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, 2011

New safety laws for herbal medicines

It is absurd to have lower standards for herbal medicine than for ethical medicines

New laws come into force on Saturday that are aimed at protecting consumers from potentially harmful herbal medicines. Under a European directive, herbal medicines on sale in shops will have to be registered. Products must meet safety, quality and manufacturing standards, and come with information outlining possible side-effects.

The Medicines and Health care Products Regulatory Agency (MHRA) said there had been 211 applications for approval, with 105 granted so far and the rest still under consideration. Some herbal practitioners fear the move could threaten their businesses.

Commonly used ingredients already registered include echinacea, used against colds, St John's wort, used by some for depression and anxiety, and valerian, claimed as a natural remedy for insomnia. Research conducted for the MHRA in 2009 showed that 26% of UK adults had taken a herbal medicine in the past two years.

The agency said it is hoping to promote a more cautious approach to using herbal medicines after the study findings found that more than half of people – 58% – believe the products are safe because they are natural.

The agency said there had been a number of health alerts over unlicensed herbal medicines over the years. In February the MHRA issued a warning about the herbal weight loss product Herbal Flos Lonicerae (Herbal Xenicol) Natural Weight Loss Formula after tests showed it contained more than twice the prescribed dose of a banned substance.


Life-extending prostate cancer pill could be available in a year

A pill that gives men with advanced prostate cancer an extra four months of life has come a step closer to being approved for use in Britain.

Zytiga is a hormonal drug that cuts off the source of testosterone, which makes prostate cancer cells grow. Standard hormone treatments for prostate cancer block production of male hormones in the testes, but recent research shows that tumours can produce their own supply, as does the adrenal gland. Zytiga blocks all testosterone generation.

It can be used in up to 80 per cent of patients with aggressive drug-resistant prostate cancer who have run out of options after exhausting a range of anti-hormonal therapies and chemotherapies.

The drug is not yet available for use on the NHS, but makers Johnson & Johnson have applied for licensing approval in Europe that could be granted by the end of this year. That approval looks more likely after U.S. watchdogs at the Food and Drug Administration gave the green light to the drug there nearly two months earlier than expected, following its success in trials.

A trial on almost 800 patients in 13 countries found those taking the drug combined with conventional steroid treatment survived for about 15 months, compared with 11 months on steroids alone. The study was cut short so all patients could be given Zytiga – clinical name abiraterone acetate – after independent monitors determined a clear survival benefit.

Around 250,000 men in the UK are living with prostate cancer, with 37,000 new cases diagnosed each year. It is the biggest cancer killer after lung cancer, with 10,000 men dying from the disease each year.

Zytiga was discovered by British scientists at the Institute of Cancer Research. Professor Johann de Bono, of the ICR said: ‘This news will be incredibly important to prostate cancer patients and their families.’


29 April, 2011

McDonalds to the rescue

When Suzanne Franklin fell pregnant, she was at a loss as to how she would eat for two. The 23-year-old had suffered from extreme food allergies for year from eggs to dairy and fruit and vegetables.

Doctors warned her that pregnancy would make the symptoms worse but that antihistamines could harm her baby.

But Ms Franklin knew she wasn’t allergic to McDonald’s burgers - so she ate a Big Mac burger everyday throughout her pregnancy. Any worries about her unusual diet affecting her baby’s growth were unfounded - as she has given birth to her own 10Ib 2oz whopper.

Miss Franklin said: ‘All those burgers definitely didn’t do him any harm. It was the only thing I could eat safely during my pregnancy, so I just lived on them. ‘When Harry was born and the doctors told me that he weighed over 10Ib’s I just couldn’t believe it. ‘I was worried that I wasn’t getting enough nutrients for me and the baby - but Harry definitely proved that wrong.

‘The doctor who scanned me at 20 weeks told me that I must be doing something right as he was so big and healthy - but I never expected him to be that big and neither did they. The doctors expected him to be around 8Ibs.’

Miss Franklin, who lives with partner Paul Wilson, 27, a dental technician, in Dudley, West Midlands, has suffered from extreme food allergies since she was two-years-old. She said: ‘I ate a chocolate covered peanut when I was two years old and it sent my body into anaphylactic shock and I had to be rushed straight to hospital. Doctors told my parents I was lucky to be alive.’

Miss Franklin was diagnosed with a severe nut allergy and she had to carry an adrenaline pen around with her at all times.

But it wasn’t until she was 15 that her allergies became more extreme. She ate a kiwi fruit and her throat closed up, leaving her unable to breathe. She said: ‘I couldn’t breathe, but luckily mum could see what was happening to me and she called an ambulance straight away.

‘But then a week later the same thing happened when I was eating a strawberry and tests showed that I was allergic to eggs, tea, alcohol, rice, oils, fish, and all fruit and vegetables.

‘I became absolutely terrified of eating, as I just seemed to be allergic to everything. For weeks I just lived on bread and water, and I dropped two stone in weight.’

But Miss Franklin discovered she could eat Big Mac burgers - without cheese or salad, so she began to eat them most days.

She was so allergic to other foods that she had to cook dinner separately from her partner and store all her food in airtight containers in the fridge.

She said: ‘I was just desperate to keep eating so that the baby could grow, so I just forced down burger after burger each day.

‘Paul would eat a salad, and I would just look on enviously. The lack of nutrients in my diet meant that I picked up one cold after another, but I was advised not to take any multivitamins in case they triggered an allergic reaction too.

‘I wondered if eating so many burgers would affect the baby, but luckily my 20 week scan showed that the baby was developing fine. It was such a relief.’

By the time Miss Franklin went into labour on Christmas Day, she had gained four stone. She said: ‘My bump had just kept growing and growing - Paul kept joking that it was all the Big Mac’s I was eating.’

Harry was born at Russells Hall Hospital in Dudley, weighing a whopping 10Ib2. Miss Franklin added: ‘I just couldn’t believe it when the doctors told me what he weighed.’

Baby Harry is now three months old - and he has shown signs of inheriting Miss Franklin’s allergies too. He is already allergic to seven different types of milk.

She said: ‘I had hoped that Harry wouldn’t be allergic to all the foods that I am, but it looks as though he may have inherited some of them. But at least he won’t be allergic to burgers.'


Five-minute test could detect autism in babies at the age of one

A five-minute screening test could help detect autism in babies when they are just 12-months-old, U.S researchers said today.

The developmental disorder begins in childhood and persist throughout adulthood, but often isn't picked up until youngsters are older. 'The benefit of this study is children get into treatment much earlier than they would otherwise,' said study author Karen Pierce of the University of California, San Diego. It is the first to show that a simple screening tool could be used to detect autism in infants.

Autism, a complex and mysterious brain disorder, strikes one in 100 children in the UK according to the NHS. It affects four times as many boys as girls. It is characterised by difficulties in social interaction, communication and understanding other people's emotions and behavior.

It is usually first diagnosed in early childhood, around the age of three, and recent studies have shown that the earlier that children are diagnosed and treated, the better they do. 'There is extensive evidence that early therapy can have a positive impact on the developing brain,' said Professor Pierce.

'The opportunity to diagnose and thus begin treatment for autism around a child's first birthday has enormous potential to change outcomes for children affected with the disorder.'

For the study, published in the Journal of Pediatrics, Professor Pierce and colleagues put together a network of 137 paediatricians, who systematically started screening all babies at their one-year check up.

As part of the screening program, parents answered a survey, rating their babies on questions such as 'When your child plays with toys, does he/she look at you to see if you are watching?' or 'Does your child smile or laugh while looking at you?'

Any baby who failed the screening was referred to university's autism centre for more testing. These children were re-tested every six months until age 3, when they were likely to show signs of autism.

Of the more than 10,000 infants, 184 failed the initial screening, and 75 per cent of these children ended up with some problem.

Of the total, 32 of the children have received an autism diagnosis, 56 had a language delay, nine were developmentally delayed and 36 were categorized as having some other issue.

After the screening program, all toddlers diagnosed with autism or developmental delay, and 89 per cent of those with language delay were referred for behavioral therapy around the age 17 months. On average, these children began receiving treatment at 19 months.

Dr Lisa Gilotty from the National Institute of Mental Health, which funded the study, said: 'Those kids were getting treatment who otherwise may not have been seen for treatment until age 3 or later.'

Dr Chrystal de Freitas, a paediatrician who participated in the study, said parents who got the screening paid more attention to their child's development, and it helped prepare some for potentially bad news.

'In addition to giving me the opportunity to do a more thorough evaluation, it allowed parents time to process the information that their child might have a development delay or autism - a message no parent wants to hear,' she said.

Professor Pierce said surveys of the doctors before the program showed that most had not been screening infants in any systematic way for autism. But after the study, 96 per cent said they have continued using the screening tool.

Dr Gilotty said the screening test still needs to be confirmed through other studies, but it proves that it is possible to systematically screen babies for autism in a way that does not put too much of a burden on paediatricians.


28 April, 2011

FDA intruding itself between doctors and their patients

For what gain?

U.S. health officials unveiled Tuesday a new plan to try to curb misuse of extended-release and long-acting opioid pain killers such as OxyContin, morphine and methadone.

The new Risk Evaluation and Mitigation Strategy (REMS) is part of a larger multi-agency initiative announced Tuesday by the White House to reduce overall prescription drug abuse in the United States.

"This new REMS will provide tools to doctors and other prescribers for appropriate pain management to reduce risks and at the same time preserve access for patients and appropriate management of pain for those suffering from moderate to severe pain," said Dr. Janet Woodcock, director of the Center for Drug Evaluation and Research at the U.S. Food and Drug Administration, the agency that launched the new program.

For now, the initiative will be limited to extended-release and long-acting products, which, Woodcock said, "have a much greater risk than immediate-release because they contain more medicine." She did not rule out the possibility that the approach could be expanded to include immediate-release drugs in the future.

Right now, the action affects 16 companies that make both branded and generic products. The products affected are known under their generic names as hydromorphone, methadone, morphine, oxycodone, oxymorphone, transdermal fentanyl and transdermal buprenorphine.

According to Woodcock, about 23 million prescriptions are dispensed each year for extended-release and long-acting opioids, which represented about 10% of the opioid market in 2009. But, abuse and misuse is also extensive, with the FDA estimating that 33 million Americans aged 12 and older used such a drug for non-medical purposes in 2007, up from 29 million people in 2002.
Some 50,000 emergency room visits in 2006 were related to opioids, officials said.

"This is a large and growing problem and, despite a number of efforts over the years, it continues to grow," Woodcock said. "It's clear we have a huge problem on our hands."

One of the main components of the new FDA program will be educating doctors and other prescribers on proper ways to prescribe opioids, as well as how to identify appropriate patients for these drugs.

"If a prescriber has a concern that a patient might unintentionally or intentionally misuse the drug, they need to know how to spot these individuals," Woodcock said. Doctors will also get materials on how to educate their patients, not only on proper use of opioids but also on proper storage and disposal.

Manufacturers will be required to use one central system to provide these educational materials, Woodcock said. And the FDA will monitor company-generated literature to make sure it isn't promotional but is effective, she added.

Companies have 120 days to issue a draft REMS and Woodcock hoped matters will be completed by early 2012.

"In the meantime, doctors should be prescribing opioids as they have been doing and we hope they thoroughly discuss risks and benefits with their patients," Woodcock said. "People taking opioids should continue to take them as directed and, if they have concerns, should consult a health-care professional."


Lithium 'slows development of Alzheimer's'

A small study but encouraging. Does a remnote bureaucrat know better than your doctor what you need?

Lithium, used for decades to treat mania and depression, could also help slow the advance of Alzheimer's disease, according to a study published today

A trial of 41 people over 60 years of age with mild cognitive impairment, a condition that often leads to full-blown Alzheimer's, found that the rate of mental decline was lower in the half given 150mg of lithium daily, compared to those given a placebo.

While all participants showed a decline in memory function and attention tasks over the year, the rate of decline among those on lithium was significantly less. Levels of a biomarker for Alzheimer's disease called phospho-tau concentrations also rose more slowly in those on lithium.

Psychiatrists believe this is because it "may hamper mechanisms that lead to the formation of amyloid plaques and neurofibrillary tangles", microscopic brain structures linked to the most common form of dementia.

Dr Orestes Forlenza, who led the research, published in the British Journal of Psychiatry, said: "This study supports the idea that giving lithium to a person who is at risk of Alzheimer’s disease may have a protective effect, and slow down the progression of memory loss to dementia."

Professor Allan Young, a psychiatrist from Imperial College London, described the study as "encouraging" - and particularly interesting because no pharmaceutical company has a patent on lithium, meaning it is very cheap to prescribe.

He added: "This trial adds to the increasing evidence that lithium may have beneficial effects on the brain and begs to be replicated in further randomised trials."

But Rebecca Wood, chief executive of Alzheimer’s Research UK, said it was "too soon to draw any firm conclusions" because of the small study size.

Dr Anne Corbett, research manager at the Alzheimer's Society, said: "We need more, larger clinical trials to test existing drugs like lithium if we are to find better treatments for people with Alzheimer’s.

"Yet such trials are very expensive. We need greater investment in this area in order to help us develop better treatments for people with this devastating condition."


27 April, 2011

How spending too much time online 'can increase the chances of your teenager taking drugs'

The authors believe that screen-time CAUSES risky behaviour. That may not be so. For instance: Maybe socially isolated kids spend more time online and socially isolated people are more likely to look for illicit "thrills".

So we see yet more epidemiologists who think they have a secret fountain of knowledge

Spending time online increases the likelihood of a teenager taking drugs or having unprotected sex, it has been claimed. Research revealed those who are regularly glued to their screens are far more likely to engage in risky behaviour than their peers.

The researchers from the Queen's University in Canada found that young adults who logged the most hours on their computers were 50 per cent more likely to engaged in a cluster of six 'multi-risk behaviours.' These included smoking, drunkenness, cannabis and illegal drug use, having unprotected sex and not using seat belts.

Research author Valerie Carson, said: 'This research is based on social cognitive theory, which suggests that seeing people engaged in a behaviour is a way of learning that behaviour. 'Since adolescents are exposed to considerable screen time - over 4.5 hours on average each day - they’re constantly seeing images of behaviours they can then potentially adopt.'

One explanation behind the findings is that a considerable amount of advertising that used to be shown on TV is now being shown on the internet. In addition, computer usage by adolescents has increased considerably in recent years.

'TV and video games have more established protocols in terms of censorship, but Internet protocols aren’t as established,' Ms Carson said. 'Parents can make use of programs that control access to the Internet, but adolescents in this age group are quite savvy about technology and the Internet. 'It’s possible that these types of controls aren’t effective in blocking all undesirable websites.'

The research, recently published in the Journal of Preventative Medicine, suggests that future studies should examine the specific content adolescents are being exposed to in order to help strengthen current screen time guidelines for youth.


Hepatitis C breakthrough: Scientists discover drug that cures MORE patients in LESS time

More hepatitis C patients appear to have been cured in less time by a new drug than in the past 20 years, according to federal health officials. Boceprevir, produced by New Jersey-based Merck & Co, is expected to be recommended by an independent panel on Wednesday to the Food and Drug Administration.

If the drug gets the go-ahead, it will be the culmination of more than 15 years of research to find a better therapy for a virus that infects over three million people in the U.S.

Celebrities who accidentally picked up the virus include Pamela Anderson, The Last Samurai film star Ken Watanabe and Body Shop founder Anita Roddick.

On Thursday Vertex Pharmaceuticals will bring a similar drug called telaprevir before the FDA's panel.

Both tablets, which work by blocking the enzyme protease, which allows the hepatitis virus to reproduce, have the potential to rack up over a billion dollars in annual sales. They differ from the older medications - ribavirin pills and interferon-alpha injections - that are designed to boost the immune system.

Like HIV drugs, the new pills from Merck and Vertex will be prescribed as part of a cocktail with the two older drugs to help lower viral levels. The current two-drug treatment for the virus cures only about 40 percent of people and causes side effects like nausea, fatigue and vomiting.

But boceprevir has been shown to boost cure rates to between approximately 60 and 65 per cent when combined with the older drugs.

FDA scientists said the two studies submitted by Merck showed patients had undetectable virus levels six months, cutting the standard treatment time in half. But the FDA said in its review that some late-responding patients may need to take the drugs for eight months to eliminate the virus.

The agency also suggested that other groups of patients should receive longer therapy, including African Americans who had a cure rate 15 to 25 per cent lower than other racial groups.

African Americans make up more than one in five of hepatitis C carriers in the U.S. according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

The FDA said the primary side effect with Merck's drug was anaemia, or weakness and fatigue caused by a lack of oxygen-carrying red blood cells. It questioned the strength of Merck's evidence that boceprevir works for patients who have already tried and failed treatment with the two older drugs.

The FDA often follows the guidance of its panels, though it is not required to do so. The agency is scheduled to make a final decision on the drug in May.

Hepatitis C is a major cause of liver transplants and it kills about 12,000 U.S. patients a year, a number expected to triple by 2030 as baby boomers succumb to the disease. The disease is often associated with users of illegal injectable drugs like heroin, but it was also be picked up from blood transfusions before 1992, when testing of the blood supply began.

Most people with hepatitis C don't even know they have the virus until years later when liver damage has occurred. 'The liver has a huge capacity of going about its business until it fails,' said Dr. Eliav Barr, Merck's vice president for infectious diseases. 'So you have chronic damage that gets worse and worse but you yourself can't tell until a fair bit of damage is done.'

Merck was the first company to market a drug for hepatitis C in 1991 when it launched interferon-alpha. Vertex Pharmaceuticals in Cambridge, Massachusetts, was founded in 1989 by a former Merck scientist.


26 April, 2011

Anti-BPA packaging laws jeopardize public health

In public policy, bad ideas have an unfortunate tendency to spread. Lawmakers in several states are considering legislation similar to a bill passed last week in Maryland that may actually increase food-borne illnesses.

The Maryland legislation (SB151 and HB4) bans infant formula and baby food packaging that contains more than 0.5 parts per billion (ppb) of the chemical Bisphenol A (BPA). The standard is so stringent that it essentially bans BPA in these packages—for no good reason. In fact, regulatory bodies around the world have found BPA levels safe up to 3,000 parts per billion.

This anti-BPA legislation is based on environmental activists’ wrongheaded claims that BPA poses an unreasonable risk to human health—specifically to children—but the overwhelming body of research suggests otherwise. Unfortunately, as more of these misguided bans succeed, policymakers are likely to begin targeting BPA use in all types of food packaging, as several bills already introduced in Congress do.

Ironically, these policies threaten to undermine food safety because BPA is used to make resins that line metal cans and other packaging to prevent the development of dangerous pathogens and other contamination. And there are few good alternatives should lawmakers eventually ban BPA. In other words, misguided bans on use of BPA in food packaging could have serious, adverse public health implications.


From breast cancer to obesity, how your genes count more than your lifestyle

A rare nod to reality below

Researchers recently discovered that the age at which a girl starts having periods is mainly influenced by when her mother started menstruating.

