

The very busy Michael Inzlicht is good at proving the obvious and the finding below is far from unexpected too. But there are some occasions when confirmation of the expected is useful and I think the study below falls into that category. Inzlicht is a Leftist and presumably Jewish Canadian so one can understand his obvious disappointment with his own findings below.

The original heading on this article was amusing: "Researchers find brain differences between believers and non-believers". If you did not read the article carefully, you could well be left with the impression that religious brains were structurally deficient -- which is not remotely what the research shows. That's not the fault of Inzlicht, however, just the usual hostility to religion that pervades the academy. The journal abstract is here

Believing in God can help block anxiety and minimize stress, according to new University of Toronto research that shows distinct brain differences between believers and non-believers. In two studies led by Assistant Psychology Professor Michael Inzlicht, participants performed a Stroop task - a well-known test of cognitive control - while hooked up to electrodes that measured their brain activity.

Compared to non-believers, the religious participants showed significantly less activity in the anterior cingulate cortex (ACC), a portion of the brain that helps modify behavior by signaling when attention and control are needed, usually as a result of some anxiety-producing event like making a mistake. The stronger their religious zeal and the more they believed in God, the less their ACC fired in response to their own errors, and the fewer errors they made.

"You could think of this part of the brain like a cortical alarm bell that rings when an individual has just made a mistake or experiences uncertainty," says lead author Inzlicht, who teaches and conducts research at the University of Toronto Scarborough. "We found that religious people or even people who simply believe in the existence of God show significantly less brain activity in relation to their own errors. They're much less anxious and feel less stressed when they have made an error."

These correlations remained strong even after controlling for personality and cognitive ability, says Inzlicht, who also found that religious participants made fewer errors on the Stroop task than their non-believing counterparts.

Their findings show religious belief has a calming effect on its devotees, which makes them less likely to feel anxious about making errors or facing the unknown. But Inzlicht cautions that anxiety is a "double-edged sword" which is at times necessary and helpful.

"Obviously, anxiety can be negative because if you have too much, you're paralyzed with fear," he says. "However, it also serves a very useful function in that it alerts us when we're making mistakes. If you don't experience anxiety when you make an error, what impetus do you have to change or improve your behaviour so you don't make the same mistakes again and again?"


Phony Anti-Meat Doctors Getting Desperate For Publicity

This morning, a Washington Post blogger gave fear-mongering vegans at the Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine (PCRM) some long-overdue advice: “Lighten up!” Taking a page from their close friends at PETA, PCRM caught the attention of a major newswire this week with a publicity stunt involving a novelty cheeseburger at a minor-league baseball stadium in Michigan. The four-pound monster burger, said PCRM’s Susan Levin, shouldn’t be sold without a “dietary disaster” warning label. Because no one knows that eating 4,800-calorie burgers isn’t a healthy habit. Right.

The Post’s Jennifer Huget was not impressed:
Give me a break. I've got to think that PCRM has got bigger fish to fry…

Of course nobody's suggesting that monster burgers become a dietary mainstay. But this is clearly a prank, a silly attention-getting device. To suggest that it's likely to encourage widespread overindulgence in hypercaloric ground beef sandwiches is, I think, disingenuous. Seems health advocacy groups, like minor-league ball teams, sometimes need a bit of publicity.

I don't want to eat a big burger myself. But I defend other people's right to cram one in their face if they so choose.
PCRM looks silly indeed for ignoring the fact that Michigan’s minor-league fans are probably in on the joke with this gigantic burger. (For crying out loud, the thing has its own t-shirt.)

But Huget slightly misses the mark on one point: To PCRM, there are no bigger fish than getting Americans to stop eating meat. One shameless food scare, phony medical claim, and meaningless warning label at a time.


5 April, 2009

How a cup of hot chocolate could boost brain power and stave off fatigue

The flavanol religion again. It is much more likely that other things in chocolate -- such as the stimulant theobromine -- were responsible for any effect. It is an enduring wonder that so many researchers think they "just know" what the causal path is. But with only 30 students tested, the generalizability of the results is highly questionable anyway

It is supposed to be the perfect bedtime drink to send you off to sleep. But in fact, a cup of hot chocolate could be just the thing to peep you up, scientists say. Research shows that flavanols - plant chemicals abundant in dark chocolate - stave off fatigue and boost mental sharpness. It is thought that they widen blood vessels, boosting blood flow to the brain.