Scientists at the Institute of Cancer Research at the University of London discovered there was a 57 per cent likelihood a girl would begin menstruating within three months of the date her mother started. It had been thought that diet, particularly eating a lot of meat, played a greater role than genes.
Scientists found there was a 57 per cent likelihood a girl would begin menstruating within three months of the date her mother started

Scientists found there was a 57 per cent likelihood a girl would begin menstruating within three months of the date her mother started

So what other aspects of a girl’s health are controlled by genetics? Could determining a woman’s health prospects be as simple as checking her mother’s medical records?

We asked leading experts how likely you are to inherit your mother’s body, mind and health.


GENETIC LINK: 70 to 80 per cent risk you’ll inherit them from your mother, says Dr Kate Henry, associate professor of neurology at New York University.

WHAT'S PASSED ON? Researchers recently discovered a flawed gene, called tresk, could cause migraines. If this gene doesn’t work properly, environmental factors (such as noise, cheese and caffeine) can more easily trigger pain centres in the brain that cause migraines. When the defective gene in migraine patients was under-active it caused a severe headache.

WHAT CAN YOU DO? ‘Triggers can be unpredictable, but identifying them will help to control your condition,’ says Demelza Burn of Migraine Action.

Many migraine sufferers are sensitive to foods such as chocolate, coffee, cheese, citrus and red wine. Hormones can also play a role — the rise and fall of oestrogen and progesterone during the menstrual cycle can cause migraines.


GENETIC LINK: 3 per cent of UK breast cancer cases are inherited.

WHAT'S PASSED ON? ‘Women who are carriers of the mutated gene BRCA1 or BRCA2 are more likely to inherit the condition,’ says Jackie Harris, a clinical nurse specialist for Breast Cancer Care. ‘If a blood relative — male or female — had breast cancer at an early age, you are more at risk.’

Most women with these mutated genes will develop cancer at a very young age, says Dr Elizabeth Rapley, a cancer geneticist from the Institute of Cancer Research.

WHAT CAN YOU DO? Genetic screening is offered to women with a family history of breast cancer (where one or more close blood relatives have had the disease). If you carry the gene, you can be closely monitored.

Some women opt for early mastectomies to reduce their chances of developing cancer.

Hormone replacement therapies and taking the combined contraceptive pill can increase the risk in some women, as can being obese, particularly after the menopause, says Jackie Harris.

Women who drink and smoke excessively also face increased risks. According to Cancer Research UK, smoking is responsible for more than a quarter of all cancer deaths in Britain, while even moderate drinking has been shown to raise the risk of breast cancer by 7 per cent for each single unit of alcohol per day, the charity reports.


GENETIC LINK: Up to 50 per cent.

WHAT'S PASSED ON? ‘The ease with which you develop muscle tone and improve fitness is highly inherited,’ says Louise Sutton, head of the Carnegie Centre for Sports Performance at Leeds Metropolitan University. ‘It’s often said that if you want to win an Olympic medal, you should choose your parents well.’

A study in the International Journal Of Obesity found that while we all need physical activity to build muscle, people with ‘muscular genes’ require far less exercise to achieve the same level of fitness.

WHAT CAN YOU DO? The Government’s recommended 30 minutes of activity per day, five days a week, will help to keep you healthy, but won’t improve fitness significantly.

‘You need to do 30-45 minutes of moderate to high-intensity aerobic activity, such as running, swimming or cycling, preferably with bursts of speed, on at least three days a week,’ Sutton says. ‘Try to include resistance exercises, such as squats and lunges, plus some stretching.’


GENETIC LINK: 10 per cent risk you’ll inherit it, several studies have found — including one by the US National Institutes of Health’s National Institute of Mental Health.

WHAT'S PASSED ON? Mental illness — including depression, post-natal depression and bipolar disorder — is known to run in families.

Scientists have isolated a mutant gene, called tryptophan hydroxylase-2, which might play a role in depressive illnesses. It starves the brain of serotonin, the feel-good hormone that regulates moods using chemical messages. A direct genetic link has yet to be proven.

WHAT CAN YOU DO? Factors such as fatigue, stress and alcohol intake can increase the risk of developing depression, says Emer O’Neill, chief executive of the charity Depression Alliance. If you do inherit one of the genes linked to depression, there’s no guarantee you will suffer from the illness, O’Neill adds.


Only 4 per cent of girls with normal-weight mothers were obese, compared to 41 per cent with fat mothers

Only 4 per cent of girls with normal-weight mothers were obese, compared to 41 per cent with fat mothers

GENETIC LINK: A UK study found people with two copies of a fat version of the gene FTO had a 70 per cent higher risk of obesity than those with no copies.

Another study found only 4 per cent of girls with normal-weight mothers were obese, compared to 41 per cent with fat mothers.

WHAT'S PASSED ON? People carrying one copy of the fat FTO variant had a 30 per cent increased risk of being obese compared to a person with no copies.

Those carrying two copies of the variant were on average 3kg (6.6lb) heavier than a similar person with no gene copies.

Other studies, including one published in the International Journal Of Obesity in 2009, suggest a strong link between mother and daughter and father and son obesity — but no link across the gender divide.

Genetics affect body shape too.

‘Apple shapes have a stronger genetic link than pear-shaped or thin ones,’ says Louise Sutton.

WHAT CAN YOU DO? Calorie and fat-laden diets are partly to blame for rising rates of obesity in children, but so are increased levels of inactivity.

TV and computer time should be rationed to less than two hours a day, recommends Sutton.


GENETIC LINK: If your mother had it, you’re up to 50 per cent more likely to develop rheumatoid arthritis, which occurs when — in confusion — the immune system attacks the body causing inflammation, which ruins the joint lining and cartilage.

WHAT'S PASSED ON? Professor Alan Silman, medical director of Arthritis Research UK, says inherited genes don’t directly cause the disease, but can increase your likelihood of developing it.

‘We have only identified some of the genes responsible for rheumatoid arthritis and people often don’t know if they are carrying them,’ Silman says. ‘However, even if they do carry these genes, it’s no guarantee they’ll get the disease.’

WHAT CAN YOU DO? Rheumatoid arthritis is more common in people who smoke, eat a lot of red meat or drink a lot of caffeine, Silman says.

‘Viral infections can be a trigger for the disease, but it is less common in people who have a high vitamin C intake from fruit and vegetables.’


GENETIC LINK: 70-85 per cent risk you will have a premature menopause if your mother did.

WHAT'S PASSED ON? One in 20 women begins the menopause before 46 (the average age is 51) and four genes, working together, appear to raise the risk significantly, say researchers at the University of Exeter. Studies on sisters found the age they reached the menopause was 85 per cent down to genes.

WHAT CAN YOU DO? Treatment for cancer and surgery on your ovaries can trigger an early menopause. Nothing can prevent it starting, but there is lots you can do to ease the symptoms, from herbal remedies to HRT. All of these should be discussed with your GP.


GENETIC LINK: 3-5 per cent increased risk you will get dementia and an estimated 30-50 per cent greater risk you will suffer early-onset Alzheimer’s if your mother did.

WHAT'S PASSED ON? The Alzheimer’s Society says researchers have identified genes that predispose people to different forms of dementia.

‘In a small number of families — accounting for one in 1,000 cases of Alzheimer’s and mainly those that start in early life — there is a clear inheritance of dementia, due to three genes,’ says Ruth Sutherland, chief executive of the Alzheimer’s Society.

‘However, with late-onset Alzheimer’s, which occurs over the age of 65 and accounts for 99 per cent of cases in Britain, only one gene is known to be influential.’

WHAT CAN YOU DO? Maintaining a healthy weight, exercising and keeping blood pressure and cholesterol in check from age 35 onwards can reduce your risk of dementia by up to 20 per cent, Sutherland says.


GENETIC LINK: Up to 20 per cent greater if your mother had a heart attack or chest pain due to blocked arteries, found several studies.

WHAT'S PASSED ON? A recent Oxford University study found women whose mothers suffered strokes were at a greater risk of having a heart attack or stroke. The study found the inherited vascular disease would affect the coronary artery in the heart and the cerebral artery in the brain.

However, exactly why a mother’s history of stroke plays a role in their daughters’ heart attacks is not known.

Researchers said it was not clear whether genes or environmental factors (i.e. a daughter copying her mother’s unhealthy eating habits) played the larger role.

WHAT CAN YOU DO? Lifestyle is important, so maintaining a healthy weight and diet low in saturated fat and salt will help, as will reducing alcohol consumption and not smoking.


25 April, 2011

Statins for pregnant women?

This is a very worrying proposal. Statins have severe side-effects. Damage to the unborn would be a real possibility. And since some of the side-effects are mental, the damage might not be immediately obvious. This could make thalidomide look like a picnic in comparison

Scientists believe that statins, taken by millions of older Britons to reduce their cholesterol levels, can help reduce the severity of pre-eclampsia.

If the world’s first full clinical trial is successful, it could provide the first simple and effective treatment of a complication that affects 70,000 pregnancies a year in Britain, killing up to 10 women and 1,000 unborn babies.

Prof Asif Ahmed, who is leading the study at the University of Edinburgh, said: “If we are successful, and I am very optimistic that we will be, this treatment will transform clinical management of women with pre-eclampsia. “This is the first stage but I am sure that within the next five to seven years, the type of statin used in the trial will be on the prescription pad. “It will be a great breakthrough not only for mothers and babies in our country but also in the developing world where there is a chronic need for cheaper therapies.”

Pre-eclampsia leads to high blood pressure in pregnancy and in severe cases can lead to the woman suffering kidney and liver damage or their unborn baby being stillborn.

About one in 100 expectant mothers in Britain suffers from a particularly dangerous early-onset form, for which the only treatment is delivering their babies prematurely. But research has suggested that two proteins linked to inducing the condition can be controlled through the use of statins.

The new trial, funded by the Medical Research Council, will involve 128 pregnant women who have been diagnosed with early-onset pre-eclampsia. Those given statins will be monitored to see if the drugs lower their levels of one of the proteins, known as soluble flt-1. This would likely make their condition less severe and so reduce the need for their babies to be delivered early.

Despite researchers’ confidence that the trial will lead to a breakthrough in clinical management of pre-eclampsia, they stress that pregnant women should not yet start asking doctors to prescribe them statins.


Easter note: Late dispatch from the Quebec/Vermont border front of the Kinder Egg wars. . .

I am looking this bright Easter morn at a Department of Homeland Security “Custody Receipt for Seized Property and Evidence”. Late last night, crossing the Quebec/Vermont border, my children had two boxes of “Kinder Eggs” (“Est. Dom. Value $7.50″) confiscated by Customs & Border Protection.

Don’t worry, it’s for their own safety. I had no idea that the United States is the only nation on the planet (well, okay, excepting North Korea and Saudi Arabia and one or two others) to ban Kinder Eggs. According to the CBP:

Kinder Chocolate Eggs are hollow milk chocolate eggs about the size of a large hen’s egg usually packaged in a colorful foil wrapper. They are a popular treat and collector’s item during holiday periods in various countries around the world, including those in Europe, South America and even Canada. A toy within the egg is contained in an oval-shaped plastic capsule. The toy requires assembly and each egg contains a different toy. Many of the toys that have been tested by the Consumer Product Safety Commission in the past were determined to present a choking hazard for young children.

And yet oddly enough generations of European and Latin American children remain unchoked. Gotta love that “even Canada”, by the way: Is that an implied threat that Kinder Egg consumption is incompatible with participation in NORAD or membership of NAFTA?

The Food and Drug Administration has issued an import alert for Kinder Eggs, because they are a confectionery product with a non-nutritive object imbedded in it. As in years past, CBP, the Food and Drug Administration and CPSC work in close collaboration to ensure the safety of imported goods by examining, sampling and testing products that may present such import safety hazards. Last year, CBP officers discovered more than 25,000 of these banned chocolate eggs. More than 2,000 separate seizures were made of this product.

Let’s see – CBP, FDA, CPSC. I’m impressed it takes a mere three agencies from the vast alphabet soup of federal regulation to keep us safe from the menace of confectionery products with non-nutritive embeds.

As Janet Napolitano would say, the system worked. I hope America’s chocolate soldiers are enjoying their seized eggs this Easter.

Bonus prediction: What’s the betting that the first jihadist to weaponize a Kinder Egg makes it on to the plane?

PS My kids asked the CBP seizure squad if they could eat the chocolate in front of the border guards while the border guards held on to the toys to prevent any choking hazard – and then, having safely consumed the chocolate, take the toys home as a separate item. This request was denied. Could have been worse. Could have been a $300 fine, plus a $250 fee for seized-egg storage.

PPS The real choking hazard is the vise-like grip of government.


24 April, 2011

Great British five-a-day flop: Despite £4m campaign, number eating correct amount of fruit and veg FALLS

The Government campaign to persuade people to eat five portions of fruit and veg a day has been a multimillion-pound flop. Official statistics show that the number of people meeting the ‘five-a-day’ target actually fell as the campaign went on.

This is despite the fact that over the past five years the Department of Health has spent more than £4million on marketing and advertising for the campaign – and that the total since the campaign was launched in 2002 will be much more than that.

Critics said yesterday that the money squandered was a clear example of nanny-state failure.

Many local primary care trusts have appointed ‘five-a-day’ advisers and run regional campaigns, including leaflet drops and talks. Billboards have been put up in city centres and signs have gone up in supermarkets and doctors’ surgeries.

But between 2006 and 2009, the percentage of adults eating five portions of fruit and veg a day has fallen from 30 per cent to 26 per cent. This equates to a fall from 12.1million to 10.9million, meaning that more than a million fewer people are eating the recommended amount.

The World Health Organisation claims that fruit and vegetables can prevent cardiovascular disease and certain types of cancer. But last year a major European study found that five a day had little effect on reducing cancer rates.

Government figures show that more than five million children – almost four out of five – eat less than the recommended amounts. The typical amount the average adult eats has fallen slightly from 3.3 portions a day in 2006 to 3.2 three years later.

The number of adults eating no portions, or less than one portion, a day has gone up by 17 per cent, from 3.4million to 3.9million, over the same period.

Rich households are twice as likely to have five a day as those in the poorest households. While 32 per cent of men and 37 per cent of women in the highest-income households meet the target, only 18 per cent of men and 19 per cent of women in the lowest-income households do. In the poorest households, almost half of men and more than a third of women consumed no fruit other than juice.

Official figures, obtained through a Freedom of Information request, show the Department of Health has spent £4,167,700 on marketing and advertising for the five-a-day campaign since 2006.

The campaign, which has been endorsed by celebrities such as England cricketers Andrew Flintoff and Ashley Giles, was launched in 2002. But there are no figures to show how much was spent before 2006, so the department’s total could be double the amount for the last five years. And the figures do not include the amount spent by primary care trusts around the country, which will have pushed it up even higher.

Emma Boon, campaign director at the TaxPayers’ Alliance, said: ‘It’s ridiculous that the Department of Health has spent so much on this failed campaign. ‘Taxpayers want their money to be spent on frontline healthcare, not on bossy people telling us what to eat. Hiring staff specifically to tell us to eat fruit and veg is madness, and these non-jobs must go to save taxpayers’ money. ‘Primary care trusts need to look at the outcomes of initiatives like this and stop thinking that putting more taxpayers’ money in is the solution.’


Hunting Happy

There are people on this earth who hunt down happiness to kill for sport. They know who they are. Were it up to them, they’d suck every drop of joy out of life and replace it with misery. They hate individual freedom. They hate liberty. They hate the American dream. Their mission in life is to stifle your right to pursue happy. The fact that some people among us are actually happy drives them around the bend.

Now one of them is suing McDonald's to stop Happy Meals. That’s right; “McDonald's unfairly uses toys to lure children into its restaurants,” cries the Plaintiff, a mother of two obese kids who beg for Happy Meals. “[Their] advertising violates California consumer protection laws,” she whines. She wants protection from the monster corporation that causes her fat kids to beg for food.

The Center for Science in the Public Interest, a nutrition advocacy group, is representing her. That doesn’t surprise me. No self respecting attorney at law in his right mind would ever take on such a transparently frivolous case with his own money at stake. Only an organization which advocates for human consumption a diet of recycled cardboard would champion this ridiculous cause.

My humble prediction: this turkey will be dismissed; booted out of court.

But wait a second; if the court won’t let her kill Happy, maybe the politicians will. Happy Meals, and other good stuff, have come under scrutiny lately from public health officials, parents and lawmakers concerned with rising childhood obesity and weak anti-obesity efforts from restaurant operators.

You see, these folks, most of who are obese themselves, think it should be up to the restaurants to keep their kids from getting fat. It’s the restaurant’s responsibility. They ignore the known fact that many normal sized little kids want Happy Meals so they can throw away the boring food but keep the toy.

The Plaintiff here admits that she frequently tells her children "no" when they ask for Happy Meals. Of course she does. The problem is that she doesn’t tell them “no” at the grocery store, the ice cream shop, or the 7-11. She doesn’t tell them “no” at the dinner table, for bedtime snacks, or treats between meals.

She doesn’t tell them “no” enough. So now her kids are obese and she wants to blame it all on McDonald's. If she gets her way, your child will never enjoy a Happy Meal. She wants to take toys and fun away from little kids. She wants to kill Happy.


23 April, 2011

Big Government talking down to big Australians

The Australian government is bent on making fat people slim in the most condescending way possible. Last month, an incredibly juvenile media campaign was launched to encourage Australians to make healthier lifestyle choices. The “Swap it, Don’t Stop it” campaign is a multimedia extravaganza, featuring television, print and radio ads, an iPhone app and Facebook page.

I feel stupider for receiving healthy lifestyle tips from a simple-minded balloon called Eric. Some pearls of wisdom from the portly blue balloon include swapping “big for small” portions on your plate and “often for sometimes” in regards to naughty treats.

The campaign reaches its nadir with the audacious promise that you can “lose your belly without having to lose out on the things you love.”

Eric doesn’t want to end up with cancer, type-2 diabetes and heart disease, much like a non-balloon person. But diet and exercise is a personal choice and I would be staggered if anyone adopted a healthier lifestyle because the government tells them to.

With the budget bottom-line looking perilous, the taxpayer shouldn’t be funding an enormous health campaign imploring us to swap four scoops of ice-cream for a calorie-light two. It’s an expensive way to inform Australians of the completely obvious.

A utilitarian might rationalise that a costly public health campaign is justified if a healthier public reduces the burden on the government-funded health system. As the saying goes, prevention is cheaper than a cure.

Health Minister Nicola Roxon referred to the cost of obesity when announcing the “Swap it, Don’t Stop it” campaign—claiming that it cost Australia $58.2 billion in 2008 alone. Fat people are not only cardiovascular time-bombs but, according to these figures, economic vandals too.

Roxon’s claiming, in effect, that a healthy society is responsible economic management. But the obese aren’t a great burden on the government’s finances—simply because unhealthy people tend to die prematurely. A healthy pensioner, after all, costs the government more than a dead one.

I’m not saying that a healthier society isn’t an end in itself but that economic considerations shouldn’t be used to justify government health campaigns when all the data isn’t included in their headline-grabbing figures.

The “Swap it, Don’t Stop it” campaign also raises the important issue of whether the government is overreaching, especially when we presently have all the information we need that eating junk food is bad for you and exercise good.

Even the empty-headed understands the virtue of brown bread over white, a regular morning walk and pitfalls of a KFC Double Down burger. There is no information vacuum around these simple lifestyle choices and no such thing as an unwitting glutton.

A constant criticism of Labor is that it doesn’t know what it stands for but I would argue it does.

Since the Rudd government was elected in 2007, Labor has demonstrated an ideological commitment to big government. It’s a uniquely Labor trait for the government to impose itself on the country.

The Labor government suffered from delusions of grandeur in economic management, stimulating the economy in 2008 with malfunctioning pink batts, overpriced school halls and cash handouts for everyone; it intends to build; operate and monopolise a $36 billion national broadband network; it re-regulated the workplace via the Fair Work Act; it imposed a gratuitous new tax on the mining industry without consultation; it hiked taxes on cigarettes and is legislating to deprive smokers the right to choose an aesthetically pleasing brand—for an entirely legal product, mind you; it’s seeking to de-carbonate the economy; and now wants to protect us from ourselves in relation to diet and lazy lifestyles.

Maybe the government should stick to its core functions and leave people with the responsibility to lead relatively healthy lives.

If people want to be gluttons, so be it—they’ll suffer the consequences.

Anyway, few people are going to eat less or exercise more because the government says so, especially when its spokesman is a balloon.


Jab to reverse Alzheimer's: Breakthrough vaccine could be available within two years

Let's hope one of these miracle cures does work eventually

A revolutionary jab that could stop the onslaught of Alzheimer’s disease may be available within two years. The vaccine has been proved to halt and even reverse the damage caused to the brain by the mind-robbing condition. Although it would not be a cure, it is regarded as one of the biggest potential breakthroughs in years in the search for Alzheimer’s treatments.

It is one of only two vaccines for the condition to have reached the final stages of testing, known as phase three. This means it has passed initial safety hurdles and been shown to be effective. It is now in the final stages of clinical trials and is being tested on more than 10,000 patients around the world, including hundreds in the UK.

Alzheimer’s and other forms of dementia affect more than 800,000 Britons, and the number is expected to double in a generation as the population ages.

Existing drugs can delay the progress of Alzheimer’s, but their failure to tackle the underlying cause in the brain means that their effect quickly wears off and the disease soon takes its devastating course.

In contrast, the bapineuzumab jab prevents or even reverses the build-up of amyloid, the toxic protein that clogs the brain in Alzheimer’s, destroying vital connections between cells. It is hoped this will dramatically slow the progress of the disease. In one early test, it cut the number of amyloid plaques by a quarter.

The development of tests which can detect Alzheimer’s in its earliest stages would allow the jab to be given at the first possible opportunity.

This would enable it to save thousands from the most devastating effects of the incurable disease, which leaves sufferers unable to walk, talk and even swallow, making them totally dependent on others.

Although vaccines are traditionally thought of as preventing disease, bapineuzumab is designed as a treatment. Dr David Wilkinson, from Southampton University’s Memory Assessment and Research Centre, was involved in some of the earliest research into Alzheimer’s vaccines in the 1990s.

He said: ‘Hopefully the vaccine will make a big difference to Alzheimer’s treatment. If we can give it early – before major brain impairment is seen – it may have an important part to play. ‘If it can clear amyloid plaques from the brain and we can give it very early in the disease process, it may prevent some of the damage.’

A treatment capable of dramatically slowing the condition’s progress could also have huge financial benefits, with experts estimating that half of the £17billion spent on Alzheimer’s in Britain each year could be saved if patients developed the disease five years later than they do now.

The three drug firms behind the vaccine, Pfizer, Johnson & Johnson and Elan Corporation, are expected to seek marketing approval when testing is completed towards the end of next year.


The jab targets amyloid, the toxic protein that clogs the brain in Alzheimer’s patients. As the clumps of amyloid get bigger, they stop the brain cells from ‘talking’ to each other, disrupting memory, mood and behaviour.

The vaccine contains an antibody that zeroes in on amyloid and tries to flush it out of the body. It is hoped this will dramatically slow the progress of the disease.

Because the vaccine contains the antibody, rather than prompting the immune system to make its own supply, patients would need injections every few months.

However, some experts are unconvinced that amyloid is the key villain in Alzheimer’s, and early tests show that the jab will not help everyone.

The cost of the vaccine is likely to be decided only if drug licensing authorities in the UK and Europe give it the go-ahead, possibly within the next two to three years. It is likely that the treatment for each patient will cost several thousand pounds per year, with patients being given regular injections every few months for the rest of their lives.

Experts stress that there is no guarantee the vaccine will work for everybody.

Dr Wilkinson’s own research shows that getting rid of the amyloid plaques does not always prevent the disease. And tests show that the jab has little effect on patients carrying a gene that raises the odds of the disease.

Dr Simon Ridley, head of research at Alzheimer’s Research UK, said the vaccine could be a significant breakthrough if further trials show it not only clears brain deposits but also prevents dementia.

‘It’s too early to tell whether bapineuzumab could benefit people until the results of this trial are known,’ he said. ‘But any new drug that tackles the disease itself has got to be better than what we have at the moment. ‘Existing drugs don’t touch the disease process. They help with the symptoms but not the underlying loss of brain cells. ‘We desperately need to see more treatments being tested if we are to have the best chance of tackling the condition.

Dr Ridley added: ‘This means it’s vital that we invest in more research.’ He said trials had highlighted side-effects in some patients given high doses of the vaccine. Some developed a condition called vasogenic cerebral oedema, a form of swelling in the brain.

Professor Clive Ballard, director of research at the Alzheimer’s Society, said: ‘Finding the right vaccine would be a life-changing matter for people living with Alzheimer’s.

‘However, this is early days and a substantial amount of research is needed. ‘Dementia research is desperately underfunded and to make the breakthroughs we need, we must invest now.’

The jab is one of several that are under development that could provide a potential bonanza for drug companies around the world.


22 April, 2011

Rubbishy acrylamide scare still rumbling on

I think I said all that needs to be said on it 6 years ago. Its just another way of attacking things that are popular -- pure attention-seeking

A chemical which causes cancer has been found in a huge range of foods including bread, crisps and baby food. Scientists have identified high levels in thousands of cooked and processed products.

The substance, acrylamide, has been linked to several types of cancer including bowel, bladder and kidney, and is known to cause infertility and loss of muscle control.

Scientists have known since 2002 that the chemical exists in certain products and have urged the food industry to reduce levels.

But a major study by the European Union has confirmed that there are still large amounts in a range of items including chips, instant coffee, bread, biscuits, crisps, breakfast cereals and baby food.

Experts are now urging food producers to take stronger action, and are advising the public to cut down on processed food and eat as much fresh produce as possible.

Scientists do not know exactly what causes acrylamide to form but they believe it occurs as a result of a chemical process during baking, frying, grilling or toasting. It appears to form when food is heated to above 120c. It is not found in uncooked or boiled food.

It is also manufactured for industry and used to make asphalt, glue, dye, paper, fabric and cosmetics as well as to remove impurities in drinking water.

The EU’s European Food Safety Authority examined 22 different food groups known to contain high levels of acrylamide in 23 countries, including Britain, and compared levels recorded in 2007 and 2009.

It found despite the warnings, levels had increased in instant coffee and crispbread and remained the same in almost all the other products. Levels had gone down only in crackers, baby biscuits and gingerbread. The report warns that voluntary measures by the food industry have had ‘limited success’ and concludes that further action is needed.

It concludes: ‘It would be desirable to reduce acrylamide levels further in food groups contributing the most to exposure, such as fried potatoes including French fries, soft bread, roasted coffee and biscuits.’

Experts from the World Health Organisation (WHO) are also urging the public to minimise their risk by cutting down on processed foods, but they say that at the moment there is not enough evidence to justify advising the public to avoid certain foods.

Dr Angelika Tritscher of the WHO said: ‘Acrylamide is clearly carcinogenic. It has been shown to cause cancer in animal studies and we have no reason to think that the same is not true for humans. ‘We don’t know what the risk is and if we tried to quantify it, it would just be a guess which would lead to scaremongering. ‘But it’s very important for us to reduce our exposure. It reinforces the importance of a healthy diet.’

In 2008 the UK Food Standards Agency found high levels of acrylamide in a range of processed foods including Hula Hoops, Ryvita and Pringles. The FSA does not currently advise that people should specifically try to avoid foods high in acrylamide. However, it says that they should seek to cut down on fatty foods such as chips and crisps as part of a balanced diet.


The jab that will help Nature to beat osteoporosis by building new bone

A jab to treat osteoporosis by helping to build new bone, potentially reducing the frequency of treatments for sufferers from once a day to once every three months, has been developed.

Most of the drugs currently used to treat osteoporosis, or brittle bones, simply stop old bone from being broken down by the body. But the new medicine, which could be available in as little as three years, helps by binding to sclerostin, a protein that slows down or blocks the building of new bone. The drug stops the protein working, speeding up the bone-building process.

Its creation began with the study of a group of people whose bones were abnormally strong due to a rare disease called sclerosteosis.

Scientists identified the gene that strengthened their bones and showed that it works by stopping sclerostin from being made. In a trial on more than 400 women the ‘sclerostin-antibody’ jab ‘compared favourably’ with existing drugs.

Dr Roger Perlmutter, of U.S. drug company Amgen, which is developing the drug with a Belgian company, said: ‘We are encouraged by the results of this study.’

Osteoporosis occurs when old bone is broken down by the body more quickly than it is built. An estimated three million Britons are thought to be affected, with 230,000 breaking weakened bones each year and 1,150 dying each month after fracturing a hip.

The women who took part in the trial were given injections once a month or once every three months. Many of the existing drugs need to be taken daily – which patients often find so inconvenient they stop taking them.

A further, larger-scale trial is planned. If it shows the new drug to be safe and effective, it could be on the market in three to five years.


21 April, 2011

A pill to beat stress? Hope for cure as scientists discover the protein that causes it

It is not clear how such a drug would be better than existing anxiolytic drugs such as Valium -- and removing stress reactions to threat could have its own problems. But it's only a rodent study so far anyway

A pill that keeps stress at bay could be on the horizon after scientists worked out the brain chemistry that turns a healthy dose of fear into overwhelming anxiety or depression. The breakthrough by researchers at Leicester University could lead to pills that quash such stress-related conditions before they arise.

This would be different from anti-depressants, which are prescribed after a person’s health deteriorates. Treatments which might work when existing drugs fail could also be developed.

The research was inspired by the observation that while most of us experience traumatic events from bereavements to broken hearts, only some people descend into depression or other stress-associated psychiatric disorders.

Experiments detailed in the journal Nature flagged up a protein called neuropsin, which is made in the amygdala, the brain’s ‘fear centre’. In times of stress, the brain makes more neuropsin and this triggers a series of chemical reactions that culminate in a ‘fear gene’ being switched on – and feelings of anxiety.

Blocking the protein in mice stopped them displaying anxiety in stressful situations. The researchers are optimistic that the protein also affects how the human brain copes with life’s troubles.

Dr Pawlak said: ‘Studies in mice revealed that upon feeling stressed, they stayed away from zones in a maze where they felt unsafe. ‘These were open and illuminated spaces they avoid when they are anxious. ‘However, when the proteins produced by the amygdala were blocked the mice did not exhibit the same trait. ‘The behavioural consequences of stress were no longer present.

‘We conclude that the activity of neuropsin and its partners may determine vulnerability to stress.’

Although the experiments were in mice, the researchers are optimistic that the protein also affects how the human brain copes with life’s troubles.

Dr Pawlak cautioned that much more research is necessary but added: ‘We are tremendously excited by these findings. ‘We know that all the members of the neuropsin pathway are present in the human brain. ‘They may play a similar role in humans and further research will be necessary to examine the potential of therapies for controlling stress-related behaviours.

‘Our discovery opens up new possibilities for the prevention and treatment of stress-related psychiatric disorders such as depression and post-traumatic stress disorder.’

Around one in five people experiences some form of anxiety disorder during their life. The researchers said: ‘Stress-related disorders affect a large percentage of the population and generate enormous personal, social and economic impact.

‘It was previously known that some individuals are more susceptible to the detrimental effects of stress than others. ‘Although the majority of us experience traumatic events, only some develop stress-related anxiety disorders such as depression, anxiety or post-traumatic stress disorder. ‘The reasons for this were not clear.’


CA: More hatred of McDonald’s

A lawsuit that seeks to stop McDonald's from selling Happy Meals must be dismissed because parents can always prohibit their children from eating them, the hamburger giant said in a court filing.

The lawsuit claims McDonald's unfairly uses toys to lure children into its restaurants. The plaintiff, Monet Parham, a Sacramento, Calif. mother of two, claims the company's advertising violates California consumer protection laws.

The Happy Meal has been a huge hit for McDonald's -- making the company one of the world's largest toy distributors -- and spawning me-too offerings at most other fast-food chains. But lately it also has come under fire from public health officials, parents and lawmakers who are frustrated with rising childhood obesity rates and weak anti-obesity efforts from restaurant operators, which are largely self-regulated.

Parham, who filed suit last December, is represented by the Center for Science in the Public Interest, a nutrition advocacy group.
In the lawsuit, Parham admits she frequently tells her children "no" when they ask for Happy Meals, McDonald's said in a court filing late on Monday.

"She was not misled by any advertising, nor did she rely on any information from McDonald's," the company said. Should Parham's lawsuit be allowed, it would spawn a host of other problematic legal proceedings, McDonald's said. "In short, advertising to children any product that a child asks for but the parent does not want to buy would constitute an unfair trade practice," the company said.

Attorneys for Parham did not immediately respond to a request for comment late on Monday.


20 April, 2011

Why men's success with women all depends on their hands

I rather like this study -- seeing I exemplify what it says. My ring finger is about half an inch longer than my index finger and I have been married 4 times

Forget witty chat-up lines and splashing on the aftershave. It appears the secret of a man’s attractiveness to the opposite sex lies in his hands. Men whose ring fingers are longer than their index fingers are seen as better bets by women, a study found. By contrast those seen as wimpier sorts will have longer index fingers.

It is thought that exposure to high levels of testosterone in the womb has a long-lasting effect on finger-length – and on looks.

The study is the latest in a long line to link the shape of man’s hands with his path in life. British, French and Swiss researchers photographed 49 young men and measured the length of their ring and index fingers. They also recorded their voices and took swabs to capture general odour. They then showed a group of women the photos and asked them to rate the men’s looks.

Those whose ring fingers were longer than their index fingers were more likely to win the women’s approval. They were seen as good prospects for both a fling and a long-term relationship.

However, they scored no more highly than the other men in terms of having a sexy voice or ‘attractive’ body odour, the journal Proceedings of the Royal Society reports.

Stirling University researcher Craig Roberts said exposure to testosterone in the womb likely affects facial structure as well as finger length. Having a long ring finger confers a host of other benefits. For instance, scientists believe the longer a man’s ring finger is compared to his index finger, the richer he is likely to be.

They claim he is also likely to be a promiscuous, extroverted go-getter with strong muscles and has a greater likelihood of playing a musical instrument. Unfortunately such men also have a higher chance of ending up in prison, being murdered or going mad.

Previous research has shown women who have ‘masculine’ hands, with long ring fingers, are more likely to be lesbians than those who don’t and display higher levels of aggression – as well as enjoying greater professional success.

To calculate finger length accurately you must measure the distance from the midpoint of the lowest crease at the base of the finger on the palm side to the very end of the fleshy tip.


Calcium supplements are linked to higher heart attack risk in older women

More evidence that HRT is the best strategy for preventing osteoporosis

Older women taking calcium supplements to improve bone strength could be at higher risk of heart attacks and strokes, claim researchers. A new study adds to previous research suggesting extra calcium - with or without vitamin D - may do more harm than good.

Hundreds of thousands of women take supplements because they are recommended for preventing osteoporosis, or thinning bones.

But a research team led by Professor Ian Reid at the University of Auckland, New Zealand, says the practice should be reassessed as it may result in more heart attacks than fractures would be prevented.

They looked at data from Women's Health Initiative (WHI) study - a seven-year trial of more than 36,000 women which originally found no cardiovascular effect of taking combined calcium and vitamin D supplements.

But most women were already taking personal calcium supplements, which may have hidden any adverse effects from being allocated supplements as part of the trial. Prof Reid's study looked at data from 16,718 women who were not taking personal calcium supplements when the trial began.

It found those given combined calcium and vitamin D supplements had a 'modest' increased risk of cardiovascular events. This amounted to around 25 per cent higher risk of heart attack and 15 per cent extra risk of stroke, says a report in

But for women already taking personal calcium supplements at the start of the trial, adding calcium and vitamin D supplements made no difference to their risk.

The researchers believe abrupt changes in blood calcium levels after taking a supplement causes the adverse effect, rather than it being linked to the total amount of calcium consumed. High blood calcium levels are linked to hardening of the arteries.

The report says treating 1,000 people for five years would result in six extra heart attacks, but only three prevented fractures.

The team conducted a further analysis using data on 29,000 people which found consistent increases in the risk of heart attack and stroke with taking calcium supplements, with or without vitamin D.

'These data justify a reassessment of the use of calcium supplements in older people' said the report.

But the British Heart Foundation (BHF) charity said there is insufficient evidence to say calcium supplements definitely trigger heart problems.

Cathy Ross, senior cardiac nurse at the BHF, said 'The study showed there was a modest increase in heart attack or stroke risk but that’s not the same as saying calcium supplements with vitamin D cause heart attacks and strokes, only that there was an increased risk.

'It’s very important further studies are carried out to determine the effects of calcium supplements on heart health. We also need to know whether any increased risk outweighs the benefits these supplements have in treating the debilitating effects of conditions such as osteoporosis.

'There is still not enough evidence to confirm the association between calcium supplements and cardiovascular risk so patients prescribed the supplements shouldn’t stop taking them, but should discuss any concerns they have with their doctor.'


19 April, 2011

Cleaning 'could be making people depressed'

This is piggybacking on the old "too clean" theory about autoimmune diseases such as asthma and diabetes. I would have thought that now to be a discredited theory but attractive theories never die of course. To repeat: Australian Aborigines usually live in extraordinarily dirty conditions but have HIGH rates of auto-immune disease and early death. Also note the "sample" size below

A growing obsession with cleanliness could be making people depressed, according to scientists. Researchers found that cleaner homes and offices are leaving lower levels of dirt and bacteria which could lead to weaker immune systems and, in turn, brain function being impaired.

Previous studies have linked clean homes to weak immune systems, while others have suggested a child's exposure to bacteria and things like animal hair could help develop a resistance to some illnesses.

The latest study, from Atlanta, suggested that weaker immune systems tend to over-react to dust and dirt in the form of inflammations or allergies which can slow the brain's production of "happy" chemicals such as serotonin and cause depression. The scientists said the rates of depression are far higher in the developed world than in poorer parts of the planet. In Britain, 10% of people claim to suffer depression, while just 1% claims the same in Nigeria, for example.