Psychologists asked 30 people to carry out a battery of mental arithmetic tests before and after having a flavanol-rich chocolate drink or a dummy beverage. They found the sweet drink boosted performance on one of the tests, which involved repeatedly subtracting the number three from a start point of between 800 and 999.

The flavanols also appeared to counteract the tiredness brought on by doing the intensive arithmetic, the British Psychological Society's annual conference heard. Researcher Crystal Haskell (CORR) said: 'We asked them about their mental fatigue and that increased but the cocoa offset that increase.'

The study, carried out at the Brain, Performance and Nutrition Centre at Northumbria University, also found that a 500mg dose of flavanols was more effective than a higher one. With this being equivalent to five bars of chocolate a day, the researchers are now trying to find out if lower levels would also be of benefit.

Flavanols belong to a group of compounds called polyphenols, which are also abundant in red wine, tea, olive oil, onions, leeks, broccoli and blueberries.

Co-researcher David Kennedy said: 'The amounts we were giving them were more than you would get from eating small amounts in diet but there is quite a bit of evidence showing that general consumption over time is protective against neurodegenerative disease and decline in cognitive function. 'The more fruit and vegetables and things containing polyphenols that you eat, the better for your brain.'

Other research has credited flavanols with cutting the inflammation linked to heart disease, and with reducing the odds of dangerous blood clots. They are also said to help keep diabetes and high blood pressure under control.

One of the key attractions for many is that chocolate simply makes us feel good - stimulating the release of chemicals more normally associated with sex and exercise. Researchers have even gone as far as to claim that the smell of chocolate alone can protect against colds.

But, sadly for chocolate lovers, the treat's high fat and sugar content means dieticians recommend it is eaten as part of a balanced diet, rich in less appealing foods such a brown rice, pulses and fruit and vegetables.


Sports drinks 'can be worse for your teeth than cola'

I think the last paragraph below is the most persuasive. To ignore the role of saliva is quite amazing

They may enhance your performance on the pitch but energising sports drinks won't do the same for your winning smile, scientists say. Researchers found that some juices and squashes are so acidic that they can weaken the teeth after just a few mouthfuls. Taking regular sips during one day is enough to weaken the surface of a tooth, the scientists warned. The effects are even worse if you brush your teeth straight after taking a swig. Powerade, Gatorade, Vitamin Water, SoBe Life Water and Propel Fitness Water were all found to cause damage.

The research follows the rising popularity of sports drinks such as Lucozade. High in sugars and acids, they are designed to replace minerals and liquid lost during exercise - and to boost the athlete's energy. But past studies have shown that many are more corrosive than cola.

Their ingredients can be problematic - mainly the citric and ascorbic acid added to improve flavour and prevent the drink going off. Acid erodes the tooth's enamel coating and trickles into the bone-like material underneath, softening the tooth. If left untreated it can cause severe damage - and even tooth loss, the New York University researchers found.

Professor Mark Wolff, who led the study, said: 'This is the first time that the citric acid in sports drinks has been linked to erosive tooth wear.' His team looked at the effects of a sports drink on cows' teeth, which closely resemble human teeth. Half a tooth was dunked in a sports drink, the other half in water. 'Five teeth were immersed in each drink for 75 to 90 minutes to simulate the effects of sipping on sports drinks over the course of the day,' said Dr Wolff. When compared, the fragment exposed to sports drink had a 'significant amount' of erosion and softening, they told the annual meeting of the International Association for Dental Research, in Miami.

Brushing teeth immediately after having a drink can make the problem even worse, as the softened enamel is much more vulnerable to abrasive chemicals found in toothpaste.

In 2004, British dentists found that fizzy drinks double the chances of a 14-year-old suffering tooth erosion, which is more serious than tooth decay. Decay occurs when sugar reacts with bacteria in plaque to attack the areas between, or on top of, teeth. Erosion happens when the smooth, hard enamel is eaten away by acids, exposing dentine, the substance that makes up the bulk of a tooth, or even its root.

Lucozade Sport said: 'Sports drinks are functional drinks designed to keep people hydrated and refuelled during exercise. To avoid any dental issues we advise that it is not sipped or swilled around the mouth, but swallowed quickly.' A spokesman for Gatorade's Sports Science Institute said: 'This study does not replicate real life as the teeth were studied outside of the mouth. 'Ohio State University conducted a real-life study, the most comprehensive to date, and concluded that there is no relationship between the consumption of sports drinks and dental erosion.'


4 April, 2009

How some girls are born to be anorexic: Eating disorder linked to brain abnormality

That it is just another obsessive/compulsive disorder (a psychosis) has long been obvious and psychoses do normally have an hereditary component

Thousands of girls may be born at risk of suffering anorexia, according to a study that could revolutionise treatment of the eating disorder. Most sufferers are predisposed to the condition because of the way their brains developed in the womb, it is claimed.

The research threatens to overturn decades of scientific orthodoxy holding that anorexia is primarily caused by social factors, such as the pressure to lose weight to emulate size zero models.

Charities say the findings raise the prospect of drugs being developed to treat anorexia. Alternatively, doctors could screen girls at the age of eight to assess risk and treat accordingly.

The study, led by Dr Ian Frampton, consultant in paediatric psychology at London's Great Ormond Street hospital, will be unveiled at a conference at the Institute of Education in the capital this week. Dr Frampton said: 'Our research shows that certain kids' brains develop in such a way that makes them more vulnerable to commonly-known risk factors for eating disorders - such as the size zero debate, media representations of very skinny women and bad parents.'

Dr Frampton's team tested more than 200 anorexia sufferers from Britain, the U.S. and Norway. Most were females aged between 12 and 25 being treated in private hospitals in Edinburgh and Maidenhead. The researchers found around 70 per cent had suffered damage to neurotransmitters - which help brain cells communicate - or had undergone other subtle changes in the structure of their brains.

One in every few hundred girls may be affected in this way, according to Dr Frampton. He said the condition is caused by random conditions, not poor maternal diet or environmental factors.

The 'imperfect wiring' of the brain is similar to that seen in people with dyslexia, depression or hyperactivity. Dr Frampton said: 'These findings could help us to understand a disease we don't know how to treat. 'Arguments that social factors, such as girls feeling under pressure to lose weight to look like high-profile women in the media, contain logical flaws because almost everyone is exposed to them, yet only a small percentage of young people get anorexia. 'Those things are important but there must be other factors, involving genetics and science, that make some young people much more vulnerable than others.'

Around 1.1million people are estimated to have an eating disorder in Britain, most commonly anorexia and bulimia. Susan Ringwood, chief executive of Beat, the eating disorders charity, said: 'It could pave the way for the first drugs to be developed to treat eating disorders, similar to the way that anti-depressants help rebalance the brain of people with depression. 'And it will help parents understand they aren't to blame. 'Parents always blame themselves when their child develops an eating disorder. [That used to be the case for autism too. Psychiatrists blamed "refrigerator mothers" for the disorder -- which multiplied the suffering of the entirely innocent mothers] 'But what we are learning more and more from research in this area is that some people are very vulnerable to anorexia.

'That is down to genetic factors and brain chemistry, and not them trying to look like celebrity models or suffering a major traumatic event early in their lives.' She added: 'This research is a key missing part of the jigsaw of our understanding of anorexia.'


Net surfers make better workers

INTERNET-SURFING workers relax: employees who regularly sneak a peek at Facebook or shop online during office hours could actually be boosting their productivity. Melbourne University's Dr Brent Coker says workers who surf the internet for leisure, known as 'Workplace Internet Leisure Browsing' (WILB), are more productive than those who don't.

A study of 300 employees found 70 per cent of people who used the internet at work engaged in WILB. "People who do surf the internet for fun at work - within a reasonable limit of less than 20 per cent of their total time in the office - are more productive by about nine per cent than those who don't,'' said Dr Coker, from the university's Department of Management and Marketing. "Firms spend millions on software to block their employees from watching videos on YouTube, using social networking sites like Facebook or shopping online under the pretence that it costs millions in lost productivity. However that's not always the case.''

Reading online news sites and searching for product information were rated among the most popular WILB activities, while playing online games and watching YouTube movies also ranked high. And if workers need an excuse for the lapse, they can put it down to a lack of concentration. "People need to zone out for a bit to get back their concentration. Think back to when you were in class listening to a lecture - after about 20 minutes your concentration probably went right down, yet after a break your concentration was restored,'' Dr Coker said. "It's the same in the workplace.