The research was conducted by exposing 27 patients to the drugs which are used to treat hepatitis C because it causes similar reactions to allergies. Dr Andrew Miller, who was behind the research, said: "We believe the immune system is causing depression. "As people develop and grow up, their immune system develops. "If they are exposed to more bacteria and parasites, they are able to better control the inflammation.

"Nowadays, people's environment is much cleaner and hygienic so our immune system never really learns how to deal with infectious agents."

The research was published in the journal Molecular Psychiatry.


New heart attack jab even more effective than statins

Rodent data only so far

A simple injection given to patients up to 12 hours after a heart attack or stroke could reduce their devastating effects by more than half, a new study claims.

British-based scientists have produced an antibody that reduces by more than 60 per cent the physical scarring of the heart and brain after an attack. The "milestone achievement" could also be used to stop the body attacking organ transplants.

Professor Wilhelm Schwaeble, who carried out the work at Leicester University, said that it could potentially be the "biggest breakthrough ever" in the treatment of two of the biggest killers in Britain.

Heart attacks and strokes are caused by blood flow being blocked by a clot or a bleed, starving parts of the body further down stream of oxygen. But most of the permanent damage is caused later – when circulation is eventually restored – and a "default of nature" which means the body's own defences attack the oxygen starved cells.

This effect, which kicks in around nine to 12 hours after the attack or stroke, causes massive inflammation and more than 80 per cent of the permanent damage. It is this that often leads to death and massive reduction in the quality of life of stroke and heart attack survivors.

Now the researchers at the University of Leicester have come up with an injection which they claim effectively stops the body attacking the oxygen starved cells. This allows them to start to oxygenate normally and the permanent damage is reduced significantly.

The research has been tested on mice and more advanced mammals and has also been shown to work on human blood in the laboratory. Human trials are expected to begin within two years.

"This is potentially the biggest breakthrough in the treatment of heart attacks and strokes ever," said Prof Wilhelm, an immunologist. "We could not believe what we saw and nor could the cardiologists. What is amazing is that the drug can be given so long after the attack. "Even the slowest ambulance journey in the world is going to get you to hospital within nine hours."

Prof Schwaeble said that the treatment could have even more of an effect than statins, the cholesterol lowering drugs taken by more than two million Britons. Around 200,000 people in Britain die from cardiovascular disease, including heart disease and stroke, every year.

The team first uncovered a key molecule in the process responsible for the immune attack. After identifying the enzyme – called Mannan Binding Lectin-Associated Serine Protease-2 (MASP-2) – they then developed a antibody to knock it out. The protein – code-named OMS646 – is so effective only two injections in the first week are needed to completely neutralise MASP-2 while the heart heals itself.

The research was published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (PNAS).

It is anticipated that the first clinical trial will be conducted in the Leicester Biomedical Research Unit, at Glenfield Hospital, Leicester.


18 April, 2011

Onions help peel off weight, prevent diabetes and reduce blood pressure

If you are a white rat. White rats are not even normal rats. And most of us probably eat a fair amount of onions one way or another anyway -- e.g. in the dreaded hamburgers! Hamburgers couldn't be good for us, could they?

A new Queensland study has revealed onions can combat obesity, diabetes and increased blood pressure.

The research by the University of Southern Queensland biomedical scientists highlights that rutin extracted from onions reversed fat stores in laboratory rats, lowered blood pressure, reversed glucose problems and repaired liver damage.

The research was conducted by Professor Lindsay Brown, Sunil K Panchal, Hemant Poudyal and Thiruma Arumugam and will be published in next month's prestigious Journal of Nutrition.


Diabetes drug could treat breast cancer patients

Research on the effects of metformin is not actually described below

A 10p-a-day diabetes drug could be used to treat breast cancer sufferers, it is claimed. Scientists have developed a new test that identifies patients who could benefit from the cheap treatment. They found that the people whose cancer cells “fed” off high-energy compounds were more likely to see their tumours spread or to die. This meant they could be helped by being given the diabetes drug, metformin, which stops the “fuel supply” for aggressive cancer cells.

Professor Michael Lisanti, from the Breakthrough Breast Cancer Research Unit at the University of Manchester, said: “We’ve shown that the saying, ‘you are what you eat’ holds true for cancer. The food cancer cells consume is crucial to how well a patient does and what treatment they need.

“If cancer cells are consuming high-energy food, this makes a tumour more aggressive and harder to treat. However, patients could benefit from metformin, which cuts off this fuel supply. There is more work to do but this test could be an important new way of tailoring treatments to a patient’s needs, across a range of cancers.”

Last year it was reported that metformin was being tested to see if it can stop the growth of lung cancers. In a new paper published in the journal Cell Cycle, researchers from Manchester and Thomas Jefferson University in the US describe their attempts to see if it will also help breast cancer sufferers.

They studied 219 breast cancer patients and worked out which ones had tumours that fed on high-energy foods, known as ketones and lactate, found in healthy cells. The researchers found that the patients whose cancer cells consumed high levels of ketones and lactate were more likely to have their disease return, spread to other organs or die.

This group is most likely to benefit from being given metformin, the standard treatment for Type 2 diabetes that costs as little as 10p a day.

Professor Anthony Howell, Director of the Breakthrough Breast Cancer Research Unit in Manchester, said: “It is particularly encouraging that some of those treatments might already be in the doctor’s drug cabinet, and cheap to prescribe. "We have some way to go but we hope that drugs like metformin will be saving lives of breast cancer patients over the next few years.”


17 April, 2011

Chance find of optical illusion that eases arthritis pain without drugs

85% improvement is about as good as you get -- way above placebo. I guess it's a kind of hypnotism

A trick of the mind could relieve the pain of arthritis, claim psychologists. In a discovery made by accident, people with the condition found a simple computer-generated optical illusion could soothe pain.

Nottingham University academics hope the experiment might one day enable more people to harness their unconscious to tackle ailments. The technology, called Mirage, helped arthritis patients improve the mobility of their hands by halving the pain they felt in fingers.

A small number of sufferers were asked to place their hands inside a box containing a camera, which then projected the image on to a screen in front of them. The technology allowed them to see their arthritic fingers being apparently stretched and shrunk. In fact, someone was gently pushing and pulling their fingers from the other side of the box and the camera created the illusion of huge stretching and shrinking. In 85 per cent of cases it halved the pain.

Mirage was first used as part of a educational project on the way our brains put together what we see and feel happening to our bodies.

Dr Roger Newport, who is leading the research in the School of Psychology, said: ‘The majority of people who come to these fun events are kids – the illusions really capture their imagination and they think it’s a cool trick.’

But it was one of their grandparents who discovered a healing effect by chance. Dr Catherine Preston, who is collaborating on the study and is now at Nottingham Trent University, said: ‘The grandmother wanted to have a go, but warned us to be gentle because of arthritis in her fingers.

‘We were giving a practical demonstration of illusory finger stretching when she announced “My finger doesn’t hurt any more” and asked whether she could take the machine home with her. ‘We were just stunned – I don’t know who was more surprised, her or us.’

The psychologists then recruited 20 volunteers aged around 70 with osteoarthritis to test out the Mirage technology. All had been diagnosed with arthritic pain in their hands and fingers, and were asked to rate their pain during the illusion.

Many of those tested said they felt less pain in their hands and fingers when the image appeared to show them being stretched, while others got relief when the image showed them shrinking. Some said they were in less pain when stretched and shrunk.

In a third of those taking part, the treatment stopped the pain entirely. It was found the illusion only worked when the painful part of the hands was being manipulated.


School Lunch Madness

Back in the Stone Age, I brought my noon meal to school in a Davy Crockett lunchbox. It was made of cheap metal, and had I eaten it, the taste would have been similar to the sandwich inside, usually bologna or tuna on soggy bread. My mother also included an apple (usually thrown, not ingested) and some Mallomar cookies: 800 calories each.

According to an article in The Chicago Tribune, my standard lunch would not have been acceptable at the Little Village Academy public school in the Windy City. The principal, Elsa Carmona, is quoted as saying that her students can either eat the school cafeteria food or "go hungry." Wow! Tough dietary deal.

Carmona went on to say that some parents are morons who allow their children to eat garbage and that is not going to happen on her watch. The Tribune quotes her: "It's about ... the excellent quality food that they are able to serve (in the lunchroom). It's milk versus a Coke."

Many students at the Little Village Academy qualify for free or reduced-price lunches. Those who don't pay $2.25 for a meal. Some parents say that $11.25 for the week is far more than the brown bag lunches cost.

Predictably, Carmona's edict caused an outcry, and now she says she was misquoted by the Tribune. Her lunch opinion is not a mandate, just a suggestion, she insists. But this story is not exactly an analysis of the federal budget. It strains credulity that the Trib got it wrong. What most likely happened is that Carmona took some heat from on high and is backtracking.

About one third of American kids are now overweight, and poorer children are the most likely to be in that category. So, educators are correct to be concerned about the nutritional welfare of their students. Every school should be encouraging good health, right?

But forcing parents to buy school food is going too far. This is nanny state stuff. I know that under President Obama the nation is heading in that direction, but it is now time to pause and smell the meatloaf.

Parents are the primary caregivers when it comes to raising children. The school educates kids, but it has no right to dictate lifestyle choices. If there is a problem that impacts a student's ability to learn or socialize, the school has an obligation to bring the situation to the parents' attention. But telling kids what they can eat at lunchtime usurps parental authority.

It is true that some parents usurp their own authority by neglecting their children or acting like nitwits in making decisions for them. But that is the price of a free society. The government cannot legislate good parenting, even though it has spent trillions of dollars trying.

The folks running the Little Village Academy need to wise up about this free society business. In America, we allow freedom of choice. And while kids can't choose their parents and vice-versa, when it comes to choosing the meal plan, parents should rule.


16 April, 2011

'Junk meat' diet takes deadly toll in Tonga (?)

Another case of blaming the food rather than the behaviour or the genes. I am 67 now and to my recollection, Polynesians have ALWAYS been big. And there are plenty of them in Australia where there is a very different food offering in the supermarkets. It's true that you can buy canned corned beef in Australia -- I eat it myself at times -- but the cans on offer are small and few, so the Polynesians must be eating something else. And mutton flaps are unknown in Australian shops.

And the other major Pacific island race -- the Melanesians -- are not particularly overweight. They tend in fact to be fine figures of men. Yet both races are poor and have plenty of exposure to Western convenience foods

So why are Polynesians so often huge? I don't know but it's so common that it's probably genetic

On Tonga's supermarket shelves, huge cans of corned beef the size of paint tins replaced traditional fare such as fish and coconuts long ago - contributing to an obesity epidemic that has made the Pacific region ranked as the fattest in the world.

Meat in Tonga almost invariably comes in a tin, whether it be turkey breast, meat loaf, luncheon meat or Spam, which can be bought in a variety of forms including smoked, with chilli or laced with cheese for an extra calorie hit.

The common denominator, says Tonga's Chief Medical Officer, Malakai Ake, is that the "junk meat" is loaded with salt and saturated fats, meaning islanders' waistlines continue to expand.

"This is the biggest issue facing Tonga," he said, citing soaring levels of weight-related coronary disease, diabetes and strokes among islanders.

"Every other day there's a funeral, a next-door neighbour, a relative, a friend. It's always heart disease, diabetes, it's ridiculous."

The Tongan Health Department says more than 90 per cent of the population is classed as overweight and more than 60 per cent is obese.

World Health Organisation data released last year said Pacific Island nations account for eight of the top 10 countries where the male population is overweight or obese.

Experts say economic, cultural and lifestyle factors have combined to make the obesity epidemic, which is an increasing problem worldwide, more acute in the Pacific.

Dr Ake said the traditional lifestyles, where people kept fit through farming and fishing, had given way to a more sedentary existence in recent years and motor vehicles became more readily available. "In my young days we would walk everywhere and go swimming," he said. "Now people use the car to go just a little way down the street."

The Prime Minister, Lord Tu'ivakano, said more needed to be done to combat the obesity problem and his government would look at restricting imports such as mutton flaps - cheap, fatty sheep offcuts popular in the country.

"We have to go back to the old ways, just eating good food - taros, kumaras [sweet potatoes, yams," he said. "It's a matter of saying 'sorry, you have to find an alternative', probably eat fish rather than mutton flaps."


Could a pill made from olive leaves help beat heart disease?

Only small differences observed over a short term -- and with no proper control group. Long-term effects on mortality remain uknown

A pill made from the leaves of the olive tree could be a powerful weapon in the fight against heart disease, scientists say. According to research, the olive pill is as effective as some prescription medicines at reducing high blood pressure. And it also appears to lower levels of harmful blood fats, called triglycerides, known to raise the risk of heart attacks and strokes.

In a study, patients who took the olive leaf pill for eight weeks saw a significant decline in blood pressure readings and triglyceride levels.

If further studies confirm the powerful effects of olive leaf tablets, they could be used to help patients who struggle to take blood pressure drugs because of their side-effects.

Heart disease is Britain’s biggest killer. High blood pressure is thought to be responsible for 50 per cent of all heart attacks and strokes.

In recent years, studies have shown olive oil can protect the heart by reducing the build-up of fatty deposits inside the coronary arteries. Olives have also been credited with helping to lower the risk of breast cancer, ulcerative colitis and even depression. And it seems the trees’ thin, flat leaves may also be able to ward off illness, as they have high levels of compounds called polyphenols.

These plant chemicals have been shown to help slash the risk of major diseases by helping to protect against the harmful effects of free radicals.

Researchers at the University of Indonesia, in Jakarta, investigated olive leaf extract by recruiting 180 patients with high blood pressure – and splitting them into two groups. One received olive leaf pills for eight weeks. The rest were given an anti-hypertension drug called captopril, which can cause dizziness.

According to the research published in the journal Phytomedicine, systolic blood pressure – the higher reading – dropped an average of 11.5 points in the olive leaf group and 13.7 in the captopril patients. Diastolic blood pressure – the lower reading – fell 4.8 points in the olive leaf volunteers and 6.4 points in those on the prescription medicine.

Those on the olive treatment also saw ‘a significant reduction’ in levels of triglycerides. In a report on the study, sponsored by a Swiss manufacturer of olive leaf extract and PT Dexa Medica, which makes captopril, researcher Professor Endang Susalit said: ‘The leaves of the olive tree have been used since ancient times to combat high blood pressure, atherosclerosis [blocked arteries] and diabetes. ‘The anti-hypertensive activity of the extract was comparable to captopril, and its beneficial effects in reducing triglyceride levels were strongly indicated.’

Doctors said the findings need to be replicated in larger studies before olive pills can be used more widely.

The British Heart Foundation urged those on blood pressure medication not to stop taking their drugs without consulting their GP.

Liquid olive leaf extract is sold, at £28.99 a bottle, under the brand name Comvita Olive Leaf Complex in some Boots stores, as well as Holland & Barrett.


15 April, 2011

Genes could hold the key to a long and healthy life

How about that!

Longevity genes that may control the speed of ageing have been discovered by scientists. The researchers have pinpointed eight genetic variations that control the production of a crucial hormone which is linked to old age as well as diseases of the elderly.

They believe that by manipulating the DNA strands they could slow down the ageing process and ward off age related conditions.

The genes control levels of the steroid dehydroepiandrosterone sulphate [DHEAS], one of the most abundant in the body and vital to many key functions. Levels of dehydroepiandrosterone sulphate [DHEAS] are known to peak in our mid to late 20s and then decline as we get older. By the time we reach 85, the body contains about five per cent of its peak amount.

Researchers have established links between declining DHEAS levels and diseases such as type 2 diabetes and lymphoma, as well as a decreased lifespan.

A group scientists from across the globe analysed the DHEAS levels and 2.5 million genetic variants in 14,846 people from Europe and the USA. Results, published in PLoS Genetics journal, identified eight common genes that controlled the concentration of DHEAS, with some of those genes associated with ageing and age-related diseases such as type 2 diabetes and lymphoma.

Researchers say their findings provide the first genetic evidence that DHEAS can cause common age-related diseases or a decreased lifespan. Supplements of the steroid have already been commercially available for the past few years.

Dr Guangju Zhai, the study author from King's College, London, said that while taking it could theoretically slow down the ageing process, it was too early to say for sure how effective it could be. "It is hoped that through manipulation or gene therapy we could slow down the ageing process or the affect of age related diseases," he said.

Dr Zhai and his team now plan to spend the rest of the year looking closely at each gene in the hope of discovering more. "The next stage will be to identify which genes have which function, and which have a particular effect on DHEAS levels. "Once this is identified that could be the next stage in coming up with technology to manipulate the genes and maybe even get the body to increase DHEAS levels itself."

Professor Tim Spector, senior co author from King's said: "For 50 years we have observed the most abundant circulating steroid in the body, DHEAS, with no clue as to its role. "Now its genes have shown us its importance in many parts of the ageing process."


Government and companies 'hoodwink consumers' over healthy lifestyles, according to food freaks

They are in a pet because the government is less Fascist than they are

Big business and the Government could be colluding to “hoodwink consumers” in the name of encouraging healthier lifestyles, academics have warned.

Health policy experts claim that ministers’ attempts to “nudge” shoppers into eating better or taking more exercise, rather than banning junk food, are little more than a “smokescreen for inaction”.

They say that simple attempts to change people’s behaviour ignore the complex range of factors that have led to Britain’s obesity rate rising, from the low price of fatty and sugary food to its availability on every street corner.

It comes after leading charities and pressure groups walked out of a joint Department of Health initiative with food and drink manufacturers and major retailers, saying they were “profoundly disappointed” by limited targets that allowed corporations to dictate public health policy.

In a paper published at on Friday, Prof Tim Lang and Dr Geof Rayner from the Centre for Food Policy at City University say it is now widely accepted that obesity is caused by several factors including diet, physical activity, genetics, over-supply of food, marketing and consumer choice.

But they claim that rather than drawing up detailed action plans and drafting regulations to deal with the problem, the British Government alone is focusing on the fashionable discipline of behavioral economics known as “nudge” theory.

The idea is that by finding easy ways for people to choose healthy lifestyles, such as by displaying fruit and veg at the checkout instead of chocolate, ministers avoid the need to pass new laws or restrict commercial activity. It also avoids accusations of heavy-handedness by a “nanny state”.

But the authors claim the theory is overly simplistic, writing: “It dispenses with the complexity of real life contexts and acknowledges only the immediate proximal horizons of consumer choice. At a stroke, policy is reduced to a combination of cognitive and ‘light’ environmental signals, such as location of foods within retail geography.”

They cite the availability of stop smoking packs in high-street chemists and the introduction of London’s bike rental scheme as examples of “nudge-inspired interventions”.

They also point out that a scheme encouraging shoppers to buy healthier food required them to spend £117 in order to redeem £50 worth of vouchers. “The lesson here might be that nudge is a smokescreen for, at best, inaction and, at worst, publicly endorsed marketing.”

The authors concede that social norms have a role in determining consumer behaviour, but ask: “How can ‘nudge’ reshape the agri-food business’s long commitment to lower the price of fat, soft drinks, or high calorie readymade foods or the ubiquitous ‘offer’ of food at every newsagent, station platform, and petrol station?”

They conclude: “Our final worry is that nudge becomes collusion between the state and corporations to hoodwink consumers. At least nannies are overt.”

In a response piece published by the BMJ, Dr Adam Oliver from the London School of Economics argues that nudge ideas are not meant to replace laws but are just “an additional tool to complement regulation by moving society incrementally in a direction that might benefit all of us.”


14 April, 2011

Could a fry-up followed by doughnuts be good for the heart?

Mouse study only so far -- but Eskimos eat a lot of fat and have a low rate of heart disease

It sounds like the recipe for a heart attack. But a fry-up followed by a plate of doughnuts could actually be good for the heart. Research suggests that the odd greasy treat somehow boosts the heart muscle, reducing the amount of damage done when a heart attack occurs.

Those with a taste for junk food will be glad to know that it is thought that fried foods, like chips, bacon and doughnuts, provide the best protection.

Unfortunately, doctors stress that the research is still preliminary – and it is far too early to swap muesli topped with blueberries for a traditional English breakfast.

The U.S. researchers fed mice on a lard-based or normal diets for periods of 24 hours to six weeks and then looked at how they fared when they had a heart attack. Given the link between fatty food and heart disease, you might expect the lard-fed mice to have done the worst. Instead, those fed the fatty food for up to two weeks actually had the mildest heart attacks.

Most strikingly, those who were on the lard diet for just a day suffered heart attacks that were 70 per cent smaller than those in the animals given normal food, the annual Experimental Biology conference heard. University of Cincinnati researcher Lauren Haar said: 'This shows that acute, or short-term, high-fat feeding in animal models does preserve cardiac function.'

It is unclear how short bursts of fat help the heart but it may be through boosting the amount of energy available to the heart muscle, aiding the healing process.

Miss Haar said: 'This could mean great things for patient care if we can find the mechanisms that come into play to cause this cardioprotection. 'This may also show that, while it is important to eat right, not all bad foods should be avoided all of the time. 'This could change the way we view nutrition and dietary recommendations.'

Possibilities include people who have had heart attacks being given the green light to eat the occasional fatty treat.

Co-researcher Jack Rubinstein, a heart disease expert, said: 'Right now, after you have had a heart attack, they say to have a low-fat diet but we think that may be a little too draconian.'

However, he warned that fatty foods' reputation for clogging arteries and causing heart attacks in the first place mean it is too early for people to start indulging.

Dr Rubinstein said: 'We still don’t know how it plays out in a balance between bad effects on the arteries that give blood to the heart versus the beneficial effects that we think happen on the heart muscle itself. `'People should continue to follow their doctors' advice.'


The fish dilemma: Good for mothers, bad for babies

But the "good for mothers" part is based on a "sample" (of unknown representativess) of only 26 women. And the report seems to be a conference paper only. So not much of substance there

Eating fish during pregnancy could cut a woman's odds of developing post-natal depression. Research suggests that omega-3 fatty acids, which are particularly abundant in oily fish such as salmon, protect against the baby blues. Stocks built up during pregnancy appear to give a woman's mental health a boost months later.

Post-natal depression affects up to 13 per cent of new mothers – and lasts more than a year in severe cases, even with counselling and medication.

However, too much oily fish in pregnancy can be bad for the baby’s development, so experts say it is important that mothers-to-be strike a balance when trying to boost their levels of omega-3.

For the study, 26 women took a fish oil capsule, containing 300mg of the omega-3 fat DHA, five times a week from around the 24th week of pregnancy. Another 26 took a placebo pill containing corn oil.

After their babies were born, those who had taken the omega-3 scored better on a questionnaire designed to spot symptoms of post-natal depression. For example, they were less likely to say they suffered from anxiety or a loss of self-worth, the annual Experimental Biology conference heard.

University of Connecticut researcher Dr Michelle Price Judge said: 'DHA consumption during pregnancy – at levels that are reasonably obtained from foods – has the potential to decrease symptoms of [post-natal] depression.'

She added that while some women may prefer the thought of supplements, eating fish is the more nutritious option. But concerns that the fish that are rich in omega-3 also contain higher levels of toxic pollutants such as mercury mean that the Department of Health advises pregnant women to ration their intake. Oily fish, including mackerel, sardines, salmon and trout, should not be eaten more than twice a week.


13 April, 2011

Tea tree honey 'could fight MRSA'

This appears to be a study in laboratory glassware only but it is supported by extensive anecdotal evidence so one hopes that proper trials will begin soon

Smearing an exotic type of honey on wounds could help protect against bacterial infections including MRSA, scientists believe. A laboratory study has found that manuka honey can stop bacteria from establishing themselves on tissue.

Manuka honey is from bees which have collected nectar from manuka trees - better known as tea trees - in New Zealand and Australia. Tea tree oil has long been feted for its anti-bacterial properties.

However, scientists at Cardiff University say that the honey could also be a useful "topical agent". Prof Rose Cooper, of its Centre for Biological Sciences, said: "Our findings with streptococci and pseudomonads [bacteria] suggest that manuka honey can hamper the attachment of bacteria to tissues which is an essential step in the initiation of acute infections.

"Inhibiting attachment also blocks the formation of biofilms, which can protect bacteria from antibiotics and allow them to cause persistent infections."

She added: "Other work in our lab has shown that honey can make MRSA more sensitive to antibiotics such as oxacillin - effectively reversing antibiotic resistance. "This indicates that existing antibiotics may be more effective against drug-resistant infections if used in combination with manuka honey."

Putting the honey on wounds could be a novel and economic way of reducing infections, she suggested. "The use of a topical agent to eradicate bacteria from wounds is potentially cheaper and may well improve antibiotic therapy in the future."


Half-hour walk 'cuts Alzheimer's risk'

A study of 16 elderly women? Give us a break! I could say more but what's the point?

A brisk half-hour walk every other day could cut the risk of developing Alzheimer's disease, say scientists. Moderate exercise increases the flow of blood to the brain which "washes away" debris thought to cause the degenerative disease, according to researchers.

They found that older women who walked for between 30 and 50 minutes, three or four times a week, increased blood flow to the brain by as much as 15 per cent.

Researchers at the Institute for Exercise and Environmental Medicine at the Texas Health Presbyterian Hospital in Dallas said this helped prevent Alzheimer's in two ways.

"First, the blood brings oxygen, glucose and other nutrients to the brain, which are vital for the brain's health," they said. "Second, the blood washes away brain metabolic wastes such as amyloid-beta protein released into the brain's blood vessels. Amyloid-beta protein has been implicated in the development of Alzheimer's disease."

The three-month study measured how much blood flow into the brain, gauged by measuring the flow in the carotid arteries in the neck, changed in the 16 participants, who were all women aged 60 or over. It found that cerebral blood flow increased by 15 per cent in the left carotid artery, on average, and 11 per cent in the right artery.

Dr Rong Zhang, the lead researcher, said: " There are many studies that suggest that exercise improves brain function in older adults, but we don't know exactly why the brain improves. "Our study indicates it might be tied to an improvement in the supply of blood flow to the brain."


12 April, 2011

How Vitamin D may combat eye disease in women

Lots of warning bells here: Why only in women? Why was Vitamin D from sunlight ineffective? I think all that they have shown is that middle class women are more likely to take supplements and they are healthier anyway

An eye disease that causes partial blindness may be prevented in women by taking vitamin D supplements. Taking the vitamin could ward off vision loss from age-related macular degeneration (AMD) in women younger than 75, research has shown.

Higher levels of Vitamin D were associated with a significant decreased risk of AMD, a condition which is caused by progressive damage to the centre of the retina at the back of the eye.

AMD affects about 2 per cent of people over the age of 50 in developed countries and more than 230,000 sufferers in the UK are thought to be partially blind because of the disease.

The data of 1,313 women who took part in a large-scale investigation of the disease was examined by researchers in the US. They found that in women younger than 75, both vitamin D blood levels and consumption of the vitamin from food sources and supplements were linked to a reduced risk of early AMD. They also found that women with the highest vitamin D intake were 59 per cent less likely to develop the disease than those with the lowest.

However, these results did not apply to vitamin D absorbed via sunlight - the association was only seen with women who consumed the vitamin in foods and supplements. Researchers found that time spent in the sun did not affect risk levels, even though the most important source of vitamin D is it generation in the skin as a reaction to sunlight.

In the study, it was discovered the top food sources among the participants were milk, fish, fortified margarine and fortified cereal.

The scientists, led by Dr Amy Millen, from Buffalo University, New York, wrote in the journal Archives of Ophthalmology: 'More studies are needed to verify this association as well as to better understand the potential interaction between vitamin D status and genetic and lifestyle factors with respect to risk of early AMD.'


Drinking during pregnancy 'triples risk of premature birth' (?)

Here we go again: WHO are the heavy drinkers? Mostly working class people who are less healthy anyway

Women who drink during pregnancy are up to three times more likely to give birth to a very premature baby, doctors have warned. Exposure to alcohol in the womb also raises the odds of the baby being born underweight. And it increases the chance of the newborn dying shortly after birth, the study found.

The warnings come from Irish researchers, who questioned more than 60,000 new mothers in Dublin about how much they drank around the time of conception and in the first weeks of pregnancy. Some 81 per cent admitted to having drunk some alcohol – with heavy drinking linked to unplanned pregnancies. [Funnily enough!]

Heavy drinkers – those who got through at least 20 units of alcohol a week, or one large glass of wine a day during pregnancy – ran three times as high a risk as the tee-totallers of giving birth very prematurely.

Their babies were also around 50 per cent more likely to be born very underweight and to die around the time of birth, the journal BMC Pregnancy and Childbirth reports.

The researchers reported three cases of foetal alcohol syndrome, a condition which sees alcohol in the womb cause a range of problems, from facial abnormalities and stunted growth to learning difficulties and hyperactivity.

One of these cases involved a baby born to a light drinker.

The Trinity College Dublin researchers said: ‘Further research is required specifically addressing the effects of low alcohol intake in pregnancy before it can be considered safe.’

The National Institute for Health and Clinical Excellence advises women to avoid alcohol in the first three months of pregnancy. The Department of Health urges expectant mothers to abstain totally.


11 April, 2011

The slimming super-fruit: How blueberries can slash body's fat cells by up to three-quarters

A study in laboratory glassware only

Slimmers should start snacking on blueberries, as they slash the number of fat cells in the body by up to three-quarters, say scientists. Researchers found the fruit can break down existing fat cells and prevent new ones from forming, making them a potentially powerful weapon in the fight against rising obesity.

Blueberries, which have already been lauded as a superfood for their ability to help prevent heart disease and Type-2 diabetes, contain high levels of polyphenols – groups of chemicals with potential health benefits.

Tests revealed polyphenols can cut the number of fat cells in the body by 73 per cent with a large dose and 27 per cent with the smallest dose, the American Society for Nutrition’s Experimental Biology 2011 meeting heard.

Using tissue taken from mice, scientists looked at what effect the polyphenols in blueberries might have in fighting the development of fat cellsand inducing lipolysis, the break down fats within the body.

Results, presented at the Experimental Biology 2011 meeting for the American Society for Nutrition, showed that the highest dose of blueberry polyphenols caused the lipids in the mouse tissue to decrease by almost three quarters at 73 per cent, with even the lowest dose cutting the amount of lipids in the tissue by over a quarter at 27 per cent.

Study author Shiwani Moghe, a graduate student from Texas Woman’s University, claimed the findings showed ‘promise’. She said: ‘We still need to test this dose in humans, to make sure there are no adverse effects and to see if the doses are effective. ‘The promise is there for blueberries to help reduce fat tissue from forming in the body.’


"A fool and his money are soon parted"

Walk into any of the 200 or so branches of Pret A Manger across the country [Britain] and you’re bombarded with messages about the chain’s commitment to providing fresh, natural food. ‘Pioneering natural foods since 1986,’ screams one sign on the sandwich shelves. ‘Just made in this shop’s kitchen, never from a factory,’ says another.

The Pret hot wraps are ‘fresh from the oven, naturally’, while the crisps, popcorn and cakes are ‘100 per cent natural’.
Pret's website claims its shops cook freshly-made preservative-free food using natural ingredients

Pret's website claims its shops cook freshly-made preservative-free food using natural ingredients

It’s a great sell to the metropolitan, middle-class, professional crowd that cram into Pret each day for the irrefutably delicious sandwiches, salads and snacks that have helped the chain’s profits soar by 37 per cent this year to a massive £46 million.

This is because we care about how our food is made, where it comes from and what’s in it, don’t we? And Pret has got it just right — hasn’t it?

On the Pret website it talks of kitchens in every shop where the food is freshly made daily using preservative-free, natural ingredients and avoiding ‘obscure chemicals’.

Pret might not actually use the word ‘healthy’ in any of its marketing material — it’s all worded very, very carefully — but for most people, words such as ‘fresh’, ‘natural’ and ‘preservative-free’ go hand-in-hand with healthy eating.
It's a great sell to the metropolitan middle-class crowd that go there for lunch every day

It's a great sell to the metropolitan middle-class crowd that go there for lunch every day

So you’d be forgiven, perhaps, for thinking two things. First, that the food is made from quality, constituent ingredients on site, rather than from pre-prepared fillings in tubs or soups in cartons, for instance. And, secondly, that the food is all healthy and you can eat it guilt-free.

Sadly, you’d be wrong on both counts.

Last month the Mail revealed that Pret’s tomato soup contains, in one small pot, 4.5g of salt. That’s the same as the amount in nine packets of crisps. And when you consider that the recommended daily allowance for salt is 6g a day, you can see that 4.5g is a frighteningly high figure.

Although there are many healthy options on the menu, the soup is not the only Pret product with worrying credentials on the healthy-eating front.

Take the Posh Cheddar & Pickle Baguette. It contains almost 800 calories and 15.6g of saturated fat — that’s about the same as a Pizza Express American Pizza (the individual-sized one from a supermarket) and not dissimilar to a Big Mac and medium fries.
The ham, cheese and mustard toastie has almost the full recommended daily allowance that a woman should eat

The ham, cheese and mustard toastie has almost the full recommended daily allowance that a woman should eat

Then there’s the Hoisin Duck Wrap, which contains the equivalent of three teaspoons of sugar — making it higher in sugar than one of Pret’s own milk chocolate bars. And take a look at the Ham, Cheese & Mustard Toastie. It has 696 calories and 18g of saturated fat — almost the full 20g amount a woman is advised to eat in a day —and 4.25g of salt. Eek!

There seems to be mayonnaise in almost every single sandwich, even the Hoisin Duck Wrap (er, why?), the Posh Cheddar & Pickle Baguette, and the Wiltshire-cured Ham & Pickle sandwich. Is that dollop of extra fat and calories really necessary?

As nutritionist Angela Dowden says: ‘Freshly-made and with no additives is to be applauded, and Pret is undoubtedly good at that. But “fresh” and “natural” isn’t synonymous with “good for you”.

‘When you’re eating something that has as many calories and as much saturated fat as a burger and chips, the fact that it may have a few more vitamins doesn’t make it any less fattening and artery-clogging than the fast food.’

Pret’s spokesman told us: ‘While Pret is, of course, compliant with current Food Standards Agency guidelines, we are aware of public concern about salt.

‘We continue to explore with our chefs how we can reduce salt levels without sacrificing taste. Pret is one of the few High Street retailers that gives customers calorie and fat information on the shelves and through its website so they can make an informed choice.’ It hardly sounds like the chain is desperate to change things.

Meanwhile, its response to public criticism on its website seems arrogant at the very least, and perhaps closer, even, to irresponsible.

‘Often, the media gets hung up on calories and fat,’ it says. ‘Of course, these have to be checked and regulated, but they should also be balanced with a factor that seems to get forgotten in today’s fat-obsessed environment: nutrition. We talk about salt, sugar and fat, but never anything else.’

Yes, Pret sandwiches tend to be high in protein and certain vitamins and minerals. But, as Angela Dowden points out, they may not have as many positive attributes as you would imagine.

‘Rocket, herbs and other “posh” leaves give an illusion of health properties,’ she says. ‘But you’d still not be getting even one vegetable portion in your average Pret sandwich, wrap or baguette.’

What’s more, the chicken for Pret’s sandwiches is barn-reared as opposed to free-range, and is marinated and roasted far away from those many Pret kitchens, and arrives in a cooked, shredded form, along with tubs of pre-made egg mayonnaise and cartons of soup.

So much for all the food being freshly made in the shops. Pret labels each item on the shelves with its calorie and saturated fat content and detailed nutritional information for every product is available on its website.

But in case you need some help negotiating the menu, here are ten Pret products we think you might be best to avoid . . .


10 April, 2011

Alzheimer’s, genes and cholesterol

I could simply say here "Those pesky genes again" but I do have another concern.

As the article rightly says, cholesterol is involved in brain function. And people with high cholesterol are normally given cholesterol-lowering medications (statins). The article links cholesterol to Alzheimer's but could it in fact be the statins that are causing the Alzheimer's? People on statins do normally report side-effects of confusion, poor memory etc. So the upsurge in Alzheimer's COULD be an effect of the upsurge in Statin use! It could be the cure rather than the disease that is causing the mental problems noted. Rather alarming

The two largest studies of Alzheimer’s disease, an international analysis of genes of more than 50,000 people, have led to the discovery of five new genes that make the disease more likely in the elderly and provide tantalizing clues about what might start Alzheimer’s and fuel its progress in a person’s brain.

The new genes add to a possible theme: genes that increase Alzheimer’s risk in the elderly tend to be involved with cholesterol and with inflammation. They also may be used to transport molecules inside cells.

For years, there have been unproven but persistent hints that cholesterol and inflammation are part of the disease process. People with high cholesterol were more likely to get Alzheimer’s disease. In addition, strokes and head injuries, which make Alzheimer’s more likely, also cause brain inflammation.

And researchers say the studies, to be published today in Nature Genetics, are so large and well done that they have little doubt that the genes really do have something important to reveal about the disease process.

“The level of evidence is very, very strong,’’ said Dr. Michael Boehnke, a professor of biostatistics at the University of Michigan who does similar studies in diabetes and bipolar disease.

But while the new genes are clearly linked to Alzheimer’s, each gene only slightly increases an individual’s risk, so they will not be used to decide if a person is likely to develop Alzheimer’s.

For instance, the new genes are nowhere near as powerful as a gene discovered in 1995, APOE, a cholesterol metabolism gene that can increase risk by 400 percent if a person inherits one copy and 1,000 percent if a person inherits a copy from each parent. In contrast, each of the new genes increases risk by no more than 10 percent to 15 percent.

“APOE is the big whopper,’’ said Dr. Rudolph Tanzi, a neurology professor at Harvard Medical School and an author of one of the papers. “It is in a class of its own.’’


Daily trip to the shops 'helps you live longer'

The authors themselves admit that shopping of itself may not be the key factor so I will say no more -- JR

Perhaps it is not the news that hen-pecked husbands would want to hear. But scientists believe that a daily trip to the shops could help you live longer.