"Short and unobtrusive breaks, such as a quick surf of the internet, enables the mind to rest itself, leading to a higher total net concentration for a day's work, and as a result, increased productivity.''

But he warned excessive time spent surfing the internet could have the reverse effect. "Approximately 14 per cent of internet users in Australia show signs of internet addiction - they don't take breaks at appropriate times, they spend more than a 'normal' amount of time online, and can get irritable if they are interrupted while surfing.

"WILB is not as helpful for this group of people - those who behave with internet addiction tendencies will have a lower productivity than those without.''


3 April, 2009


Amazing! A balanced research report that considers alternative explanations for its findings

Maybe it’s time to retire the “senior moment.” These lapses of memory during everyday life — losing your keys or your train of thought — are thought to be more common in older people.

Not so, researchers from the University of Waterloo in Canada report March 21 at the annual meeting of the Cognitive Neuroscience Society. Researcher Amanda Clark and her colleagues surveyed 30 adults younger than 25 and 24 people ages 60 to 80 to find out how many slips they make each day.

The researchers also devised two lab tests to study attention. One involved pushing a button every time a number appeared on a computer screen, unless the number was three. That test helps researchers determine how often the mind wanders away from a task. The second test involved pushing buttons arranged in a diamond shape in a particular sequence. The exercise mimics a routine, such as making coffee. Once the volunteers learned the routine, the researchers tried to throw participants off by introducing changes in the routine.

Younger people made more errors on the routine-mimicking test than older people did. Younger adults also reported having more “senior moments” in daily life.

The results from reported “senior moments” could mean that older people have developed strategies to protect themselves from lapses in memory and attention, such as keeping keys in the same place, Clark says. In the tests, older adults go slower than their younger counterparts, which may be a form of coping and may improve accuracy. But Clark is not ready to rename memory and attention lapses “junior moments” just yet. Older adults may not report lapses in daily life for fear of being diagnosed with dementia or other illness, or they may not be aware when they make these mistakes.


Siblings benefit from sister presence

Sounds reasonable. Peer pressure is the strongest socialization agent and girls are very sensitive to peer pressure

GROWING up with a sister makes people more balanced, ambitious and optimistic, research suggests. A study of 571 families comprising brothers, sisters, a mixture of both and single children found that having a sister in the home led to siblings of either sex scoring more highly on a range of standard tests for good mental health.

They were found to be better at coping with setbacks and more highly motivated than those who grew up with just brothers. They also had more friends and a better social life.

The research, to be presented today at the British Psychological Society's annual conference in Brighton, was conducted by psychologists at De Montfort University in Leicester and the University of Ulster.

Liz Wright, a research fellow at De Montfort, said that the study began after previous research showed that girls with sisters appeared to experience less distress when they encountered trouble in their lives. "We wanted to see if the positive impact of sisters went farther than just girls and found that it did," she said. "One of the most interesting findings was the impact of female siblings when parents split up. It seems their natural inclination was to express themselves, talk about the separation and encourage other family members to do so as well. It seems to help keep family relationships going. There was markedly less distress in broken homes with a sister."

Psychologists have long believed that "emotional expression" at times of upheaval is fundamental to good psychological health. "Sisters appear to encourage that," Ms Wright said. "However, brothers seemed to have the opposite effect, perhaps discouraging others to talk."

The tests covered how much social support and control over their lives people felt they had, optimism, achievement motivation and ability to cope with setbacks.

The researchers said that the difference when a sister was in the home were "significant". It may help to explain the success of the Williams sisters, who have coped with huge upheaval and pressure in their lives on the professional tennis circuit.

The mental health of only children lay between that of children with a sister and those with only brothers. "It seems many only children had built up significant social support outside the home by the time they reached their late teens, which helped them in a crisis and in other areas of life," Ms Wright said.

The findings suggest that parents who separate should be aware that their sons may struggle to come to terms with the family break-up. The research will also be used in the treatment of eating disorders. The next research will seek to identify more precisely what sisters contribute to family life that makes such a positive difference.