A 10-year study of almost 2,000 people found that those who went to the shops more or less every day were about a quarter less likely to die over that period than the average person.

Researchers believe this could be because shopping is a convenient, enjoyable and sociable way of getting exercise.

They looked at the shopping habits of 1,850 people aged 65 and over, living at home without support, who had taken part in a national health survey. Of those, 17 per cent shopped every day, 22 per cent between two and four times a week, 13 per cent once a week, and 48 per cent even less frequently. Those who shopped daily were 27 per cent less likely than average to die over the study period, from 1999 to 2008.

And while almost every man has protested at one time or other that "being dragged around the shops is killing me", men appear to benefit from a daily dose of retail therapy more than women. Female daily shoppers were 23 per cent less likely to die over the decade - but male daily shoppers were 28 per cent less likely to do so.

The study adjusted for factors known to have a significant effect on a person's health - and hence their chance of dying over a particular period - such as age, sex, and whether they smoked, drank, or took exercise.

The authors, from Taiwan's National Health Research Institutes, acknowledged that frequent shopping could simply be a sign of underlying better health, while infrequent shopping could be indicative of impaired mobility and general ill health.

However, in an article published today (THUR) in the Journal of Epidemiology and Community Health, they suggest that frequent shopping might have "a direct impact on survival" too. They write: "Shopping captures several dimensions of personal wellbeing, health, and security as well as contributing to the community's cohesiveness and economy, and may represent or actually confer increased longevity."

Much like teenagers hanging out in a shopping centre, they postulate that for the elderly frequent trips to the shops might not always be about shopping. They might be about getting out to see one's friends or, indeed, taking a little light exercise too.

They argue: "Elderly people may window shop, obtain prescribed drugs, bank, or walk for exercise, seek companionship and avoid loneliness."

Maureen Hinton, lead analyst at Verdict, a London retail consultancy, thought the study made sense. She said: "By shopping daily, you are having a regular connection with the community, even if it's just with your local shop keeper."

But what exactly was it about shopping that helped prolong lives, she asked. "I wonder if it's the exercise - or the enjoyment of buying things."


9 April, 2011

Alcohol causes cancer - even if you drink just over a pint of beer a day (?)

As soon as I saw the title of this article, I knew that it would be like shooting fish in a barrel to debunk it. It was however even more amusing than I thought. The funniest bit occurs in the abstract of the original journal article. The "Results" section of the article begins: "If we assume causality".

That is of course precisely what we CANNOT assume. It is highly likely that middle class people are more restrained in their drinking than are working class people and middle class people have better health anyhow. So it is not even good speculation to say that alcohol causes cancer. What they found was almost certainly a social class effect. And they studied half a million people in 8 countries to come to that useless conclusion! Someone save us!

Drinking a ‘safe’ amount of alcohol below the recommended daily limit increases the risk of developing cancer, with the danger remaining even if you become teetotal, experts say.

New research shows that one in ten cancers in men and one in 33 in women in Britain is caused by drinking – and the figures are on the rise.

Alcohol is blamed for at least 13,000 cases a year, including cancer of the breast, mouth, oesophagus and bowel. Bingeing is responsible for most cases, but some are triggered by drinking at levels below the suggested daily total, according to the international report.

It found that men who drank more than two standard drinks (or units) a day and women who had more than one were particularly at risk of alcohol-related cancers. A standard drink is equivalent to a 125ml glass of wine, half a pint of weak beer or a single whisky.

Oxford University researcher Naomi Allen, who helps to compile the ongoing study, said: ‘This supports existing evidence that alcohol causes cancer and that the risk increases even with drinking moderate amounts.’

The study has been tracking volunteers across Europe for years, and Miss Allen said the latest figures understated the risks now. She added: ‘The results from this study reflect the impact of people’s drinking habits about ten years ago. ‘People are drinking even more now and this could lead to more people developing cancer because of alcohol in the future.’

Figures from eight European countries including Britain were analysed to determine the proportion of cancer cases caused by alcohol, and at what levels of drinking. NHS guidelines advise that men should drink no more than four units a day while women should not go over three.

The study looked at people drinking more than three units a day for men and one and a half for women. It found men in Germany were the most likely to exceed three units a day (43.8 per cent of the male population), followed by Denmark (43.6 per cent) and Britain (41.1 per cent). Among women, Germans were most likely to drink more than one and a half units a day (43.5 per cent of women), followed by those in Denmark (41 per cent) and Britain (37.7 per cent).

Cancers of the pharynx (the cavity behind the nose and mouth), oesophagus and voice box were most commonly caused by alcohol, followed by cancer of the liver.

Overall, in 2008, current and former alcohol consumption caused about 57,600 cases of cancer of the upper digestive tract, bowel and liver in men across Denmark, Greece, Germany, Italy, Spain and the UK, it showed. More than half of these cases (33,000) were caused by drinking more than two alcoholic drinks per day.

Across all eight countries, some 21,500 cases of upper digestive tract, liver, bowel and breast cancer in women were caused by drinking, of which over 80 per cent (17,400) was due to more than one drink of beer, wine, or spirits per day.

Almost 300,000 cases of cancer are diagnosed each year in Britain. Sara Hiom, director of health information at Cancer Research UK, which helped to fund the study, said: ‘Many people just don’t know that drinking alcohol can increase their cancer risk. ‘Keeping alcohol intake to a maximum of one small drink a day for women and two small drinks per day for men can have a real impact.’

The research, published in the British Medical Journal, is part of the European Prospective Investigation of Cancer (Epic), which began in 1992 and is one of the largest studies into the links between cancer and diet. It tracked 360,000 people, mostly aged 35 to 70 when the study started, who were followed up to see how many developed cancer.


High-dose vitamin pills 'could stop women conceiving'

A very strange mouse study underlies this claim but there could be something in it. Antioxidants do have known toxicity

Women who take high-dose vitamin pills could be reducing their chances of getting pregnant, a fertility expert has warned. Ingesting large amounts of antioxidants like vitamins A, C and E, could impair ovulation, said Nava Dekel, a professor of biology.

She and colleagues at the Weizmann Institute of Science in Rehovot, Israel, drew their conclusions from a study which showed that ovaries exposed to large amounts of antioxidants were less likely to ovulate.

Antioxidants mop up molecules called reactive oxygen species (ROS) - 'free radicals' - which prompt inflammation and can damage cells. But Prof Dekel showed that in mice, free radicals were "essential" to ovulation because inflammation was part of the process.

Mice whose ovaries were injected with two antioxidants, known as NAC and BHA, were significantly less likely to ovulate than those which were not. The study has been published in the journal, Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

Prof Dekel, who was in London to give the annual Woman of the Year Lecture, said: "Antioxidants are used in the Western world in mega-doses as the fountain of youth, to keep us younger and healthier and to prevent cancer. "But I would suggest we have to be careful in using antioxidants, especially younger women when they want to be fertile and have families."

More work was needed to confirm if taking high doses of antioxidants had such an effect in humans, she cautioned. Later this year she hopes to run a trial in mice mimicking the effects of taking high dose vitamin pills.


8 April, 2011

Foxglove remedy could help lower the risk of prostate cancer by a quarter (?)

Ach! More nonsense! People taking a very nasty drug got less prostate cancer. So what! To survive taking digoxin you would have to be in pretty robust health anyhow and getting less cancer could well be part of that

A traditional remedy made from foxgloves can lower the risk of prostate cancer by a quarter, scientists claim. The drug digoxin is already used to treat congestive heart failure and abnormal heart rhythms. Now researchers say it could help to combat prostate cancer by stopping the growth of the disease, according to the Cancer Discovery journal.

Scientists from the Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore found digoxin lowered the risk of prostate cancer by 24 per cent among the 47,000 men tested. But they warn the results do not prove digoxin, whose side-effects include nausea, headaches and male breast enlargement, prevents the disease.

Professor Elizabeth Platz said: 'We realised that combining our laboratory and epidemiologic approaches could reduce the possibility that results on the candidate drugs might be due to chance. 'Adding the epidemiology study to the drug screen step provided an assessment of the drug's potential activity in people.'

Prof Platz stressed there is no suggestion that digoxin, which can have serious side effects including heart irregularities, should be used as a preventative treatment for prostate cancer. She added: 'This is not a drug you’d give to healthy people.'

Scientists began by screening more than 3,000 compounds already approved for medical use to see if any inhibited the growth of prostate cancer cells. Digoxin emerged as a front runner among 38 promising candidates. A team of epidemiologists then looked for evidence of the drug combating prostate cancer in a patient health study.

The researchers looked at the medical records of around 47,000 men aged 40 to 75 who were monitored from 1986 to 2006. Among the group, around 5,000 new cases of prostate cancer were reported.

Men who regularly took digoxin made up two per cent of the cohort. They were 24 per cent less likely to develop prostate cancer than those who did not use the drug. Using digoxin for more than 10 years cut the risk of prostate cancer by half.

Further work will determine the mechanism of digoxin's effect and see whether the drug or others like it should be tested as prostate cancer treatments.

Digoxin alters biological pathways for sodium and potassium in heart cells. Scientists believe it may act on similar pathways in prostate cancer cells.


Risks from using estrogen as HRT are small and temporary

Strokes and other health problems linked with estrogen pills appear to fade when women quit taking them after menopause, the first long-term follow-up of a landmark study found. It's reassuring news for women who take the hormone in their 50s when menopause usually begins.

The latest study bolsters previous evidence that concerns about breast cancer and heart attacks are largely unfounded for those who take the hormone for a short period of time to relieve hot flashes and other menopause symptoms.

Estrogen-only pills are recommended just for women who have had a hysterectomy, and the study focused only on that group. About 25 percent of women in menopause have had hysterectomies. Other women are prescribed a combination pill of estrogen and progestin because for them, estrogen alone can raise the risk for cancer of the uterus.

The study results don't really change the advice doctors have been giving for several years now: Take hormones to relieve menopause symptoms in the lowest possible dose for the shortest possible time.

The women in the study took estrogen for about six years and were evaluated for about four years after stopping. Slightly increased risks for strokes and blood clots that were found while they took the pills disappeared during the follow-up. Unfortunately, the bone-strengthening benefit of estrogen disappeared, too.

The research also found that women who started taking estrogen-only pills in their 50s fared better after stopping than women who'd started in their 70s - an age when hormones are generally no longer recommended.

The study is published in today's Journal of the American Medical Association.

The new results are from 10,739 participants in the estrogen-only part of the federal government's Women's Health Initiative study - research which shook up conventional wisdom about health benefits of hormones for menopausal women. Study of the estrogen-progestin group was halted in 2002 when risks for heart attacks and breast cancer were linked with the combination hormone pills. The estrogen-only study was halted in 2004 after stroke risks were seen in that group.


7 April, 2011

Fasting for 24 hours 'may cut your risk of heart disease and diabetes'

This sure is a mixed up report. Mormons have healthy lifestyles in many ways so any research on them is not going to isolate much. The only firm finding is that temporary fasts hugely raise HGH levels. But if that were generalizable Mormons should all be 8ft tall -- and the ones I have met have tended in fact to be rather short. And what do we make of the raised cholesterol levels? Are they OK now?

Regularly going a day without food may reduce your risk of heart disease and diabetes, research has suggested.

Doctors studied the health and habits of more than 200 residents in the state of Utah, where fasting for at least one day a month is a way of life for many Mormons. X-ray scans revealed narrowing of the arteries in around 75 per cent of those who didn’t fast. In contrast, clogged arteries affected 63 per cent of those who said they often skipped meals.

Fasting also appeared to more than halve the odds of diabetes, the American College of Cardiology’s conference heard.

To ensure the results were not only due to those who fast having healthier lifestyles, the researchers carried out a second study on people who were not regular fasters.

They did not eat or drink anything other than water for 24 hours and underwent a series of health checks. They were also monitored while eating normally.

The tests revealed fasting triggers a significant surge in human growth hormone, a hormone credited with speeding up metabolism and burning off fat. Levels rose 13-fold in women and 20-fold in men. Shedding fat is known to cut the risk of diabetes and related heart problems.

The fasting caused levels of cholesterol to rise but they returned to normal after the fast was over.

Doctors stressed that more research is needed before fasting can be prescribed to patients. Nutritionist Dr Emma Williams said: ‘I wouldn’t be in a hurry to commence fasting, as the precise nature by which the body reacts to it remains relatively unknown.’


NY: Fried foods, perfume banned in new guidelines

Sad to see Jews such as Bloomberg and his enablers setting up a Big Brother ministate. One would have hoped they knew better. Does Bloomberg aspire to be Der Fuehrer of NYC?

The New York City Health Department has a new set of rules in its office, which has people talking. The department, responsible for the calorie-counting menus in New York City, has updated guidelines for “Life in the Cubicle Village” and distributed it to employees.

The guidelines tell them to refrain from wearing products with “noticeable odors,” not to eat fried foods or cookies and to cut muffins into “mini-sizes” when serving, The New York Daily News reported. Other rules include:

* Avoid eavesdropping – but if you can’t, “resist the urge to add your comments”

* No posting displays, photos, cartoons or personal items that may be offensive

* When drinks are served, they should be less than 25 calories per eight ounces

* Air-popped popcorn and cake is allowed for office celebrations

“The Health Department is just leading by example by updating its guidelines for food and beverages served at agency meetings and events,” the agency’s spokeswoman, Erin Brady, told the newspaper.
However, one worker, who wished to remain anonymous, said she felt she was being “micromanaged.”


6 April, 2011

Dietary potassium intake prevents stroke (?)

These meta-analyses are only as good as the data input and, given past inconsistent results, just averaging the results is pretty brainless. One needs to look at the comparative quality of the studies to arrive at an intelligent conclusion. What would an average of 5 poor studies and one good study tell you?

Eating three bananas cuts your risk of a stroke, scientists say. A banana for breakfast, one for lunch and one in the evening would provide enough potassium to reduce the chances of suffering a blood clot on the brain by around 21 per cent.

The findings, by British and Italian researchers, suggest thousands of strokes could be prevented by the consumption of other potassium-rich foods such as spinach, nuts, milk, fish and lentils.

Although some previous studies have suggested bananas could be important for controlling blood pressure and preventing strokes, results have not always been consistent.

In the latest research, published in the Journal of the American College of Cardiology, scientists analysed data from eleven different studies - dating back to the mid-Sixties - and pooled the results to get an overall outcome.

They found a daily potassium intake of around 1,600 milligrammes, less than half the UK recommended daily amount for an adult of 3,500mg, was enough to lower stroke risk by more than a fifth.

The average banana contains around 500 milligrammes of potassium, which helps to lower blood pressure and controls the balance of fluids in the body. Too little potassium can lead to an irregular heartbeat, irritability, nausea and diarrhoea.

Researchers from the University of Warwick and the University of Naples said potassium intake in most countries is well below the recommended daily amount. But if consumers ate more potassium-rich foods and also reduced their salt intake, the annual global death toll from strokes could be cut by more than a million a year. Researchers said in their report: 'It would translate into a reduction of as many as 1,155,000 stroke deaths a year on a worldwide scale.'

Strokes, which are usually caused when a clot forms and blocks the blood supply to the brain, kill around 200 people every day in the UK. Many more are left disabled and in danger of a second or even third attack which could kill them. Treating and looking after the 100,000 people affected by strokes each year in the UK costs the NHS an estimated £2.3 billion. Only cancer and heart disease kill more people.

A spokesman for the Stroke Association said: 'This research suggests eating lots of potassium-rich foods, such as bananas, dates and spinach, could reduce your risk of having a stroke. 'High blood pressure is the single biggest risk factor for stroke and past research has indicated that potassium could help to lower blood pressure. 'This could go some way to explain the positive effects of potassium demonstrated in this study.'


Egyptian mummies show that fast food is not the culprit for clogged arteries

The pressures of modern living are regularly held responsible for causing heart attacks and strokes. But it seems these afflictions are not solely by-products of our hectic times.

Scientists yesterday announced they had detected the first known case of clogged arteries - or atherosclerosis - in the mummy of an Egyptian princess who lived 3,500 years ago.

It has long been known that ancient Egyptians suffered from plaque built-up in the arteries, but a University of California, Irvine-led study has concluded that the condition was far more prevalent than previously thought.

Lead researcher Dr Gregory Thomas said: 'Atherosclerosis is widespread among modern day humans and, despite differences in ancient and modern lifestyles, we found that it was rather common in ancient Egyptians of high socio-economic status living more than three millennia ago.'

Researchers performed computerised tomography (CT) scans, with particular attention to the cardiovascular system, on 52 Egyptian mummies to determine whether they had atherosclerosis.

Of the 44 that had detectable arteries or hearts, 45 per cent of them had calcium build-ups in their vessel walls.

The oldest among them was Lady Rai, an Egyptian princess who lived between 1580 and 1550 BC. The researchers believe she probably died when she was in her early 40s.

The nursemaid to Queen Ahmose-Nefertari, she lived about 300 years prior to the time of Moses and 200 years before King Tutankhamun.
Healthier lifestyle? Of the 44 Egyptian mummies scanned that had detectable arteries or hearts, 45 per cent of them had calcium build-ups in their vessel walls

Healthier lifestyle? Of the 44 Egyptian mummies scanned that had detectable arteries or hearts, 45 per cent of them had calcium build-ups in their vessel walls

All the mummies whose identities could be discerned were of high socio-economic status, generally serving in the Pharaoh's court or as priests or priestesses.

The diets of individual mummies could not be determined, but it was common at the time - especially among the upper classes - to eat meat in the form of cattle, ducks and geese.

But even though ancient Egyptians ate a leaner diet, and obviously did not smoke cigarettes, they ended up with the same disease as modern humans.

But that does not mean people should disregard modern research, warned the University of Cairo's Adel Allam, the co-author of the study. He said: 'Recent studies have shown that by not smoking, having a lower blood pressure and a lower cholesterol level, calcification of our arteries is delayed. 'On the other hand, from what we can tell from this study, humans are predisposed to atherosclerosis, so it behoves us to take the proper measures necessary to delay it as long as we can.'

Dr Thomas added: 'While we do not know whether atherosclerosis caused the demise of any of the mummies in the study, we can confirm that the disease was present in many. 'Our findings suggest that we may have to look beyond modern risk factors to fully understand the disease.'


5 April, 2011

How Many Melanoma Patients Did the FDA Kill?

By my estimate, more than 1,000 people have died prematurely because of foot-dragging by the FDA. Here’s why:

After an “expedited” analysis that lasted a year and a half, the FDA has finally approved Bristol-Myers Squibbs’ Yervoy (ipilimunab) for metastatic melanoma. The deadliest type of skin cancer, melanoma killed 8,700 Americans last year, according to the National Cancer Institute. BMS submitted its application to the FDA on August 18, 2010, with a target date for approval of December 25. On November 2, the FDA pushed out the target date. On March 25, the FDA approved the lifesaving medicine.

So, the question is: How many patients did the FDA kill by delaying the medicine?