2 April, 2009

Botox 'helps us be happy' by stopping the face from frowning

What extraordinary nonsense! For a start, how could they get statistical significance out of such a small sample? And the fact that Botox users might be different to start with seems to have been ignored

It is known for smoothing away the ravages of time. But Botox may also put a smile on your face. By stopping the face from frowning, Botox makes patients feel happier, a study suggests. Researchers believe our expressions affect our mood. So the wrinkling of the brow when annoyed reinforces our irritation. Botox paralyses the muscles we use to frown - leaving no option but to feel better.

Cardiff University psychologists looked at the effect of cosmetic treatments on the mood of 25 volunteers. Some had Botox to smooth their furrowed foreheads, others had laser surgery, cosmetic peels and other treatments designed to make them appear younger.

Both groups believed their treatment to be equally effective - but those given Botox were much happier. They were less anxious, irritable or depressed, the British Psychological Society's annual conference will hear today.

Researcher Michael Lewis said the mood differences between the groups was too great to be explained by the Botox patients being happier in general and was most likely to be a side-effect of Botox. Dr Lewis said: 'When you make an expression of happiness, it makes us feel happy. If we frown, it makes us feel sadder.' He said the research may help develop treatments for depressive illnesses.

Nigel Mercer, president of the British Association of Aesthetic Plastic Surgeons, said while Botox could possibly raise mood it would not be right to tell patients they would feel happier after treatment.


Ill-informed alcohol hysteria now being used by pocket dictators -- the characteristically ignorant "We know best" brigade

Mother-to-be is ordered out of a pub by staff concerned for health of her baby. Pregnant Caroline Williams was ordered out of her local pub after bar staff saw her sipping a friend's pint

A pregnant woman was refused a drink at a pub and then asked to leave by staff who said they were protecting her unborn child. Caroline Williams, 26, who is five months pregnant, says she felt humiliated by the treatment. She insists she is a responsible mother and would never endanger her baby.

The incident at the Cricketer pub in Hove, East Sussex, has reignited the debate on drinking during pregnancy. Advice from the Chief Medical Officer says that women trying to conceive or who are pregnant should avoid drinking alcohol. Excess alcohol consumption can be the cause of a condition known as Fetal Alcohol Syndrome which causes mental retardation and birth defects. But other experts say an occasional glass of wine will not harm a child.

Mrs Williams, who lives in Hove with her computer engineer husband Ben, 34, was at the pub with friends last Saturday. She said: 'I was on a rare night out with some friends. I had a pint of lager and a friend offered to get me another half - that was going to be my limit. 'He was refused service because it was for me and when I later took a sip from another friend's glass the assistant manageress asked me and my friends to leave. 'I never felt so singled out and humiliated in my life.

'I don't think what I did was doing any harm. This is my second baby and I'm feeling much more relaxed about this pregnancy than I did with my first. But I'm still very careful. 'I understand what the pub was thinking about but they didn't approach me to discuss it - they were just rude and ordered us out. 'I've never been ordered out of anywhere before and I'm not one to cause a scene, so we just left. 'I know the management has the right to refuse service but the assistant manageress was using that right to impose her opinions about what pregnant women should and shouldn't be consuming.'

Pubs have the right to refuse to serve customers and do not need to give a reason for doing so. An assistant manageress, who did not give her name, confirmed she had asked Mrs Williams to leave. She described her as 'a heavily pregnant lady who was drinking alcohol'. Another staff member defended the decision, adding: 'The assistant manageress was only thinking of the welfare of the mother and child.'

But a spokesman for the Mitchells and Butler chain which owns the pub apologised and said an investigation had been launched. He said: 'We would like to apologise unreservedly to all of the guests involved for any offence that may have been caused. While the team member may have believed she was acting with her own good intentions, she did not handle the situation in an appropriate manner.'

Since May 2007, the Health Service has advised women to avoid alcohol completely. This is in line with the U.S., Canada, Australia, New Zealand and France. But in October 2008, a large-scale study was published showing no link between having the occasional drink during pregnancy and behavioural problems in the child. And GPs often advise women that one or two drinks a week will not be a problem.

The National Organisation of Fetal Alcohol Syndrome said the action by the pub staff was heavy-handed. The group's founder Susan Fleisher said: 'We believe pregnant women need understanding and support to change their habits.'


1 April, 2009

'Super pill' could halve heart risks?