Well, 46 percent of the subjects taking the drug were alive one year later, and 20 percent were alive two years later. In the control group, only 25 percent survived one year, and 14 percent two years. The difference between 46 percent and 25 percent is 21 percent. 21 percent of 8,700 is 1,827 lives. Similarly, the difference between 20 percent and 14 percent is 6 percent, or 522 of 1,827 lives.

Assuming that BMS was willing to supply the medicine as of August 18, 2010, the FDA’s initial period of review (to December 25) took 129 days. This implies that 645 melanoma patients died a year earlier than they would have without the legal requirement for FDA approval. However, because the FDA delayed a further 90 days (to March 25), 450 more patients died a year early. The point estimate for the total number of melanoma patients who died a year early is 1,095.

Of course, many of those would have died after another year. The delay only cost 313 patients two years of life. But I hardly think that’s a comfort to melanoma victims and their families.


Smokers are risking more than they think

Bettina Arndt

Anti-smoking measures are in the news. Unit owners in an Ashfield block recently adopted a bylaw against smoking, South Australia has outlawed it in various public places and a Melbourne council has banned smoking in parks. Australia is a world leader in producing powerful advertising campaigns which very effectively spread the message about the health impacts of smoking. But there is one consequence that rarely makes it on to the radar: the impact below the belt for men.

Unlike many other countries, Australia has never conducted a major campaign focusing on the link between smoking and erectile dysfunction. Six years ago the British Health Department launched a campaign warning that smoking can ruin your sex life, including ads about physical attractiveness - "If you smoke, you stink" - and impotence - "Your penis thinks you should stop smoking". British surveys found one in two smokers said they would quit to improve their sex appeal and 88 per cent of smokers did not realise smoking is a major cause of impotence.

Similar campaigns have been run in Europe, Brazil, Venezuela and Mauritius, and Egypt has stepped up with a rather coy effort featuring a limp cigarette with the slogan: "Long-term smoking has an effect on marital relations."

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It sure does. One in two men in their 50s in Australia is struggling with erection problems; it's , 40 per cent of men in their 40s.

Men who smoke have twice the risk of developing erectile dysfunction. Smoking damages the penis in two ways. First, smoking has a direct "vasospastic" effect, causing spasm of the arteries in the penis reducing blood supply. That is amazing to see. I witnessed research where a man was wired to a penile plethysmograph, a gadget that measures blood flow in the penis. As soon as he started to smoke, you could see the arteries starting to constrict and the blood flow changing.

But there are also long-term effects such as endothelial dysfunction, which means a breakdown in the normal biochemical processes carried out by the cells lining the inner surface of the blood vessels. Plus smoking causes hardening of the arteries, and the delicate penile arteries are often some of the first to be affected. These physiological changes combine to narrow the penile arteries leading to constriction and blockages, resulting sometimes in permanent damage to the erection mechanism.

The link between smoking and erectile dysfunction is strongest in younger men, and the more they smoke the more likely their equipment will let them down. There is even evidence suggesting smoking affects testosterone levels, reduces the volume of ejaculate and lowers sperm counts causing both abnormal sperm shape and impaired sperm motility.

Health authorities in Australia have yet to be convinced that young men can be persuaded to quit to avoid future failure between the sheets. Young studs have not had the problem and do not see it as relevant.

Yet many tell me they are not aware of the sexual damage smoking can cause - the message simply isn't out there. Anti-smoking campaigns always have trouble reaching young men, who feel they are bullet-proof. Perhaps we would have a better chance of getting through by explaining why smoking means shooting themselves not in the foot, but in the crotch.

"Give it up to get it up!" That's a slogan that would have impact. How about targeting women to explain the stress erectile dysfunction can cause on future relationships? They need to know, for instance, that a penile prosthesis can cost more than a new kitchen. One of the illustrations used in the British campaign shows two inverted male fingers with drooping cigarette held in the crotch, almost totally ash and about to expire. It is a brilliant image, carrying a similar punch to the famous anti-speeding campaign where the young woman wriggles her pinkie at the speeding male driver. If we could persuade women to give male smokers a drooping pinkie sign, we might just get somewhere.


4 April, 2011

Can counselling fix cancer?

That is the rather weird claim below. Psychological counselling is not much good at fixing psychological problems so the idea that it fixes physical problems is way-out. But the sample was too small and atypical to conclude anything anyway

Results of a study presented at the AACR 102nd Annual Meeting 2011, held here April 2-6, lend credence to the idea that improving quality of life affects stress-related biological markers and possibly the health of people with cancer.

Researchers know that telomeres shorten and deteriorate with aging, but they are learning that stress also affects telomere length. "We are trying to understand the interconnections between the mind and the body; that is, how does the diagnosis and treatment of cancer impact patients not only psychologically, but also physiologically and how can we improve their outcome. Cancer drives a chronic stress response in some patients," said Edward Nelson, M.D., division chief of hematology/oncology at the University of California, Irvine.

Just as aglets prevent a shoelace from unraveling or fraying, telomeres are structures on the ends of chromosomes that protect the chromosome from deteriorating, breaking apart or joining with other chromosomes, which can lead to mutations. Chromosomal rearrangements are seen in cancers and provided a biological reason to investigate this link, according Nelson.

"For this study, we wanted to know if chronic stress was associated with accelerated telomere shortening in cancer patients, and if a psychosocial intervention that modulates the stress response could also modulate telomere length," he said.

In this retrospective study, the researchers took biological samples from 31 women with cervical cancer who had been randomized to one of two groups — those who received six counseling sessions by telephone and those who received usual care without counseling.

The six sessions consisted of a quality of life and psychosocial profile, managing stress and emotions, enhancing health and wellness, addressing relational and sexual concerns, and integrating and summarizing the information.

At enrollment and after four months, the researchers obtained biological samples from both groups and investigated changes over time to see if psychological counseling had any physical effects.
"Improved quality of life and reduced stress response was associated with changes in telomere length," Nelson said.

"It is important to recognize that this was an exploratory and preliminary analysis. We embarked on the first study of telomere length and chronic stress in a cancer population and the first longitudinal analysis in whether changes in quality of life and changes in the stress response would be associated with modulating the telomere length," he said.

Still, he added, "there is no doubt that offering psychological services has the potential to improve quality of life and outcomes of patients. After all, making patients feel better should be an outcome that a cancer team should want to have, but whether we can draw conclusions or make recommendations about the capacity of a behavioral intervention to modulate telomere length remains an open question."


That evil traffic pollution again -- episode 9387

Ho hum! The usual nonsense below. We get it with great frequency. Stock answer: It is mostly poor people who live near major roads and the poor have worse health generally.

I could not see the paper in Barnett's publication list at the time of writing so apparently has yet to undergo peer review. I would gladly review it! He and I both have a background in statistics and I have a background in social class research as well.

So his research is hard to evaluate at this stage but I am pleased to note that he undertook some control for socio-economic status. Social status and income are far from perfectly correlated, however. Plumbers and electricians, for instance, tend to have relatively low status but often have high incomes

Women who live near freeways and highways are more likely to give birth prematurely, new research suggests. The link between the concentration of major road routes around a woman's home and early birth is revealed in a study of 970 mothers and their newborn babies in Logan City, south of Brisbane.

The more freeways and highways around a pregnant woman's home, the higher the likelihood of an early delivery, says Associate Professor Adrian Barnett, from the Queensland University of Technology's Institute of Health and Biomedical
Innovation. "The most striking result was the reduction in gestation time of 4.4 per cent - or almost two weeks - associated with an increase in freeways within 400 metres of the women's home," he said.

Prof Barnett has previously published a study that found a strong association between increased air pollution and small foetus size.

"Although the increased risks are relatively small, the public health implications are large because everyone living in an urban area gets exposed to air pollution," he said. "Pre-term and low-birth weight babies stay in hospital longer after birth, have an increased risk of death and are more likely to develop disabilities."

Prof Barnett said that while air pollution levels in southeast Queensland were low compared with industrial cities, people's exposure to the chemical toxins in vehicle emissions was relatively high because of our outdoor lifestyle and open houses.

The study counted the number of roads around the mothers' homes up to a 500-metre radius. "We examined the distance between the home and busy roads to find the distance at which most of the negative effects on birth outcomes occurred because this has implications for local governments planning expansions or new roads," he said.

Most of the effects were within a 200-metre radius but negative health effects were present up to 400 metres.

Prof Barnett said the study had also taken into account the effects of smoking levels and the socio-economic status of the mothers. The effects of noise pollution were considered to be a possible contributing factor but Prof Barnett said it was difficult to separate the effects of air and noise pollution.

"Vehicles braking and starting means that road junctions have some of the highest levels of noise and air pollution," he said. "Disturbed sleep during pregnancy may cause extra stress and be a risk factor for adverse birth outcomes.

"This study points to the fact that pregnant women should reduce their exposure to traffic. A reduction in traffic emissions through improved vehicles or increased public transport use would have immediate health benefits by giving children a better start to life."


3 April, 2011

Regular Breakfast Helps Reduce Lead Poisoning in Children

This article just about refutes itself. It admits to a class effect. So poor children are both exposed to more lead and get less well fed. Breakfast effect not needed to explain the results

It is known that fasting increases lead absorption in adults and consequently regular meals and snacks are recommended for children to prevent lead poisoning. New research published in BioMed Central's open access journal Environmental Health demonstrates that having a regular breakfast is associated with lower blood lead levels in children.

China Jintan Child Cohort Study compared blood lead levels to social factors, eating patterns and intake of micronutrients. While there were no differences in breakfast patterns for age or gender of the child there were differences in blood lead levels. The risk of lead poisoning in boys was almost twice that of girls, and four and five year olds had twice the risk of lead poisoning than three year olds. Nevertheless, when variables, such as age and the gender of the child were taken into account, children who ate a regular breakfast had 15% lower blood lead levels than those who skipped breakfast.

Breakfast habits were determined by family tendencies with both the parents and grandparents of children who ate breakfast tending to be professionals or more educated. Dr Jianghong Liu said, "Parental or caregivers' characteristics, including education and occupation, are major determinants of breakfast frequency. Consequently improving parent's knowledge about the links between nutrition and blood lead might help to prevent lead poisoning in these children."


Maple syrup's high level of antioxidants make it a champion food choice

Pure speculation -- relying on the anti-oxidant mythology

BLUEBERRIES, broccoli and fish rich in Omega 3 are among the best known superfoods, but something rather sweeter can be added to the list of healthy foods with high levels of antioxidants to boost the immune system.

Maple syrup is even being described by scientists in America as a "one-stop shop" for beneficial compounds.

Tests on the syrup, which is made by boiling sap from the maple tree, found that it contains compounds which could help manage type 2 diabetes, as well as acting as anti-cancer and anti-inflammatory agents.

Researchers identified 54 compounds, twice as many as previously thought. Five were found to be unique to maple syrup. They discovered that several of the syrup's polyphenol, or water-soluble, compounds inhibited the enzymes that convert carbohydrates to sugars, raising the prospect of a new way of managing type 2 diabetes.

They also found that many of the antioxidant compounds, which prevent the oxidation and ageing of the body's cells, aren't found in other natural sweeteners.

Dr Navindra Seeram, who led the research at the University of Rhode Island, said: "We don't know yet whether the new compounds contribute to the healthy profile of maple syrup.

"But we do know that the sheer quantity and variety of identified compounds with documented health benefits qualifies maple syrup as a champion food. "It is a one-stop shop for these beneficial compounds, several of which are also found in berries, tea, red wine and flaxseed, just to name a few."

Explaining the science behind the findings, he said: "We found a wide variety of polyphenols in maple syrup. "We discovered that the polyphenols in maple syrup inhibit enzymes that are involved in the conversion of carbohydrate to sugar. "In fact, in preliminary studies, maple syrup had a greater enzyme-inhibiting effect compared to several other healthy plant foods such as berries, when tested on a dry-weight basis."

By 2050, one in three people will be afflicted with Type 2 diabetes, so finding a potential anti-diabetic compound in maple syrup is interesting for the scientific community and the consumer.

The findings of Dr Seerams team were presented at the annual meeting of the American Chemical Society in Anaheim, California.

Genevihve Biland, marketing director for the Federation of Quebec Maple Syrup Producers, one of the sponsors of the research, said: Maple is the most important food derived from the pure sap of trees, and given its amazing potential for human health and great nutritional value, it is a natural choice for a healthy lifestyle.


2 April, 2011

What's behind that Organic label?

Why is it that if it's old, slow, or just downright assbackwards, a controlling group of urban organic activists think it's better?

Mischa Popoff

In addition to minimizing our reliance on the internal combustion engine, fossil fuel, electricity, synthetic fertilizer and laboratory analysis, something else that's being severely curtailed in the slow, organic, biodynamic, green, natural food movement is the use of modern, disease-resistant seed varieties.

Why? Because they're new, silly. Rather than accept any modern convenience, slow organic activists promote old seed varieties with reckless abandonment. We're not talking about genetically modified seed here; we're talking about the elimination of seeds that have simply been bred over the decades to protect a crop against common threats like rust, fungus and mildew which can wipe out a field as thoroughly as any hail storm.

I am an ardent proponent of organic farming. I grew up on an organic farm, and worked for five years as an advanced organic farm and process inspector in the United States and Canada. With this background I am of the firm opinion that organic farming is still 100 percent organic even when it moves with the times.

The main goal of organics is to avoid toxins that end up in our food and the environment. So why the heck would we avoid using advanced seeds? The gross assumption on the part of urban organic activists - who've never worked a day on a farm - is that old varieties are better because they were bred in an era when pesticides and synthetic fertilizers did not exist, and they therefore must possess such inherent qualities as natural pest resistance and the ability to seek nutrients deeper in the soil without synthetic fertilizer.

It's fanciful thinking which has never been researched, but hey . who needs science? Research papers filed away in an agricultural department at a university somewhere explain why such seed varieties were long ago abandoned. But the activists can't be bothered to read them. After all, they have faith, blind faith. So, all together now: if it's old seed, it's good seed!

The result is that organic farmers are being, shall we say, "encouraged" to use old seed varieties that no one knows anything about, all in the name of rejecting everything modern. Sorry -- but that simply ain't organic where I come from.

Just how pervasive is this urban romantic view? Well, North America's largest organic certifier, the Organic Crop Improvement Association (OCIA), routinely chooses its "Outstanding Organic Farmer of the Year" based first and foremost on the farmer's use of old varieties, along with other hare-brained factors such as a farmer's use of lunar charting. And no one in the organic industry cares what the long-term consequences might be just as long as the script sells.

This "philosophy" (and I use the term loosely) is supposed to be the salvation for the Third World (and, if urban-organic enviro-activists get their way, the whole world!). And if you're a farmer, make damn sure your records are all in order or these urbanites will boot you right out of their club.

Why is record-keeping so important if you want to be considered a true organic practitioner? Simple, my friend, because there is no field testing done in the organic industry to ensure people are actually following the rules and avoiding toxic pesticides and synthetic fertilizer.

What? No testing? Yep. No testing. President Bill Clinton and the America Consumers Union (ACU) wanted testing in 1997 when the USDA's National Organic Program was first tabled, but the whole idea was watered down into oblivion with the addition of the following key sentence: "However, this is not a routine practice conducted on every operation."

You can see where that might lead to a situation where no organic farm in the United States and Canada has been field-tested in the last 14 years. Miles McEvoy, a new administrator at the USDA, promises to change that by testing 10 percent of domestic organic farms this year. But are you ready for the catch? (There's always a catch in such matters.)

Domestic organic farmers fill only 15 percent of the domestic, $30-billion-per-annum market for organic food in the United States and Canada. The other 85 percent comes from places like China, Mexico and Brazil. Naturally, these locations will not be tested. I just hope those Chinese, Mexican and Brazilian organic farmers are keeping meticulous records of their use of old seed varieties in conjunction with lunar planting and harvesting calendars. Otherwise you might very well wonder what the heck you're paying for when you buy organic!

In Canada, there's clear insight into what's going on behind the scenes in the public/private organic industry. Perhaps in keeping with the wishes of Clinton and the ACU, a well-meaning bureaucrat, Ken Bruce, from the Canadian Food Inspection Agency (CFIA is equivalent to the USDA) tried to gently introduce the idea of organic field testing to a group of organic broker/ traders and processors.

In the revealing words of Paddy Doherty, a self-styled Canadian organic lobbyist, Bruce really put his foot in it by making the mistake of using the word "testing," in conjunction with a description of the proposed Canadian Organic Regime. To the large group of keen organic traders and processors, the mention of testing was like waving a red flag in front of a U.S. politician.

The reaction was immediate, negative and suspicious. Poor Bruce took the brunt of it. Imagine poor Bruce daring to suggest field testing. This is how the powers-that-be in the organic industry routinely exercise their "right" to beat down any notion on government's part that there will ever be any field testing to ensure compliance in this supposedly green industry. By the way, "Poor Bruce" was never heard from again. Miles McEvoy, please take note.

Feeling all warm and fuzzy inside yet? Never mind that random, surprise testing is an important part of how government regulates the conventional food industry, and never mind that field testing is what consumers and the majority of honest organic farmers want. Testing crops and livestock was lobbied right out of existence on both sides of the world's longest unprotected border, thus opening the way for cheap, foreign "organic" imports. Now everyone's happy, except of course for organic farmers (the ones who grow the food) and organic consumers (the ones who eat it and pay all the bills).

But who the hell cares about farmers and consumers when you've got a planet to save, right? Oh, yeah -- and those stupid crop scientists. Who the hell cares about them?

Well, I care about them. I started to do some digging. I had the pleasure (and I use the term loosely) of speaking with Bruce's boss, the former president of the CFIA, a lawyer by the name of Ronald Doering who launched organic regulations in Canada. I asked him, "Would it be fair to say that the nonfarming element in the organic sector succeeded in watering down the Canadian organic standard to the point where it's essentially useless?" His answer was remarkably candid. He said, and I quote, "Who the hell cares if Canadian organic standards are useless? I always warned there would be problems like that when I was still at the CFIA, but the industry kept begging us to regulate them so we finally did!"

There. Now you're probably feeling all warm and fuzzy. Anyone can see that organic standards will remain as useless as tits on a boar unless every operation is tested at least once a year. Cost is always cited as an objection, but a test for more than 200 commonly used toxic herbicides is only $150. Farmers pay on average 10 times that just to have their paperwork looked over, paperwork which you now know focuses on how old their seed variety is and whether or not they're stupid enough to try farming by the moon.

If you believe in magic and have complete faith in human nature, then go right ahead and buy certified organic to your heart's content. But if you're like me and you expect measurable results, then save your money. Always support your local farmers, organic or otherwise, and never, ever, waste your hard-earned money buying organic in a store. I only wish it were otherwise.

SOURCE. (Issue of March 13)

If you dream of weight loss, try having a good sleep

Once again, no curiosity about WHY a correlation emerged. The range of sleeping time that was "beneficial" was rather large (6 to 8 hours) and probably shows only that normal people are best at losing weight

Weight loss is usually linked to changes in diet and exercise. But if you really want to shed those pounds you should also consider altering your sleep patterns, a study claims.

Scientists have found that you can double your chances of reaching your target weight if you get between six and eight hours sleep a night.