The papers are full of this bit of speculation. The theory is an old one but what is reported below proves nothing. You take blood-pressure-lowering drugs and cholesterol-lowering drugs and your blood pressure and cholesterol levels fall. Big surprise! The authors are only TALKING about the effect on mortality. They have no evidence on it. Given the side effects of statins in particular, the pill could INCREASE mortality. And a trial on people who already have heart disease tells you nothing certain about the general population anyway. Any benefit could well apply only to people with certain genetics, for instance

HEALTHY people may be able to cut their risk of heart disease in half by taking a "super pill" combining three drugs, a study says. The pill, which combines low doses of aspirin and two drugs to lower blood pressure and fight cholesterol, was compared to eight other therapies in the three-month study involving 2053 patients in India.

"The thought that people might be able to take a single pill to reduce multiple cardiovascular risk factors has generated a lot of excitement. It could revolutionise heart disease prevention as we know it," said principal researcher Salim Yusuf.

The Indian Polycap Study (TIPS) was the first to evaluate how well the polypill is tolerated and whether it leads to meaningful changes in the body. Carried out by St John's Medical College in Bangalore, the study recruited patients from 50 heart centres between March 2007 and August 2008.

Researchers found that by taking the pill healthy individuals might be able to cut their risk of cardiovascular disease by 50 to 60 per cent. "This trial is a critical first step to inform the design of larger, more definitive studies, as well as further development of appropriate combinations of BP lowering drugs with statins and aspirin," said Dr Yusuf.

The researchers found that the patients taking the polypill showed significant falls in cholesterol levels as well as in blood pressure.

The study, which will also be published in The Lancet, was unveiled at the 58th conference of the American College of Cardiology which has been meeting since Saturday in Orlando, Florida.


A vision of our fat future

The British writer below is acute enough to recognize that being fat is mostly genetic but unfortunately buys into the myth that being fat is unhealthy

Susan Ringwood, chief executive of Beat, the eating disorders charity, says those who overeat are, in many cases, as worthy of concern as those who undereat, but for obvious reasons don’t get as much attention as skeletal teenage girls who look almost like size-zero models.

“Overeaters know they are unhealthy. They know about their five a day but it’s no easier for them to make the long-term lifestyle changes to their diet than it is for anorexics,” she says. She also points out that when it comes to the spectrum of eating disorders, those who don’t eat, the anorexics, constitute only 10% – the tip of the iceberg. Most eat too much.

In the US they are way ahead of us. There, obesity has achieved the status of a “disease” even though it is caused by a combination of voluntary and involuntary factors: genes, sedentary lifestyles in the suburbs, the McDiet and an inability for various reasons to lose weight through exercise.

Stateside, the long-term effects and costs of what is regarded as the – sorry – ballooning obesity “epidemic” is the hottest issue in public health. Here, too, where two-thirds of us are carrying too many pounds of adipose tissue, we are beginning to wake up; the word “pandemic” has been applied to the nation’s thickening waistline by Brio, the Bristol University Research Into Obesity.

Dr James Le Fanu, the medical historian and GP, is one clinician who challenges the orthodoxy that chubsters have only themselves to blame. He thinks the cause of obesity is “not known”. He’s seen women on restricted diets failing to lose a single pound. His guess is that we all have thermostats, which govern our “energy balance” – how much weight we lose or gain relative to what we put in our mouths. He also believes that fatness runs in families, from observing this in his surgery.

This is the essence of the Chawner case, too. “We’re fat because it’s in our genes. Our whole family is overweight. Even when Philip went into hospital with septicaemia in 2006 he didn’t lose any weight. And he was eating tiny portions.”

Right, then. Fair enough. I am prepared to concede that being fat or being thin is partly in our DNA. But come on – it’s also a matter of choice, habit, lifestyle. It’s like smoking, drinking, sun-bathing – you can choose to gorge. Only, unlike smoking, which is in decline, more and more of us are “choosing” to be fat, or allowing our children to get fat, and that’s not good for any of us.

According to some estimates, obesity could cost the NHS in England £6.3 billion by 2015 unless the flab is fought. Some councils are having to shell out thousands of pounds on fat-friendly services, such as wider crematorium furnaces and bigger school chairs.

Whatever obesity’s cause, and however sympathetic we may or may not be, it doesn’t matter. Obesity is a national emergency. It is, yes, the new smoking. Rather than see them like animals in the zoo, we should commend the Chawner family freak show for displaying their bulk. They have drawn our horrified eyes to a health crisis that concerns us all.