If you have any more, you will become too inactive and if you have any less your stress levels will increase along with cravings for unhealthy food.

The research in Portland, USA, by Kaiser Permanente, a health care consortium, found that people trying to lose at least 10lb were more likely to reach their goal if they had lower stress levels and slept moderately.

Nearly 500 obese adults with an average age of 55 took part in the study. They were asked to attend 22 counselling sessions, reduce their diet by 500 calories a day and increase the amount of exercise they took to at least three hours a week.

They also had to keep a diary of their habits, including their sleep patterns and stress levels. After six months, 60 per cent of the participants had lost at least 10lb.

Researchers found that the successful dieters were more likely to report that they had slept between six and eight hours each night. Almost three quarters of dieters who had both low stress levels and six to eight hours sleep a night were likely to achieve the 10lb weight loss target.

They were also twice as likely to be successful as participants who reported the highest stress levels and got six or less hours sleep a night.

"This study suggests that when people are trying to lose weight, they should try to get the right amount of sleep and reduce their stress," said lead author Dr Charles Elder. "Some people may just need to cut back on their schedules and get to bed earlier. Others may find that exercise can reduce stress and help them sleep. "For some people, mindbody techniques such as meditation also might be helpful."

The study has been published in the International Journal of Obesity.


1 April, 2011

You Can Have Your Candy And Eat It Too -- Without Adverse Health Effects Shows New Study

Journal article here

Good news for candy and chocolate lovers: they tend to weigh less, have lower body mass indices (BMI) and waist circumferences, and have decreased levels of risk factors for cardiovascular disease (CVD) and metabolic syndrome, according to a new study(1) published in Nutrition Research.

The findings are positive, but lead researcher Carol O'Neil, PhD, MPH, LDN, RD, Louisiana State University Agricultural Center, cautions it is all things in moderation. "We certainly don't want these results positioned as eating candy helps you to lose weight," she said. "This study adds to the evidence base that supports candy's role as an occasional treat within a healthy lifestyle."

The study examined the association of candy consumption (broken into three categories: total candy, chocolate or sugar) on total energy intake (calories), nutrient intake, diet quality, weight status, CVD risk factors and metabolic syndrome in more than 15,000 U.S. adults 19 years of age and older based on 1999-2004 National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey (NHANES) data.

Candy Consumers Successfully Navigate Calories In, Calories Out

Results of the study showed that while candy contributed modestly to caloric intake on days it was consumed, there was no association of total candy intake to increased weight/BMI -- suggesting that over time, consumers were able to balance longer-term caloric intake. This is an important finding, as the recently released 2010 Dietary Guidelines for Americans (DGA) emphasize the concept that calorie balance over time is the key to weight management.

"The DGAs devote a whole chapter to helping consumers understand the key principles of weight management: know how many calories your body needs, learn the calorie content of foods and beverages, and recognize the correlation between the two," said Roger A. Clemens, DrPH, University of Southern California, and 2010 Dietary Guidelines Advisory Committee member. "It's all about balance, moderation, variety in the diet and physical activity – and this study suggests some candy consumers may understand how to navigate the calorie equation."

Other findings include:

Cardiovascular Risk Factors. Candy consumers were found to have a 14 percent decreased risk of elevated diastolic blood pressure and lower C-reactive protein (CRP) levels than non-candy consumers (CRP is a non-specific marker of general inflammation and one way to assess risk for cardiovascular, other chronic diseases as well as physical activity and stress.). For high-density lipoprotein cholesterol (HDL-C), chocolate candy consumers had better values of this "good" cholesterol, specifically a 19 percent decreased risk of a lower HDL-C.

Metabolic Syndrome. Chocolate candy consumption was associated with a 15 percent reduced risk of metabolic syndrome – a group of risk factors linked to overweight and obesity that can lead to increased risk for heart disease, diabetes, and stroke.
Diet Quality. Measured by the Healthy Eating Index 2005 (HEI-2005), the study found that diet quality was not affected by total candy or chocolate candy consumption when consumed within energy limits. While sugar candy consumers did have a lower HEI than non-consumers, the difference between the two was quite small.

"Candy is a unique treat that can provide moments of joy and happiness. Consumers should feel confident that candy, consumed in moderation within a diet balanced with regular physical activity, can be part of a healthy, happy lifestyle," said Alison Bodor, senior vice president of public policy and advocacy, National Confectioners Association.


Brain link to anti-social and yobbish behaviour in teenagers

Those who have studied psychopathy, as I have, certainly do tend to get the subjective impression that a psychopath has a "bit missing" in his brain. This may be a small move towards identifying the "bit" concerned

Bad behaviour in teenagers could be explained by stunted growth of the "caring-sharing" areas of their brains, study suggests. Scientists have found that yobs and hoodies have smaller regions of the brain that deal with emotions especially fear and the ability to feel the pain of others. This suggests that their anti-social behaviour could have a biological basis and could lead to possible new treatments.

The study led by Cambridge University attempted to explain why five per cent of school age children suffer from Conduct Disorder (CD), a recognised psychiatric condition characterised by aggressive and anti-social traits.

They looked at 63 boys with an average age of 18 with CD, some of whom developed problems at an early age and some who began to display anti-social behaviour in adolescence. They were compared with a group of 27 "normal" teenagers from similar backgrounds.

Brain scans showed that two regions were significantly smaller in affected teenagers, including those who only became badly behaved when they reached adolescence. The two areas were the amygdala and insula, which contribute to emotional perception, empathy, and the ability to recognise when others are in distress.

Rates of CD have increased sharply around the world since the 1950s. The condition can develop in young children, or not show itself until the teenage years. Those affected are at greater risk of mental problems, substance abuse and criminality in later life.

It has long been thought that adolescent-onset CD is merely the result of susceptible teenagers imitating badly-behaved peers. But the new research challenges this view, pointing to brain changes that affect all youngsters with the condition.

The scientists are cautious about how to interpret the findings, published in the American Journal of Psychiatry. Professor Ian Goodyer, one of the researchers, said: "We hope that our results will contribute to existing psychosocial strategies for detecting children at high risk of developing anti-social behaviour."

He stressed their study had not demonstrated a foolproof "test" and only provided a springboard for further, more extensive, research. He said environmental and family factors also played a part.

Dr Graeme Fairchild, co-author from the University of Southampton, said: Changes in grey matter volume in these areas of the brain could explain why teenagers with conduct disorder have difficulties in recognising emotions in others. "Further studies are now needed to investigate whether these changes in brain structure are a cause or a consequence of the disorder."

Dr Andy Calder, from the Medical Research Council's Cognition and Brain Sciences Unit, another author, said: "Only when we are confident that we understand why the disorder develops can we apply this knowledge to the further development and evaluation of treatments. "The disorder has a devastating impact on families and communities and at the moment we have few effective treatments."


SITE MOTTO: "Epidemiology is mostly bunk"

Where it is not bunk is when it shows that some treatment or influence has no effect on lifespan or disease incidence. It is as convincing as disproof as it is unconvincing as proof. Think about it. As Einstein said: No amount of experimentation can ever prove me right; a single experiment can prove me wrong.

Epidemiological studies are useful for hypothesis-generating or for hypothesis-testing of theories already examined in experimental work but they do not enable causative inferences by themselves

The standard of reasoning that one commonly finds in epidemiological journal articles is akin to the following false syllogism:
Chairs have legs
You have legs
So therefore you are a chair


1). A good example of an epidemiological disproof concerns the dreaded salt (NaCl). We are constantly told that we eat too much salt for good health and must cut back our consumption of it. Yet there is one nation that consumes huge amounts of salt. So do they all die young there? Quite the reverse: Japan has the world's highest concentration of centenarians. Taste Japan's favourite sauce -- soy sauce -- if you want to understand Japanese salt consumption. It's almost solid salt.

2). We need a daily salt intake to counter salt-loss through perspiration and the research shows that people on salt-restricted diets die SOONER. So the conventional wisdom is not only wrong. It is positively harmful

3). Table salt is a major source of iodine, which is why salt is normally "iodized" by official decree. Cutting back salt consumption runs the risk of iodine deficiency, with its huge adverse health impacts -- goiter, mental retardation etc. GIVE YOUR BABY PLENTY OF SALTY FOODS -- unless you want to turn it into a cretin

THE SIDE-EFFECT MANIA. If a drug is shown to have troublesome side-effects, there are always calls for it to be banned or not authorized for use in the first place. But that is insane. ALL drugs have side effects. Even aspirin causes stomach bleeding, for instance -- and paracetamol (acetaminophen) can wreck your liver. If a drug has no side effects, it will have no main effects either. If you want a side-effect-free drug, take a homeopathic remedy. They're just water.

Although I am an atheist, I have never wavered from my view that the New Testament is the best guide to living and I still enjoy reading it. Here is what the apostle Paul says about vegetarians: "For one believeth that he may eat all things: another, who is weak, eateth herbs. Let not him that eateth despise him that eateth not; and let not him which eateth not judge him that eateth." (Romans 14: 2.3). What perfect advice! That is real tolerance: Very different from the dogmatism of the food freaks. Interesting that vegetarianism is such an old compulsion, though.

Even if we concede that getting fat shortens your life, what right has anybody got to question someone's decision to accept that tradeoff for themselves? Such a decision could be just one version of the old idea that it is best to have a short life but a merry one. Even the Bible is supportive of that thinking. See Ecclesiastes 8:15 and Isaiah 22: 13. To deny the right to make such a personal decision is plainly Fascistic.

Fatties actually SAVE the taxpayer money

IQ: Political correctness makes IQ generally unmentionable so it is rarely controlled for in epidemiological studies. This is extremely regrettable as it tends to vitiate findings that do not control for it. When it is examined, it is routinely found to have pervasive effects. We read, for instance, that "The mother's IQ was more highly predictive of breastfeeding status than were her race, education, age, poverty status, smoking, the home environment, or the child's birth weight or birth order". So political correctness can render otherwise interesting findings moot

That hallowed fish oil is strongly linked to increased incidence of colon cancer

"To kill an error is as good a service as, and sometimes better than, the establishing of a new truth or fact" -- Charles Darwin

"Most men die of their remedies, not of their diseases", said Moliere. That may no longer be true but there is still a lot of false medical "wisdom" around that does harm to various degrees. And showing its falsity is rarely the problem. The problem is getting people -- medical researchers in particular -- to abandon their preconceptions

Bertrand Russell could have been talking about today's conventional dietary "wisdom" when he said: "The fact that an opinion has been widely held is no evidence whatever that it is not utterly absurd; indeed in view of the silliness of the majority of mankind, a widespread belief is more likely to be foolish than sensible.

Eating lots of fruit and vegetables is NOT beneficial

The challenge, as John Maynard Keynes knew, "lies not so much in developing new ideas as in escaping from old ones".

"Obesity" is 77% genetic. So trying to make fatties slim is punishing them for the way they were born. That sort of thing is furiously condemned in relation to homosexuals so why is it OK for fatties?


Some more problems with the "Obesity" war:

1). It tries to impose behavior change on everybody -- when most of those targeted are not obese and hence have no reason to change their behaviour. It is a form of punishing the innocent and the guilty alike. (It is also typical of Leftist thinking: Scorning the individual and capable of dealing with large groups only).

2). The longevity research all leads to the conclusion that it is people of MIDDLING weight who live longest -- not slim people. So the "epidemic" of obesity is in fact largely an "epidemic" of living longer.

3). It is total calorie intake that makes you fat -- not where you get your calories. Policies that attack only the source of the calories (e.g. "junk food") without addressing total calorie intake are hence pissing into the wind. People involuntarily deprived of their preferred calorie intake from one source are highly likely to seek and find their calories elsewhere.

4). So-called junk food is perfectly nutritious. A big Mac meal comprises meat, bread, salad and potatoes -- which is a mainstream Western diet. If that is bad then we are all in big trouble.

5). Food warriors demonize dietary fat. But Eskimos living on their traditional diet eat huge amounts of fat with no apparent ill-effects. At any given age they in fact have an exceptionally LOW incidence of cardiovascular disease. And the average home-cooked roast dinner has LOTS of fat. Will we ban roast dinners?

6). The foods restricted are often no more calorific than those permitted -- such as milk and fruit-juice drinks.

7). Tendency to weight is mostly genetic and is therefore not readily susceptible to voluntary behaviour change.

8). And when are we going to ban cheese? Cheese is a concentrated calorie bomb and has lots of that wicked animal fat in it too. Wouldn't we all be better off without it? And what about butter and margarine? They are just about pure fat. Surely they should be treated as contraband in kids' lunchboxes! [/sarcasm].

9). And how odd it is that we never hear of the huge American study which showed that women who eat lots of veggies have an INCREASED risk of stomach cancer? So the official recommendation to eat five lots of veggies every day might just be creating lots of cancer for the future! It's as plausible (i.e. not very) as all the other dietary "wisdom" we read about fat etc.

10). And will "this generation of Western children be the first in history to lead shorter lives than their parents did"? This is another anti-fat scare that emanates from a much-cited editorial in a prominent medical journal that said so. Yet this editorial offered no statistical basis for its opinion -- an opinion that flies directly in the face of the available evidence.

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

12. Fascism: "What we should be doing is monitoring children from birth so we can detect any deviations from the norm at an early stage and action can be taken". Who said that? Joe Stalin? Adolf Hitler? Orwell's "Big Brother"? The Spanish Inquisition? Generalissimo Francisco Franco Bahamonde? None of those. It was Dr Colin Waine, chairman of Britain's National Obesity Forum. What a fine fellow!


Trans fats: For one summary of the weak science behind the "trans-fat" hysteria, see here. Trans fats have only a temporary effect on blood chemistry and the evidence of lasting harm from them is dubious. By taking extreme groups in trans fats intake, some weak association with coronary heart disease has at times been shown in some sub-populations but extreme group studies are inherently at risk of confounding with other factors and are intrinsically of little interest to the average person.

The "antioxidant" religion: The experimental evidence is that antioxidants SHORTEN your life, if anything. Studies here and here and here and here and here and here and here, for instance. That they are of benefit is a great theory but it is one that has been coshed by reality plenty of times.

The medical consensus is often wrong. The best known wrongheaded medical orthodoxy is that stomach ulcers could not be caused by bacteria because the stomach is so acidic. Disproof of that view first appeared in 1875 (Yes. 1875) but the falsity of the view was not widely recognized until 1990. Only heroic efforts finally overturned the consensus and led to a cure for stomach ulcers. See here and here and here.

Contrary to the usual assertions, some big studies show that fat women get LESS breast cancer. See also here and here

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

Huge ($400 million) clinical trial shows that a low fat diet is useless . See also here and here

Dieticians are just modern-day witch-doctors. There is no undergirding in double-blind studies for their usual recommendations

The fragility of current medical wisdom: Would you believe that even Old Testament wisdom can sometimes trump medical wisdom? Note this quote: "Spiess discussed Swedish research on cardiac patients that compared Jehovah's Witnesses who refused blood transfusions to patients with similar disease progression during open-heart surgery. The research found those who refused transfusions had noticeably better survival rates.

Relying on the popular wisdom can certainly hurt you personally: "The scientific consensus of a quarter-century ago turned into the arthritic nightmare of today."

Medical wisdom can in fact fly in the face of the known facts. How often do we hear reverent praise for the Mediterranean diet? Yet both Australians and Japanese live longer than Greeks and Italians, despite having very different diets. The traditional Australian diet is in fact about as opposite to the Mediterranean diet as you can get. The reverence for the Mediterranean diet can only be understood therefore as some sort of Anglo-Saxon cultural cringe. It is quite brainless. Why are not the Australian and Japanese diets extolled if health is the matter at issue?

Since many of my posts here make severe criticisms of medical research, I should perhaps point out that I am also a severe critic of much research in my own field of psychology. See here and here

This is NOT an "alternative medicine" site. Perhaps the only (weak) excuse for the poorly substantiated claims that often appear in the medical literature is the even poorer level of substantiation offered in the "alternative" literature.

I used to teach social statistics in a major Australian university and I find medical statistics pretty obfuscatory. They seem uniformly designed to make mountains out of molehills. Many times in the academic literature I have excoriated my colleagues in psychology and sociology for going ga-ga over very weak correlations but what I find in the medical literature makes the findings in the social sciences look positively muscular. In fact, medical findings are almost never reported as correlations -- because to do so would exhibit how laughably trivial they generally are. If (say) 3 individuals in a thousand in a control group had some sort of an adverse outcome versus 4 out of a thousand in a group undergoing some treatment, the difference will be published in the medical literature with great excitement and intimations of its importance. In fact, of course, such small differences are almost certainly random noise and are in any rational calculus unimportant. And statistical significance is little help in determining the importance of a finding. Statistical significance simply tells you that the result was unlikely to be an effect of small sample size. But a statistically significant difference could have been due to any number of other randomly-present factors.

Even statistical correlations far stronger than anything found in medical research may disappear if more data is used. A remarkable example from Sociology: below:
"The modern literature on hate crimes began with a remarkable 1933 book by Arthur Raper titled The Tragedy of Lynching. Raper assembled data on the number of lynchings each year in the South and on the price of an acre's yield of cotton. He calculated the correlation coefficient between the two series at -0.532. In other words, when the economy was doing well, the number of lynchings was lower.... In 2001, Donald Green, Laurence McFalls, and Jennifer Smith published a paper that demolished the alleged connection between economic conditions and lynchings in Raper's data. Raper had the misfortune of stopping his analysis in 1929. After the Great Depression hit, the price of cotton plummeted and economic conditions deteriorated, yet lynchings continued to fall. The correlation disappeared altogether when more years of data were added."
So we must be sure to base our conclusions on ALL the data. But in medical research, data selectivity and the "overlooking" of discordant research findings is epidemic.

The intellectual Roman Emperor Marcus Aurelius (AD 121-180) could have been speaking of the prevailing health "wisdom" of today when he said: "The object in life is not to be on the side of the majority, but to escape finding oneself in the ranks of the insane."

The Federal Reference Manual on Scientific Evidence, Second Edition says (p. 384): "the threshold for concluding that an agent was more likely than not the cause of an individual's disease is a relative risk greater than 2.0." Very few of the studies criticized on this blog meet that criterion.

Improbable events do happen at random -- as mathematician John Brignell notes rather tartly:
"Consider, instead, my experiences in the village pub swindle. It is based on the weekly bonus ball in the National Lottery. It so happens that my birth date is 13, so that is the number I always choose. With a few occasional absences abroad I have paid my pound every week for a year and a half, but have never won. Some of my neighbours win frequently; one in three consecutive weeks. Furthermore, I always put in a pound for my wife for her birth date, which is 11. She has never won either. The probability of neither of these numbers coming up in that period is less than 5%, which for an epidemiologist is significant enough to publish a paper.

Kids are not shy anymore. They are "autistic". Autism is a real problem but the rise in its incidence seems likely to be the product of overdiagnosis -- the now common tendency to medicalize almost all problems.

One of the great pleasures in life is the first mouthful of cold beer on a hot day -- and the food Puritans can stick that wherever they like